Matt Gerson's Picks for `96
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Matt Gerson's "Angle on Movies"

Matt's Picks for `96

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I’m Matt Gerson with my picks for the 1996’s ten best, in a disturbingly schlock year, where there were more twisters and attacks from Mars and sadistic sleepers around than luminescent rainbows of passion and triumph of the human spirit like Shine. My picks are, in order:

And my top pick: creation enduring life’s tortures of Shine, a tale of anguish, of transcending primal pain from a beloved and terrifyingly cruel father, complicated into another realm of poignancy by the fact that David is a supreme, one of a kind whirling dervish of a pianist, whose spirit is trampled on and abandoned by a father lost in rage and retrograde twisted family values (a cautionary note for conservatives), and he’s the kind of prodigy who survives even Rachmaninoff’s Third, and tears and human spiritual eleventh hour success and final return to the scene of his greatest test, his collapse and then a miraculous achievement back on the concert stage, his real home. If there is a more moving expression of a child boy man’s coming of age, disturbingly crushed, and salvation through love and his genius radiating like a force of pure positive energy and beauty through his art, I don’t know of it. Anywhere, and at all times, this is the classical, put-upon Amadeus of our times, a quiet, brooding, wounded psyche, genius-victim, chasing piano classical fame and rainbows and finding them outside his abused body and reviving his soul in the process.

My number two pick is The Crucible, with the world of Islamic fundamentalism, separatism, and the spectre of intolerant hate of The Other, the eternal search for the witch and the scapegoat that never ends, even today, in a world of Bosnias, Rwandas, Iraqs, and Irans, The Crucible shows that superstition and repressed drives, Puritanism, and strict codes for life lead inevitably to the kind of twisted, raging release that all too often takes its place as holocaust, the police state, or vigilante justice, becoming the law of the jungle, and woe to victims like Daniel Day-Lewis’s John Proctor, for female immature infatuations of children come back to haunt the innocent, when witchcraft is used as the ultimate tool for bending lonely obsessed groups of adolescents in womens’ bodies, practicing their own brand of lawlessness.

Big Night, my next pick, is quite simply the most delightful film ever made about cooking (including Babette’s Feast, incidentally), about the joy of creation of gastronomic delights and how it affects people, how it can mesmerize the innocent and bring out the larceny in the betrayer, the hilarious adventures of two sad-eyed lost immigrants trying to survive in a mom and pop restaurant in a New York City where famousness is a virtue above all. The dishes, the quirky depths of brother-to-brother talk, the exquisitely subtle turn by co-writer, director, and star Michael Tucci, is a culinary delight for the heart as well as the palette.

Next is Surviving Picasso, where another Anthony Hopkins patented magic character turn, not just capturing, but being Picasso before our eyes, with every selfish, woman-consuming need and glimpses of his three-dimensional figure’s unmatched by another in any era, also his unmatched capacity for ego fascinate and repel us with his double-sided genius.

Looking for Richard is in every way the best triumph of that misunderstood figure of uncorked passions, improvisation, and sheer love for inhabiting someone else and taking us for a Shakespearian odyssey courtesy of New York actors into Richard the Third, that maniacal figure of inhuman evil who mesmerizes us, courtesy of Al Pacino and a star-studded actor’s-oriented journey into the exploration of the foreign realm of “the play’s the thing” by Shakespeare.

By contrast, I felt that my next pick, Hamlet, was, by comparison, totally overblown, yet too powerful in grandeur and composition by artist and director Kenneth Branagh, at times, to ignore. With only rare success with his brand of name-that-star, in-for-the-credits-and-billing acting, in his exposition and staging, it was quite riveting and brilliant, but four hours of indulgent, every-page-must-be-filmed, showing Branagh’s hyper overacting style and sneering lips in too many close-ups in middle of frame, although acted with passion and rage by Branagh, an uneven but bold to the eye and with action that comes in flourishes, and acting wildly contrasting between the frenzied overacting Branagh’s Hamlet and the sombre Derek Jacobi’s flawed Claudius. And the star, actually, was Billy Crystal’s gravedigger, who steals the show—even with that accent.

Next is Courage Under Fire, a study of what courage is composed of, its price, and how one becomes the unlikely hero, and how truth is a million-sided facet of versions of itself, a brilliant war film that asks profound questions.

Next is Cold Comfort Farm, one that you may not know, where spunk and healing force of straightening up lives beckons Kate Beckinsale (sp?), bringing her resolve and fixup talent to marriages, lives, and futures of the peasant cottage she now owns through a sudden inheritance, a woman’s role to be favored this year, for you It Takes A Village promoters.

Albert Brooks’s subtly brilliant and wry and always thought-provoking satire on Mother, the one we all wish would love us even more and stop freezing everything from five years ago, takes it place as the best comedy of the year, which does for mother and son comic conflict and misunderstanding what Lost in America did for the contemporar conflict, punctured by laughs that make you think, of piercing the bubbles of security and position, plus money versus Easy Rider freedom.

Finally, I am reluctantly forced to applaud the cause and the oddball energy and the sheer outrage of The People vs. Larry Flynt, where the First Amendment, far bigger than him, is shown to be under attack for all the right reasons (here, anyway), but with the outcome our freedom to finally say and print what we want, without the moral police telling us satire is to be censured. Director Milos Forman looks at another cuckoo’s nest meets Mozart oddball eccentric outlaw we should shun, but watch in sheer amazement, stumble and bluster his seedy way into a cause that dwarfs this moral pygmy.

My picks again are:

And my top pick for 1996, Shine.
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