Best Films of 1990
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Best Films of 1994

Best Films of 1995
Best Films of 1996
Best Films of 1997
Best Films of 1998
Best Films of 1999

Miller's Crossing
Un Coeur en Hiver
Glengarry Glen Ross
Three Colors: Blue
Three Colors: Red

Fast Cheap and Out of Control

BEST FILMS OF 1995 - List in Progress
by Mike Lorefice

Spike Lee

Lee's examination of the contamination of the projects. The lifestyle of drugs is the centerpiece, leading to black on black violence, neither of which the predominantly white cops clean up; they simply maintain a certain brand of order (while padding their pockets). Mekhi Phifer is a near adult, the most promising clocker (24 hour drug runner) in the hood. Boss Delroy Lindo has given him the opportunity to move up the ladder by killing a rival clocker, but Phifer isn't a cold blooded killer. He's fairly intelligent and responsible, handling himself adequately and getting by through Lindo's rules of greasing the cop's palms and not ratting or sampling. When he turns to his straight family man brother Isaiah Washington to recommend a hitman, Washington is so worn down by the hopeless grind of working two jobs to try to save enough to move his family out of the projects before his kids are ruined he perhaps takes the job himself. Harvey Keitel is the straight cop with a strong moral code who tries to solve the case. He uses several masks, employing gallows humor to maintain sanity (and suggest his casual racism and bigotry), acting like the hardest of the hard, and as in the masterpiece Bad Timing pretending it's all personal because no perp is going to get away with disrespecting him in any way. Lindo & Keitel aren't as different as they'd like to think, both display paternal instincts, but might snap at a moments notice and will hang you out to dry to accomplish their own ends. Keith David is the caring black cop, playing father figure to the project kids through a mix of love, intimidation, and extortion. All three adults are strong characters who exert their powerful will, usually getting their way through one method or another. Though Phifer is the main character, he's essentially in the crossfire of the three dominant adults who try to control him. As Lindo is Phifer's mentor in crime life, Phifer guides Pee Wee Love, a brainy 12-year-old who would have a bright future if not for where he was born. As always, Lee spells his messages out too clearly in points and tries to take on so much he creates clutter in others, but he's created an earnest multilayered work. He elicits top notch performances from Keitel, Phifer, Lindo, David, and Regina Taylor as Love's tough as nails mother who is determined to keep her son from becoming a delinquent no matter who she has to take on. The major weakness, as usual, is the score of one Terrence Blanchard, who sometimes seems hell bent on drowning out Radio Rahim's ghetto blaster! [12/7/06] ***


Whisper of the Heart
Yoshifumi Kondo

Hayao Miyazaki is known for the fantasy elements of his stories, but here's one that takes some of his favorite ingredients, for instance the productive youthful heroine and magical animal, and applies them to a simple, largely realistic love story. A 14-year-old girl interested in books finds a boyfriend by noticing he's already read every book she takes out from the library. He wants her badly but also wants to be a violinmaker, and when she finally comes around to realizing she loves him (everyone loves someone who doesn't love them) it's time for him to go off to Italy to for his apprenticeship. Miyazaki breaks at this crucial point to observe the weather - the storm appears to be breaking - and in addition to the metaphoric quality, being willing to pause and take in the beauty of life is one of Miyazaki's rare qualities. More important to the story, the girl doesn't whine and sulk because now that she knows what she wants it's no longer available, she uses that very fact as the motivational power to drive her. She pushes herself because she wants to be his equal and as useful as can be, so she applies herself to her own dream of writing a book. Thus love ultimately makes them both work harder toward accomplishing something else. Yes, it's only a teen romance, but any story is as good or bad as the people behind it and the conditions they are working under. This is a dreamy work in every positive way, one that knows how to be positive without succumbing to falseness. More importantly, anyone who has ever had a useful relationship should be inspired by it. Rather than pandering to the cliches and trying to move product, it's ultimately a very sincere and humane work about two people driving each other to be better, more productive human beings. Miyazaki's longtime protégé Yoshifumi Kondo actually directs this hand drawn gem. Miyazaki had intended Kondo to be his successor at Studio Ghibli, but Kondo died of an aneurysm at just 38, leaving Whisper as his lone directorial effort. Though Kondo lacks some of Miyazaki's cinematic verve, Whisper is one of the better works Miyazaki has been involved in because it's so moving and heartfelt. The fact the characters grow and mature through everyday adventures doesn't make it any less adventurous. [1/23/07] ***1/2

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