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The Best Films of 1990--Four Views

December 23, 1990|SHEILA BENSON

Here are the Top 10 films of 1990 as selected by Sheila Benson , Peter Rainer, Kevin Thomas and Michael Wilmington.

1--"GoodFellas." In Martin Scorsese's portrait of mid-level Mafia life, grisly events are often as not set off by a darkly hilarious humor, while the screenplay gives these wiseguys' street talk a cheerfully obscene poetry. Played with terrifying authority, it is a savvy backstage tour of a particular hell.

2--"Dances With Wolves." First-time director Kevin Costner has shaped a passionate, clear-eyed vision of life in the late 1860s at the edge of the Northwestern frontier. Costner has an infectious empathy for this rolling, treeless land and for the Sioux.

3--"The Godfather Part III." This last chapter of Francis Coppola's monumental gangster trilogy is uneven in ways its predecessors never were, but the flaws are not mortal. Flamboyantly operatic, utterly engrossing, the film touches every important theme of the first two and strikes its deepest note with Al Pacino's performance as the tormented Michael Corleone.

4--"Sweetie." This portrait of a tightly knit Australian family marks the debut of the assured writer-director Jane Campion; Campion has an original visual style, her work with actors is extraordinary, and she has a streak of pure romanticism that keeps the film's Grand Guignol undertones in balance.

5--"Life and Nothing But." Bertrand Tavernier and his great, worldly alter-ego Philippe Noiret bring off an almost impossible combination: a full-bodied affirmation of life and passion amid reminders of death and sacrifice in post-World War I France.

6--"To Sleep With Anger." Charles Burnett fills his slice-of-middle-class-life with mystery and a sense of malevolence as the visit of a sweet-talking friend from the old South frays the fabric of a warm, close family. The film proves William Faulkner's thesis that a writer who works from his own home ground finds sustenance enough to last a lifetime. 7--"Reversal of Fortune." Director Barbet Schroeder's choice to stage the story of the Von Bulows as a tragicomedy of manners made it just that. Jeremy Irons' bitingly witty performance as Von Bulow is rich, paradoxical and leaves behind doubts--part of the film's deliberate mischief.

8--"Vincent & Theo." Robert Altman's approach to the Great Biographical Film is astringent and realistic; the last years of the brothers Van Gogh mirror the tenacity it takes to follow an artist's path--something with which Altman himself is not unfamiliar.

9--"Men Don't Leave." Paul Brickman's film about a family adjusting to the shocking death of their husband/father has a captivating unpredictability and the highest concentration of offbeat characters since "The Accidental Tourist."

10--"The Natural History of Parking Lots." Everett Lewis' arresting debut film concerns two poignant kids of privilege, Hancock Park throw-aways considered even more disposable than their parents' marriages. Touchingly performed, beautifully shot, this modest feature is the announcement of a singular new voice among American independents.

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