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The Best Films of 1990--Four Views

December 23, 1990|PETER RAINER

1--"The Grifters." Director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Donald Westlake have fashioned a great Jim Thompson-derived moody-blues noir featuring an astounding Anjelica Huston performance that confirms her status as one of America's finest actresses.

2--"Wild at Heart." David Lynch's disturbing, free-form road movie starring Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern is a sinister sick joke that gets sicker and funnier the longer it plays itself out.

3--"To Sleep With Anger." Charles Burnett's fable about a demonic trickster who moves into the home of old friends has a deceptively calm surface; underneath, it's surpassingly strange and resonant, which also sums up Danny Glover's extraordinary performance.

4--"Gremlins 2." Joe Dante's pop-comic mishmash is loads of fun, wildly original and subversive to boot: It's a feature film with all the roisterous energy of a classic Warner Bros. cartoon.

5--"The Russia House." Fred Schepisi has always had a magisterial film sense, and, in this superb, thinking-man's spy thriller based on the 1988 John le Carre novel, he gives us an intoxicating panorama of glasnost -era Russia; in the process, he's made the first terrific glasnost -era spy movie.

6--"For All Mankind." A first-rate documentary about the NASA moon shots, with some of the most eye-poppingly lyrical spacescapes ever photographed; the movie points up one of the film medium's great overlooked functions--the ability to, almost literally, put us out of this world.

7--"Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." John McNaughton's straightforward, supremely unsettling case study is a difficult movie for even its admirers to stomach, but that's a clue to its power; by comparison, even the horrors of David Lynch seem artfully distanced.

8--"Edward Scissorhands." Fantastical filigree from cinemagician Tim Burton, whose new-style variant on "Frankenstein" (among other horror and fantasy sources) has a sweetness and a puckish humor almost entirely missing from the current movie scene.

9--"Akira Kurosawa's Dreams." At its best, in its first four dream episodes, Kurosawa's film achieves a sublimity that is unlike anything else he's ever done; he's become the most minimalist of masters.

10--"GoodFellas." Martin Scorsese's chilling tour de force about the world of wiseguys never rises above the superficial, but shallowness has rarely been this zingy; if it lacks the emotional force or the texture of his best work, it's the cinematic equivalent of a really "good read."

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