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'Truman Show' Was Definitely the One to Watch

The Jim Carrey comedy was just about as nervy as studio films get these days.

December 27, 1998|KENNETH TURAN | Kenneth Turan is The Times' film critic

If there were room for an eleventh pick, the slot would go to one of two end-of-the-year films, either Steven Zaillian's "A Civil Action," which finally unravels but has too many excellent qualities to ignore, or "Hilary and Jackie," which doesn't open until Dec. 30. A "Rashomon"-like retelling of the complicated lives of celebrated cellist Jacqueline du Pre and her sister Hilary, its performances by actresses Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths are the only work that rivals Streep's this year.

Though no documentaries made the final cut, at least four were memorable in 1998: Ken Burns' magisterial "Frank Lloyd Wright," Barbara Koppel's "Wild Man Blues" look at Woody Allen, Penelope Spheeris' heartfelt "The Decline of Western Civilization, Part III" and the wacky Texas charmer "Hands on a Hard Body."

As for more foreign-language films, the most interesting seemed invariably to come from France. If you missed "Post Coitum," "Seventh Heaven" and the hilarious "Un Air du Famille," video is a good place to catch up. One of the year's best thrillers, John Frankenheimer's "Ronin," was set in France as well.

Though New York often seems like a foreign country, it really isn't, and several of the best independent-minded features were set in its amusing streets, including Whit Stillman's "The Last Days of Disco," Noah Baumbach's "Mr. Jealousy" and Richard LaGravenese's "Living Out Loud."

A nod must also be given to the year's most successful reissue, a new print of Orson Welles' mesmerizing "Touch of Evil," on screens at last in a version that's the closest yet to what the director originally intended.

And finally, in the Fiction Is as Strange as Truth department, no examination of 1998 is complete without a backward nod to "Primary Colors." Given what's happened in the months since to the real-life relationship between President Clinton and his wife Hillary, this fictionalized portrait of a much-talked-about relationship seems almost uncannily on target.

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