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Salt Lake City Weekly Highs and Lows

Another version of 1998's Best and Worst of screen.

By Greg Beacham

JANUARY 19, 1999:  Only journalists give more awards to each other than actors and filmmakers do, so a writer giving film awards smacks of an incest that would probably make Todd Solondz drool in his cornflakes.

But it has to be done. Here's a random sampling of the peaks (Christina Ricci's enduring image from The Opposite of Sex) and valleys (where Kevin Costner's career is currently wandering without food or water) of the past year of cinema:

Most Overrated Films:

Saving Private Ryan, The Truman Show and The Prince of Egypt. All three were good. None was great.

Private Ryan blinded audiences with a scorching opening sequence and then used Steven Spielberg's technical brilliance to disguise a predictable story and all manner of overacting, especially by Tom Hanks.

Truman was one more rehash of ideas that Aldous Huxley and George Orwell beat to death earlier this century. Besides that, Peter Weir's film requires us to suspend so much disbelief over the film's logic holes that the whole thing eventually holds no more dramatic weight than a dream.

As for The Prince of Egypt, if I wanted to watch a goddamn Bible story, I'd grab a fruit smoothie and take a lawn chair over to the Living Scriptures kiosk at the ZCMI Mall. Make with the funny singing crustaceans and mermaids already.

Best Performances That Nobody Saw:

  • Kim Dickens, Zero Effect. As the mysterious paramedic who may or may not be behind a brilliant blackmail scheme, newcomer Dickens is absolutely riveting. She says volumes with a half-raised eyebrow and an abashed smile.

  • Steve Martin, The Spanish Prisoner. The comedian's comedian turned in a solid, sneakily good dramatic performance in David Mamet's clever-but-not-that-clever thriller.

  • Lisa Kudrow, The Opposite of Sex. I used to think Kudrow was to comedy what Donna Karan is to color: She could play any role, as long as it was Phoebe. I was so very wrong. You'll be blown away as Kudrow somehow makes a bitter, spinsterly high school teacher intelligent, sharp-witted and sexy. She's a dead-cert for an Oscar nomination.

  • Vince Vaughn, Clay Pigeons. Lester, the womanizing cowboy with a penchant for serial murder, was one of the most original creations of the year, all the way to his psychotically infectious giggle.

  • Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Robert Duvall and Famke Janssen, The Gingerbread Man. It's an unbelievable shame that Robert Altman's bizarrely successful partnership with John Grisham didn't attract a bigger audience (and a better marketing scheme from its studio). The cast is uniformly solid, but Davidtz's cathartic performance stands out.

Best Cameos in Adam Sandler Movies:

Steve Buscemi, The Wedding Singer (Rob-bie and Joo-lee-UH-huh-HAH!), and Rob Schneider, The Waterboy (You can DO eet!).

Best Action Scenes:

Ronin. Who but director John Frankenheimer would have the balls to repeat William Friedkin's legendary wrong-way-on-the-freeway chase--and do it even better? Add the passionate, dizzying gunfights on the French Riviera, and it's no contest.

Most Amazing Sight Gag That Nobody Got:

There's a scene in the ridiculous The Avengers remake where Sean Connery assembles an evil band of cohorts. Connery explains that in order to protect everyone in the group's identity, he has provided disguises. In the next scene, there are a dozen guys in brightly colored, oversized teddy bear suits sitting around a boardroom table. I just about died, but nobody else in the theater even chuckled. Bunch of savages.

Worst Trend:

Duplicate movies. From asteroids to dwarf children to animated bugs, there was no concept so original this year it couldn't be done twice.

Coolest Newcomers:

Catherine Zeta-Jones, The Mask of Zorro, and the Milwaukee Bucks' Ray Allen, He Got Game.

Scariest Performance:

Edward Norton, American History X. He was dead-on petrifying as a hard-core white supremacist who ascends to the top of the local racist power structure. Even when he goes legit later in the film, Norton contains a coiled anger that always seems one wrong look away from being unleashed. His performance is Oscar-quality stuff.

Actors Who Should No Longer Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Projects:

Robin Williams, Jeff Goldblum, Sharon Stone, Antonio Banderas, Brad Pitt, Matt LeBlanc and Eddie Murphy.

Guilty Pleasures:

Rush Hour, Armageddon, Lethal Weapon 4, The Waterboy and Spice World.

Films for Your Permanent Video Collection:

The Last Days of Disco, The Opposite of Sex, Ronin, Zero Effect, The Gingerbread Man, Shakespeare in Love and Out of Sight.

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