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Another year unreels: Art houses fail, tinsel triumphs THE YEAR 1993 IN REVIEW

Let's call this one Previews of Going-going-gone Attractions, a quick-cut trip through the year that's just about over.

* Bad new trends of '93: The most disturbing, locally and nationally, is the collapse of the inner city art house movement, as exemplified by the recent closing of the venerable Charles. The usual suspects are cited -- rising downtown crime, competition from the national chains, the popularity of the VCR -- and so forth. But the old show-biz line, invoked by Red Skelton for Harry Cohn's funeral, still obtains: Give 'em what they want, and they'll stand in line.

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For one reason or other, the beloved Chuck had lost its clout in the marketplace and was unable to get the first-string product that could have filled the seats with suburbanites. A couple of local groups and a chain are now looking at re-opening the theater. Let's hope that whoever gets it has the wherewithal to stay with the big guys, or the whole thing will just go down the tubes.

Actually, the Charles' woes are somewhat reflective of a larger national trend, which might be called the co-option of regional talent by Hollywood. This is the same principle that destroyed both the British and the Australian film industries, and crippled the Canadian. Only the thorny French have managed to resist the lure of tinsel and babes. Consider, for example, that the three top films of 1992, in this critic's estimation, were independent American films -- "One False Move," "Reservoir Dogs" and "Law of Gravity." No independent film makes the top list this year, and all those filmmakers have been film of the year was Richard Rodriguez's "El Mariachi," and what's Rodriguez doing? Why, working for Columbia.

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* Good new trends: When I think of one, you'll be the first to know.

* Best action sequence: The train wreck in "The Fugitive."

* Worst action sequence: The female shooter chasing Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts through a D.C. parking garage in "The Pelican Brief," only to be scared off by a dog left in a car. Who leaves a dog in a car in a downtown underground garage? Who would even bring a dog into D.C.? Ridiculous!

* Best performance not likely to be nominated for an Oscar: Dennis Hopper as a shoe-sniffing geek in the very weird Nike commercials. But . . . he makes you believe.

* Worst performance likely to be nominated: Daniel Day-Lewis in "The Age of Innocence." He's a great actor (you should see him in "In the Name of the Father"), but the character Newland Archer, the code-haunted, yearning-loined WASP of the Edith Wharton novel, was entirely beyond even his great powers. Perhaps it was beyond screenwriter Jay Cocks' reach. Day-Lewis never really got into Newland and remained a polite but enigmatic young man all the way through. But at least it wasn't Christopher Reeve.

* Movie that really wasn't as good as everybody said: "Jurassic Park." You could tell Steven Spielberg wasn't emotionally engaged. Despite the great effects, it had none of the spontaneity and sheer horror of his "Jaws," which remains the best monster movie ever made. The only true joy the movie offered was the pleasure of seeing the great beasts brought to life as vividly as state-of-the-art computer morphing would allow.

* Movie that was much worse than everybody said: "Rising Sun." Never even came close to making sense, racist, dreary and self-important, yet -- critics! -- it actually got some good national reviews.

* It was a very good year for: Steven Spielberg. He made the all-time moneymaker in "Jurassic Park," and now, with "Schindler's List," he's getting the kind of peer-respect and serious reviews he's wanted for years.

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* It was not a very good year for: Oliver Stone. Gerald Posner's "Case Closed" comes out and pretty much blows "JFK" off the face of the planet. Then "Heaven and Earth" loses the Christmas genocide-o-rama to "Schindler's List" and does not become the important, prestige film it was planned to be.

* Most unusual correspondence: A note from actress Kathy Najimy saying she agreed with my piece that barbecued "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit." The co-star of "Sister Act 2"? Kathy Najimy.

* Rudest interview of year: Abel Ferrara, bad-boy director of "Bad Lieutenant." What a jerk.

* Best interview of year: Ashley Judd, star of "Ruby in Paradise" and daughter of Wynonna -- smart, funny, honest, talented.

THE YEAR ON MOVIE SCREENS

The 10 best movies

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1. "Schindler's List." Steven Spielberg takes horror and makes art. It's a great movie, a driving, mesmerizing story with six or so memorable characters, which just takes you in. Rare among Holocaust dramas, it doesn't trivialize the event so much as dramatize it. A toxin for Holocaust deniers, it's a ringing human victory for the rest of us.

2. The Merchant-Ivory production "The Remains of the Day" wasn't quite as flashy and swirling as Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence," but it was a tad more satisfying. Another great house movie, but it didn't track the rise and fall of a country through a house so much as it used the dwelling as a clinical psych lab to examine repression. A "perfect" butler -- Anthony Hopkins -- is really a monument to his own emotional rigidity, and has so sunk into duty and denial that he cannot allow himself to feel the death of his father, the political banality of his master, or his love for a colleague. Until, of course, it is too late.

3. "Menace II Society," the brilliant and disturbing examination of gunfighter culture, L.A. gang style, by Allan and Albert Hughes, which took us into the heart of darkness as it passionately diagramed the process by which young men with so little else going on could yield to the temptations of violence until that was all they knew.

4. "Short Cuts," Robert Altman's condensation of nine Raymond Carver short stories, had its backers and detractors lining up along the "he-got/did-not-get Carver on film" axis. Not having read Carver, I take no position: However, anybody who makes a 3 1/2 -hour movie that feels like a 30-minute movie and has a good 10 of the best 20 scenes in film in a year has done a terrific job.

5. "The Age of Innocence," Martin Scorsese's vivid version of the Edith Wharton novel, painted a picture of a hidebound society in which the rule of repression was omnipresent. On sheer sumptuousness alone, the film makes the Top 10, but it was uncommonly well-written if a trifle long.

6. "Strictly Ballroom" was a completely satisfying Australian import about fierce office politics in the closed-off culture of professional ballroom dancing.

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7. "Farewell My Concubine" was slated to open last Wednesday at the now-defunct Charles, so therefore qualifies as a '93 film even though it won't make it to a Baltimore movie house until January. A staggering movie: the passionate, stormy, emotional

story of a triangle -- two Peking Opera singers, both male, although one is hammered into playing (and being) female, and the woman who comes between them -- as filtered through a stunning evocation of the past 50 years of Chinese political and cultural history. The prize-winner at Cannes.

8. "Un Coeur en Hiver," a dazzlingly understated French film that examined the animosity between extroverts and introverts, and watched as a mild man destroyed the lives of two others just because he had to punish them for his own inadequacies. Beautifully acted by Daniel Auteuil.

9. "Groundhog Day." Bill Murray's endlessly inventive story of a snippy, quasi-sophisticated Pittsburgh weatherman who is forced by celestial mumbo jumbo to live one day in one hick town over and over again until he gets it right and finds his soul.

10. A tie (I know, that makes it Top 11; it's my column, I set the rules) between "The Fugitive" and "In the Line of Fire," two extremely well-crafted, ironic, detail-rich thrillers. In one, a doctor wanted by the law penetrates the conspiracy against him; in the other, an old dog of a Secret Service agent finds himself matched against a clever CIA-trained killer. Great performances spread throughout both films, as well as solid research to root the actions in reality.

And the worst movie of the year? I really hated "A Perfect Day," because it was lazy and sloppy, but Kevin Costner was too good and took too many chances in that hideous scene where he almost blows away a black family. There was some truly generic nonsense -- Bruce Willis as a speedboat cop in the pitiful ruin called "Three Rivers" -- but it was hardly important enough to get the final nod. No, the worst movie of the year, I think, was also the safest: "The Pelican Brief," milled so smooth and bland it hadn't a whisper, a crinkle, a tingle of singularity or texture. It's just a big entertainment machine for the large American subset that likes to watch cars explode in parking garages.



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