1 Nixon Movie of the Year Oliver Stone pushes his hell-bent propulsive sensibility into a new realm of manic truth-telling. In his brilliant, kaleidoscopic dramatization of the life of Richard Nixon, he shows us the Nixon we all know in our bones — the sweaty, stiff-backed paranoiac, his heart black with self-pity — and then lays bare how Nixon’s pathology, his belief that deliverance was attainable through lies, served and finally extended a sinister shadow government. Using the vertiginous multimedia style he developed in JFK and Natural Born Killers, Stone layers 50 years of images into Nixon’s snakelike voyage through the corridors of power. He turns history itself into a hypnotic Black Mass, anatomizing the space between public perception and backroom reality, until the notion of ”cover-up” takes on dimensions of mystical unease. And Anthony Hopkins, in a towering performance, puts us right inside Nixon’s skin. His squirmy masochistic righteousness becomes the stuff of high tragedy, as he locks himself off, Kane-like, from the world and turns an entire nation into the mirror of his self-annihilating disgrace. Oliver Stone has become the most exciting filmmaker of his time, and Nixon is the movie he was born to make, a soul-cleansing vision of the corruption of America.
2 Crumb It would be hard to think of a movie experience more memorable than the two hours I spent getting to know the underground-comics artist Robert Crumb and his supremely warped family. Crumb, in his ecstatically exhibitionistic cartoons, draws on the convulsions of his own id, turning his most scandalous fantasies into a trippy grunge burlesque of American life. In Terry Zwigoff’s great documentary, he appears before us as a razor-tongued contradiction (imagine Howard Stern in the body of Wally Cox), a perpetual adolescent-outsider nailed to the cross of his own sins. Is R. Crumb a hero or a creep? In Crumb, he’s both at once, and the movie is a nightmare and a party at the same time. Crumb’s two brothers — the mournfully unhinged recluse Charles and the jittery sexual molester Maxxon — are gifted, lucid wrecks, and what’s apparent throughout the film is how their spooky psychotic otherness echoes Robert, the celebrity survivor. They’re the ghosts within him, and Crumb, the most powerful portrait yet from the Age of Dysfunction, lays bare the impossibility of separating the darkest aspects of our families from the deepest aspects of ourselves.
3 Toy Story Can a movie that’s this much fun be a work of art? It can when made with the wit, spirit, and delirious imagination of Toy Story. Director John Lasseter uses the eerie hyperrealist magic of computer animation to create the illusion that we’re seeing shiny plastic playthings like Mr. Potato Head spring to three-dimensional life. What’s every bit as amazing, though, is that the characters are three-dimensional inside, too. And when the movie enters the home of Sid, whose monster playthings would give Salvador Dali the shivers, you know you’re not in Disney land anymore.