Best of 1996

Perhaps more than any other year, critics agreed on what the top 10 films of 1996 were.  The ninth ranked film placed on 36% of the 89 lists counted in 1996, a percentage that would put it in the top five for nearly any other year.

20. Emma (8 lists; 1 top spot)

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“[Paltrow] plays the title role in Emma with wit, timing and a to-the-manor-born graciousness…It’s an intelligent performance from an actress everyone was ready to dismiss as a lightweight.” – Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

20. The White Balloon (8 lists; 1 top spot)

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“Raziah takes everything at face value, forcing us to look again at people and situations we would immediately judge as good or bad — reason enough to see this film.” – Andy Spletzer, Film.com

19. Chungking Express (9 lists)

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“Wong’s singular frenetic visual style and his special feeling for lonely romantics may remind you of certain French New Wave directors, but this movie isn’t a trip down memory lane; it’s a vibrant commentary on young love today, packed with punch.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

18. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (9 lists; 2 top spots)

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“Days after seeing Paradise Lost, I was still meditating on the eyes of Damien Echols and John Mark Byers, trying to divine the true face of evil.” – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

17. Everyone Says I Love You (10 lists)

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“It’s difficult not to be impressed by what Allen has achieved with this film: successfully reviving the musical comedy in such a thoroughly delightful fashion.” – James Berardinelli, ReelViews

16. Hamlet (10 lists; 2 top spots)

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“Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in a vibrant, full-text, full-hearted film from Shakespeare’s most complex tragedy.” – Susan Stark, Detroit News

15. Dead Man (12 lists; 1 top spot)

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“Dead Man is likely Jim Jarmusch’s most stunning achievement. A period piece, and what’s more, one that draws directly upon a genre (the western), the film stands apart from Jarmusch’s other work categorically as well.” – Zach Campbell, Slant Magazine

14. Cold Comfort Farm (14 lists; 1 top spot)

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“Schelsinger’s masterfully directed eccentric satire is based on Stella Gibbons’ 1933 book which spoofs the serious, soul-searching, rural-set stories of writers like D.H. Lawrence and Mary Webb.” – Emanuel Levy, Variety

13. Welcome to the Dollhouse (17 lists)

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“At 87 minutes, Dollhouse is a near-perfect morsel. If nothing else, it informs older folk that school principals still threaten to record bad behavior in one’s ‘personal record’ — only now, computers facilitate the process.” – Mike Clark, USA Today

12. The Crucible (17 lists; 1 top spot)

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“Then there’s always Mr. Scofield, bringing an almost unbearable, yet entirely believable, lightness of spirit to his loathsome character. It’s a bold stroke by a great actor, making zealotry and evil seem positively beneficent.” – Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

11. Flirting With Disaster (20 lists; 1 top spot)

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“There are conventions in this sort of story, and Russell seems to violate most of them. He allows the peculiarities of his characters to lead them away from the plot line and into perplexities of their own.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

10. Jerry Maguire (26 lists)

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“There is a recognizable ordinariness about the way these people stumble in and out of trouble, in and out of grace — an ambiguous note, at once tart and sweet, knowing and innocent, in their relationships.” – Richard Schickel, TIME Magazine

9. The People vs. Larry Flynt (32 lists; 1 top spot)

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“In its excesses and extravagances, its fascination with sex, religion, celebrity, bad taste and making a whole lot of money, there is no more American story than that of combative pornographer and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

8. Shine (36 lists; 4 top spots)

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“His life story is not exactly as it is shown here, but close enough, I gather, for us to marvel at the way the human spirit can try to heal itself.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

7. Breaking the Waves (39 lists; 10 top spots)

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“It’s a remarkable achievement for all concerned, with Katrin Cartlidge, as Bess’s widowed sister-in-law, sharing the acting laurels with the radiant Emily Watson, and writer/director Lars von Trier building the emotional and dramatic intensity …” – Geoff Andrew, Time Out

6. Trainspotting (43 lists; 3 top spots)

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“The movie has been attacked as pro-drug and defended as anti-drug, but actually it is simply pragmatic. It knows that addiction leads to an unmanageable, exhausting, intensely uncomfortable daily routine, and it knows that only two things make it bearable” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

5. Big Night (44 lists)

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“As delicately and deliciously prepared as the dishes it features, Big Night is a lyric to the love of food, family and persuasive acting.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

4. Lone Star (50 lists; 5 top spots)

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“Sayles’ witty, vividly demotic dialogue knocks even Tarantino for six, the characterisations are uniformly colourful and credible, the soundtrack and the widescreen camerawork exemplary …” – Geoff Andrew, Time Out

3. The English Patient (51 lists; 12 top spots)

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“This is one of the year’s most unabashed and powerful love stories, using flawless performances, intelligent dialogue, crisp camera work, and loaded glances to attain a level of eroticism and emotional connection that many similar films miss.” – James Berardinelli, ReelViews

2. Secrets & Lies (55 lists; 11 top spots)

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“Leigh’s best work yet is indisputably screen art, but it’s a flesh-and-blood ‘people’ movie, too.” – Mike Clark, USA Today

1. Fargo (66 lists; 15 top spots)

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“The joy of Fargo is that everything that goes wrong does so in a perfectly realized universe of icebound Minnesotan understatement, a landscape so muffled by snow and Scandinavian-bred, low-affect courtesy that even murderous passion comes out goofy.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly