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Staff & contributors

Like so many pictures about the pictures, The Player is a biting satire of the biz. Tim Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a Hollywood executive who gives dinner speeches about movies being art but works at a studio where endings are unceremoniously tweaked for maximum audience approval ratings — and therefore maximum profits. The greedy corporate Tinseltown of The Player feels very close to the franchise-pumping Tinseltown of today, but there’s enough wit and irony here to keep it from feeling too depressing.

Legendary New Hollywood director Robert Altman packages his critique in familiar clothing: that of a film noir. After receiving threatening postcards from a disgruntled writer he never called back, Griffin takes matters into his own hands and soon finds himself living out the plot of a taut thriller. The Player gets even more deliciously meta than this: nearly every scene contains a winking reference to the movies, and it’d probably be easier to count which stars of past and present don’t show up for a cameo here. What’s more, Altman gives The Player the kind of “happy ending” that Griffin’s studio is always demanding from writers — only here, it’s spun into a bitter commentary on the whole industry. Simply masterful.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Adam Simon, Alan Rudolph, Alexandra Powers, Althea Gibson, Andie MacDowell, Angela Hall, Anjelica Huston, Annie Ross, Bert Remsen, Brad Davis, Brian Brophy, Brian Tochi, Brion James, Bruce Willis, Buck Henry, Burt Reynolds, Cathy Lee Crosby, Charles Champlin, Cher, Cynthia Stevenson, David Alan Grier, Dean Stockwell, Dennis Franz, Derek Raser, Dina Merrill, Elliott Gould, Felicia Farr, Frank Barhydt, Fred Ward, Gary Busey, Gina Gershon, Greta Scacchi, Harry Belafonte, Jack Jason, Jack Kney, Jack Lemmon, Jack Riley, James Coburn, Jayne Meadows, Jeff Celentano, Jeff Goldblum, Jeremy Piven, Jill St. John, Joan Tewkesbury, Joel Grey, John Cusack, Julia Roberts, Karen Black, Katarzyna Figura, Kathy Ireland, Kevin Scannell, Leah Ayres, Leeza Gibbons, Lily Tomlin, Louise Fletcher, Lyle Lovett, Malcolm McDowell, Marina Zenovich, Marlee Matlin, Martin Mull, Michael Bowen, Michael Tolkin, Mike Kaplan, Mimi Rogers, Natalie Strong, Ned Bellamy, Nick Nolte, Pamela Bowen, Patricia Resnick, Patrick Swayze, Paul Dooley, Paul Hewitt, Peter Falk, Peter Gallagher, Peter Koch, Randall Batinkoff, Ray Walston, Rene Auberjonois, Richard Anderson, Richard E. Grant, Ritchie Montgomery, Robert Carradine, Robert Wagner, Rod Steiger, Sally Kellerman, Sally Kirkland, Scott Glenn, Scott Shaw, Shari Belafonte, Stephen Tolkin, Steve Allen, Steve James, Susan Emshwiller, Susan Sarandon, Sydney Pollack, Ted Hartley, Teri Garr, Tim Robbins, Vincent D'Onofrio, Whoopi Goldberg

Director: Robert Altman

In this romance from 1997, a photographer and a poet meet in an upscale nightclub in Chicago.

They quickly get together and connect on music, poetry, and photography, but Nina, the photographer, decides to go to New York to mend her relationship with her ex-fiance.

It’s so well-acted, funny, and because it’s been enough time that this has become noticeable, a great depiction of big-city life in the 90s. There is smoking inside, riding a motorcycle without helmets, and top-notch fashion.

The producers said they wanted to make “a contemporary film about African-American life that did not deal with guns and drugs,” and probably because they didn’t make compromises, the film was a commercial failure. In recent years, however, it has been quietly growing into a cult classic.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Bernadette Speakes, Bill Bellamy, Isaiah Washington, Khalil Kain, Larenz Tate, Leonard Roberts, Lisa Nicole Carson, Marie-Françoise Theodore, Nia Long

Director: Theodore Witcher

A Cormac McCarthy novel adaptation (like No Country for Old Men), The Road is an apocalypse movie set in a 'scorched Earth' rendition of the world. It follows a father (played by Viggo Mortensen) and his son as they battle to survive everyday life. Throughout the movie, the son's trust in his father grows and shrinks depending on choices the father makes, as he attempts to protect his son from cannibals, bandits, and the threat of starvation. The gritty realism this movie presents sets it apart from many other more theatrical releases, with the setting of a charred world illustrating a rather depressing new reality. A very down to earth and heartfelt story. Definitely worth the watch if you're willing to feel like you've been punched in the gut.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Agnes Herrmann, Bob Jennings, Buddy Sosthand, Charlize Theron, Garret Dillahunt, Guy Pearce, Jack Erdie, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Mark Tierno, Michael Kenneth Williams, Molly Parker, Robert Duvall, Viggo Mortensen, Wilson Moore

Director: John Hillcoat

Rating: R

Remarkably, Steven Soderbergh was only 26 years old when he directed this coolly assured debut, the searingly candid script of which he also wrote in just eight days. Despite the pornographic implications of its title, this is more concerned with exploring whether honesty — not sex — is the means to real intimacy. In fact, the only nakedness glimpsed here is of the emotional kind, as twenty-something drifter Graham’s (James Spader) total aversion to lying has an infectious influence on everyone around him.

The primary recipient of that disarming effect is Ann (Andie MacDowell), the wife of Graham’s old college buddy who is blasé about sex and neurotic about everything else. Talking to Graham has a therapeutic effect on her, but he takes something else away from conversation: chronically impotent, he simulates the sexual experience by conducting erotically themed interviews with women on videotape. Preferring to sublimate his desires through his camcorder, Spader’s physically aloof character is a disturbingly prescient one for what it suggested then about technology’s future impact on human relationships. That Soderbergh managed to conduct such a complex psychosexual drama all through dialogue — on his first feature, no less — makes him exceedingly worthy of the record this earned him of the youngest solo Palme d’Or-winning director ever.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alexandra Root, Andie MacDowell, David Foil, Earl T. Taylor, James Spader, Laura San Giacomo, Peter Gallagher, Ron Vawter, Steve Brill, Steven Brill

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Rating: R

You can tell Drugstore Cowboy was written by someone who has been through drug abuse and incarceration himself. This is the kind of film that has to be lived, not researched. It’s realistic, sure, and it gets at the interiority of a drug user with ease. But there is no judgment to be found here, no preachy criticism or misguided glorification of a hardened lifestyle. Bob (Matt Dillon) and his wife Dianne (Kelly Lynch) have created a nomadic, transient life that allows them to live on drugstore lootings one district at a time, while looking out for each other and the other couple they live with, Rick (James LeGros) and Nadine (Heather Graham). They chose this outlaw life, and because of the agency the film affords them, there is joy to be found despite their difficulties. It’s an authentic story, elevated by imaginative editing, a jazzy, heart-thumping score, and believable performances by a quartet of capable actors.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Beah Richards, Eric Hull, George Catalano, Grace Zabriskie, Gus Van Sant, Heather Graham, James Le Gros, James Remar, Kelly Lynch, Matt Dillon, Max Perlich, Michael Parker, Ted D'Arms, William S. Burroughs

Director: Gus Van Sant

Rating: R