Indie Sweep

7) Flirting With Disaster An adopted yuppie (Ben Stiller) goes in search of his genetic parents, accompanied by his wife (Patricia Arquette), their new baby, and a flaky psychologist (Tea Leoni). Director David O. Russell made a startling debut with 1994's low-budget Spanking the Monkey. While his first foray into the big time doesn't have quite as subversive an edge, it is nonetheless hilarious -- a terrific updating of ancient farce conventions for the '90s. The cast includes Richard Jenkins, Josh Brolin, Lily Tomlin, Alan Alda, George Segal, and Mary Tyler Moore.

8) Big Night It's hard not to love Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott's comedy-drama about two Italian immigrant brothers (Tucci and Tony Shalhoub) trying to save their New Jersey restaurant from bankruptcy. It's a small-scale, perfectly balanced ensemble piece in which each performer gets his or her moment without ever disrupting the flow of the story. The sterling cast includes Ian Holm, Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini, and Allison Janney.

9) Welcome to the Dollhouse Everyone's adolescent traumas are painfully recapped in this tale of a gawky New Jersey 11-year-old (Heather Matarazzo). Writer/director Todd Solondz's hilarious and brutal angstfest makes him a leading candidate to be the anti-John Hughes. There is no separating the pain from the humor in his direction. Even when the story threatens to turn serious, he keeps us completely off-balance.

10) Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud In this story of the complex, platonic relationship between an editor (Emmanuelle Beart) and the ex-judge (Michel Serrault) she works for, director Claude Sautet spins an engrossing and subtle tale. The film's tone is so delicately balanced that it's hard to classify it as either comedy or drama. Sautet has an uncommon faith in the audience's intelligence, and from that faith comes the leisure to present human behavior with all its ambiguities and ambivalences.

Of films I saw at festivals, the standouts were Tsui Hark's The Blade and Gary Walkow's update of Dostoevski's Notes From Underground, neither of which has been distributed widely.

Two documentaries rocked my world this year: Spread the Word, Fred Parnes' homage to the great a cappella group the Persuasions, gave me at least as much sheer pleasure as anything else on celluloid. And Leon Gast's When We Were Kings, due for wider distribution in February, is a totally involving look at the 1974 Ali vs. Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire. I also got various kinds of pleasure from The White Balloon, Ma Saison Preferee, Multiplicity, Supercop, Vive l'Amour, Freeway, Mother Night, The Line King, Everyone Says I Love You, Citizen Ruth, Scream, Mother, Thieves, Rumble in the Bronx, La Haine, Kids in the Hall Brain Candy, The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Mission: Impossible, Trainspotting, Shanghai Grand, The Wife, Feeling Minnesota, 2 Days in the Valley, Bound, Microcosmos, Swingers, Trees Lounge, Set It Off, Shine, Star Trek: First Contact, Ridicule, Jerry Maguire, La Ceremonie, That Thing You Do!, The People vs. Larry Flynt ....

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