01/09/1989 at 01:00 AM EST
Quick! What was the best picture you saw in 1988? Don't worry. Nobody else can deliver a speedy answer either, leaving the March 29 Oscar contest wide open. The hotly divided New York Film Critics Circle finally settled on the small but literate pleasures of The Accidental Tourist. In Los Angeles reviewers preferred the six-hour film version of Dickens' Little Dorrit, while the National Board of Review selected the controversial civil rights drama Mississippi Burning. My choice, The Manchurian Candidate, is a revival of the 1962 political satire kept out of circulation for years due to legal wrangling. Candidate reminded us of the exhilarating snap a great movie provides. That snap was missing in 1988 when even the better films had conspicuous flaws. So let's salute the movie year just past for the one area in which it could stake a claim to greatness: acting. Of course there were a few thespian trip-ups (see box below), but most actors in '88 films really proved their mettle. It's one thing to triumph with solid material, as Dustin Hoffman did in Rain Man. It's another to impress when the forces of script and direction are conspiring against you. Consider the acting wonders being worked in these three films, released just before the year ended.