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THE BEST & THE WORST OF 1993

Well, it's that time of year again . . . almost the end, that is. Which means critics are pondering their favorite movies of the past 12 months, as well as those pictures that almost made the job seem like work.

My best and worst picks from the 1993 crop were gleaned from throughout the year, rather than just the past few months. "Groundhog Day," for example, opened way back in February, while "Schindler's List" won't be here for a couple of weeks yet (Friday, Jan. 7).Oscar-voters may forget films that opened prior to September, but I have tried not to fall into that trap. Besides, cinematically speaking, it really has been quite a good year . . . the current crop of disappointing holiday movies notwithstanding.

In fact, it's been quite a while since I've had to pare down my annual top 10 list, rather than build it up. True, I only gave four-star reviews to seven movies during the year - but that's three more than last year. And the year before.

So, either we had a better crop, or I've been far too stingy with my self-appointed "excellent" rating. (Or maybe both.)

Here, for better or worst are my bests and worsts:

BEST

1. Sleepless In Seattle. Nora Ephron's sweet comic romance. OK, call me a sentimentalist.

2. Schindler's List. Steven Spielberg's stunning look at a true story of the Holocaust. (Opens Jan. 7.)

3. The Fugitive. Harrison Ford chased by Tommy Lee Jones. The best "roller-coaster ride" (if I may be permitted a critical cliche) of the summer.

4. The Age of Innocence. Martin Scorsese's gorgeous adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel, with the perfect cast.

5. The Joy Luck Club. An enthralling, moving adaption of Amy Tan's novel, with another terrific ensemble cast.

6. The Remains of the Day. Another Merchant-Ivory triumph, with superb performances by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

7. Manhattan Murder Mystery. Woody Allen back in form with a hilarious murder yarn and a superb comic performance from Diane Keaton.

8. Much Ado About Nothing. Kenneth Branagh's very funny Shakespeare adaptation, with a great cast.

9. Jurassic Park. Spielberg's update of the old dinosaurs-run-amok B-movie, bolstered by knockout special effects and the director's "Jaws"-like talent.

10. Groundhog Day. A funny, sweet Bill Murray vehicle that evokes "It's a Wonderful Life."

WORST

1. Carnosaur. Gory, disgusting dinosaurs-run-amok picture that quickly became extinct at the box office.

2. Body of Evidence. Madonna trying to do that "Basic Instinct" thing.

3. Boxing Helena. Too-weird misogynistic "romance" from Jennifer Lynch (David's daughter).

4. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Next year look for "Jason Meets Freddy" in this space.

5. Son-in-Law. Pauly Shore. Need we say more?

6. Surf Ninjas. Even dumb comedy shouldn't be this dumb.

7. Look Who's Talking Now. It's the dogs. This one went to them.

8. Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice. Even Steven King went on record as hating this one.

9. Ernest Rides Again. Next year look for "Ernest Goes to School" in this space.

10. My Boyfriend's Back. Horrid zombie comedy that was justly eaten alive by the competition.

- YES, 1993 WAS a stellar year for motion pictures. Among the highlights:

- A resurgence in family films, with particular emphasis on child actors. Including an unprecedented number of very impressive child performances.

- Changes of pace from Bill Murray (whose "Groundhog Day" farce had some genuine heart), Martin Scorsese (whose "Age of Innocence" was elegant and high-minded) and Steven Spielberg (whose "Schindler's List" is as stark and unflinching as most of his films are fanciful).

- "Schindler's List" has also become the best-reviewed movie of the year (when's the last time national critics agreed this passionately about a film?), a serious, artistic feather in Spielberg's cap. And if that wasn't enough, he also found time to give us the biggest worldwide box office hit of all time ("Jurassic Park").

- Among early signs that Spielberg's dinosaur epic would be a monster hit was Roger Corman rushing his "Carnosaur" ripoff into theaters before the release of "Jurassic Park."

- "Aladdin" became Disney's biggest box office hit ever (and the most popular animated feature of all time). Then, a few months later, "Aladdin" became the top-selling video of all time.

- There was yet another "final" entry in the "Friday the 13th" series (I don't believe it this time, either).

- Tommy Lee Jones' stock rose considerably with hot, disparate performances in "The Fugitive," "House of Cards" and "Heaven and Earth." (The latter film opens locally Jan. 7.)

- Janet Jackson made an impressive acting debut in "Poetic Justice," and Clint Eastwood showed off his acting muscles in "In the Line of Fire," which opened after he won the Oscar for directing last year's "Unforgiven."

- Madonna flopped in "Body of Evidence," Sharon Stone flopped with "Sliver," Richard Gere showed that his audience likes him as a romantic hunk ("Sommersby") but not as a romantic wacko ("Mr. Jones"), author Michael Crichton had two adapted hits ("Jurassic Park," "Rising Sun"), author John Grisham had two adapted hits ("The Firm," "The Pelican Brief"), and Demi Moore made an impression at the box office if not with critics when Robert Redford paid $1 million for one night with her ("Indecent Proposal").

- A pair of superstar actors made their directing debuts - Mel Gibson, with "The Man Without a Face"; Robert De Niro, with "A Bronx Tale" - resulting in mostly positive reviews, and in Gibson'scase, satisfying box office returns.

- We overdosed on movies spoofs ("Fatal Instinct," "Robin Hood: Men In Tights," "Hot Shots! Part Deux," "National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1," "Last Action Hero.").

- And "Last Action Hero provided Arnold Schwarzenegger with his first flop in years. Well, relative flop anyway - relative because "Last Action Hero" actually earned a healthy box office sum for a medium-budget film. But at a negative cost of $60 million to $70 million, it was far from a medium-budget film.

- Harrison Ford climbed back to the top of the action-movie heap with a TV series remake ("The Fugitive").

- Utah was shown off in a number of national releases ("The Sandlot," "Geronimo," "This Boy's Life," "A Home of Our Own," "Josh and S.A.M.").

- There were, of course, sequels galore ("Children of the Corn II," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III," "Warlock: The Armageddon," "Another Stakeout," "Son of the Pink Panther," "Look Who's Talking Now," "Ernest Rides Again," "Sister Act 2," "Wayne's World 2," "Beethoven's 2nd").

- There were also plenty of remakes . . . remakes of TV shows ("The Beverly Hillbillies"), remakes of foreign films ("The Vanishing," "Point of No Return"), remakes of old movies ("Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey," "Born Yesterday"), remakes of biographies ("Geronimo," "Tombstone"), remakes of oft-filmed literary works ("The Adventures of Huck Finn," "The Secret Garden," "The Three Musketeers") . . . and pictures that just seemed like remakes ("Sleepless In Seattle," "So I Married an Axe Murderer," "The Good Son," "Malice").

- And Ted Turner made his first foray into theatrical filmmaking with a 41/2-hour Civil War epic ("Gettysburg"). A longer version is due on his basic cable channels early next year.

BEST RUNNERS-UP

"Searching for Bobby Fischer," "In the Line of Fire," "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Dave," "The Firm," "Untamed Heart," "Lorenzo's Oil," "Passion Fish," "The Secret Garden," "Strictly Ballroom," "Benny & Joon," "Heart and Souls," "American Friends."

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE

"The Story of Qiu Ju," "Like Water for Chocolate," "Close to Eden," "The Ox," "Un Couer en Hiver," "Farewell My Concubine," "Olivier, Olivier," "Sofie," "Once Upon a Time in China II," "Armour of God," "Project A."

BEST DOCUMENTARIES

"Visions of Light," "Amazonia," "Manufacturing Consent."

WORST RUNNERS-UP

"The Lover," "Hexed," "Knight Moves," "Leprechaun," "The Opposite Sex," "The Crush," "Becoming Colette," "Sliver," "Calendar Girl," "Mr. Nanny," "Gift," "Man's Best Friend," "Wicked City," "Bad Lieutenant," "CB4," "Cop 1/2," "Shadow of the Wolf," "Sidekicks," "Splitting Heirs," "Posse," "Happily Ever After," "Made In America," "Super Mario Bros.," "Guilty As Sin," "Hocus Pocus," "So I Married an Axe Murderer," "Kalifornia," "The Real McCoy," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "RoboCop 3," "Carlito's Way," "Wayne's World 2."

******

(Chart)

TOP 10 1993 BOX-OFFICE HITS

1. Jurassic Park ($337 million)

2. The Fugitive ($179 million)

3. The Firm ($158 million)

4. Sleepless In Seattle ($126 million)

5. Indecent Proposal ($107 million)

6. In the Line of Fire ($102 million)

7. Cliffhanger ($84 million)

8. Free Willy ($78 million)

9. Mrs. Doubtfire ($73 million and climbing)

10. Dave ($63 million)

(Figures reflect North America grosses only.)