1 The Age of Innocence. Movies, and movie critics, so regularly champion the audacious, the reckless, the most, that an achievement like Martin Scorsese's & with this impeccable adaptation of an Edith Wharton novel may be overlooked. The plot brings together a gentle man (Daniel Day-Lewis) and a worldly woman (Michelle Pfeiffer). But the true subject is reticence, its charms and perils -- the mannerly, orderly life that most of us try to live. Tiptoeing through the plush parlors of old Manhattan, the film finds ecstasy in the kissing of a lady's wrist, and heartbreak in a sigh. This, then, is Scorsese at his most daring: he has composed a tragic opera, sung in whispers.
2 Schindler's List An unlikely, enigmatic hero -- a playboy industrialist -- rescues 1,100 Polish Jews from the Holocaust. In retelling this true story, Steven Spielberg's austere but monumental film re-creates, with chilling immediacy, a central horror of 20th century life and death. Epic cinema, tragic drama, it is also an act of remembrance and conscience that ultimately transcends the ordinary critical categories.
3 Leolo Little boy lost: French-Canadian writer-director Jean-Claude Lauzon takes this familiar theme and replaces its sentimentality with luscious surrealism. No family could be more horrifying than little Leo's, no boy more frantic to find refuge in fantasy, no movie bolder in fashioning domestic tragedy into art.
4 In the Name of the Father Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant as Gerry Conlon, the Belfast lad falsely accused of I.R.A. terrorism and imprisoned with his long-suffering da. Jim Sheridan's movie is informed by an angry passion for justice, by a splendid ensemble of actors and by some of the year's most skillfully kinetic filmmaking.
5 Farewell My Concubine To make this show-biz epic, director Chen Kaige may have risked his professional life. The Chinese authorities first banned the film, then allowed its release after deleting scenes that depicted Maoist torture and pigheadedness. But this half-century panorama of the Peking Opera is at heart a swirling entertainment -- outsize emotions drawn on a vast, colorful canvas -- with a seductive, star-is-born turn by Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung.
6 The Snapper A fractious Dublin family faces an awkward fact: the eldest daughter is soon to give birth to an illegitimate baby. This crowded, wayward, funny film, written by Roddy Doyle and directed by Stephen Frears, is a hymn to family values without any of the usual piety. It gives Colm Meaney, as the $ emotionally hard-pressed father, the role of a lifetime.
7 Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas Every Burton film is Halloween scary and candy-cane sweet. So it's appropriate that the fevered imagineer (Beetlejuice, the Batman films, Edward Scissorhands) dreamed up this stop-motion fable about a Halloween ghoul who wants to play Santa Claus. Directed by Henry Selick, Nightmare is Disney's weirdest cartoon ever: chilly, rollicking, endlessly inventive. And it's animated by Danny Elfman's magical-spookical score. Is this the first Hollywood musical to set every one of its 10 songs in a minor key?