11 Best Movies & Shows Released in 1998

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 1998. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

Whilst a classic in some circles, Festen is many things, but it's definitely not mainstream entertainment. It was shot by Danish director, Thomas Vinterberg, who founded the Dogme 95 movement together with Lars von Trier in 1995, which sought to put the auteur director back at the heart of filmmaking, as opposed to the power of the studios or special effects. This was the first movie to come out from that group. You thought your family was messed up? Think again. This macabre, Poe-esque, gut-wrenching tale of debauchery will leave you feeling confused and slightly nauseous. This effect is exacerbated by Winterberg's directing style and the crazy camerawork of Anthony Dod Mantle. With a highly volatile tone and a great cast, the effect Festen has on you is not easily shaken off.

An offbeat film with a more than decent amount of suspense. To that it adds really good music and unexpected animation, to make for a very audacious, interesting and mostly fun film. It uses all this to show how life can change in a twist and how it can be influenced by weird connections of otherwise unrelated events.

If it weren’t for his knack for writing, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) would never have gotten into a prep school like Rushmore. But his art secures him a scholarship, and what he lacks in smarts and money, he makes up for in school pride. As he flunks more and more of his academics, however, he is eventually kicked out, and it’s outside the halls of his beloved Rushmore, stripped of all titles and insignia, where he learns to be his true self.  

As the film’s comedic and emotional core, Schwartzman is a revelation as the ambitious and sharp-tongued Max. Equally captivating is Bill Murray’s deadpan but lovable turn as Max’s millionaire friend, Herman Blume. It’s a role so fitting, in fact, that the poor-rich-man character will follow Murray well into his career, long after the curtains close on Mr. Blume. Meanwhile, Wes Anderson will go on to do more colorful and stylized pictures than Rushmore, but thanks to its unbeatable wit and down-to-earth charm, the film remains to be one of the auteur’s most delightful and hilarious works to date. 

While it would be easy to make comparisons to The Good Place and other shows and films dealing with the afterlife, Hirokazu Kore-eda's film is devoted to a single thing: commemorating the ordinary moments that make our life precious. Through little more than workplace banter and documentary-style interviews (with an ensemble delivering uncannily naturalistic performances), After Life reminds us how beautiful the mundane can be and how important it is for us to be present for each other in the everyday. And as the fim's characters prepare to create reenactments of each person's most precious memory, Kore-eda also defines filmmaking itself as an act of comfort and empathy. No existential crises here; an overwhelming sense of peace floods After Life, making it all the more memorable.

In Rounders, Matt Damon plays a law student and reformed poker player who is forced back into the game in order to help his newly-paroled best friend (Edward Norton) pay off overwhelming gambling debts. It’s an enjoyable insider’s look into the world of high stakes gambling and of Poker specifically, giving the viewer compelling insights into Poker in terms of strategy as well as human psychology. Damon and Norton are well-cast in their roles — Norton particularly great as the sleazy and manipulative “Worm”. Not-overly-surprising in its storytelling, yet highly enjoyable from beginning to end, this one will appeal to fans of gambling and sports films, as well as those who enjoy modern film noir and pseudo-noir films with a nice dramatic edge.
Clive Owen stars as a struggling writer who reluctantly accepts a lucrative offer to work as a croupier at a London casino. His characteristic aloofness, hatred of gambling, and sharp observational skills allow him to remain uncompromised and able to catch any attempt at cheating within his field of vision. But when a savvy professional gambler he shares an attraction with asks him to participate in a heist in an uncompromised way, he’s forced to consider playing the angles. Owen’s coolly detached performance is a marvel, and the depiction of the London casino scene is detailed and gritty, both of which make for compelling British noir.

Despite being remade, parodied, and absorbed into pop culture over the years, the original Ring defiantly marches to the beat of its own drum. Focused entirely on building a slow-burn mystery instead of dispensing scares, the film provides ample space for a number of interpretations: on the spread of technology, the erasure of traditional beliefs, or even motherhood. It's all relentlessly quiet and extremely creepy, the tension building with the same energy as ghost stories told around a campfire. And while famous for its eerie images and the rules surrounding its cursed videotape, Ringu also serves as a reminder that great horror should compel the audience to keep on watching, even if they already know exactly what awaits them if they do.

Written like a stage play, directed like the viewer is a fly on the wall, and shot with a love for deep shadows and warm candlelight, Flowers of Shanghai is about as immersive a chamber drama as one could ask for. Having most of the "action" take place off screen, director Hou Hsiao-hsien draws our eye instead to how his characters (including one played by an exceptionally stoic Tony Leung) continue to negotiate for their own freedom against patriarchal norms, pushing against cultural notions of proper decorum. It's a film brimming with repressed emotion, but without ever raising its voice. The vibes, as the kids say, are immaculate.

Following is the first movie Christopher Nolan ever directed, a mesmerizing low-budget effort that introduced the world to the genius who will later give us Memento, Inception, The Dark Knight, and many other classics. Shot in "extreme" conditions to quote Nolan himself, for just over £3000, it had to be filmed in the span of a year on Saturdays only and in friends' houses. But almost none of that is visible in the sharp camera work, the magnificent acting (most of it was first or second takes), and the twisted script. It tells the story of an unsuccessful writer (The Young Man) who tries to find inspiration in following random people in the street, and doing it via strict rules. One day he follows a man in a suit (Cobb), who catches him and becomes intrigued by him. It turns out that Cobb has his own fascination with people's intimate lives, of criminal nature, which he lets The Young Man into. Using the same non-linear plot technique as in Memento, this movie is halfway between a thriller and a film noir. The inspiration for it came when Nolan's own apartment in London was robbed, and he was fascinated by the act of strangers going through his personal items. If you take into consideration the conditions of its making, this movie is a masterpiece.

When David and his sister Jennifer fight over the TV remote, they are suddenly transported to David’s favorite sitcom, Pleasantville. They’re told by a spirit guide that their best bet at getting out is fitting in, but their modern sensibilities prove to be too much for the genteel ‘50s town. Soon, the residents learn about sex, art, criticism, and politics, and it’s up to the twins to control the ensuing mayhem and guide them to the right path. 

In hindsight, Pleasantville seems ahead of its time, preceding Marvel’s WandaVision as the ultimate, deconstructed homage to 20th-century television. But unlike the series, Pleasantville dives deep into personal and social politics, all while maintaining an impressive balance of wisdom and humor. Equally notable is the film’s transformation from black and white to Technicolor, which, aside from being a symbolic and technical feat, is also a piece of pure, mesmerizing cinema.

A crazy, high-speed movie about double-dealing crooks and thieves living along the Danube River in Serbia. Such a description probably makes this movie sound dark and menacing, trust me it is anything but. It is filled to the brim with delightful music, slapstick humor, bizarre contraptions, shotgun weddings -- with a sweet romantic caper at its center. If winter weather is getting you down, consider watching this film as a fun & sunny antidote.