Monday, June 6, 2011

Best of the Year: 1997

My Picks of the Year
(in alphabetical order)
Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)
A sexy ladies man wanders into a party, and discovers a beauty (Penelope Cruz) he cannot let go of. He flirts with her, and she flirts back, clearly interested. They connect. Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, his ex stalks him. Soon, the ex offers our hero a ride home and their car almost immediately crashes down the overpass... and the story begins. This is a wild, mind-bending, sexy thriller, loaded with images and ideas I still cannot shake today. Cameron Crowe remade it with Tom Cruise (as well as Ms. Cruz in the same role, and Cameron Diaz as the vengeful ex), and as strong as Vanilla Sky was, it does not top this original wowser of a motion picture.

Air Force One
Two words: Kick ass. Some action films don't exactly get better after each viewing, but Air Force One is a rarity. This is a tight, macho, patriotic thriller featuring Harrison Ford, God bless him, as the President of the United States who doesn't want to be fucked with. Wolfgang Petersen is a fantastic visual director, and he frames the plane sequences with uncommon finesse. Equipped with terrific, quotable lines of dialogue, this is a smart, fast-paced, R-rated blockbuster. It's expensive Hollywood at its best.

Anaconda
When you can't breathe, you can't scream. With that tag line, you cannot go wrong with this ultra-campy horror film about a giant snake that terrorizes a documentary film crew and their ornery guide in the Amazon. Jennifer Lopez, in the same year as her breakthrough role in Selena, pulls no punches as the feisty leader of the troupe. Ice Cube provides tough, glowing support while Jon Voight is a perfectly nasty, over-the-top villain. This was a good movie until Voight was regurgitated from the snake and gave a wink to the audience -- at that point, Anaconda had become an instant favorite.

As Good As It Gets
This one took me a few viewings before I really warmed up to it. The key to the success of As Good As It Gets is its unabashedly plain and simple love story. Jack Nicholson really hits the right notes, not overdoing the OCD traits of his character, and not being too irascible or cranky. Understatement is a fine art, and Nicholson's Oscar-winning performance is masterful example. Helen Hunt is as radiant as she's ever been, and Greg Kinnear, an actor who gets better every time I see him, deftly manages to steal more than a few scenes from the heavyweights. A smile-inducing delight.

Boogie Nights
Epic in every sense of the word. Huge. Loud. Explosive. Sprawling. Magnificent! Mark Wahlberg is at the peak of his early career as an "up-and-coming" porn star and he is, as we are, immersed into the business of sleaze, drugs, and sex, sex, sex. Boogie Nights is a bold, ambitious drama, featuring the cast of all casts, including Hoffman, Hall, Reilly, Cheadle, Moore, Reynolds, Guzman, and Macy. Let it be known that their choreographer, a young P. T. Anderson, is a name synonymous with "electricity."

Breakdown
This thriller is pure muscle. Kurt Russell, an actor I never tire of seeing, plays a travelling yuppie whose new truck breaks down in the desert. When his wife goes missing shortly thereafter, the film turns into an intense yarn in which he battles with a sinister J.T. Walsh and his ruthless henchmen. Call it a latter-day Duel; call it an extremely competent debut for Jonathan Mostow; call it a crackling acting showcase for its two male leads. Or better yet, call Breakdown a superior action thriller, made to the finest order.

Con Air
It may very well be the last fun Bruckheimer film. Nicolas Cage is an absolute hoot in this popcorn action adventure that was made with its big fat tongue firmly planted in its cheek. Malkovich is a great, campy villain, and the "cool" supporting cast includes Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi (whose storyline with the little girl truly flirts with the edge), Colm Meaney, Danny Trejo, M.C. Gainey, Mykelti Williamson and John Cusack. Best line: "Put the bunny back in the box."

Contact
Another Robert Zemeckis winner, this movie owes a lot to the heartfelt, endearing performance by Jodie Foster. She creates an ambitious scientist who truly believes there is a voice in space and is determined to listen to it. James Woods, John Hurt, Matthew McConaughey, and Tom Skerritt are all obstacles and bridges that ultimately bring her to an enriching, emotionally satisfying conclusion, not just for her, but the audience as well. This is a must see for true believers.

Cube
I will never forget this movie. I broke a sweat, nervously fidgeting in my seat while watching Cube, a very awesome Canadian thriller that features seven random individuals trapped in interlocking 14' x 14' cubes. Under only a deft hand would this be able to work, and alas, Vincenzo Natali pulls it off competently and, at times, brilliantly. A near masterpiece of its genre.

Face/Off
This year saw many great, kickass action films, and Face/Off is no exception. Poor pacing is the film's only glaring flaw, but everything from the clever storyline, glorious action sequences, and bravura acting make this one a ride impossible to forget. Travolta and Cage had such a great time playing these roles, and it was a blast watching them imitate one another. A daring original!

The Game
What a mind trip! Michael Douglas, easily one of our generation's finest actors and movie stars, excels in this playful, twisty, eye-opening thriller about a depressed millionaire who discovers that he is being played. And boy, what a wake-up call! Sure, it could never happen in real life, but it's the movies. And movies always pose the question: What if it *did* happen, and what if it happened to *you*? Sean Penn is fun as his unpredictable brother, but it's David Fincher's nervous, paranoid direction that makes The Game the coolest movie of the year.

The Ice Storm
Everything about The Ice Storm is perfect. The editing: not a single shot in this film does not belong here. The score: so melancholy, tearful, and genuine. The cinematography: have you ever felt so chilled? The acting: after only one viewing, I had already remembered every character's name, which is a feat only great performers can handle. The Ice Storm is like a photograph; look as hard as you may for a false light, but the portrait is sadly real in its icy perfection. One of my all-time favorites.

Jackie Brown
Quentin Tarantino needs to make more movies. There's something so unique and original about his talent as a filmmaker, and I cannot quite place my finger on it. Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece of epic proportions; it created a rash of new ideas and concepts in Hollywood cinema. Jackie Brown is a worthy follow-up; a quiet, sincere character piece that combines elements of brilliant acting, fresh, fascinating lines of dialogue, and a narrative so playful, it screams Tarantino.

Starship Troopers
Paul Verhoeven's metaphorical science-fiction thriller riled and roused me in its timely messages, hardcore violence, and sheer audacity. In this wild mixture of propaganda, sci-fi horror, and Beverly Hills 90210, we witness a conundrum of Nazi-esque characters, killer arachnids, and sexually charged beauties. One reason I admired it so much is that I've never seen anything like it. "Do you want to know more?"

The Sweet Hereafter
It's the mood, you see. Forget the story, the actors, the setting -- it's the dark, dreamy, melancholy mood that makes Atom Egoyan's harrowingly affecting film so heartbreaking. Sure, the story is indeed compelling, especially in its non-linear way of being told, and Ian Holm is devastating as the link that brings all the pieces together. But the patient editing, the graceful camera movements, and the characters' solemnity are strokes of fine filmmaking.

Titanic
Titanic is a great piece of pop entertainment. I think it's fabulous that the whole world universally embraced this untimely love story and incredible history lesson. James Cameron is a technical genius, and Leo and Kate deservedly became huge stars. Titanic is worthy of many accolades and awards, and it deserves a place in world cinema. However, I've seen the film about 10 times and, frankly, that's enough. I don't want to see it again for another 20 years.

Honorable Mention
Affliction; Eve's Bayou; Good Will Hunting; Gridlock'd; Insomnia; Life is Beautiful; Men with Guns; Night Falls on Manhattan; Scream 2; Selena; The Spanish Prisoner; Welcome to Sarajevo

2 comments:

CS said...

Love, Love, Love Abre Los Ojos! Such a well crafted film. I agree with a good portion of this list with the exception of Air Force One, Anaconda, and The Game. Was not a fan of any of those.

Dave said...

Yeah, I'm not surprised. Anaconda doesn't exactly scream "greatness" for many people, but it just clicked for me. And The Game is one of the more polarizing films I've seen in the 90's. I find people either love or hate it. And you don't like Air Force One? Dammit, man, get off my plane!

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