20 YEAR RETROSPECTIVE: The best of the rest of 1997
In a new annual series, Every Movie Has a Lesson is going to look back twenty years to revisit, relearn, and reexamine a year of cinema history to share favorites, lists, and experiences from the films of that year.
Partly taking my film critic hat off and adjusting the collar on my fanboy shirt, these next lists follow my previous post of my “10 Best” list from 1997 with more categories of distinction and remembrance. Enjoy!
First up are beloved films that I greatly enjoy and hold both high and dear. Some of these just missed my “10 Best” list. All are personal classics that get the most replay value from me of any movies from 1997. Even though the films didn’t come out in 1997, the theatrical arrivals of the restored and re-tinkered “Special Editions” of the original Star Wars trilogy arrived that year and warrants a mention as it was my first chance, along with an entire new generation’s, to see those classics on the big screen. I wouldn’t get that chance again until doing a 7-film marathon before Star Wars: The Force Awakens two years ago.
Life is Beautiful
Men in Black
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Air Force One
As far as “Best of” quality goes, Life is Beautiful, Jackie Brown, and Boogie Nights flirted with spots in the Top 10. For me, though not for many others, the works of Quentin Tarantino have not held up well. They’ve gotten more excessive and high on their own supply over the year. He’s an example of my changing tastes, but Jackie Brown is an expertly composed piece of entertainment. The marriage of styles between Tarantino and Elmore Leonard is a match made in heaven. Along the same lines, I’ve never been a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan. His films too have only gotten more pretentious since his early works. Boogie Nights is the one PTA film I find immediately watchable on his resume. Boogie Nights is an absolute party with all the sobering punches to be something bigger than fun.
Included on that list are other spots of high-profile fun. I know I remember hooting and hollering in a theater seat to Will Smith’s befuddlement in Men in Black, Harrison Ford’s heroics in Air Force One, and Julia Roberts and Rupert Everett's antics in My Best Friend’s Wedding. I find Liar Liar to outright be Jim Carrey’s funniest film. I watch that one more than any of his other movies. While it hasn’t aged well at all, a Bond fan like myself cannot deny the cheeky love I will always have for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
This list dives a little deeper and a little sillier into my taste, where the fanboy starts to beat down the film critic. I believe in guilty pleasures and relish having them around. All of these for me have questionable quality by lofty standards, but unquestioned enjoyment. I’ll defend them night and day for the fun factor.
The Devil’s Advocate
Grosse Pointe Blank
I Know What You Did Last Summer
Kiss the Girls
The 1990s had an entire economic level of film that doesn’t exist in the same degree today: the mid-level star vehicle, films of modest budgets made by savvy filmmakers and driven by a top-line talent. This section and the favorites section above are filled with films that would be stripped down indies today or overinflated blockbuster wannabes. I miss the $30-60 million middleweight class of studio productions. They don’t make them like they used to.
Damn, do I love Anaconda. I was able to see it on the big screen this year at a Wilmette Theatre event and I was a kid again for 90 minutes. I love a good creature feature for that matter, which is why The Relic, The Edge, and even Starship Troopers make this list as well. Mamet’s human flourishes on The Edge bring out another beast separate from the grizzly bear. As a Chicagoan, I enjoyed seeing the Field Museum of Natural History as the backdrop for Tom Sizemore and Penelope Ann Miller dodging a decapitating monster in The Relic. The topical brashness of Starship Troopers could never be made today and that’s awesome.
I love the rarity of a “bad guy wins” film. Se7en blew my mind in 1995 and the sinful twists of Taylor Hackford’s seedy and sweaty The Devil’s Advocate repeated that explosion in 1997. That’s another film you couldn’t make convincingly today. Endless police procedural TV shows since the 90s have stolen the thunder of good crime films to a large degree, but Kiss the Girls is quintessential Morgan Freeman. Booty Call is one of my favorite sex farces and, older generations be damned, the 17-year-old version of me drooled over the combination of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt for I Know What You Did Last Summer. I might even rank that film over Scream in many ways.
Here is where I’ll dive into films you may not remember from 1997 but need to introduce yourself to or become reacquainted with.
Going All the Way
In this deep year, John Singleton’s Rosewood was a year-end Top 10 contender for me. Incredibly powerful, the shock and empathy of the historical film still hit me now, especially when you compare it to some of the stories being made now. Five years ago, I reviewed James Mangold’s Cop Land a few years back with Tim Day of Day at the Movies and find it to be an underappreciated classic, one that foretells the solid director he’s become today. That film also was Top 10 material.
Growing up to become a school teacher, one that has always worked in racially diverse settings, the high tension of 187 and Samuel L. Jackson’s lead performance have not gone away either. Switchback, with Dennis Quaid and a young Jared Leto, and the kinetic Kurt Russell vehicle are extremely good little thrillers. I’m an Clint Eastwood mark and Absolute Power remains impressive, and I don’t think Robert Duvall has had a finer performance than The Apostle. In a pre-9/11 world, The Peacemaker, directed by Mimi Leder was a smart action film during a time where intelligence was ignored for hubris and explosions. Lastly, Mark Pellington's microscopically-seen Going All the Way a post-WWII homefront drama with Ben Affleck, Jeremy Davies, and Rachel Weisz is a re-discovery waiting to happen.
Call this the “On the Fence” list. These are titles that I remember liking or respecting, but haven’t seen in years, maybe even all 20 years since 1997. Researching this editorial, these movies are being put in a queue to watch again and see how they’ve matured with time.
Wag the Dog
The Wings of the Dove
The Ice Storm
The Spanish Prisoner
Seven Years in Tibet
This list is loaded with excellent filmmakers like Ridley Scott (G.I. Jane), David Mamet again (The Spanish Prisoner), Ang Lee (The Ice Storm), Oliver Stone (U-Turn), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Alien: Resurrection), Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy), Gore Verbinski (Mouse Hunt), Iain Softley (The Wings of the Dove), and Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet). I’m a Kevin Costner apologist and I want to give the bloated The Postman another chance. In light of the mini-resurgence of musicals, I think Evita deserves another look, as well as Disney’s Hercules. With today’s political climate and attacks on media outlets, I think I would find prophetic parallels with Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog now more than I absorbed then.
Worse than revisits and revivals, these are my flat-out blind spots and instant apologies. These need immediate attention and fixing, especially Princess Mononoke. My only excuse was immaturity in 1997. Foreign animated films, stripping dudes, little indies, and Christopher Guest comedies hadn’t entered my experience level yet at the age of 18. I still have a bookmarked webpage for Roger Ebert’s 4-star review of high praise for Eve’s Bayou.
Waiting for Guffman
The Full Monty
Finally, we’ve reached an unhappy place in the reminiscing. Not every film ages very well in twenty years. Some that were preposterously fun for a teenager then are nails on a chalkboard to an adult now. For my eyes and in my heart, time has not been kind to these films. I’ll gladly wear the lampshade and use the “overrated” label like a roaring college basketball student section chant of one voice. Some of these I used to love, but plenty got this label from day one.
The Fifth Element
George of the Jungle
Tomorrow Never Dies
The Lost Highway
Jingle All the Way
I’ll come right out and say it. I’ve never been a Luc Besson or David Lynch lover. Leon: The Professional is compelling, but I find most of the rest of Besson’s films to some kind of mess each time and Lynch is a guy my brain can’t handle. The Fifth Element is all kinds of silliness that I didn’t care for then and haven’t come around to enjoying now. The Lost Highway is impressive, but doesn’t bring connection for me. I know both are on many people’s lists of cult favorites, but neither have ever fully worked for me.
Along the same lines, I used to love Jerry Bruckheimer’s brawny 80s and 90s films. Somewhere after 1995’s steely Crimson Tide, his productions just started to inflate with stupefaction. Sean Connery was gravitas that held The Rock together, but there’s no tethering Con Air to any coherance. I’ll admit to liking it back in the day, but it’s nearly unwatchable for me now. I just can’t stomach the preposterousness and packed roster of overacting. Speaking of preposterous and overacting, echo those sentiments for Face/Off, another wild spectacle I have fallen out of love with. What was initially cool swagger went and got dumber onward. Either that or I got older and wiser.
The stench still remains on each of these: silly violence, product placement, bat-nipples, dumb pet movies, and no growing cult following can spare Event Horizon.