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Rob's Top Ten Movies of 1997


 

#10: Donnie Brasco

Two very different kinds of great actor -- Johnny Depp and Al Pacino -- at their career best. Sharp-as-a-diamond script by Paul Attanasio, for my money the best screenwriter out there. At a time when we thought we'd seen enough gangster movies for one life, this one kept it real, stayed with the human beings involved, and scored big.

 

#9: Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist

Kirby Dick's stunner is the most unlikely great documentary since Terry Zwigoff's Crumb. Without ever lapsing into sensationalism (well, okay, the "Hammer of Love" sequence comes close), the movie follows Bob Flanagan and his lover/Dominatrix, Sheree Rose, through the last months of his very long life (he died at 43, an eternity for those born with Cystic Fibrosis). Raucously funny, warmly intimate, surprisingly sweet (the sequence in which Bob accompanies a young CF patient to her first nipple piercing should win over even the most prudish), and, finally, wrenchingly sad.

 

#8: Gattaca

Andrew Niccol's ravishing futuristic drama proposes a worthwhile premise, then follows through on it with intelligence and heart. Would that this approach to sci-fi were common.

 

#7: The Apostle

A true independent film (Robert Duvall paid for everything, probably including pizza for the crew) tackling the subject of faith with clear eyes and imagination. As with any truly religious film, it probably plays better the less religious you are.

 

#6: In the Company of Men

Neil LaBute's debut overturned the rock of corporate manhood and showed us what scuttled underneath. It wasn't pretty, and many critics weren't shy about saying so.

 

#5: The Ice Storm

Adapting Rick Moody's rather whimsical novel, Ang Lee delivered a frozen, anguished mood piece. A rare instance wherein the movie completely goes against the tonal grain of the source material, yet succeeds on its own merits.

 

#4: Lost Highway

David Lynch's bifurcated "21st century noir horror film" seems designed to lose everyone but the faithful. Being one of the faithful, I loved every ornery, baffling minute of it.

 

#3: Grosse Pointe Blank

Tirelessly witty black comedy that pokes large holes in the '90s "yeah whatever, give me a job, I don't care what I have to do, it's all about the benjamins" ethos. Aside from that, it's also a mile-long string of one classic scene after another. "You can never go home again," says John Cusack to his therapist, "but I guess you can shop there."

 

#2: L.A. Confidential

Adapting James Ellroy's seething, phone-book-fat noir was no mean feat. Director Curtis Hanson and scripter Brian Helgeland brought it home without a scratch. One of those instant classics that future movies will use as reference.

 

#1: The Sweet Hereafter

When innocent children die in a random accident, it must mean something. Right? Atom Egoyan's masterful drama doesn't answer the question; it just poses more questions.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:
The exuberantly cheesy Starship Troopers; Anaconda, just for Jon Voight; Richard Linklater's gloomy departure subUrbia; John Singleton's rousing Rosewood; Paul Thomas Anderson's terse debut Hard Eight; the good parts of Anderson's significantly less terse followup Boogie Nights; Kasi Lemmons' stunning debut Eve's Bayou; the competent apocaflick Volcano; the radiantly loopy Romy and Michele's High School Reunion; Luc Besson's overstuffed toybox The Fifth Element; Sidney Lumet's New York operetta Night Falls on Manhattan (best title of the year, too); Steven Spielberg's what-the-hell guilty pleasure The Lost World: Jurassic Park; John Woo's lighter-than-air Face/Off; the enjoyable sleeper The Full Monty; the flawed but compelling Cop Land; the shagadelic Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery; Sean Penn in She's So Lovely and U-Turn; the better-than-you've-been-led-to-believe Excess Baggage; the not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-that comedy In & Out; the gentle and sophisticated Love and Death on Long Island; Al Pacino fiddling while New York burns in The Devil's Advocate; the unfairly dismissed Alien Resurrection; Woody Allen's bracingly nasty Deconstructing Harry; Christopher Walken goofing around in MouseHunt; Martin Scorsese's becalmed meditation Kundun; Quentin Tarantino's leisurely but satisfying Jackie Brown; the nimble media satire Wag the Dog; Danny Boyle's entertaining whatsit A Life Less Ordinary; and Dante's Peak, just for giving me some of the biggest unintended laughs I've ever enjoyed.


SPECIAL HONORABLE MENTION

 
James Cameron's Titanic, the movie that wouldn't go away. Yes, Cameron was insufferable on the many awards nights. Yes, you and everyone else got sick of it. Yes, the dialogue is deeply painful. Yes, it spawned Leo-mania while sticking Kate Winslet in a role pretty much any actress her age could've played. Still and all, it was a king-hell example of moviemaking spectacle and craft. We don't see too much of that any more.


Rob's Top Ten WORST Movies of 1997

 

#10: The Relic

Monster eats people. Eat, monster, eat. This should've been exactly the sort of drive-in junk I cherish, but it's just dull and by-the-numbers.

 

#9: Private Parts

Howard Stern's special pleading: "Love me even though I'm an asshole." His subsequent separation from his long-suffering wife (well-played here by Mary McCormack) puts the lie to the film's "Howard is okay -- he has the love of a good woman" thesis.

 

#8: Amistad

Did this need to be a movie? I don't mean the drama of the Amistad mutiny, I mean the resulting courtroom tedium. A compelling piece of African-American history reduced to a bunch of white guys standing around arguing.

 

#7: Kiss the Girls

Sleazy serial-killer junk, not even redeemed by Morgan Freeman or director Gary Fleder (Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead).

 

#6: The Devil's Own / Seven Years in Tibet

Since they were basically the same movie -- Brad Pitt falling asleep in two overblown Hollywood "dramas." Pitt keeps saying he wants to branch out into less mainstream stuff, and yet he continues to do shite like this.

 

#5: The Man Who Knew Too Little

If this is the sort of thing Bill Murray has to do to stay in the game as a lead actor, maybe it's best for him to stick to small but dazzling supporting roles.

 

#4: An American Werewolf in Paris

Quite possibly the second worst sequel in history -- a surprise coming from talented director Anthony Waller (Mute Witness), who should've known better. John Landis' original continues to be watched and enjoyed today, while this one was forgotten faster than a popped zit.

 

#3: Batman and Robin

Someone stop Joel Schumacher before he directs another one of these. Please? George Clooney has grovelled in apology for sinking the franchise, but it isn't his fault. And if it did have anything to do with him, he should be considered a hero for halting this rapidly decaying series in its fetid undead tracks.

 

#2: Spawn

This aggressively awful live-action embodiment of a zillion ugly comics, cartoons, and action figures dealt the arrogant Todd McFarlane a richly-deserved humility slap. Offers the wretched spectacle of Martin Sheen at career rock bottom ("I was in Apocalypse Now! I'm better than this!" he must've shouted many times into his dressing-room mirror).

 

#1: Speed 2: Cruise Control

Quite possibly the worst sequel in history -- it takes everything that was fresh and exciting about the original, and chucks it over the side of the slow-moving cruise liner. Siskel and Ebert actually gave this two thumbs up; of course, Siskel was probably developing his brain tumor at the time, but what was Ebert's excuse?


DISHONORABLE MENTIONS:
The hugely overrated Good Will Hunting, in which Damon and Affleck wrote themselves roles that actors kill for, and of course were rewarded with an Oscar; the bad parts of Boogie Nights; Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Clint Eastwood's act of reverse alchemy (turning a page-turner into a dull film); the juvenile grossout Men in Black; the worthless slasher films I Know What You Did Last Summer and Wishmaster; the Britcom Different for Girls, which doesn't do justice to its complex subject; and the ridiculous Demi Moore in the ridiculous G.I. Jane.


SPECIAL DISHONORABLE MENTION

 
George Lucas' revamped, re-released Star Wars Trilogy, in which Greedo shot first, Han Solo met a cheap-looking Jabba, and -- the most amazing special effect of all -- Lucas' piggy bank grew three sizes that year. And guess what? All the CGI retrofitting didn't make the original Star Wars any less puerile!


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