`Nights’! Cameron! action! | Standouts of the big screen: a year of ice and `Men’
Very basically, the movie year 1997 went from fire (“Volcano”) to ice
(“Titanic”). Meanwhile, the biggest load of green was hauled in by some men
For some of us, the best gold was “Boogie Nights.” Hate porn? Listen, you
can still love the movie.
Admittedly, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film about porn folk did not have the
stirring dignity of Princess Diana’s funeral, the year’s finest media
event. But this surprisingly layered film made screen sex funny and brave
again, put Anderson on the map, put Marky Mark (that is, Mark Wahlberg) on
his marks, and gave Burt Reynolds the comeback even his toupee has wanted.
As usual, we end the year with the promise of gifts denied us until
January. Among them, Pedro Almodovar’s “Live Flesh,” Martin Scorsese’s
“Kundun” and Robert Duvall’s “The Apostle.” All coming.
San Diego gained an impressive plex downtown, the Pacific Gaslamp 15, but
that doesn’t balance the loss of Hillcrest single-screens, the Guild and
Park. Nothing, of course, replaces the loss of James Stewart and Robert
Mitchum, who died in July like twin stars departing.
I reckon that “Men in Black” was a fine summer surprise, not just a
grosser. “Batman & Robin,” a stinker, struggled hard to recoup its cost, as
did most of the big fun machines. The system is spending itself senseless
(for insight, read Dostoevsky’s “The Gambler”), but “Titanic” does justify
its cost — thanks to the really visionary passion of maker James Cameron.
We had many ace documentaries, such as “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control” and
“Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern.” For ensemble acting, nothing this decade
beats “Boogie Nights,” “The Daytrippers” or the hilarious “Waiting for
Please don’t ask me to sit through “Mr. Magoo,” “Alien Resurrection” or
“Gone Fishin’ ” again. Critics must suffer, but so much?
Now, the flavors of excellence:
1. “Boogie Nights” — A lot raunchy, a load funny, and three hours of
crafty style and feeling for porn biz bottom-dwellers who just want to be
show people. It begins in the ’70s, and is one of the few modern films to
have that special, ’70s movie excitement. Plus some very funny porn.
2. “La Promesse” — Brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne made this Belgian
stunner about a teen (Jeromie Renier) whose father imports illegal workers
and also exploits the boy. An unflinching view of lives rubbed raw but
finally uplifted by moral choice. And, intimately, a portrait of Europe in
3. “Titanic” — James Cameron’s epic about the ship disaster cost more than
$200 million. More interestingly, it is the most romantic of maritime
spectacles, full of astonishing sights, great craft care, a few clinker
lines and splendid actors as the young lovers who find joy before tragedy:
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Corny? Yes, in the best way.
4. “Ulysses’ Gaze” — A demanding masterpiece, in black and white and
shades of thought, about cinema, politics, the Balkans and the mysteries of
memory. Theo Angelopoulos directed with poetic vigilance, and Harvey Keitel
is the long story’s wandering, honest heart.
5. “The Daytrippers” — A bunch of charming characters (and actors) go into
Manhattan in an old car, to find a wayward husband. Director-writer Greg
Mottola and central charmer Hope Davis (the wife), plus delightful Parker
Posey, made this adult comedy the year’s most captivating surprise.
6. “Washington Square” — The year’s best Henry James adaptation, because
most alive in its skin, not just costumes and literary trimmings. Jennifer
Jason Leigh is remarkably in suspense, then strikingly brave as the heiress
who rises above a tyrant father (Albert Finney) and ambivalent lover (Ben
Chaplin). Directed without chalk dust by Agnieszka Holland.
7. “Box of Moonlight” — Tom DiCillo’s delightful comedy about a rigid
square (John Turturro, perfect) unboxed for fresh living by a kid
frontiersman (Sam Rockwell, priceless). From skinny-dipping to
tomato-bashing, a wonderfully pleasing adventure of self-discovery.
8. “When We Were Kings” — A rousing, smart-fisted return to the 1974 fight
in Zaire of Muhammad Ali (entirely dominant) and George Foreman (before he
got fat and funny). Leon Gast took years to get it made, and achieved the
most entertaining, in-your-face view of a sports genius ever filmed.
9. “Jackie Brown” — Quentin Tarantino finally makes another big one,
perhaps better than “Pulp Fiction” because the Elmore Leonard story lets
him relax into the L.A.-low ambience and scrounging characters, wonderfully
acted by Robert Forster, Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton and
Bridget Fonda, plus (almost undercover) Robert De Niro.
10. “Carpati: 50 Miles, 50 Years” — The story of Zev Godiger, one of the
few Jewish survivors in Ukrainian Carpathia. He’s a humble man, but also
some kind of great man, who brings his aging remnant of believers a new
Torah. This marvel of attentive love was made by Yale Strom.
And the count continues: 11. “Rough Magic,” 12. “All Over Me,” 13. “When
the Cat’s Away,” 14. “Sling Blade,” 15. “Waiting for Guffman,” 16. “City of
Industry,” 17. “Men in Black,” 18. “Ulee’s Gold,” 19. “Breakdown,” 20. “The
Wings of the Dove.” (Hey, four more: “The Van,” “Kolya,” “Eye of God” and
Most beautiful: “Titanic.”
Most beautiful whatzit: David Lynch’s “Lost Highway.”
Supreme creative triumph: Godard’s “Contempt,” 34 years old but still
fresher than anything new.
The worst of the worst: “Batman & Robin,” “Conspiracy Theory,” “8 Heads in
a Duffel Bag,” “Gone Fishin’,” “Gummo,” “Mr. Magoo,” “The Postman,” “A
Thousand Acres,” ” ‘Til There Was You,” “U-Turn.”
Big buzz, smaller payoff: “L.A. Confidential,” but Kim Basinger has never
been more alluring.
Best performances: The cast of “Boogie Nights,” led by Mark Wahlberg and
Burt Reynolds; Muhammad Ali, “When We Were Kings”; Hope Davis, “The
Daytrippers”; Judi Dench, “Mrs. Brown”; Leonardo DiCaprio plus Kate
Winslet, “Titanic”; Robert Forster, “Jackie Brown”; Christopher Guest,
“Waiting for Guffman”; Ian Holm, “Night Falls on Manhattan”; Jennifer Jason
Leigh, “Washington Square”; Sam Rockwell, “Box of Moonlight.”
And some more: James Belushi, “Gang Related”; Russell Crowe, “L.A.
Confidential”; Laura Dern, “Citizen Ruth”; Peter Fonda, “Ulee’s Gold”;
Albert Finney, “Washington Square”; Dustin Hoffman, “Wag the Dog” and “Mad
City”; Djimon Hounsou, “Amistad”; Richard Jenkins, “Eye of God”; Bai Ling,
“Red Corner”; Fabrice Luchini, “Beaumarchais, the Scoundrel”; Mike Myers,
“Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery”; Billy Bob Thornton, “Sling
Blade”; Robin Williams, “Good Will Hunting”; James Woods, “Ghosts of
Best juvenile performance: Jeromie Renier, “La Promesse.”
Black Monday: May 26, last show day for the Guild and Park, single-screen
theaters. Add a teardrop, too, for Clairemont’s gone duplex.
Black Tuesday and Wednesday: July 1-2. Robert Mitchum dies, then James
Stewart. Worse than an earthquake.
Best score: Eleni Karaindrou, “Ulysses’ Gaze.”
Most arguable title: “Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.”
Pretension perfected: David Cronenberg’s “Crash.”
Best (worst?) villains: Aaron Eckhart, “In the Company of Men”; J.T. Walsh,
“Sling Blade” and “Breakdown”; James Cromwell, “L.A. Confidential.”
Gem facets: In “Waiting for Guffman,” a man auditions for the booster play
by using “Raging Bull” dialogue; Dirk Diggler’s porn “acting” in “Boogie
Nights”; Milla Jovovich blooms from lab lump, “The Fifth Element”; Rose and
Jack go down with the ship, “Titanic”; Bob De Niro dies, “Jackie Brown”;
Lenin, as broken statue on a barge, “Ulysses’ Gaze”; Robert Loggia humbles
a tailgater, “Lost Highway”; Harry Dean Stanton’s riffs on “Shut up” in
“She’s So Lovely”; Reese Witherspoon wrecks Kiefer Sutherland, “Freeway”;
Sam Rockwell needs one more bad garden statue, “Box of Moonlight”; the
businessman finally dances, “Shall We Dance?”; Julianne Moore hangs on
glass over ocean, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”; Bean re-paints Mother
Whistler in “Bean”; Billy Bob Thornton opens his heart to a boy, “Sling
Blade”; Scott Glenn zings Judy Davis, “Absolute Power”; Harvey Keitel dukes
a bartender, “City of Industry”; Ali meets the locals, “When We Were
Kings”; Zev finally gets the new Torah home, “Carpati: 50 Miles, 50 Years“;
the wondrous ending of “La Promesse.”