A Lifetime of Film covers one specific year of a Cinefessions’ writers existence, from birth to now, and goes over their top ten films from that year. It stems from a meme on Letterboxd, and is simply being expanded upon here. This week, Ashe covers 1996.
My first full year of college came in 1996, and I had even more time to kill over the summer before starting in the fall. Even in college, I was a local $2 theater and VHS rental fiend. The tabletop gaming continued, and I picked up more hours working at a pizza place in town before I found my own house outside of the dorms. I cut my initial list of 83 watched films down to 35, and then had to narrow it down to ten from there. This does leave out a few films I loved from the list. Honorable Mentions include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Executive Decision, Striptease, Ransom, Primal Fear, Romeo+Juliet, Sling Blade, The Frighteners, From Dusk Till Dawn, Tin Cup, Courage Under Fire, Broken Arrow, The Crow: City of Angels, The Arrival, Beavis and Butt-head Do America, Joe’s Apartment, Black Mask, Happy Gilmore, Escape From LA, and The Phantom. While I do love Disney’s animated take on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it’s not quite up to their usual par. The Crow: City of Angels is visually stunning, but the script is kind of awful, even while they’re giving us some great ideas behind it all. Escape From LA, while I love it, does have some really questionable effects work, a script that’s just only slightly different than Escape From New York, and felt like we’d covered this ground once already, but with a bit less humor. So what are my top ten?
10. Twister (dir. Jan de Bont )
TV weatherman Bill Harding is trying to get his tornado-hunting wife, Jo, to sign divorce papers so he can marry his girlfriend Melissa. But Mother Nature, in the form of a series of intense storms sweeping across Oklahoma, has other plans. Soon the three have joined the team of storm chasers as they attempt to insert a revolutionary measuring device into the very heart of several extremely violent tornados. Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton are great cheesy leads in this playing their characters well and delivering lines that may not have worked from anyone else. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s somewhat background role really steals just about any scenes he’s in with some of the funnier moments in the film. The effects work still hold up for the most part, the film moves with all the pacing of a great blockbuster, and it does what it sets out to do and gives the audience a great bit of entertainment even now.
9. Independence Day (dir. Roland Emmerich)
When alien ships take up key positions across the globe and begin laying waste to the governments in an attempt to wipe out humanity, a crazy plan to infiltrate the main ship and wipe out the key to the invasion and save the Earth is put into action. Before Emmerich and Devlin took on Godzilla, they tackled the alien invasion genre in a blockbuster with so many nods to previous alien invasion films it was almost ridiculous. Yet, this film is still a lot of fun when it should have fallen into obscurity. Will Smith probably has a lot to do with the films long lasting appeal. He and Jeff Goldblum play well together when they get the chance to, and Bill Pullman makes a decent President. David Arnold returns from their previous outing with Stargate as the composer and does a great job with the themes. The effects work in this film hold up far more then Devlin and Emmerich’s next outing, and like Twister, it’s a fun blockbuster set out to entertain.
8. The Rock (dir. Michael Bay)
A group of renegade marine commandos seizes a stockpile of chemical weapons and takes over Alcatraz, with 81 tourists as hostages. Their leader demands $100 million to be paid, as restitution to families of Marines who died in covert ops. Otherwise, he will launch 15 rockets carrying deadly VX gas into the San Francisco Bay area. I’m just going to go right out and say it: this is probably my favorite of Michael Bay’s films. His quick cut and slow-mo action style works well for the kind of stripped down blockbuster he’s making here. The cast is dead on amazing with Connery and Cage when he was almost always hit instead of miss. Throw in Ed Harris as the enemy leader and the rest of the cast that keeps the film moving briskly and you end up with some really snappy and well done scenes that are coherent enough to tell the story. The running score has enough slower beats to it so the audience can breathe and it’s a fun ride. The fact they make not-so-subtle jabs about Connery being a former Bond agent wouldn’t have anything to do with my enjoyment level either. Not at all.
7. The Craft (dir. Andrew Fleming)
A Catholic school newcomer falls in with a clique of teen witches who wield their powers against all who dare to cross them – be they teachers, rivals or meddlesome parents. My re-introduction to Fairuza Balk, the first was her as Dorothy in Return to Oz, where she ends up playing the outcast who goes bad when things go her way is probably my favorite from her. The rest of the lead cast – Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, and Christine Taylor – help sell the film, and Robin Tunney works amazingly well here as the opposing lead who gets sucked into their world. The music that was chosen for the film works fantastically and while some of the effects haven’t aged all that well, when they went for more practical means, it sells the scene completely.
6. A Time to Kill (dir. Joel Schumacher)
A young lawyer defends a black man accused of murdering two men who raped his 10-year-old daughter, sparking a rebirth of the KKK. I have to admit I’m a sucker for films based off Grisham novels. I don’t necessarily like the novels themselves, but I do like the films made from them. This one happened to be made while Schumacher was trying to decide how to put that final nail in the coffin of the Batman franchise and showed he could still direct a decent film. Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock play their parts well. I remember really loving Samuel L. Jackson in this one as the father on trial. Kevin Spacey as the opportunistic District Attorney feels even more on point here after seeing House of Cards, and Oliver Platt is a blast as always. There’s a lot more to this cast and there’s a number of big names in this who may not be in the biggest roles but really add depth to the film. I remember feeling like I got punched in the gut towards the end of the film and it delivers that punch well.
5. Mission: Impossible (dir. Brian De Palma)
When Ethan Hunt, the leader of a crack espionage team whose perilous operation has gone awry with no explanation, discovers that a mole has penetrated the CIA, he’s surprised to learn that he’s the number one suspect. To clear his name, Hunt now must ferret out the real double agent and, in the process, even the score. This could have been a brainless blockbuster, but the script is pretty smart, the cast was well chosen – yes I’m including Tom Cruise here – and De Palma’s direction not only sets the breakneck pacing of the film, but has some of his signature touches that helped make the film work so well. Yes, if you’re a fan of the TV show, this is a bit more spectacle, and it’s not a reboot but does work against some of the characters in that show now that I’ve watched more of it, but a lot of the staples of the show are here and make the film stand out even more. Like many ’90s films, some of the effects work hasn’t aged all that well, but it’s not the crux of what makes the film work.
4. DragonHeart (dir. Rob Cohen)
In an ancient time when majestic fire-breathers soared through the skies, a knight named Bowen comes face to face and heart to heart with the last dragon on Earth, Draco. Taking up arms to suppress a tyrant king, Bowen soon realizes his task will be harder than he’d imagined: If he kills the king, Draco will die as well. This is one of those films I love and yet still breaks my heart. Connery is fantastic as the voice of the dragon. The effects work to bring the dragon to life work for the most part even now, and despite a fairly basic story, this film works as a great fantasy film. Throw in a great cast with Dennis Quaid who’s fantastic as the human lead, David Thewlis as the evil Prince who also nails it out of the park, Pete Postlethwaite who’s never made a role look bad even if he’s in an awful film, Dina Meyer who I’ve loved in pretty much anything she’s done, and Julie Christie as the unfortunate evil prince’s mother. Then there’s the score which is still amazing and I heard pop up in trailers for years and was even used in the Olympics and the Oscars. This is a great film. It’s a shame that the sequels haven’t come close to matching the quirky charm this one had.
3. Scream (dir. Wes Craven)
A killer known as Ghostface begins killing off teenagers, and as the body count begins rising, one girl and her friends find themselves contemplating the “Rules” of horror films as they find themselves living in a real-life one. The horror and slasher flick that reinvigorated the slasher flick in the ’90s. You knew I’d have to include this on my list, didn’t you? Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich make my top ten of this year twice with this film. A lot of what made this work, though, was the cast’s delivery of Kevin Williamson’s script for the film, which follows the rules of horror films while turning the whole thing on its head and being self-aware as a horror flick. David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Rose McGowan, Matthew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy, and the first victim of the film, Drew Barrymore, round out the cast that delivers slick and dark comedy while it still works as a slasher delivering up a respectable body count.
2. Trainspotting (dir. Danny Boyle)
Renton is living the dream and that dream is Heroin. As Renton struggles with the agony and ecstasy of his life we follow him and his increasingly unstable mates. Drinking, fighting, drugs, sex and the most disgusting toilet in Scotland. Choose Trainspotting. My first and still my favorite Danny Boyle film, Trainspotting blew me away when I first saw it and easily established Ewan McGregor as one of my favorite actors. He’s fantastic in this as is the rest of the cast of what should be characters we despise through their actions, but you come to love them as the film develops despite what they’re involved in. This has a great selection of songs on top of everything else and is one of those films that I think will have an audience no matter how old it gets. Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, and Kevin McKidd make up most of his mates, but the stand out one that you never love is played masterfully by Robert Carlyle that nails every scene he’s in. Then throw in Kelly Macdonald in a rather perfect performance as the underage love interest for McGregor and you have a classic here.
1. Star Trek: First Contact (dir. Jonathan Frakes)
The Borg, a relentless race of cyborgs, are on a direct course for Earth. Violating orders to stay away from the battle, Captain Picard and the crew of the newly-commissioned USS Enterprise E pursue the Borg back in time to prevent the invaders from changing Federation history and assimilating the galaxy. When this film released back in 1996, I managed to see it something like five times the opening week of release. Granted it was at the local theater where I used to live and only cost me $2 to get in, but it was a fantastic film, had great pacing, reunited the Next Gen cast in a much better outing than Generations, and dealt with a lot of themes that reminded me of Wrath of Khan, but at the same time was very different. The new design for the Enterprise E was really well done, the effects looked great and all the actors deliver such great performances. Alice Krige was an amazing choice as the Borg Queen, so much so that they brought her back for their final appearance on Star Trek Voyager. This is the best of the Next Gen films and definitely high on my list of the best of the Star Trek films.