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 1997.
1997 was an off year for me, having to leave college abruptly, and shifting into working full time at the pizza place. Instead of film becoming a source of entertainment, due to my rough schedule, they were about my only source of entertainment. The tabletop gaming continued, but I had to scale back quite a bit so I could afford a roof and food. I would have been 20 when the bulk of these came out, which also happens to be the 20th anniversary of Star Wars, the year the original trilogy first got the “Special Edition” treatment. I cut my initial list of 77 watched films down to 30, 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 Men in Black, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Tomorrow Never Dies, Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion, Jackie Brown, Hercules, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, The Edge, Private Parts, Conspiracy Theory, Alien: Resurrection, Snow White: A Tale of Terror, The Peacemaker, Vegas Vacation, The Postman, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Kull the Conqueror, Wishmaster, An American Werewolf in Paris, McHale’s Navy, Chasing Amy, Cube, The Full Monty, Liar Liar, Air Force One, Gattaca, Scream 2, and Dante’s Peak. That’s a lot of honorable mentions, but there were a lot of decent films this year, just not a lot of spectacular ones. Men in Black was, and still is, a blast, but a lot of the effects are showing their age, and despite the charm, it is still an overly simplistic story they felt the need to revisit twice. I liked Tomorrow Never Dies but it didn’t quite have the gleam that Goldeneye did. Alien: Resurrection is one of those films I like despite some very glaring flaws like pairing up a Whedon script with a director who has an entirely different style. It also felt a bit off, like a good chunk of Alien 3, compared to the first two films. So what are my top ten?
10. Event Horizon (dir. Paul W.S. Anderson)
In the year 2047 a group of astronauts are sent to investigate and salvage the long lost starship “Event Horizon”. The ship disappeared mysteriously 7 years before on its maiden voyage and with its return comes even more mystery as the crew of the “Lewis and Clark” discover the real truth behind its disappearance and something even more terrifying. This is one of those sci-fi and horror blends that manages to just do everything really well. The supernatural elements don’t ever feel like they don’t belong. The set design evokes this gothic horror feeling whenever they’re on the ghost ship. The characters they take time to develop have some depth to them, so we care about them. This is my favorite of all of Paul W.S. Anderson’s films and he manages to get the most out of what could have been a flimsy script with a great cast. Sam Neil plays both ends of his role in the film fantastically and there are several scenes where his delivery still gives me chills.
9. Starship Troopers (dir. Paul Verhoeven)
Loosely adapted from Robert Heinlein’s novel of the same name, Starship Troopers takes place in the future, following a young soldier named Johnny Rico and his exploits in the Mobile Infantry. Rico’s military career progresses from recruit to non-commissioned officer and finally to officer against the backdrop of an interstellar war between mankind and an arachnoid species known as “the Bugs”. This is probably my third favorite of Verhoeven’s films. This does play fast and loose with the source material and at times feels more like a World War II serial than science fiction, but it has all the satire of his Robocop film from a decade earlier and to that end manages to capture some of the prevailing themes in Heinlein’s novel. It’s a young cast and a lot of this is played to angle for the B-movie cheese, and he gets the most out of them for that. The music, the style, and the effects definitely set this one apart. It’s no wonder that they keep trying to dip back in the well with this one, but haven’t really managed to capture what made this work (the last entry comes close, though).
8. The Fifth Element (dir. Luc Besson)
It’s the year 2257 and a taxi driver has been unintentionally given the task of saving a young girl who is part of the key that will ensure the survival of humanity. The Fifth Element takes place in a futuristic setting and is filmed in a French comic book aesthetic by a British, French and American lineup. Three years after he gave us Leon, Luc Besson took us to space with Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman and Milla Jovovich in probably the most ’90s-trying-to-evoke-’80s-comic-book-sci-fi film ever made, and succeeded spectacularly. The cast is fantastic and Oldman steals every scene he’s in as the over-the-top villain. While Chris Tucker’s over the top radio DJ is probably one of the things most take away from this, we get a lot of neat alien designs, some amazing visuals that still hold up and a fantastic score to go with it. The dialogue is fun and definitely memorable. Hell, I’m greeted with lines from the film nearly every day between Twitter and Tumblr and I love it.
7. Anastasia (dir. Gary Goldman and Don Bluth)
This animated adventure retells the story of the lost daughter of Russia’s last czar. The evil Rasputin places a curse on the Romanov family, and Anastasia and her grandmother, Empress Maria, get separated. After growing up in an orphanage, Anastasia encounters two Russian men seeking a reward offered by Empress Maria for the return of her granddaughter. The trio set out for Paris, when they find that dark forces are out to kill her and anyone helping her. I love the cast in this and while it’s definitely a fantasy tale and uses very broad strokes to paint why the Czar was being overthrown, it’s got some great music, gorgeous animation, and was worlds better than what Disney was offering us animation wise that year. Bluth definitely still knew what he was doing when he was putting together an animated film with this and his touch is all over it, easily putting it up there with my other favorites from him.
6. Mimic (dir. Guillermo del Toro)
Three years ago entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler genetically created an insect to kill cockroaches carrying a virulent disease, now the insects have rapidly evolved and bred and are out to destroy their only predator, mankind! This one hits the list because of several factors. It’s also great sci-horror like Event Horizon, but because Guillermo del Toro is involved, this film oozes with this dark and brooding atmosphere that really builds it all up towards the climax of the film in both the director’s and theatrical version. I do like both of these. I especially like the cast, and the fact that the characters don’t feel one dimensional and throw away. There’s thought put into them and their motivations. You actually care about what happens to most of them. The bugs and their evolution are not only interesting, but add to the rather large and foreboding feeling throughout the film. Mira Sorvino and Charles S. Dutton really nail their roles, and with the way it’s shot, it still very much holds up nearly two decades after release.
5. Contact (dir. Robert Zemeckis)
Based on the novel by Carl Sagan about contact from an alien species through radio signals, the film stars Jodie Foster as one of the chosen scientists who must make some difficult decisions between her beliefs, the truth, and reality. Contact is one of the more serious Zemeckis films out there. I have to admit that I haven’t read the book by Sagan, but I really enjoy the film. The cast is well chosen, and Zemeckis manages to bring out the humanity in scenes that would normally crawl by to keep things moving. Jodie Foster is great in the lead and Tom Skerritt and James Woods are excellent large scale foils for our film’s heroine. The film is wonderfully shot, the script raises all sorts of questions, and gets you thinking about our place in the cosmos, which is what Sagan wanted all along.
4. As Good as It Gets (dir. James L. Brooks)
New York City. Melvin Udall, a cranky, bigoted, obsessive-compulsive writer, finds his life turned upside down when neighboring gay artist Simon is hospitalized and his dog is entrusted to Melvin. In addition, Carol, the only waitress who will tolerate him, must leave work to care for her sick son, making it impossible for Melvin to eat breakfast. This is one of those films that starts out painting the main lead in a terrible light and then slowly manages to convince the audience that he’s not actually that bad but has some terrible traits to him. Jack Nicholson manages to play Melvin perfectly. Greg Kinnear is great as the next door neighbor, but Helen Hunt, the unfortunate waitress that Melvin latches onto, really helps seal this one away. Watching the two of them work off each other and the script is phenomenal. A film I’d initially passed on in theaters became one of my favorites of the year when I saw it on video.
3. Titanic (dir. James Cameron)
84 years after the Titanic disaster, a crew looking for a priceless diamond in the wreckage of the ship gets a lead from a 101 year old woman who begins telling them a story of the ship that would change not only how they looked at the ship but the reasons why they were even looking in the first place. “From the director of Terminator 2 and Aliens.” I still remember seeing that poster with the ship sailing into the sunset before the Kate and Leo poster became the dominate one. This is one of those blockbusters with not only long-lasting appeal, but overall appeal. Sure Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio do a fantastic job with this, but Billy Zane plays the smug millionaire to perfection, and the rest of the cast manages to work with the Cameron-penned script and direction to help recreate one of the worst disasters in maritime history. Do they get it all right? No, but Cameron manages to tell a compelling story using fictional characters as well as historic figures well, and it’s one that still resonates today.
2. Grosse Pointe Blank (dir. George Armitage)
Martin Blank is a freelance hitman who starts to develop a conscience, which causes him to muff a couple of routine assignments. On the advice of his secretary and his psychiatrist, he attends his 10th year High School reunion in Grosse Pointe, Michigan and mulls over whether or not to take one more job while he tries to reconnect with his friends and the girlfriend he left ten years before. This is probably going to be the one that has most people scratching their heads over, but yes, this dark comedy is my number two of the year, and probably my favorite dark comedy of all time. John Cusack and Minnie Driver are perfect in this film, and play off each other beautifully. Aside from being a dark comedy about a hitman going home, it parallels pretty much what anyone goes through when they go home again after a long time away. They play up everything they need to, and other parts that need to be a bit more subtle work well. On top of that, the script has this fast paced patter that I love in a good comedy. It also has a pretty killer selection of songs that work with everything else on screen to set the tone and mood.
1. Princess Mononoke (dir. Hayao Miyazaki)
Ashitaka, a prince of the disappearing Ainu tribe, is cursed by a demonized boar god and must journey to the west to find a cure. Along the way, he encounters San, a young human woman fighting to protect the forest, and Lady Eboshi, who is trying to destroy it. Ashitaka must find a way to bring balance to this conflict. This was my first Miyazaki film and it seriously blew me away. It’s gorgeously animated. The characters have so much depth and weight to them. The world feels fantastic and surreal and yet completely believable to what we’re seeing. I didn’t actually catch this one until we started seeing a much bigger anime presence in the early 2000’s here in the U.S. and it’s still incredible heights over what we get here, and even from most studios in Japan. It’s an incredible film, and if you’ve dismissed it simply because it’s animated, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice.