The Best: "Titanic"
Courtesy Photo
Other year-end fodder

The 1997 Movieolla Awards
(SPLICEDwire used to be called Movieolla)

The 1997 Oscar Pages

By Rob Blackwelder

This year more than ever it seems studios saved their best efforts for the end of the year. So much so that some prestige films technically part of 1997 haven't even been screened yet for the Northern California press, although they're already playing in New York and Los Angeles.

I didn't want to commit a best and worst list at least until I'd seen "The Boxer" -- an Irish political drama with excellent advance buzz -- because in 1996 my 10 best article ran before I saw "Breaking the Waves," which turned out to be the most extraordinary movie of the year.

But after scolding Universal Studios for the delay in showing the aforementioned film (it doesn't open for a couple of weeks around here), I'm forging ahead for the sake of timeliness.

Until a few weeks ago, I feared I would go through 1997 without seeing any movie I could honestly rank number one. Then the most remarkable thing happened -- "Titanic."

An over-hyped movie that two months ago (before anyone had seen it) was rumored to be dead on arrival, does in fact stand as a monument to the art of epic filmmaking.

Like a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind gown by a master couturier, "Titanic" is opulent, daring, detailed and, yes, vastly over-priced.

But even the seamless computer-generated effects, heart-stopping camera work and spectacular sets can't overshadow the compelling love story between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet that drives this incredible film. Who would have thought a James Cameron film would be the early favorite for a Best Picture Oscar?

The rest of the best are as follows:

"Good Will Hunting," another major Oscar contender, is driven by rich, frank, passionate dialogue. This film about a rebellious blue collar math prodigy is from an insightful screenplay by its stars, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

As professors at MIT (where he is a janitor) try to direct the hero's genius, his shrink (Robin Williams) and girlfriend (Minnie Driver) back his passion for a different kind of life. The movie is almost entirely conversation, yet remains funny, emotional and endlessly fascinating.

"All Over Me." Unknowns Alison Folland and Tara Subkoff give sublime performances in this notably authentic independent film about two Hell's Kitchen 15-year-olds exploring their sexuality and searching for acceptance.

Written and directed by two sisters, the attention to character detail and subtle emotion lends this picture a palatable realism as one girl finds herself trapped by an abusive boyfriend and the other tests the waters of homosexuality.

"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." An intriguing true story of a gay Savannah socialite (Kevin Spacey) who murdered his lover and set the town abuzz in gossip by being cheeky and elusive about it all.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, "Midnight" has an unhurried air that allows eccentric, mysterious and outrageous characters to take the film on fascinating side-trips as it casually weaves the character of Savannah itself into the story.

"The Pillow Book." An outstanding visual and cerebral feast that requires a turbo-charged right brain to take in its multiple layers of symbolism, time and emotion. A beautiful, young Hong Kong writer with a fetish for writing on flesh searches for the perfect calligrapher/lover while avenging her father on the book editor who betrayed him years before.

"Ponette" hinges on a truly miraculous and visceral performance by 4-year-old Victoire Thivisol, playing a pensive little girl trying to make sense of her mother's death. Inconsolable and convinced her mother will return, Ponette is confused by conflicting theories on God and death presented to her by various adults. Through fantasies and a torrent of tears she works out her own solutions for surviving this terrible episode of her life. Thivisol won Best Actress at the 1996 Venice Film Festival and the French equivalent of the Oscar for her performance.

"Deconstructing Harry." Woody Allen is brilliantly back in the comedy vein with this sardonically funny autobiographical (although he vehemently denies it) parable.

Allen plays his usual frumpy, writer-type persona who has alienated every friend and his entire family by using their lives, very thinly disguised, as fodder for his sordid novels.

The film's gimmick is that events in his real life are offset by the similar scenes from his stories, with another set of actors playing the "fictional" versions of his loved ones. The best Woody Allen comedy in 20 years.

"The Peacemaker." I may lose all credibility by calling this riveting sledgehammer of an action movie one of the best films of the year. But while it visits many standard action staples -- car chases, shoot-outs and terrorists with stolen nukes -- this movie treats them with a fresh eye and it invokes more cerebral, classic espionage fare at the same time.

Director Mimi Leder knows her job is to overdose the audience on adrenaline -- she just goes about it by employing more artful channels than the genre requires.

"Romy and Michele's High School Reunion." A surprisingly spot-on satire about two vapid L.A. bimbos who dress to impress as faux business women for their 10th-class reunion, this comedy never relies on '80s in-jokes for its incessant laughs.

Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino are a female Beavis and Butthead, so their scam lasts about only about 10 minutes at the reunion -- as long as it takes a bitter classmate (Janeane Garofalo) to show up, all cigarette smoke and naysaying, with stories of their fatuous real lives.

"Kissed." Canadian actress Molly Parker manages to evoke an engrossing empathy in her role as Sandra, a necrophiliac embalming student who takes a rather excessive interest in her clients.

Incredibly well crafted, the film's illustrative details mindfully trifle with the audience, pushing us to see things from Sandra's skewed point of view. Unless you're completely appalled at the concept, "Kissed" is fascinating.

And because I refuse to hold myself to just 10 "best" films, my number 11 is "L.A. Confidential," a rich, layered, intelligent detective drama centered around the investigation into a massacre at an all night diner in the 1950s. Three rival L.A. cops become embroiled in a web of intrigue, duplicity, corruption and character tension, the likes of which are rarely seen in American movies anymore. Brilliant performances, smart direction and gorgeous photography pay off in virtually every scene.

Honorable mentions go to:
"The Devil's Advocate," "Donnie Brasco," "My Best Friend's Wedding," and "Boogie Nights."

The Worst: "Batman & Robin"
Courtesy Photo

As for the worst movies of 1997, half the fun of my job as movie critic is being afforded the opportunity to rip these bombs in print. This year was a rich experience in that regard, and here's why:

"Batman and Robin." Far and away the most embarrassing sequel of the summer. Nothing but a parade of obligatory one-liners and self-imposed clichés (e.g. the Bat-suit butt shot), it is barely strung together with moments of clumsy, expository dialogue that passes for plot. Arnold Schwarzenegger is all catch phrases, Uma Thurman does a poor Mae West, and Batman George Clooney doesn't do anything. Just pathetic.

"B.A.P.S." A catalog of ghetto jokes (in the loosest possible sense of the word) so stereotyped that had the leads been in black face it couldn't have been more insulting. Made on the cheap by Robert Townsend, this is "The Beverly Hillbillies" with homegirls. They go to LA to audition for a rap video but end up saving a dying millionaire (Martin Landau) from his greedy nephew. Nothing but antiquated sight gags and reaction shots.

"Starship Troopers." With this disaster of galactic proportions, director Paul Verhoeven proves he can make a movie even worse than "Showgirls." About a war between humans and giant bugs -- and the sleep-inducing love lives of some of the soldiers -- this flick wallows in just about every moth-ridden cliché known to filmdom and relies heavily on naked teenage girls and recycled special effects for what it deems excitement.

"Event Horizon." A missing spaceship resurfaces around Neptune and unnecessarily gory terror ensues in this pathetic, B-movie amalgam of "2010" and "Alien." One line of dialogue says it all: "I created the Event Horizon to go to the stars, but she went much further than that. She went to another dimension -- a dimension of pure evil." Oh, puhleaze!

"Alien Resurrection." It was just a bad year for sci-fi. Signourney Weaver returns as a genetically engineered Super Ripley clone for another ho-hum gore-fest pitting her against a script drowning in generic space ruffians, cornball dialogue and computer-generated critters. Constantly flies in the face of common sense and the laws of physics without being entertaining or scary enough to forgive its follies.

The problem with "Speed 2: Cruise Control" is that an out-of-control cruise ship can be seen coming from miles away. The boat is headed pell-mell into an oil taker, but it takes the better part of a day to get there. Five seconds before impact, a passenger screams "We're going to crash!" Where have you been, lady? Zero adrenaline, even less creativity.

"Turbulence." Even if you go in for popcorn-chompers that rehash shopworn scenes of flashlight-lit lunatics (in this case Ray Liotta) stalking pretty and vapid heroines (Lauren Holly), you'd recognize this movie for what it is: the recycling of dilapidated ideas without a shred of original thought. It's "Psycho 3" meets "Airport '79."

"Dangerous Ground." Tiresome ghetto gunplay-and-drugs plot transported to South Africa for the sake of iron-on insights into brotherhood, racism and oppression. Ice Cube's permanently furrowed brow stars as an American in Johannesburg looking for his druggie brother. Elizabeth Hurley is the heroine-addicted yet somehow gorgeous girlfriend.

"Kicked in the Head." Flat, uninteresting, meaningless and shallow story of an aimless Generation Xer who screws up a cocaine drop, hangs out with friends dumber than he is (which is saying a lot) and thinks he's in love with a stewardess. Absolute proof that little independent films can stink just as much as their big studio brothers.

"'Til There Was You." Lonely gal and emotionally unavailable guy are destined for each other, but don't meet until the last minute of the last reel. Plagued by cheap production values and piano poignancy, it's like "Sleepless In Seattle" without the amusing irony. The only desire for these two to connect comes from wanting the movie to end.

And because I know it could have been worse, here are a few movies I'm relieved to say I didn't see at all: "Flubber," "Fire Down Below," "Leave It to Beaver," "Money Talks," and "Good Burger."

powered by FreeFind
SPLICEDwire home
Online Film Critics Society
All Rights Reserved
Return to top
Current Reviews
SPLICEDwire Home