I’m Your Huckleberry

Finally watched Tombstone the other night. Some of it is really great. Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday was every bit as good as I’d heard it was. Some of the dialogue is outstanding: the huckleberry lines, “You’re no daisy”, “Why don’t you skin that smoke wagon?” Screenwriter Kevin Jarre also wrote Glory and The Mummy. The cast, for the most part, is excellent: Val Kilmer, Michael Biehn, Powers Boothe, Sam Elliot, Bill Paxton Jason Priestly, Billy Zane and Billy Bob Thornton. along with terry O’Quinn from Lost and the woman who plays Trixie on Deadwood. Kurt Russell and Dana Delany, however, are mediocre and the direction, by the guy who directed Rambo and Cobra, is pretty bad.
I was surprised by how much it seems to have in common with the great HBO series Deadwood. Both start with retired lawmen moving to a frontier town and initially refuses to get involved in it’s law enforcement, instead looking to start a regular business. Both feature women who are addicted to laudanum. Both take an obvious pleasure in recreating period slang, though Deadwood is more prolifically profane.
I liked Tombstone a lot up to the OK Corral fight. After that, not only did the film become morally twisted as supposed hero Wyatt Earp goes on a murderous rampage in the wake of attacks on his brothers, but the film gave up any pretense of character for a series of rather silly action sequences. Basically, it become Rambo. Only Val Kilmer manages to save it from being a complete mess. Overall though, I liked the movie quite a bit. 1993 was a great year for movies, and I think I’ll rank Tombstone at number 12, in-between Army Of Darkness and A Perfect World.

Harry Potter And The Ring Of Fire

Watched a couple movies this weekend. The new Harry Potter is pretty good, but not great. The problem is that the fourth book, my favorite in the series, is also the hardest one to adapt into a film. After reading it a few years ago, I thought they’d be better off splitting it in half and making two movies a la Kill Bill. As is, it feels like a really good 4 hour movie has been cut down to two and half hours. Those two and a half hours are great, but there’s just not enough time there to build the necessary context and character to make the many impressive action sequences compelling. If you’ve read the book, you’ll probably like the movie. If not. . . .

Just finished Walk The Line a couple hours ago, after 14 hours of work. It was good, much better than Ray, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed. It’s a great story, solidly directed and with terrific acting (and singing) by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. But I felt like there was something missing. Maybe it’s just that I already knew the story of Johnny and June Carter Cash. I don’t know, I need to think about it more.

Movies Of The Year: 1997

A tough year to rank is 1997. The number one film is an easy choice, but 2-20 could probably be in any order. I’ve seen significantly fewer films from this year than previous years, as it was around this time that I really started watching a lot of old movies.

68. Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion
67. Two Girls And A Guy
66. Absolute Power
65. Spice World
64. Lolita
63. Cop Land
62. Alien: Resurrection
61. Telling Lies In America
60. Year Of The Horse
59. U Turn
58. The Full Monty
57. The Relic
56. Trojan War
55. Tomorrow Never Dies
54. The Myth Of Fingerprints
53. Liar Liar
52. GI Jane
51. Scream 2
50. Clockwatchers
49. Mimic

48. The Game
47. Contact
46. Marius And Jeanette
45. Inventing The Abbotts
44. Nowhere
43. Wings Of The Dove
42. Face/Off
41. Private Parts
40. Men In Black
39. As Good As It Gets
38. In The Company Of Men
37. I Know What You Did Last Summer
36. Volcano
35. Henry Fool
34. Smilla’s Sense Of Snow
33. The Devil’s Advocate
32. Night Falls On Manhattan
31. Donnie Brasco
30. Mr. Jealousy
29. The Boxer
28. Prefontaine
27. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
26. Life Is Beautiful
25. Oscar And Lucinda
24. Princess Mononoke
23. Amistad
22. The Sweet Hereafter
21. Deconstructing Harry
20. The Spanish Prisoner
19. Fireworks
18. Fast, Cheap & Out Of Control
17. The Fifth Element
16. Good Will Hunting

15. LA Confidential – Style over substance. My friends all loved this at the time, and it got a lot of critical raves. I watched it three or four times trying to figure what everyone else saw in it, but every time I did, I found more and more to dislike about it. I think the critical reaction to it is largely because of nostalgia for the noir films it tries to recreate. While it does have a flashy style and some good performances (Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce in particular) it also has a largely random and pointless plot and some awful performances (Danny DeVito and the insanely overrated Kim Basinger.)

14. The Edge – An outdoor-action movie written by David Mamet and directed by Lee Tamahori, who directed Mulholland Falls, XXX: State Of the Union and Once Were Warriors. Anthony Hopkins stars as a billionaire married to model Elle McPherson who is sleeping with Alec Baldwin. Baldwin and Hopkins crash land in the wilderness along with Harold Perrineau (Lost, Smoke, Romeo + Juliet). The three of them try to survive bears and other natural evils while trying to make it back to civilization.

13. Gattaca – Stylish little sci-fi film who’s stature has only grown with time, maybe to thee point that it’s now overrated, but what can you do about that? Directed by Andrew Niccol (Lord Of War) and starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Uma Thurman. Hawke plays a genetically imperfect guy who wants to be an astronaut, so he gets the crippled Jude Law to help him trick the DNA police.

12. A Life Less Ordinary – Kind of Danny Boyle’s Big Lebowski in that he followed his big critical and box office hit with a comic genre pastiche that critics hated and nobody went to see. It’s not as good as Lebowski, of course, but it is still very good. Dan Hedeya plays the angel Gabriel who gets fellow angels Holly Hunter and DelRoy Lindo to help laid-off cleaning guy Ewan MacGregor and his kidnapped Cameron Diaz fall in love.

11. Titanic – Yeah yeah yeah. It’s a seriously flawed movie. Seriously. Flawed. Namely: Billy Zane, Bill Paxton, thee whole present-day framing story, a fair amount of the dialogue, Celine Dion, etc. But still, other than that, it’s pretty much the perfect crowd-pleasing epic. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are outstanding, the effects are really very good, it’s got a sensible Marxist bent top it and the whole last hour of the film is a great long action sequence. It’s a big movie. Really big. Don’t let all those annoying teenage girls rule your life. Just because they love it doesn’t mean it sucks. The Gone With the Wind comparisons are entirely appropriate.

10. Kundun – Possibly the most underrated Martin Scorsese movie, nobody seems to remember this biopic about the Dalai Lama. It might be his prettiest movie, right up there with The Age Of Innocence, only less boring. You could call it a smaller, more spiritual version of The Last Emperor.

9. Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery – One of the best examples of a film that didn’t do much theatrically but became a huge hit on video. Now recognized as the classic it really is. Parts of the sequels are alright, but really on the first one is great. My favorite line: “That train has sailed.”

8. Starship Troopers – Simultaneously a great dumb sci-fi action movie and a hilarious parody of pro-war governments and neo-fascism. Director Paul Verhoeven’s had an odd career. He’s mixed true sci-fi classics like this one, RoboCop and Total Recall with perverted camp crap like Basic Instinct and Showgirls. I haven’t seen any of his Dutch films, I wonder if they exhibit the same pattern. Stars Casper Van Dien, who hasn’t done anything since, Denise Richards, who was a minor star for awhile and Dina Meyer, who was great as one of Joey’s love interests on “Friends”. Also stars Doogie Howser, Jake Busey, Rue McClanahan and one of the all-time great ‘That Guys’ Michael Ironside.

7. The Ice Storm – Ang Lee’s adaptation of Rick Moody’s novel is one of the few films I can say is actually better than the book. It’s about a very bad Thanksgiving break for a couple upper middle class families in the 70s. It’s a sad, depressing movie made enjoyable by the outstanding cast: Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Christina Ricci, Tobey McGuire, Elijah Wood, and Katie Holmes. The screenplay’s by moody and James Schamus, who appears to have written all of Ang Lee’s movies.

6. Wag the Dog – Almost too clever, it’s remembered more now as an idea, and easy explanation for why politicians do certain things, than as a film. But the reason it’s remembered at all is because it’s a great movie first and foremost. Robert DeNiro and Anne Heche are political consultants who hire Hollywood producer Dustin Hoffman to create a war with Albania to distract from a sex scandal involving the President. Not as dark or as funny as Bob Roberts, the other great political satire of the 90s. Also stars Denis Leary, Willie Nelson, William H. Macy, Kirsten Dunst and Woody Harrelson.

5. Grosse Point Blank – John Cusak stars as a depressed hitman who goes to his high school reunion on the advice, sort of, of his therapist (Alan Arkin) and secretary (Joan Cusak). Once there he tries to rekindle his romance with Minnie Driver while trying to avoid getting himself killed by the FBI and a rival hitman (Dan Ackroyd) who wants him to join a new hitman union. The first great midlife crisis film for my generation. Also stars Hank Azaria and Jeremy Piven. Great soundtrack.

4. Happy Together – Wong Kar Wai’s chronicle of a romance between two Chinese expatriates in Buenos Aires starring Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung. One of the best studies of a single relationship ever put on film, made all the more remarkable by the fact that it’s in no way relevant that the relationship is between two men. It’s one of the few films that manages to treat gay characters as human beings instead of as ‘gay characters’. It’s got all the trademarks of a Wong Kar Wai film: fantastic images, great acting, an improvised script with a strong French New Wave vibe.

3. Jackie Brown – Minor Tarantino? This Elmore Leonard adaptation was a big disappointment for a lot of people at the time as it lacks the kinetic energy of Tarantino’s earlier films. It’s much more like Kill Bill Part 2 than Kill Bill Part 1. It’s less violent, more character-oriented and not as interesting visually compared to Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great movie. because it is. I think Pam Grier’s performance is a bit overrated, but she’s pretty good. Robert Forster, however, deserves every bit of praise he received. He’s outstanding. Samuel L. Jackson and Robert DeNiro give their typical great performances, DeNiro playing hilariously against type. Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton and Chris Tucker round out the cast. It might be my least favorite Tarantino movie, but that really isn’t much of an insult.

2. Chasing Amy – Ok, I may be overrating this so that the wife won’t yell at me. I can’t say it’s the best made film in the top four featuring gay characters in prominent roles. But Kevin Smith, for once and possibly the only time in his career managed to make a movie that’s both hilarious and emotionally mature. What makes it a great movie is the last 20 minutes or so. First, when he makes the homoerotic subtext of just about every buddy movie and homophobic joke ever and makes it text. And then when Affleck gets shot down by the woman he loves for exactly the right reasons. It’s funny, sad, romantic and ends unhappily. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Smith’s ever going to make anything so grown up again.

1. Boogie Nights – While there’s a lot of randomness in the rankings for the previous 20 movies or so, they’re all good but not really great, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the only truly great film of the year. Like all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, it’s about regular (or below average) people trying to assert there humanity. It just happens that this group of people make porn movies. Technically, the film is amazing. The opening shot has mystified me for year, it’s a long tracking shot that appears to be a crane shot at the beginning then turn into a steadycam as it moves inside a club. There are several other long tracking shots throughout the film, most notably in the pool party and New Year’s Eve party scenes. My two favorite scenes are Philip Baker Hall’s speech about switching to video in which you can see the actor playing The Colonel laughing in the background and the big shootout scene set to ‘Jessie’s Girl’ and ’99 Luftballoons’. The single best acting moment of Marky Mark’s career is in that scene as the camera slowly closes in on him and you can just seem him recognize just how much he’s managed to screw up his life. The cast is outstanding: Marky Mark, Burt Reynolds, Heather Graham, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Joanna Gleason, Luis Guzman, Tom Jane, Jack Riley and William H. Macy.

Probably some movies I should see on the Unseen list from this year:

Lost Highway
She’s So Lovely
The End Of Violence
A Taste Of Cherry
Ma Vie En Rose
Ulysses’ Gaze
Eve’s Bayou
The Butcher Boy
Wild Man Blues
Chinese Box
Insomnia
Gummo
Beverly Hills Ninja
Affliction
The Apostle
George Of The Jungle
Spawn
Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil
The Postman
Kiss The Girls
Dante’s Peak
Seven Years In Tibet
In & Out
Cube
My Best Freind’s Wedding
Air Force One
Con Air
Batman & Robin
Character
Men With Guns
Four Days In September
Live Flesh
Ulee’s Gold
Afterglow
Mrs. Brown
Rosewood
Good Burger

Movies Of The Year: 1996

Fewer movies from this year than last, but higher quality, as I’d say only the last few are really bad.

80. Last Dance
79. Spy Hard
78. Phat Beach
77. Fear
76. Jack
75. The Crucible
74. Ghosts Of Mississippi
73. Eddie
72. Sleepers
71. Twister
70. Sling Blade
69. Michael
68. One Fine Day
67. Space Jam
66. Dragonheart
65. American Buffalo
64. Walking And Talking
63. Paradise Lost
62. Black Sheep
61. Don’t Be A Menace. . . .
60. The Hunchback Of Notre-Dame
59. Courage Under Fire
58. Beavis & Butt-Head Do America
57. Broken Arrow
56. Mother
55. Trees Lounge
54. The Whole Wide World
53. Primal Fear
52. Prisoner Of The Mountains
51. Black Mask
50. I Shot Andy Warhol
49. First Strike
48. Phenomenon
47. Secrets & Lies
46. Brain Candy
45. A Very Brady Sequel
44. The People Vs. Larry Flynt
43. Get On The Bus
42. The Ghost And The Darkness
41. The Truth About Cats & Dogs
40. SubUrbia
39. Shine
38. Hamlet
37. Basquiat
36. The Typewriter, The Rifle & The Movie Camera
35. Rumble In The Bronx
34. She’s The One
33. Dr. Wai And The Scripture With No Words
32. The Pallbearer
31. The Birdcage
30. Star Trek: First Contact
29. The Cable Guy
28. Independence Day
27. Kingpin
26. The Frighteners
25. Everyone Says I Love You
24. That Thing You Do!
23. Freeway
22. Emma
21. Waiting For Guffman
20. Lone Star
19. Fargo
18. The Rock
17. Jerry Maguire
16. Michael Collins

15. Happy Gilmore – Adam Sandler’s best comedy. It doesn’t stand up with the classics made by the former SNL stars of the 70s (Stripes, Animal House, Ghostbusters, Trading Places, Caddyshack, etc) or Sandler’s SNL co-regular Mike Myers. But It’s a heck of a lot better than the works of later SNL guys like Chris Kattan or Jimmy Fallon. I like him better than Will Farrell too.

14. Bottle Rocket – Wes Anderson’s first film is a little gem about a couple of guys, one of whom decides they need to become big-time thieves. Luke and Owen Wilson play the two guys, Luke is the wacky dumb guy with the scheme, Owen is the prozac’d guy drifting through life and falling in live with hotel maids. It’s a very charming and fun movie that I really do need to see again.

13. Mission: Impossible – One of the few Brian DePalma movies I like is this high concept action movie. Tom Cruise heads a stellar cast in an adaptation of the 70s TV series. There was much talk at the time of the plot being confusing, though I can’t say I ever had a problem understanding it. Essentially just three long action sequences with some perfunctory characterization thrown in to change things up a bit. Stars Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Vanessa Redgrave, Dale Dye, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Emilio Estavez.

12. When We Were Kings – This documentary about the fight between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman in Zaire, the “Rumble In The Jungle”. It’s not only great as an examination of the fight, one of the most famous in history, but as a study of Ali himself, one of the most important, and fascinating, athletes of the century. It’s got some interesting talking head commentary by George Plimpton and Norman Mailer, who were there.

11. Romeo + Juliet – I told you I was a big Baz Luhrmann fan. This is another modernized Shakespeare film that works really well, translated the play into the context of what seems like a Scarface-esque Miami. Claire Danes, a big favorite in my house, is pretty good as Juliet and Leonardo DiCaprio, still in the stage where everyone thought he was a good actor but about to become the favorite of every junior high school girl (and therefore a terrible actor in the film snob community), is very good as Romeo. All the actors are big and overthetop, which is, of course, the point. Paul Sorvino, John Leguizamo, Harold Perrineau, Paul Rudd, Brian Dennehy, Pete Postlethwaite, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Christina Pickles, Jamie Kennedy and M. Emmett Walsh.

10. Beautiful Girls – Minus a couple of scenes and with the elimination of Rosie O’Donnell, this would be a great movie. As it is, it’s just very good. Timothy Hutton plays a piano player with commitment issues who goes back to his hometown for his high school reunion. He meets up with his friends Michael Rapaport and Matt Dillon, each of whom have relationship problems of their own, Rapaport with Martha Plimpton and Dillon with Mira Sorvino and Lauren Holly. They all try, and fail, to woo their bartender’s cousin, Uma Thurman and sing a Neil Diamond song. But it’s Natalie Portman steals the movie as Hutton’s precocious neighbor. Similar thematically to this year’s The Pallbearer, a Gen X late 20s coming of age movie, but much more successful than that film, which is really hurt by the Graduate rip-offs.

9. Scream – The best slasher movie ever is a parody of slasher movies. Written by Kevin Williamson, the guy who created Dawson’s Creek and directed by Wes Craven, a very famous horror movie guy despite, as far as I can tell, not being a real fan of the genre, not ever actually having made a good movie. Like The Outlaw Josey Wales, it has a lot of fun making jokes at the conventions of it’s genre while at this same time meeting all it’s genre expectations. In other words, it’s both funny and scary (if you think slasher movies are scary). The cast is terrific: Neve Campbell, Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Courtney Cox, Liev Schrieber, Jamie Kennedy, Henry Winkler and Rose McGowan.

8. Hard Eight – Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut film is a little film about a couple of gamblers. Phillip Baker Hall plays the old guy who takes John C. Reilly under his wing and teaches him how to survive as a professional gambler. Gwynneth Paltrow plays the cocktail waitress/hooker Reilly falls in love with. Much like Bottle Rocket, another important debut film from this year, Anderson’s film is like a miniature version of the films he went on to make over the next decade: many of the same actors (Melora Walters and Philip Seymour Hoffman are also in this) and a similar style and themes. And they’re both Anderson’s too, I just noticed that. Weird.

7. Mars Attacks! – Tim Burton’s best movie, and also his last good movie. It’s a wacky, hilarious farce about alien invasion and the destruction of civilization and it’s rescue by Slim Pickens (an inversion of Dr. Strangelove?) It has a massive cast, all of whom seem to be enjoying themselves tremendously, especially Jack Nicholson, who plays three roles (another Strangelove reference?). It also stars Natalie Portman, Glenn Close, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Lukas Haas, Tom Jones, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Willie Garson, Martin Short, Annette Bening, Rod Stieger, Sylvia Sydney, Danny DeVito, Jack Black, Paul Winfield, Joe Don Baker and Christina Applegate.

6. Bound – Unlike the other two debut films in the top 15 this year, this is nothing at all like the later films by the Wachowski Brothers, though, to be fair, they’ve really only been able to make Matrix movies thus far. While Bound isn’t sci-fi at all, it does have a couple things in common with the Matrix movies: a certain comic book mentality (shared by, say, Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino), a unique visual style of vibrant dark color, especially blacks, and Joe Pantoliano. Bound is, essentially, a lesbian caper movie, with the romance between Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly in the first half hour, and the caper taking up the last hour or so. the romance isn’t bad (Gershon is great and, well, Jennifer is definitely not my favorite Tilly but she’s alright here), but it’s the caper that makes the movie great. Bad title though. Really. Might have actually done some business theatrically if it had a better title.

5. From Dusk Til Dawn – Speaking of comic book movies, this high concept vampire/suspense thriller road movie by Rodriguez and Tarantino was a controversial one among my friends when it came out. The girls hated it because Salma Hayek dances with a snake, most of the guys hated it because the vampires were silly, the rest of the guys hated it because the first half was boring. Me, I loved all of it. The tense Clooney-Keitel-Tarantino battle of wills. The wacky vampire violence with Fred Williamson, Danny Trejo and George Romero’s effects guy Tom Savini fighting alongside Juliette Lewis. Cheech Marin playing three roles. And I would never criticize anyone dancing with a snake, and certainly not Salma Hayek. Clooney is the stand-out actor here. He’s got several great scenes with Harvey Keitel and Tarantino himself.

4. Big Night – The best movie about food ever stars Tony Shaloub and Stanley Tucci as immigrant brothers wwho own and operate a restaurant in the 50s. Shaloub is the genius/artist chef and Tucci’s the realistic business man who just wants to make money. Their competition is Ian Holm, a sell-out to middle america who (gasp!) puts meatballs on his spaghetti. Holm convinces Tucci to throw a big party for Louis Prima (the monkey king in Disney’s The Jungle Book) in order to get the word out about their restaurant. Also invited are Isabella Rosselini, Holm’s wife who’s sleeping with Tucci, Minnie Driver, Tucci’s girlfriend, Allison Janney as a florist, and Campbell Scott as a car dealer. The movie was also directed by Scott and Tucci. A truly great little film about food as art and the conflict between assimilation and corruption.

3. Swingers – The most quotable movie of the year stars Jon Favreau (who also wrote the screenplay) as an aspiring actor trying to get over his ex-girlfriend. Helping, more or less, are his friends Vince Vaughn and Ron Livingston. And eventually, Heather Graham. the brat pack/swing dance trend it caught onto and then helped fuel hasn’t aged particularly well, but the movie still works thanks to the great acting and terrific characterizations. It’s a low budget indie movie, and as such there are some continuity problems, but that’s easily overlooked. Doug Liman’s direction is fine, and not nearly as flashy as his later films (Go, The Bourne Identity, Mr. And Mrs. Smith). Vaughn’s performance made him a star, and rightfully so.

2. The English Patient – There seems to be a big anti-English Patient backlash these days and I don’t really get it. It was the consensus best film of the year at the time, well, it or Fargo. Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche are all outstanding as the leads. Willem Dafoe and Colin Firth and Naveen Andrews are good in supporting roles. The parallel love stories (Fiennes-Thomas and Binoche-Andrews) are both realistic and romantic. It’s a great looking movie with and the story has an interesting, if not as original as Roger Ebert seemed to think it was, structure, with Fiennes’s story told in flashback to Binoche until it reaches the beginning point of the film. I may be a sap, but I love a good romantic melodrama and this is one of the best.

1. Trainspotting – One of the best films of the decade is Danny Boyle’s second film, starring Ewan McGregor as the self-aware one of a group of lowlifes and junkies. It’s very flashy and inventive visually with plenty of stylish camera tricks, recreations of famous images from other movies or album covers and a clever use of subtitles. The supporting actors are very good, especially Robert Carlyle and Kelly Macdonald, but also Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd (who’s now on “Rome”) and Ewen Bremner. McGregor’s nopt quite totally amoral Renton is one of the great antiheroes in film history. Iv’e tried to read the book, but can’t make it very far through the dialect.

A lot of Unseen movies this year, but I don’t think I’m missing anything particularly good.

Breaking The Waves
Tin Cup
Temptress Moon
Fire
Crash
Evita
The Craft
The Nutty Professor
The Long Kiss Goodnight
The Watermelon Woman
Children Of The Revolution
White Squall
Kazaam
Stealing Beauty
Flirting With Disaster
Bio-Dome
The Arrival
2 Days In The Valley
Multiplicity
Barb Wire
The Island Of Dr. Moreau
The First Wives Club
Jingle All The Way
The Fan
Eraser
A Time To Kill
Ransom
Shall We Dance?
The Portrait Of A Lady
The Mirror Has Two Faces
James & the Giant Peach
Ridicule
Dunston Checks In
Bed Of Roses
Mr. Wrong
Unforgettable
Ed
Diabolique
Girl 6
Boys
The Phantom
Kansas City
The Stupids
Irma Vep
Man With A Plan
Hype!
Citizen Ruth
Tromeo And Juliet
Celtic Pride
Mulholland Falls
Urban Legend

Movies Of The Year: 1995

After two of the best years ever, 1995 can’t help but be a disappointment. That didn’t stop me from seeing more movies than ever: 87 by my count. Some good movies this year, and some of the worst I’ve ever seen.

87. Dracula: Dead And Loving It
86. Waterworld
85. Just Cause
84. First Knight
83. Batman Forever
82. Showgirls
81. Money Train
80. Lord Of Illusions
79. Nick Of Time
78. Copycat
77. Welcome To The Dollhouse
76. The Doom Generation
75. Les Miserables
74. Grumpier Old Men
73. Canadian Bacon
72. Sabrina
71. Othello
70. Mortal Kombat
69. Heavy
68. Safe
67. Die Hard: With A Vengeance
66. Clockers
65. Higher Learning
64. The Last Supper
63. The Prophesy
62. Murder In The First
61. Circle Of Friends
60. Dangerous Minds
59. The Basketball Diaries
58. Georgia
57. Friday
56. Species
55. Leaving Las Vegas
54. Mr. Holland’s Opus
53. Powder
52. Unzipped
51. Dead Presidents
50. My Father Is A Hero
49. Outbreak
48. Dolores Clairborne
47. The American President
46. Empire Records
45. Dead Man Walking
44. Blue In The Face
43. The Brady Bunch Movie
42. GoldenEye
41. Toy Story
40. Unstrung Heroes
39. The Brothers McMullin
38. Jeffrey
37. Devil In A Blue Dress
36. The Addiction
35. The Celluloid Closet
34. Crimson Tide
33. Bad Boys
32. Richard III
31. Nixon
30. Don Juan DeMarco
29. Kids
28. Before Sunrise
27. Dead Man
26. Babe
25. Mallrats
24. Living In Oblivion
23. Rob Roy
22. Strange Days
21. Billy Madison
20. Tommy Boy
19. Apollo 13
18. Casino
17. Desperado
16. City Of Lost Children

15. Smoke – A weird little movie set around a Brooklyn smokeshop and starring Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker, Stockard Channing, Giancarlo Esposito, and Harold Perrineau (the dad from “Lost”). It’s a series of short stories about the shop owner, a writer who frequents the shop, and a kid the writer kind of adopts. The writer is author Paul Auster, who also wrote the screenplay. Directed by Wayne Wang, it’s companion film, shot on the set during downtime while filming the movie, is very funny, has a cast of dozens (including some great scenes with Jim Jarmusch and Lou Reed) and ranks #44 this year.

14. Ghost In The Shell – This very influential anime was directed by Mamoru Oshii and is one of the first really good movies to deal with the impact of computers on reality, several years before The Matrix. The plot is about a cyborg detective and her partner on the trail of a super-hacker, but really it’s about information, simulation and consciousness. It isn’t the first anime to deal simultaneously with contemporary philosophy and stylish violence, but it’s one of the best.

13. The Quick And The Dead – Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-man) directed this Western starring Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Stone plays a gunslinger who enters a quick draw contest in the hope of killing Hackman, the guy who killed her father. Just over the top enough.

12. The Usual Suspects – Possibly the most overrated movie of the 90s. Yeah, its fine the first time you see it, twist ending and all. But as a general rule, I’m not a big fan of trick movies. Especially trick movies wherein the entire narrative is invalidated by the trick. It’s got a great cast, though: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin, Pete Postlethwaite, Benicio Del Toro, Giancarlo Esposito, Kevin Pollack, and Dan Hedeya.

11. Mighty Aphrodite – Probably the sweetest Woody Allen movie since Zelig. It’s a very pleasant romantic comedy in which Woody discovers that the mother of his adopted son is a prostitute played by Mira Sorvino. He tries some Henry Higgonsisms on Sorvino, tries to fix her up with a very dumb boxer who wants to be a farmer, played by Michael Rappaport. Meanwhile, he realizes Peter Weller, the guy who played RoboCop, is obsessed with his wife, Helena Bonham Carter. And all the action is narrated by an actual Greek Chorus featuring F. Murray Abraham, Olympia Dukakis, David Ogden Stiers and Jack Warden.

10. Get Shorty – Stylish comedy with John Travolta as a gangster trying to break into the movie business. Also stars Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo, David Paymer, Danny DeVito and James Gandolfini. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, who used to be the Coen brothers cinematographer (on Miller’s Crossing, raising Arizona and Blood Simple), then went on to direct The Addams Family and Men In Black movies.

9. To Die For – Nicole Kidman plays a vacuous TV reporter who wants to be famous. So she gets Joaquin Phoenix to kill her husband, Matt Dillon, for her. Also stars Illenna Douglas, Casey Affleck, Wayne Knight, Dan Hedeya and Kurtwood Smith. Directed by Gus Van Sant from a screenplay by Buck Henry, who wrote The Graduate. It’s Kidman’s first really great performance, and worth seeing for that alone, even if you’re one of those lunatics who hates Nicole Kidman.

8. Sense And Sensibility – At the time, this was the movie I thought should win Best Picture. But the fact that I haven’t bothered, or wanted, to see it again at all in the last ten years tells me I was probably overrating it. It’s very good, great direction by Ang Lee, great acting from Emma Thompson and Kate Winslett. A not especially annoying performance from Hugh Grant. It also stars Alan Rickman, Hugh Laurie and Tom Wilkenson, fine actors all. Its just a Jane Austen movie though, for all the good and bad that entails.

7. Clueless – The best Jane Austen adaptation ever is Amy Heckerling’s adaptation of Emma starring Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy, Breckin Meyer, Wallace Shawn and Dan Hedeya. That makes three Dan Hedeya movies this year, quite a year for Nick Tortelli. Modernizations of classics are an interesting and as far as I know, unstudied, subgenre. Seems to me that they often do a much better job of capturing the spirt and energy of the source material than more traditional adaptations do, as a comparison of the two 90s adaptations of Emma (the other being the Gwynneth Paltrow version), I think, shows.

6. Braveheart – It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. It really isn’t that great a movie, but I love watching it nonetheless. There’s some really great action scenes, some genuinely funny moments, great supporting acting by Brendan Gleeson, Brian Cox, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack and Sophie Marceau. Mel Gibson’s alright in his superhero, as opposed to ultra-conservative sadistic nutjob, role. A fine example of the historical epic genre, as long as you don’t take it too seriously, like, say, Mel Gibson or the Academy might. Freedom!

5. Party Girl – Parker Posey stars as the eponymous libertine who becomes a librarian and an existentialist to win the heart of a Lebanese street vender. Saw it on a whim one afternoon, if I remember correctly there was one other person in the theatre with my roommate and I. Despite being overlooked by the world at large, this is a truly great film. Weird, funny, romantic, and even a little deep.

4. Kicking And Screaming – A great year for overlooked comedies as I’ve got two back to back in the top 5. Noah Baumbach’s debut film is about what happens to a group of friends after they graduate from college. Grover (Josh Hamilton) drinks a lot and pines after his ex-girlfriend Jane (Olivia D’Abo) who went to Prague. Max (Chris Eigeman) does crosswords and sleeps with his friend’s girlfriend (Parker Posey). Skippy (Jason Wiles, the guy who got Kelly hooked on coke on 90210) decides to keep taking classes for the heck of it. Otis (Carlos Jacott) decides to skip grad school and get a job in a video store run by Chet (Eric Stoltz) doesn’t really count because he never graduated and has been working on his thesis for the last half decade or so. Brilliantly funny and accurate examination of what it’s like to be an aimless twenty-something in the 90s. Its a crime that it never found an audience (it isn’t even on DVD yet) and that Baumbach’s only been able to make three movies over the last decade.

3. 12 Monkeys – Terry Gilliam’s best movie is a remake of the short film “La Jette”, which I’ve never gotten around to seeing. Bruce Willis stars as a prisoner in a post-apocalyptic future who’s sent back in time to try to prevent the epidemic breakout that ended up causing the apocalypse. When he gets back to the past, he’s locked up in an insane asylum with Brad Pitt, and manages to escape and enlist the help of his psychiatrist, Madeline Stowe. Like most of Gilliam’s movies, it’s very visually striking, this time very dark and noirish with bright bursts of color. All the actors are great, and Pitt even got an Oscar nomination for his manic overthetop crazy guy. It’s the kind of trick movie that The Usual Suspects is, in that once you know how it ends, there’s still reason to go back and watch it. There’s craft to how its made and how all it’s pieces fit together, not just a twist for the sake of a twist.

2. Heat – It’s a tough call for the number one spot this year, I imagine a reasonable argument can be made for Heat being the best. It is a great film, well directed by Michael Mann and with an outstanding cast: Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Val Kilmer, Natalie Portman, Jon Voight, Wes Studi, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Ted Levine, Mykelti Williamson, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Hank Azaria, Henry Rollins, Tone Loc, Danny Trejo and Jeremy Piven. What keeps it for being a true classic, I think, is that despite the three tremendous action sequences, the in-between scenes seem a little to slow. Like the characters are being given more importance than they deserve. A little overblown. But those three sequences really are amazing. And there’s a scene with Pacino and DeNiro.

1. Seven – I’m generally not a fan of dark or depressing movies, but I’ve always loved Seven. I think the reason is that it doesn’t ever seem to be that it’s trying to depress me for the sake of depressing me. It’s got a severe, brutal logic to it and it follows that logic from beginning to end. Morgan Freeman plays a methodical cop nearing retirement, Brad Pitt plays his new partner and the two of them try to hunt down a serial killer who’s reenacting the seven deadly sins. Gwynneth Paltrow had her first big role as Pitt’s wife. It’s David Fincher’s debut film, before this he was a music video director (most notably Madonna’s Vogue and Express Yourself). As you expect from music video guys, it’s a highly stylized film, literally one of the darkest films ever (at least in 1995), it doesn’t get much noirer. I give it the edge on Heat because it’s a much tighter, more compact and efficient film, only partly because it isn’t as ambitious.

Not a lot of good Unseen movies this year, but plenty of bad ones:

Four Rooms
Shanghai Triad
Waiting To Exhale
The White Balloon
Antonia’s Line
Cold Comfort Farm
Maborosi
Forget Paris
To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar
A Walk In The Clouds
Virtuosity
Tank Girl
Underground
Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead
La Haine
Nine Months
Pocahontas
Assassins
Bridges Of Madison County
Johnny Mnemonic
Congo
Casper
Cutthroat Island
Hackers
The Net
While You Were Sleeping
Jumanji
Houseguest
JLG/JLG
Boys On The Side
Jefferson In Paris
Jury Duty
The Fan
Beyond Rangoon
Nico Icon
Angus
Gordy
Persuasion
The Scarlet Letter
Jade
Kiss Of Death
Carrington
The Crossing Guard
Judge Dredd
Wild Bill

Discreet Charm

I found a major omission on one of the Movies Of the Year list. Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, from 1990, which should be slotted in at #4 in that year, right between Dreams and Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. It’s a hilarious talkfest about bored, rich WASPs during Christmas break from school. Chris Eigeman is the only actor in it that went on to do anything, and pretty much all he’s done is star in other Whit Stillman movies (and Noah Baumbach movies). And, it’s finally going to be released on DVD soon, thanks to the good people at The Criterion Collection.

Watched the director’s cut of Last Of the Mohicans last night and on the whole, it’s a real improvement. There’s only a couple minor additions, the big change is that a lot of the worst lines have been cut out. No more “Somedy you and I are gonna have a serious disagreement” or “For they are a breed apart and make no sense”. So that’s nice.

And we just finished watching Crash, which I got from Netflix almost two months ago (yikes!). It was good, but nothing terrific. A lesser Magnolia that’s all about race and doesn’t really tell you anything you don’t already know and is way too dependent on wild coincidence. Some good performances though. And I enjoyed watching it a lot more than I enjoyed Million Dollar Baby.

Movies Of The Year: 1994

If any year is going to challenge 1993 as the best year for film in my lifetime, it’d probably be 1994. The top 50 or so movies this year are very good, with the top 65 or so actually worth watching.

80. The Next Karate Kid
79. The Specialist
78. In the Army Now
77. Princess Caraboo
76. The Client
75. Timecop
74. Airheads
73. Only You
72. Wolf
71. Speechless
70. Blue Sky
69. Priest
68. Nostradamus
67. Major League II
66. Immortal Beloved
65. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein
64. Little Odessa
63. Speed
62. Sirens
61. SFW
60. Interview With The Vampire
59. Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle
58. What Happened Was
57. Sleep With Me
56. Nell
55. It Could Happen To You
54. Dumb & Dumber
53. The Crow
52. Above The Rim
51. Spanking The Monkey
50. Vanya On 42nd Street
49. Bullets Over Broadway
48. Killing Zoe
47. When A Man Loves A Woman
46. The Paper
45. Maverick
44. True Lies
43. Forrest Gump
42. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
41. Blue Chips
40. Clean Slate
39. Star Trek: Generations
38. The River Wild
37. The Mask
36. Natural Born Killers
35. Imaginary Crimes
34. Little Women
33. Oleanna
32. Barcelona
31. Swimming With Sharks
30. Legends Of The Fall
29. Before The Rain
28. Heavenly Creatures
27. The Hudsucker Proxy
26. Crumb
25. Cabin Boy
24. Shallow Grave
23. Death And The Maiden
22. Exotica
21. Nobody’s Fool
20. The Madness Of King George
19. PCU
18. Leon, The Professional
17. Eat Drink Man Woman
16. Fist Of Legend

15. Three Colors: White – The second part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy is a comedy starring Julie Delpy and Polish comic actor Zbigniew Zamachowski. They get divorced in Paris, leaving Zamachowski penniless. He meets a strange guy in a subway station who offers to smuggle him back to Poland in his luggage. Back home, he resumes his hairdressing career and plots his revenge against Delpy. As light and funny as Blue is depressing, it’s the slightest of the three movies.

14. Ashes Of Time – Before Crouching Tiger, The House Of Flying Daggers, or Hero, there was Wong Kar-wai’s Ashes Of Time. The influence on those later films is obvious, as Wong and his longtime cinematographer Christopher Doyle apply the techniques of Chinese art movies to a kung fu epic. It’s slow, beautiful, complex in structure and in meaning. Stars Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Leslie Cheung and the other Tony Leung. With action choreographed by Sammo Hung.

13. Ed Wood – Tim Burton’s most serious film is a bio-pic about the worst director of all-time. Johnny Depp is out standing as Wood, and Martin Landau is great as his buddy, the aged actor/junkie Bela Lugosi. It’s a disturbing film, because Wood seems to have no idea just how awful he really is. His unbound enthusiasm and belief in his own abilities is either inspiring or horribly depressing. Also stars Patricia Arquette, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray, Max Casella, Jeffrey Jones and Vincent D’Onofrio as Orson Welles.

12. Drunken Master II – Jackie Chan stars in the sequel to his classic Wong Fei-hung parody that helped invent the modern martial arts comedy genre. Generally considered the best of the 90s kung fu movies, though I prefer a Jet Li’s The Legend of Fong Sai-yuk. The main edge Chan has on Li, of course, is that he refuses to use wires or special effects in any of his stunts. Still, I prefer Li as the Buster Keaton to Jackie Chan’s Charlie Chaplin.

11. The Last Seduction – Linda Fiorentino stars as a very femme and very fatale femme fatale in John Dahl’s top notch neo-noir. After making a bunch of money in a drug deal, she leaves her husband (Bill Pullman) and steals all the money. As Pullman tries to hunt her down, she enlists clueless Hick Peter Berg to help her out. Fiorentino’s terrific as one of the most evil women of all time.

10. Hoop Dreams – In this remarkable documentary, the filmmakers followed two inner-city Chicago basketball players throughout their high school careers. William Gates got into an exclusive prep school but suffered from knee injuries and never really fulfilled his playing potential, and had a kid along the way. Arthur Agee has to play at a public school, but had a much better career. Neither one went on to do much in college, though Agee was the more successful of the two. Its a great film about poverty and sports ad the relation between the two.

9. Once Were Warriors – One of the more intense and depressing films that I actually like, this is about a family of poor Maori in New Zealand. The wife is descended from Maori warriors, the husband from the slave class. It’s about the corruption of the nobility of the warrior class by modernity through her relationship with the drunken, wife-beating, deadbeat slave-class husband. Anti-egalitarian for sure, but still very cool.

8. Reality Bites – I have no real defense for ranking this movie so high. Other than that I graduated high school in 1994. It’s a silly Gen X romantic comedy/coming of age movie, albeit one with a great cast. Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofolo, and Steve Zahn, with bit parts by John Mahoney, Renee Zellweger, Andy Dick, and David Spade. It’s not as good as Singles, it’s most similar film. Nostalgia’s a tricky thing. There is an interesting idea in that it basically became the kind of victim of commercialism and vapidity that it criticizes itself.

7. Four Weddings And A Funeral – But for Andie McDowell, this would be a truly great movie. I’ve a theory that British writers are incapable of writing credible dialogue for Americans. Exhibit A in this theory is William Holden’s part in The Bridge On The River Kwai. Exhibit B is this movie. She looks great and all, but every time she says something, you want to cringe. It’s possible (probable?) that she’s just a bad actor, but I really can’t imagine anyone making these lines sound good. The rest of the movie’s great, especially since Hugh Grant hadn’t quite reached Totally Annoying yet. Kristen Scott Thomas, Simon Callow and John Hannah steal the film from the mediocre leads.

6. Clerks – Rightly beloved by anyone who’s ever worked a customer service job, Clerks features truly terrible actors saying truly hilarious lines. Kevin Smith spent more on it than Robert Rodriguez did for El Mariachi, but you can’t tell by watching it. It’s more a collection of shorts than one cohesive film. But that doesn’t really matter. My favorites: the egg guy, the Star Wars discussion (of course), any scene in the video store, and the cat.

5. The Shawshank Redemption – The It’s A Wonderful Life of the 90s? Perhaps no movie has been played more often on television over the last decade (where would we be without TBS?). For a prison movie chock full of murder, rape and suicide, it’s surprisingly watchable. Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins are, of course, terrific. The director, Frank Darabont, appears to be the official writer-director for all Stephen King prison movies. He’s directed only three movies, two of which are Shawshank and The Green Mile.

4. Three Colors: Red – The last part of the trilogy stars Irene Jacob as a model who accidentally runs over a dog owned by Jean-Louis Trintignant, a retired judge who spends all his time eavesdropping on his neighbors’ phone conversations. Being about fraternity, this film is all about interconnectedness (the opening shot, of a phone call traveling through wires across the english channel, is a both famous and brilliant. In addition to the technological connections, there’s a little side story about a law student studying for his final exams that ultimately fits in perfectly strangely. And of course, this is the film where the characters from all three of the movies come together, mediated by technology and weather. A great conclusion to what might be the best trilogy in film history.

3. Quiz Show – Robert Redford’s great film about the scandal around 21, the 1950s game show that gave the answers to its contestants. The cast is amazing, led by Rob Morrow from Northern Exposure playing Richard Goodwin, the Congressional investigator who went on to be a speechwriter for John F. Kennedy, John Turturro, Ralph Fiennes, Paul Scofield, Mira Sorvino, David Paymer, Hank Azaria, Griffin Dunne, Barry Levinson and Martin Scorsese. The attention to period detail is perfect and the film has a look and color that I’ve never quite seen before. The relationship between the Van Dorens, Fiennes and Scofield, is my favorite, it’s what really makes the film great, more than just a movie about a scandal. Also, Paul Scofield has one of my all-time favorite voices.

2. Chungking Express – This was actually a very tough call for me, whether to make this or Pulp Fiction the # film of the year. As great as Tarantino’s movie is, I really love Chungking Express. Ultimately I decided Pulp Fiction had to be #1, because without it, I might never have seen a Wong Kar-wai movie. It’s two separate love stories, one dark and gangsterish, the other light and fun. Brigitte Lin and Takeshi Kaneshiro star in the first, about a cop who, while obsessing about the girl who left him, spends a platonic night with a drug dealer on the run from her bosses. The second stars Tony Leung as a cop who’s obsessed with his flight attendant ex-girlfriend and Faye Wong as the crazy/cute girl who repeatedly breaks into his apartment trying to brighten it up. My pick as the most romantic film ever.

1. Pulp Fiction – If you haven’t seen Pulp Fiction, you really shouldn’t be reading this blog. I mean it, go away. Come back after you’ve watched it. On of the most direct influences on my becoming a film geek (not unusual for geeks of my generation), it made me want to go out and watch everything that influenced Tarantino. In the Goddard-free Spokane of the mid-90s, that meant film noir and Scorsese. Welles, Hitchcock and Kurosawa weren’t far behind. Influential as it is, it is first and foremost simply a great movie. As everyone who tried to copy it found out, there’s more to Tarantino than trendy pop culture references and a jumbled timeline. The references are only useful in that they reveal character, but what makes Tarantino’s characters special is the way he works with the actors. I can’t think of a single bad performance in any Tarantino film, and that is remarkable. John Travolta is not a good actor, why is he great in Pulp Fiction? Beyond the screenplay, the direction is great as well. the music is outstanding, perfectly integrated. And the cast is terrific, I’m sure I don’t need to recite them here. A serious contender for best film of the 90s.

Quite a few Unseen Movies this year, and most of them are going to stay that way:

The Secret Of Roan Inish
The Kingdom
To Live
Burnt By The Sun
Cemetary Man
Angels In The Outfield
Without Honors
Queen Margot
The Shadow
On Deadly Ground
Pret-a-Porter
Blown Away
Serial Mom
The Ref
Muriel’s Wedding
Beverly Hills Cop III
Disclosure
The Adventures Of Prisvilla, Queen Of The Desert
Il Postino
The Flintstones
Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult
Clear And Present Danger
Stargate
The Lion King
The Santa Clause
Wild Reeds
Tom & Viv
Wyatt Earp
Junior
8 Seconds
Monkey Trouble
Backbeat
Bad Girls
Crooklyn
A Million To Juan
Fear Of A Black Hat
Go Fish
Little Big League
North
Wagons East
Cobb
Strawberry And Chocolate
The Sum Of Us
Farinelli
Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey