Saturday, July 30, 2016

1997--The Year in Review

Even though a passel of terrific movies were released in 1997, this is among the weaker years of the decade. Its supposed jewel, James Cameron's magnum opus Titanic, tells a tale previously recounted on screen in better fashions--the 1958 British film A Night to Remember tops them all, and even the 1953 Titanic with Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb is superior storytelling. In fact, it won an Oscar for its screenplay, while Cameron's film wasn't even nominated for a screenplay award--rightfully so, though I'm clearly in the minority since it, of course, became the primo moneymaker to that point. Though it was looked at as a possible bomb while its budget ballooned, Cameron's folly ended up highjacking the awards narrative this year, thus tainting the period with distinct air of blahness. The film went on to match another blah epic, 1959's Ben Hur, in its record number of Oscar wins--13, in all. Titanic, for me, was a waste of time until its stunning final hour, where it perfectly recreates the sinking of the supposedly indomitable sea craft (it's the reason the movie captured the popular vote, and this it matches Ben Hur and its ginormous chariot race, which similarly convinced everyone it was the best movie of its year). I don't get any of the larger subtext Cameron means for it ("We're on the Titanic now, worldwide, and we're heading towards the iceberg"). You have to read of Cameron's intent in order to get it, and even then it feels bogus and self-important. He missed a prime opportunity to make Titanic into an widely-swathed omnibus that suitably covered the stories of the multitudes that died and survived, and instead he concentrated on that goofy "Jack! Rose!" passion that obviously never existed. The picture cynically feels like it was made only for challenge of doing it.

In the face of this, most critics sided with Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential, an exciting, beautifully-produced bon-bon of retro-flavored action that smashes into you upon first viewing, but shows a certain air of still-entertaining phoniness upon revisitation. For me, the best movie of this year is a gorgeous, resplendently dour look at a dreadful school bus accident affecting a snowy Canadian community. The Sweet Hereafter, from writer/director Atom Egoyan, is a gorgeous, stout, time-juggling marvel studded with an impressive cast that continually takes our breath with their brave stares into the void (veteran Ian Holm, as a money-hungry lawyer, and newcomer Sarah Polley, as a secretive survivor, are its MVPs). It's handily the most emotionally devastating movie of '97, and feels like nothing Egoyan produced before or since. Quentin Tarantino, too, voiced a new tone with his chiefly humanistic, least derivative work Jackie Brown, for which I am totally happy to give acting awards to Pam Grier and Robert Forster, two deserving veterans who, faced with the finest roles of their long careers, modestly depicted a cozy romance, perfectly trumping the one that hoodwinked so many Titanic fans. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold.

PICTURE: THE SWEET HEREAFTER (Canada, Atom Egoyan) (2nd: L.A. Confidential (US, Curtis Hanson), followed by: Jackie Brown (US, Quentin Tarantino); A Taste of Cherry (Iran, Abbas Kiarostami); Funny Games (Austria, Michael Haneke); The Ice Storm (US, Ang Lee); Starship Troopers (US, Paul Verhoeven); Mother and Son (Russia, Aleksandr Sokurov); Donnie Brasco (US, Mike Newell); Eve’s Bayou (US, Kasi Lemmons); The Apostle (US, Robert Duvall); Boogie Nights (US, Paul Thomas Anderson); Career Girls (UK, Mike Leigh); Passion in the Desert (US, Lavinia Currier); Lost Highway (US, David Lynch); Waco: The Rules of Engagement (US, William Gazecki); Open Your Eyes (Spain, Alejandro Aménabar); Kundun (US, Martin Scorsese); Ulee’s Gold (US, Victor Nunez); Insomnia (Norway, Erik Skjoldbjærg); Four Little Girls (US, Spike Lee); Good Will Hunting (US, Gus Van Sant); Gattaca (US, Andrew Niccol); As Good as it Gets (US, James L. Brooks); Lolita (US/France, Adrian Lyne); Hana-bi (Japan, Takeshi Kitano); The Full Monty (UK, Peter Cattaneo); Contact (US, Robert Zemeckis); The Fifth Element (US/France, Luc Besson); Happy Together (Hong Kong, Wong Kar-Wai); Breakdown (US, Jonathan Mostow); In the Company of Men (US, Neil LaBute); Children of Heaven (Iran, Majid Majidi); Little Dieter Needs to Fly (Germany, Werner Herzog); Four Days in September (Brazil/US, Bruno Barreto); Nil by Mouth (UK, Gary Oldman); Hands on a Hard Body (US, S.R. Bindler); The Wings of the Dove (UK, Iain Softley); Men in Black (US, Barry Sonnenfeld); Princess Mononoke (Japan, Hayao Miyazaki); Croupier (UK, Mike Hodges); Private Parts (US, Betty Thomas); Titanic (US, James Cameron); Life is Beautiful (Italy, Roberto Benigni); The Long Way Home (US, Mark Jonathan Harris); The Spanish Prisoner (US, David Mamet); Cop Land (US, James Mangold); U-Turn (US, Oliver Stone); The Butcher Boy (Ireland, Neil Jordan); Face/Off (US, John Woo); The Eel (Japan, Shohei Imamura); Event Horizon (US, Paul W.S. Anderson); Mrs. Brown (UK, John Madden); The Kingdom II (Denmark, Lars Von Trier and Morton Arnfred); The House of Yes (US, Mark Waters); John Grisham's The Rainmaker (US, Francis Ford Coppola); Amistad (US, Steven Spielberg); Love and Death on Long Island (US, Richard Kwietniowski); Ma Vie En Rose (France/Belgium/UK, Alain Berliner); Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (US, Errol Morris); 12 Angry Men (US, William Friedkin); My Best Friend's Wedding (US, P.J. Hogan); Wag the Dog (US, Barry Levinson); All Over Me (US, Alex Sichel); Clockwatchers (US, Jill Sprecher); Dream with the Fishes (US, Finn Taylor); The Castle (Australia, Rob Sitch); Cube (Canada, Vincenzo Natali); She's So Lovely (US, Nick Cassavetes); Character (Belgium/Netherlands, Mike van Diem); Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (US, Clint Eastwood); In and Out (US, Frank Oz); Mousehunt (US, Gore Verbinski); Orgazmo (US, Trey Parker); The Edge (US, Lee Tamahori); The Game (US, David Fincher); Men With Guns (US, John Sayles); Grosse Pointe Blank (US, George Armitage); Lawn Dogs (US, John Duigan))

ACTOR: Ian Holm, THE SWEET HEREAFTER (2nd: Robert Duvall, The Apostle, followed by: Peter Fonda, Ulee’s Gold; Al Pacino, Donnie Brasco; Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting; Homayon Ershadi, A Taste of Cherry; Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets; Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Brown)

ACTRESS: Pam Grier, JACKIE BROWN (2nd: Joan Allen, The Ice Storm, followed by: Susanne Lothar, Funny GamesHelen Hunt, As Good As It Gets; Rebecca Pidgeon, The Spanish Prisoner; Helena Bonham Carter, The Wings of The Dove; Katrin Cartlidge, Career Girls; Lynda Steadman, Career Girls)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Robert Forster, JACKIE BROWN (2nd: Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights, followed by: Robert Blake, Lost Highway; Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting; Mark Benton, Career Girls; Bruce Greenwood, The Sweet Hereafter; Robert De Niro, Jackie Brown; Lady Chablis, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sarah Polley, THE SWEET HEREAFTER (2nd: Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights, followed by: Nicoletta Braschi, Life is Beautiful; Cameron Diaz, My Best Friend’s Wedding; Bridget Fonda, Jackie Brown; Gabrielle Rose, The Sweet Hereafter; Gloria Stuart, Titanic; Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting)

DIRECTOR: Atom Egoyan, THE SWEET HEREAFTER (2nd: Curtis Hanson, L.A. Confidential, followed by: Abbas Kierostami, A Taste of Cherry; Michael Haneke, Funny Games; Quentin Tarantino, Jackie Brown; Ang Lee, The Ice Storm; Paul Thomas Anderson, Boogie Nights)

NON-ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILM: A TASTE OF CHERRY (Iran, Abbas Kiarostami) (2nd: Funny Games (Austria, Michael Haneke), followed by: Mother and Son (Russia, Aleksandr Sokurov); Open Your Eyes (Spain, Alejandro Aménabar); Insomnia (Norway, Erik Skjoldbjærg); Hana-bi (Japan, Takeshi Kitano); Happy Together (Hong Kong, Wong Kar-Wai); Children of Heaven (Iran, Majid Majidi); Four Days in September (Brazil/US, Bruno Barreto); Princess Mononoke (Japan, Hayao Miyazaki); Life is Beautiful (Italy, Roberto Benigni) (won in 1999); The Eel (Japan, Shohei Imamura); Ma Vie En Rose (France/ Belgium/UK, Alain Berliner); Character (Belgium/Netherlands, Mike van Diem))

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: WACO: THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (US, William Gazecki) (2nd: Four Little Girls (US, Spike Lee), followed by: Little Dieter Needs To Fly (Germany, Werner Herzog); Hands on a Hard Body (US, S.R. Bindler); The Long Way Home (US, Mark Jonathan Harris))


ANIMATED SHORT: THE OLD LADY AND THE PIGEONS (France, Sylvain Chomet) (2nd: Mermaid (Russia, Aleksandr Petrov), followed by: Geri's Game (US, Jan Pinkava))

LIVE ACTION SHORT: DA FUNK (US, Spike Jonze) (2nd: Cutting Moments (US, Douglas Buck); Little Red Riding Hood (US, David Kaplan); Come to Daddy (UK, Chris Cunningham)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, GOOD WILL HUNTING (2nd: Victor Nunez, Ulee’s Gold, followed by: Michael Haneke, Funny Games; Kasi Lemmons, Eve’s Bayou; Paul Thomas Anderson, Boogie Nights

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (2nd: Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter, followed by: James Schamus, The Ice Storm; Quentin Tarantino, Jackie Brown; Paul Attansio, Donnie Brasco)

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Dante Spinotti, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (2nd: Frederick Elmes, The Ice Storm, followed by: Roger Deakins, Kundun; Alexei Yodorov, Mother and Son; Alexei Rodionov Passion in the Desert)

ART DIRECTION: TITANIC, Kundun, L.A. Confidential, Gattaca, Boogie Nights

COSTUME DESIGN: KUNDUN, Titanic, L.A. Confidential, Boogie Nights, Starship Troopers

FILM EDITING: L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, The Sweet Hereafter, Boogie Nights, Titanic, Funny Games

SOUND: CONTACT, Titanic, L.A. Confidential, Starship Troopers, The Fifth Element

SOUND EFFECTS: TITANIC, L.A. Confidential, Starship Troopers

ORIGINAL SCORE: Jerry Goldsmith, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (2nd: Mychael Danna, The Sweet Hereafter, followed by: Philip Glass, Kundun; James Horner, Titanic; Nicola Piovani, Life is Beautiful (won in 1999))

ORIGINAL SONG: “Miss Misery” from GOOD WILL HUNTING (Music and lyrics by Elliott Smith) (2nd: “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic (Music by James Horner, lyrics by Will Jennings))

SPECIAL EFFECTS: TITANIC, Starship Troopers, Men in Black

MAKEUP: MEN IN BLACK, The Fifth Element, Lost Highway 

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