best film: PT Anderson’s Boogie Nights is that sonic boom giant masterpiece from a filmmaker under 30 (Chazelle in la la land missing the cut by a year) like citizen kane, the 400 blows, jaws, breathless, battleship potemkin that blows us all away. I think in 1997 there were those who cried “Scorsese Jr.” with how many similarities there are between the film and goodfellas but now, with the benefit of hindsight of 20 years, it’s impossible to deny this accomplishment. The opening dance club set piece shot is beyond description in its beauty and the film has countless other segments (the awkwardly long long take on Walhberg that just pauses there for like 45 seconds, the entire sequence where Macy kills himself) of cinematic genius including indelibly rich characterizations. It’s one of the greatest films of the 1990’s.
most underrated: I have Boogie Nights in my top 100 of all-time so I’d balk at the #545 placement here on the TSPDT list but equally wrong is the consensus critics leaving Gus Van Sant’s good will hunting off the top 1000 completely. Make no mistake about it, this is a top 1000 film arguably on acting and writing (the famous writing screenplay for Damon and Affleck) but Van Sant is no slouch behind the camera. This may not be as cinematic and formally astounding as say elephant but from the gorgeous opening title sequence to the attractive photography this is no “point and shoot” drama as well.
most overrated: WKW’s Happy Together is the #1 film of 1997 according to TSPDT and #337 overall. Both are wildly overrated so I hate to do it (because I love WKW) but his is the most overrated film of 1997. If I had to put a finger on it I think critics are rewarding it more so for its landmark status for queer cinema than for its artistic merit. Another tragically overrated film is Harmony Korine’s Gummo. It’s subversive, sure, but it’s really hard to look at it’s so ugly. Give me Korine’s spring breakers and the visual beauty there any day over the week over this film which I don’t have in my archives but lands on the consensus list at #627. Wrong.
gem I want to spotlight: I’m going to single out two gems that couldn’t be more different. Abbas Kiarostami’s taste of cherry is minimal in its approach rigorous and ambitious in the film form qualities. For me, it’s peak Kiarostami. Another gem from 1997 is John Woo’s uniminimal (is “maximal” a word?) Face/Off. Woo throws everything but the kitchen sink out there in this action genre staple and much of it sticks the landing. It’s brash, loud, and frankly inconsistent but it’s intoxicating to watch the stylistic ambition and a big fat narrative that really doesn’t give a shit if everything makes sense. These two would make a great double feature and sometimes when I’ve seen too many dumb Hollywood movies I feel like a Kiarostami film and sometimes when I see too many understated/slow foreign/indie films I feel like Face/Off.
trends and notables: Titanic and James Cameron won every Academy Award and blew up the box office but for me 1997 will always be the year of PT Anderson and the arrival of a true cinematic genius (a word I throw around here on the blog too often to great performances and direction but applies here). PT Anderson is a genius. Titanic is a great film even if it isn’t 1997’s best, Cameron’s best, or better than some of the films it passed up on the all-time box office list. It also further propelled the careers of DiCaprio and Winslet who would be two of their generation’s greatest actors. Lost Highway is case in point pure Lynch virtuoso brilliance and may eventually pass up the narrative perfection of LA Confidential on my top 10 list. As I said above I think 1997 is peak Kiarostami and I think it’s the true announcement of Michel Haneke as a big talent with funny games (he’d have the castle as a second addition to his archives in 1997 as well). For actors the first archiveable films of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz (live flesh for both and open your eyes for Cruz) are very noteworthy. I need to give romper stomper another look but for now I have 1997 as the arrival to the archives for Russell Crowe—and what an archiveable debut—with his work in LA Confidential. He’s magnetic. Nearly as captivating is Jude Law in Gattaca would be his first archiveable film and the clear advent of a future star and great actor.
best performance male: Rumor is that DiCaprio passed up on the role of Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights for Titanic. No idea—but I do know that I wouldn’t want to see anyone else playing it now that I’ve seen Mark Wahlberg absolutely crush it in the lead here and he’s my performance of the year. Wahlberg hasn’t always capitalized on his talents (or at least talents here) throughout his very up and down career but you can’t take this film and performance away from him. I actually think Burt Reynolds work may very well be the #2 overall performance of the year behind Walhberg he’s so good. It’s the best work of his career as well. After the dueling male leads so to speak in boogie nights we have Matt Damon and Russell Crowe in Good Will Hunting and LA Confidential. They are believable, captivating and take characters that could be clichés and make them cinematically iconic in two of the year’s better films.
best performance female: 1997 is loaded for strong female performances. I have six here that I couldn’t leave off. The trouble is picking the overall best. On a per-minute basis I think Julianne Moore is probably the best in boogie nights but I’ll just give it to Winslet here who does more of the heavy lifting in the 3 hour romantic epic. Pam Grier is proof that Tarantino is truly great with actors here in her work on and as Jackie Brown. Patricia Arquette was close to breaking into this category earlier in the decade with her work in true romance and Ed Wood but she’s here in full in lost highway. Also very worthy of a mention is Kim Basinger who took the best supporting actress Oscar in 1997 for LA Confidential. Equal to Basinger and a nominee in that category is Minnie Driver in Good Will Hunting and she rounds out my six actresses.
- Boogie Nights
- L.A. Confidential
- Lost Highway
- Good Will Hunting
- A Taste of Cherry
- Jackie Brown
- Funny Games
- The Ice Storm
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Taste of Cherry- Kiarostami||HR|
|As Good As It Gets||R|
|Boogie Nights- PT. Anderson||MP|
|Career Girls- Leigh||R|
|Deconstructing Harry- Allen||R|
|Funny Games- Haneke||HR|
|Genealogies of Crime-Ruiz||R|
|Good Will Hunting- Van Sant||HR/MS|
|Happy Together- WKW||R|
|Henry Fool- Hartley||HR|
|Jackie Brown- Tarantino||HR|
|L.A. Confidential- Hansen||MP|
|Life Is Beautiful||R|
|Live Flesh- Almodovar||R|
|Lost Highway- Lynch||MS|
|Love and Death on Long Island||R|
|Mother and Son|
|Mr. Jealousy- Baumbach||R|
|Open Your Eyes- Amenábar||HR|
|Perfect Blue- Kon||HR|
|Princess Monoke- Miyazuki||R/HR|
|Starship Troopers- Verhoven||R/HR|
|The Boxer- Sheridan||R|
|The Castle- Haneke||R|
|The Eel- Inamura|
|The Game- Fincher||R|
|The Ice Storm- A. Lee||HR|
|The Spanish Prisoner- Mamet||R|
|The Sweet Hereafter- Egoyian||R|
|The Wings of a Dove||R|
|U-Turn- O. Stone||R|
|Wag the Dog- Levinson|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year