1997 Top Ten
Feature by Eddie
Cockrell, Posted 9 January 1998
Let's get one thing straight right away: if you
respect filmmaking as an art form, are fascinated with the often herculean
behind-the-scenes machinations of even the most pedestrian pictures and just enjoy
spending hour after hour in the dark transported to another place and time, well, then, every
year is a good year for movies.
In that sense, maybe critic isn't the word for what gets done here at Nitrate Online.
Chronicler? Maybe, but from the safety of a home office rather than the thick of a junket.
Cheerleader? Perhaps, but in the best sense of the word (no premiere party coverage or
syndication deals here). Whatever you call it, it means appreciating films at least as
much for their cultural significance as for their entertainment value.
Of course, like all such lists, this is severely subjective, as it must be, because it
is no longer possible to see everything in a given year. And as movies become more like
streetcars, coming and going with mind-numbing regularity, it becomes increasingly
difficult to separate the often low-profile wheat from the tub-thumped chaff, predict
which way the awards winds are blowing and even put a finger on fundamental trends and
So this list doesn't even try, preferring instead to serve as a stream-of-consciousness
survey of high and, uh, not-so-high marks in another enjoyable movie year.
And so, to the list:
- Boogie Nights. The year's most audacious movie, a
spicy chronicle of an era that now seems strange and is this the right word?
wondrous. Featuring a career-best performance from Burt Reynolds (who'dve thought?), the
only obscene element in Paul Thomas Anderson's second feature would be if Oscar turned
- Titanic. Another lost world, this one heartbreakingly
class-driven, James Cameron's $200 million-plus epic is perhaps the first art film to pose
as a disaster saga. The daring balance of clich¾
d love story and action spectacle pays off handsomely, as does the attention to detail and
those awesome special effects.
- The Sweet Hereafter. Delicate yet clear-eyed, this
meditation on loss and grief could be the commercial breakthrough for Armenian Canadian
director Atom Egoyan, who has adapted Russell Banks' novel into an experience that is at
once sobering and inspirational.
- Cop Land. Writer-director James Mangold (Heavy)
brings a shrewd fascination with small-town life in the northeastern United States to this
cautionary fable that should have been longer than it was (how many movies leave that impression?).
Sylvester Stallone's career-best performance is a thrill.
- The Full Monty. The year's scrappy
little comedy that could and did, this second feature from director Peter Cattaneo
taps into the strong underdog vein that makes for a word-of-mouth smash. The movie gets
extra credit for clever use of Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff," in a howlingly funny
unemployment office scene.
- Starship Troopers. One of the best pure sci-fi
movies in years, this reverent adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's novel continued director
Paul Verhoeven's distinctly European mix of carnage and comedy spiced with sex. A little
less fascistic flash would've insured the film a spot atop the year's box office.
- L.A. Confidential. Some said it couldn't be done,
but Curtis Hanson's nuanced adaptation of James Ellroy's dense, stylized prose is the best
color noir since Chinatown. The film also showcases as many Oscar-caliber
performances as any other movie of 1997.
- Nénette and Boni. Claire Denis is one of the handful of great world filmmakers
unknown in the United States, and this regionally released drama about the often invisible
ties that bind headstrong siblings showcases her astonishing intuition with young acting
talent. The film also features a sublime score from Tindersticks.
- The Apostle. Robert Duvall's self-made masterpiece is
fiery, cocksure independent American filmmaking at its best, charting the odd but sincere
spiritual journey of a decidedly worldly man of God and a testament to the enduring power
of rural faith and tradition.
- Jackie Brown. Quentin Tarantino's entertaining film
stakes out new turf for the influential young filmmaker, who has preserved the
tough-talking milieu of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction but relies more on
dialogue than gunplay to move his stories along. Welcome back, Robert Forster and Pam
Honorable mention (movies that would've been on a top 10 had the assignment been
The Twenty Best Movies of 1997):
- La Promesse.
- She's So Lovely.
- Donnie Brasco.
- Year of the Horse.
- The Myth of Fingerprints.
- East Side Story.
- As Good as It Gets.
The Ten Worst Movies of 1997
- The Postman. Kevin Costner obviously means well, but
this ponderous, static epic disembowels a good book in dubious service to jingoistic
- Office Killer. Humorless and sloooow.
As a filmmaker, Cindy Sherman might be a good still photographer. Maybe.
- Batman & Robin. Did anybody buy this heartless,
by-the-numbers sequel machine?
- In & Out. Insultingly improbable and not even very
- SwitchBack. When an actor billed well down the
credit list (R. Lee Ermey) is the only element worth watching, the movie's in trouble.
- Gummo. This directorial debut from the writer of Kids is an incoherent,
- The Designated Mourner. Everybody makes mistakes, and this spectacularly inept
stab at experimental filmmaking is a doozy.
- I Know What You Did Last Summer. Post-post-post modern
tripe from the writer of Scream (Kevin Williamson) that mistakes its novelty for
- Kiss the Girls. Only sincere performances from Morgan
Freeman and Ashley Judd make this predictable genre piece watchable.
- Conspiracy Theory. Mel by numbers, Julia by numbers;
Cynical, manipulative, disposable.
The Ten Best Movies of 1997 that Weren't Distributed in the United States (watch
for them soon at a festival or specialty house near you if there is a festival or
specialty house near you):
- Funny Games (Austria)
- Love and Death on Long Island (United
- The Eel (Japan)
- Western (France)
- Inside/Out (USA)
- [Focus] (Japan)
- Mother and Son (Russia)
- Fireworks (Japan)
- illtown (USA)
- Moebius (Argentina)
- Keep Cool (People's Republic of China)
- Passage (Czech Republic/France/Belgium)
- The Fire Within (Japan)