Well folks, I guess I should do a top ten and bottom ten of the year list. I hate doing this sort of thing because I find it absolutely stupid as hell to rank artistic endeavors over one another. For example... how can one compare THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY to SMOKE SIGNALS? I tend to have a natural prejudice against voting for slap your ass, funny as hell sorts of films in my ‘best’ list. The first will be my least favorite films that I have seen and experienced in a theater this year. Then what I feel were the best cinematic achievements in film this year. So... here we go... OH... One last thing, for the TALK BACK on this page, your subject line heading will be a nomination for COOLEST FILM of 1998. I will then take your nominations and assemble the MUTHER OF ALL POLLS that will then be voted on by all of you. The winner will get... The COOLEST Award!
The Bottom 10 Movies I Endured in 1998.
10. BLUES BROTHERS 2000
Oh dear god. You know, there are times when I genuinely want to take the entire filmmaking team behind a film, and sit them down with their movie and go FRAME by FRAME to show them each foul step. This was one of them. How could they get this so wrong? First off, you do not shoot a ‘bluesy Chicago’ movie in Toronto. It’s a lovely town, but it just doesn’t have the gritty texture and soul of Chicago. The opening sequence of the film where they let Elwood out of prison.... it’s classic, but.... from there it’s straight into the abyss.
The music felt artificially created, the kid was awful, John Goodman was bad, Akyroyd was straining to carry the film. THEN when the zombie Louisiana blues contest began... WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED JOHN LANDIS? My god, that could have been so cool, but having the makeup team from Universal’s Theme Park doing green cake makeup was a TERRIBLE idea. I’m still very angry about this movie. I love the original, and to see this excreted product... well... it killed me.
Boy did I take some shit for this movie. My first experience with this film was... remarkable. 20,000 screaming New Yorkers in Madison Square Garden. Speakers the size of some of Austin’s Downtown buildings. Beach balls being bounced around by the audience. The TACO BELL dog in the audience. It was among the most surreal and fun film experiences I have ever had. That night I filed my glowing review, the next morning Glen and I flew back to Austin. Dad picked me up from the airport, and we went straight to the Highland 10 here in Austin so he and I could watch it again.
Oh god, that was a different movie. In an audience of three, I watched without all the distractions, no beach balls, no gigantic sound system, and without 20,000 screaming New Yorkers... and I was left staring at some of the most wooden performances I’ve ever seen. After it was over, I realized I had to tell the readers.... STOOOOOOP, I WAS ON CRACK.
The movie was torn asunder by Maria Pitillo, who alongside with BELOVED’s Thandie Newton, is deserving of the Raspberries’ lowest possible awards. Out of the acting crew for the film, only Jean Reno emerges as still being cool. Lucas’ and the Starwars.com’s “PLOT DOES MATTER” poster said it all...
8. LOST IN SPACE
The only reason it isn’t worse off on the list is, I’ve come to somehow enjoy parts of it on the DVD I was sent for my birthday. I saw this film with the most loathsome creature of a man I can imagine. But that did not affect my feelings towards the film. Stephen Hopkins has always been, what I consider, an ‘almost director’. His movies almost work, out of his entire lineup, the one I enjoy the most is PREDATOR II, which I’ve always felt got a bit of a bum rap. BUT, here Hopkins completely missed the point of Akiva Goldman’s script.
Akiva is the number one whipping boy of fans out there, but I’ll tell you this. His second draft for this film was pretty friggin cool. Just like his pre-Arnold Schwarzeneggar draft of BATMAN & ROBIN. Akiva’s original drafts focused more on the relationship between Will Robinson and his father, and how the evil Dr Smith exposed that to his benefit. For me, the acting was STIFF as could be. Penny Robinson looked like some sort of heroin addicted Junior High scamp. BUT the number one problem with the film is that I never once believed that the Robinson’s were a family. Oh, and that fucking cartoon monkey thing from Hanna Barbara was awful. The effects look great on my DVD, but I could have sworn hating them on the big screen. Hmmm...
7. SPECIES II
God, the memories.... nooooooooooooooo....... hahahahahha....hah..hahahhahaa... This movie is quite a stunning log of shit. In fact, it’s such an incredible log, that it should be preserved and displayed in the Smithsonian as one of the finest examples of CRAP films ever to see the light of day. MGM, they used to make great movies... now they make mud pies in a pig pen. When I told Robogeek this was going on my list of worst films of the year, he said, “Don’t forget to mention it had the best ‘Condom’ tie in.” Well, I can’t even do that, because BRIDE OF CHUCKY’s ‘Chucky gets Lucky’ condom is the best film/condom tie in of the year. Ac...Ack... the person named Justin Lazard should win Worst New Thing On Screen. Let’s face it, this was a movie that H.R. Giger fought to get his name taken off of.
6. HIGH ART
Here is a ‘work of cinema’ as some deluded critics may lead you to believe. A great ‘lesbian’ film. Yeah, right. This was a total and unmitigated piece of crap. FIRST, I hate films that want to make themselves seem artsy, by having one of the lead characters claim to be a great artistic person, in this case a photographer, but in fact there is not one single great photo in the film. It would have been better to have never seen a single photograph, and to instead focus on the actors’ reactions.... let the actors convince you they are seeing a great photograph. But that would not have worked in this film for a second, because you would need ACTORS to pull it off and this movie does not have those.
Ally Sheedy was a fave of mine in the Eighties, and I really wanted to like her here, but since none of the supporting players were there to back her up, she comes across like... just one of the crowd of mopers. The character of Greta comes across as some sort of heroin addicted Marlene Dietrich wannabe, and instead of garnering my pity, I just wanted her dead. Which the filmmakers indulge me in, only to bring her back to life using a pathetically filmed version of CPR which included some sort of leg spreading action that I’m still confused about. If you want to see a far better ‘lesbian’ film, by all means check out LATE BLOOMERS, it’s fantastic.
Ya know what? I can’t imagine putting together a worse DISCO score than the tunes this movie used. I mean, you go and ya make a movie set in the most happinest disco club in all of history, and you have it play the bottom 20 disco songs of the era? What the hell? I don’t care what it costs, but this movie lives and breathes solely upon it’s use of music, and here... this movie fails like no tomorrow.
A lot of times people diss SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, but ya know. Go rent both of the movies, watch S.N.F. first, then see how much of 54 you can stand. That, ‘Oh ain’t I gorgeous’ Ryan fu...whatever his name is... looked like he was waiting for the light to turn green, cause the poor boy was in neutral from the start. Now, just so you know, this is the version of the film, pre-cut to shreds by Miramax. I thought it only fair to the original director to judge his vision, and not that of the Weinstein’s. However, I must bow to Harvey’s wisdom, for every second trimmed was a moment of the audience’s life he spared.
This is SHANE, PALE RIDER, THE ROAD WARRIOR all set in the future and drained of all emotional resonance, drained of all adrenaline and drained of all brains. This is THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES without an ounce of the talent or thought that made that movie great.
This is exactly what WARNER BROTHERS has done, time after time after time. They buy material worth filming. A script that gets investors interested. Then, inexplicably, they drain all the goodness and the coolness out of it by hiring a director who doesn’t understand an inkling of the material. They hire artists that grew up having their parents help them paint those paint by numbers Sesame Street paint sets BADLY!!! The scariest part was to see the cinematographer of STAR WARS EPISODE ONE shoot a movie that looked so flat and devoid of interesting texture.
I wish Kurt Russell had made JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES instead. I really really do.
3. JANE AUSTEN’S MAFIA
Whew.... I saw this movie 24 hours after THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, and boy was it a night and day difference. I hope (HOPE) that the Farrelly’s film has put to death the purely ‘gag’ film. I hope that comedic directors can see that you need to have some semblance of a story to tie the pieces together.
I sat there staring at the screen, wishing I was anywhere else. I remember thinking that there were weeds that needed to be pulled in the backyard, that I should be sitting on a toilet in a john somewhere reading the walls, that I could douche with vodka to clear out all my holes... ANYTHING would have been better than enduring this film. Licking rusty razor blades.... Ugh...
2. TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY
This is not a movie. I don’t know what it is, but it is not a movie. I watched this while flying back from London, and the thought... “I’m safe, God would not kill me while I was watching something so awful.” crossed my mind. This was a movie where, I really really wanted to leave the theater... but couldn’t.
The thought that Casper the friendly thug is acting in SLEEPY HOLLOW frightens me a bit. He was perfect in STARSHIP TROOPERS as a walking cartoon of a person. Just seeing the bug pierce his thigh was a glory akin to watching Jennifer Love Hewitt’s talents in that other film.... But in this movie... there were no saving graces. Right now, just so you know, I’m judging shit based on the smell, texture and size of heap and this pile is near perfect.
The vacuous stare, the perfect hair.... DAMMIT!!! Ya know, somewhere in the universe George Cosmotos had a TARZAN script that kicked ass waiting to be filmed and these buffoons had to go and make TARZAN IN THE L.A. ZOO. The CGI stuff at the end is the modern equivalent to the aluminum pie pans tossed in PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. It’s really that convincing.
Before I name the film, I just want to set this up. I walked into the theater thinking this movie would be among the best films of the year. It was directed by one of my absolute favorite directors in the world. Someone I had actually met at a party earlier in the year. The story intrigued me, and I was anxious to see it.
Why is it the worst film of 1998 for me? And I do want to stress that it is merely my opinion. Well, because it was a movie that failed me on every possible level. I felt pity for the actors enduring the film, I felt sorry for the director, the cinematographer, everyone.
At the same time, I found myself seeing critics lavish it with the highest worded praises around, while others would state that ‘while they don’t get it, they must applaud the effort’. WHAT? No, you can’t give a movie 3 and a half stars out of subject matter. It has to come down to the execution and this film failed miserably for me at that level.
I wish I had loved the movie, but I just can’t even stomach the comment. And it’s strange, because Demme did make my 4th favorite Documentary of the year, STOREFRONT HITCHCOCK.
I suppose that this will probably be a film that I take some crap over, but I’ll tell you this. It doesn’t hold a candle to THE COLOR PURPLE, GLORY, ROOTS, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, ROSEWOOD, MANDINGO or ABBY.
There was no movie I felt worse for seeing than this film this year. And that is my qualifications for WORST MOVIE OF THE YEAR.
HOWEVER, I did not see the following films which their trailers scared me out of the theaters. Perhaps I was wrong, but I get the distinct feeling that I would have hated these films: MY GIANT, A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY, DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS, RINGMASTER, WRONGFULLY ACCUSED and QUEST FOR CAMELOT
BEST ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILMS (That I saw in 1998)
10. LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS
In my opinion out of the British ‘Cool’ Cinema of the last several years, this is their best film yet. Why does it get on my list of the BEST FILMS? Quite simply because it is a film that deftly weaves together a ton of storylines and characters to one of the tightest conclusions I have ever seen. It feels like a grungy, slimey, dirty, drunken and drugged version of the Max Sennett Comedies of old. You care about the characters, the cinematography is some of the best I’ve seen this year, the music is grand and most importantly in a world of cinema where films begin looking similar, it distinguishes itself with a visual texture that the viewer swims in. The film is rewarding at all levels for me and is unlike any other film delivered in 1998.
9. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
Here is my big departure from most critics. Almost UNIVERSALLY Bombed, I stood up to say it was brilliant. And it was and is. This book was unfilmable in my eyes. I couldn’t imagine it being delivered on screen. Terry Gilliam once again shows why he is one of the few ARTISTS working in film today. Classic film performances by Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, both of which I considered award worthy, though I’ll goto my grave as the lone hailer methinks. A film that could of been lost in its own excess, but instead finishes up as a unique film experience. Decidedly un-Hollywoodish. It is a SHAME to see the crap this film has taken. Having talked to about a half dozen film critics that told me they loved the film, but that they had a responsibility to their public..... UGH!!! No, you have a responsibility to your own conscience to speak your own mind!
8. PRINCE OF EGYPT
It isn’t the greatest animated film ever, for me that is still PINNOCHIO and FANTASIA, but this film signaled a new beginning (in my opinion) for animation. A fantastic film that reaches for the moon and I feel delivers. Soaring score, stunning images, wonderful performances. With the next year bringing us THE IRON GIANT, TARZAN, TOY STORY II and THE SEARCH FOR EL DORADO... Animation is only headed higher from here on out. If it were in my power, the enter ‘MOSES’ team of animators and Val Kilmer would be nominated for Best Actor... but it ain’t likely to happen... unfortunately.
7. OUT OF SIGHT
A film I fear will be forgotten in the Oscar world. It is the best of the Elmore Leonard novels to screen (IMHO) with more great cameos than any other film of the year. Soderbergh should be recognized for his fantastic direction. Steven Zahn should grab a nomination for Supporting Actor. Jennifer Lopez for Actress. Clooney could very well move into the Burt Lancaster/Gregory Peck/Cary Grant-ish sort of mold if he chooses his scripts correctly. So much is going on in this film that it takes viewing after viewing after viewing to catch it all. It really is a stunning film.
6. THE MIGHTY
In the worst maneuvering for a film this year I watched in utter horror as this film was left unrewarded by audiences and critics. A beautiful and stunning story that I felt was a wonderful counter-film for THE FISHER KING. A story about a boy discovering his mind, his own creative self. A story of a beautiful friendship. I would nominate ELDEN RATLIFF for best actor and KIERAN CULKIN for best supporting actor in a blink of the eye. Peter Chelsom did a beautiful job directing this film, and if this and FUNNY BONES are any indication, he is going to continue making more great films.
5. (tie) THE THIN RED LINE and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
I kept trying to rank these films back and forth in my head, but it was hard. Ultimately these top five spots, on a given day could be inter-changed. But for me, these two films were simply fantastic. One was an expressionistic masterpiece and the other was a realist’s masterpiece. Two great films set in the same war, but so far apart in styles and executions that they feel like completely different genres to me. It is as if one were a landscape by Monet and the other were a landscape by Amsel Adams, both are great... but in totally different ways of execution. For me, there is no single performance in either film that I would recognize other than Nick Nolte. These are films conducted by great maestros. And it is to them, their cinematographers, actors and technicians that I must hail both equally.
4. A SIMPLE PLAN
Like the next three films, there is not one moment of the film that I don’t think is dead on perfect. Every single performance is rock solid. The story telling and restraint of Sam Raimi were humbling. It is a film that signal a career change in it’s director. With this film, Sam tells the world he can direct anything he chooses. Of recent film history, it most reminds me of HEAVENLY CREATURES as a film by a director known for being one thing, but choosing to exhibit his skills beyond what the ‘establishment’ was expecting. I would be pleased as punch if Paxton, Fonda and Thornton all picked up nominations. A future classic in my opinion.
Of the top four films this movie was the toughest technical achievement. But if that was all it had going for it, then it would not have made the list. A film that went so much further beyond it’s ‘high concept’ that it was humbling to just watch the film. More so than any other cinema achievement this year, PLEASANTVILLE has the strongest images left for me. At any given moment, I can see the shots... perfectly... clearly in my mind. A mother afraid of her own sensuality. A public’s fear of change. The discovery of passion, be it erotic, creative or emotional. A breathtaking film. The film didn’t catch on, but then the same could be said with a lot of the films on this list, not to mention films like BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, DARK CITY among others. Across the board this film should be recognized. Joan Allen and Jeff Daniels were the stand outs. Gary Ross’ name should be heralded as a director to support and to watch.
2. GODS & MONSTERS
My sentimental favorite out of the top ten. ‘The little film that could and did.” I would be sooooooo pleased if this film were to win BEST PICTURE, if Bill Condon were nominated for Director, if Carter Burwell were to win score, when Ian McKellen wins Best Actor, when Lynn Redgrave wins Best Supporting Actress... and a nominated nod for Brendan Fraser. There is so much to this movie, from the flashes of thought from Ian, to the amazing way the film is told. The film I championed as the best film of the year... all year long. It and SMOKE SIGNALS are sooooooooo close in my mind it’s not even funny. Ultimately they are quite similar, both stories of friendship and story telling. But, there is one aspect that heightens the next film and that will come next....
1. SMOKE SIGNALS
I wish to God I had seen this film while I was at SUNDANCE last year. I saw it when it was playing here in Austin back during the summer, but I hadn’t slept in 42 hours, and I fell asleep before the move started, during the trailers, and I didn’t think highly of it because of that. Recently, I watched the film when I was preparing for this list and folks. This is a brilliant film that will walk by the academy without a single nomination, and it is a crime... A HIGH crime. Hands down, this film has the best transitions I have seen in film this year. The best film character of the year is THOMAS played by EVAN ADAMS in a performance that just completely stunned me. I am completely shocked at the total lack of attention by the nation’s critics towards this film. There is not one single non-perfect character in the film. This film will have you doubled over from laughter one moment, and your guts pouring out your tear ducts the next. This is far and away the best American film of the year. It is probably too late for the film to be recognized by the Academy, but don’t let that stop you from going to your local video store and picking this Hope Diamond of a film up to treasure. Sheer perfection.
There are many other films from 1998 that I truly loved, but these ten were my picks for the best. I could list a solid 30 other films that ‘did’ it for me, but that would do these ten films a disservice. I’ve been grappling with this list for weeks now. Arguing with myself back and forth over placement and non-placement. At one point I so frustrated that I had 20 films for my top ten, all tied at one point or another on the list. There are some performances that I’d like to mention that I think deserve inclusion for awards.... First is Eammon Owens from THE BUTCHER BOY. Alongside McKellen and Evan Adams, his performance was beautifully perfect. What a debut! Secondly there is Anne Bancroft from GREAT EXPECTATIONS. She was magical in the role, and the only real competition in my mind with Lynn Redgrave for Supporting Actress. Ohhhh, as second best water boy of the year, I’d like to nominate myself. Had my character had the time to completely make an idiot out of himself, I’m sure I could have achieve true mediocrity.
Also, my picks for best documentary (that I saw) for 1998 are: #1. The Big One, #2 Frat House, #3 Hands On A Hard Body and #4 Storefront Hitchcock. Don’t expect the Academy to acknowledge any of these films.