I must have seen a lot of movies that year, because I had a hell of a time finding 1997 movies that I hadn't seen. I did my best with the selection below, but as you can see I was grasping at straws.
In desperation I almost resorted to the adult films of 1997, but if you've seen one of those you've seen them all. There's really not much to be written about those movies - the only thing that changes is the hair.
The biggest movies of 1997 were Titanic, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Men in Black, Tomorrow Never Dies and Air Force One. I never could get into Titanic, the appeal of the Jurassic Park movies was lost on me, I thought Men in Black was boring, and Tomorrow Never Dies is one of the worst Bond films. I did like Air Force One. It was big and dumb and obvious, but it was very watchable. My favorite of that year's blockbusters were As Good As It Gets and The Fifth Element.
Awards-winners of 1997 included Titanic, As Good As It Gets, L.A. Confidential (great movie), Good Will Hunting and Boogie Nights. I think that of these movies Boogie Nights remains the most memorable, though Good Will Hunting is also still great.
Other good movies of 1997 were The Ice Storm, Donnie Brasco, Face/Off (even if it does look dated now), Contact, 187, Cop Land, Event Horizon, G.I. Jane, In & Out, The Edge, Gattaca, Starship Troopers, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Amistad and Jackie Brown.
In the "Worst Film" category I'd nominate Spawn, one of the worst comic book movies ever made. I realize that there are comic book movie fans who love to put on rose-colored glasses, and focus on what this movie got right, but the amount of stuff it got right was overwhelmed by all the stuff it got wrong. It's really not very good, and those thinking that the reboot - if it ever gets made - will be better are exercising some seriously wishful thinking.
Some Good Ones
1. Unagi ("The Eel")
Japanese movie about a man resettling in a small town after murdering his wife. It's on the slow side but very good.
2. A Taste of Cherry
Sounds like porn but isn't. It's an Iranian movie about a man contemplating suicide - so yeah - the complete opposite of porn. It's worth noting that A Taste of Cherry shared the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival with Unagi ("The Eel") above.
There's an interesting debate between Roger Ebert and other critics regarding director Abbas Kiarostami's way of distancing the viewer from the story presented in the film. Ebert regards Kiarostami's method of direction as "an affectation," while others point to the possibility that Kiarostami was either unaware of or oblivious to Western approaches to the same subject matter. I'm not familiar enough with the director to have an opinion on the matter, but I thought the discussion was interesting.
Oh, and if forced to pick between this movie and Unagi I'd definitely pick Unagi. A lot more happens in that movie, and not just sex and violence. A Taste of Cherry requires much more patience.
3. The Boxer
An ex-IRA soldier returns to his boxing career after a stint in prison. Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson star, with Jim Sheridan directing. It's an excellent movie, and Watson and Day-Lewis have terrific chemistry. Jim Sheridan, by the way, also directed 2009's Brothers, another underrated movie.
On the one hand this movie feels like it was made for weed. After smoking a bowl this movie would just flow like water. On the other hand, if you don't have any weed it will seem pretty slow. I didn't have any weed, so I had to break my viewing experience into two parts.
It's definitely the artiest movie Martin Scorsese ever made, but if you like his other religious films - The Last Temptation of Christ and the more recent Silence come to mind - you'll probably also like this one.
One funny thing about it is that in 1997 I was working with two Tibetan brothers in Seattle, one of whom was named Tenzin, just like the 14th Dalai Lama. The 14th Dalai Lama's life is the subject of this movie.
Kundun was a financial failure but a critical success. For my part, I had trouble maintaining interest until the Chinese showed up, but after that point I couldn't help but reflect on the hunger for land prevalent among communists, and about how people/leaders/governments claim to care about your freedom while they're taking it away. Tibet, Hong Kong... and maybe one day Taiwan, the country where I'm typing this.
Fun Fact: The woman who wrote the screenplay for this movie also wrote E.T.
5. Generation E
Documentary on Ecstasy and rave culture in London. It doesn't take sides, and some of the opinions offered are very interesting. I still can't stand rave/techno music, but I guess that's what the mute button is for.
6. Shadow Conspiracy
Political thriller starring Charlie Sheen as a presidential adviser. It was directed by George P. Cosmatos, who also directed Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra, so it has that 80s action vibe to it. Cosmatos was always an underrated director, and Shadow Conspiracy was his last movie.
Critics in 1997 were not kind to this film, and while it's not a masterpiece I don't think it deserved the lambasting it received. At the time many critics made fun of the assassin's attempt at killing the President, but in 2019 this method is completely feasible.
7. Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Werner Herzog's documentary about Dieter Dengler, German-born POW who escaped Vietnam after months of torture during the Vietnam War. Herzog would later make Dengler the subject of his 2006 film Rescue Dawn, and this movie offers an interesting study of what really happened in that Vietnamese POW camp.
8. The CIA: America's Secret Warriors
Two part documentary on the CIA's history and internal conflicts. I knew most of this stuff already, but it was a decent refresher course on the topic. It ends with the Clinton years, so naturally cyber warfare and cyber espionage aren't covered.
9. The Wrong Guy
Hey it's Dave Foley, from semi-popular Canadian sketch comedy TV show The Kids in the Hall! In The Wrong Guy he plays a man wrongly not accused of a crime he didn't commit. No, you didn't read that wrong. It takes a while to get going, but the second half is very funny. Both this one and Brain Candy are very overlooked movies.
10. Black Wednesday
Documentary on Britain's 1992 financial crisis. I'm not that knowledgeable on European finance, but apparently the crisis was caused by Britain linking the Pound to the German Mark. What struck me most about this crisis was the huge technological gap between those making the decisions and the banking system itself.
Good, but Disturbing
1. No Child of Mine
British film about a sexually abused girl. I can't help but wonder if the author of Precious saw this one. Of course they deal with similar themes, but they seem too similar for it to be a coincidence. Both movies are really hard to watch.
Some Bad Ones
1. Mad City
With John Travolta and Dustin Hoffman being so much more elderly in 2019, it's somewhat surprising to see them much younger in Mad City. Hoffman stars as an overly ambitious reporter, with Travolta as a disgruntled ex-security guard who takes a group of museum patrons hostage. It goes from boring to dumb really fast, and I only made it halfway through.
2. The Butcher Boy
Neil Jordan's take on growing up in Ireland. It's a lot like Angela's Ashes, but without the crushing poverty. The boy at the center of the story is extremely unlikable, and the adults around him are easily deceived.
I've got to say, Neil Jordan is very on again, off again for me. For every movie like Mona Lisa there's a High Spirits, and for every Crying Game there's a Butcher Boy. For all I know someone else might love The Butcher Boy, but I found the coy nature of the story very irritating.
Two So Bad They're Good
No, not THAT Drive! This is the other Drive, from 1997!
And hey... isn't that Mark Dacascos? The Capoeira guy from Only the Strong? And isn't that Kadeem Hardison, from A Different World? Yes, I believe it is!
This straight-to-video masterwork features some of the most ridiculous fight scenes ever, with wooden tables that somehow deflect bullets and bad guys that can't shoot for shit. It's genuinely hilarious, and also one of the best good bad films I've seen in a while.
Towards the end one of the bad guys actually says "You remind me of a little dairy cow... and I'm milking you!" all whilst strangling Kadeem Hardison with a whip.
Fun Fact #1: Drive came out three years after Dacascos starred in the even more gloriously bad Double Dragon.
Fun Fact #2: Dacascos will be playing one of the main villains in the upcoming John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum.
2. The Shadow Men
Eric Roberts and Sherilyn Fenn star as a couple who cross paths with aliens. It's fairly cheesy, but does manage to be creepy at times. I particularly loved the scene where Roberts' coworker tries to explain the internet to him.
"MiB... meet TNT!!!"
Fun Fact: This came out the same year as the first Men in Black, and features a more sinister version of the same conspiracy fodder.
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