The Best of 1997

Ahhh…it’s the end of another year, and time for reflection on what has gone by. Well, let’s cut to the chase. Here are my picks for the best of 1997:

Runner Up – Al Pacino, Donnie Brasco
Winner – Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting
Both of these actors provided their best work in years. Pacino has been on a hot streak lately, but Williams has been in a rut. It was a close call, but the honor finally goes to Robin, whose performance in Good Will Hunting might be the best work he has ever done.

Runner Up – Debbi Morgan, Eve’s Bayou
Winner – Irma P. Hall, Soul Food, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Nothing to Lose
Irma P. Who? That’s Irma P. Hall. You might very well recognize her if you saw her onscreen. She’s provided one excellent character turn after another, and anyone who could liven up something like Nothing to Lose deserves credit. Debbi Morgan is a close second as the cursed psychic aunt in Eve’s Bayou.

Runner Up – Aaron Eckhart, In the Company of Men
Winner – Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets
Aaron Eckhart was quite simply the year’s best movie villain in the little seen date movie In the Company of Men. But he pales next to the force of Nicholson at his peak. Melvin Udall will go down as one of Jack’s best characters, and that’s some good company to be in.

Runner Up – Jodie Foster, Contact
Winner – Judi Dench, Mrs. Brown
In a field as sparse as this year’s best actresses, it would be a crime to overlook Jodie Foster. It was a summer sci-fi film, but just take another look at her congressional testimony scenes, and you’ll agree that she belongs here. However, Judi Dench emerges as the clear winner, breathing exuberant life into a dusty historical figure.

TOP TEN FILMS (in reverse order)

10. Wag the Dog
Quite simply, the best political comedy in a long, long time. This was the film that had the year’s single funniest scene: when Stanley Moss’ eternal optimism nearly runs out when he witnesses the actions of Ol’ Shoe. What’s better than a returning war hero?…
9. The Sweet Hereafter
Perhaps the most lyrical film on the list. Atom Egoyan’s study of grief and a small town takes a while to build it’s impact, but it’s a lasting one.
8. Chasing Amy
Kevin Smith redeems himself for Mallrats, and shows he still has some decent writing talents left (despite that hideous Superman script). This isn’t a film for all tastes, and Kevin’s directoral style needs a bit of polish, but what a script!
7. Donnie Brasco
First the Godfather reinvented the gangster film…then Goodfellas did it all over again. Just when you thought the well had finally run dry… along comes Donnie Brasco. While not in the same league as the former two gangster sagas, this gripping tale showed what a little creativity and a killer story can do for a dying genre. And to top it off, one of Pacino’s best performances in years (and that’s no easy feat).
6. Eve’s Bayou
An entrancingly powerful debut by writer-director Kasi Lemmons. A hauntingly beautiful setting, wonderfully crafted story, realistic characters and a superb ensemble cast all make this one stand out.
5. As Good As It Gets
The year’s best comedy. Wag the Dog may have the strongest laugh, but this one has the most. That combined with a superior performance by Nicholson makes this the hands down winner.
4. Good Will Hunting
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck deserve a round of applause. Not only is their acting first rate in this film, but they banded together and created the year’s best screenplay, and nearly the year’s best film. It was a close call, but it’s overreliance on pop psychology was the only thing that kept this one from topping the list. As it is, it’s still a wonderful film.
3. L.A. Confidential
A delightfully tangled, twisted web of film noir. Smart characters, smart dialogue and a smart plot all rolled up into one. Wow.
2. Contact
The year’s most overlooked film. Released as a summer blockbuster, and thereby discounted by many. However, not only does the film have spectacular effects (most of which are wonderfully subtle), a great cast, and an exciting story…but there’s actually meaning behind the film. It may have been a summer blockbuster, but it was a smart summer blockbuster. If not for the unfortunate final James Woods-Angela Bassett conversation (which dilutes some of movie’s impact), this one would have been #1. Instead the honor goes to…
1. Titanic
What more can you say about this one. Upon hearing of this project, even before learning of the budget, I was all prepared for a disaster (of the film, not the ship). Cameron’s lucky streak has to end some day, and this period romance seemed like the film to do it. Boy, was I wrong. He has resurrected the combination of spectacle and romance that used to be a Hollywood staple. Now we’re left to wonder: how will he top this?
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