Film Faves: 1998

Welcome to yet another monthly edition of Film Faves!

Just to remind folks, Film Faves counts down my favorites in any movie topic.  It is not intended as a "Best of" list, rather simply an account of one's enjoyment and celebration of film.  Unlike those other lists you might find on other sites, Film Faves avoids the Honorable Mentions by listing a dozen favorites - and stops there.  Currently, Film Faves is going back in time, counting down my favorites of each year.

Let's get on with it.

If I were to pick a word that describes the year 1998, it would be: decent.  There are a lot of decent films from 1998: American History X, Armageddon, The Big Lebowski, Can't Hardly Wait, Ever After, The Faculty, The Opposite of Sex, Primary Colors, Rush Hour, and You've Got Mail come to mind.  None of them are great films, but none are crap either.  In fact, Armageddon was the highest-grossing film of the year.

That isn't to say there weren't any really good films.  The year saw the release of Blade, A Bug's Life, Elizabeth, Gods and Monsters, Mulan, The Negotiator, The Parent Trap remake (introducing the world to Lindsay Lohan), A Perfect Murder, Run Lola Run, and The Thin Red Line, many of which were nominated for Academy Awards.

However, there were many more bad films than good ones that year: The Avengers, BASEketball, Blues Brothers 2000, Half Baked, Home Fries, Hope Floats, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Jack Frost, Lost in Space, Mercury Rising, A Night at the Roxbury, The Odd Couple II, Practical Magic, Snake Eyes, Species II, Sphere, Star Trek: Insurrection, Urban Legend, and Very Bad Things represent just a fraction of the worst 1998 had to offer.

The year was a big year for deaths in show business.  Legends like Frank Sinatra, Roy Rogers, and Akira Kurosawa, who is considered one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived, all passed on that year.  Also, Phil Hartman rocked a generation of The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live fans with his sudden and tragic death.  Other deaths included Sonny Bono and Lloyd Bridges, father of Jeff Bridges.

But here are my favorite films of...


1998:

12. City of Angels


This may be the most lukewarm edition of Film Faves in quite some time as it starts with a few movies that I most-enjoyed, but am hardly an ardent fan of. We start off with City of Angels, which is anything but perfect: the angels-on-billboards visual effects now look fake, the characters don’t always react believably, and the logic isn’t always sound if you think about it much. It is considered to be far inferior to The Wings of Desire, the 1987 Wim Wenders film on which it is based (admittedly, a blind-spot of mine). But the photography by John Seale (Gorillas in the Mist) is often quite beautiful – both the close-up and landscape shots – and the acting prevents the film from being saccharine garbage. Cage is great, with a serene sort of intensity and a believability and hilarity we haven’t seen since… well, this movie. Dennis Franz is enthusiastic and a joy, which makes me miss seeing him on-screen. And the soundtrack and Gabriel Yared’s score are wonderful. All of these come together for a decent film. City of Angels was ludicrously rated ‘R’ for a love scene that can only be described as graphic only in its depiction of extreme passion, a beautiful thing for those teens who are just beginning to experience romantic love to witness.

11. Lethal Weapon 4

There are enough flaws to make this the worst film of the Lethal Weapon series – but it’s still an enjoyable entry. It’s partially about a couple of ‘80s action heroes living in a politically-correct world and dealing with being “too old for this shit,” which I find interesting. The references to the first and third entries and some bad-ass fighting by Jet Li help keep the fun coming. Newcomer Chris Rock has a couple good moments, as does the rest of the cast, but it is Mel Gibson – even after the personal scandals of recent years – who really entertains here.

10. Out of Sight

I wasn’t a big fan of this film when I first saw it many years ago. Seeing it now, I like it much more. George Clooney plays a cool-as-a-cucumber thief who is captivated by a federal marshal (Jennifer Lopez) that he kidnapped during a prison break. This is easily J. Lo’s best performance, simply because she somehow conjures up with Clooney some of the most electrifying chemistry I’ve seen on-screen in a long time; their dialogue together is crackling! The supporting cast is amazing: Don Cheadle, Dennis Farina, Michael Keaton, Catherine Keener, Ving Rhames, and Steve Zahn. Not only that, but Out of Sight was directed by Steven Soderbergh of the Oceans films and Erin Brockovich, among others. I don’t love it, but it is a pretty fun film.

9. Playing By Heart

Once the object of Remember That Movie’s attention last year, this lesser-known interrelated-character romance isn’t first-rate, but does feature some great performances, especially by Angelina Jolie. I caught the film on cable a few years after its release and have been unable to forget it since. It aims to present the challenges of maintaining and rekindling loving relationships and the importance of occasionally letting your heart be your guide. The film falls short of knocking it out of the park, but still can provide a nice night in with a loved one.

8. Shakespeare in Love

This film won the Best Picture Oscar for the year. It probably shouldn’t have (see #4 for the deserving nominee). But it did deserve a nomination, as it was certainly one of the best films of 1998. Shakespeare in Love is incredibly well-acted, written, and visually detailed for what is essentially a rom-com about a struggling playwright who falls for one of the actors in his play. That playwright just so happens to be one William Shakespeare. Fans and scholars of The Bard’s work will enjoy the many references sprinkled throughout to other plays and Shakespeare history.

7. The Mask of Zorro

Now we’re getting to my absolute favorites! This summer blockbuster starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, directed by one of the top action directors, Martin Campbell (GoldenEye), is the year’s best action film. It’s exciting, briskly-paced, funny, and features great chemistry by leads Banderas and Hopkins. What’s even better: The Mask of Zorro still holds up. No cheesy dialogue or over-the-top villainy here. It’s a solid good time.

6. The Truman Show

Having not thought much of it initially, I haven’t seen The Truman Show in years. Now, I love it. This is a film where we learn to distrust the camera; whereas we can usually trust the camera to tell the hero’s story (either objectively or from his perspective), here the camera must be eluded by our hero; it is the central conflict. The Truman Show is also one of two films in 1998 about characters whose lives are fabrications (see #2 for the other) and tackles such themes as what makes us who we are, whether or not one is better off sheltered from the realities of the world, and the ever-growing pervasiveness of the media and technology. Aside from lacking any dated special effects and featuring an excellent cast who give great performances, The Truman Show really stands out for pre-dating the reality TV culture and somewhat predicting the pervasive extent media has reached in our lives. Director Peter Weir rarely stumbles and The Truman Show is one of his best.

5. Life is Beautiful

How could I forget the must-see foreign film of 1998? Well, I almost did. This is an ingenious fable that is one-half enchanting romance, one-half Holocaust survival tale, and 100% moving. If you aren’t moved by this film than cynicism has turned your heart to stone. It is the year’s most beautiful film.

4. Saving Private Ryan

This may be my favorite war film. Tom Hanks leads an army of great actors in this story based on the premise that the last living son of any American family will be retrieved from battle and returned home by the United States military. It doesn’t romanticize or sensationalize. It simply aims to be truthful about the soldier’s experience. As I left the theater when I saw this film nearly 13 years ago, I saw, near the back of the theater, a group of veterans still seated during the credits, crying together. This film is powerful. To see why, one needs only to look at scenes like the opening 20 minutes or the scene where Matt Damon recounts to Hanks a memory he has of his brothers. Saving Private Ryan is without a doubt the best film of 1998.

3. There’s Something About Mary

My favorite comedy of 1998 is one of the best by all involved. What’s great about Mary is not its outrageous sex jokes, it’s how the film handles its characters with sympathy while these outrageous things happen to or around them. For example, the prom night sequence is great because it takes a potentially magical night, and then turns it into a bad situation, made as humiliating as possible, without once being cheap about it. We laugh and squirm out of empathy, not apathy. Also, the film speaks well to both how we can put the unattainable nice girl on a pedestal and fail to realize she’s as imperfect as we are and how when our one shot with that person is blown, it stays with us forever. There’s much more than hair gel jokes here and I love it for that.

2. Dark City

Dark City is 1998’s best sci-fi film. It’s also the year’s best mystery film. A man wakes up in a bathtub with no memory of who he is or what he’s doing there. His quest to find answers is the driving force of the film. As it goes on and we’re introduced to more characters, we run across more pieces to one of the most satisfying and mesmerizing puzzles ever put to film. As a sci-fi film, Dark City tackles from every angle the question of what makes us who we are. Is it our names? Jobs? Memories? Impulses? Fingerprints? Not only that, but the chase scenes are well-paced and the visuals still look very good. Dark City is a film clearly influenced by film noir and such sci-fi classics as Blade Runner; it is good enough to be considered their equal.

1. Pleasantville

The set-up may not be solid, but the rest makes the year’s most underappreciated film one of the best. Not only is Pleasantville a technological marvel with its seamless blend of black & whites with colors (which is still a pleasant sight), but it features some breathtaking cinematography by John Lindley (Field of Dreams). More importantly, it has a great cast (unfortunately the final film featuring character actor J.T. Walsh, who died that year) and a story that will touch and move you, with support from a beautiful score by Randy Newman (the Toy Story trilogy). It remains my favorite film of 1998.

 
That's it for the year 1998.  As you can see, there were a lot of good love stories that year.  What are some of your favorites?  Vote on the poll to the right or leave a comment below or on Facebook.  You can always email your thoughts at thegibsonreview@gmail.com 
 
Next time on Film Faves, an international man of mystery makes contact with a wedding singer's titanic private parts while chasing Amy Mononoke through L.A.'s confidential boogie nights.  Yeah, baby!  It's 1997!

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