Here we go with another list of my favorite films of a given year. This time we’re in 1997. The year when we found out that the Terminator movies weren’t accurate predictions of the future as Skynet didn’t take over on August 29. The year when “MMMBop” reigned supreme on the pop charts. The year when James Cameron released a little film that would go on to obliterate the cash registers at the box office. The year when Lady Di met an unfortunate end. And, of course, plenty of good movies.
As usual, this list only counts movies with a stated release year of 1997 according to IMDB.
Honorable mentions: Boogie Nights, The Fifth Element, Life is Beautiful, Suicide Kings, Titanic
10 – CUBE (Vincenzo Natali)
“No more talking. No more guessing. Don’t even think about nothing that’s not right in front of you. That’s the real challenge. You’ve got to save yourselves from yourselves.”
A group of people wake up in a maze consisting of cube-shaped rooms. Some of the rooms contain deadly traps. There. That’s an effective two-sentence summary of Cube’s premise. While there are scenes of gruesome deaths, the focus lies primarily on the characters and how they cope with each other as they try to figure out where they are, why they’re there, and how they can get out. With claustrophic tension to spare, this Canadian thriller is not one to miss.
9 – PERFECT BLUE (Satoshi Kon)
“You bad girl! You have to follow the script!”
Perfect Blue is a must-see for anyone who liked Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan as they deal with similar themes: uncertainty of what’s real, pressure to succeed, and the psychological effects of sex. Here we follow a young famous pop artist who decides to switch gears and become an actress, only to find herself stalked by an all-seeing obsessed fan who thinks her a traitor. At only 80 minutes, Perfect Blue is a very condensed psychological thriller that packs a heavy punch.
8 – THE GAME (David Fincher)
“Discovering the object of the game IS the object of the game.”
It’s not often brought up in discussions on Fincher’s best films, but The Game is a fun and exciting thriller that deserves the spotlight on occasions. Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, a wealthy businessman who signs up for a game that plays out in his real life, only for it to turn dark and threatening. The real entertainment here comes from Nicholas’ transformation from grumpy asshole to paranoid wreck. And the movie keeps you on your toes, making you question what’s real and what’s part of the game, putting you right in there with Douglas’ character.
7 – GATTACA (Andrew Niccol)
“I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.”
Should a person’s genes determine his life? They do in Gattaca, a smart science fiction film taking place in the not-too-distant future where people’s DNA is screened for job applications and where children are genetically altered before they’re born so that they can have successful lives. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is born without any of these improvements and has a heart defect that limits his possibilities. He dreams of being an astronaut, but he’ll never be able to due to circumstances beyond his control. The film shows his attempt to break through this system of discrimination, and through this it works fine just as dramatic entertainment. What gives the movie staying power is the questions it raises, however. Questions that aren’t so easily dismissed – in either direction – when science marches ever onward in our own world. Bonus points for another great supporting turn by Jude Law, always a highlight of any movie.
6 – FACE/OFF (John Woo)
“Plan B: Why don’t we just kill each other?”
The story of a psychotic terrorist and an FBI agent who end up with each others’ faces is preposterous to say the least, and the way it plays out doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either. The film is also about as subtle as a brick to the face. But if one can look past these two things, there is a lot of fun to be had here. The action scenes are highly stylish with lots of slow-motion, explosions and gunplay at every corner. The two leads – John Travolta and Nicolas Cage – have a lot of fun mimicking each others’ body language and speech patterns, something only heightened by the bizarre antics of the bad guy Castor Troy. Few pure action films provide as much entertainment as Face/Off does.
5 – OPEN YOUR EYES (ABRE LOS OJOS, Alejandro Amenábar)
“I only believe what I see.”
The original that Vanilla Sky is a remake of. I wrote about my confused feelings on these two films a while ago. Don’t mistake “confused feelings” with “mixed feelings”, however; Open Your Eyes is a great thriller, elegantly constructed, with fun characters and an intriguing mystery at its core. For more of my thoughts on it, read the post I linked to above.
4 – JACKIE BROWN (Quentin Tarantino)
“Look, I hate to be the kinda nigga that does a nigga a favor, then BAM!, hits a nigga up for a favor in return. But I’m afraid I gots to be that kinda nigga.”
What makes Jackie Brown stand out a bit from the rest of Tarantino’s oeuvre is how tight and focused the dialogue is. The characters here don’t have time for casual conversations about Madonna, Superman or cheeseburgers. They’re too caught up in their plans to earn possession of half a million dollars, to stay alive, and/or to catch the bad guy. Everything they say to each other serves a direct purpose to bring the story along. And despite this, the characters still come alive and become more than mere plot devices. The actors certainly deserve credit – Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Forster all put in great performances – but more than anything, Jackie Brown is a showcase for the storytelling ability of Tarantino.
3 – GROSSE POINTE BLANK (George Armitage)
“You want to kill the good guy but not be the bad guy. Doesn’t work like that. You have to wait until the bad guy kills the good guy, then when you kill the bad guy, you’re the good guy.”
A quirky premise of a weary assassin (John Cusack) who decides to attend his high school reunion opens the doors for reflecting on what life has to offer, as well as a longing for “the good old days.” It’s a good story with a slightly melancholic edge, but that’s not why Grosse Pointe Blank is on this list. It’s on here because it’s absolutely hilarious, filled with wonderfully funny dialogue and some great comedic performances – chiefly Cusack in the lead, but also Dan Aykroyd as his colleague/rival. Clever and unique in the best of ways.
2 – AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (Jay Roach)
“I have gathered here before me the world’s deadliest assassins, and yet each of you has failed to kill Austin Powers. That makes me angry. And when Dr. Evil gets angry, Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset. And when Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset… people die!”
Mike Myers‘ career might have been on a bit of downturn in recent years, but he was on a roll in the 90s, creating three highly iconic comedic characters: first Wayne in Wayne’s World, and then the double-shot of Austin Powers and Dr. Evil in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. A spoof of old 60s spy movies – particularly James Bond – the humor here is broad enough for anyone to laugh at but with enough little nods and homages to provide further enjoyment for those more well-versed in the genre it parodies. There are so many funny scenes here. The golf cart. The steamroller. The family therapy. Not to mention numerous fish-out-of-water moments as the 60s-based main characters – after having been cryogenically frozen for 30 years – have to adjust to the modern world. Just thinking about it all makes me want to revisit the film again for the umpteenth time.
1 – THE ICE STORM (Ang Lee)
“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
Being set during Thanksgiving in 1973, right in the middle of the Watergate scandal, The Ice Storm effectively captures the changing of eras. The decline of traditional family values, distrust of politicians, and a growing sense of cruiosity for what lies ahead. The focus is on two Connecticut families and their struggles with communicating and sex. There is a lot of different areas and subjects for the film to explore, and everything is compelling and fascinating. And what a teriffic cast, featuring a mix of established workhorse actors (Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver) and young talents (Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes) all poised for future fame.