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The Return of the Big Movie: A look at the films of 1997

Blast San Francisco Bureau

Having seen more than 100 films in 1997, I easily saw the most films I've ever seen in a year. I probably ate enough popcorn to meet my fiber intake requirements for the next 10 years. Just think: Healthy movie going equals healthy colon.

Speaking of colons, 1997 was a banner year for big-budget crap. The list is replete with THX-blaring pieces of cinematic caca like "Batman and Robin" and "Con Air." And so on and so on.

Of course, this is all just revenge for 1996, the year independent films like "Fargo" and "The English Patient" won all the praise and the best Hollywood could lay claim to was, uh, "Jerry Maguire." The year 1997 saw a slew of hi-tech, F/X-laden movie EVENTS stampede over the indies, with a record dozen or so films to break the $100 million box-office mark.

Still, even with the big budgets, not all that Hollywood had to offer was bad: For every "Anaconda" there was a "Men in Black;" while "Air Force One" soared, "Speed 2" sank fast. And let's not forget the indies. While some of what they gave was less than stellar compared to 1996's offerings, they still were the last refuge of strong quality films.

Here now are my picks for the best of the best, and the cream of the crap. Hold your applause for the end.

THE BEST 10: Cinema Done Right

1. Good Will Hunting -- A funny, exuberant character study that's strong on acting, smart on script. Instead of the usual story about newly discovered geniuses (something like "Rain Man" comes to mind), this film is much more heart-felt.

2. Face/Off -- John Woo. Nick Cage. John Travolta. Guns. Period.

3. Boogie Nights -- Part "GoodFellas," part "Larry Flynt," part "Pulp Fiction," this comedy-drama by novice director Paul Thomas Anderson boasts a fine cast and a rich set of characters. And one big prosthetic dick you gotta see to believe.

4. Air Force One -- This was quite frankly the most surprisingly turbulent fun ride I had this year at the movies. Even though it takes its cue from a number of been-there, done-that film like "Die Hard" and "Executive Decision," this Harrison Ford film felt fresh and original.

5. L.A. Confidential -- A rich tapestry of crime mystery, rounded off with a superb cast.

6. Men in Black-- Funny and fun, this film mixed "Ghostbusters" humor with "X-Files" chic, and a dash of "French Connection" cops-and-crooks action thrown in. The suits look hella cool too.

7. The Full Monty -- A hilarious stripping-for-money film Demi Moore wishes she had made. A fine Brit working-class film.

8. Jackie Brown -- Although not as clever as "Get Shorty" (another Elmore Leonard adaptation) and not as exhilaratingly fatalistic as "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction," Quentin Tarantino churns out strong characters and a fun caper of a film.

9. When We Were Kings -- A rhythmically pleasing movie about the classic Ali-Foreman fight, this documentary also serves as well-deserved homage to the Greatest.

10. Donnie Brasco -- Fuggedabout those mob films that paint an almost royal lifestyle for wise guys. This pic is the real deal, the lowdown nitty gritty about blue-collar Mafioso, a film so strong on character drama it's the "Death of a Salesman" of Mob movies.

Honorable Mentions that Almost Cracked the Top 10:

The Saint
Welcome to Sarajevo
Waiting for Guffman
When We Were Kings


These are not necessarily movies that were bad, that would be too easy. Many of these aimed so high, yet fell so short.

1. Titanic -- This film bites the big wet one. This film is part Hollywood hokum, part hi-tech marvel, but it's still a clunky, behemoth of a mess. One minute it's a bad romantic epic, the next it's a watery disaster pic. Note to James Cameron: If you want to make a big movie about love found amid watery ruins, just re-release the special edition of "The Abyss," will ya?

2. Con Air -- It coulda been another "Rock." But even with a superb line-up of talent such as John Cusack, John Malkovich and Nick Cage, this con job of a film is an overwrought series of explosions and gunfire and sorry-ass dialogue.

3. Crash -- People getting kinky over car crashes. Weird fucking shit.

4. The Pillow Book -- A Japanese woman who is erotically aroused by painting kanji on sex partners turns her dead lover's leathered skin into a book of stories -- it's the feel-good movie of the year! OK, not really, just a pretentious piece of pillow snot.

5. Speed 2: Cruise Control -- I must admit I am not qualified to render judgment on this film: I actually fell in and out of sleep watching this crap. It's that bad.

6. Batman and Robin -- Easily the worst Bat-film. Schwarzenegger does his tired one-liner bit, Clooney looks hopelessly Cloo-less as the Gotham Guardian, Alicia Silverstone is a chubby little Bat-girl and Robin is a whiny wimp. The only good thing (everyone, all at once): Ooo-Muh, Ooo-Muh...

7. Contact -- A Big Film with Important Things to say about Humanity and Life and God. And two hours of pretentious pseudo-philosophical babble.

8. 187 -- A visually stunning film that has a slow-burning fuse of suspense. Then the ending blows it all away to shit. Literally. Not even uber-actor Samuel L. Jackson can save this film.

9. U-Turn -- Oliver Stone's wild ride is a jet-fueled drive to nowhere.

10. A Life Less Ordinary -- The team that gave us the superb "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting" turn in a messy piece of film shite, a half-baked Coen brothers-wannabe of a romantic comedy that isn't very funny and not very romantic.

11. Anaconda -- Bad acting. Cheesy effects. A dumb-ass script. A set that looked like the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland. Jon Voight in the worst Latin American role since Pacino waved 'ello with his lil' fren. I was laughing so much, so hard, it was the most fun I had watching a horrible movie. Still, bottom line was this movie was super-lame.

12. Volcano-- Now I'm entirely in favor of smothering Los Angeles in a sea of lava, but this film was no fun; in fact, it's a retarded mess of a disaster flick.

13. Spawn -- It's bad enough 1997 gave us the shittiest "Batman" film, it also gave us a crappy movie based on a Batman rip-off. Totally unforgivable. Todd McFarlane should be shot.


Movies have the Oscar. TV has the Emmy. Blast has the Yojimbo, our nod of props to recently departed king of all actors, Japanese film samurai Toshiro Mifune (Can you believe the white man actually tagged him the "Japanese John Wayne" when in fact Mifune kicks the horse poop out of The Duke?). Here now are some of the highs and lows of 1997 cinema:

Best Casting: Harrison Ford as the President in "Air Force One." Al Pacino as the Devil in "The Devil's Advocate."

Worst Casting: Jon Voight as a Paraguayan Capt. Ahab hunting a giant "Anaconda."

Best Butt: Jennifer Lopez for sporting a nice tushy in "U-Turn" and "Anaconda" -- but not for her prosthetic booo-tay in "Selena"

Best Makeup: Marky Wahlberg's fake schlong in "Boogie Nights" (What? You thought it was real?)

Worst Wigs: Bruce Willis, "The Jackal"

Worst Trend: Bugs and insect-like creatures. "Microcosmos," "Mimic," "Men in Black," Jabba the slug in "Jedi," "Alien Resurrection." Bring back the commies!

Best Hitman: John Cusack in "Grosse Point Blank."

Best Supporting Hitman: Dan Aykroyd in "Grosse Point Blank."

Worst Accent: (Tie) Nick Cage's parody of a southern accent in "Con Air" and Keanu Reeves' occasional southern accent in "The Devil's Advocate."

Best Monster: (Tie) The Aliens of "Alien Resurrection" and the Klendathu arachnids in "Starship Troopers."

Film Formula for Success: "Die Hard" + "Passenger 57" + "Executive Decision" + "The American President" = "Air Force One"

Worst Film Formula: "Beverly Hills 90210" + "Aliens" + "Star Wars" + "Top Gun" + Archie Comics = "Starship Troopers"

Best Hats: "L.A. Confidential"

Best Mob Movie: "Donnie Brasco"

Best Comeback: Mike Myers, "Austin Powers."

Best Soundtrack: "Austin Powers"

Best Reason to Bust a Cap in Comic Book Czar Todd McFarlane's Ass: "Spawn"

Best Guns: "Men in Black"