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When It Stains, It Reigns: Film Flashback '98

By JASON LLOREN
Blast Film Critic

This past year of films was a cornucopia of cumshots. And blood spots. And guts, non-stop. Let's put it this way: If it smears, it was probably in a hit movie in 1998. That's not even counting the crap, usually anything that pretended to be a horror movie and starred a bunch of teens. But more on The Bad later. It seems as if the end of "Seinfeld" earlier in the year and all its legendary episodes concerning social unspeakables - masturbation, pee stains, you name it - meant the dawning of a new age in film entertainment.

Yes, not only could talk about getting your dick getting caught in your zipper, but if you were Ben Stiller and the Farrelly brothers, you could actually show it, ball sac and all. But that was near the beginning of "There's Something About Mary." Later, we were treated to a semen-based hair gel, French kissing with pooches, extreme epidermal breakouts, the works. Soon, a new sensibility seemed to infect every kind of movie: from the barfing and limb-tearing in "Saving Private Ryan" to the Black Oil oozing in humans in "The X-Files: Fight the Future" to the vivid references of Marlon Brando's liposuction fat, dildoes and vomit in "BASEKetball." Even a sweet, little indie coming-of-age film like "Slums of Beverly Hills" managed to offer little mentions and teases concerning menstrual blood, urinalysis samples and vibrators. Yes, welcome to the Year of the Gross-out.

Not that any of this was bad. We flocked to the theaters to see this splattered across the silver screen. "Mary" racked up more than $175 million, more than five times its budget. "The Waterboy" made as much money in less than half that time. "Ryan" won critical acclaim and box office dollars. This stuff didn't turn off viewers. If anything, it turned them on. There were breakout roles: Jim Carrey showing us some acting chops in "The Truman Show," the booty-ful Catherine Zeta Jones in "The Mask of Zorro," and the not-as-annoying-as-before George Clooney in the crime caper "Out of Sight."

The year also gave us a fair share of doom and gloom. This summer alone, aliens infected humanity ("X-Files"), a giant lizard leaped into Manhattan and tore up the town ("Godzilla"), and heavenly objects threatened to smash into Earth not just once ("Armageddon") but twice ("Deep Impact"). The studios gave us the usual schlock of actioners, from a well-utilized Antonio Banderas in "The Mask of Zorro" to the well-utilized Wesley Snipes in "Blade." There were the usual TV adaptations, like "Lost in Space," which was a more apt description for its spacey plot. A sappy fantasy romance involving the afterworld -- "City of Angels" -- spawned a hit soundtrack. Yawn.

And if angels weren't enough, Hollywood gave us Death -- in "Meet Joe Black." It died slowly at the box office. And there was the needless sequel "U.S. Marshals" and the needless remake "Psycho." But there was also the surprising sequel "Babe: Pig the City," a wonder because it was as good as its predecessor, and a headscratcher because nobody bothered to see it.

The "Scream" rip-offs kept rolling along, from "Halloween: H20" to "Urban Legend," most of them variations on the frightened teens/cheap screen thrills formula with a dash of post-modern dialogue. Let's hope in 1999 they give us something genuinely scary -- like Mickey Rooney in clown makeup (see "Babe" sequel for that). Then there was the animation, much of it marvelously done, like the computer-generated "Antz" and later "A Bug's Life." There was also "Rugrats," a hit TV show transferred successfully to the big screen, and the ambitious Biblical epic "The Prince of Egypt." In all, the surprises were a virtual Pleasantville." Anything else that wasn't drop-dead funny like "Mary," drop-dead serious and powerful like "Ryan" or daring like the uncomfortably comic "Happiness" was, well, unforgettable like the last Oprah Winfrey flick. Whatever that was called.

Here's a look at my choices for the top 13 films of 1998 (OK, it's really 15):

13. GODS AND MONSTERS - An imaginative portrayal of a real-life artist in pain.

12. BABE: PIG IN THE CITY - In many ways, this visually textured, dark (but not too brooding for kids) film about a talking pig with heart of gold is a winner ... even for a sequel.

11. RONIN - A pared-down, but more intense "Mission: Impossible."

10. BLADE - A comic book come to life; cruel and dark and fun and exciting at once.

9. THE MASK OF ZORRO - A classically crafted action flick featuring a classic character.

8. (Tie) YOUR FRIEND AND NEIGHBORS - Uncomfortable and unflinching -- and irresistible. HAPPINESS -- The funniest film this year about sexual dysfunction and emotional isolation!

7. SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS - A touching -- and occasionally gross -- coming-of-age flick.

6. (Tie) ANTZ - Who'd've thunk it? A Woody Allen film for kids! A BUG'S LIFE - Visually richer, more textured than "Antz," less adult-oriented, with a stronger story arc. A little funnier too. Oh, and it had more poo jokes, too.

5. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN - A vivid portrait of war, "Ryan" is a powerful film.

4. THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE - All the paranoia, starkness and dark humor of the TV show but on a bigger canvas.

3. THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY - Non-stop hilarity. The best film ever about stalking.

2. OUT OF SIGHT - A Tarantino-esque film without being oh so Tarantino-esque. Smooth and cool like a nice cigar.

1. STAR WARS - EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE The first new "Star Wars" footage in 15 years (not counting new stuff added to the Special Editions) proved to be among the most thrilling, most exciting piece of film to hit the big screens this year. Who cares if it only lasted 2 minutes? After seeing the preview, I'd kill to see the whole movie.

A few extra thoughts about the films of 1998:

MVP: Ben Stiller, who probably appeared in every movie this year, including "There's Something About Mary," "Your Friends & Neighbors," "Permanent Midnight" and "The Zero Effect."

DISAPPOINTMENTS:

Studio 54: Great music! Hey, didn't I already see "Boogie Nights"?

ORGAZMO & BASEKETBALL: Sports, two Playboy babes, Mormons, porn, superheroes and the two guys who gave us "South Park." So, where did it all go wrong?

JOHN CARPENTER'S VAMPIRES: This anemic horror action film was thin on plot, character and cleverness. It may as well have been called "Karen Carpenter's Vampires."

DIRTY WORK: Note to self: Never see a Norm Macdonald film again.

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS: I'm leaving "Las Vegas" for you to find out for yourself how crappy this film is.

ARMAGEDDON: OK, the film was in fact good -- for the first two-thirds. Most disappointing: Liv Tyler lives at the end.

LOST IN SPACE: Hey, isn't this the title to the film with Bruce Willis and the asteroid?

CITY OF ANGELS: And the winner for Best Overacting is Nic Cage!

U.S. MARSHALS: "The Fugitive" minus all the good stuff.

THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS: Jet Li was cool in "Lethal Weapon 4," Jackie Chan hit it big in "Rush Hour" - so why couldn't the God of All Film Actors have been in a good movie too?

WORST MOVIES I did not see in 1998:

There's nothing worse than shelling out money only to end up hating a movie. Isn't it better to just avoid a movie you know is shit? Hell yeah. Here's the worst of the lot I didn't bother to see because of bad word-of-mouth, poor concept or lack of appeal.

BELOVED: Oprah acting self-important. Fuck you, stick to the chat show.

I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER: I still hate the first film so why bother with this one?

SOLDIER: "Quake: The Movie" but without the joy of killing opponents online.

THE HORSE WHISPERER: Psst. Mr. Redford, you're not so handsome anymore.

URBAN LEGEND: I still know this is a bad rip-off.

ONE TRUE THING: Meryl Streep as a sick woman. And William Hurt. Does it get any more thrilling than this?

KNOCK OFF: If Jean-Claude doesn't OD anytime soon, can someone please knock him off?

HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK: How do I get my $7.50 back?

HALLOWEEN: H20: I still know why modern horror films suck.