Combustible Celluloid

1997: The Year in Film

What Happened to Me in the Dark

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In December of 1997, I complied my first professional top ten list for the first official publication I ever wrote for, a magazine called SF MODA. Because of the magazine's bi-monthly format, it was tricky to file stories in a timely manner. My editors opted not to publish my list, since it would probably wouldn't have hit the newsstands until April of 1998.

In addition, I was still not a full-fledged reviewer at the time. My first real review ran in May of 1997 in the pages of MODA, so I cannot say I was a real reviewer for all of 1997. It takes a while to build a reputation and get yourself on all the publicists' mailing lists. As a result, many of the films on this list were seen as a civilian, on my own time, in regular movie theaters, and I certainly cannot claim that I saw everything that came out, though I did see somewhere between 100 and 130 movies.

For posterity, my original list ran thusly: 1) Kundun, 2) L.A. Confidential, 3) Eve's Bayou, 4) Face/Off, 5) Chasing Amy, 6) Crash, 7) La Promesse, 8) Gattaca, 9) Comrades, Almost a Love Story, 10) Good Will Hunting.

Since that list was never officially published, I could not resist making some changes. Here is the list I would like to have submitted.

The Top Ten

1. Kundun.
I found Martin Scorsese's tale of the 14th Dalai Lama, his childhood, and his eventual conundrum between the invading Chinese forces and his own pledge of non-violence, incredibly moving; it's a stunningly spiritual experience fueled by inner explorations, beautifully represented externally by Scorsese's camera. Philip Glass's mesmerizing score helps.

2. Crash.
David Cronenberg's film is highly disturbing and amazingly erotic at the same time, with the car crash as sexual release. The steely cinematography highlights the clinical approach to this bizarre fetish, and the key scene is the one in which the video freezes, leaving the spectators right on the edge of climax.

3. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control.
Errol Morris is one of the few documentary filmmakers whose films could be considered timeless, and watched again years later. This story of four men -- a topiary gardener, a man who studies naked mole rats, a man who builds robots, and a lion tamer -- has humor and atmosphere to spare, as well as the underlying idea that, no matter how hard we try, we don't have any control over the world in which we live.

4. Face/Off.
Arguably the greatest action director in the world, John Woo, made his time in Hollywood worthwhile with this snazzy, potent, and surprisingly emotional story of a hero and villain who are so close in spirit that they even occupy the same skin.

5. Eve's Bayou.
The directorial debut of actress Kasi Lemmons, Eve's Bayou is a beautiful coming-of-age story, a complex story of voodoo and spirituality, and a moving human drama worth cherishing.

6. Jackie Brown.
It took more than one viewing of Quentin Tarantino's third feature to shake the shadow of Pulp Fiction and make me realize that it's his best film, or at least his most human. In spite of the Elmore Leonard crime story at the edges, the meat is the sweet relationship between Robert Forster and Pam Grier's title character. Grier deserves an Oscar.

7. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Many people hated Clint Eastwood's adaptation of John Berendt's popular non-fiction book, perhaps upset with the differences between book and film. But taken on its own, this is a patient, atmospheric story with plenty of color and character; one can get so involved in it that the murder story is almost incidental.

8. Gabbeh.
The first Iranian film, to my knowledge, to open in American theaters, and the spearhead of an incredible "New Wave" movement in that country. Mohsen Makhmalbaf's movie is less realistic than others, focusing on magic and romance, with bold, beautiful colors. It has such a unique, mesmerizing, calming flow that it stood apart from most other movies this year.

9. Irma Vep.
Perhaps the distant, French cousin of a Quentin Tarantino movie, with Maggie Cheung turning up as herself to do a remake of Louis Feuillade's Les Vampires. Olivier Assayas's movie slowly moves from a behind-the-scenes movie story to a more radical, disorienting, yet clever meshing of life and film.

10. Grosse Pointe Blank.
Another Tarantino cousin, but one with John Cusack's personality all over it, this movie is a crime comedy with a fun, clever twist: a hitman, on advice from his shrink, attends his ten-year high school reunion. The dialogue, by Cusack and three of his friends, is joyously sharp and snappy, and a batch of incredible character actors (Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Jeremy Piven, etc.), as well as the warm, cuddly Minnie Driver, add to the feeling that this could be our old high school.

15 Runners Up:

Honorable Mention:

Addicted to Love, Amistad, As Good as It Gets, Conspirators of Pleasure, Donnie Brasco, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, Hard Eight, Men in Black, The Rainmaker, Titanic, Wag the Dog, When the Cat's Away, When We Were Kings

Guilty Pleasures:

Alien: Resurrection, Anaconda, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, The Game, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Scream 2, Tomorrow Never Dies

Best Revivals:

Contempt, Crime Wave, The Empire Strikes Back, Jour de Fete, Pather Panchali, Le Samourai


Batman & Robin, Bean, Con Air, Going All the Way, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Mad City, The Myth of Fingerprints, One Night Stand, Playing God, The Saint

Movies Unlimtied