In an annual series, Every Movie Has a Lesson is going to look back twenty years to revisit, relearn, and reexamine a year of cinema history to share favorites, lists, and experiences from the films of that year.
Alright, I’ve spelled out my absolute “10 best” from 1998 in the previous post. It’s time to take the press badge off and get casual. Here are more categories of distinction and remembrance from 1998. It was my freshman year of undergrad college at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana and I was looking to get my start in the student newspaper reviewing film. Seeing movies then meant a 40-minute one-way drive to either Merrillville/Schererville or Lafayette. Luckily, I had a car. Sometimes, I even took cabs during football road trips in the fall to see films while out of state as the team’s equipment manager who didn’t get bed-checked like the players.
THE NEXT 5 BEST FILMS OF 1998
11. WILD THINGS
12. DEEP IMPACT
15. THE NEGOTIATOR
Guess what? You still don’t see The Thin Red Line. That’s too bad. In the completely opposite direction, I was so very close to putting Wild Things in my Top 10 for 1998. I don’t think I’ve seen a film before or since that stashed away as many twists and double-crosses as that seedy, sweaty movie did. It’s completely inappropriate and hasn’t aged the best, but the brilliant duplicity present remains bolder than today’s standards.
Deep Impact is my third all-time favorite disaster film after Independence Day and Twister. I think the gravitas, led by Morgan Freeman’s dynamite President, is worlds better than Michael Bay’s preposterousness at the bottom of this column. I’m a Denzel Washington mark, so a twisted and rare “bad guy wins” movie like Fallen earned my praise. Twilight, not the sparkly vampire one but the senior-set gumshoe movie from Robert Benton starring Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon, and Reese Witherspoon, would top my “Underseen Gems” list below, but it’s higher than that in ranks to be here. It might be one of the most recommended buried treasure movies in my repertoire. Lastly, they don’t make mid-budget star-driven pieces of polish like The Negotiator anymore. I have it to thank in its references for me discovering Shane, my all-time favorite western.
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
YOU’VE GOT MAIL
If you couldn’t tell by my placement of The Mask of Zorro at #2, swashbuckling adventures are a trigger for me. Filled with veteran bravado and that young Leonardo DiCaprio, Randall Wallace’s The Man in the Iron Mask was the second best of the year in that all-but-abandoned-now action subgenre. It was close to breaking the Top 10 or 15. I don’t think you can ever go wrong with the late Nora Ephron and the pairing of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. You’ve Got Mail is no Sleepless in Seattle, but it’s just fine in the charm department, the same goes with light fare like Rush Hour. I love the balls on Brian De Palma to go long takes and Rashomon with Snake Eyes, in all its Nicolas Cage glory.
WHAT DREAMS MAY COME
CITY OF ANGELS
THE HORSE WHISPERER
MEET JOE BLACK
Call it the post-Titanic effect, but I fully admit to being a 19-year-old sucker for romance in 1998. I drank all of them in, welcomed a good cry, and found much to love as an emerging film fan probably trying to be the “sensitive guy” around the college girls (which never worked). Twenty years later, I can still watch these and get all the feels. The top one of this group is the gorgeous What Dreams May Come, the little-engine-that-could Best Visual Effects Oscar winner that beat out big lizards, asteroids, and comets that year. The Robin Williams afterlife drama deserves better than its 54% Rotten Tomatoes score.
Meet Joe Black is excessively long, but that coffee shop scene (part 1 and 2, even with a rough ending) between Claire Forlani and Brad Pitt is near the top of my “meet cute” scenes. Along the same lines (and my mother made me a Robert Redford fan), I consider that suggestive slow dance between Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas towards the end of The Horse Whisperer to be one of the non-traditional love scenes ever. In the dramatic department, I didn’t think Nicolas Cage had City of Angels in him, but he did fantastic as did Gabriel Yared on that soulful score. Between Great Expectations, Shakespeare in Love, and A Perfect Murder (listed next) in 1998, Gwyneth Paltrow was an undeniable heart-racer and heartbreaker, whereas Sandra Bullock’s vehicle Hope Floats is pure country boy cheese for my Midwestern heart.
VERY BAD THINGS
THE ZERO EFFECT
A PERFECT MURDER
I really dig this little list. This six-pack counts as another batch of personal favorites that are more underseen than the ones listed above (after Twilight). Jake Kasdan’s The Zero Effect with Ben Stiller and Bill Pullman is a clever detective yarn and worthy buried treasure to seek out. Not far from Wild Things, the pitch dark comedy Very Bad Things showed director Peter Berg’s dark side long before he became Mark Wahlberg’s gloryhound puppet. The Siege is one of those movies with a tone that grossly changes in retrospect thanks to our post-9/11 world and I’m impressed by it as a time capsule. Seeing how his career has turned out, Soldier might be in Kurt Russell’s all-time Top 5. I’m a “Crazy for Swayze” guy so Black Dog earns a place up here as well. You had me a truck driver anyway.
A SIMPLE PLAN
THE THIN RED LINE
THE NEWTON BOYS
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
ENEMY OF THE STATE
THE PRINCE OF EGYPT
A CIVIL ACTION
THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS
Here we come to the difficult part of the retrospective, namely the ones I can’t really place without an extra step of due diligence. There’s a lot of middle here that could tip to great or slip to duds or overrated. I call this “someday’s homework” because asking for rainy days never works.
I’ve been late to both the Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater Praise Parties since 1998. I didn’t really gravitate to either filmmaker until this past decade. I remember not getting or appreciated Rushmore and being very meh on The Newton Boys. The former has earned cult status while the latter is really a forgotten smudge. I’d still rewatch both and try again. Begrudgingly, the same goes or Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I have a bad feeling I’ll find plenty to yawn at, but they deserve their shots.
In today’s politics, I don’t think Primary Colors with John Travolta’s Bill Clinton impression or Warren Beatty’s bonkers Bulworth would play well today, yet I’m willing to be entertained and surprised. I’d love to take a time machine to see earlier Michael Bay with Enemy of the State over today’s Michael Bay. I know I forgot how good of a mystery writer and filmmaker Sam Raimi was before Spider-Man. A Simple Plan deserves a Bill Paxton genuflection rewatch for that reason alone. SlashFilm wrote a great piece on the film for this anniversary.
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL
HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK
GODS AND MONSTERS
WAKING NED DEVINE
BABE: PIG IN THE CITY
THE HI-LO COUNTRY
Even today with all of my access as a film critic, I simply cannot see everything. Twenty years ago, I might have had the free time, but I didn’t have the palette to dive deep, or I simply just missed. I’ve been scared to watch Life is Beautiful for years. I have a bad feeling it will crush me, especially with my fatherly emotions now as a parent, but I fear it’s been oversold and will not feel manipulative. The pre-stardom pair of Apt Pupil and Gods and Monsters for Ian McKellan really intrigue me. Some former Literature teacher or Book Club member is going to be mad I haven’t seen Beloved, and the same will happen with a history teacher and Elizabeth, especially since I am now a social studies teacher myself.
SIX DAYS, SEVEN NIGHTS
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY
THE WEDDING SINGER
A BUG’S LIFE
There’s a combination of things on this list. First, there are films that I think don’t deserve the praise they get. Right off the bat, Dark City is one of them (my full review), no matter how good and noir it looks a year before The Matrix. Blade is victim of Guillermo del Toro making a superior sequel and the comic book surge of today making that first one look like crap. There’s Something About Mary and Patch Adams were big hits then that I will admit I loved twenty years ago but just can’t watch anymore. I’m learning most comedy doesn’t age well and the thick dramatic license used on Patch Adams has spoiled it for me.
Secondly, the majority here are films that meathead and teenage Don loved back then that don’t hold up now. All Adam Sandler movies have become that for me, thanks to his disaster of a career since his heyday. Man, did I love The Waterboy. Hell, I was The Waterboy in my football dreams, but I can’t watch it or The Wedding Singer anymore. I don’t know why I thought U.S. Marshals could deserve to hang with The Fugitive or Six Days, Seven Nights was The African Queen. Yikes!
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG
DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS
I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER
STAR TREK: INSURRECTION
LOST IN SPACE
LETHAL WEAPON 4
On my scale, 1997 was a better year than 1998. The obvious cinematic bombs are so much worse (Godzilla, Psycho, Mighty Joe Young, Antz, Small Soldiers, Deep Rising, Lost in Space, Lethal Weapon 4, Dr. Dolittle). Give me Independence Day every day of the week and twice on Sunday to Michael Bay’s exhaustingly grating Armageddon. Compared to the headier Deep Impact, that film is such a joke. It’s reached the point to me that I lose a measure of respect in people I meet who like Armageddon to this day. I want to shake them and ask them what is wrong with their brains.
The remnants of the post-Scream pop culture wave led to a whole bunch of horror/thriller films targeted to teens and adults who learned to get the jokes and tropes. All it took was a year since Scream to see diminishing returns. Films like Urban Legend, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Phantoms, and Disturbing Behavior join more not even on this list.
THANK YOU FOR READING AND FOLLOWING MY WORK ALL YEAR! SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!