Monday, June 29, 2020

The 100 Project: The Top 10 Movies of 1998

During 1998, my son turned one, and my second child was conceived. What that means is I wasn't seeking out a ton of movies that made me contemplate the world around me. When I got to sit down and watch something popcorn munchability was at a premium. I know you can eat popcorn while watching any movie, but the ones that best lend themselves to mindlessly shoveling fistfuls of them into your mouth while keeping one eye on the screen and using the other to spot the kernels that took a dive onto your shirt have high popcorn munchability. As a result, this year's list is dominated by action and comedy. That's not to say this list is complete without substance, it's just in short supply. Take a look.

My Top 10 Movies of 1998

  • According to my Letterboxd account I've watched 83 movies released during 1998.
  • Somehow I watched 14 movies in theaters. 4 made my top 10, 5 were honorable mentions.
  • There is one foreign language film on the list. It is also the only film with a female protagonist.
  • 8 of my top 10 are rated R

10. The Big Hit
Right off the bat, we get a silly, self-aware spoof. This one takes on early and mid-90s action flicks, along with having some great action scenes of its own. Its hilarious, at least to me, because it keeps me laughing. At that time, Mark Wahlberg was able to bring a certain amount of innocence to characters who weren't doing innocent things. It's what made Boogie Nights work and it's also makes The Big Hit work.

9. Blade
I'd never read the comic book about him, but knowing that Blade was a Marvel character, Wesley Snipes was playing him, and it was rated R was enough to get me into the theater. Watching him slay vampires left and right was some of the coolest stuff I'd ever seen. Sure, I left better movies off in favor of this, but I don't return to watch those nearly as often as I do this techno-scored bloodbath.

8. Rush Hour
"Never touch a Black man's radio."
"Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?"
Those quotes immediately jump to mind when the title Rush Hour comes up. However, what sticks with me is the awesomeness of Jackie Chan finally getting  to shine in an American movie with a decent budget. He is easily one of the top physical performers of all-time and this is the vehicle of his that's given my family and I the most hours of entertainment. 

7. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
This is the movie that made me realize how big a deal Pulp Fiction was. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is an unabashed Tarantino rip-off. You know what? I give it a complete pass. Director Guy Ritchie is just so good at it. He took Tarantino's style and put his own spin on it, and it works.

6. The Big Lebowski
Has there ever been a more perfect union between an actor and a character than Jeff Bridges and the Dude? When people talk about an actor disappearing into a role, this is what they're talking about. On top of the Dude just being the Dude, the script and story just work to keep us laughing. I will forever appreciate this movie for that.

5. Run Lola Run
There aren't many more kinetic movies than this one. It's a swift watch and pulls you in from the word go, and go it does! I love it. Much like The Big Lebowski, nothing here is going to give your brain a workout. It's just a pure adrenaline rush of a film. And you know I love my adrenaline rushes.

4. The Truman Show
In 1998, reality television was still in its infancy. This film, along with 1987's The Running Man, predicted where this phenomenon is going. Watching it back then I was like, "Yeah, this is coming." When I put it on over two decades later I'm like, "Yeah, this is still coming." The only difference is that much of it has already arrived.

3. American History X
Earlier on this list I talked about actors disappearing into their roles. Edward Norton does exactly that in this film. Early in the movie I hated him, but couldn't take my eyes off him. The story dug its claws into me. By the time I finished my first viewing, I was repulsed, frightened, intrigued, encouraged, and finally, exhausted. That's the sign of a great movie.

2. He Got Game
I love Spike Lee. I love Denzel Washington. I love basketball. Here is a movie with all three of those things. Truth told, there really isn't that much basketball in it. No matter, Denzel turns in a performance that deserves lots more attention than it gets. On top of that, this is arguably Lee's best job as a director. This isn't his best movie, don't get it twisted. However, he does some amazing work here. Yes, he has Denzel. He also has Rosario Dawson and Milla Jovovich. But he also has to work around having a non-actor play the lead role and coaxes a performance out of him that gets better as it goes. He switches looks and gives some amazing looking shots. Musically, people who know the film quickly point out that Public Enemy did a soundtrack album for the film. What they usually fail to mention is that their work is juxtaposed with classical music written by Aaron Copland and performed by several different orchestras. It's just a joy to watch as it bounces along and tells a story that's still playing out all over this country every year.

1. Saving Private Ryan
Let's get this out of the way, quickly. The story is sooooo corny. It's ham-fistedly patriotic in a way clearly designed to make America seem like the place that cares about its citizens more than any other country in the world. Yeah, full-on 'Murica! I am American, and normally, that type of thing would be a turn off for me. even before the questionable actions of the current administration. Miss me with your American Sniper and Hacksaw Ridge love. The difference here is that director Steven Spielberg makes a tough decision that pays off. In most movies, action punctuates the story. In Saving Private Ryan the story is told by action. Sure, there's dialogue, and some of it is quite good, but action moves and steers the plot. And that action. That action is made up of some of the best war sequences ever committed to film.

Honorable Mention (alphabetically): Caught Up, Dark City, Enemy of the State, Lethal Weapon 4, Mulan, The Players Club, Pleasantville, Rounders, The Siege, Slam, Slums of Beverly Hills, There's Something About Mary, Urban Legend, Why Do Fools Fall in Love


  1. I love how we can tell so much about our lives from the movies that we watched in a certain year! I know the year my little girl was born I watched a lot of action and comedy, too.
    There are so many movies here I have yet to see but I'm glad I can at least say I've seen (and loved!) your #1 pick, although I only watched it for the first time this year!

    1. Absolutely. Our headspace often informs what we watch. Glad I'm not the only one who admits to opting for escapism over heavier fare.

  2. I would give Saving Ryan's Privates an honourable mention because I didn't like the thought that the Americans saved the day on D Day when, If it wasn't for us Canadians, they would have had another Dieppe. We learned from Dieppe and, with the Brits, developed machinery that would not sink plus other things that the American higher ups did not take when offered. We were also not "holding them back" when we were at Caen since Caen is a city compared to the towns. As a Canadian, it bugs me plus I groaned at the end with the America the great ending although I did love the eyes growing from young to old. I love Jackie Chan and those films were fun so is Blade in its gory best. I would also include Truman Show which is one of Jim Carrey's best performances. I would add Bulworth which, I think, is a brilliant and scathing satire on the Republican/American way of life. I love Gods and Monsters, Pleasantville, And the under-rated What Dreams May Come which, I think, is one the best stories and the effects are excellent as well as the Art Direction. I love Ever After which is a great retelling of the Cinderella story. Elizabeth is excellent so is Dark City. I can watch The Wedding Singer over and over despite Adam Sandler because him and Drew are a great team and who doesn't love the 80s.I give nods to Gia, The Horse Whisperer and Simon Birch. I love Denzel who is a superb actor and nice on the eyes:) I have to see that film directed by Spike Lee. Glad to see you back....are you going to participate in Wandering Through The Shelves?

    1. Oh, there are lots of movies, especially war movies, where America's role is played up and that of other countries is either played down or ignored, so I understand where you're coming from. Lots of the films you speak of made my honorable mentions. A few of them I haven't seen, like, Gods and Monsters, What Dreams My Come, Ever After, Elizabeth, The Horse Whisperer, and Simon Birch. I may participate in July, at least I've been thinking about it. Not sure beyond that.

  3. I always forget Blade came out in the 90's. It feels like a 2000's movie to me. I've never seen He Got Game or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but I really want to. I really like what you said about Saving Private Ryan. That's absolutely true.

    1. Blade does feel like a 2000s movie in a lot of ways so I understand. Hope you get to see those two movies. Thanks!

  4. From your top 10, 3 films made my list of the 10 best films of 1998 though I'm sure you're not surprised in what is my pick for best film of that year. I don't remember much of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Blade as I know the latter deserves more credit for putting Marvel in the world of films as I'm excited to see what Mahershala Ali will do with the role as Blade is going to be part of the MCU! I already have an idea of who should play Whistler and that is Chris Cooper. I hope they find the right people for that film.

    From your honorable mentions, I think Slam is the one film from that year I haven't seen though I have heard great things about it. I don't recommend What Dreams May Come as I thought it was bad visual mess despite the cameo from Werner Herzog while Simon Birch was one of those films I remember seeing commercials for as it made me want to puke for all of its sentimentality.

  5. Yeah, I haven't seen The Thin Red Line yet. I'm going to, but I'm kinda dreading it because Malick hasn't worked for me yet. Maybe this is the one.

    1. I'm aware that his recent films (aside from A Hidden Life which I haven't seen yet) have been meandering by some mainly because he didn't use any scripts for the film. The Thin Red Line is abstract in parts of narrative as there's a lot of voice-overs in the film and brief glimpse from some of the actors involved (though you should read about the actors who were in the film but never made it in the final cut). It's not an easy film to pin-point but it was a film that stuck with me throughout the years as a great anti-war film.

    2. Yeah, that doesn't sound much different than The Tree of Life, which I hate. We'll see how it goes.

  6. That is as you say a lot of action!!

    I enjoyed The Big Hit when I saw it in the theatre but can honestly say I haven’t thought of it since.

    I can’t say the same for Blade which I checked out on when I saw it a while back. I also felt pretty much the same way about Big Lebowski outside of Jeff Bridges. But I do agree it is a perfect meeting of actor and part.

    I never have watched them since that first time but I liked both Lock, Stock….and Rush Hour.

    I can’t say I hated American History X, it was challenging and I didn’t enjoy it but it did have something to say.

    Run Lola Run and Truman Show both made my runner ups.

    He Got Game is the only one I haven’t seen. A combination of my aversion to Denzel Washington, Spike Lee and that stupid title. I’ll get to it someday but I’m not in a hurry.

    I remember seeing Saving Pvt. Ryan in a packed theatre and when it was over the entire theatre stood up as one and silently filed out with no one speaking until they were out in the parking lot. An incredibly intense, moving experience.

    As far as your runner-ups you have a few that made my main list and some I didn’t care much for but I did like Rounders and Why Do Fools Fall in Love. The last in particular with a steady hand in the director’s chair could have been quite a film. The acting was very good.

    1. Most people haven't thought about The Big Hit since then, so you're forgiven.

      One of my cinematic regrets is not seeing Saving Private Ryan in theaters.

  7. We’re miles apart but I guess that shows there were lots of choices that year.

    Here’s my top 10 and almosts:

    Gods & Monsters-James Whale (Ian McKellen) the director of Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein is living in quiet retirement looked after by his devoted housekeeper, Hanna (Lynn Redgrave) as his health declines. The new gardener gruff but sensitive Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser) enters into their drifting existence and what starts as a casual flirtation between the gay Whale and the straight Boone evolves into a life changing event for both. McKellen and Redgrave were both Oscar nominated.

    Pleasantville-Brother and sister teens David & Jennifer (Tobey Maguire & Reese Witherspoon) he a nerd and she on the tarty side are magically transported into David’s favorite black & white TV show “Pleasantville” thanks to a mysterious repairman (a wonderful Don Knotts). As the two grapple with their new reality and parents (Joan Allen & William H. Macy) they inadvertently set in motion radical changes to the placid town.

    The Wedding Singer-In 1985 sweet wedding singer Robbie Hart is dumped practically at the altar by his flighty fiancée Linda. Brokenhearted he finds himself at a crossroads unable to move forward. Reluctantly he agrees to help a young waitress Julia (Drew Barrymore) to plan her wedding to obnoxious cheater Glenn (Matthew Glave). As they spend time together he falls in love and must win her over before she gets marries the wrong guy. Steeped in 80’s nostalgia.

    Ever After-A slight reworking of the Cinderella tale with the gentle Danielle (Drew Barrymore) forced into a life of servitude by her evil stepmother Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston) when her father dies unexpectedly. As the years pass Rodmilla tries to marry off her oldest daughter, the vicious Marguerite (Megan Dodds) while treating her youngest Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey) almost as badly as Danielle. One day in the forest Danielle happens to meet the Crown Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) and the tale begins to turn. Charming with great performances by all including Judy Parfitt and Timothy West as the bickering King and Queen.

    Elizabeth-The young Princess Elizabeth Tudor (Cate Blanchett) ascends the throne of England after surviving years of danger from the jealousy of her bitter half-sister Queen Mary upon that sovereign’s death. She must quickly learn to live by her wits in the snake pit that is the Royal Court.

    1. Of this group, I really like Pleasantville, obviously. I've only watched The Wedding Singer in pieces on TV over the years. So, I've probably seen it all, just not at once. I probably will someday, but not in a rush. Haven't seen the others.

  8. Saving Pvt. Ryan-Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) takes his men behind enemy lines to find Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have been killed in combat. As they progress through dangerous territory all the men face a reckoning.

    Enemy of the State-D.C. lawyer Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) has an incriminating video of the assinantion of a congressman engineered by a corrupt NSA agent Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voight) fall into his hands and becomes a wanted man. Fleeing for his life he enlists the help of ex-intelligence agent Edward "Brill" Lyle (Gene Hackman). Together they attempt to throw Reynolds off his trail and prove Dean’s innocence.

    Primary Colors-Henry Burton (Adrian Lester) is recruited to participate in the presidential campaign of Gov. Jack Stanton (John Travolta) who seems a bright shining hope. But as he is drawn further into his world and contends with his ambitious wife, Susan, (Emma Thompson), outspoken adviser, Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton) and speech writer Libby Holden (an Oscar nominated Kathy Bates) he sees all is not as it seems.

    Croupier-Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) is a croupier who works by night and writes by day. His girlfriend Marion (Gina McKee) becomes increasingly frustrated by his seemingly aimless life, but he becomes focused when glamorous South African Jani de Villiers (Alex Kingston) arrives in his casino, and then his bed, with a plan to defraud the house - but is she playing with a straight deck of cards?

    Dangerous Beauty-In the Venice of the 16th century beautiful but poor Veronica Franco (Catherine McCormick) is jilted by her lover Marcos (Rufus Sewell) when he marries a girl suitable to his family’s political position. Heartsick she reluctantly follows her mother Paola’s (Jacqueline Bisset) advice and become a courtesan because it opens her way to an education as well as securing her family’s financial future. When war breaks out Veronica finds herself in a strategic position to save her city.

    Bedrooms and Hallways, Bulworth, Finding North, Living Out Loud, Out of Sight, Run Lola Run, The Thin Red Line and The Truman Show

    1. Yes to SPR, of course. Glad to see some love for Enemy of the State. It was pretty close to making my 10. I need to see the rest.

  9. I think Spike Lee's best film is Malcolm X, but He Got Game will always be my favorite. I watch that movie once a year, love it. So happy to see it ranked so highly here.

    1. He Got Game is really a virtuoso performance by Lee behind the camera. He emptied his bag of tricks to make this one fly.