Friday, June 26, 2020

The 100 Project: The Top 10 Movies of 1997

1997 was a surprise for me. I just didn't realize how many of these movies came out in the same year. There are a number of films I've returned to over and over in the 23 years that have passed. There are another set of movies that I haven't watched as often, maybe only once, that are masterpieces. It's a tough year to rank. Let's see how it shakes out.

My Top 10 Movies of 1997

  • According to my Letterboxd account I've watched 78 movies that were released in 1997. 
  • I ventured out to the theater 11 times. 3 made my top 10, 1 is an honorable mention.
  • I've seen 4 of the 5 Best Picture nominees. 1 made my top 10, 2 made honorable mention, and the other one is Titanic.
  • For the first time, a film directed by an African-American female makes the list.
10. Hoodlum
I've long felt that this is a severely underseen/underrated crime drama with dynamite performances across the board from the likes of Andy Garcia, Cicely Tyson, Tim Roth, and Chi McBride. They are all led by an excellent as usual Laurence Fishburne as Depression era gangster Bumpy Johnson. The chemistry between he and McBride, then he and Tyson, helps make the film.

9. L.A. Confidential
Call it film noir, neo-noir, police procedural, crime drama, it doesn't really matter. It's a shining example of any and all of these things. Kim Basinger, Russell Crowe, (the disgraced) Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, and David Strathairn are all outstanding, and Guy Pearce has never been better. All of them are given a boost by writing that sizzles. It's just a magnificent piece of film-making that grabs you and won't let go.

8. Amistad
Before seeing this movie, I was unaware of the story of the Amistad, an overthrown slave ship that arrived on America's shores under the control of the would-be subjugated. In essence, it's a courtroom drama, one that takes on the institution which shouldered an irreplaceable bulk of the weight upon which the foundation of this nation rests. While not perfect, it pulls no punches, and absolutely makes you feel for Cinque, brilliantly portrayed by Djimon Hounsou. Of course, having Anthony Hopkins, Matthew McConaughey, and Nigel Hawthorne in cast helps, too.

7. Eve's Bayou
If Hoodlum is underseen and underrated then Eve's Bayou is even more so. It's an outstanding family drama dealing with lies, infidelity, traumatizing events, and oh yeah, voodoo. It's a strong performance from Samuel L. Jackson that no one talks about. Truthfully, though, he's upstaged by his female co-stars: Lynn Whitfield, Diahann Carroll, Debi Morgan, a young Meagan Good, and most of all, a very young Jurnee Smollett. I'm guessing this is the film on this list the least of you have seen. I hope you give it a go. By the way, this is the film directed by an African-American female, Kasi Lemmons, who recently directed he biopic Harriet.

6. Men in Black
We move from what I think is the least seen movie on this list, to what I think is the most seen. I, myself, have lost track of how many times I've watched it. The chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones is fittingly out of this world. The story is creative, and above all, it's just fun. This is comfort food in cinematic form. And I'm more than happy to devour it.

5. Boogie Nights
When it comes to ensemble pieces, this one stands among the very best. Every person that shows up on screen, with the help of a great script, makes you believe that you've wandered into the 1970s and started hanging out with porn stars. And they take you on a roller coaster of emotions. It starts light, gets heavier as it goes, and keeps you with it the entire time.

4. Scream 2
If you checked out my rankings of 1996, you know that my love of the original Scream knows no bounds. The only limit to my love of Scream 2 is that I think it's just a hair below its predecessor. Everything the first film does to and for slasher flicks, this one does to and for slasher sequels. It starts right from the beginning where, yes, Black people are killed first. The brilliance of that scene is that it's not just a cold open. It is where the film's self awareness starts. Then it proceeds to pull the same trick as the first movie, almost as flawlessly.

3. Jackie Brown
With all due respect to The Bride of the Kill Bill movies, Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino's most well-rounded character. Pam Grier breathes life into Tarantino's screenplay, and by extension, Elmore Leonard's novel. The story surrounding her and the colorful cast of characters supporting her pulls you to the edge of your seat. Most remarkably, most of them simultaneously fascinate and repulse in the way in which Tarantino has proven to be an expert.

2. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
My love of well-done spoofs rears its beautiful head once more. This one takes on spy movies in general and the James Bond franchise, in particular. Even during these, Bond's Pierce Brosnan years, the franchise was hinting that the character was a Cold war relic full of misplaced hypermasculinty fueling a host of dated behaviors. Years later, Daniel Craig's Bond films explore these notions through self-examination. However, it was Austin Powers that brought the problems with him into sharp relief. And made us laugh our asses off at the same time.

1. Love Jones
Mrs. Dell and I went to see this a few months before our eldest was born. By the time we left the theater we knew we had found a movie that suited us as a couple. Representation matters. And this was a good representation of us, and people we know. We were two educated Black people who had a thing for each other. I rolled around with a few other intellectuals and was into poetry, just like the male lead. She had her own thing (marching bands, unlike the female lead) and her own friends. The beginning of our relationship, which we were still in as it turns our, felt like the whirlwind romance we were watching on screen. It's a movie that felt almost as if it were about us. We embraced it, it embraced us back. Even with a cliched finale, it's ours.

Honorable Mentions (alphabetically): Cinderella (TV movie), The Devil's Advocate, Donnie Brasco, Event Horizon, The Fifth Element, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, Liar Liar, Princess Mononoke, Rosewood, Selena, Soul in the Hole, Starship Troopers


  1. 2 of your films on your top 10 are in my top 10 list while Scream 2, Men in Black, Love Jones (which I need to re-watch) and Hoodlum are honorable mentions. Amistad was flawed as I was more annoyed by some of the historical inaccuracies in the film (being a history buff back in high school during those times). Everything in your honorable mentions I have seen except for Soul in the Hole as that's a film I've never heard of.

    1. Yeah, I know that Amistad isn't completely accurate. For me, it was more about the spirit of the story and how it made me feel.

      Soul in the Hole is a doc about a talented basketball player who couldn't get out of his own way and the father figure who was bending over backwards to help him.

  2. A few others to consider (also, I love that Event Horizon got a mention--Paul W.S. Anderson was a crap director, but he nailed that one):
    Wag the Dog--incredibly relevant political comedy
    Life is Beautiful--depressing, but worth seeing. Once.
    Abre los Ojos--The original (and better) version of Vanilla Sky
    The Game--Fincher learning to be Fincher
    The Apostle--I don't care for the religion, but seriously, this is Robert Duvall at his best.
    Gattaca--Good, slow-burn science fiction
    Cube--Weird existential sci-fi/horror from Canada
    Contact--Based on the Carl Sagan book of the same name, ranks as best of the year for me
    Perfect Blue--If you liked Black Swan, you'll see a lot of it here first
    Happy Together--A same-sex couple attempts to save their relationship
    Lost Highway--David Lynch. That should be enough

    1. So many of these I've meant to see, but just haven't. I have seen Life is Beautiful. I liked it, didn't love it and have no real desire to see it again. I do want to see The Game again because I did really like it, but I haven't seen it since it first hit VHS. To be honest, saying David Lynch to me is enough to make me not want to see it. That said, I've been threatening myself to dig more into his filmography to see if I gain a better appreciation for him.

  3. Thank God Titanic is not on your list. I give it a mention because of the great special effects and the acting is good but...ughhh, it was like the Love Boat sinking. I would like to see Eve's Bayou which sound quite good and I still have to see Jackie Brown. I am so happy Austin Powers is in this list and I would have added The Full Monty in there as well. I love L.A. Confidential which had so many twists and turns. I would add Out To Sea..not that it's a great movie but I have a fondness for it. I thought Contact was an excellent Science Fiction film and I really enjoyed Mrs. Brown and thought Billy Connelly should have won something as well as Bart the Bear from The Edge..a thriller with Anthony Hopkins and the bear that can put you on edge. I will also include Goodwill Hunting that was quite good and i didn't expect it to be.

    1. My feelings on Titanic are the same as yours - great fx, but no I don't need the rest of it. The Full Monty and Good Will Hunting made my honorable mentions. The Edge was cool. I need to see Contact. I haven't heard of Out to Sea.

  4. Another go round so soon Dell! Congrats!

    Interesting list. I’m only missing two, Love Jones & Hoodlum and while I can’t say I love all your picks there aren’t any that I flat out hate.

    I do love one, L.A. Confidential which is our only match-up but what a fantastic film it is!!

    Heading into ones I like quite a bit are Amistad, Men in Black and Jackie Brown (probably this might move up a notch or two with a rewatch and Pam Grier is great in the movie)

    I’m indifferent to Boogie Nights, Scream 2 and Austin Powers. I sat down to watch Eve’s Bayou with great hopes but it just didn’t hold my attention after the first half hour or so.

    As for your runner-ups The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting and Liar Liar (a fine vehicle for Carrey’s talents) are all ones I really enjoyed even though I don’t look at them very often.

    Cinderella, Donnie Brasco, The Devil’s Advocate, The Fifth Element and Selena were all decent time passers but once was enough for me.

    Sorry I hated Event Horizon and even more so Starship Troopers. It started out okay but by the end I thought my head would explode if it got any dumber and the acting was abysmal!

    I haven’t seen-Rosewood, Soul in the Hole (both probable someday) and Princess Mononoke (which I’ll never watch)

    1. If I have to recommend one of those you haven't seen I'd say go with Rosewood. I really love Soul in the Hole, but that's an inner-city basketball doc. Do with that what you will. And yeah, I know you'll never watch Princess Mononoke.

  5. Here’s my top 10 and runner-ups:

    1) L.A. Confidential-In the Los Angeles police department of the 40’s three cops-ambitious Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), hot-headed Bud White (Russell Crowe) and burnt out Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) each deal with the corruption they find in different ways. Everyone gives award level performances though only Kim Basinger as a Veronica Lake lookalike prostitute (honestly she looks more like Rita Hayworth) won an Oscar. Fantastic period detail and a true sense of time and place.

    2) My Best Friend's Wedding-Two friends Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) & Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney) kiddingly pledge to marry if they are still single at 28. As that approaches Michael calls to say he’s engaged to Kimmy (Cameron Diaz) and will wed within days. Julianne, against the advice of her editor George (Rupert Everett who steals every second he’s on screen), hops the next plane and goes into overdrive to try and stop the wedding.

    3) Picture Perfect-Junior ad ex Kate Mosley (Jennifer Aniston) is an ambitious hard worker but getting nowhere within her agency. When her boss makes it clear he prefers to promote people with responsibilities attached she passes off a picture of Nick (Jay Mohr) a guy she met briefly at a wedding in another town as her fiancée. All goes well until Nick garners some accidental publicity and everybody wants to meet him. Kate tracks him down and proposes a scheme to make that happen and complications ensue. Light and breezy.

    4) The Rainmaker-Young attorney Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon) working for a shady lawyer (Mickey Rourke) takes on the case of Dot Black (Mary Kay Place) when her insurance company refuses her dying son coverage. Rudy assisted by fellow lawyer Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito) team up to fight the corrupt corporation going head to head with its callous lawyer (Jon Voight). Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

    5) That Old Feeling-Molly’s (Paula Marshall) upcoming nuptials to uptight politician Keith (James Denton) are causing her grief. She knows she’ll have to invite both her divorced parents-movie star Lilly Leonard (Bette Midler) and writer Dan De Mora (Dennis Farina), who have a volcanically explosive relationship, along with their new mates. She’s right to worry, their arguments reignite their passion and they run off together. Now Molly has to sort everything out….once she finds them!

    1. Obviously, I love your #1. Of the others, I've only seen bits and pieces of My Best Friend's Wedding.

  6. 6) The Wings of the Dove-Near the end of the 19th Century improvised lovers Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter) and Merton Densher (Linus Roache) befriend young heiress Milly Theale (Alison Elliott) in London. When Kate discovers that Milly is both terminally ill and in love with Merton she formulates a devious plan as she travels to Venice as Milly’s companion to have all she desires. Beautiful locations and morals turned to dust proliferate.

    7) Comedian Harmonists-In the Germany of the late 20’s actor Harry Frommerman is inspired by black American vocalists to found a six-person act of musicians named The Comedian Harmonists who become one of the most popular musical groups in 30’s Germany. They enjoy years of success but when the Third Reich begins to rise to power their futures are imperiled since half the members are Jewish.

    8) Fools Rush In-Rising real estate developer Alex Whitman (Matthew Perry) meets and has a one night stand with Isabel Fuentes (Salma Hayek) when he’s in Las Vegas for a new project. Three months later Isabel appears and informs him that she’s pregnant and they impulsively marry. But the mix of cultures is a rocky one and the road to happiness is paved with many bumps.

    9) Wag the Dog-The US President finds himself enmeshed in a sex scandal two weeks before the election so he turns to his adviser Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) for help. She hires spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) who with the help of Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) decide to concoct a fake war in Albania to draw attention away but the ruse leads to many unexpected obstacles.

    10) Liar Liar-Successful lawyer Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) is a star in the courtroom but a major flim-flam man. His shifty ways and unreliability has cost him his marriage and he often disappoints his son Max (Justin Cooper). Max makes a wish that Fletcher would stop lying for 24 hours and when it comes true Fletcher finds himself in all kinds of predicaments. A great showcase for Carrey’s antics without him being a total moron.

    Runner-Ups-Afterglow, Breakdown, Contact, The Edge, The Game, Jackie Brown, Kiss Me Guido, The Matchmaker, Men in Black, Mrs. Brown, Titanic (surprised this wasn’t somewhere in your lists, the first part is insipid despite good work by Kate Winslet, Gloria Stuart and Frances Fisher but once the ship hits the berg it’s quite enthralling.)

    1. Yup, love Liar Liar. Of the rest, I've only seen bits of Fools Rush In. The one I really want to see is Wag the Dog. I plan on getting to that sooner rather than later. Of your runner-ups I haven't seen Afterglow, Breakdown, Contact, Kiss Me Guido, The Matchmaker, or Mrs. Brown. I like The Edge well enough. I need to rewatch The Game and, of course, I love Jackie Brown.

      As for Titanic, it's great for one hour, the last hour, but it's 3 1/2 hours long. Can't include that.

  7. Scream 2 - love it! Another great list, really enjoy how you give praise to movies that don't get talked about enough.