The Year In Film: 1997

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-1997 was a deceptively great year for everything. Music was in a good place. Television was mostly in a good place. However, most of all, 1997 was a solid year for movies. The film world was coming off of a solid run overall for the last 3 years and 1997 wasn't going to slow down the success and quality of movies. Well, at least not slow it down too much. As with every year, there were some films that didn't hit the mark or were a bit overrated, but there weren't that important. Except one. Yes, you guessed it. I'm starting off this article with a negative opinion about the biggest movie of the year. The long winded, the overly hokey, and absolutely absurd Titanic. While many would call this movie a classic or a true love story, it's really one of the worst movies I've ever seen. I've never watched in all the way through in one sitting and I never will. I've seen it in bits and pieces and it just doesn't do anything for me as a viewer. At 3 hours and 15 minutes long, the movie advances at the pace of King's Syrup out of an old bottle and it's just boring. Yes, I said it and I meant it. Titanic was boring. It was not an enjoyable watch overall, and if I never saw this movie or pieces of it again, I think I would be just fine. However, despite the horrible Titanic being my pick for worst movie of the year, it wasn't the only film that missed the mark on the year.

As I said, 1997 was a good year in film, but there were some films that just didn't work, as always every year. The 2nd worst film this year to me had to be the worst Batman movie of them all, Batman and Robin. There's so much that can be said about this movie. None of it is good. Batman and Robin could have worked but the casting and direction of the entire film was just all wrong and as a result, we got this result. Other movies like the ridiculous G.I. Jane (this movie sucks), the misguided George Of The Jungle, Mimic, Chasing Amy, Speed 2, and the hilarious yet cheesy horror film I Know What You Did Last Summer all debuted this year. While there were some middle of the road films like Con Air, Amistad, and Air Force One, for the most part, the year was filled with enjoyable or engaging films that connected with their intended audience. That's what I remember the most about the films of 1997, but I'll save my opinion on the good films of the year for the outro. It'll be interesting to hear from the rest of the team and see what they feel about the films of this year. Let's get into it.

The worse the movie releases get currently the more past years stand out and 1997 was one of those years. This was a year with dozens of exceptional films, so much so that I won’t be able to cover all my favorites but here are a few of my picks!

First, I have to talk Donnie Brasco. I’m a huge fan of mobster flicks, so for me Donnie Brasco was my most favorite movie of 1997. I think what resonated with me the most with this was that it was based off a true story. The writers and directors and of course the cast did an exceptional job of keeping the realism intact and not exaggerating too much. The story takes us through the hierarchy of the mob, the lengths the FBI will go through to infiltrate the organization and of course we learn the difference between “he’s a friend of mine” and “he’s a friend of ours”, “It’s a Fugazi” and of course “Forget about it”!! Al Pacino is exceptional in his portrayal of “Lefty” and Johnny Depp did a fantastic job of playing his role. What I like most about movies like this is that they show how the organized crime rings always have the same end of either imprisonment or death. This was an Oscar worthy performance from Pacino (of course) and the story was informative and entertaining with a ton of quotable lines.

I have to mention Face/Off. For someone who is not a fan of Nicholas Cage, his movies show up on my top lists often. Go figure! FaceOff is an interesting movie and the storyline is incredibly unique and both Cage and Travolta were exceptional for these roles. I think what makes this movie so appealing is that a cop switching his face and voice with that of your criminal enemy was so over-the-top in changing identities, that it was engaging for audiences. It also showed how versatile Cage and Travolta are as actors because they not only establish their characters personalities in a short time before “the switch” happens, but they take on each others’ personalities so accurately. This movie had a strong story, a strong cast and was packed with action scenes that kept audiences engaged the whole way through. I liked that along with the opposition of good and bad in the characters, there was also stories of both love and hate to go along.  Face/Off proved that John Woo was the perfect director for a project like this.

Of course, when talking 1997, I have to mention Soul Food. I love everything about this movie from storyline and characters to cast and soundtrack. It’s told through the perspective of Big Mama’s grandson who introduces us to each key player/character and their issues and stories. The closeness and realness of family is well executed and very relatable. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions when Big Mama falls ill, while the family is falling apart but her hopes are that everyone just get along and remain close. Her grandson takes it upon himself to make sure that happens when he visits her at the hospital and seems to (telepathically) communicate with her. Soul Food takes us on a whirlwind of emotions from anger and joy to happiness and sadness, sometimes making us feel like we are intruding on a real-life family. This was a very well done film and one that can be watched over and over again.

Another noteworthy film to me was Gattaca. I remember watching this movie and having a hard time wrapping my brain around the technological advancements and systematic control this movie portrayed. As the years passed and the world has made leaps in this direction, I have found myself thinking of this movie often and how close we are to this. For those who haven’t seen it, they definitely should. This is about engineering babies so they grow up to be nearly flawless which is the route most parents take to secure a successful future for their children (in the film the non-engineered people are considered “invalid” or “god babies”). Invalids are destined to be minimum wage earners doing the lower end and labor jobs. This story focuses on two brothers, as one is engineered and one is not. They compete as kids in every way physically and we see very quickly that Ethan Hawk’s character is clearly struggling and has a ton of health problems at the age of 30. His dream is to work at NASA but through urine samples and DNA tests they make sure they only employ engineered people to guarantee ability. It’s a little frustrating to watch this because of how divided people are and how poorly some are treated, however there is an element of hope that is also weaved in. This is another great movie from this year and one that should be revisited a few times.

Next up is Good Will Hunting. Robin Williams and Matt Damon are fantastic in this film and what’s even more impressive is that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote this movie before they even hit the big screen. The story has depth and is impressive to say the least. Will is the character you love and hate at the same time. He’s got an arrogance and attitude that is annoying but when we get to know more about his background we learn that he’s quite troubled and had a tough upbringing. But he’s a genius!! I love that he’s a janitor at one of the most prestigious universities in the world and leaves professors and students dumbfounded when he solves the most complicated math problems. I also like that everything with Will’s character is consistent, as he’s an asshole in every aspect, whether in his romantic relationship, with his friends and he starts off that way with his therapist but then develops a bond and friendship that is profound. I also like the relationship he has with his friends, and I guess they are like any group of guys. They are not overly warm and kind but always encouraging and dependable in their own way. I think what made this movie so well received was the relatability. Every character seemed to be so real and believable, you almost forgot this was a movie. At the time of release there wasn’t anything quite like it and that made the movie stand out.

Those are the top picks for me although I did also love Jackie Brown, Selena, The Fifth Element, Men In Black, Hoodlum and The Devil’s Advocate which all had such different elements that made them so good, whether it was the sci-fi factor or that of a biography or a story that was just packed with twists, all of them worked to make 1997 a great year for film.

1997 had some interesting films. The first I have to talk about is I Know What You Did Last Summer. A group of rowdy partying friends hit an old man and run thinking it would just go away but he comes back for his revenge. I definitely loved this film because I was very much into the slasher films during that era. Naturally, Scream 2 was a must see also for me. I enjoyed that as well.

Spawn was about a man who dies and can return to earth as a demon to lead an evil army but decides to stay a force of good and fights an evil clown. I thought it was a good movie. The special effects were great for me and I always wanted a sequel. Honestly, I felt that Anaconda was good. It was not the first snake film but it was definitely the one to take that genre to the next level. Ice Cube and Jennifer Lopez were in this, but that wasn't the biggest movie of the year for Jennifer. Selena was the movie that put J-Lo on the map. I never knew of Selena before this film honestly. It was such a sad true story.

Titanic..... I can't believe I sat through this movie, but honestly I thought it was good. It was a huge step for Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. This was another true story that I imagine was way worse than its depiction on screen. Soul Food is a hood classic to me. The movie hit home for so many black people because it is so relatable in many ways. It also had the track "A Song For Mama" by Boyz ll Men, which was a classic. This year was ruled by so many extraterrestrial/unknown creature and science fiction films that were good such as these movies:

Starship Troopers
Men In Black
The Fifth Element
Alien Resurrection
Event Horizon

All in all, 1997 was a solid year for film.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-Okay, so before I get into the movies I enjoyed or at least tolerated, I have to mention one more film I forget that was horrible. Now, everyone who knows me, they know I'm a huge fan of Eddie Murphy and his comedy. I mean, for me, aside from Chappelle, Eddie is the greatest. That's why his film released this year is almost as bad as Titanic. The film in question? Metro. First off, the hairstyle he wears in the film is ridiculous. Secondly, the movie is just awful. There's not a single saving grace about this movie. Eddie only had one film in 1997 and for some reason, THIS was the one he chose to go with. It was a foreshadowing in a way of the horrible decisions he would make later in his career with films. However, that's enough discussion of the bad movies. Let's talk something else.

So, there's three categories at the moment that I have for the movies of 1997: enjoyable, classics, and very good. The difference between the enjoyable and the very good categories? The enjoyable films are probably not that great to others, and were widely panned (wrongfully), but to me, these movies were solid enough to net another watch or two. Essentially, the enjoyable category features many guilty pleasure films. Which movies fit into the enjoyable category? I would include the John Travolta and Nicolas Cage film Faceoff as well as the outlandish and ridiculous yet entertaining B.A.P.S. with Halle Berry, which had enough comedy to keep me interested. I'm not a horror fanatic or fan, but I will admit I actually found Scream 2 to be enjoyable and entertaining. It's the best movie of the entire series honestly. Another enjoyable film on the year was the start of the comedic franchise, Austin Powers. Mike Myers is actually pretty funny as the international spy in this one, even though the humor is a bit of an acquired taste.

For my enjoyable category, there are four more choices that I have, and one of them is my one of my favorite comedies of the 90s, Liar Liar. While many seem to dislike Jim Carrey, I've always been a fan of his and the work that he did earlier in his career. This movie had a funny premise and the physical comedy was actually pretty hilarious throughout the film and I can actually still watch it today. Another film in my enjoyable pile of choices is the Def Jam film, How To Be A Player. Starring Bill Bellamy and a host of beautiful women like Lark Voorhies and the underrated Mari Morrow, this  film was ridiculous, but still funny. I don't watch it often, but I find myself laughing every time it comes on TV. My third and next to last choice for the enjoyable films of the year is the Martin Lawrence and Tim Robbins movie, Nothing To Lose. I was late to the party on this movie, but I'm glad I eventually got to watch it in full and enjoy it. Martin is the true star in this film, and he is hilarious throughout every minute of the movie. Tim Robbins is good as usual in his role, and his comedic side is shown here, which tends to work very well alongside Martin. My last choice in the enjoyable pile is a James Bond movie that isn't widely recognized as one of the best in the series, Tomorrow Never Dies. I thought it was a lot of fun to watch and the 007 action rarely disappoints and this was no different.

As far as the very good films, I place movies like the sinister but interesting "The Devil's Advocate" in this collection, due to great performances from Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. Another film that fits into this category would be Eve's Bayou, a darker black film with Louisiana roots and a ton of interesting scenarios. While I think some elements of the movie were a bit too much, for the most part, Eve's Bayou was a very good watch and an intriguing film with standout performances. Another film that fits that criteria is the tough to watch Rosewood, which isn't my favorite movie by any stretch based on the racial tensions it's fueled by, but it's actually a good movie. The subject matter and topic of the film actually helps to make it that much more intriguing and while it's tough to look at some of the scenes, that's part of the allure to it. I would also like to make a mention of two films that were important to my childhood for different reasons, Men In Black and Soul Food. Both fit comfortably in the very good category, as I don't think either film is a true classic. Quality wise, that's probably debatable depending on who you ask, but for me, they just fell short of being classics, but that takes nothing away from either movie. They are both great watches and I would recommend them to anyone who hasn't somehow seen them yet.

As for the classics of the year, this is subjective of course. However, one of the most popular films of the year in the black community and one of the most popular black films in general is Love Jones. I was never that into the movie at first, but once I sat down and watched it in full, I saw the appeal. The story of Darius and Nina resonates even if it isn't entirely realistic, but that's the beauty of film. It can mimic reality or provide a fantasy world and pieces of it will always resonate with the viewer. That occurred here with Love Jones. Another classic for me, and I'm sure many people will disagree is the Chris Tucker and Charlie Sheen comedy, Money Talks. I'll admit. It's not the best film in terms of what wins awards and the plot is a bit unbelievable. Still, that doesn't make much of a difference here. Chris Tucker carries this movie and is hilarious from start to finish and the jail scene with Faizon Love and Chris is iconic. I was bound to have a generic classic on my list, and that would have to be Good Will Hunting, which is actually a very well put together movie, IMO. It's a universally loved movie and an award winner, but it is actually deserving of the accolades it received.

The last classics on the year for me are rooted in similar elements. Aside from the biopic for the beautiful Selena, which changed the life of Jennifer Lopez, my final three choices are rooted in the crime world. Donnie Brasco, Jackie Brown, and Hoodlum are all great movies with high quality cinematography, great performances, a solid premise, and a fair share of violence to make it exciting to the average viewer. Each film has a uniqueness to it, and Hoodlum is a movie I can watch over and over again, mostly due to the magnificent performance of Laurence Fishburne. So, there you have it. 1997 in film. Some ups, some downs, some horrible movies, some good movies, and some classics, but all in all, I think 1997 was a good year all around, and I wasn't disappointed by the films of the year.



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