|by Chef ADogg
Well, it looks like that time of the year again--the period in which the floodgates open and we're greeted by a terrific onslaught of critical lists. Everybody and their mother has their picks for the top ten movies of the year--everybody, that is, except me. I sat down the other day with a pen, a pad, and the yearning to make sense of this year’s cinematic output and organize all the movies I had seen into a definitive list. It didn't take long before I realized it just wasn't coming--how am I supposed to name the ten greatest films of the year when I haven't even seen ten *good* ones? So I've opted to make this a list of ten films I thought were notable--the good, the bad, and the positively godawful. Here we go.
AMERICAN BEAUTY - What list would be complete without this, Sam Mendez's feature film debut? "American Beauty" may rank a little bit below masterpiece, but it's a luscious exercise in popcorn pathos nonetheless. The sexually frustrated dad, the plastic-bag-obsessed pot dealer next door, and the underage naked chick with enormous jugs--all interesting, to be sure, but not quite on the realism tip. Combine these less-than-winning ingredients with a plethora of cheap jokes and an ending stuffed with more cheese than a mozzarella stick, and you've got yourself an amusing made for TV movie. But if you throw in Mendez's eye for composition, and the striking visuals that result, it becomes a strangely heartwarming car crash you don't want to look away from. An odd, mind boggling treat. You just have to wonder who greenlighted it.
END OF DAYS - So it's not a great movie. The acting is lame, the story rings false, and the one liners fall flat like so many plummeting pancakes. It still fucking rocks, and anyone who says otherwise needs to loosen their belt. All you high-minded people who walked in expecting “Dangerous Liasions” and bitched when you felt cheated--lighten up. It still brings a smile to my face to think of big, bad Arnold Schwarzenegger crying and then getting the living shit beat out of him by an old lady with a bad perm. The most fun I had at the movies all year.
THREE KINGS - The second half of the film may have devolved into a preachy sermon about a dead subject, but the first hour was magical, inspired filmmaking. George Clooney gives his first great performance as a disillusioned soldier who takes command of a treasure hunt in foreign lands. Joining him are Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze, all of whom look like they're finally going to get some of the respect they deserve. The funniest movie ever made about the Gulf War.
DOGMA - Shame on Kevin Smith for making a movie that celebrates religion in a blasphemous manner but lacks even the slightest sense of fun. It's like "MallRats," if you slap devil horns on Brody and make the topless fortune teller the mother of all creation. Limp, lifeless, and lightweight--once the controversy dies down and the God-fearing public has gone back to kneeing Marilyn Manson in the nuts, everybody's gonna forget about this one and watch "Clerks" again.
THE MATRIX - "End of Days" with hair gel, black leather, and better cinematography. If you can get past the hokiness, you'll have a helluva lot of fun. It's a shame that the white fanboys out there have based their latest cult meeting around this movie; they dampen the effect of Larry and Andy Wachowski's achievement by making it out to be a major cinematic masterpiece when it's really just a jacked up thrill ride. Not that there's anything wrong with jacked up thrill rides, and this one is superior in almost every respect. The Wachowksi brothers come equipped with a punchy script, a neat cast (especially Carrie Ann Moss--she can perform that slo-mo mojo on me any day of the week), and some genuinely exciting action sequences. Special note: Make the DVD a priority. It's positively rockass.
RUSHMORE - Technically, this one was released in 1998--it got a limited run in a few major cities to make Oscar's deadline. The rest of us got to see it in February, and it was worth the wait. My personal favorite of the decade, if not all time. At first glimpse, the acting is the whole show; look closer and you'll see just how vivid a filmmaker Wes Anderson his. He has an eye for compositions, making every shot a frame-worthy work of art. But, back to the cast-- pitch perfect, all of them. Jason Schwartzman makes a doozy of a debut here, infusing geeky overachiever Max Fischer with heart, passion, and just enough sweet naiveté to make him lovable. Bill Murray is every bit his match; he plays a depressed steel tycoon who doesn't know what he's looking for but searches nonetheless. Watching him fall helplessly, childishly in love with Olivia Williams was the year's most touching sight.
THE HAUNTING - The most godawful spectacle I've ever seen. "The Haunting" is a lethargic, lumbering turd on two legs; Jan DeBont filmed it and then surgically removed all fun, zip, and spark. Lili Taylor goes wimpy to collect a bigger paycheck than she ever made doing indies; Owen Wilson embarrasses himself (again); Catherine Zeta Jones entertains with her prodigious cleavage; and Liam Neeson obviously mistakes the film as a parody. But the quality of the performances isn't really an issue at all--they all get lost in the drowsy special effects shuffle. De Bont sits in the background with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and "Joel Schumacher's Filmmaking For Dummies" in the other, cackling softly at the silly Americans who will eventually fork over criminally large amounts of cash to watch this crude slop. Gives new meaning to the word pathetic.
DEUCE BIGALOW : MALE GIGOLO - The funniest movie ever made! Okay, not really, but it was entertainment. Rob Schneider does Sweet and Doofy much better than Adam Sandler ever could, and has a good chance of carving out a commercially viable niche in the dumb comedy department. Eddie Griffin shines brightly as TJ the "male madam," who becomes Deuce's he-pimp (and friend!); skinny, bucktoothed, and energetic, he plays off Schneider's heavy-lidded Walter Matthau like Jack Lemmon fresh out on bail, copy of “It Takes A Nation to Hold Us Back” in hand. Probably the funniest movie I've seen this year (though the poopy jokes seem a bit tame after "There's Something About Mary").
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT - Now's the time to go back and watch it again, minus the crowds and silly hype. In the theater, it was something of a disappointment--the kind of movie that makes you scratch your head and wonder just where your eight dollars went. In your living room, it's a spooky, effective shocker that works like “Spinal Tap” meets "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." It breaks down walls, drags you inside the story, and then scares you like Pierce Brosnan having car trouble in Compton. Spot-on.
SOUTH PARK : BIGGER, LONGER, AND UNCUT - So much more than the TV show with gratuitous profanity. It's a bright satire of everything that's wrong with America; it's also damn funny. A boon? Trey Parker and Matt Stone never hesitate to take the low road, making their film widely accessible. That this didn't become the blockbuster of the summer is a sad statement on our culture; we may have lost the ability to laugh at our own stupidity--the very thing that makes us Americans.
That’s it! That’s my take on the year in cinema. The HBS Prayer Group will meet later on to pray that the next one will be more bountiful (though, to be truthful, the situation doesn’t look good). Happy 2000, folks.
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originally posted: 12/28/99 18:36:03
last updated: 12/30/99 15:59:47