41 Movies For 41 Years: 1997

1997 is a tricky year because I saw so many things. Almost every movie that came out I watched in the theater because I was working at one and I no longer had to pay to see anything. The few that I didn’t see on the big screen I caught later on video. So, going back now and looking at all the stuff that I’ve seen from that year it’s really hard to pick out what was my favorite.

There were films that stunned me on the big screen that I still think are great like Titanic. There were things that I found amazing at the time that I’ve grown to have disdain for as I’ve grown older like The Lost World: Jurassic Park. But this isn’t about what my favorite move in 1997 was. This is about what I NOW consider to be my favorite movie from that year.

And just to address the elephant in the room…Yes, The Star Wars Special Editions came out that year. Yes, I did consider allowing them to be eligible because I feel like there were enough changes to them to consider them new films. Ultimately I chose not to include them on the list because I felt it would be unfair to some of the rest of the things that I could pick from.

So, in a year that brought us Men In Black, Air Force One, and My Best Friend’s Wedding…what did I pick?

As my list gets further into my adulthood it becomes harder because I watch so much. So, I have to pick based on rewatchability. What movie from 1997 have I rewatched more often?

Boogie Nights.

Paul Thomas Anderson directed this film that starred Mark Wahlberg, Julian Moore, Heather Graham, Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and John C. Reilly. It takes place in the 1970s and it’s about a dishwasher that gets recruited into the porn industry. The bible belt tightened when this hit theaters because here in the south when you say a movie is “about” porn it is automatically assumed to “be” porn. This movie is not porn. It’s not even really dirty. I mean, there are some sexual situations but this is more about the story of this one character.

Wahlberg plays Eddie Adams, a high school dropout that gets noticed by a pornographic filmmaker and recruited into making a few films for him. He eventually becomes a big star. The thing about this movie is that it’s essentially the same plot that you’ve seen a thousand times in stories about the music and film industry. Someone is pulled from obscurity and turned into a big star and then they have a fall from grace. The way Anderson wove us into this world was fantastic. It’s Eddie’s story, but that’s not the only character we follow. We get to know so many other characters.

We meet Rollergirl (Graham) who has become a film star out of her need for a family. Jack Horner (Reynolds), the famous film director who finds himself having to reinvent himself because of a changing industry. Maggie (Moore) who is clinging on to her fame because her actual life is in shambles. I could list every character one by one, and no matter how small the role was there was something there for us to care about. And Anderson picked the perfect people to play those parts. Every actor in the film gives an amazing performance, especially Burn Reynolds who won an Academy Award that year.

Wahlberg cemented his place in Hollywood with this film. Until then he'd been known mainly for strutting on stage in his tighty-whities as the lead singer of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. He'd done a couple of film before this. Most notably was the thriller Fear from the year before. But he gave such a great performance in this film, showcasing his ability to play anything from a bashful kid that doesn't know much about the world to a coked out mega star. It leaves little wonder why he's one of Hollywood's A-List actors two decades later.

So, yeah…a lot of stuff came out in 1997. Some of it was good like Air Force One. Some it was…Batman and Robin. But if I forget about the stuff that I just had a good time watching 21 years ago and actually think about what films had I carried with me as my life has moved on then I would definitely have to add Boogie Nights to that list.

41 Movies For 41 Years: 1996

Wow I got behind. I started this project when I was 39 in hopes of finishing it on the week of my 40th birthday. I turn 41 next week. Oh, well…onward…

My favorite film of 1996 was not my favorite film in 1996. At that time I was a young man fresh out of high school. I was taking a few college classes but mostly I was working a lot and spending a lot of time reading and watching movies. I must have gone to the movies two or three times a week that year. I was really into action and fantasy films at that point. That year I remember going to see movies like Mission: Impossible, The Rock, and Dragonheart.

But a kid of 19 doesn’t know a lot about movies. I liked to think that I had a different taste in film than most people my age. I was into Star Wars like everyone else, but I also counted films like The Maltese Falcon to be among my favorite.

As I got older I really started to look beyond the screen when I picked out a movie. I started to see films for more than just what they were about or what actors were in them. I began to pay attention to who the writers were and especially who the director was. I started to realize that who directed a film was just as important, if not more so, as the actors and actresses.

So I started re-watching some classics like Psycho and The Birds paying special attention to how Hitchcock constructed his works. I made it a point to go see every film that Quentin Tarantino took part in, from Pulp Fiction to Four Rooms. And I absolutely fell in love with the works of the Coen Brothers.

Joel and Ethan Coen are a  couple of guys that direct the majority of their projects as a team. They direct the movies equally, but some weird rules make it difficult to give the directing credit to two people so usually one of them is listed as director while the other is listed as executive producer. By 1996 they had already directed a few movies that I really love like Raising Arizona and Barton Fink. They were films that I had seen but didn’t associate them as being a part of each other. But in my early twenties I saw a film that came out in 1996 that put me on a path to call myself a Coen Brothers completest.

That film was Fargo, starring William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, and Steve Buscemi among others.

Set in the great white northern town of Fargo, North Dakota, this movie is a perfect blend of comedy, drama, suspense, and mystery. At its core it is a murder mystery with a twist…it’s not a mystery to us. We know who the killer is from the beginning. The fun is in watching the lengths that he’ll go to not to get caught, and the resilience of a small town cop that goes the extra mile to catch him.
I think that my love for the noir genre of film from yesteryear may have contributed to my love of this. There are definitely a lot of aspects of that. The story relies a lot more on the characters and the dialog than the action. And the actors that they picked for those roles went a long way toward nailing me down.

I knew Steve Buscemi from other things like Resevoir Dogs. As a matter of fact, the fact that he was in the film may have been the reason that I decided to watch it in the first place. So, I guess I can thank him for putting me on the scent of a bunch of movies that I’ve loved ever since.
I had never seen Francis McDormand before this. But her performance was fantastic. Only the Coen brothers would make a murder mystery where the main cop character is not only a woman…but in the last trimester of pregnancy! She knocked it out of the park. I’ve never doubted her since. When I saw her collecting that statue earlier this year for her performance in Three Billboards I wasn’t surprised.

William H. Macy was another one that I didn’t know much about. I had seen him in some TV roles before this, but nothing that really stood out to me. His performance in this movie as well as Boogie Nights from a couple of years later are the gold standard that I compare him to. That may not be fair to him but I know from those two films what he is capable of…a lot.

This movie is regarded as a classic among many. They turned it into a TV series a couple of years ago and it has become one of my favorites as well. Especially the first season because it was almost a retelling of the story that was told here but updated and kind of a sequel as well. If you’ve never seen Fargo on FX I urge you to go and check it out.

But…go watch the movie first. I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it but there’s a good chance that you will since it’s my favorite movie of 1996.

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