8. L.A. Confidential (dir. Curtis Hansen)
Based on James Ellroy’s novel, this neo-noir takes place in 1950s Los Angeles, in which three, mostly unrelated police officers try to solve the Night Owl murders. Bombing upon release, “L.A. Confidential” is a great detective thriller that gives the usually inexpensive noir film a decent budget. The period elements are wonderfully realized on screen.
With a stellar cast, the film also does something interesting by offering three different types of police officers. Guy Pearce plays the straight-laced, uncorrupted cop struggling against his father’s legacy. Russell Crowe plays the bruiser of an officer, willing to get his hands dirty to get far. Kevin Spacey plays the much older, corrupted officer who only cares about his image and the spotlight.
Kim Basinger is the femme fatale that puts our heroes in danger, and she’s great in the role. The supporting cast is great, and to name them would be tiring. With enough interesting twists and turns, “L.A. Confidential” is one of those films that garnered appreciation years later. If you haven’t seen it, definitely check this out.
7. Contact (dir. Robert Zemeckis)
“Contact” is an intimate film about finding the answers to the universe. It’s a film that’s been referred to as the movie that pits science against religion until “Interstellar” took that concept and simply ran with it. The comparisons are valid, but “Contact” is simply a incredibly well made drama. It’s gorgeously shot, and the acting is fantastic.
While some of the technology might look and feel dated, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. It even has that amazing mirror shot that remained a mystery years. I’m not a scientist, but a lot of the great response for this film largely had to do with the filmmakers mostly nailing the science.
Yet, what works is how they take the characters research and mission and tie it directly to the characters—who themselves are representative of a larger concept. Based on the reviews, I’m guessing Carl Sagan fans really adored this film (never had the pleasure of reading Sagan).
The duality between science and religion is especially evident as represented by the characters of Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey. Where this films ends up is quite interesting, and I can understand it angering some fans, but in my opinion, “Contact” is better because of it.
6. Event Horizon (dir. Paul W.S. Anderson)
As a kid, late one evening, I turned on the movie channel and caught this as it was starting, mainly thinking it was “Soldier,” starring Kurt Russell. What I never expected was to see an insanely fun and terrifying sci-fi film. The premise resembles the first two “Alien” films in setup, in which a rescue ship responds to the distress of another, only to uncover something horrific waiting for them at their destination.
Not wholly original and far from perfect, “Event Horizon” still has a lot going for it. For starters, Sam Neil is excellent as the ship’s doctor who undergoes a character transformation that’s both awesome and the acting highlight of the film. While the rest of the cast is great, Sam Neil steals the show. The cinematography is fantastic, and some of the shots within “Event Horizon” are hauntingly beautiful.
The film plays with expectation, and while the body count does stack up nearing the finale, how it all resolves is quite interesting. “Event Horizon” is an underrated film that seems to get more love overtime. It’s a shame that Paul W.S. Anderson is too busy making films with his wife to attempt something as interesting as this or his “Death Race” remake.
5. Princess Mononoke (dir. Hayao Miyazaki)
When a young warrior becomes cursed during a battle against an infected boar, he sets out to the forests to find a cure, only to be embroiled in a conflict between the miners and the forest gods. Fans of anime features have most likely seen this film, as it’s become of those essential titles that fit well with films such as “Akira.”
Combining elements of Japan’s past, myth, and folklore, “Princess Mononoke” is an imaginative passion-project by the great Miyazaki. While he makes movies geared primarily toward children, “Princess Mononoke” is surprisingly mature in both story and content.
When the film isn’t acting as an allegory of humans affecting nature, it’s providing some of the most shockingly violent sequences animated. The character development make it difficult to simply root for one person, providing nuance and personality to the characters introduced. Like most of his films, “Princess Mononoke” holds up quite well. While the I encourage people to check out all of his films in the native Japanese, Studio Ghibli dubs are actually not bad.
4. Jackie Brown (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Starring the superb Pam Grier, “Jackie Brown” is an Elmore Leonard novel mixed with the blaxsploitation genre done through the words of Tarantino. Grier provides the confidence and attitude to convince audiences that a lowly flight attendant can go up against loan sharks, gangsters, and the ATF. Even as a middle-aged woman, Grier still has a kick ass presence onscreen. It has an all-star cast with a soundtrack that features some of the best soul and funk from blaxsploitation’s finest.
The film is also a pretty interesting exercise in the use of space, with two sequences immediately coming to mind. Today, “Jackie Brown” has probably been seen by at least those who enjoy Tarantino’s films. Back then, “Jackie Brown” also had to contend against the large shadow casted by Tarantino’s breakthrough hit “Pulp Fiction.”
Still, fans of Tarantino who haven’t seen this film are highly encouraged to check it out. It has all the hallmarks of the director—stunt casting, great soundtrack, pop-culture-laden dialogue—but streamlined into a pretty straightforward heist film. “Jackie Brown” is a cool ass movie. Period.
3. Gattaca (dir. Andrew Niccol)
This debut sci-fi feature is about a future in which science and genetics are able to determine and individuals place in society. It’s an interesting concept that’s wonderfully realized visually by the filmmakers. The script is excellent, taking a personal story to inform the about the world and the film’s themes.
Niccol’s directs the film in which details matter, both literally and figuratively. His camera will be pulled back far enough to show the order this way of life has created, or push into extreme close-ups signify genetic samples such as hair, skin, or nail shed. The obsession with someone’s genetics are visually conveyed in interesting ways. I’m sure those who’ve seen this film will remember the pianist with extra fingers or the postmodern architecture—stuff like that works completely.
In addition to the great visuals, “Gattaca” has a fantastic score by Michael Nyman, easily one of the best cinematic composers. After going through this list, I’m shocked at how many great sci-fi films got released in 1997. It’s a shame that most of Niccol’s films following “Gattaca” haven’t achieved the heights of this particular title. “Lord of War” is pretty good.
2. Good Will Hunting (dir. Gus van Sant)
Gus Van Sant, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon made one of the best dramas about growing up in the past two decades. While all three men have gone off to make films that have made more money and awards than “Good Will Hunting,” the emotional impact left by this film is still better than most dramas in the past two decades.
Gus Van Sant’s naturalistic direction grounds the world and the characters, making the appearance and growth of Will Hunting feel believable. The script by Affleck and Damon is unique, sharp, and quite interesting—it begs the question why these two haven’t written another feature together.
However, what really makes this film special is Robin Williams. He plays the professor who acts as an emotional anchor/father figure to the genius yet troubled Will Hunting. Damon is great in the titular role, but Williams is the heart of the film. While the best screenwriting Oscar was a great win for these two guys from Jersey, it was much deserved win for Williams.
1. Boogie Nights (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
At the young-age of 27 (young for directors, at least), Paul Thomas Anderson released “Boogie Nights” to the world, pretty much telling aspiring filmmakers to give up completely. In all seriousness, “Boogie Nights” was a critical darling upon release and ended it’s run at the box-office making some decent money.
The energetic and lurid look into the Golden Age of Porn through the career of the fictitious Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) has been considered not only a 90s favorite by many people, but a modern classic by cinephiles alike. What hasn’t been said about this film already? It has an amazing cast—Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alfred Molina, etc.—that go above and beyond.
The disco and funk soundtrack—while cribbing from “Saturday Night Fever”—feature some of the era’s best tracks. There’s some great formal and stylistic choices to convey a sense of time, but also psychology with the characters. There are several memorable sequences, such as tracking shot through the club, or the intense coke deal at the end of the film.
“Boogie Nights” is simply a masterpiece. While Anderson’s recent films have been dividing audiences, “Boogie Nights” seems like a definitive winner by the director.