1998 Year In Review
Best Films of 1998
Call 1998 the year of the studio. In 1996, independent films reigned supreme, and took the Oscars by storm, with only one major studio film getting nomination (Jerry Maguire). In 1998, the tables have turned, as very few independent films were actually good. There was the excellent Sliding Doors, a romantic comedy starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and there was a superbly crafted drama Hilary and Jackie, which had the best performance by an actress this year. But what were the best films of 1998? It was a hard thing to select, as there were quite a few films that fit the description of Best Film of the year. My best film of the year came during the Titanic crossover. As moviegoers flocked to see the sinking ship on February 20, 1998, I flocked to a local theater where I was presented with what I consider to be the greatest film of its kind ever produced. No horror film was scarier, no drama film was more impacting, and no action film was more intense. It was a perfect film (despite the noticeable technical flaws midway through the movie).
Of course, I couldn't be sure I had seen the best film of the year back in February, so I decided to hold back judgment. Films came and went, many good ones, some bad. But none were as brilliant. Then I saw Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer which is the year's most beautifully filmed film. A sucker for cinematography, I fell in love, revelling in the imagery with giddiness. While David Fincher hadn't released a motion picture (my all-time favorite director), I was at least satisfied for beautiful images with Redford's better-than-the-book adaption of the novel of the same name. But that wasn't all. Later on, I got incredible, visually-rich films such as What Dreams May Come and Mulan. Even The Avengers managed to be beautiful (thus proving that beautiful films can achieve awfulness). Blade is a richly textured comic-book film that maintains its tone and style throughout. Pleasantville was a masterpiece of color and storytelling, combining a light comedy with a serious racially-charged drama. Then came along Saving Private Ryan, a gut-wrenching story of the graphic brutality of war. The opening 25-minute scene has become a classic already, showing with unrelentless realism the horrors of the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. Unfortunately, the initial shock wears off, and the power of the film can be ruined by its thin plotting. But as shocking as that film was, nothing prepared me for Babe: Pig in the City which I knew I would hate. I just knew deep down inside that I would not like it. Attending the sneak preview with hordes of children and parents, I sat back, groaning quietly to myself. The film ran its course, and I sat up afterwards with a big, childlike grin on my face. I had just seen one of the best films of the year.
Worst Films of 1998
No year goes without bad films, and 1998 is not an exception. In fact, 1998 has some of the worst films on record. When can you remember seeing such tepidity as The Avengers? Perhaps 1997's Batman & Robin? Maybe, but I would probably be safe to say that both films are exactly the same: big, loud, and very stupid. Both were produced by Warner Brothers, which has had the worst year for a studio this year. Month after month, the studio produced bomb after bomb, giving audiences a taste of what a truly bad film is. Even some of their good ones were ruined by marketing, and audiences did not see them. Meg Ryan is Warner Brothers sole savior, giving the studio two hits at opposite ends of the year. Despite these, Warner Brothers had the forgettable Tarzan and the Lost City, Major League 3, and Soldier. Not to mention the financial flops The Avengers and Sphere. The only other film to come close was Universal Pictures, which also had a very bad year at the box office.
Overrated Films of 1998
The most overrated film of the year came easily to me, as I had heard virtually every critic raving about it. Then I saw it, became repulsed more than entertained, and felt that my money was very poorly spent. Happiness has received kudos from critic to critic, and yet I found it to be a flat and poorly told story. There wasn't one single character you could care for, thus resulting in the same problem that plagued Neil LaBute's also overrated Your Friends and Neighbors. Mimi Leder's Deep Impact was an overrated mess of a film which relied too much on cheap human drama, thus giving us almost no characters to actually care for. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was overrated, despite getting very negative reviews. A Bug's Life was nowhere near as witty, charming, or thematically sound as the Woody Allen flick Antz. David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner was occasionally good, but was virtually destroyed by the wooden performance from Rebecca Pigeon, Mamet's wife. Mamet... leave your family out of your films. Sadly, John Sayles' Men With Guns was a big letdown after his fantastic Lone Star. Hopefully he'll do better next time. And who could forget the funny but surprisingly boring comedy There's Something About Mary. What a letdown.
Underrated Films of 1998
Where do I begin? I could give a list, but it would go on forever. The big-budget film Godzilla was far more entertaining than many critics said it was. It created a monster that was sympathetic, thus making it difficult to choose who to root for. Snake Eyes was Brian DePalma's suspenseful and technically brilliant Hitchcockian thriller that no one liked. The opening 20-minute uncut sequence is enough for me to recommend it, but having the voluptuous Carla Gugino on hand doesn't hurt anything either. Species II was by far one of the most entertaining films, the same way Wild Things was. It was trashy, fun, and surprisingly better than the original. Sphere had an all-star cast and was very frightening with a creepy psychological story. Certainly no where near as good as the book, Sphere does manage to produce some nerve-jangling moments. Gus Van Sant's Psycho was a worthy homage to Hitchcock, creating a shot-for-shot replica. Surprisingly, it is quite suspenseful, but the film is best viewed as an invaluable experiment in film. DreamWorks' Paulie was a charming and delightful family film that got lost due to bad advertisement. Nightwatch was an intensely scary film that delved into the fear of being alone in the dark. The use of silence was virtually deafening.
A Perfect Murder was another Hitchcock remake that actually improved on Hitch's original. While Dial M for Murder is a fantastic film, A Perfect Murder was creepier and edgier, with better performances from the cast. Jack Frost was Warner Brothers contribution to the family film genre, and they succeeded in an area where many Disney films fail. Dark City received many criticisms against its style, one going even so far as to say "it could have benefitted from a few lights." Obviously that critic thought he was attending Light City. Dr. Dolittle was surprisingly good, though it still suffered from the Disney syndrome. Disturbing Behavior was a taut and tense film with good performances from the cast. But the most underrated film of the entire year goes to Bride of Chucky which was one of the most entertaining comedies I have ever seen this decade. That's right... comedy. If anyone thought it was supposed to be a horror film, think again. It's a hilarious spoof of the Chucky series.