Thursday, December 31, 2015

Where Were You in ’96?

by ScottDS

I’ve decided to jump ahead 10 years, so let us look back [gulp] 20 years at 1996. I was a 13-year old socially-awkward nerd (hard to believe, I know) and this was the first year I started going to movies with school friends and not parents, so it will always hold a special place for me. As per usual, the list leans towards genre stuff.

Independence Day – The big one. Back when Roland Emmerich could direct a watchable film. Back when a teaser could play in theaters and not be dissected within minutes. I’m still a fan of this movie. It’s just fun and goofy and ridiculous and some of the effects have dated… but it’s likeable and genuinely exciting. And David Arnold’s bombastic score is a treat. One wishes all this could be said about Emmerich’s 2012. Right now, an Independence Day sequel (sans Will Smith) is in post-production and I consider it a huge mistake. Nostalgia counts but this teaser doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. “All you need is love. John Lennon. Smart man. Shot in the back, very sad.”

Fargo – Would you believe I only saw this film for the first time this year? And that was after the excellent FX TV series! This critical darling is what I call “deceptively simple” – it’s a crime drama, but there’s enough homespun weirdness to make it unique. This is the Coen Brothers firing on all cylinders. William H. Macy plays (what else?) a sad sack who hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so he can extort his rich father-in-law. Frances McDormand plays a police officer who investigates a related homicide. The cold Midwest landscape is bleak and oppressive and Carter Burwell’s Norwegian folk-inspired score is downright depressing. “There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that?”

Twister – I thought this movie was awesome back in 1996. I recently watched parts of it and… yikes. Cheesy and clichéd and the otherwise talented Cary Elwes plays a mustache-twirling villain (you know, because tornadoes aren’t big enough?!). The film did have one of the great teasers (featuring that cool shot that wasn’t in the film) and ILM’s effects mostly kinda sorta hold up, but damn. I swear half the dialogue consists of “Run!” and “Go!” With Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg involved, you’d expect something a little, uh, better. On the plus side, however, this film was my first exposure to the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. “‘The Suck Zone.’ It's the point basically when the twister… sucks you up. That's not the technical term for it, obviously.”
Mission: Impossible – I’ll always have fond memories of this film, even if the plot was a little too labyrinthine. Brian de Palma directed what would be his highest-grossing, most crowd-pleasing film, and plenty of his trademark visual tricks are on display. Many criticized the film for making what was an ensemble TV show into a Tom Cruise showcase and many more criticized the film for turning series lead Jim Phelps into a villain. But for someone who had never seen the series, this movie was just a lot of fun, though the novelization helped to clear up some things. The CIA vault sequence is still a great case study in direction and the helicopter/Chunnel climax is ridiculous (and awesome!). “Good morning, Mr. Phelps.”

Star Trek: First Contact – Picard and Co. travel back in time to 2063 to stop the Borg from interfering with Earth’s first warp flight. Jonathan (Riker) Frakes made his big-screen directing debut and while he’s still a regular TV director, I wish a studio would give him another shot at the big chair. Alice Krige is silky and sexy as the Borg Queen and James Cromwell plays warp drive inventor Zefram Cochrane. The film is good but somewhat hampered by its low budget and I can’t disagree with fans who feel the studio-mandated Borg Queen was a mistake. The make-up effects are great, Jerry Goldsmith returned to do the music, and Deborah Everton's 21st century outfits are some of my favorite Trek costumes. (I love Cochrane’s ensemble!) “Believing oneself to be perfect is often the sign of a delusional mind.”

Jerry Maguire – Cameron Crowe’s critical and audience favorite features Tom Cruise as a super agent who one day has a moral epiphany, is subsequently fired, and is stuck with only one loyal client and one loving employee. The client is NFL star Rod Tidwell, the role for which Cuba Gooding Jr. won an Oscar – it’s a shame his subsequent career has had more downs than ups. Renée Zellweger plays Maguire’s employee/love interest and she's on the receiving end of the classic line “You complete me.” Sadly the last time she was in the news, it was because of her cosmetic surgery. Hell, even Cameron Crowe’s career has hit the skids. He did Almost Famous after this, which is considered a modern classic, and then Vanilla Sky… and nothing’s clicked since. “Twenty-four hours ago, man, I was hot! Now… I'm a cautionary tale.”
Mars Attacks! – This is one movie I wish I liked more than I did. Equal parts 50s B-movie and 70s disaster movie, Tim Burton’s all-star mess is based on a series of grotesque Topps trading cards: big-brained aliens attack Earth, Sarah Jessica Parker’s head is attached to the body of a Chihuahua, and the only way to kill the aliens is to blast Slim Whitman music. Jack Nicholson plays two roles, Rod Steiger plays a war-mongering general, and Tom Jones plays himself. How can I not like this movie!?! Because it’s honestly not that funny and I don’t really care about anyone… even Danny Elfman’s theremin-heavy score doesn’t do it for me here. After this film, Burton would go on to develop an ill-fated Superman movie which is the stuff of legend. “Ack! Ack! Ack!”

Daylight – This disaster movie from Rob Cohen is one of those movies I’ll keep on in the background. It’s not particularly good, but it’s still watchable. Sylvester Stallone is former EMT chief Kit Latura, the Only One Who Can Save the Day after an explosion seals of both ends of an unnamed New York/New Jersey tunnel. It’s clichéd and predictable and there’s some ham-handed backstory explaining why Stallone is no longer on the force. The cast includes Amy Brenneman as a playwright who’s sick of the city and Viggo Mortensen as an adrenaline junky (you can see where this is going). This was one of Stallone’s last big movies before he ended up in direct-to-video purgatory for a few years. If you’re claustrophobic, I’d avoid this one! “Okay, we're high and dry and out of danger. Now, what we don’t need is more surprises. Right?”
The English Patient – Proof that Best Picture doesn’t necessarily equate to longevity. I still haven’t seen it (one day!), but when was the last time you heard anyone talk about it? The actors are talented and it’s well-made from the bits and pieces I’ve seen, but Fargo got a TV series… where, may I ask, is The English Patient series? [smile] I would argue that this film is better known today for the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine resents everyone she knows telling her to go see it and she gets stuck seeing it… twice. And in case you were wondering, the film tells the story of a wounded pilot who, in the final days of WWII, tells the story of a fateful love affair to the nurse who’s tending to him. “Those sex scenes! I mean, please! Gimme something I can use!” (That was from the episode, not the film.)

Eraser – One of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last big headliners. He plays a Witness Protection agent who’s tasked with protecting a defense contractor employee (Vanessa Williams) after she finds out her crooked boss plans to sell the company’s new weapon on the black market… that old chestnut. There are a lot of familiar faces, including the much-missed James Coburn as Arnold’s boss, James Caan as Arnold’s mentor (and traitor), and the late Robert Pastorelli as one of Arnold’s previous witnesses who gets to help out. I haven’t seen the film in years but I remember some fun (if implausible) action sequences and some horrible CGI when Arnold comes face to face with a crocodile. “I didn't know treason was part of the corporate strategy.”
Hamlet – I first watched Kenneth Branagh’s 4-hour 70mm epic in high school and enjoyed it very much. Unlike previous adaptations, this one uses the complete text. The cast ranges from excellent to “Him?” Branagh plays Hamlet, the prince who seeks to avenge his father’s murder. Derek Jacobi is Claudius, Julie Christie is Gertrude, and Kate Winslet is Ophelia. Charlton Heston is the Player King, Brian “Gordon’s alive!” Blessed is the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Billy Crystal (!) is the First Gravedigger, Robin Williams (!!) is Osric, and Jack Lemon is sadly a bit out of his depth as Marcellus. Tech stuff is all top notch, as is the location work at Blenheim Palace. This film is truly an epic of the old school. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The Island of Dr. Moreau – Cult director Richard Stanley was fired from his passion project three days in and was replaced by John Frankenheimer. Val Kilmer was a temperamental ass, Marlon Brando was his eccentric self, and Mother Nature was a bitch. I recommend the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau – it features Stanley and others discussing what could’ve been. There were days where Kilmer wouldn’t leave his trailer until Brando left his, but Brando wouldn’t leave his trailer until Kilmer left his! Meanwhile, dozens of extras in strange animal makeup were sitting around with nothing to do. To be fair, Kilmer was dealing with his divorce and Brando was dealing with his daughter’s suicide. Stanley even managed to sneak back onto the set disguised as an animal extra. “I have seen the devil in my microscope, and I have chained him.”

The Long Kiss Goodnight – Honestly, I think this is Samuel L. Jackson’s most quotable movie. Geena Davis stars in one of her last big films as Samantha Caine, a housewife who finds out she was once a CIA assassin. Jackson is a PI who teams up with her to find the truth and Brian Cox does more in five minutes than most actors do in two hours as an eccentric doctor. Renny Harlin directs one of his last big movies and Shane Black writes one of his last big movies before bouncing back with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The plot involves a CIA false flag operation in which the agency would blow up Niagara Falls and place the blame on Islamic terrorists in order to get more funding – the stuff that truther dreams are made of. “…when you make an assumption, you make an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘umption’.”

Everyone Says I Love You – A charming Woody Allen musical. All of the actors (save for one) use their own singing voices: some are okay, like Edward Norton; some are actually pretty good, like Goldie Hawn; and others should stick to their day jobs, like [cough] Julia Roberts. The plot is immaterial – a series of vignettes featuring an upper-class liberal Manhattan family. The final 20 minutes are magic: a bunch of dancing Groucho Marxes singing “Hurray for Captain Spaulding” in French, followed by Woody and Goldie dancing along (and above) the Seine. Another example of an R-rated movie that shouldn’t be (one “mother---er” in a rap song… and nothing else!). “I should go to Paris and jump off the Eiffel Tower. I'll be dead. In fact, if I get the Concorde, I could be dead three hours earlier…”
Swingers – I need to see this again. Jon Favreau wrote the screenplay, basing it on his experiences as a newly-single struggling actor in LA. He plays Mike and Vince Vaughn plays his friend Trent. I saw this movie for the first time in high school and as someone who’s struggled with the opposite sex (and with friends who are all too eager to assist), this movie hit me on a personal level. The scene in which Favreau attempts to leave a message on a woman’s answering machine is positively cringe-inducing. The film’s budget was nearly non-existent – director Doug Liman shot party scenes at actual parties and the crew had at least one run-in with cops when they were caught without a permit. An indie classic. “I want you to remember this face, here. Okay? This is the guy behind the guy behind the guy.”

The People vs. Larry Flynt – It might be hard to believe but there was a time when porn was actually controversial! Milos Forman’s film stars Woody Harrelson as the titular Flynt, strip club owner and publisher of Hustler. Courtney Love plays his (fourth) wife, Althea. The main… uh, thrust… of the film involves Flynt’s legal battles with Jerry Falwell over a parody story detailing a sexual encounter between Falwell and his own mother – a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, eventually in Flynt’s favor. Ya know… as a 32-year old male, I can’t say I’m against any of this, but I do sometimes wonder where we’re going as a society. Sometimes. “I don't like what Larry Flynt does, but what I do like is the fact that I live in a country where you and I can make that decision for ourselves.”

Also: American Buffalo, The Arrival, Beautiful Girls, Big Night, The Birdcage, Bound, Broken Arrow, The Cable Guy, Courage Under Fire, The Craft, Dragonheart, Evita, Executive Decision, Flirting with Disaster, The Frighteners, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Ghost and the Darkness, Happy Gilmore, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, James and the Giant Peach, John Carpenter’s Escape From LA, Kingpin, Matilda, Michael Collins, Multiplicity, The Nutty Professor, 101 Dalmations, Ransom, The Rock, Scream, Shine, Sleepers, Sling Blade, Space Jam, That Thing You Do!, Trainspotting, and William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Ironically, Independence Day will be back in theaters this year!

You know, looking at the list, I honestly don't think 1996 was that great of a year for films. Fargo was good, Trainspotting was great, as was From Dusk til Dawn. None of the rest excite me.

ScottDS said...

Admittedly, I skipped over a few favorites, and a few Oscar-winners (notably Sling Blade and Shine)... but as I said, this was the first year I really started going to movies every week with friends, so it was simply a bigger part of my life. Much more so than it is now!

P.S. I replied to your last e-mail but I know you're busy. :-)

Kit said...

Independence Day was fun but Emmerich has been trying to remake it again and again. What's the over/under on whether the sequel will be a hit or bomb?

Fargo: A classic. One of my all-time favorites. a brilliant morality play.

Hamlet: The best adaptation of the Bard's classic play.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, this may not be a terrific list, but there are a lot on it that I wanted to see. It's been a long time since there were more films in theaters that intrigued me than I had time or money to see.

ScottDS said...

tryanmax -

I've been doing 30-year retrospectives up till now and I decided to 20 years mainly so I'd have more to talk about. It isn't the list; it is simply a list. :-)

As a young teen into moviemaking, I remember devouring every movie magazine, every trailer, every scrap of information on the movies I was interested in (from Star Trek to something as forgettable as Small Soldiers).

I haven't lived in that world for a long time. Even my enthusiasm for Force Awakens isn't nearly as great as it might've been 15 years ago.

ScottDS said...

Kit -

It's hard to say. Nostalgia counts for something but I can easily see a huge opening weekend followed by a huge drop-off. Folks are using Jurassic World as a template but is the original Independence Day as beloved as Jurassic Park? It might be, but I never got that impression.

If you like Fargo, check out the series! I have to catch up with the second season.

Koshcat said...

Although an argument could be made about any year, this one had several that still are in play today. Independence Day, Happy Gilmore, Jerry Maguire, Twister, Dusk til Dawn, Cable Guy and Fargo are still played often throughout the year. Happy Gilmore was probably Sandler's peak movie while Mission: Impossible revitalized Cruise's career. Fargo made the Cohen brother's household names and still my favorite movie from the year. Star Trek: First Contact was the first ST movie that only contained the TNG characters without the older characters. Who would have thought it would have been the best of them going forward even with its flaws?

I did see the English Patient and although it is a good movie it isn't re-watchable much like Schindler's List. Being Fiennes' second major movie, it established him as a major actor who then wasted his talent making boatloads of money as Voldemort. The most interesting thing about Swingers is how many now famous actors and comediennes are in this movie and the term "money". Scream re-defined the slasher-horror and Trainspotting started Ewan McGregor's career. Trainspotting is a fascinating movie making heroin seem really unappealing especially diving into "The Worst Toilet in Scotland". You also forgot to mention that Beavis and Butthead Do America came out that same year.

1996 was a great year as I graduated from Med School and met the woman who would eventually become my wife.

ScottDS said...

Koshcat -

A great year, indeed! I started coming out of my shell (while continuing to keep one foot inside it!) and was Bar Mitzvahed this year. Good times. :-)

Yeah, all the movies you mentioned are still around today. I agree that Happy Gilmore might be Sandler's best and I even liked The Cable Guy when all my friends were thumbing their noses at it. Another movie that is more appreciated now than when it was originally released.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's true. Most of these films disappointed in my opinion, but at the time, there was a lot here that I wanted to see... and that's a rare feeling these days.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I LOVE Trainspotting and that scene makes me cringe every single time. //shudder

PikeBishop said...

That was also the year that the Oscars really went off the rail. I believe the top five nominees hade made about $500 total by the time the big night rolled around. Fargo, English Patient and three totally forgotten films that opened in December in NY and LA only! Even people predicting Best Pic for English patient practically described it as long, slow, turgid Oscar bait, which it was. Notice how the next year they gave it to Titanic, which was at least entertaining and made money. BTW: My take on English Patient is from the inimitable Khan, Hank Hill's Laotian neighbor. "I wish you long boring slow English Patient death."

Kit said...

Ah, Elaine's frustration over The English Patient, "Quit telling your stupid story, about the stupid desert, and just die already! Die!!"

I have not actually seen The English Patient but I have seen Fargo and, what I said above. Brilliant morality play, and very thought-provoking on the nature of evil and the nature of goodness. A lot of movies forget about the latter.

ScottDS said...

Pike -

I'll never know why they don't open the small prestige films nationwide instead of just NY and LA. There's no reason Carol and The Danish Girl can't be playing in at least a few additional theaters somewhere between the coasts.

I assume it's simply so they don't get crowded out by the bigger holiday releases, but come on. It doesn't have to 3000 screens, but can it be more than 4? :-)

Of course, the other argument is that the Academy only nominates films that no one else has seen and should nominate more popular films. I ask... like what? Jurassic World and The Avengers were fun but not exactly Best Picture worthy!

ScottDS said...

Kit -

Yeah, funny stuff! I haven't watched Seinfeld in years - I think I wore myself out after a while, between the reruns and the DVDs. I'm sure I'll return to it one day and watch them all again.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I still haven't seen Trainspotting (shutupIknow!!). It's on the list. :-)

Michael K said...

I saw ID at one of those big movie theaters in Manhattan on opening weekend. Best movie watching experience I ever had. The crowd was there to have a good time. They went nuts when the POTUS gave that rousing speech. The English Patient has to be one of the most morally reprehensible movies out there. Hard to root for the protagonist when he aids the Nazis even if for "love" and the Sikh soldier going all SJW because the US nuked Japan.

Michael K said...

Forget about the best scene in "First Contact" and perhaps the whole TNG crew is when the 21st century character Lily Sloan lays into Picard about despite all his smugness and superiority complex he is still a man and can experience the base emotions and motives as the rest of us. I wish I could of gave it to him and the others, except for Worf, for all the BS on that series we suffered through.

PikeBishop said...

Scott, I am not saying summer blockbusters should be Best Pic, but there are films that are grand in scope, which Titanic was, featuring great camera work and acting, which it did, and it was entertaining to a lot of people, while still being more than a popcorn film. Who here can even remember, if you saw them: "Secrets and Lies," "22 Films about somebody or other" or "Shine" all nominees the previous year?

ScottDS said...

Pike -

I agree 100% but Hollywood doesn't make as many of those films as they used to: prestige pics that are also crowd-pleasers.

The arguments on sites like BH was always "Why don't those elitist Academy members nominate movies people have seen?!" And I never bought that because the quality usually isn't there. There are, of course, exceptions. (And again, the whole limited release thing doesn't help.)

ScottDS said...

Michael -

If you have Netflix, I recommend William Shatner's documentary Chaos on the Bridge about the turbulent early years of TNG. Most folks involved with the show would agree with your sentiment!

Outlaw13 said...

I saw "That Thing You Do!" on the list and noticed nobody has commented on it. I thought it funny and entertaining. I actually find myself quoting parts of it from time to time.

"Happy Gilmore" is Adam Sandler's best hands down.

Call me an outlier, but I never liked Independence Day (the movie)...don't know what else to say about that.

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