MOVIES WENT IN 1998:
WHERE MOVIES WENT IN
1998: Customers went mostly to see Titanic. And they stayed
a long time, not only at Titanic but also at The Horse Whisperer
and Meet Joe Black. We'll just have to reorganize our lives
for three-hour movies.
Television was a subject
for pondering. What if a man's life was "made-for-TV" and he didn't
know it? (The Truman Show). What if you got transported back
into a 1950's family TV series? (Pleasantville). Something
like this reality shifting also happens, remarkably, in Life Is
Beautiful, in which a child is convinced he's involved in an elaborate
game instead of being in a concentration camp.
Such films were about
the power of art and imagination to enlarge and ennoble life. As Sister
Wendy says, "So many people live in a prison of daily life with no
one to tell them to look out or look up. If you don't know about God,
art is the only thing that can set you free."
Cartoon features, whose
core audience is age seven, are suddenly adult and cutting-edge. Competing
bug epics (Disney's A Bug's Life, DreamWorks's Antz)
had totaled $221 million by December. Mulan by itself hit $196
million. DreamWorks's The Prince of Egypt, the story of Moses
cut down to 97 minutescompared to DeMille's almost four hoursopened
simultaneously on 7,500 screens in 40 countries in 25 languages after
being run past almost 700 clerics and theologians. (It must be safe!)
Are moral values commercial or what?
Another trend is klutzy
comedy. Gross-out There's Something About Mary reached $305
million in December. At least Jerry Springer's Ringmaster flopped.
Consider the moment in Bulworth (Warren Beatty's raucous satire)
when the senatorial campaign debate was canceled so it wouldn't bump
the Springer TV show.
The Hitchcock Replay
Derby included A Perfect Murder and Psycho: Hitch 2,
Replays 0. And there were end-of-millennium thrillers (Armageddon,
(What Dreams May Come, Meet Joe Black) may be with us
awhile. But if heaven is this complicated, we're all going to have
to smarten up.
BEST (of those reviewed here):
The Best (of those reviewed
here): The Apostle, The Truman Show, Saving Private
Ryan, Life Is Beautiful, The Horse Whisperer, Smoke
Signals, Out of Sight, Next Stop Wonderland.
Also Worth the Price: The
Mighty, As Good As It Gets, Ronin, Mask of Zorro,
Wild Dog Blues.
The Basil Rathbone
Memorial Award (for most rotten villain): Ed Harris, as the omnipotent
TV director in The Truman Show. Runners-up James Gandolfini,
as the evil convict Dad (The Mighty), and Stuart Wilson, as
the baby-stealing Don Montero (Zorro), are traditional heels
with wicked careers ahead of them.
The Leaning Tower of
Pisa Prize (for a good idea most gone bad): Michael Crichton's Sphere,
in which the mysterious globe that gives one the power to make real
the images of one's imagination is used to create only horror (like
too many 1990's movies).
Most Instructive Warning:
How easily emotions and perceptions of reality are manipulated by
music and images (Wag the Dog).
Films About Grace:
The Apostle, in which a flawed minister helps people save their
souls; Simon Birch and The Mighty, in which severely
disabled children find heroic destinies; and Life Is Beautiful,
in which a father saves his young son from despair.
The Ludwig Van and
Wolfgang Amadeus Medals (for very clever use of music): Offenbach's
Barcarolle, played on a record by the hero for his wife over
the prison-camp loudspeaker at a dark moment (Life Is Beautiful).
Also loved the bossa-nova themes for joy and poignancy (Next Stop
Wonderland), and Adam Sandler teaching Grandma to sing "'Til There
Was You" for her 50th anniversary (The Wedding Singer). Best
concert film: Wild Dog Blues.
The Robert Flaherty
Award (for best use of real locale): Coney Island (He Got Game).
Runners-up: Montana (The Horse Whisperer), and the French Riviera
and Paris (Ronin).
Favorite Female Actor
(unlikely to be Oscar-nominated): Drew Barrymore, as both the innocent
waitress looking for romance (The Wedding Singer) and as the
lovable Cinderella (Ever After: A Cinderella Story). Also,
really liked Ashley Judd, as the luminous mom (Simon Birch), and Marcia
Gay Harden, as the daughter who is less loved but adores her father
anyway (Meet Joe Black).
Favorite Male Actor
(unlikely to be Oscar-nominated): Barry Pepper, as the sharpshooter
who prays before he does his work (Saving Private Ryan). Also,
Jeff Bridges, as the marvelous grizzled hippie (The Big Lebowski),
Nigel Hawthorne, as the aging gay theater critic struggling with tragic
loneliness (The Object of My Affection), and J. T. Walsh (rest
in peace), as the last defender of the white-male power structure
Doting Grandpa Award
(for best A-2 movie): Mask of Zorro. Also-rans: Ever After,
Best Action-movie Climax:
Out of Sight's ending had wit, surprises, even touches of nobility.
It also had one of the all-time unusual meetings of hero and heroine:
They're locked in the same car trunk during a prison break and talk
about old movies.
Memorable Moments and
Images: The Omaha Beach assault and the letters-of-condolence sequence
(Saving Private Ryan), Sonny Dewey's night argument with God
(The Apostle), gay hero George (Object of My Affection)
watching young father in park playing catch with son, the latest recycling
of "I am Spartacus" scene as "I am Zorro" (Mask of Zorro),
the role reversal when mother and daughter discuss sex (Pleasantville),
the metaphorical biblical temptation scene when the big-shot agent
offers high school basketball phenom Jesus Shuttlesworth all the masculine
power toys of the modern world if he'll just turn pro (He Got Game).
Ingmar Bergman Award
(for best new symbol): The pet armadillo in Simon Birch that
represents the deformed Simon himself.
The Leo and Kate Titanic
Award (for best romantic moment): In City of Angels, former
angel Nick Cage always used to ask the recently dead what they liked
most about life. Beloved Meg Ryan, dying in his arms, says, "When
they ask me, I'll tell them it was you."
Among Many Contributors
to Film Culture Who Died in 1998: director Akira Kurosawa (Ran);
producer Alan Pakula (To Kill a Mockingbird); choreographer
Jerome Robbins (West Side Story); Disney artist Kendall O'Connor;
cinematographer Freddie Young (Lawrence of Arabia); writer
James Goldman (Lion in Winter); western stars Roy Rogers and
Gene Autry; singer Frank Sinatra; actors Jean Marais, Lloyd Bridges,
Alice Faye, Maureen O'Sullivan, Robert Young, J. T. Walsh, E. G. Marshall,
Dane Clark, Binnie Barnes, Roddy McDowall.
Lines to Remember:
"If I tell them who you are, no one will stay for dinner." (Host to
Death, Meet Joe Black)
"The last thing I'd
ever do is lie to you." (Truman's fake brother, The Truman Show)
"Tell me I've led a
good life and I'm a good man." (Pvt. Ryan as an old man to his wife
at the Normandy military cemetery, Saving Private Ryan)
"Don't smile like that!
Get stoic. Look mean. Like a warrior!" (Native American to his easygoing
pal, Smoke Signals)
"Did you ever love
me?" (Cinderella, Ever After) "How can anyone love a pebble
in their shoe?" (Stepmother's response)
"It's love when your
friend lets you have the window seat on the plane." (The Wedding
"'Honey, I'm home'
doesn't work anymore." (Puzzled father, Pleasantville)
YOUTH THING is the big news of the departed television year. When
you glance at the schedules or zap through the channels, it often
seems as if you wandered into a dorm or a sports bar. The crisis is
final-exams week or figuring out who to date or room with. What happened
to life and death?
The 800-pound gorilla
in the living room, of course, is advertising, TV's lifeblood. The
networks say they want ages 18-49, but 18-34 is even better.
tells gurus more things about watchers of every stupid TV series than
even their mothers know: gender, income, education, where they live,
what they buy, abdominal scars.
The demos are the law,
especially at the newer, on-the-make networks, like Fox, UPN and WB.
"Sure, the networks might tell you they welcome all viewers," an Entertainment
Weekly journalist writes, "but don't believe it. If you're over
50, TV ain't programming for you."
WB), this season's most hyped new series, fits the scenario. Its smashing-looking,
sensitive heroine (Keri Russell) is an idealistic California girl
who follows boyfriend Ben to college in New York. She talks about
her experiences into a recorder.
Plots deal with anxiety
at leaving home, making new friends in a new place, going home for
Christmas. There are also moral issues (cheating, date rape), but
romance is key (so far, inconstant Ben vs. new guy Noel).
With Ron Howard as
one of its exec producers, the series has some quality and a romantic-comedy
tone. The "finals week" episode had much humorous whispering in the
library's "silent reading room," with dialogue comically in subtitles.
not War and Peace or even the long-departed, wonderful Paper
Chase, but so far it's not Melrose Place either. Unfortunately
(unfelicitously?), cocreator J. J. Abrams promises Felicity "will
have sex" before the end of the year. (As a 1990's motto, that could
be carved in stone.) Just the thing to cure the impeachment blues.
QUO VADIS DEPARTMENT:
Commenting on our celebrity culture and the trivialization of the
newsmagazines, The New Republic noted a recent cover of Newsweek
sporting a sexy, come-hither portrait of an actress who has a nude
moment in a new play. The caption: "Nicole Kidman bares allabout
her daring Broadway debut, marriage to Tom Cruise and their fight
for privacy." TNR wryly observes: "Baring all in a fight for
privacy: It is an epitaph for the way we live now."