Movie reviews written for movies released theatrically in 1998, the year I turned 17.
1. The Thin Red Line, directed by Terrence Mallick (9/10)
At the time, likely due to an attempt to differentiate myself from all those Saving Private Ryan-worshiping folk, I claimed this was the best war movie of all time and also claimed I was really interested in the full, 6-hour version. Neither is true now. I still think it was the best movie of this particular year (at least that I have seen) and it belongs among the best American war films ever made, perhaps the best set in WWII – that’s off the top of my head though – and I would argue it is maybe even an improvement on the book, which is a rare thing. And it’s more accessible than anything Mallick has made since.
2. The Big Lebowski, directed by Joel Coen (9/10)
The most entertaining Coen brothers movie,
2. The General, directed by John Boorman (9/10)
Seen at 18 or 19, so I guess take this with a grain of salt.
2. Rushmore, directed by Wes Anderson (9/10)
Perhaps my favourite movie for some time (even though I wouldn’t have admitted it).
2. SLC Punk!, directed by James Merendino (9/10)
With a gun to my head I would be hard pressed to tell you which was the better coming of age story, this or Rushmore – and yes I am fully aware of how this is the far more realistic story.
6. Dark City, directed by Alex Proyas (8/10)
Though it sort of falls apart at the end, this is one of the most inventive genre crosses of its era.
7. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, directed by Guy Ritchie (8/10)
Though Ritchie’s shtick is now pretty over-done and tired, at the time this was a really refreshing take on a crime film; funny and inventive. Yes, there is an obvious Tarantino influence, but I think critics really over-stated it at the time, given how we now have a very clear idea of a “Guy Ritchie” type of film, whether something he made or one of his imitators.
On a side note: didn’t this launch Statham’s ridiculously successful career?
8. American History X, directed by Tony Kaye (8/10*)
A film I have only ever seen as a teen and in my early 20s, I really don’t know if I would hold it in such high regard now. I am also fascinated how the finished product was not the director’s cut as Lake of Fire, also made by Kaye, is on my short list of the best documentaries of all time. I’d like to see his version of this if possible.
9. A Simple Plan, directed by Sam Raimi (8/10)
Probably Raimi’s best movie and a film that I may have underrated.
10. Following, directed by Christopher Nolan (8/10*)
I saw this as an impressionable young 20-something who had just discovered that Memento may be the greatest movie of all time (or at least its decade) I suspect I was more than a little over-eager to love this. I haven’t seen it since.
11. There’s Something About Mary, directed by Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly (8/10)
I haven’t seen this in years so perhaps my opinion has changed.
12. Bulworth, directed by Warren Beatty (8/10)
At 17, this seemed to me like very effective political satire.
13. Listening to You: The Who at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970, directed by Murray Lerner (8/10)
You should watch this if you like Live at Leeds.
This is a pretty great performance by the Who at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Some of the songs are the same from Live at Leeds, but there is enough of a variance in the set list that this is worth watching. And, you know, you can actually watch the band here. Really you should see it even if you aren’t a Who fan, as it’s pretty great for any fan of live rock music.
The one issue is the camera work, some of which seems to be intending to “transport” the viewer into the actual concert. It is pretty unnecessary and its hard to understand what they were thinking…oh wait, it was 1970.
14. Fallen, directed by Gregory Hoblit (7/10*)
I loved this when it first come out. Then I changed the rating when I got older.
15. Pi, directed by Darren Aronofsky (7/10)
I have unfortunately lost my review for this, on the other hand I saw it when I was in the early 20s.
16. Homegrown, directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal (7/10)
For the most part, this is pretty enjoyable movie. It’s the kind of comedy that threatens to get serious but never does, and I like that. It’s mostly likable and I actually sort of learned something, which I can’t say for most comedies. The problem is the plot holes. There are a few. The movie tries to pass them off as acceptable because the main characters would be too stoned to understand, but we the viewers are (presumably) sober. It’s annoying, but it’s a minor quibble.
17. Elizabeth, directed by Shekkar Kapur (7/10)
I understand that some historical liberties have been taken, but I still think this is a decent biopic, especially in light of what has since happened to the Tudors on TV.
18. Meeting People is Easy, directed by Grant Gee (7/10)
This is a deliberately disorienting documentary about what it’s like to be shy, socially awkward and in the biggest rock band in the world. I.e., it’s about Radiohead’s tour for OK Computer.
I understand the reason for the approach – Gee is trying to get us to feel what they (specifically Yorke) feel. But I find the deliberate artiness almost too much and unlikely to convert the non-fan.
I think the challenge here is to truly convey how awful it is for people who are not attention-seeking to suddenly have all the attention of the music world. And I’m not sure Gee entirely gets there. There are moments that are really compelling, that almost manage to get inside Yorke’s head, or which capture his or another band member’s wry observation about fame or about the state of the world as they see it. But too often the level of disorientation (fast cutting, multiple audio tracks, etc.) is too high. There are those of us who are open to this kind of approach and then there is the average person, who probably thinks these guys are spoiled rotten and the most miserable famous people we’ve ever seen. A little more conventional style might have helped more people actually relate to these guys as human beings, instead of spoiled famous people.
Still, a fascinating, if flawed, film.
19. The Imposters, directed by Stanley Tucci (7/10*)
I watched this while listening to withering mocking from my father. Later, I figured it was probably actually a decent movie, and changed my rating. But I didn’t watch it again.
20. Ringu, directed by Hideo Nakata (7/10)
Definitely better than the American version.
21. Primary Colors, directed by Mike Nichols (7/10*)
I think I should watch this again.
22. The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir (7/10*)
Thought this was excellent at 17, and then I think I changed my mind without re-watching it.
23. The Zero Effect, directed by Jake Kasdan (7/10)
A movie I loved at the time, and then caught part of it again and didn’t understand why I had loved it so much.
24. Ronin, directed by John Frankenheimer (7/10)
As a teen who had only ever once seen the Maltese Falcon, and probably hadn’t paid much attention, I was impressed by this.
25. Celebrity, directed by Woody Allen (7/10*)
At 17 I admired Branaugh’s Allen impression. I really don’t know what else I was thinking was good about it.
26. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, directed by Terry Gilliam (6/10*)
I had a love-hate relationship with this movie when I was younger but I haven’t seen it in years.
27. Your Friends and Neighbors, directed by Neil LaBute (6/10*)
I was too young when I saw this.
28. The Dinner Game, directed by Francis Veber (6/10)
I know I watched this late at night, and it was over-hyped for me, but I really don’t remember it.
29. Run Lola Run, directed by Tom Tykwer (6/10)
Extraordinarily gimmicky – and overrated because of that gimmick – but entertaining nonetheless.
30. Blade, directed by Stephen Norrington (6/10)
Good for what it is.
31. Out of Sight, directed by Steven Soderbergh (6/10)
I have always found this movie to be horribly overrated.
32. Wild Things, directed by John McNaughton (6/10)
Obviously I originally watched this for the soft-core porn but it’s not a terrible film.
33. Buffalo ’66, directed by Vincent Gallo (6/10)
Don’t really remember it now, but I remember not hating it at the time.
34. Pleasantville, directed by Gary Ross (6/10)
This was horribly over-hyped for me.
35. Antz, directed by Eric Darnell, Tim Johnson (6/10)
Don’t really remember it that well.
36. After Life directed by Hirokazu Koreeda (5/10)
I have lost my review, if I wrote one, but I do remember a heated discussion with my friends about how frustrating this film and its bizarre, untenable conception of an afterlife.
37. Sphere, directed by Barry Levinson (5/10*)
The book is a lot better, but my memory is that this was a little over-panned.
38. Still Crazy, directed by Brian Gibson (5/10)
Don’t remember it.
39. Mercury Rising, directed by Harold Becker (5/10*)
I think it’s probably worse than I rated it.
40. Snake Eyes, directed by Brian De Palma (5/10*)
I liked this a little too much at 17, and I think I probably adjusted my rating without watching it again.
41. The Negotiator, directed by F. Gary Gray (5/10*)
I didn’t rate this when I was 17. I’m sure my 17-year-old self would have given it a 7. I give it a 5* assuming it is not as awful as I want to believe, but also that it can’t possibly be very good.
42. Rush Hour, directed by Brett Ratner (5/10)
I can’t imagine what I would think of this as an adult.
43. Jane Austen’s Mafia, directed by Jim Abrahams (5/10*)
I have no excuse for the rating of this, except that I saw it – probably in theatres – when I was too young to know better.
44. Saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg (4/10)
There are many people who cite Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan as the greatest war film ever made. It is an easy choice, as it is recent, in English, and it made a lot of money (so a lot of people have seen it). It has lots of violence, which most of us think that all good war movies need. I disagree heartily with all these folks. Not only do I disagree about its greatness among war films, I disagree that it even constitutes a good movie.
I have heard many anecdotes about the emotional effects of the film with veterans. But I have heard the same anecdote with regards to Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. So much for the anecdotes. This is because emotional responses to films are all well and good. Sometimes they indicate a quality film, but sometimes they indicate trash (tearjerkers, for example).
Saving Private Ryan has three major flaws that I recall – having had no interest in watching the film since I first saw it – which prevent it from being even a good film. But first, its achievement: yes, that beach scene is probably the most realistic depiction of war up to 1998. It is incredible and astounding. Really, it defies words. It has also influenced countless films since (as diverse as Enemy at the Gates and Black Hawk Down). If the whole film were of that quality, it might very well be the greatest war film of all time. Alas, that is not the case.
The first, and perhaps biggest issue, is that of the narrator. We are supposed to believe, based on the bookends with the old veteran at Normandy, that Private Ryan is the narrator. However, Private Ryan is not present for the vast majority of the film. How does he know this information? Who told it to him? How the hell does this make any sense? It doesn’t, but nobody cares because Steven Spielberg made this film and it stars Tom Hanks. They could do no wrong in the ’90s. Who cares about narrative consistency?
The second may strike some as a little nit-picky. Spielberg is a revivalist. He has spent a huge chunk of his career reviving seemingly dead classic Hollywood genres, most successfully with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Here he revives the Hollywood ’50s war film. (Maybe you think I’m being ridiculous, but a number of critics – such as Norman Wilner – noticed this at the time, though they thought it was a good thing, for some reason.) This is not a good thing. The Hollywood ’50s war film represents everything bad about about classic Hollywood. It trivialized a complicated subject with a preposterous emphasis on entertainment, excitement and adventure plots, and let us not forget the “evil” bad guys. Saving Private Ryan has all of these traits. Though I have been both doubted and chastised for this story since I have first told people about it, when my brother and I saw it in the theatre, the entire theatre reacted to the middle of the film as an adventure movie. We were entertained by the borderline cartoonish violence, even laughing at some points -I am not making this up – particularly when Tom Sizemore is sent flying by an explosion and yells in an exaggerated fashion. People were vocally rooting against the German; you know the one who comes back for revenge? The Germans in this film are the “evil” other of the classic Hollywood action / adventure film. They are very clearly evil, and the American soldiers are very clearly good. There is no moral ambiguity. Remember, this is a war film.
The other half of this revival is the obsession of so many American films with Plot with a capital P. The soldiers are sent on a preposterous mission which could only happen in an old Hollywood film. The crew is full of archetypes – to put it nicely – who initially don’t get along but learn to work together in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. I have seen quite a few bad Hollywood ’50s war movies; this happens in a lot of them. Of course Spielberg’s version is way better: the production values are through the roof and there is some acknowledgment that war isn’t fun all the time, but why come up with this ridiculous plot? Don’t the stories of veterans provide enough fodder? I would have thought so. (And yes, I have heard the claims that this movie was based in fact. Look into them yourself, they are pretty thin – we’re talking a very liberal use of dramatic license, along the lines of Donizetti’s Mary Stuarda.) I’ll just point out that Spielberg and Hanks learned this lesson very soon after, and made the mostly excellent Band of Brothers. Why they couldn’t have used good source material for this film I’ll never know…
The third major flaw of the movie is the Cowboys and Indians ending. Spielberg is a populist. He likes to make the most people happy or entertained as he possibly can. This makes it very difficult for him to treat difficult subjects properly. (See, for instance, his very morally confused Munich.) Spielberg has attached a lot of artificial happy endings to films that don’t deserve them in his day. It’s something he seems compelled to do in order to fulfill his role as entertainer. Saving Private Ryan is no different. Having come to the rescue of the beleaguered Private Ryan and his fellow settlers, the merry band find themselves unable to overcome the Indians Germans. But at the last second, the
cavalry Americans arrive, saving the day. And people think this is a great film…
There are better movies than Saving Private Ryan. There are better war movies. There are better American war movies – a short, but very incomplete list: Paths of Glory, MASH, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Jarhead, Letters from Iwo Jima. There are better American war movies from the ’90s, for example: A Midnight Clear, The Thin Red Line.
The most impressive thing about Saving Private Ryan, on the whole, is the effects. Everything else is pretty much unsatisfactory. As I said, turn that beach scene into a film and you might have something. But the film that Spielberg actually made is not great, and I would dare say it isn’t even good.
45. Enemy of the State, directed by Tony Scott (4/10*)
At 17, having recently seen The Conversation, I was really impressed by the reference and felt that this reference made this movie better somehow. I have caught pieces of it on TV since and thought “What were you thinking, Riley?” so I changed the rating, without actually watching the whole movie again.
46. Star Trek Insurrection, directed by Jonathan Frakes (4/10*)
I feel like this was probably the weakest of the TNG films, but that is partly because I really, really don’t remember it.
47. BASEketball, directed by (4/10)
48. Apt Pupil, directed by Bryan Singer (4/10)
49. Lethal Weapon 4, directed by Richard Donner (4/10)
4 seems charitable.
50. Free Enterprise, directed by Robert Meyer Burnett (4/10)
I seem to remember this as being painfully low-budget.
51. Vampires, directed by John Carpenter (4/10)
I think 4 is charitable but maybe I was mildly entertained or something.
52. Another Day in Paradise, directed by Larry Clark (4/10)
Do not remember it.
53. The Siege, directed by Edward Zwick (3/10)
I feel like this film would have been really different had it been made – had it been possible to be made – post 9/11. If I had watched it at 17, I’m sure I wouldn’t have minded it. In my mid 20s it was one of the more preposterous things I had seen.
54. Deep Impact, directed by Mimi Leder (3/10*)
I haven’t seen this since I was a teen, but I feel like I was probably too hard on it.
55. Urban Legend, directed by Jamie Blanks (3/10)
I actually don’t hate most of this movie, but I hate the utterly retarded ending.
56. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, directed by Steve Miner (3/10)
Totally, utterly unnecessary.
57. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, directed by Danny Cannon (3/10)
An unnecessary sequel to a bad movie, and the title stresses the absurdity better than anything I could say.
58. Wrongfully Accused, directed by Pat Proft (3/10)
Don’t remember it.
59. Soldier, directed by Paul Anderson (3/10)
60. Psycho, directed by Gus Van Sant (2/10)
Though I guess this is interesting on some kind of film theory level, it is not interesting as a film, especially for anyone who has seen the original way too many times, as I have. Remakes of classic films are unnecessary – to paraphrase Steve Soderbergh, why not remake something that wasn’t a classic the first time around and make it better? – but shot-for-shot remakes are especially unnecessary. To this day, I have no idea what anyone was smoking.
61. Disturbing Behaviour, directed by David Nutter (2/10)
Weren’t there two of these identical movies?
62. Armageddon, directed by Michael Bay (2/10)
The first time I saw this I liked it. I am so, so sorry for that.
63. Godzilla, directed by Roland Emerich (2/10)
The first time I saw this movie, I didn’t mind it. The second time I watched it, when I was perhaps five years older, I thought it was fucking horrible.
64. Masseuse 3, directed by Gary Graver (1/10)
This features the greatest performance ever by a man named Michael Meyers.