1997’s Best in Film: From L.A. Confidential to Eve’s Bayou to Kolya

Nineteen ninety-seven as a movie year ended, happily, with more bangs than whimpers as James Cameron’s Titanic , particularly, provided a rare example of something big and expensive being also good and moving. I should have mentioned in my review the magic whistle that is blown at a crucial moment not only as a cry for help, but also as the eternally loving response to a plea of one’s beloved from beyond the watery depths of the North Atlantic. Be that as it may, Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential remains for me the best picture of 1997. In fact, L.A. Confidential marks the first occasion during my 30-year membership in the New York Film Critics Circle in which my taste coincided with the collective wisdom of my colleagues, not only in New York, but also in Los Angeles and Boston, as well as at the National Board of Review. So without further ado, here are my 20 best English-language movie experiences of 1997 in order:

1. Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential.

2. Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca.

3. P.J. Hogan’s My Best Friend’s Wedding.

4. James Cameron’s Titanic.

5. Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy.

6. Shirley Barrett’s Love Serenade.

7. Agnieszka Holland’s Washington Square.

8. Steven Spielberg’s Amistad.

9. Iain Softley’s The Wings of the Dove.

10. Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.

11. Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou.

12. Gus Van Sant Jr.’s Good Will Hunting.

13. Mark Herman’s Brassed Off.

14. James L. Brooks’ As Good as It Gets.

15. Sidney Lumet’s Critical Care.

16. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker.

17. Peter Cattaneo’s The Full Monty.

18. Rolf de Heer’s The Quiet Room.

19. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

20. Ben Lewin’s Paperback Romance.

The 10 best 1997 French-language films for this inveterate Francophile were:

1. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s La Promesse.

2. Arnaud Desplechin’s My Sex Life … or How I Got Into an Argument.

3. Jacques Doillon’s Ponette.

4. Laetitia Masson’s To Have (or Not).

5. Jacques Audiard’s A Self-Made Hero.

6. Alain Berliner’s Ma Vie en Rose (Belgian Francophone Fantasy School).

7. Claire Denis’ Nénette et Boni.

8. Bertrand Blier’s Mon Homme.

9. Bertrand Tavernier’s Capitaine Conan .

10. (tie) Edouard Molinaro’s Beaumarchais the Scoundrel and Sandrine Veysett’s Will It Snow for Christmas?

The 10 best non-French foreign-language films were:

1. Jan Sverák’s Kolya.

2. Masayuki Suo’s Shall We Dance?

3. Moshen Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh.

4. Deepa Mehta’s Fire.

5. Chen Kaige’s Temptress Moon.

6. Sergei Bodov’s Prisoner of the Mountain.

7. Arturo Ripstein’s Deep Crimson.

8. Emir Kusturicka’s Underground.

9. Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together.

10. Theo Angelopoulos’ Ulysses Gaze.

The five best nonfiction films were:

1. Michael Uys and Lexy Lovell’s Riding the Rails.

2. Steven Soderbergh’s Gray’s Anatomy.

3. Errol Morris’ Fast, Cheap & Out of Control.

4. Anne Belle’s and Deborah Dickson’s Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse.

5. Macky Alston’s Family Name.

Among the more interesting runner-up movies of the year were:

1. David Cronenberg’s Crash.

2. Richard Linklater’s Suburbia.

3. Greg Mottola’s The Daytrippers.

4. Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men.

5. Mike Newell’s Donnie Brasco.

6. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight.

7. George Armitage’s Grosse Pointe Blank.

8. David Mirkin’s Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.

9. Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown.

10. James Mangold’s Cop Land.

Allegations have been made that there was a dire shortage of exemplary female performances in 1997. I found this not to be the case, but then I paid little attention to such glorious first-week breakout hits as Starship Troopers, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and Flubber . For the record, my votes at the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics were cast as follows:

Best actress:

1. Joey Lauren Adams, Chasing Amy.

2. Miranda Otto, Love Serenade.

3. Alison Elliott, The Wings of the Dove.

Best supporting actress:

1. Gloria Stuart, Titanic.

2. Sarah Polley, The Sweet Hereafter.

3. Stacy Edwards, In the Company of Men.

Best actor:

1. Russell Crowe, L.A. Confidential.

2. Kevin Spacey, L.A. Confidential.

3. Linus Roache, The Wings of the Dove.

Best supporting actor:

1. Rupert Everett, My Best Friend’s Wedding.

2. Jude Law, Gattaca.

3. J. T. Walsh, Breakdown.

Other notable female performances, in no particular order, were: Hope Davis, Anne Meara, Parker Posey, The Daytrippers ; Rebecca Frith, Love Serenade ; Deborah Kara Unger, Holly Hunter, Rosanna Arquette in Crash ; Garance Clavel, When the Cat’s Away ; Chloe Ferguson, The Quiet Room ; Minnie Driver, Grosse Pointe Blank and Good Will Hunting ; Sandrine Kiberlain, To Have (or Not) and Beaumarchais the Scoundrel; Mira Sorvino, Lisa Kudrow, Janeane Garofalo, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion; Victoria Thivisol, Ponette ; Gong Li, Temptress Moon; Judi Dench, Mrs. Brown; Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz, My Best Friend’s Wedding; Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential ; Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, A Thousand Acres ; Parker Posey, The House of Yes ; Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judith Ivey, Maggie Smith, Washington Square ; Marisa Ryan, Love Always and Slaves to the Underground ; Uma Thurman, Gattaca; Demi Moore, Anne Bancroft, G.I. Jane .

Also, but not lesser, Jurnee Smollett, Debbi Morgan, Lynn Whitfield, Meagan Good, Diahann Caroll, Eve’s Bayou ; Helena Bonham Carter, Charlotte Rampling, Elizabeth McGovern, The Wings of the Dove ; Teresa Wright, Mary Kay Place, Virginia Madsen, Claire Danes, The Rainmaker ; Helen Mirren, Kyra Sedgwick, Critical Care ; Joan Cusack, Grosse Pointe Blank and In & Out ; Kathleen Quinlan, Breakdown ; Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights ; Tara Fitzgerald, Brassed Off ; Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Titanic ; Helen Hunt, Shirley Knight, As Good as It Gets ; Julie Christie, Afterglow ; Pam Grier, Bridget Fonda, Jackie Brown ; Emily Watson, The Boxer.

Other male notable performances were given by Ethan Hawke, Alan Arkin, Gattaca ; Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen, Donnie Brasco ; Stanley Tucci, Pat McNamara, Campbell Scott, The Daytrippers ; Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy, In the Company of Men; Ben Affleck, Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting ; Koji Yakusho, Shall We Dance ; John Cusack, Grosse Pointe Blank ; Mike Nichols, The Designated Mourner ; Kurt Russell, Breakdown ; Mike Myers, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery ; Pete Postlethwaite, Ewan McGregor, Brassed Off ; Peter Fonda, Ulee’s Gold ; Dermot Mulroney, My Best Friend’s Wedding ; Billy Connolly, Anthony Sher, Mrs. Brown ; Antony LaPaglia, Paperback Romance ; Kevin Kline, Matt Dillon, Tom Selleck, In & Out ; Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, L.A. Confidential ; Philippe Noiret, Thierry Lhermitte, Ripoux Contre Ripoux ; Albert Finney, Ben Chaplin, Washington Square ; Burt Reynolds, Mark Wahlberg, Don Cheadle, Alfred Molina, Boogie Nights ; Samuel Jackson, Eve’s Bayou and Jackie Brown ; Robert De Niro, Jackie Brown and Cop Land ; Stellan Skarsgard, Amistad and Good Will Hunting ; Robert Forster, Michael Keaton, Jackie Brown ; Bill Murray, The Man Who Knew Too Little .

Matt Damon, The Rainmaker and Good Will Hunting ; Danny DeVito, Jon Voight, Mickey Rourke, Roy Scheider, Danny Glover, Johnny Whitworth, Randy Travis, Andrew Shue, The Rainmaker ; Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey, Anthony Hopkins, Djimon Hounsou, Nigel Hawthorne, David Paymer, Amistad ; Robin Williams, Casey Affleck, Cole Hauser, George Plimpton, Good Will Hunting ; Jack Nicholson, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr., As Good as It Gets ; Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Wag the Dog ; James Spader in Critical Care and Crash ; Albert Brooks in Critical Care ; Georges Du Fresne, Ma Vie en Rose; Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Hard Eight and Boogie Nights ; Mark Addy, The Full Monty ; Vondie Curtis Hall, Eve’s Bayou ; Fabrice Luchini, Beaumarchais the Scoundrel ; Daniel Day-Lewis, Brian Cox, Gerard McSorley, The Boxer .

Finally, and sadly, were the movies people I respect liked more than I did: Martin Scorsese’s Kundun , Victor Nuñez’s Ulee’s Gold , Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter , Robert Duvall’s The Apostle , Alan Rudolph’s Afterglow , Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry, Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm , Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog , John Woo’s Face/Off , Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black .

Happy moviegoing for 1998 and all that, but 1997 wasn’t half bad as far as movies were concerned. One bit of wisdom I have acquired over a year of being raked over the coals for my rave reviews and praised to the skies for my pans is this: Sneer and the world sneers with you, cheer and you cheer alone.

1997’s Best in Film: From L.A. Confidential to Eve’s Bayou to Kolya