When the Motion Picture Academy looked at 1997, it gave its Best Picture award to a bloated soap opera called Titanic. These are much better:
Written by Tom Fontana
Directed by Darnell Martin, Nick Gomez, Jean De Segonzac, Leslie Libman, Larry Williams, and Alan Taylor
Power shifts constantly in a penitentiary's ever-evolving social web. In a perfect climax, the whole network explodes, inverting, distorting, and dashing the prison's hierarchies.
2. The Apostle
Written and directed by Robert Duvall
A double rarity: a thoughtful movie about religion and a textured portrait of the South.
3. The Sweet Hereafter
Directed by Atom Egoyan
Written by Egoyan, from a novel by Russell Banks
Death rips a hole in a town. The viewer drifts both through the community and through time, as helpless as the grieving parents of the story.
4. fast, cheap & out of control
Directed by Errol Morris
Studies in spontaneous order.
5. Deconstructing Harry
Written and directed by Woody Allen
The last great Woody Allen movie is a sardonic, self-lacerating remake of Wild Strawberries.
6. Jackie Brown
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Tarantino, from a novel by Elmore Leonard
All the Tarantino trademarks are on display here: the idiosyncratic structure, the brilliantly selected soundtrack, the rich and funny dialogue. But there's something deeper going on as well, a pulp fable about integration that refuses to preach or to give the audience a reassuring conclusion.
7. The Ice Storm
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by James Schamus, from a novel by Rick Moody
Before this movie, Christina Ricci had starred in a series of fluffy kid flicks, with only a quirky supporting role in the Addams Family films betraying more than a hint that she had something more in her. With this—released the same year as That Darn Cat!—she suddenly established herself as the indie queen of the late '90s.
8. Henry Fool
Written and directed by Hal Hartley
"OK, you got me outnumbered here four to one and you're gonna kill me here tonight and not a soul in this dimly lit world is gonna notice I'm gone. But one of you, one of you, one of you is gonna have his eye torn out. Period....One of you poor, underpaid jerks is gonna have an eye ripped out of its socket. I promise. It's a small thing perhaps, all things considered, but I will succeed, because it's the only thing I have left to do in this world. So why don't you just take a good look at one another one last time, and think it over a few minutes more."
Directed by Jonathan Nossiter
Written by Nossiter and James Lasdun, from a story by Lasdun
"I guess I'm too old to play a human being."
Directed by John Woo
Written by Mike Werb and Michael Colleary
This crazed sci-fi doppelgängerung is John Woo's best American movie, and frankly I like it better than most of his Hong Kong output too.
11. Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage)
12. Ulee's Gold (Victor Nuñez)
13. Gattaca (Andrew Niccol)
14. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson)
15. Public Housing (Frederick Wiseman)
16. The Rainbow Man/John 3:16 (Sam Green)
17. The Spanish Prisoner (David Mamet)
18. The Eel (Shohei Imamura)
19. Gummo (Harmony Korine)
20. Absolute Power (Clint Eastwood)
Of the films of 1997 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Live Flesh, Fireworks, and Jazz '34.