Greatest Films of the 1990s
Greatest Films of the 1990s

Greatest Films of the 1990s
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Academy Awards for 1997 Films
Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

Amistad (1997), 155 minutes, D: Steven Spielberg
Spielberg's dramatic, lengthy epic about freedom and justice was the true story of America's slave trade, and the 1839 mutiny aboard the Spanish slave ship La Amistad traveling from Cuba to the US. The ship was loaded with valuable cargo - 53 kidnapped and chained slaves held by Spanish captors. The Africans had originally been captured in Sierra Leone (a British protectorate where slavery was outlawed), illegally brought by a Portuguese ship to Cuba, and then transferred to a Spanish ship for transport to the US. African Mende tribal leader Joseph Cinque (Djimon Hounsou) escaped from his chains, led a mutiny which killed all but two of the white Spanish captors, and directed the ship to sail back to Africa. Fooled by the navigators, they were captured off the NE US Long Island coast by the Navy, where the non-English speaking slaves were imprisoned, regarded as runaway slaves (and "property"), and charged with murder. During their initial trial in Connecticut, the slaves were defended in the test case by an African-American slave turned-abolitionist lawyer Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman), white colleague Lewis Tappan (Stellan Skarsgard) and naive attorney Roger Sherman Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey). The defense argued that the Africans (free in their own country) had been illegally seized to be sold in the US as "stolen goods," and acted in self-defense when they murdered their enslavers. Opposed was President Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne) who feared losing Southern votes during his re-election campaign if he supported the Africans' case. In fact, Van Buren's Secretary of State John Forsyth (David Paymer) argued that the slave "property" had to be returned to young Queen Isabella II (Anna Paquin) of Spain to honor a treaty between the two countries. However, the district court ruled in favor of the abolitionist and Africans' position. In early 1840, it ordered that the Africans be returned to their homeland by the US government. Eventually, the case was appealed to the US Supreme Court. The 1841 case before the US Supreme Court, composed of Southern slave-owning judges, was a stirring battle of wits. Former President John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins), now a Massachusetts Congressman, provided a passionate defense of the African captives (he called Cinque "the only true hero in this room"). He eloquently and controversially asserted the right of freedom of the individual: "The natural state of mankind is... freedom. And the proof is the length to which a man, woman, or child will go to regain it, once taken. He will break loose his chains. He will decimate his enemies. He will try and try and try against all odds, against all prejudices, to get home." He referenced the well-known words of the Declaration of Independence: "'All men...created equal,' 'inalienable rights,' 'life,' 'liberty,'" and then dramatically tore a copy of it in half. He then invoked the wisdom and spirit of the Founding Fathers to help make the decision, and then suggested that the court's ruling might provoke a civil war ("the last battle of the American Revolution"). The higher court affirmed the lower court's ruling that the Africans were entitled to take whatever legal measures necessary to secure their freedom, including the use of force. They were authorized to return to their homeland.

The Apostle (1997), 134 minutes, D: Robert Duvall

As Good As It Gets (1997), 130 minutes, D: James L. Brooks

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), 89 minutes, D: Jay Roach
See Austin Powers series.

Boogie Nights (1997), 155 minutes, D: Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson's audacious film was about the late 1970s adult-film industry. Julianne Moore took a convincing role as Maggie, a cocaine-addicted, veteran porn star stage-named Amber Waves. Moore confidently personified her role as an X-rated film actress by taking off her clothes, mentoring young stud co-star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), and having unsimulated sex with him during one of the film's explicit porn-shoots. She was thwarted from real motherhood during a custody battle with her estranged husband Tom, who took her to court. She was devastated when she was ruled an unfit mother for her addictive history of criminal activity, drug use, and her choice of career. She then turned around to become a vulnerable surrogate mother-figure to her 'family' of damaged and misfit souls during her workday: she considered Dirk her 'son,' and enjoyed being affectionately called "Mom" by grateful Rollergirl (Heather Graham).

Deconstructing Harry (1997), 96 minutes, D: Woody Allen

Eve's Bayou (1997), 109 minutes, D: Kasi Lemmons

The Fifth Element (1997, Fr.), 125 minutes, D: Luc Besson

The Full Monty (1997, UK), 90 minutes, D: Peter Cattaneo

Good Will Hunting (1997), 126 minutes, D: Gus Van Sant

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), 107 minutes, D: George Armitage

The Ice Storm (1997), 113 minutes, D: Ang Lee

In the Company of Men (1997), 93 minutes, D: Neil LaBute

Kiss the Girls (1997), 115 minutes, D: Gary Fleder
This realistic murder thriller began when a college-age violinist (Gina Ravera) went missing in Durham, North Carolina. Her uncle, best-selling author and D.C. forensics expert Dr. Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman), joined local detectives and an FBI agent (Jay O. Sanders) at the scene, where eight girls were now missing and three bodies had been found. The demented serial killer, who called himself Casanova, was a collector who took captured "specimens" and imprisoned them in an underground lair, ritualistically raping and killing them if they violated his trust. A ninth kidnapped victim - strong-willed kickboxing medical intern Dr. Kate McTiernan (Ashley Judd) - was bound and drugged but escaped from Casanova (in a thrilling dash through the woods) and joined Cross in the search. A second killer, a competing psychopath known as The Gentleman Caller was discovered operating in the LA area. One red-herring suspect, Dr. Wick Sachs (William Converse-Roberts), confessed, but ultimately an unlikely pair of suspects were revealed as the evil collaborators.

Kundun (1997), 128 minutes, D: Martin Scorsese

L. A. Confidential (1997), 136 minutes: D: Curtis Hanson
A gritty, violent, thrilling film noirish tale of sex, conspiracy, scandal, double-cross and betrayal, racism and corruption in early 1950's LA, committed by the police, politicians, and the press. The film pays homage to Robert Towne's earlier noir-based film Chinatown (1974) set in the same City of Angels, and the classics The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946). Based on a thriller novel by James Ellroy, the film is about the intertwining lives of three very diverse LAPD officers (in an ensemble cast) who use incompatible methods while tackling a multiple murder scene at the all-night diner the Night Owl. Brutal, hot-tempered tough cop Bud Smith (Russell Crowe) uses muscle and violence, while moralistic, clean-cut, college-educated rookie Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is law-abiding, idealistic, and does everything "by the book." A third narcotics cop, smooth Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) moonlights as a technical advisor for a sleazy Dragnet-style TV cop show and provides scandal-fodder for celebrity tabloid magazine Hush-Hush (headed by amoral editor-in-chief Sid Hudgens (Danny De Vito) whose trademark closing line for all articles is: "You heard it here first, off the record, on the 'QT', and very hush-hush"). All three are overseen by sinister Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), who seems resigned to the corruption in the city and in his own police force. Kim Basinger, in a supporting Oscar-winning role, plays high-class femme fatale Lynn Bracken (a Veronica Lake look-alike through surgical enhancements) who works for a pornographer (David Strathairn) who hires out celebrity look-alike prostitutes.

Life is Beautiful (1997, It.) (aka La Vita E Bella), 122 minutes, D: Roberto Benigni

Lost Highway (1997), 135 minutes, D: David Lynch

Open Your Eyes (1997, Sp./Fr./It.) (aka Abre Los Ojos), 117 minutes, D: Alejandro Amenabar

Princess Mononoke (1997, Jp.), 133 minutes, D: Hayao Miyazaki

The Sweet Hereafter (1997, Canada), 112 minutes, D: Atom Egoyan

Titanic (1997), 197 minutes, D: James Cameron
Writer/director James Cameron's three-plus hour, epic mega-blockbuster with the most expensive budget of any film up to its time, and extravagant visual and digital effects. Its story centered around an infamous part of history (the fateful night of April 15, 1912 for White Star Line's R.M.S. Titanic) with a doomed, fictional romance at its core. It begins with treasure-seekers in a salvage expedition at the submerged ship led by Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton), who discover a safebox with a drawing of a woman wearing a 56-carat blue diamond necklace. They connect it to 102 year-old survivor Rose Dawson Calvert (Gloria Stuart) who revisits the site of the sinking, and reminisces, in flashback, about an ill-fated, forbidden romance she had when she was a seventeen year-old society girl. with lower-class, starving artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio). Earlier a debutante named Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), she had been forced by her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher) to become engaged to rich, arrogant socialite Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) and was on her way to Philadelphia to marry. Feeling hopelessly trapped, she tried to commit suicide from the aft deck rather than accept the arranged marriage, but was rescued by Jack. Although Jack was slighted by her upper-class family, she forsook her future with Cal and asked Jack to sketch her in the nude wearing the invaluable blue diamond, and they fell in love. When the ship hit the iceberg in the frigid North Atlantic and split in two, Jack sacrificed himself and again saved her from sure death. The characters of Rose and Jack and their romance wisely dominate the film, although there are some secondary subplots. Fans (mostly female) returned many dozens of times to enjoy the tale over and over and helped the film become the highest grossing motion picture of all time. Although praised by critics and the viewing public, there was some backlash about its acting (especially DiCaprio's) and its screenplay - Titanic became the first Best Picture winner to not have a Best Screenplay nomination since The Sound of Music (1965).

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