Tuesday, October 10, 2023

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1998: Wilde Things

I had wanted to begin in the month of April, when Lost in Space - starring William Hurt, in his third of four 1998 films - finally dethroned Titanic to take the #1 spot at the weekend box office. But, timing and availability difficulties worked against me, and so now I must skip a William Hurt film and go straight to May, beginning with...

release: May 1

Stephen Fry in the role of his lifetime as Oscar Wilde, chronicling the author's career, his marriage, and his tempestuous relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (Jude Law, always attractive, but particularly in this late-90s era you understand why Wilde ignores every red flag). A little clunky setting things up and I'm not completely sure whether Fry's range is limited or if he's playing Wilde as completely ingenuous but there is sometimes an element of his performance that just doesn't hit. GORGEOUS costumes and score. Admirably frank sex. Not enough Vanessa Redgrave as Wilde's mother.

The Horse Whisperer
release: May 15
nominee: Best Original Song ("A Soft Place to Fall")

It takes too long to get to the ranch, but once it does, this story of a city woman who brings her daughter and their horse to meet with an expert horse trainer in the middle of nowhere and learns to fall in love with the simpler life (and the titular whisperer) just, heh, sings. Of course, having that said that, one of the things I like about it is the slow way it builds its relationships, taking you from, "I would've never paired Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas," to "KNOCK BOOTS ALREADY!" Stunning American vistas photographed by Robert Richardson, really beautiful score by Thomas Newman and Gwil Owen. This was a pleasant surprise.

Quest for Camelot
release: May 15
nominee: Best Original Song ("The Prayer")

An animated musical set in Arthurian times, wherein a young woman must save Camelot when a warlock-knight steals Excalibur. The songs aren't great, the animation frequently runs into issues with proportions, the script is a breakneck shrugathon of checked boxes - adorable sidekick, tough girl, comedy legends in a musical number, etc., etc., etc. Gary Oldman comes out least scathed as the villain.

release: May 20

America's first attempt to launch its own original version of Godzilla, this time explicitly stating that the monster is some kind of reptile/amphibian thing mutated by nuclear testing - complete with a nest of eggs its formed and laid hermaphroditically! I'm sure a million little Godzillas running amok in Madison Square Garden was meant to be its big showcase sequence, but it honestly bogs things down. What's built around sequence is pretty solid entertainment, with a monster going stomp-stomp, college sweethearts reunited by cataclysmic events, a great soundtrack (not just the hit songs like "Come with Me," but David Arnold's score, too, deserves a mention), and a real feeling of chaos. I stress chaos, not danger. Effects haven't really held up, but they'll do.

release: May 22
nominee: Best Original Screenplay (Warren Beatty / Jeremy Pikser)

Warren Beatty plays a California senator who has a mental breakdown and suddenly starts tellin' it like it is - through rap! Yes, of course, it's satire, taking aim at the white liberals who loudly proclaim themselves to be progressives but don't connect past their gated communities, mocking the over-rehearsed canned responses of modern governing, but there's a weird cringe element that, while self-aware, is also...how do I put this?...maybe not completely making the point that it thinks it's making? On the flip side, Halle Berry's delivery of her last line is perfect and this was the film whose soundtrack gave us "Ghetto Supersta." I don't know. The more Beatty I see, the more I wonder what the fuss is about.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
release: May 22

A movie I watched so much as a young teen I went as Raoul Duke for Halloween. Based on Hunter S. Thompson's novel about a horror-movie drug binge undertaken by a gonzo journalist and his depraved lawyer in early-70s Las Vegas. Book and movie both are most famous for "The Wave Speech," a somber eulogy for the counterculture and its lost potential. Maybe the only Terry Gilliam flick I like, though even at only two hours it feels stretched.

The Last Days of Disco
release: May 29

Comedy of manners in which post-college adults try to sort their love lives, maintain a certain status, and go out dancing - during the, you guessed it, last days of disco. Very funny movie populated by characters who should be insufferable, and indeed are, but...warmly so, like a friend whose foibles and irritants you accept along with the good times. Well, except Kate Beckinsale's Charlotte, brilliantly nasty within a helpful cadence.

A Perfect Murder
release: June 5

Dial M for Murder remake in which a man plots the murder of his much younger wife - hiring the man his wife is sleeping with! Opens the proceedings up and includes such details as an NYPD detective of Middle Eastern descent who can bond with the wife, who happens to be a translator at the UN. Unlike the murder itself (not so perfect after all!), it's a well-executed thriller, though I'm not exactly sure I buy Gwyneth Paltrow as ever wanting to marry Michael Douglas? 

The Truman Show
release: June 5
nominee: Best Director (Peter Weir), Best Supporting Actor (Ed Harris), Best Original Screenplay (Andrew Niccol)

Unassuming Truman Burbank slowly realizes that his entire is a hit television show in which he is the only non-actor. Hard not to use the word "prescient" when describing this movie, as it anticipates the explosion of reality TV (though, as far as I know, the premise of "one man among actors" has only been used for comedies like Jury Duty). Like Dark City, uses its premise to question how in control of our own lives we really are, though its premise, naturally, also examines the ethics of entertainment - not just its production but its consumption. All these viewers rooting for Truman to "get out" - have they not been complicit this whole time? People want entertainment, and they don't care much how it's delivered to them, as long as they enjoy themselves. Great use of fish-eye!

Can't Hardly Wait
release: June 12

Ensemble comedy about the last rager after high school graduation. Of course, a teen film from the 90s is going to be full of the usual suspects, but there's a canniness to the casting: the boys from Clueless as a band whose members are ready to separate, Melissa Joan Hart of Clarissa Explains It All as a student obsessed with enshrining this experience, child star Charlie Korsmo as the geek you thought you knew suddenly becoming the coolest guy overnight. At the center is the story of lovestruck Ethan Embry (wide-eyed, wonderful) who finally has one last chance to tell Jennifer Love Hewitt (a very sincere performance) how he feels. I think the last time I saw this movie was freshman year of college; it holds up. Surprisingly sweet, especially since through all the partying there is this melancholy throughout as teens grapple with their last night of shared history. There is possibility but also uncertainty.

High Art
release: June 12

An assistant editor at a magazine strikes up a relationship with her upstairs neighbor, a famous and somewhat volatile photographer. Radha Mitchell is the assistant editor, fascinated by the woman upstairs, flattered by the attention, discovering a new layer of herself, but also determined to use that to succeed in her work. Ally Sheedy is the photographer who entices with a smile, who keeps a lot unsaid while still making you feel like the two of you share intimacies no one else gets, whose attention and devotion are never 100% - but oh, when that light shines on you! Patricia Clarkson is the constantly zonked German girlfriend of the photographer. Sexy.

release: June 19
nominee: Best Original Musical or Comedy Score

Among my favorite Disney films of all time (the others, in release order: Sleeping Beauty, The Black CauldronPocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). Mulan can't quite fit in with the idea of what a girl her age should be, but when war comes, she poses as a man and takes her sick father's place in the Imperial Army to defend her family and her country. One of the Disney musicals that forgets it's a musical after an hour, but it works: all the skill-building and character growth of the songs gives way to action, as the soldiers learn that to "be a man" they have to act like a lady, and the "girl worth fighting for" is their homeland. Terrific voicework, sublime scoring, no notes, just perfection.

Out of Sight
release: June 26
nominee: Best Adapted Screenplay (Scott Frank), Best Film Editing

Miami-based U.S. Marshal Jennifer Lopez gets into an entanglement with handsome bank robber George Clooney, who's on his way to Detroit for some good, old-fashioned heisting. Lopez and Clooney together have the kind of spark that makes you want a cold shower after. Sexy, cool movie.

Tomorrow, it's time for the blockbusters: Armageddon! The Mask of Zorro! Rush Hour!

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