Best of 1997

1997 was the year of Titanic.  It broke box office records and tied the record for most Oscars won by a single film, with 11.  Yet it, was still unable to place on as many critics’ top ten lists as two other films.  166 lists were counted in 1997.

20. Shall We Dance? (24 lists; 1 top spot)


“Shall We Dance?’ holds forth the sunny possibility that beyond the most timid exterior there may be a tangoing Walter Mitty to be found.” – Janet Maslin, New York Times

19. Good Will Hunting (26 lists; 1 top spot)


“Towering performance by Matt Damon as a troubled working class who needs to address his creative genius elevates this drama way above its therapeutic approach, resulting in a zeitgeist film that may touch chord with young viewers the way The Graduate did” – Emanuel Levy, Variety

18. Ponette (27 lists)


“The kind of intimate drama that stops you in your tracks and leaves you marveling at the magnificence of the human soul.” – Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice

16. Eve’s Bayou (27 lists; 1 top spot)


Subplots are woven stealthily into the story, taking the pressure off the central drama, allowing it to be affecting rather than melodramatic, and heightening the atmosphere of the lush Louisiana setting.” – Lisa Alspector, Chicago Reader

16. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (27 lists; 1 top spot)


“In addition to its ability to be scrupulously analyzed, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control is entertaining, which is perhaps the most praised remark that can be given to a documentary.” – Rumsey Taylor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You 

15. The Apostle (27 lists; 3 top spots)


A labor of love coming to fruition after 13 years, this is Robert Duvall’s third and best directorial effort, a sharply observed exploration of a preacher who embarks on a redemption odyssey after committing a crime.” – Emanuel Levy, Variety

14. Amistad (31 lists; 7 top spots)


As Spielberg vehicles go, Amistad — part mystery, action thriller, courtroom drama, even culture-clash comedy — lands between the disturbing lyricism of Schindler’s List and the storybook artificiality of The Color Purple.” – Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today

13. Donnie Brasco (31 lists)

Donnie Brasco (1996) Directed by Mike Newell Shown: Al Pacino, Johnny Depp

“In the tired figure of Lefty, manifest in the craggy icon of Pacino, our sympathies are definitely enlisted, and the theme rings a poignant note. – Rick Groen, Globe and Mail

12. Face/Off (36 lists; 1 top spot)


“It could be argued that this movie’s callousness toward human life is nihilistic and nasty. But Woo takes everything so absurdly far that audiences laugh at what horrified them moments before.” – Andy Seiler, USA Today

11. Chasing Amy (38 lists)


The performances are universally strong. The goateed Affleck makes for a particularly sympathetic protagonist; he has the looks and confidence of a lady-killer, but nagging befuddlement and vulnerability are rarely far from the surface.” – Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

10. As Good As It Gets (41 lists; 2 top spots)


“It’s a mark of how magically written, directed and acted As Good as It Gets is that we end up loving this film despite knowing how haphazard, scattershot and almost indefinable its charm is.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

9. Ulee’s Gold (41 lists; 3 top spots)


“Nunez’s script is thoughtful and intelligent, and it challenges his actors with fully-formed personalities for them to breathe life into…” – James Berardinelli, ReelViews

8. In the Company of Men (43 lists; 1 top spot)


“LaBute directs this low-budget film with such spareness and precision, using such minimal yet effective backdrops, that in retrospect his color film almost seems to have been in black and white. Its ideas are that stark.” – Janet Maslin, New York Times

7. The Wings of the Dove (46 lists; 1 top spot)


“Bonham Carter never allows the audience to lose the feeling that Kate truly does care about Milly–it’s just that she cares about herself even more.” – Michael Dequina,

6. The Full Monty (50 lists; 3 top spots)


“Leaves the audience smiling and giggling, all the while painting a convincing and touching portrait of the downtrodden in England.” – Michael Dequina,

5. The Ice Storm (51 lists; 5 top spots)


“Lee daringly chooses to keep his story’s motivational mysteries unexplained, leaving this richly observed film open to the viewer’s assessments. Yet the sense of imbalance is ever-present and strong.” – Janet Maslin, New York Times

4. Boogie Nights (77 lists; 12 top spots)


“Considering the potentially explosive nature of the yarn, set in the porn world, Anderson’s strategy is remarkably nonjudgmental and nonsensationalistic, largely due to his love and respect for all the characters and his impressive storytelling skills.” – Emanuel Levy, Variety

3. Titanic (77 lists; 15 lists)


“Take one of history’s most compelling tragedies, tell it through the lives of two engaging young lovers and show it with some of the best-ever special effects and you have a dazzling, exciting movie that is also poignant and personal.” – Joe Hollerman, St. Louis Dispatch

2. The Sweet Hereafter (96 lists; 17 top spots)


“As in Egoyan’s Exotica and The Adjuster, past and present are intricately fused by the crisp editing, the mournful shadings of Mychael Danna’s score and Paul Sarossy’s austere wide-screen cinematography” – John Hartyl,

1. L.A. Confidential (123 lists; 30 top spots)


L.A. Confidential is immersed in the atmosphere and lore of film noir, but it doesn’t seem like a period picture–it believes its noir values and isn’t just using them for decoration.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times