Now, the eleventh in a continuing series in which I count down my favorites from a particular year in film. Previous entries:
1982 * 1984 * 1985 * 1988 * 1990 * 1991 * 1993 * 1997 * 2002 * 2003
I'm going to use Wikipedia to kickstart my brain, year by year, and I'll throw out a Favored Five here and there. If you want to refresh your memory in a similar fashion, just go to Wiki and type "[four-character year] in film." Here's the one for 1996. I won't pretend that Wiki is the end-all, be-all of filmic knowledge or that these yearly lists are 100% accurate, but they're an excellent place to start and a great resource.
I have pretty mixed feelings about 1996. It's filled with a bunch of fluff. Lovable fluff, but still fluff - movies like Twister and Independence Day and Mission: Impossible, on the big side, and Beautiful Girls, Fear and From Dusk Till Dawn on the smaller side. I don't know - I guess the more I look at the list of films, the more I see ones that I have great affection for, and many that I greatly enjoyed but just haven't seen enough times (Bottle Rocket). Half the films seem overly dated for just 15 years ago, while others are just as fresh now as they were then. I don't know - you tell me - is 1996 a good or even great year for film?
Notable movies not yet seen:
Beavis and Butt-Head Do America
Courage Under Fire - not sure how notable this even is, outside of seeing a young, skinny Matt Damon.
The English Patient
Secrets & Lies
The Birdcage - Although it tries to get a few messages slipped in, this one's as light as a feather, with delightful writing and characters. Having a bunch of seasoned vets around didn't hurt, either.
Happy Gilmore - Yes, it's plenty retarded, but it's got its moments. Also, it takes some practice, but if you can manage to hit the ball like Happy does, it indeed travels a country mile.
Primal Fear - I wish this one hadn't aged so poorly. Like a few other movies from 1996 (like Multiplicity), this one - at first glance - appears to have been made in 1988. But that doesn't take away from the enjoyment it delivers. A solid crime thriller with a tremendous acting performance that rightly put Ed Norton's name into our consciousness. As a bonus, I love seeing Richard Gere play a jerk, and LOST's Terry O'Quinn (Locke) has a small role (with hair!).
Shine - You know that distinction between best and favorite that people (like myself) are always making? Well, when I make these lists, they generally are biased towards the favorites - it seems as though there are few films (the best?) that can seem to straddle that line between expert film making and rewatchability (which is what that 'favorites' stuff really comes down to). The Last Emperor might be a fantastic film, but I can't say that I will ever have a desire to watch it again. Well, Shine is definitely more towards the "prestige" (best) category, but it's more than worth a rewatch or two for Geoffrey Rush's Oscar-winning turn as David Helfgott. Simply stunning - and there's a load of awesome music in here, too.
Tin Cup - Arguably better than either of Ron Shelton's other great sports flicks - Bull Durham and White Men Can't Jump - I would still rank Cup 3rd out of the three of them. Call it a bias towards what came first, or maybe a bias against Don Johnson. Ok, not really. But Cup is one hell of an enjoyable rom-com, and it features a great and terrible ending. Painful to watch, but so refreshing.
New addition to this little series: I set up a poll over at the BC Facebook page with a selection of films from this year. Your mission: go vote on YOUR favorite from 1996! http://www.facebook.com/blogcabins
5. Swingers - These days it's known more for "You're so money!" and being connected to a Vegas resurgence than anything else, but Doug Liman's first film is, if not great, a fun, well-written ride featuring Vince Vaughn's star-making performance and enough cultural touchstones of the time (Sega's NHL '94, the 18th swing music revival, Heather Graham) to keep it relevant today. Multiple viewings are definitely rewarded.
4. When We Were Kings - Prior to seeing this, I was under the impression that Muhammed Ali was the Frank Sinatra of boxing: a wildly talented individual whose ego stood in the way of him being a beloved icon (at least to me, as I thought both were jackasses). Boy, was I wrong. Ali's "I'm the greatest" act was just that - just part of his shtick. Smarter and wittier than just about any athlete ever, When We Were Kings also showed his compassion and the brilliant tactician that he was. It was also eye-popping to see always-smilin', always-grillin' George Foreman in his younger days. My favorite documentary.
3. Kingpin - I still can never decide if this or Dumb and Dumber is my favorite Farrelly Brothers movie. I think it just comes down to whichever one I saw last. Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid are of course fantastic, and Vanessa Angel's breasts deserved an Academy Award nomination for their performance, but we all know that it was Bill Murray (and his hair) that took this puppy over the top. "Hey there...not you."
2. Trainspotting - All in all, I don't think 1996 is all that great of a year, but these top two stand head and shoulders above the rest. It's not even close. Danny Boyle's second feature is just an all-time classic that I wouldn't even know where to start with when reflecting on what makes it so great. The star-making performances, the epic soundtrack(s), and, above all, Boyle's stellar direction seem to be the top reasons. Where would Ewan McGregor be without Rent Boy?
1. Fargo - Farrelly Brothers, meet Coen Brothers. Two diametrically different sets of films, same conundrum. Fargo or The Big Lebowski? That is the question I face. Thankfully, I don't really need to answer it to know that the former is my favorite film of 1996. Name a film for me that's funnnier while being about a subject matter that's 1/2 as dark as this, I dare you. Only the Coens could take such a violently disturbing tragedy such as this and turn it into a film so ripe with wit and absurdity, all the while playing it straight as an arrow (i.e. no Lebowski-like dream sequences or Fink-ish nutto endings). And unlike Primal Fear, this one only gets better with age.