New Classic Films for a New Year
If you look up the word "classic" in the dictionary you will see that the term can be applied to anything twenty years old or older. There are many film fans that play fast and loose with this parameter, but I am a stickler. I believe that time and distance is required to truly determine if a film has become a classic, and whether or not it has legs to go the distance, or whether it was simply popular in its moment. So, with that in mind, I humbly suggest a few films from 1997 that should now be included in the realm of classic cinema. The time has come to reflect and consider if the productions of this particular annum had staying power or were mere products of their time.
I'll admit, Oscar usually does a pretty good job of selecting the best of the best for statuette contention, and 1997 was no exception. Just looking at the Academy Award nominees for the year you can see a decent display of memorable films; As Good As It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, and the big winner of the year, Titanic. But let's be honest, the shiny guy sometimes does drop the ball. I mean would anyone now choose Cavalcade over the original King Kong, which wasn't even nominated for the same production period? Or would any one pick Tom Jones instead of the spectacular, Sidney Poitier movie, Lilies of the Field in 1963? Come on! I wouldn't force anyone to watch that creaky melodrama of the early sound era. And Jones plays like an episode of Benny Hill - not that there's anything wrong with that. But, are these two movies really Oscar material? Are they even classics? I think not.
What about the other well received films of 1997? There’s Air Force One, Amistad, The Apostle, Boogie Nights, Cop Land, Donnie Brasco, Contact, Jackie Brown, Men in Black, The Sweet Hereafter, Ulee’s Gold, and Wag the Dog just to name a few. Personally, the clear standouts for me are Boogie Nights and Donnie Brasco. Both films offer a well-defined look at another place and time without the side effect of “dating” themselves, and provide signature flare in the over all production value of carefully crafted films. The same could be said about Jackie Brown, but that film’s overall story is just plane lacking. I love Tarantino, and am in awe of Pam Grier, but the subplots drag this film down like an anchor. Let’s not forget movies like The Fifth Element, Starship Troopers, and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, which should be included for style and massive cult appeal. There’s certainly no denying their status as guilty pleasures that have earned legions of devoted fans, and exist as examples of the affect unlimited production dollars of the 90s could offer. In the field of animation the year wasn’t exactly stellar. Don Bluth directed the forgettable Anastasia, and Disney produced the less than memorable, Hercules. However, we did get a Miyazaki classic, Princess Mononoke.
No matter how you define what a classic film means to you, please do me a favor and never, but never refer to anything as an "instant" classic. That's just an oxymoron in my book - like civil war and act natural. The two terms are mutually exclusive. Like a good wine, you must let a good movie age. Then and only then, time will tell.