1997 Leaman Awards - The Part-Time Critic

Friday, April 2, 2021

1997 Leaman Awards

*Last Updated 9/21/2022  

1997 Films Seen: 83
Number of Films with A or A+ Grade: 4
Key Films Still to See: n/a

Brief Summary: The cultural memory of this year is dominated by the phenomenon of Titanic. As a teenage boy when it came out, I think I instinctually hated the film simply because it was seen as a "teen girl's romance film" - though I did acknowledge the disaster scenes were done well. Over the years, I've grown to see Titanic as a masterpiece and that's kind of the story with the best films of this year (Contact, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, Gattaca); didn't quite get them as a teenager, but slowly came to love them. The year's best is quite top heavy, with three of the top ten finding their way into my top ten of all time at different points of my life. Still, beyond that there are some solid offerings beyond the usual dramas: action entries (Tomorrow Never DiesFace/Off), comedies (Men in Black, Austin Powers, Wag the Dog), and science fiction (Gattaca, Contact, Fifth Element). 

Not a "best of" list or a "favorite" list - but a list of the films and sequences (action, drama, comedy, & musical) that I think represent the best the year had to offer. So think of it as a strange mixture of favorite, best, and defining. Once you get to the top ten films, it definitely becomes more defined as a Top Ten list of the year. The number one film is my favorite of the year. 

25. The Man Who Knew Too Little (B-)
24. Breakdown (B-)
23. Air Force One (B-)
22. Police Story 4: First Strike (B-)
21. Scream 2 (B-)
20. The Sweet Hereafter (B)
19. Donnie Brasco (B)
18. Wag the Dog (B)
17. Mrs. Brown (B)
16. As Good As It Gets (B)
15. Princess Mononoke (B)
14. Face/Off (B)
13. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (B)
12. Tomorrow Never Dies (B)
11. Jackie Brown (B)
THE TOP TEN
10. The Game (B)
9. The Rainmaker (B+)
8. The Apostle (B+)
7. Men in Black (B+)
6. Amistad (A-)

5. Gattaca (A-)

4. L.A. Confidential (A)

3. Titanic (A)

2. Good Will Hunting (A+)

1. Contact (A+)


FAVORITE ACTION SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • "Trailer Trouble: T-Rex Tips It Over a Cliff" -The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Commentary)
  • "Mall Chase: Down Escalators & On Carriages" -Mr. Nice Guy (Commentary)
  • "Parking Garage Chase: Bond Remote Controls a BMW" -Tomorrow Never Dies (Commentary)
The Great:
  • "Finale: Victory Motel Shootout" -L.A. Confidential
  • "Outpost Whiskey: Bug Ambush" -Starship Troopers 
  • "Escape from Carver: Handcuffed Bike Chase in Vietnam" -Tomorrow Never Dies (Commentary)
The Best: "Construction Site Mayhem" -Mr. Nice Guy 
Commentary: I often feel like this sequence (and the movie itself) doesn't quite get the hype it deserves. It's another one of those major set pieces that Jackie does so well where he takes a unique environment (in this case a building under construction) and creatively uses everything in it to his advantage against the bad guys. The premise here is that Jackie sneaks onto this site in order to get his girlfriend back. She is being held by a gangster looking to ensure his deal with another gang goes through okay. Starting off this sequence is a doorway sequence that would make 'Looney Tunes' writers proud. The unfinished building has multiple hallways and the newly installed doors are a bright blue so it becomes this kind of labyrinth where people come and go through doors never knowing what they will find. This kind of live action comedy just isn't done by anyone else, certainly not this well. Kudos to Jackie and Sammo on this sequence alone. Immediately following it is a masterpiece of prop fighting in a construction site. I remember walking through a Home Depot as a kid and imagining what a fight sequence would look like in a store like it and I think this sequence tops anything I could've dreamed. Some of the highlights here include Jackie coming close to a table saw twice, ducks under a grinder, slides down some rollers with style, causing mayhem with firehose and a cement mixer. There's some unfortunate cutting to a separate plotline with some annoying female characters (just how they are written) that brings this sequence down, but it thankfully is short and only barely detracts from run of great gag after gag.  This sequence never fails to put a smile on my face. For more commentary on Jackie Chan's best action sequences, click HERE.


FAVORITE DRAMATIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • "Give Us, Us Free" –Amistad
  • “Talking to the Members of a Car Wreck, Giving a Chance of Hope” –The Apostle
  • “Partying in the 80s with a Murder-Suicide” – Boogie Nights
  • “A Saboteur Brings Down the Machine” -Contact
  • “Ellie Must Explain her Experience to the Court” -Contact
  • “Soaring into Space/Meeting his End” –Gattaca
  • “Interrogation of the Night Owl Suspects” –L.A. Confidential
  • “Shotgun Chase of the Escaped Night Owl Suspects” -L.A. Confidential
  • "Opening Stab Premiere" –Scream 2
  • "Climbing Over a Knocked Out Killer" –Scream 2
  • “Mitchell learns of his daughter being HIV positive over the phone” –The Sweet Hereafter
  • “Rose is Drawn by Jack” –Titanic
  • “Mr. Murdock shoots a passenger and then takes his own life” –Titanic 
The Great:
  • "Recounting the Middle Passage" –Amistad
  • “Drug Deal Gone Bad to An 80’s Mix Tape” -Boogie Nights
  • “Preparing to Enter the Pod/Traveling/Meeting the Aliens” -Contact
  • “It’s Not Your Fault” -Good Will Hunting
  • “Regret and Meeting his Wife in a Bar” -Good Will Hunting
  • “Rose Passes Away and is Greeted by the Others on the Ship and Jack on the Stairway” –Titanic
  • “Nearer My God To Thee: The Band plays as Several Characters Meet a Watery Death” –Titanic
  • “The Titanic Cracks, Bobs and Goes Under as Passengers Fall Off and Hang On” -Titanic 
The Best:  “Taster’s Choice Moment for Men at the Pond” -Good Will Hunting
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE COMEDIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
Not a category I kept good track of - One of the toughest TBH
The Very Good:
  • "The Far Away Steam Roller" -Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
  • "Who Does Number Two Work For?" -Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
  • "Mustafa Continues to Remain Alive in Dr. Evil's Death Lair" -Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
The Great:
  • "Austin Powers is Un-Frozen and Brought Back to Life" -Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

The Best: 
Commentary: n/a

FAVORITE MUSICAL SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • "In the Dark of the Night" -Anastasia
  • "Once Upon a December" -Anastasia
  • "The Whole Family Sings a Love Song Out to Dinner" -My Best Friend’s Wedding 
  • "Zero to Hero" -Hercules
The Great:
  • "I Won't Say I'm in Love" -Hercules
The Best: "I Can Go the Distance" -Hercules
Commentary: n/a

BEST DIRECTOR
Nominees:
  • James Cameron Titanic
  • Curtis Hanson L.A. Confidential
  • Gus Van Sant Good Will Hunting
  • Steven Spielberg Amistad
  • Robert Zemeckis Contact
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE FILM ENSEMBLE
Nominees:
  • Amistad
  • Boogie Nights
  • Good Will Hunting
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Titanic
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE MALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Matt Damon Good Will Hunting
  • Robert Duvall The Apostle
  • Ethan Hawke Gattaca
  • Ian Holm The Sweet Hereafter
  • Djimon Hounsou Amistad
  • Tommy Lee Jones Men in Black
  • Jude Law Gattaca
  • Jack Nicholson As Good As It Gets
  • Kevin Spacey L.A. Confidential
  • Robin Williams Good Will Hunting
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE FEMALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Joan Allen The Ice Storm
  • Kim Basinger L.A. Confidential
  • Judi Dench Mrs. Brown
  • Minnie Driver Good Will Hunting
  • Jodie Foster Contact
  • Pam Grier Jackie Brown
  • Helen Hunt As Good As It Gets
  • Julianne Moore Boogie Nights
  • Uma Thurman Gattaca
  • Kate Winslet Titanic
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE SCREENPLAY
(original or adapted)
Nominees:
  • Amistad
  • The Apostle
  • Contact
  • Donnie Brasco
  • Gattaca
  • Good Will Hunting
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Men in Black
  • Titanic
  • Wag the Dog
Commentary: n/a


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
*No eligible documentaries seen
Nominees: n/a


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Nominees:
  • Anastasia
  • Hercules
  • Princess Mononoke
Commentary: n/a

BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees:
  • Contact
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Jackie Brown
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Titanic
Commentary: n/a


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Nominees:
  • Amistad
  • Boogie Nights
  • Contact
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Titanic
Commentary: n/a


BEST ART DIRECTION
Nominees:
  • Amistad
  • Kundun
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Men in Black
  • Titanic
Commentary: n/a


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Nominees:
  • Contact
  • The Fifth Element
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  • Starship Troopers
  • Titanic
Commentary: n/a


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees:
  • Contact
  • Kundun
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Men in Black
  • Titanic
Commentary: n/a


BEST SOUND DESIGN
Nominees:
  • Con Air
  • Contact
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  • Men in Black
  • Titanic
Commentary: n/a


BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Nominees:
  • Amistad
  • Boogie Nights
  • Kundun
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Titanic
Commentary: n/a


BEST MAKE-UP & HAIR DESIGN
Nominees:
  • Amistad
  • Boogie Nights
  • Men in Black
  • Mrs. Brown
  • Titanic
Commentary: n/a

BIGGEST GUILTY PLEASURE
Nominees:
  • Air Force One
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little
  • Vegas Vacation
Commentary: The original Austin Powers film has a lot of memorable comedy bits within its successful sendup of the British spy genre anchored by Mike Myers’ sex-crazed swinging superspy Austin Powers. I find the central character’s obsession with sex redundant and overbearing, but unlike in later sequels, the original film is able to find some softer and empathetic sides to Powers while also contextualizing him to the swinging 60’s. I think this original continues to work well today, unlike the sequels which are dated and a slog except for certain gags, is because there is a commitment to being a parody/character sendup first and foremost and Myer’s is allowed to run wild with characters and comedy bits within that framework. The sequels raised the comedy bits above the story and are worse off for it. 


MOST SURPRISING FILM
Nominees:
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Titanic
Commentary: n/a


MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM
Nominees:
  • Batman & Robin
  • Chasing Amy
  • The Ice Storm
Commentary: n/a


MOST UNDERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • Contact
  • Double Team
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little 
Commentary: n/a


MOST OVERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • Boogie Nights
  • Chasing Amy
  • The Ice Storm
Commentary: n/a


WORST FILM
Nominees:
  • Chasing Amy
  • Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
  • The Postman
Commentary: n/a


BEST COMPILATION OF WORK
Nominees:
  • Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting, Grosse Point Blank, & Princess Mononoke)
Commentary: n/a


ERIC BANA AWARD
*Given for the best performance in a bad film (See 2004's Troy)
Nominees:
  • Michael Ironside in Starship Troopers
Commentary: n/a

THE END!

"Vincent: You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back." -Gattaca

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