1997 Ten Best Movies

Taste of Cherry

The movies of 1997 demonstrate the divide in the world of film: Titanic became the cinema’s biggest money-making blockbuster and won a batch of king-of-the-world Oscars, while the Cannes Film Festival prize went to Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry, one of the Iranian master’s clearest examples of how the definition of a movie might be re-written. In that sense, it’s a rather good year, because both films, coming from different directions, showed us how to see with new eyes.

The Nineties were an amazing decade for Iran. Taste of Cherry follows a man intending to commit suicide in the barren hills around Tehran, who must find someone to aid him in the process – a process that moves along as though on a continuous thread, like a strip of film, twisting around the roads as the man sifts through the arguments for and against his plan. It is simple and compelling and not simple.

My #2 film also narrows its focus to impending death: Alexander Sokurov’s Mother and Son, a 73-minute meditation about a grown man tending to his dying mother, an almost experimental work in which the movement of facial muscles or the sight of someone walking across a field becomes the “story.” In this year, those experiments beat out traditional Hollywood moviemaking. At least on this list. The ten best movies of 1997:

1. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami)

2. Mother and Son (Alexander Sokurov)

3. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson)

4. Titanic (James Cameron)

5. Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson)

6. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino)

7. Unagi (Shohei Imamura)

8. Hard Eight (Paul Thomas Anderson)

9. The Apostle (Robert Duvall)

10. Lost Highway (David Lynch)

Interesting year. Boogie Nights, though an uneven film, charts high because of its “reach exceeds its grasp” excitement (and Hard Eight is one of those release-date puzzlers; it screened at Sundance in ’96, but wasn’t released until ’97 – ach). The Apostle is a fascinatingly raw slice of Americana, a real achievement for Duvall as both actor and director (it’s about a preacher who goes rogue for a variety of reasons). Kundun, Amistad and The Sweet Hereafter I liked very much at the time, but they just miss my list here; Face/Off joins Lost Highway as a well-wrought film about identity panic. Also deserving: Kitano’s Hana-bi, Panahi’s The Mirror, and Doillon’s Ponette, with its remarkable child performance. Michael Haneke’s original version of Funny Games came out in ’97, a brilliantly-made exercise in proving a point about audience manipulation – one of those movies that somebody had to make at some point (but why remake it, then?). And finally, a hilarious film that ought to be a cult picture but hasn’t quite got there yet: Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.

And I go on about Titanic here.