The movies of 1997 and the 1998 Academy Awards


The year of 1997 in cinema might be one of the greatest of all-time, leading to a 1998 Academy Awards ceremony in which almost every nominated movie had a legitimate shot at winning. Of course, there was a monster iceberg movie standing in the way.

A sinking ship. Hijacked airplanes. Murder. Porn stars. Aliens. John Travolta.

These are only a taste of what films released in 1997 had to offer audiences. Subject matter was sprayed in every general direction, allowing for fans of all genres to sit up and take notice. And looking back at this year, many of the movies listed were ones that influenced and impacted me in some way and a few are still on my list of all-time favorites.

For a quick reminder, here is a sampling of what movies were released in '97:

  • Titanic
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Boogie Nights
  • Jackie Brown
  • Con Air
  • Air Force One
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Men in Black
  • As Good as it Gets
  • Face/Off
  • My Best Friend's Wedding
  • Amistad
*Many of these were nominated in one way or the other for the 1998 Academy Awards. And it's not on the above list, but Starship Troopers also received a nomination.

The race for best picture in the '98 Academy Awards was between five movies: Titanic, As Good as it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, and L.A. Confidential.

It was in the other categories as well that other fights were being held. Best supporting actor went to the late Robin Williams but Burt Reynolds performance in Boogie Nights was just as (if not more) deserving.

Though she lost out to Helen Hunt, Helena Bonham Carter burst onto the scene with her performance in Wings of a Dove. And a couple of fellas from Boston wrote their way into the big-time.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck--still lesser to Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Matthew Lillard as far as bromances go--and their movie Good Will Hunting was a main reason I turned to writing as a career.

In December of 1997, I was finishing my first semester at community college with still no clue as to what I wanted to do in life. To say I became obsessed with this movie is an understatement. I bought the soundtrack, the script, and basically followed everything these two were doing. (Of course, it was only later I discovered they'd been slogging away in Hollywood for years. But still.)

Good Will Hunting pushed me in the direction of something I'd always done: writing. And this film, along with Titanic, Boogie Nights, and L.A. Confidential, pushed me in the direction of wanting to get into the film industry.

On a larger scope, I still held a connection to action films like Air Force One or Face/Off. Even Con Air held my attention, though it's a little harder to do with these films in the present day. Enjoying the occasional spectacle is okay, but over time substance in film, for me, has taken precedence.

Of the best picture nominees, two of them are on my all-time top 20 list. I only saw The Full Monty once, shortly after it's release on VHS so I will not be discussing it in detail. Just know it became one of the monster hits of its time, even spawning a Broadway musical.

In its place, I will discuss Boogie Nights. And that's where we'll begin.

A big, bright shining star

Paul Thomas Anderson had been a relative unknown outside of Hollywood circles at this time. He had one film under his belt--Hard Eight--and was launched into the stratosphere with his movie about...the porn industry. 

The film, though, was about so much more. It was about family and how--dysfunctional or not--will grow and fail together. It is about finding those friendships and passions that drive a person, that complete their life, and the hard, fast fall of fame.

Set in the San Fernando Valley of the late 1970's/early 80's, the film is primarily centered around the porn industry and the rise and fall of Dirk Diggler. Along the way, he encounters fame, the power that comes with it, followed by a steep downfall and ultimately, redemption.

I count this movie among my top-five of all-time. PTA is still one of my favorite filmmakers and writers, for that matter. He has gone on to quite the career, with hits such as Magnolia, Punch-Drunk LoveThere Will be Blood, The Master, and soon-to-be-released film about the fashion industry. (And supposedly the last film of Daniel Day-Lewis.)

Boogie Nights helped turn Mark Wahlberg into a movie star. Prior to that, he'd made a few films, notably Fear with Reese Witherspoon, but Boogie Nights gave him the bump he needed. It also helped to be surrounded by a stellar cast.

Starting with Reynolds. 

Disputes between Reynolds and PTA are well-documented. Fact is, the film helped bring Reynolds new acclaim. A long tenured career aside, Boogie Nights gave the veteran actor a character to really sink his teeth into. He briefly capitalized on a return to the spotlight, but has not had a great a role since.

William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Ricky Jay, Alfred Molina, Thomas Jane, and Don Cheadle. Getting any of those names to appear in your movie is something to be proud of. Anderson got them all.

All are integral to the story being told and each bring's a character to life, no matter how minor or major the part. For many of these actors, they continued to work with PTA over the years and were given more opportunities because of these independent movie that could. 

A movie that soon found itself in direct competition with the next film on the list.

Chuck I had a double burger

One of my favorite scenes in this movie is when the four boys are driving around. The car-ride is silent, it's early morning (I think) and Casey Affleck is simply staring out the window, watching the city pass him by.

In a way, this short scene sums up a lot about Good Will Hunting: Not remaining idle and letting the world pass you by.

This is one of the broader meanings of the movie. Like Boogie Nights, Good Will Hunting is also about friendship and family. It's a different kind of family, but one that's tight knit all the same.

Similarities don't stop there. Good Will Hunting also took a couple of stars from Massachusetts in Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and helped elevate their celebrity status. They co-wrote the film as a way to give themselves the parts they weren't getting in Hollywood. And getting paired with director Gus Van Sant didn't hurt, either.

Their writing was good, in fact, they haven't teamed together to write anything since. In all fairness, both have had their own careers to worry about, but come on fellas.

I digress. A supporting cast of Williams, Minnie Driver, Cole Houser, and the younger Affleck help to make this movie go. Williams was deserving of the Oscar for best supporting actor (even though a tie with Reynolds would have been nice). His performance ranks up there as one of the best of his career, though his turn in World's Greatest Dad years later rivals that as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting.

Driver would also earn a nod for her work in the film as did Damon for best actor. 

Another similarity between this movie and Boogie Nights is the excellent soundtracks both provided. While Boogie Nights focuses on hits from the 70's/80's, Good Will Hunting's soundtrack is driven by original music. Music written and performed by the late, great Elliott Smith. 

The music of Smith cuts to the soul and was a perfect addition to this movie. He might have even garnered an Oscar for his song Miss Misery if it weren't for that darn Titanic movie and Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On.

As we can see, despite the quality of films populating the landscape, there was very little that was going to stop the behemoth that was Titanic.

In part two, we will look at 'Titanic', 'As Good as it Gets', and 'L.A. Confidential'. What's up with Billy Zane? And whatever happened to Helen Hunt?

Part two: Movies of 1997, Academy Awards of '98
Part three: Movies of 1997-Blockbusters


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