Most Influential Films 1998-2002
Before going any further, let me apologize on behalf of our whole team for the general lack of content lately. Most of our writers are seniors in college across the country, and we’re all currently being hammered by finals. Here’s to no more school soon, though, and a hell of a lot of content from now on. We’re embarking on a trip into some exciting new territory over the next few months here at Current Ground, and we’d all like you to join us for the ride.
Alright. Back to the present. We’re here to tackle the real issue of continuing our epically and unfortunately long series of the most influential films of all time. Before going any further, check out the previous entries: 1895-1937, 1939-1967, 1968-1977, 1978-1990 and 1991-1997. Seriously. Do not go any further before reading those. I promise you will return here feeling more enlightened, entertained and educated than ever before. As you can see…I’ve been having a bit of trouble getting up to 2012. Who knows…maybe I’ll just never catch up to present. Not such a bad thing, I suppose. Let’s at least try and get into the new millennium this time.
Disclaimer: All of the previous films have certainly been awarded the title of “most influential” by my own opinion, but there’s a general consensus of “great” surrounding most of them purely because almost all of them are over twenty years old. We’re now emerging into a new arena. There hasn’t been much written elsewhere on the following films in terms of their lasting influence due to the fact that they’re all pretty recent. So, don’t be surprised if you’re…surprised…by some of my choices.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
I chose the above image because it’s from one of the most downright poignant scenes to grace the silver screen in the past twenty years. Pvt. Witt, played humbly by Jim Caviezel, stares into more than just Japanese soldiers surrounding him in the last moments of his life. He stares into something greater than himself. What was the best war movie of 1998? Here’s a hint. It wasn’t Saving Private Ryan. Terrence Malick’s magnum opus asks many questions, but answers very view. Unlike most films these days, this one doesn’t hold your hand along the way. Malick keeps the action and plot at a great distance from the audience using his by now overly familiar style and visuals. The greatest flaw of Saving Private Ryan was that it was a typical Spielberg Hollywood meal. Too much sentiment, stereotyped characters and Tom Hanks. Malick keeps the big names (Clooney and Travolta) on the sidelines as commanding officers. Instead, we follow the hardships of a small band of soldiers as they ask themselves the big questions of war and nature in an intricate and gorgeous portrayal of humanity.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
What was the best movie of 1998? Here’s another hint. It wasn’t Saving Private Ryan. In one of the most contested Oscar picks of all time, the Academy actually got it right. It’s hard to come up with a better romantic comedy than Shakespeare in Love. It delicately captures the feel and atmosphere of England some 400 years ago, but still welcomes audiences into its romantic yet light tale of unrequited love. I don’t know exactly what happened to Joseph Fiennes, but he’s damn impressive as a sympathetic William Shakespeare. What really sets this film apart though is its screenplay. I’m going to make a statement here. This is the richest screenplay of the past three or so decades. The classic conflicts of romance, action and humor weave flawlessly with Shakespeare’s numerous masterpieces. While naturally fiction, Shakespeare’s works being influenced by his own life is convincing and entertaining. Tom Stoppard, one of the most legendary writers to ever walk this planet, was offered the near-finalized script to edit. Who knows how much of an effect he had, but the end result was splendid. It’s a smart man’s romantic comedy, and one of the top 100 films ever made.
There’s Something About Mary (1998)
What the hell is this doing on here? Of course, Something About Mary is not one of the best films of all time. It’s not even close. But, it is damn influential. Every few years, a film comes around that redefines a genre. The Farrelly brothers scored big in 1998 with their most successful entry into their collection of gross-out, yet sentimental comedies. Sure, Dumb and Dumber is a classic, but it’s mostly stupid…and that’s been done many times. Take a peek at Airplane if you haven’t seen it, and you’ll get my point. Something About Mary paved the way for Judd Apatow and his seemingly never-ending portfolio of films like Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin. If it weren’t for those damn Nepalese coins.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
As a young lad, I made the unfortunate decision to convince my father to rent this one from the local West Coast Video. Remember video stores? God, I miss those. Damn you, Netflix and growing up. Anyway, the story ends with me not making it past the halfway mark and sleeping on my parents’ floor that night. Watching it now, it’s not all that scary. Hell, it’s even a bit silly. Then, though, it was both groundbreaking and terrifying. Micro-budget horror had a new name. The creators intelligently set up a faux website dedicated to the “is it real or fake” rumors that generated its box office success. The storytelling-through-shitty-handheld-camera began here, and it’s been copied about a zillion times since. I’ll never forget how scared I was in the witch’s home, not being able to see what the hell was going with the claustrophobic and realistic visual style.
The Matrix (1999)
Before the Wachowski brothers could spoil everything with their overly ambitious mission to answer every philosophical question ever posed in the remaining two films of the trilogy, there was the original The Matrix. An action movie that redefined the genre, but also touched on questions of morality, control and fate. The problem with the next two was that it asked even more questions, and then tried to answer them. The philosophical nature of The Matrix is no doubt a piece of its lasting influence, but the action is what truly makes it ageless. We’re talking bullet-time, slow motion kung-fu with guns and sunglasses without the earpiece. It set the stage for not only movies, but also video games. Max Payne, anyone?
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The still is from one of my favorite scenes of all time. While some still claim Wes Anderson’s first film, Rushmore, is his best, they’re wrong. It is his second film that best encompasses everything that makes that Anderson touch unique. Sure, you can sum up all his movies as exploration into estranged and dysfunctional families in bizarre and exotic locales. There’s even the valid argument that he produces little more than self-indulgent hipster garbage. Still, it’s tough to debate that Wes Anderson represents the most accepted bridge between mainstream indie and even the most stubborn anti-Hollywood film snobs, like me.
Spirited Away (2001)
Don’t bother asking me what’s up with the plot. I’m way too American to fully appreciate it. The best explanation I can offer is that our little hero, Chihiro, is on her way to her new house with her parents when they make a wrong turn. Her parents end up getting turned into pigs, and she winds up working in a bathhouse which serves the thousands of Japanese spirits that occupy this new world. Sound weird? It is. I actually saw this in my 8th grade Biology class…don’t ask me why. Animation Director Hayao Miyazaki is the best in the business, and this film could make this list for its art work alone. But, its much more than that. It’s a message of what happens when adults lose that innocent curiosity children so wonderfully possess. It’s a strange one. But there’s beauty in even the most nightmarish sequences.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Ugh. I guess I have to throw this one in here, don’t I? I’m going to do what the Oscars did and only put this on the list once (so don’t expect to see The Two Towers and The Return of the King). It works out well, too, because the first installment is also the best. While Peter Jackson is quickly following the same path as M. Night Shyamalan — his recent movies have gotten progressively worse — the trilogy of the past century will always keep his name safe in Hollywood’s archives. What else is there to say other than this is as epic as it gets. Sure, it helps to have J.R.R. Tolkien as your primary writer, but Jackson translated the difficult novel to the screen with such ease and magic that it has captivated entire generations.
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
I could write a long, tedious book describing the many ways in which I despise Michael Moore. The disgustingly overweight documentarian launched his successful career with this bad boy. More or less, every one of his films spills the same message. America is rotten. Everything we do is wrong. Europe, and even Cuba, do it better. Despite his politics, no one can dispute his talent behind the camera. He made documentaries cool and entertaining, even at the expense of objectivity and accuracy. In the past ten years, numerous documentaries have drawn crowds to the theaters using many of the methods Moore introduced.
The Son (Le Fils) (2002)
We didn’t make much progress, did we? 10 more films, 4 more years. I think I may be writing these for five more months at this rate. Part of me wanted to skip to 2003, but I couldn’t leave this off the list. It’s one of my favorites, and if you haven’t seen it, you must literally find it this moment and watch it. It’s more important than anything else you’re doing. It is in essence the most profound film you will ever witness, but also one of the simplest. It is this paradox that makes it so special and so perfect. The story goes like this…a carpenter helps troubled teens by teaching them woodworking, but refuses to help one who’s particularly difficult. Eventually, he reverses his opinion, and learns much in the process. It’s shot exclusively with a handheld, and it seems like 3/4 of the film is shooting the back of Olivier Gourmet’s head. He’s not pretty to look at, but neither are any of the other characters. The dialogue is simple, mundane and realistic. You learn the most about the character by just watching him. His movements, his eyes and his expressions. It’s more of a transcendental experience than a movie, but it reaches so deep into your soul that it’s simply unforgettable.