Top Ten 1997

1. L.A. Confidential
2. The Tango Lesson
3. Mrs. Dalloway
4. Jackie Brown
5. Wag The Dog
6. Ulee’s Gold
7. The Wings of the Dove
8. Happy Together
9. Children Of Heaven
10. The Ice Storm


The performance that really hit the mark in 1997 was the great Peter Fonda channeling the wise, emotional sympathy that he and Jane inherited from their father, appearing in one of the best independent films of the decade, Ulee’s Gold.

Honour Roll: Stephen Dillane, Welcome To Sarajevo; Robert Duvall, The Apostle; John Hurt, Love And Death On Long Island; Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets


Helen Hunt’s performance as a poor Brooklyn waitress with an ill son in As Good As It Gets is a riveting tour-de-force that grabs you from the first scene and never lets you go. After years of success in television, Hunt never managed to make more with her movie career after this movie, but it’s no matter. The intelligence and emotion with which she delivers all her dialogue, not to mention the reactions she gives fellow cast members Nicholson and Greg Kinnear, are enough to power a lifetime (I love her face when he tells her that son is probably going to die, it’s a definitive moment).

Honour Roll: Helena Bonham Carter, The Wings Of The Dove; Julie Christie, Afterglow; Judi Dench, Mrs. Brown; Jessica Lange,A Thousand Acres


Another veteran was rediscovered in 1997, though sadly not to lasting effect:  the great Robert Forster and his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s excellent film Jackie Brown. Forster was a character actor that I mainly knew as the soldier who made Brando horny with his nude horseback riding in John Huston’s Reflections In a Golden Eye, so it was high time that he was given the character acting career in his older age that he deserved. In Tarantino’s film he provides an excellent, grounded characterization that anchors the wildness going on between Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson in the leads, and, without betraying a single whit of effort, manages to walk away with the film.

Honour Roll: Greg Kinnear, As Good As It Gets; Jason Lee,Chasing Amy; Guy Pearce, L.A. Confidential; Kevin Spacey, L.A. Confidential


After years on television in soap operas and bad television miniseries, Julianne Moore shot to critical acclaim with roles in films like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts and Todd Haynes’ Safe, before Paul Thomas Anderson established her with her terrific role as the mother-hen porn star in his otherwise spotty epic Boogie Nights.  Moore is fantastic at playing the more desperate aspects of the character, her drug-hollowed eyes and soft voice always making sure everyone around her is as as nurtured as possible, but also finds the genuine soul and heartbreak beneath the woman’s outrageous occupation. She was equally riveting in The Myth of Fingerprints as the emotionally frustrated sibling of a family coming together for Thanksgiving who have lost their ability to communicate.

Honour Roll: Joan Allen, The Ice Storm; Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential; Joan Cusack, In & Out; Anne Heche, Donnie Brasco


James Ellroy’s original novel could not possibly have fit into anything short of a miniseries, and yet somehow director Curtis Hanson and screenwriter Brian Helgeland managed to whittle down the narrative of L.A. Confidential into a cohesive and fascinating modern-day film noir that, even when retaining the bare bones of Ellroy’s book, still has a hell of a lot more plot than any other film of the decade. It is a perfect recreation of the era and features a whole host of memorable characters who are all perfectly cast (including an effectively subtle, Oscar-winning Kim Basinger), and is my favourite American movie of the nineties.

Honour Roll:  James L. Brooks, As Good As It Gets; Ang Lee, The Ice Storm; Sally Potter, The Tango Lesson; Quentin Tarantino,Jackie Brown