It's the end of June, and that means that the year is half over. So, while it's far too early to start compiling a Top 10 list for 1997, I thought it would be interesting to go back an compare the Top 10 mid-year films of 1997 with those of every year since I began reviewing (an avocation that I started, away from the Net, in January 1992). After the lists, I'll say a few words about some of the trends that are evident. Here are my Top 10 lists as they existed on June 30 of 1992-1997.
Note: You'll recognize that 7 of the 10 entries on the 1992 list aren't linked. That's because, during that year, I wrote only "capsule" reviews (one- or two-paragraph short essays) that I have never posted to a newsgroup or uploaded to my web site. In the case of a few 1992 reviews, I re-watched the movie and added to the review, thus "beefing it up" to the point where I felt it was comparable to the rest of my work. 3 of the 1992 mid-year Top 10 fall into that category.
Movies with an "*" appeared on the end-of-the-year Top 10.
While past tendencies are not necessarily indicative of future results, the lists from 1992-96 argue that In the Company of Men, Go Now [Note: Release Deferred to 1998], and Mrs. Brown are safe bets for end-of-the-year honors. Jerusalem, Hollow Reed, and Chasing Amy are possibilities. However, since 1997 seems to be following 1996's trend of releasing most of the high quality films towards the end of the year, it's likely that the final Top 10 will be dominated with October, November, and December releases.
So what does this mean? Nothing concrete, really. We all know that this year has been a particularly bad one, and these numbers, along with others, bear this out -- it's the weakest first half-year since 1992. There are a lot of ***1/2 on the list, and only one ****. The months of February, March, and April were especially miserable, with mediocre-to-bad releases glutting the market. I can recall a week-long period earlier this year when I saw eight straight sub-**1/2 movies. That's a nadir.
A great deal of this stems from Hollywood's increasing reliance upon blockbusters. Dante's Peak, the first budget-breaker of the year, came out in February. Since then, we've had Volcano, The Fifth Element, The Lost World, Con Air, Speed 2, Hercules, and Face/Off. Still to come: Men in Black, Contact, Air Force One, Event Horizon, Alien Resurrection, Starship Troopers, Titanic, and Tomorrow Never Dies. With so much money going into these films, the major studios don't have the inclination to spend money on smaller, more "personal" films. Then there are the re-releases, which have represented most of 1997's first-half quality - - everything from the splashy, spiffed-up Star Wars trilogy to the relatively-obscure Le Samourai. With Hollywood drowing in special effects, basic storytelling and character development are left up to the independents. But even they are taking more of a safe road. Formulas abound. Pulp Fiction knock-offs are everywhere, and it will only be a matter of time before English Patient and Shine clones flood the marketplace.
The early months of the year have become a dumping ground for cinematic trash. Anything that doesn't look good gets released then. A movie with Oscar potential is held back until post-Thanksgiving, since Academy Members are notorious for their short memories when it comes to handing out Best Picture nominees. If you're a movie-lover, the final three months of the year are heaven. Unfortunately, the other nine vary from purgatory to the lowest level of hell.
Still, even amidst all the dross, there are -- or at least there always have been -- good early year films. However, the way things are going, I'm beginning to wonder if, in another few years, all the entries on my mid-year Top 10 list have dropped off by December 31st's final tally.
Next: "Random Thoughts about Film Critics, Or Why I Watch Siskel and Ebert"
© 1997 James Berardinelli