Thursday Night Movie Club Movie Of The Year

Okay, what the Hell does "Movie of the Year" really mean, anyway?  Well, to me, it means that one movie that stands Head and Shoulders above the usual flaky dandruff of the rest of the flicks churned out that year.  Isn't this kinda arbitrary? Well of COURSE it is!!! You think there is one and exactly one great movie each year? Naturally not.  But in order to give the consuming public (i.e., you) what you seem to be yammering for, we "critics" (that is, otherwise ordinary schmos who happen to have a website) find it necessary to list some sort of "of the year" winners.  And please note that i do not claim that these are the "best" movie of the year, just "the" movie of the year.  Whatever the hell THAT means!!

So.... ahem.... on this page, you will find my list of the "movies of the year" (whatever that means) for each year under discussion.  I will be adding years as i get around to it.  And where I feel it appropriate, I will be including justifications for my decisions, and maybe even runners-up.  But please don't take this crap tooo seriously, after all, I love all movies, and I hope you do too.

And by all means, do keep in touch and let me know what you think about these choices.  Enjoy!
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Miscellaneous Ramblings
Movies of the Year
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Stay for the Credits, Dammit!!!


2005 - king kong (peter jackson)
2004 - saw (james wan)
2003 - lord of the rings: the return of the king (peter jackson) (no, really!)
2002 - lord of the rings: the two towers (peter jackson)
2001 - lord of the rings: fellowship of the rings (peter jackson)
2000 - NO SELECTION - this was just too damn piss-poor of a year
1999 - fight club (david fincher)
1998 - wild things (john mcnaughton)
1997 - titanic (james cameron, again!) (runner up: LA confidential)
1996 - fargo (coen brothers)
1995 - things to do in denver when you're dead (gary fleder)
1994 - pulp fiction (quentin tarantino, you pinhead)
1993 - nightmare before christmas (tim burton as auter, but directed by Henry Selick)
1992 - bram stoker's dracula (francis ford coppola)
1991 - terminator 2: judgment day (james cameron)
1990 - wild at heart (david lynch)


          lots of good movies this year.  "sin city" was extremely groundbreaking in terms of look and feel; bringing the graphic novel style to the silver screen; you gotta love it.  it almost qualified for the "movie of the year" requirement of making me want to see it over and over again.  but not quite.  "star wars episode III: revenge of the sith" was likewise very close to the mark.  after two REALLY horrible outtings, I was incredibly blown away by the return to quality of this flick.  george romero's "land of the dead" was another worthy effort this year, and one of the flicks that is bound to live for ever for genre fans.  "batman begins", which revitalized an ailing franchise, was another worthy effort.  I also enjoyed wes craven's "red eye" very much.  "corpse bride" and "history of violence" were likewise laudable efforts that must be mentioned.
          however, we all know the requirement for "movie of the year" status:  it requires that I WANT and indeed NEED to see a movie again, again, and yet AGAIN, because it was so densly packed with wonderful and intricate details.  high density enjoyment is my most important criterion.  only one movie really achieved that status this year.  it was peter jackson's "king kong", of course.  I am sorry that PJ has gotten my nod so many years, almost in a row.  trust me, I am NOT sucking up to him or trying to give him any sort of benefits!  it's not like he cares, or gives a fuck, or even KNOWS about this award!  but them's the breaks.  his movie is the one that I need to see again and again and again.  he is the master of "high density film-making" these days.  so be it.
          stinkers of the year: "syriana" was about as bad as it gets in the film industry; bad but thinks it's good! yucko!!  "elektra", "the ring two", "D.E.B.S." and "dark water" were just as bad, but never pretended to be good in the first place.  and of course "crash" deserves special recognition as the most fucked-up film I've ever seen.  see the details in the reviews on the alphabetical pages if you really care what I think.
          this was a pretty good year for movies.  lots of worthy competitors.  "the incredibles" was great storytelling, great humor, very affecting, and showed extremely good technique.  "sky captain", while not very good at sticking to the ribs, certainly made an impression, especially in set design and overall high concept.  "the passion of the christ" was very, very affecting, and made a huge impact on this catholic boy.  however, none of them came close to eclipsing the true movie of the year: "saw"  this movie was fucking HUGE.  I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, I have been going to movies for well over forty years, and the the grislier they are, the more I like them.  NEVER in my life, until "saw", have I ever even come close to RUNNING out of a theater in horror and loathing.  but this flick very nearly got my goat.  in the end, I did NOT run out, I stuck through it, but it was very, very close.  SAW, I salute you!
          I would be remiss to not mention a few of the HORRIBLE movies of the year for 2004, a year with more than it's share of abominations:  "ocean's twelve" was completely unnecessary and hollywood masturbation at its worst.  "king arthur" was likewise unforgivable.  "kill bill volume 2" might have been forgivable if the first half had not promised so much.  this final installment was the biggest disappointment imaginable, with talk, talk, talk, and about five minutes of action.  so sad.

          there are still lots of 2003 movies that I haven't seen, and aren't likely to see.  too much business travel this year, dammit!  well, too bad for them, that disqualifies them from the running!  of the flicks I did see this year, quite a few were pretty good.  both "matrix" movies were worth the price of admission, "terminator 3" was a worthy addition to the series, "28 days later" was good grisly, pitiless fun (and you know how much I like pitilessness!), "once upon a time in Mexico" had some great stuff in it, "master and commander" was good and rousing and manly, and "pirates of the Caribbean" was excellent for the humor and the swashbuckling.
          if I were to choose a runner-up this year, it would have to be either "finding nemo" or "kill bill volume 1", both of which demanded subsequent viewings from me, and after all, that is the major criterion for "movie of the year" status.  but they were edged out.
          clunkers of the year: no overtly, phantom-menace-level-bad flicks this year, but there were a goodly complement of disappointments.  "the hulk" was overwrought and angst-ridden (not in a good way), "the league of extraordinary gentlemen" made no sense at all, "the hunted" was totally pointless, and the latest "lara croft" outing was nearly as stupid as the first one.
          so, to the winner.  I really was hoping that I wouldn't have to anoint "lord of the rings: the return of the king" as this year's movie of the year, but I do.  I was afraid that I would appear just a sycophant, unable to even consider any other flick.  but that's not the case; I really did go into the film with an open mind, ready to be disappointed!  but I wasn't, I was blown away.  peter Jackson does it again!

          a reasonably decent year, all in all.  some good, some bad, and plenty to remember.  "panic room" was great fun, with almost stooge-esque humor on top of taught drama.  "the ring" was great, classic, make-your-skin-crawl horror.  "chicago" was an in-your-face MTV-era musical that deserved most of the acclaim it garnered (except for the horribly miscast richard geer).  The latest bond outing ("die another day") and star trek installment ("nemesis") were serviceable if not inspired.  and of course we had the year's clunkers: the execrable "ballistic: ecks vs. sever" and the beyond execrable "attack of the clones".
          but, down to business.  nothing came close to peter jackson's "lord of the rings: the two towers."  honest injun, folks, I was NOT pre-disposed to pick this movie just because of how much I loved "fellowship".  in fact, I kind of liked "two towers" less than "fellowship".  but, it still held up as the one movie of the year that I *knew* I would have to own, have to watch again and again, have to memorize.  and I was right!
          okay, bring on the 2003 flicks!  I'm ready!!

          a much better year than last year, with several movies worth mentioning.  two good coen brothers flicks ("the man who wasn't there" and "o brother where art thou") were both memorable and amusing.  david lynch returned to form with "mulholland drive".  "memento" provided hours of good post-movie discussion.  "tailor of panama" breathed new life into the spy genre in a wonderful way.  "the musketeer", "a knight's tale" and "the mummy returns" were all good frisky fun and worthy of honorable mention.  "jeepers creepers" had a very good, fresh perspective on the venerable horror genre.  and "one night at mccools" really got my attention early on, with a very-nearly movie-of-the-year freshness and intrigue quality about it, plus some really funny stuff.
          but, and I believe that I can say this without any whiff of future reconsideration, the guaran-damn-tee it, movie of the frickin' year, has absolutely, positively, got to be peter jackson's "lord of the rings: the fellowship of the ring".  I've seen it twice, so far, and it keeps getting better.  layer upon layer, fabulous visualizations, subtle and blunt nuances combined in effortless pas de duex (dig me!), and spot-on-perfect casting make it a winner with a capital W.  it's gonna be a looooong year waiting for "the two towers".  JRRT lives!!

          well, i give up.  i think i've seen about all the 2000 releases i'm gonna see, and not one of them measures up to "movie of the year" status.  none are sticking to my ribs, getting in my craw, making me want to see them again and again.  so, sorry folks, no movie of the year this year.  now pick up the shattered pieces of your life and move on.  oh, sure, there were some flicks that i enjoyed.  guy ritchie's "snatch" was enjoyable.  "the patriot" was rousing fun.  "hollow man" and "unbreakable" and "way of the gun" all had their moments.  if i had to pick, "dracula 2000" seems to ring louder in my memory than most of them.  but there was nothing that ranks up there in that pantheon of flicks that you gotta see again, gotta talk about, gotta own a copy of.  and basically, if they can't release a movie as good as "braveheart" (which only got runner up status in 1995), i can't very well declare a winner for a lesser effort than that. it would be an insult!!  hollywood:  better luck next year.

          wow, we had some really good movies this year!  "the matrix" was ground-breaking and exhilarating, "the mummy" was a wild, fun ride, and "three kings" blew me away with its crazy tone, striking visuals, and in-your-face style.  "the blair witch" was creepy and creative beyond anything i've seen for awhile, and both "the sixth sense" and "stir of echoes" were also good creepy fun and stuck to my ribs.  "bringing out the dead" was quite a disappointment, it should have been fabulous, but somehow wasn't, i wish i could explain why not.
          i don't usually consider "worst of" movies, i just ignore them, but this year had not one but TWO movies so bad that i need to mention them.  "star wars: episode one" was so a) boring and b) annoying that it took my breath away and made me re-evaluate my opinions of the first three!  the other absolute stinker was "wild wild west", the less said about which, the better.  i'm tempted to toss "eyes wide shut" onto the dung-heap with these other two miscreants because it was so boring and unpleasant, but i'm inclined to be charitable and chalk that up to over-heightened expectations and the damning presence of mr. t. c.
          but, the hands down winner of the 1999 movie of the year competition is david fincher's "fight club", with its hilariously cynical narration, its exploration of the modern dilemma facing us all (how civilized is TOO civilized?), its fascinatingly fatalistic catch-phrases (you are not a snowflake!  we are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world!) and its unabashed exposure and even celebration of the sickest things we might choose to do (or need to do) with our lives.

          lots of really good movies this year. "mask of zorro" was lots of fun, and could have historical significance if it launches a series, and a new direction for antonio.  "the negotiator" was gripping as hell.  "snake eyes" shows brilliance in lots of ways, but was a tad too much on the formulaic side to take the highest honors.  "rounders" had great depth and strength, and "ronin" (with three former bond villains!), stuck with me for a long time too.  "enemy of the state" blew me away.  john carpenter's "vampires" was a big disappointment; with jimmy woods and danny baldwin, it should have been awesome, but wasn't. as usual, the latest "star trek" flick wasn't even in the running - I think of those movies more like television. (note: i think "a simple plan" came out this year too, although I didn't see it til later.  if it was from 98, it deserves runner-up status too.)
          but the winner was without a doubt "wild things" with its twists and turns and steamy eroticism.  seeing it again later on cable, it was even better than the first time.  call me a sucker for an erotic mystery, and you'd be correct, sir!

          i had high hopes for david lynch's "lost highway" and for quentin tarantino's "jackie brown", but neither of them came close to being movie of the year, i'm afraid.  both had many good qualities and reasons to see them over and over, and maybe they'll grow on me, but they just didn't have the gripping quality of the ultimate movie of this year: james cameron's "titanic", nor did they get under my skin like a movie of the year needs to do.  both were surpassed by "LA confidential", especially in one of my most important categories: how long and hard i keep thinking about a movie, and discovering new reasons to appreciate it, after i've seen it.
          but back to "titanic": combine classical melodrama, state of the art special effects, larger-than-life tragedy, perfectly nuanced characters (both written and acted), impeccable directing, and a dash of reality to tug at the heart strings, and you have the recipe for an all-time classic.  cameron scores again!
          (P.S.  - i know that it has become fashionable to bash "titanic" these days.  well tough shit; it was awesome and you know it!)

          not a lot of competition this year.  "from dusk til dawn" and "two days in the valley" certainly deserve honorable mentions for creativity and quirkiness.  "heat" had the makings of a classic but didn't quite make it.  "escape from LA" could have been a contender with better pacing and editing.  as usual, this year's star trek flick (first contact), while a worthy episode of the series, didn't make the first cut.  "bound" would have been a close contender for highest honors, but i didn't see it till much later, on cable (it was great, though!). 
          the actual contenders were really only "12 monkeys" for terry gilliam's bizarre, quirky vision, "independence day" for its sweeping, episodic grandeur, special effects, and humor, and the final winner, "fargo", for its total creativity, unflinching violence, grisly black humor, cliché-busting script, and the unforgettable worlds that it created and sucked you into.  and of course for the wood-chipper scene.

          this was a really good year for sicko-type movies.  which of course are the types that i love, so i guess it was a good year, overall!  major contenders for movie of the year include "the usual suspects" for its quirky and engrossing underworlds of wonder and personalities and intricate plot twists; "leaving las vegas" for its delicious levels of despair, and of course for nic cage's bravura performance; "strange days" for its inventiveness and its fin de siecle ennui; and of course "the quick and the dead" for its playful violence, kinetic camera work, see-through bullet holes, and its celebration of sam raimi stylings.  "12 monkeys" was also up there, even though i included it in my 1996 discussions (that's when i saw it, so sue me), as a runner-up for that year as well (same goes for michael mann's "heat").  a second-tier honorable mention must go to "casino" for its frenetic depictions of good/bad lifestyles and the allure of the evil side of life.
          mel gibson's "braveheart" deserves a special recognition, far beyond mere runner-up status.  in almost any other year of this century, it would have been my movie of the year.  fabulous battle scenes, rivaling orson welles' "chimes at midnight", and mel's heart-tugging direction that melted this crusty old codger's heart, have earned this flick a special place in the pantheon of thursday night celluloid tomes.  mel rules!
          "goldeneye" was a worthy effort in the james bond series, and "rob roy" might have been more impressive if "braveheart" hadn't upstaged it.  both flicks are respectable, and i had to mention them here, but can only consider them "honorable mentions".
          finally, though, we come to the all time winner for the year.  that honor has to go, with no possible fear of contradiction, to gary fleder's "things to do in denver when you're dead."  this is the kind of flick that gets under your skin:  it creates a world that you don't immediately understand, but you DO immediately love.  and then you spend the next two hours trying to figure it out.  and along the way, you realize that you love these characters, understand their world, sympathize with their problems, and want to savor their experiences as your own.  your life is enhanced for having spent some time with them, even though (or maybe because) they are the most despicable and depraved thugs you've ever met.  what fun!

          not many impressive flicks this year, but the good ones were very, very good!  "natural born killers" was a wild, frenetic ride and stylistic triumph, and continued oliver stone's track record of alternating fabulous flicks with stupid ones.  "immortal beloved" was mesmerizing and amazing and left me breathless, and convinced me yet again that gary oldman RULES!  john dahl checked in with a work for the ages, "the last seduction," showing us a femme fatale to end all femme fatales (and a career making performance for linda fiorentino, unfortunately not to be matched for many a year even by her).
          but all of these efforts were for naught if their auteurs were vying for movie of the year status, for they were up against what might well be the ultimate movie of the 90s (and beyond): quentin tarantino's genre-reviving "pulp fiction" which completely turned the industry on its ear.  this flick has the distinction of appearing to be groundbreaking; for years to come, movies were (and continue to be) compared to it, as if it had created an entirely new genre!  of course it did not, it merely revived an already traditional and canonical genre, and revitalized it and reminded a new generation of filmmakers of the fertile cinematic ground to be plowed in the world of the small-time thug.  we (the audience) are still reveling in the riches of this newly-rediscovered cul de sac of movie plots.  QT, we salute you!

          this seemed to be quite the playful year at the movie theater, didn't it?  tony scott's "true romance", penned by quentin tarantino, was fun and playful in a sick and stomach-turning way, you gotta love it.  george p. cosmatos' "tombstone" was a fun-filled look at the duplicitous depravity of the old west, as related by such playful presences as kurt russell, val kilmer, sam elliott, bill paxton, powers boothe, michael biehn, charlton heston, and their compadres.  "romeo is bleeding" gave both gary oldman and lena olin a chance to show how much fun they can have killing people.  and of course, a very special runner-up status has to go to sam raimi's bruce campbell vehicle "army of darkness" with its three-stooges and ray harryhausen references and baroque battle scenes.
          but, lest we get too far afield, the movie of the year award has to go to the ultimate playful entry, tim burton's "nightmare before christmas", a movie of such originality, vision, playfulness, and creativity that we wonder if all of our childhood memories were merely placeholders, waiting for this true and ultimate fairy tale to take over our psyches.  you go, jack skellington!

          this was an interesting year; not a lot of great movies, but the good ones were very, very good.  let's start with the merely "pretty good" ones.  "candyman" was great at getting under your skin, and was a wonderful showcase for the talents of the inestimable tony todd.  "the crying game", while overhyped by the media, was actually very good (but if you were "surprised" by the gender of dil, well, you just don't get out enough).  "glengarry glen ross" was an awesome showcase for some great performances and some wonderful writing, and "honeymoon in vegas" was a major tour de force for nic cage, sarah jessica parker, and andrew bergman, and definitely deserves special attention.  wes craven's "the people under the stairs" was also an underrated classic of the year.
          now we move on to the "very good" movies of the year.  first of all, you had john dahl's "red rock west", one of the most underrated classics of all time.  then you had quentin tarantino's "reservoir dogs" which is an all time classic and deserving of some type of award, i'm just not sure what!  and finally, in the runner-up category, you had clint eastwood's "the unforgiven", possibly the greatest western of all time, and certainly a movie that every american and his brothers, sisters, and parents should be required to watch several times per year, just to remember who we are and where we come from, and why!  and why "deserve" has got nothing to do with it!!
          but, at long last, we come to THE movie of the year.  although "the unforgiven" is a very close contender, i have to give the highest honors to francis ford coppola's "bram stoker's dracula" as the movie of the year.  why?  well, this movie just blew me away, sucked me in, took me for a ride, and made me forget that i have a real life outside of the theater, and what more can a movie be asked to do?  FFC is the master of all time, and knows how to build a movie of such entertaining and captivating value that you cannot resist it.  and his powers have never been on greater display than in this magnum opus.  the characters, mood, special effects, and overall gestalt of this movie just grabbed my by the teeth and flung me around the room with no mercy.  and of course gary oldman cannot be beat!

          Not the greatest of years for movies, but not bad either.  "silence of the lambs" was certainly chilling, and destined to be a classic.  "the doors" was awesome and continued oliver stone's tradition of alternating great movies with stupid movies (and a special honor to val kilmer for being a dead ringer for mr. mojo rising).  "dead again" was a personal favorite of mine, with its reincarnation themes and its featuring of the fabulous derek jacobi.  "backdraft" was a great vehicle for kurt russell and other luminaries too numerous to mention, and had some great chicago location shots, but it still suffered from the ron howard wimpiness factor.
          "cape fear" was another worthy entry in this year's sweepstakes, except for a fatal flaw: how could a weasely pipsqueak like robert deniro ever terrorize a hunk of beefcake like nick nolte?  "the last boy scout" was a great ride and deserving of honorable mention status too.  also, although star trek movies don't usually come anywhere near the high honors, "star trek 6: the undiscovered country" rose above the usual star trek (movie) quality level and actually achieved movie of the year runner up status; what a great flick!  if only all star trek movies could be as good as this (almost approaching the quality of the godlike TV version).
          biggest disappointment of the year goes to "barton fink," this was the first coen brothers movie that left me totally non-plussed; all style and no substance.  fun on a minute-by-minute basis, but no lasting meatiness to stick to your ribs (they repeated this non-feat with "the big lebowski" years later both flicks were rarities in the coen pantheon).
          so, we come to the movie of the year.  with no real competition, james cameron walks away with honorus maximus with "termnator 2: judgement day" and not merely by default, either, this flick was good.  it's not easy for a sequel to outdo a first outing, especially one as great as "the terminator", but T2 definitely accomplishes it.  with its magical blend of action, humor, F/X, and chilling prescience, T2 is a winner for all time.

          this was a strange year at the movies.  not only were there lots of strange movies, but the competition was strange as well.  maybe it's a new-decade kind of thing.  first off, let's look at the strange movies that received honorable mentions.  "tremors" was great innovative fun, and a strange twist on the canonical monster genre.  "the adventures of ford fairlane" was a strange entry into the private eye genre, but definitely innovative and made a huge impression.  "i love you to death", a personal favorite of mine for its black humor and cross-ethnic sensibilities, was very strange and very funny.  "goodfellas" was awesome but one of the rare non-strange entries for the year, and "godfather part 3", while not strange, was definitely awesome, and strangely high quality for a second sequel (i may be alone in ranking it higher than godfather part 2, but that's me).
          true runners up for the year include two very strange movies: the coen brother's "miller's crossing", possibly their most underrated movie of all time, and tim burton's "edward scissorhands", possibly the abso-fuckin-lutely strangest fairy tale ever filmed!
          and now, we come to the movie of the year, which also happens to be the strangest serious movie of the year (or maybe just the strangest tongue-in-cheek move of the year, who can tell?) and maybe of the decade: david lynch's "wild at heart"; if there has ever been a movie that was more ambiguous, more confusing, more humorous and style-shifting and maddening, well, i haven't seen it.  part love story, part road movie, part horror, party comedy, part fantasy, and part farce, while at the same time all lynch, this is one of my all time favorites ever and always.