The 45 Best Movies of 1997

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The Best Movies of the 1990s Part 8

My Subjective List of the Best Films of 1997

How many of you remember 1997? How many of you were alive at the time?

It was the year Microsoft became the most valuable company in the world (valued at $261 billion dollars); the year Steve Jobs went back to Apple after quitting 12 years earlier; and it was the year IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue beat the greatest chess player of all time (Gary Kasparov), in a much-hyped chess battle in New York City.

1997 was a great year for television; The Simpsons became the longest-running prime-time animated series and Daria, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, King of the Hill and South Park were just a few of the great shows to premiere and become huge hits. Gamers will also have fond memories of 1997— Final Fantasy VII, Goldeneye, Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey, Parappa the Rapper, Tekken 3 and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night were just some of the games released on either the N64 and/or the original PlayStation.

In 1997 an unknown author J.K. Rowling released the first book in the award-winning Harry Potter series; the Spice Girls became the biggest pop group in the world and LeAnn Rimes, who was then 14 years old, became the youngest person to ever win a Grammy. It was the same year legendary Swedish icon Robyn made her US debut and Radiohead released what is widely considered one of the greatest albums of all time, OK Computer.

1997 was also a year of tragedy among celebrities: Princess Diana died in car crash in Paris; Notorious B.I.G. was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles and Gianni Versace was murdered outside his Miami home by serial killer Andrew Cunanan.

What I remember most about 1997, however, is the movies.

The flagship film of 1997 was James Cameron’s Titanic, a behemoth that went on to win a record number of 11 Oscars (including best picture and best director) and grossed over $1bn world-wide making it the fourth highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson had two films released, Luc Besson directed one of the greatest space operas and away from Hollywood cinema came an artistic boom for certain pockets of international cinema, most notably from Japan and Iran.

1997 was such a good year for movies, that ranking these movies in order has so far been the hardest of every installment in this series.  

A few quick notes before moving ahead:

As with all lists, the choices here are obviously subjective.

Normally, in the past, I would write one capsule review for each film but since I plan on releasing a list for every other year in the decade, I’ve instead decided to simply include one screenshot along with the official plot synopsis courtesy of IMDB.com. Sorry guys, but these lists are time-consuming, and I’ve quickly come to learn that most people don’t bother reading every capsule review either way— so why bother?

That out of the way, here are the 30 best movies of 1993, each represented by one perfect screenshot. You can find my list of the best films of 1995 here.

45 Perfect Screenshots from the Best Movies of 1997

****

Fireworks 1997

45. Hana-bi (Fireworks)

Director: Takeshi Kitano

Nishi leaves the police in the face of harrowing personal and professional difficulties. Spiraling into depression, he makes questionable decisions.

44. Live Flesh

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Life, love, desire…and everything in between.

After leaving jail, Víctor is still in love with Elena, but she’s married to the former cop -now basketball player- who became paralysed by a shot from Víctor’s gun…

43. Airbag

Director: Juanma Bajo Ulloa

Mommy’s boy Juantxo is engaged. Dragged to the party by his friends Konradin and Paco, he loses his expensive wedding ring inside the body of a prostitute. Mafioso whorehouse owner Villambrosa finds the ring. Meanwhile, Villambrosa’s rival gangster Souza sends “femme fatale” Fatima to check things out. Juantxo and his friends are trying to get the ring back and in the process get involved in the war between gangs.

Nightwatch 1997 movie

42. Nightwatch

Director: Ole Bornedal

He’s the prime suspect in a terrifying mystery. The police are after him and so is the murderer.

A law student, who takes a job as a night watchman at a morgue, begins to discover clues that implicate him as the suspect of a series of murders.

41. Lilies

Director: John Greyson

Based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard

When a bishop comes to a prison to hear the confession of an old friend he is forced to watch a play, performed by the inmates, about their youth together, love and betrayal.

40. Cube

Director: Vincenzo Natali

The only way out lies within your own mind.

Six complete strangers with widely varying personalities are involuntarily placed in an endless maze containing deadly traps.

The Ice Storm 1997

39. The Ice Storm

Director: Ang Lee

The American Dream was over. But the hangover was just beginning.

In suburban New Canaan, Connecticut, 1973, middle class families experimenting with casual sex and substance abuse find their lives beyond their control.

Con Air 1997

38. Con Air

Director: Simon West

They were deadly on the ground. Now they have wings.

Newly paroled ex-con and former U.S. Ranger Cameron Poe finds himself trapped in a prisoner transport plane when the passengers seize control.

Grosse Pointe Blank 1997

37. Grosse Pointe Blank

Director: George Armitage

A comedy about a hit man, a high school reunion, and the girl he left behind.

Martin Blank is a professional assassin. He is sent on a mission to a small Detroit suburb, Grosse Pointe, and, by coincidence, his ten-year high school reunion party is taking place there at the same time.

Cure 1997

36. Cure

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Madness. Terror. Murder.

A frustrated detective deals with the case of several gruesome murders committed by people who have no recollection of what they’ve done.

35. In the Company of Men

Director: Neil LaBute

Are all men bastards…or just misunderstood?

Two business executives–one an avowed misogynist, the other recently emotionally wounded by his love interest–set out to exact revenge on the female gender by seeking out the most innocent, uncorrupted girl they can find and ruining her life.

34. Gattaca

Director: Andrew Niccol

There Is No Gene For The Human Spirit.

A genetically inferior man assumes the identity of a superior one in order to pursue his lifelong dream of space travel.

33. Chasing Amy

Director: Kevin Smith

It’s not who you love. It’s how.

Holden and Banky are comic book artists. Everything’s going good for them until they meet Alyssa, also a comic book artist. Holden falls for her, but his hopes are crushed when he finds out she’s a lesbian.

the Fifth Element 1997

32. The Fifth Element

Director: Luc Besson

250 years in the future, all will be lost unless the fifth element is found.

In the colorful future, a cab driver unwittingly becomes the central figure in the search for a legendary cosmic weapon to keep Evil and Mr. Zorg at bay.

Nowhere movie Gregg Araki 1997

31. Nowhere

Director: Gregg Araki

“sexy, psychedelic, dementedly funny, with a sensational soundtrack… it’s like clueless with nipple rings.”

Follows a day in the lives of a group of Los Angeles high school students and the strange lives they lead.

Fast Cheap and Out of Control 1997

30. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control

An exploration of the careers of four unrelated professionals: a lion tamer, a robotics expert, a topiary gardener, and a naked mole rat specialist.

Eve's Bayou 1997

29. Eve’s Bayou

Director: Kasi Lemmons

The secrets that hold us together can also tear us apart.

After a daughter witnesses her father having an affair, she begins a chain reaction that could tear her family apart.

28. Public Housing

Renowned documentarian Frederick Wiseman takes an intimate and nuanced look at the Ida B. Wells housing project in the south side of Chicago, Illinois.

27. Donnie Brasco

Director: Mike Newell

In 1978, the US government waged a war against organized crime. One man was left behind the lines.

An FBI undercover agent infiltrates the mob and finds himself identifying more with the mafia life, at the expense of his regular one.

26. Deconstructing Harry

Director: Woody Allen

Harry Block wrote a bestseller about his best friends. Now, his best friends are about to become his worst enemies.

Suffering from writer’s block and eagerly awaiting his writing award, Harry Block remembers events from his past and scenes from his best-selling books as characters, real and fictional, come back to haunt him.

Insomnia 1997

25. Insomnia

Director: Erik Skjoldbjærg

He who sins, does not sleep.

In a Norwegian city with a 24-hour daylight cycle a Swedish murder investigator has been brought in on a special case. Sleep deprived, he makes a horrible mistake which is discovered by the killer he has been hunting.

the game 1997

24. The Game

Director: David Fincher

It’s simple, Play or be Played

After a wealthy banker is given an opportunity to participate in a mysterious game, his life is turned upside down when he becomes unable to distinguish between the game and reality.

23. Scream 2

Director: Wes Craven

There’s a killer on campus, making more calls, making more kills.

Two years after the first series of murders, as Sydney acclimates to college life, someone donning the Ghostface costume begins a new string of killings.

22. Taste of Cherry

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

An Iranian man drives his truck in search of someone who will quietly bury him under a cherry tree after he commits suicide.

Hard Eight 1997

21. Hard Eight

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

When good luck is a long shot, you have to hedge your bets.

Professional gambler Sydney teaches John the tricks of the trade. John does well until he falls for cocktail waitress Clementine.

Ma Vie en Rose 1997

20. Ma Vie en Rose

Director: Alain Berliner

Sometimes you just have to be yourself.

Ludovic is an innocent seven-year-old child who provokes horror in his community when he dresses in girls clothes and insists he’s a girl.

19. The Hanging Garden

Director: Thom Fitzgerald

It’s hard to go home… ten years after your death.

William, a once obese and depressed adolescent, is able to move past his teenage years when he moves to the city and comes out as being gay. When he returns home though, he can’t cope with his memories.

18. Open Your Eyes

Director: Alejandro Amenábar

A very handsome man finds the love of his life, but he suffers an accident and needs to have his face rebuilt by surgery after it is severely disfigured.

Event Horizon

17. Event Horizon

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Infinite Space – Infinite Terror

A rescue crew investigates a spaceship that disappeared into a black hole and has now returned…with someone or something new on-board.

Cop Land 1997

16. Cop Land

Director: James Mangold

No One Is Above The Law.

The Sheriff of a suburban New Jersey community, populated by New York City police officers, slowly discovers the town is a front for mob connections and corruption.

15. Funny Games

Director: Michael Haneke

Two violent young men take a mother, father, and son hostage in their vacation cabin and force them to play sadistic “games” with one another for their own amusement.

14. Starship Troopers

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Since the dawn of his existence, Humankind has ruled the earth. But now the rules are about to change.

Humans in a fascist, militaristic future wage war with giant alien bugs.

13. Good Will Hunting

Director: Gus Van Sant

Some people can never believe in themselves, until someone believes in them.

Will Hunting, a janitor at M.I.T., has a gift for mathematics, but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

12. Princess Mononoke

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

The Fate Of The World Rests On The Courage Of One Warrior.

On a journey to find the cure for a Tatarigami’s curse, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle of a war between the forest gods and Tatara, a mining colony. In this quest he also meets San, the Mononoke Hime.

11. Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion

Directors: Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone would just die?

Concurrent theatrical ending of the TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Lost Highway 1997

10. Lost Highway

Director: David Lynch

After a bizarre encounter at a party, a jazz saxophonist is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to prison, where he inexplicably morphs into a young mechanic and begins leading a new life.

Breakdown movie 1997

9. Breakdown

Director: Jonathan Mostow

A cross-country trip. An unexpected breakdown. The trap has been set.

A man searches for his missing wife after his car breaks down in the middle of the desert.

8. The Sweet Hereafter

Director: Atom Egoyan

Sometimes courage comes from the most surprising places.

A bus crash in a small town brings a lawyer to the town to defend the families, but he discovers that everything is not what it seems.

Gummo 1997

7. Gummo

Director: Harmony Korine

Prepare to visit a town you’d never want to call home.

Lonely residents of a tornado-stricken Ohio town wander the deserted landscape trying to fulfill their boring, nihilistic lives.

L.A. Confidential 1997

6. L.A. Confidential

Director: Curtis Hanson

It’s a crime saga that will shock you. It’s a mystery that will keep you guessing. It’s a thriller that will keep you riveted.

As corruption grows in 1950s Los Angeles, three policemen – one strait-laced, one brutal, and one sleazy – investigate a series of murders with their own brand of justice.

Jackie Brown 1997

5. Jackie Brown

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Six players on the trail of a half a million in Cash. There’s only one question… Who’s playing who?

A middle-aged woman finds herself in the middle of a huge conflict that will either make her a profit or cost her life.

Happy Together 1997

4. Happy Together

Director: Kar-Wai Wong

A couple take a trip to Argentina but both men find their lives drifting apart in opposite directions.

3. Titanic

Director: James Cameron

Nothing On Earth Could Come Between Them.

A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.

Perfect Blue 1997

2. Perfect Blue

Director: Satoshi Kon

The color of illusion is Perfect Blue.

A retired pop singer turned actress’ sense of reality is shaken when she is stalked by an obsessed fan and seemingly a ghost of her past.

Boogie Nights 1997

1. Boogie Nights

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

In 1977, sex was safe, pleasure was a business, and business was booming.

The story of a young man’s adventures in the California pornography industry of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

This article is part of an ongoing series. The other entries are coming later this week.

1990 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999

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