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Friday, April 29, 2016

1996 - A Random Cinematic Year In Review

Preface: I have decided to write this series at least in part because I don't make it out to see new films very often and I've found that I spent too much time at the end of the year attempting to see all the big releases (many of which I'm not even interested in) for no other reason than to make an obligatory 'year end list'... This is a way that I can continue writing about films without feeling the pressure to see a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise take the time to. I'll still see most of them eventually, just on my own time. I use a random number generator to pick a year and I use to determine the actual release year.

1996 saw the births of young starlets like Abigail Breslin, Lorde and Dolly the Sheep. It also saw the deaths of great thinkers Timothy Leary, Carl Sagan and Tiny Tim.

While the FBI was pre-occupied with identifying and arresting the Unabomber and not finding 2Pac's killer, the Nerdlucks snuck in and stole the talents of some of the greatest basketball players on Earth... and Shawn Bradley. Luckily, NASA was able to save the NBA stars with the help of some sort of a boom-box genie named Kazaam... Unfortunately, Larry Johnson was never able to recover his talents... It was in the news.. Look it up.

I had N64 taste on a Tamagotchi budget

I had a lot of fun in 1996... I was 15 years old. I was all about punk rock, Scully & Mulder and watching movies. My first concert was Face to Face at The Electric Ballroom in Tempe, AZ. I saw Roland Emmerich's INDEPENDENCE DAY at the original Cine Capri in the Biltmore area and I snuck into the West Wind Drive-In in Glendale through a hole in the chain link fence to watch Ben Stiller's CABLE GUY.

The aforementioned INDEPENDENCE DAY was the top grossing film of the year with $306,000,000 and Anthony Minghella's THE ENGLISH PATIENT virtually swept the Oscars (I've still never seen it...)

Quite possibly, the most important thing to happen in cinema in '96 however was a device made by Toshiba called the SD-3000

It was the first DVD player. You could take one home for just less than $700. Later, this technology would turn out to be the most rapidly adopted consumer product ever and it had a massive effect on the film industry. DVD's higher resolution and durability, cheaper production and better copyright security gave film distributors the opportunity to continue making profits on their films long after they had left the cineplexes. I think the cultural significance is just as important as well. The home video experience was greatly improved by this invention. Casual film fans and cinephiles alike began acquiring larger home collections of these discs. Consumer's willingness to buy gave the distributors more of a reason to release more options on the platform. Archived films and boatloads of special features made it possible for anyone with an interest to study cinema from all around the world and from every cinematic era. Now, with multiple options for streaming platforms and VOD, the physical media seems to be taking a far back seat in the home video market. But keep in mind: for many, it was the DVD that gave a lot of us the opportunity to truly indulge our budding fascination with this art-form in the first place...

My Top 5

5 - THE GOD OF COOKERY - Directed by Stephen Chow
I love Stephen Chow movies and this one is criminally underrated. It's available to stream on Netflix at the time that I'm writing this and you should probably stop doing what you are doing right now and watch it. Its absolutely absurd and completely heart-warming at the same time. If you're into SHAOLIN SOCCER or KING OF COMEDY, you'll like this one just as much. I think I actually prefer this one.

4 - RIDICULE - Directed by Patrice Leconte
Somewhat like THE GOD OF COOKERY, I'll file this one as another underseen gem by a well liked international filmmaker. I haven't seen all of Leconte's films but I've never seen one that I disliked. I think his THE WIDOW OF SAINT PIERRE and MONSIEUR HIRE are his masterworks. This film exists somewhere around the top of his middle tier. Its a film about the power of words and rapier wit and as such, its dialogue is written fantastically. Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton" musical has recently reminded me a bit of this film.

3 - BOTTLE ROCKET - Directed by Wes Anderson
I am a fan of Wes Anderson's style... That being said, I think that in most of his films, the minutia of his style tends to get in the way of his characters and story. I think that's why this and THE DARJEELING LIMITED are my two favorites. This is his first and most unpolished movie. And its the one that I've revisited the most. 

2 - BREAKING THE WAVES - Directed by Lars Von Trier
Von Trier films are all over the map for me. I think that he has made everything from masterpieces like this one to absolute pieces of tripe which only exist to assault the human senses like THE ELEMENT OF CRIME... The only film of his career that I like more than this one is DOGVILLE. I usually don't care much for this film's shooting style either. Much of it is hand-held, and very narrow. It just really works with this flick though. It is also probably Emily Watson's greatest performance. And that's saying a ton.

1 - FARGO - Directed by the Coen Brothers
This is an R rated film that I saw when I was 15 years old in the theatre with my Father. That in itself was special. But this film was different. It was the first time I had experienced a piece of cinema that I couldn't fit into a genre box. It was funny but not really a comedy. It was composed out of visually beautiful grotesqueness and its overall tone was almost a deafening quietness. I didn't know films could do or be that. You see, I always knew that I like watching movies more than all of my friends... I didn't really know why, I just did. I had no ambitions to analyze them any further, it was just how I prefered to spend my leisure. But I think this was the first time that I ever saw a film as a piece of art. And subsequently, my passion for this art-form has grown in me ever since. You could say that because of FARGO and my inability to compartmentalize it into any specific genre or theme, my life as a cinephile has become compartmentalized... or partitioned if you will... into two segments: Pre-FARGO and Post-FARGO... The Coen Brothers became my favorite filmmakers that day.

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