One thing we at Place to Be Nation like to celebrate is the subjectivity inherent in entertainment — be it in wrestling, comics, music, television or, indeed, film. With that in mind, ten members of the PTBN staff will be picking the movies of the PTB generation. In this series, panel members will collect their five favorite films of each year, beginning with the year in which the oldest writer was born — 1976. The only rule given to each contributor was to provide his or her own criteria. Some writers may go with the most artistic films, while others might side with the most iconic blockbusters. We welcome your lists on Facebook and Twitter. Each staff member has submitted a list of five movies from 1996 ranked 1 through 5. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place vote worth four points, and so on. Using that point system, we have identified the top 5 movies of 1996.
1996 saw the first three-way tie at the top between an amazing Tom Cruise performance, a Coen brothers classic and one of the great guilty pleasures of the 90s. But before we reveal the top 5, let’s see the movies that received votes, but fell short of making our final list.
Star Trek: First Contact — 10 points
Beavis and Butt-Head Do America — 9 points
The Rock — 8 points
Scream — 6 points
Sling Blade — 6 points
Rumble in the Bronx — 5 points
Waiting for Guffman — 5 points
Hamlet — 5 points
The Nutty Professor — 5 points
Space Jam — 5 points
Twister — 5 points
A Time to Kill — 4 points
Romeo and Juliet — 3 points
The People vs Larry Flynt — 2 points
That Thing You Do! — 2 points
Breaking the Waves — 1 point
Jingle All the Way — 1 point
Mars Attacks! — 1 point
Sleepers — 1 point
And now, let’s see the top 5 movies of 1996, as voted by the Place to Be Nation staff.
11 points, ranked by 3 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Anthony Estrada and Steve Wille at No. 1
Steve Wille: Generally, when I enjoy a movie, my thoughts parallel what most major critics think. Swingers is a film where I fully embrace my bias. The movie, particularly its soundtrack, almost singlehandedly brought contemporary swing music back into style across the country. The indie film, starring and written by a young Jon Favreau, follows a group of single Californian men (proto-hipsters?) as they navigate the nightlife, attempting to woo the “honey ladies,” and, in the case of Favreau’s Mike, get past a lost love. Vince Vaughn has a standout performance as Trent, the douchebag buddy, who adapts “money” as a term to describe anything great, still used in today’s vernacular.
Though Mike originally feels sorry for himself, leaving multiple answering messages for a potential date in a cringe-worthy scene, he realizes that his seemingly put-together pals also have their faults. One is jobless, another fearful of minorities and Trent, well, he’s a lovable loser. He discovers his mojo through swing dancing, and the affection of redheaded Heather Graham. And really, who wouldn’t feel good about himself when she provides you with positive affection. Swingers is an infectious romp that requires multiple viewings, a cult favorite that reminds all that we can love our enemies, if only we play NHLPA ’93 together on Sega Genesis.
4. Happy Gilmore
13 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke and Aaron George at No. 2
Aaron George: So what can I possibly say about Happy Gilmore? It’s far and away the quintessential movie of my teen years. I distinctly remember cutting class (it was a winterfest day or some bullshit like that) to see it in the theatre, and even if I had been caught (suck it Richelieu Valley High School and Dad!) I would have gladly taken the punishment.
Happy Gilmore tells the story of a “never was” hockey player who turns to golf as a last result. He excels and pisses off all the higher ups with his brash antics, all the while expanding not only the sport but his understanding of life in the process. And he punches people. It’s deep stuff. Adam Sandler is at his least annoying in this one and it’s refreshing to go back and watch a film in which he hasn’t sold out yet and actually gives a shit about what he’s doing. (although he gives no shits for either the gold or green jackets) He’s funny, lovable and for me this is far and away his best movie.
There are some fantastic supporting performances in this one, and I daresay they each outshine Sandler not because he’s in any way bad, but because they are just that good. Let’s start with Richard Kiel in a cameo as Mr. Larson, a gentle monster of a man Happy injured with a nail gun that would go on to support his golfing career. I’m not sure if it’s the “Guns don’t kill people, I kill people shirt” or the fact that YOU can count on HIM waiting for you in the parking lot but all of his moments are magic. Who wouldn’t want to work for Jaws!
Carl Weathers is awesome as Chubbs Petersen, the ill-fated “has been” who was kicked off the tour for having the audacity to have his hand eaten off by an alligator. But don’t you worry though because he has that bastard’s eye preserved in his pocket. Which he apparently carries with him at all times! It’s a rare performance that sees an actor stretch from the joy of “It’s all in the hips,” to the total defeat of having your wooden hand crushed repeatedly by your protégé. I could totally see the impressive Weathers charging 1100 dollars for acting lessons following this film.
I’m going to go on forever here, but Ben Stiller also steals every scene he’s in as the psychotic orderly working in Happy’s grandmother’s home. The malice which he exudes towards the elderly is a beautiful sight, and whether he’s pointing a gun to his head or telling them he’s going to slit their throats the hate is palpable. I LOVE that he will not take a bribe to take extra care of any residents, even if that bribe is ONE whole dollars that Happy offers him. Integrity: that’s what I want from my caregivers. That, and that moustache.
If you stripped all that away, though, you’d still be left with Christopher MacDonald’s Shooter McGavin. If Place To Be Nation ever has a world cup of movie villains Shooter McGavin better win or else I have no reason to believe in humanity anymore and will no doubt go on a murderous rampage which will begin and end at an animal shelter. MacDonald kills it in this one. He’s absolutely amazing and hilarious in every single scene he’s in becoming one of the most quotable assholes in the history of cinema. Whether he’s telling you to stay out of his way or you’ll pay, listen to what he’ll say or he’s telling you he can’t chip with two fat naked bikers having sex in the woods, MacDonald knocks every single one out of the park. His best moment by far is the look and expression on his face when he tells us that “No” he does not in fact eat pieces of shit for breakfast. The greatest moment of shame flavored defeat ever immortalized on film.
Happy Gilmore is great and funny and you should definitely watch it. Right before I sat down to write this I gave a buddy of mine a ride home, I told him I had to write a review for Happy Gilmore and what happened? We sat and bonded and laughed in a car for almost half an hour. It’s a special kind of movie that can still bring people together and make them laugh even almost twenty years after the fact.
1 (tie). Independence Day
14 points, ranked by 4 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Anthony Estrada and Kati Price at No. 2
Glenn Butler: In the summer of 1996, there was not a bigger movie event than Independence Day. Anecdotally, a series of sold-out theaters testify to the movie’s immediate popularity. The first of will Smith’s trilogy of July 4th weekend bonanzas, it broke records that had been set by Jurassic Park a few years before — all too fitting, then, that Jeff Goldblum was along for the ride here as well, once again ably portraying the guy who has some handle on why events are unfolding as they are amidst a sea of chaos and confusion, and can therefore strike a blow for humanity using his product placement laptop. These aliens may be advanced in terms of spaceship engineering, but they can’t program a firewall to save their lives. Literally. Ha, ha.
Independence Day is a melange of several distinct genres mashed together with some skill, a cast drawn from a deep bench, and a high budget for the day. First, it’s of course an inheritor of the disaster movie, somewhat dormant as a distinct genre but by now absorbed into the DNA of the modern action movie. Think of it this way: how often have you seen a major city destroyed on screen in the last ten years? This movie got all of them. (The more innovative examples today are the ones that destroy a city other than New York.) The aerial battles owe much to dogfight scenes in war pictures. It’s also clearly a descendant of the flying-saucer B-flick and the 1950’s alien-conspiracy-theory movement in general (which was enjoying a significant resurgence in the mid-90’s in numerous movies and TV shows), complete with Area 51, the Roswell crash, and actual flying saucers. It then closes the circle by embracing the camp of pure jingoism, with the oh-so-manly US President clenching his jaw after the death of his wife and strapping into a fighter plane to fight alongside the United States Armed Forces he commands, to unite the world in celebration of a (formerly!) exclusively US holiday. Once the mothership has been compromised (by Jeff Goldblum’s aforementioned product placement, as well as will Smith, a noble Marine Corpsman fighting on behalf of his darling family), the worldwide counteroffensive can start on the US military’s signal, and as far as the rest of the world is concerned it’s about bloody time.
Of course, you’re free to see the movie as a straightforward patriotic adventure for the Fourth of July, depending on your particular ideology. Certainly the whole thing is played straight, from the performances to the wide shots of crowds of soldiers to David Arnold’s exuberant score. I prefer to emphasize the ways in which this is a mammoth sci-fi disaster movie where the light-hearted color is provided by Harvey Fierstein and Judd Hirsch (making this an important entry in one of my favorite mini-genres, Sci-Fi Jews), which is the sort of touch that lifts it above a sea of similar efforts, including the filmmakers’ own Godzilla a few years later.
1 (tie). Fargo
14 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Andrew Riche, Russell Sellers, Steve Wille and Andrew Woltman at No. 3
Andrew Woltman: If I am a man of integrity, I will be completely honest. I did not see the film Fargo until after I saw the absolutely phenomenal FX show that was spawned from it. I saw it for the first time about a month ago, and I find it just as magnificent.
There is a magnetism in the ensemble performances that make them pop in this dark neo-noir comedy. But there is something that really pops about Frances McDormand and William H. Macy. The subtle ticks of Jerry Lundegaard or the perseverance of Marge Gunderson make them so three dimensional. They’re all so quirky and fun to follow that you get upset when it ends.
It’s a darkly violent story, with lots of comedy and a beautiful attention to detail. I dare you the reader to try to sit through the film and not attempt a Minnesota accent. Did I do it? Yah you betcha.
It’s an insanely fun story, and if you enjoy this, you’ll absolutely adore the FX show and the performances of Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and Allison Tolman.
1 (tie). Jerry Maguire
14 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Andrew Riche at No. 1
Andrew Riche: Regardless of how many fans feel about his personal belief system, I don’t know any actor who has consistently delivered the goods in blockbuster moviedom the way Tom Cruise has throughout his career. Cruise has pulled off some satisfying performances in a variety of genres over the years, but when Cruise took on the title role of Jerry Maguire in 1996, he had not done a comedic drama since Rain Man back in 1988. He has never been afraid to go out on a limb to work with a director or screenwriter with a fresh take on things, and Cruise found the perfect candidate in Cameron Crowe.
A former music journalist, Crowe had shown a knack for perfectly blending romance with hipness and humor when he wrote and directed Say Anything… and Singles. This was Crowe’s first shot on the big stage as a writer-director, and he made sure that Jerry Maguire hit all the right notes. Crowe has a knack for catchy dialogue, and this movie is loaded with memorable quotes from “Help me help you” to to the now-legendary “Show me the money!” It is as much a sports movie as it is a romantic comedy or drama and Jerry pulls off quite the balancing act as he forges a new relationship with the unsure Dorothy Boyd, played by Renee Zellweger, and her adorable son Ray, played by Jonathan Lipnicki. On the agency side, Maguire’s career rides on his ego-stroking of Rod Tidwell, a diva wide receiver whose love of money is only topped by his love of the spotlight.
What is phenomenal about Jerry Maguire to this day is how a story so centralized around Tom Cruise’s character still feels like a strong ensemble piece in which every actor and actress brings something to the table, from Zellweger to Cuba Gooding Jr. to Jay Mohr to Kelly Preston to Regina King. Gooding Jr. is especially great as Tidwell (a.k.a. the only thing that was even remotely cool about the Arizona Cardinals in the 90’s) and he showed that same Rod-like exuberance when he accepted the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. In equal parts sappy, unconventional, and relateable, Jerry Maguire rides the coattails of Tom Cruise’s monolithic presence but never loses the spirit of the underdog. Just as Dorothy says to Jerry near the story’s end, this movie had me at “Hello.”
That does it for 1996. To see the full breakdown of all 10 ballots, click here. Check back soon to see the staff’s top 5 movies of 1997!