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 1998 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 1998.
For 1998 it is actually a top 6, as two movies finished in a tie for the fifth and final spot. But before we reveal the top 5, let’s see the movies that received votes, but fell short of making our final list.
Shakespeare in Love — 7 points
Life is Beautiful — 5 points
Armageddon — 5 points
A Bug’s Life — 5 points
Pi — 5 points
The Mask of Zorro — 4 points
The Big Lebowski — 4 points
Dirty Work — 4 points
Enemy of the State — 4 points
Happiness — 4 points
Small Soldiers — 4 points
Dark City — 3 points
The Prince of Egypt — 3 points
Who Am I? — 3 points
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — 2 points
He Got Game — 2 points
Jack Frost— 2 points
What Dreams May Come — 2 points
Blade — 1 point
Can’t Hardly Wait — 1 point
Following — 1 point
Lethal Weapon 4 — 1 point
Velvet Goldmine — 1 point
And now, let’s see the top 5 (technically 6) movies of 1998, as voted by the Place to Be Nation staff.
5 (tie). Rushmore
8 points, ranked by 2 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Steve Wille at No. 1
Steve Wille: I chose Rushmore as a favorite in an otherwise weak year more for what it represented. It’s the second picture directed (and co-written) by Wes Anderson and, though somewhat related to the themes portrayed in his debut, Bottle Rocket, it starts the tone and style continued in his films up to this day. A young Jason Schwartzman (a frequent collaborator of Anderson) stars as Max Fischer, a precocious genius who dominates the student body despite bombing in his academics. In a move that makes the viewer question his emotional intelligence, he pines for a professor (Olivia Williams) at his private school. Fischer finds a rival in a potential donor to the school, played by the fantastic Bill Murray, who also attempts to pick up the teacher. Shenanigans ensue.
Beyond setting up common themes and actors used in future movies, to me; this marks the beginning of the resurgence of Murray. His late 1970’s and 80’s roles drew from his Saturday Night Live days of straight-up comedy. Starting now, he plays his parts with a combination of drama and dark humor which eventually put him in contention for my favorite actor ever. With his next film, The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson begins a streak of cult classics that are must-see movies, and Murray plays a part in nearly all of them.
5 (tie). The Waterboy
8 points, ranked by 3 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke at No. 1
Nick Duke: Everyone has a movie in their life that they enjoy far more than the movie deserves. A movie that you recognize isn’t particularly well-written, well-acted or well-made and yet you can’t help but love it. For me, the one movie that personifies that more than any other is The Waterboy.
I don’t know if it was the ridiculously over-the-top Cajun accents, the inclusion of obscure 1970s and 1980s comedy country singer Jerry Reed as the main villain, the inclusion of Henry Winkler in a decidedly un-Fonz role, or the fact that Adam Sandelr’s Bobby Boucher was a huge wrestling fan (big pop for the Tony Schiavone and The Giant cameos!), but something in this movie just connected with me. It’s one of only two or three movies that I can quote from beginning to end.
For those who haven’t seen this comedic gem, it tells the story of a 30-something year-old professional waterboy who works for the University of Louisiana football team. He has held his position since his youth, motivated by the tragic loss of his father who thirsted to death while on a deployment in the Sahara Desert with the Peace Corps. His mother has coddled and protected him ever since, stunting his emotional growth and creating a grown man who still wets the bed and wears Deputy Dog pajamas. When Bobby is fired, he sets out on his riding lawnmower to seek a new water distribution engineer position, which he finds at the not-so-prestigious South Central Louisiana State University. The SCLSU Muddogs are led by Coach Klein and the special teams coach, Farmer Fran. We soon learn that Bobby has great rage in his heart, rage that can be channelled into one hell of a violent spear. So, naturally, Bobby becomes the team’s star linebacker, shattering NCAA records along the way and propelling the team from winless to national title contenders. Of course, this all sets up a final showdown with UL in the Bourbon Bowl (seriously, someone please actually name a bowl game the Bourbon Bowl.).
It’s not particularly innovative and it’s certainly not a work of art, but if you’re a fan of college football, it can’t hurt to give this Sandler flick a shot.
4. Saving Private Ryan
11 points, ranked by 3 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Andrew Riche at No. 1
Andrew Riche: There are certainly some things to like about Shakespeare in Love, but with all all due respect to that film, I still consider its upset victory over Saving Private Ryan in the 1999 Academy Awards to be one of the biggest travesties in the show’s history. Steven Spielberg did win his second Best Director award for this one, and regardless of his supreme power in Hollywood, the man definitely deserved the honor. It is by far the greatest war film in the last two decades, a masterclass in balancing the historical and personal realms of a war story. While Spielberg’s first Oscar win in 1993 was a more personal drama set during World War II with the Holocaust drama Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan was much heavier on the horrors of the war itself.
Based on a screenplay written by Robert Rodat, Saving Private Ryan tells the story of a seven-man group of U.S. soldiers, led by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and fresh off of the D-Day invasion in Normandy. Captain Miller is given orders to find Private James Ryan, a paratrooper whose three brothers have all been killed in action in hopes of bringing him back to his family at home. Miller’s squad bravely continues on through dangerous enemy territory in France, losing two of their own men before finding Private Ryan, played by Matt Damon, protecting a bridge over the Merderet River. One final climactic battle defending the bridge ensues between Miller’s and Ryan’s squads and a German S.S. unit that includes a Tiger tank in which nearly all the American soldiers die, including Captain Miller. Fortunately, Miller, even in death, completes his mission and Private Ryan returns home.
While the story is heavy on tearful drama and national pride, the film is one of the most accurate and extensive in depicting the grisliness of battle. It is safe to say that it might be Spielberg’s most violent movie, but it is for the sake of remembering great men fighting for a greater cause. The D-Day invasion in the film’s opening 30 minutes is a masterpiece, one of the most beautifully filmed battles in cinema history. It was so powerfully realistic that World War II veterans who went to the theater to see it had to leave due to shell shock. Hanks knocks it out of the park again as Captain Miller, a man who is flawed and unsure at times but is driven by the simple goal of finishing his mission. Watch out for some up-and-coming names in later years like Vin Diesel, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Jeremy Davies, Giovanni Ribisi, and even Nathan Fillion in the film’s funniest moment. I will never forget Captain Miller’s words to Private Ryan at the end of the movie: “James… earn this. Earn it.” A much older Private Ryan, keenly aware of the debt he owed Captain Miller and his other fallen comrades, appears to have done exactly that as the film ends.
3. American History X
13 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Anthony Estrada at No. 2
Anthony Estrada: The hero of this film is a white supremacist gang leader. Think about that. Derek Vinyard, portrayed by Edward Norton in an all-time classic performance, has our interest, sympathy, and affection from the moment we’re introduced to him. In that moment, Derek’s brother interrupts his sex session to tell him that two black guys are breaking into his car. Derek doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t hesitate. He straps up, marches forward and kills one of the robbers with cold, clinical efficiency. A cinematic icon is born.
To be clear, Derek is not a hero because of his racist ideology, but in spite of it. Nonetheless he is a hero. He’s a hero from the very beginning, even before he renounces the white power movement and his former friends still associated with it. In fact, I think he’s a more interesting character before his conversion. The film challenges us to assess a protagonist with many admirable traits, but an abhorrent worldview. Before Derek’s influence, white kids were fearful in their community. Derek instilled pride and self-respect in them. He gave direction to the aimless.
This is what happens when people are powerless and afraid. They seek out similarly harmed individuals and spread their pain like a virus. It fosters hate groups and fuels terrorist acts. American History X is important in that it paints a picture which demonstrates how this happens. Derek enchants the viewer as he does those around him. It’s tragic, but the film humanizes those who dehumanize others. The film’s final scene, in which the viewer comes to understand that Derek is just another frightened lost soul, is powerful. The senselessness is spot on and overwhelming – so much suffering and few true villains.
2. The Wedding Singer
18 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Greg Phillips at No. 1
Greg Phillips: The first and best of Adam Sandler’s collaborations with director Frank Coraci, The Wedding Singer is that all-too-rare true romantic comedy. It has a compelling love story (thanks in large part to the screen-melting chemistry of Sandler and Drew Barrymore) that can bring the audience to tears, but it also stands as one of the most uproariously funny movies of its era. Plus it’s got one of the great soundtracks in cinema history.
Much of the credit goes to Sandler’s frequent ‘90s writing partner, Saturday Night Live alum Tim Herlihy. Herlihy imbues the characters with enough depth and personality to separate them from the one-note characters found in other Sandler vehicles. Even the villain, played expertly by Matthew Glave, has a bit more going on than meets the eye. The humor comes from the obvious (the ‘80s fashions, songs and references) and the clever (Jon Lovitz’ show-stealing turn as one of Sandler’s fellow wedding singers, the hilariously dark lyrics of “Somebody Kill Me,” and my personal favorite line: “I used to be much stronger.”).
All these years later, The Wedding Singer is a film that just makes me feel good. And that’s what a great romantic comedy should ultimately be about.
1. The Truman Show
20 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Anthony Estrada and Russell Sellers at No. 1
Russell Sellers: Jim Carrey’s career up until 1998 consisted of films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, Dumb & Dumber, The Cable Guy, and Liar Liar. To say he made a living off comedy is an understatement. The man was super rich off his brand of slapstick.
Then came The Truman Show and all of our worlds got turned upside down. Carrey plays Truman Burbank, an insurance salesman/adjuster whose entire life is actually being filmed as a 1950’s style sitcom. Think of it as reality TV where everyone but the main star is aware of it being fiction. He goes about his life but always feels as if he’s being watched and that maybe his whole life is being manipulated by some unseen force. That force happens to be Christof (played masterfully by Ed Harris), the creator and director of the show being filmed inside a huge enclosed dome meant to look very much like the real world. Christof’s studio adopted Truman and immediately began filming him for the general public and turned him into a world-wide sensation. But once Truman begins investigating the world around him and all the odd things he witnesses like random lights falling from the sky, freak storms, people conveniently showing up at just the right time, and even people’s lack of reactions to things, it all starts coming together.
This is a wonderful film about the search for truth and about our relationship with it. Are we happier in a comfortable lie or would we rather take our chances in the “real world?” Carrey’s performance is absolutely stellar in every way. He’s funny, charming, frightened and livid all with a convincing ferocity his other films had severely lacked. A solid supporting cast including Laura Linney and Noah Emmerich also serve to elevate Carrey’s performance to places he’d never reached before. This was the moment he proved he could do more than crude humor and sight gags. This was an actor and this was the role of a lifetime.
That does it for 1998. To see the full breakdown of all 10 ballots, click here. Check back soon to see the staff’s top 5 movies of 1999!