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1999 Aisle Seat Awards

by Andy Dursin

Everyone seemingly chimes in with their Ten Best lists at this time of year, and if you happened to take a look at a lot of critic-compiled Top Tens, one could detect a lot of disparity and disagreement. Some folks loved AMERICAN BEAUTY, but there were others who thought it was a bit too cynical and caustic for its own good (myself included). There were others who gravitated towards MAN ON THE MOON, but if you weren't a fan of Andy Kaufman to begin with, chances are good that you didn't even bother going to see this not-so-surprising commercial failure.

Because I often focus on films and DVDs as much as soundtracks (usually more so), and since this is the ideal time to reflect on the year just past, here are a few thoughts about the last year of the 20th century at the movies -- the first Aisle Seat Movie & DVD Awards to celebrate our first column of the new Millennium (and I promise this is the last time I will ever make an allusion to that overplayed media event!). Cinematic Certificates for Achievement and Citation

BEST MOVIE: Michael Mann's THE INSIDER. Bravura performances by Russell Crowe and Al Pacino were the perfect fit for an incisive, intelligent look at the inner-workings of the media as related to a health issue with billions of corporate dollars at stake. Badly promoted as what looked like a traditionally melodramatic, Hollywoodized "message picture," Mann's film was far more complicated and intricately plotted for most viewers' tastes -- but cinematically and otherwise, I thought this was the best movie of 1999.

WORST MOVIE: No doubt about it, it's THE ASTRONAUT'S WIFE. Painfully slow, stupid, and mind- numbingly "serious," this godawful science fiction thriller managed to waste the acting talents of Johnny Depp and the curvy features of sexy Charlize Theron in a poorly conceived tale of alien possession. Allen Daviau's cinematography and George S.Clinton's score were the sole technical assets in a relentlessly dour movie that left this reviewer with a bad taste in the mouth that took days to rinse out. Judging from having been involved with the production of this picture, it's easy to see why Depp would release his frustrations by trashing a hotel room!

BEST MOVIE THAT GROSSED OVER $200 MILLION: Superbly written and acted, THE SIXTH SENSE came out of nowhere to become not just the biggest sleeper hit of the year, but also the 2nd highest grossing picture of 1999. Creepier and more intelligent than the over-hyped BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, M.Night Shyamalan's lyrically crafted supernatural thriller illustrated that you don't need tons of special effects, car chases, and overdone faux-climaxes to create a terrifying and also strangely uplifting ghost story.

WORST MOVIE THAT GROSSED OVER $200 MILLION: Mike Myers' original AUSTIN POWERS had a few laughs but felt like a Saturday Night Live sketch that ran on too long. His ridiculously over- merchandized sequel, THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, recycled half of the jokes that were funny the first time and the half that didn't work to begin with, and came up shooting blanks in a painfully labored follow- up that still managed to rake in millions. If you actually laughed at this in theaters (which I didn't), try sitting through it without a paying audience on video and see if it works as well.

FILM MOST UNDESERVING OF A BACKLASH: The hype surrounding STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE was so astronomical that no picture ever made could have possibly lived up to it. While audiences enjoyed the picture (making it the third-highest grossing film ever in the U.S.), critics were divided and the predictable media backlash tried to quell the excitement. Still, removed from all the hype, George Lucas's return to a galaxy far, far away was filled with visual imagination, gorgeous production design, and sumptuous alien landscapes that no other sci-fi film came close to matching in the '90s. Sure, Liam Neeson gave a somewhat lazy performance (a more apt line for his character should have been "whenever you gamble, you snooze") and the story may have proved underwhelming to all but the most die-hard fans of the trilogy (even though its only intent was to provide a backstory to the series), but the movie moved quicker, looked better, and provided just as much entertainment as the original films (and for me, was far more energetic than RETURN OF THE JEDI). Unlike AUSTIN POWERS, watch this movie a second time (as I did back in August) removed from all the fuss and chances are that you'll appreciate Lucas's effort a whole lot more. On a sheer visual level, there's much to savor in every frame.

FILM MOST DESERVING OF A BACKLASH: For all the studio-promoted hype ("Cruise! Kidman! Kubrick!"), Stanley Kubrick's cinematic swan song, EYES WIDE SHUT, certainly came up short of expectations. Slow, static, and emotionally aloof, the picture shoved little evidence of having been made by one of the cinema's master craftsmen, particularly in some sleazy dream sequences that more closely resembled "Cinemax After Dark" than Kubrick himself. And regardless of its eclecticism, two demerits for the redundant soundtrack, which often sounded as if you were listening to a CD that kept skipping back to the beginning of the same track.

MOST SURPRISING HIT: Keanu Reeves turned heads with THE MATRIX, the Wachowski Brothers's efficient and often jaw-dropping sci-fi comic-book that deservedly became one of the year's biggest successes. Great effects are always enhanced by a decent script, and this picture boasted an intriguing storyline that, for once, wasn't entirely given away in the trailers.

WORST COMEDY: You have your pick from JAWBREAKER, SUPERSTAR, and DROP DEAD GORGEOUS, but I'd pick the latter -- an incredulous waste of eye candy (Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards) in a so-called comedy that may have been funny only to the folks who somehow keep "Jessie," "Veronica's Closet," and "Suddenly Susan" on NBC "Must-See TV" airwaves.

MOST STYLISHLY DESIGNED FILM: Tim Burton's SLEEPY HOLLOW looked and sounded like everyone hoped it would, evoking a Grimms fairly tale, a slice of colonial America, and a classic Universal/Hammer chiller all at the same time.

BEST "RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK" RIPOFF: Stephen Sommers's hackneyed JUNGLE BOOK and DEEP RISING recycled cliches from all kinds of movies, but he finally got the right mix of horror, humor, and Lucas-Spielberg inspired antics with THE MUMMY, an enjoyable fantasy-adventure that audiences gravitated towards shortly before the release of THE PHANTOM MENACE.

MOST ENTERTAINING BAD MOVIE: Jan DeBont's THE HAUNTING was reportedly tampered with by Dreamworks prez Steven Spielberg, resulting in some jarring climactic special effects which completely clashed with the original intent of the filmmaker (not to mention Shirley Jackson's original novel and the 1963 Robert Wise adaptation). Still, the elaborate production design and sleek cinematography compensated for a lousy script filled with several hilarious lines of bad dialogue ("hide and seek? What does he think this is? A game?!?!").

BEST TEEN MOVIES: Clearly, the savvy satire ELECTION and -- for those desiring a bit less cynicism -- the energetic romp 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU.

MOST RAMBLING LONG MOVIES: A few trims would be befitted both THE GREEN MILE and Paul Thomas Anderson's MAGNOLIA. On the flip side, both THE INSIDER and ANY GIVEN SUNDAY boasted lengthy running times but felt as if they were under two hours.

SHORTEST MOVIES FOR YOUR $8.50: David E.Kelley's generally amusing spoof LAKE PLACID ran 82 minutes with credits; DUDLEY DO-RIGHT clocked in at 83 (but included a seven-minute cartoon short!), and INSPECTOR GADGET ran all of 78 minutes with one of the year's longest end-credit runs!

CITATION FOR WORST EDITING: The Michael Crichton-produced THE 13TH WARRIOR was on the shelf for over a year at Disney, during which time Crichton fired director John McTiernan, replaced Greame Revell's original score with Jerry Goldsmith music, and axed what seemed like an entire act out of the director's initial cut. The released film remained entertaining through its elaborate battle sequences and bloodthirsty attitude (some of McTiernan's best work of the last several years), but made little sense as plot holes abounded from start to finish. Can anyone say, "Restored Director's Cut"?

SCARIEST MAKE-UP DESIGN: No, it's not BICENTENNIAL MAN. Rene Russo looked positively vampish -- as if she was auditioning for the lead in the next Fox Family Channel presentation of "The New Addams Family" -- in John McTiernan's icy-cold remake of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. Coupled with a stoic Pierce Brosnan and a completely inept score by Bill Conti, you'd have to see the trailer for SUPERNOVA to see anything as utterly surreal in a mainstream movie this year as the ersatz "sexual tension" built up by the tango dance in this caper-thriller.

MOST WORTHLESS PERFORMANCE: Denise Richards in the tepid James Bond thriller THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. Richards was so terrible that the filmmakers didn't even bother attempting to establish a relationship between her and 007, but did manage to get mileage out of a wet T-shirt moment at the end -- the most excitement to be found in another D.O.A. Bond entry that should hopefully mark the end of the Brosnan era sooner than later (I like Pierce just fine, but all three of his Bond movies have been closer to Joel Silver than Ian Fleming).

BIGGEST STUDIO MONEY LOSERS: In no particular order, and particularly in relation to cost, Robin Williams's JAKOB THE LIAR, Lawrence Kasdan's MUMFORD, Harrison Ford's RANDOM HEARTS, Kevin Costner's FOR LOVE OF THE GAME, Michelle Pfeiffer in DEEP END OF THE OCEAN and STORY OF US, Bruce Willis in the latter and BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, Martin Scorsese's BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, Clint Eastwood's TRUE CRIME, Sharon Stone's GLORIA, Universal's DUDLEY DO-RIGHT and MYSTERY MEN, Jodie Foster in ANNA AND THE KING (I still liked it), Jim Carrey's MAN ON THE MOON, Warner Bros.' THE IRON GIANT and THE KING AND I, and Disney's THE 13TH WARRIOR.

MOST PROFITABLE HITS: Artisan's BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, Warner's improbable POKEMON: THE MOVIE, Universal's AMERICAN PIE, Disney's THE SIXTH SENSE and SHE'S ALL THAT, Dreamworks' AMERICAN BEAUTY, Rob Schneider's DEUCE BIGALOW-MALE GIGOLO, Warner's HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, MGM's STIGMATA, and Columbia's BIG DADDY.

WORST MOVIES THAT GROSSED OVER $100 MILLION: John Travolta's trashy THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER and Warner's hideous (and over-promoted) WILD WILD WEST.

COMEBACK AWARDS: Renny Harlin re-establishing himself in DEEP BLUE SEA and ex-wife Geena Davis starring and producing the Christmas hit STUART LITTLE; Oliver Stone resurrecting his career in ANY GIVEN SUNDAY; Billy Crystal with Robert DeNiro in the amiable ANALYZE THIS; Keanu Reeves proving he made a good call nixing "Speed 2" with THE MATRIX; director Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy") scoring with the woman-in-jeopardy thriller DOUBLE JEOPARDY; Matthew Broderick in the box-office underachiever ELECTION (one of the year's best comedies) and the financial overachiever INSPECTOR GADGET.


DVD Awards

BEST DVD OF THE YEAR: With its extensive supplemental content and amazingly pristine transfer, Disney's "Collector's Edition" of A BUG'S LIFE fulfilled the potential of DVD in every facet.

BEST RESTORED TRANSFER AND SOUNDTRACK: Anchor Bay's remastered presentation of John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN looked as good as the movie ever has on video, and sounded better than any previous presentation, thanks to a genuinely remixed Dolby Digital soundtrack courtesy of composer Alan Howarth and Chace Productions.

WORST TRANSFER: Universal's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN "Classic Monsters Collection" DVD release was grainier, dirtier, and darker than the movie has ever looked before. What's worse is the misframing of the picture after the first five minutes, which completely crops out details at the top of the frame! Alas, no recall was ever issued -- so caveat emptor.

WORST REMIXED SOUNDTRACKS: The Dolby Digital sound on Fox's DVD of Ridley Scott's ALIEN was hissy and recorded at such a low volume that it was impossible to coax a noticeable presence out of it... Warner's EXORCIST III "Dolby Digital remastered" track sounds vastly inferior to the original Dolby Surround stereo mix, marked by a virtual lack of genuine surround activity.

MOST DISAPPOINTING TRANSFER: The Director's Cut of ARMY OF DARKNESS, found on Anchor Bay's 2-DVD limited edition set, was needlessly blurry and washed-out, particularly when international laserdiscs (not to mention the Sci-Fi Channel's TV cut) featured much of the excised footage in more colorful, consistent transfers.

MOST ELABORATE SINGLE-DISC DVD RELEASE: Universal's outstanding "Classic Monster Collection" DVD of DRACULA featured the '31 version with or without Phillip Glass's new score, along with the entire Spanish-language version, commentary, interviews, and a documentary feature. Not bad at all for $29!

MOST CURIOUS SPECIAL EDITION DVD: Anchor Bay's deluxe presentation of the 1987 Universal bomb THE ALLNIGHTER, starring Bangles singer Suzanna Hoffs. Audio commentary and all sorts of extras were unrolled for this one -- but why? Equally strange: the always combative William Friedkin participating in an audio commentary for his 1990 disaster THE GUARDIAN on Anchor Bay DVD.

BIGGEST RIP-OFF: The "Stanley Kubrick Collection" DVD set boasted a simple repackaging of all the previously-available DVD versions -- most of which were outdated transfers done for laserdisc in the first place.

BEST DELUXE PACKAGES: Despite the poor soundtrack on the original DVD, Fox's ALIEN LEGACY set offered superior transfers and Sharpline Arts' excellent documentary on the making of Ridley Scott's 1979 original; New Line's NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET box set featured plenty of extras to compliment new transfers and other assorted goodies.


And with that we come to the conclusion of this year's Aisle Seat Movie & DVD Awards. Reactions? Comments? Any Awards that YOU think should be added? Let me know, as always, at dursina@att.net and we'll run them in an upcoming column!

NEXT TIME: Your comments, hopefully some movie reviews (if I can get out to the cinema in time), and a look at Spike Lee's latest, DUDLEY DO-RIGHT, MYSTERY MEN, BOWFINGER, and TEACHING MRS.TINGLE on DVD. Until then, send all comments to dursina@att.net. Excelsior!


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