Moviegoers flocked to the blockbuster films of 1996 like "Independence Day" and "Twister," while many of the nation's film critics warmed up to smaller, independent productions like "Fargo," "Lone Star," and "Secrets & Lies."
But producers and critics can at least agree on one thing: Just about everybody loves the movies these days. Multiplex theaters are sprouting everywhere, and 1996 is proving to be a record year at the box office.
Two critics look at the crosscurrents and themes that shaped this year's movies on and off the screen.
Margaret McGurk, Cincinnati Enquirer:
There is no question that the [theater] chains want the blockbuster. This is good and bad; it means the appetite for movies is undiminished, but it's worrisome because the corporate rules of Hollywood and the theater chains are unforgiving. If a movie comes out and doesn't make a splash in two weeks, it's dead.
"Twister," "Independence Day," and "Mission: Impossible" essentially had no stories, no characters. It was like going to an amusement park.
I liked "The Rock," especially as an action film, because there was a story and a logic to the plot and characters, which is so rare.
The system is bifurcated now. Mainstream Hollywood-type movies sell themselves as a concept with commercial tie-ins. There are tremendous levels of skill, but they are intellectually bankrupt.
Independent films like "Lone Star," "Secrets & Lies," and "Fargo" are wonderful movies, simple and fresh, and "The English Patient" a beautiful, grand piece of filmmaking.
"Space Jam" was fun, with good special effects, but no real story.... I think the success of "Waiting to Exhale" and "The First Wives Club" means that audiences want to see women doing more than just decorating a set. That's what I liked about "Jerry Maguire." The women's roles were strong, well written, and not stereotypes.... Meg Ryan in "Courage Under Fire" was great ... and so was the movie, for its emotional and intellectual context.
John Hartl, Seattle Times:
Blockbuster films are getting bigger and bigger. Now you can expect a blockbuster to open at 5,000 screens instead of 3,000.... We just had a 16-theater multiplex open here a few weeks ago and then a 17-plex a week later. It's just gone wild, and they all want to show the blockbusters.... They are shoving the smaller films out of the way.... "Lone Star" got pushed out several times by blockbusters that wound up not doing that well.
I thought the script for "Twister" was terrible, and "Independence Day" seemed like a rip-off of every science-fiction film made in the last 50 years ... and "Space Jam" was just awful because it was a product plug for everything under the sun, including Michael Jordan.
"Lone Star" and "Fargo" were my favorites of the year. "Lone Star" is still playing here after six months ... and "Jerry Maguire" with Tom Cruise is a surprise - a big, commercial movie that is well made and well written. It's the sort of film you hope for each December.
This was not a great year for kid's films. With "101 Dalmatians" I thought, 'Why did they bother?' The cartoon was wonderful, and the live-action version has terrible slapstick in it. I did like "Fly Away Home" and "James and the Giant Peach," but I'm already nostalgic for last year's great kid movies, "Toy Story" and "Babe."