Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '98 - James Curtiss ""

Friday, June 8, 2018

Underrated '98 - James Curtiss

James is an optimist to a fault, always trying to find something worthwhile in what others have already deemed worthless. He just wants to watch movies, talk about movies, read about movies. He’s had a podcast (AT THE CHEAP SEATS), a blog (I HEART SEQUELS) and contributed the occasional piece to Blumhouse.com, Femme Fatales, Rupert Pupkin Speaks (of course) and more. You can find James here: https://letterboxd.com/jamescurtiss/

Slums of Beverly Hills – I don’t know of anybody who’s happier than I am that Natasha Lyonne cleaned up, got her shit together, and is now working steadily again. For this and BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER she gets a lifetime pass from me. This funny and unflinching coming of age film dropped two decades too early. If it came out right now, people would put it on the level of LADY BIRD or THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN. Tamara Jenkins is two-for-two in my book with this and THE SAVAGES and she’s finally got a new movie coming out on Netflix in a few months. It’s a damn shame she’s only averaging a movie every ten years.
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Whatever – Though not as nuanced and a little rougher around the edges than SLUMS, this is another absolutely wonderful coming of age indie about a young woman that would have found a much larger audience in 2018. Then-total newcomer Liza Weil should have been given the opportunities that Lyonne and many other of her peers did after this role. Thankfully she found much more steady work as a TV actress, particularly as a fave of Amy Sherman-Palladino. 1998 was a banner year for all manner of coming of age films (as you’ll continue to see in my list) that feel way ahead of their time. Speaking of which…
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Head On – Oof, you wanna talk about unflinching? The films being put out under the banner of New Queer Cinema in the 90s were so much more confrontational and at times earth-shattering than anything being put out currently. This very graphic, sexual Australian film is about a 19-year-old who confronts his sexuality, family and himself in a single day. Even now it is genuinely and viscerally frank and we need more films like this even still.
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Show Me Love – Lukas Moodysson’s entire filmography could be seen as underrated, even by the kind of critic who values Moodysson’s absolutely wonderful intimacy and character work. These two facets have been there since day one as seen in this debut feature, aka FUCKING AMAL. The original Swedish title is an in-your-face dig at the small-town life reflected in the village in which our teenage lesbian first-love story unfolds. Like so many of the films that would follow in his work, the title is reflective of a sweet and sour approach to the lives of the characters he’s interested in. Anybody who loved his last film WE ARE THE BEST! must see this flick.
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The Bird People in China / Blues Harp – These two films are nowhere near as outrageous or extreme as the films which earned Miike his cult following, so of course they’ve been relegated to underseen status. BIRD PEOPLE is still nestled in my top 5 Miike films. That’s saying a lot since I’ve seen over 80% of his 100+ films. HARP, while not as powerful as the films in his Black Society trilogy, is still deserving of a larger audience and should be seen by any fans of that crime trilogy.
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He Got Game – In the wake of the epic achievement of MALCOLM X, many gave the rest of Lee’s 90s output short-shrift. This was particularly egregious in the case of CLOCKERS and this incredible film which saw Lee reteaming with Denzel for the first time since their work on X. Honestly, and this may be blasphemous, I tend to put Denzel’s work here at the top of his filmography, while Lee’s ambitions here are as intimate as they are grandiose, making for something as essential to his canon as X, DO THE RIGHT THING, and THE 25TH HOUR. It is just now starting to get its reevaluation 20 years later and it’s deserving of so much more.
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Spice World – One of my favorite theatrical experiences in ’98 happened the day I was hanging out with some friends, who were (unconvincingly) trying to make the case that we should, essentially, go hate-watch this movie at a matinee. I’ve never been one to watch movies looking for something to look down upon. But, I wanted to hang with these people and I wanted to see a movie, any movie. We all wound up walking out laughing, singing and dancing, praising the film’s charms, wit and bubblegum satire. I’ve been proselytizing for it ever since.
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The Big Hit – On the flipside, this was a movie I really was looking forward to and I walked out of my first big-screen experience quite upset by what I felt was its unfortunate comedic nature and action that was undercut by its tone. I was already incredibly familiar with Hong Kong films, and knew of the best of the comic action that came out of that scene, but it wasn’t what I wanted from THE BIG HIT. So…I went to the theater and tried it a 2nd time and…the result was pretty much the same. Cut to I don’t know how many months later, and I was staying in a cabin with a bunch of friends who threw the VHS on before I could say, “boo.” And suddenly, boom, third time’s the charm, and I have been a crazed fan ever since. Everybody crushes in this movie.
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Brief notes:

I was a 19-year-old film geek in ‘98 and I watched EVERYTHING; big-screen, indie theater, VHS, whatever the platform I took it all in. So, I have thoughts on it all. I knew ZERO EFFECT was the ultimate underrated film of ’98 so I wasn’t gonna talk about it much. I know everybody is still up in arms over what won and didn’t win at the Oscars that year and I can tell you that if you asked me then what five films should have been nominated, my list would have looked like this: The Truman Show, Babe: Pig in the City, Out of Sight, A Simple Plan, Buffalo ’66. Also, geez, how omni-present was Christina Ricci’s burgeoning on-screen sexuality in the best of cinema that year? Here’s a few more random thoughts on ’98…
Small Soldiers – Is any Dante film underrated by film geeks? Hmm, maybe this one.

Snake Eyes – Same here. It deserves a more thoughtful, nuanced watch from even De Palma’s fanboys.

Godzilla – God, I love this stupid, stupid, stupid movie.

Lost in Space – Ditto for this one, though it’s probably harder to explain why.

The Opposite of Sex – Ricci’s work is good, but the film isn’t as deserving of the wonderful work by Lisa Kudrow and Johnny Galecki.

Clay Pigeons – Same as the above, all of the leads here are so much better than the actual flick, making the final product worth at least one watch.

A Night at the Roxbury – “Sir, from where I’m standing it would be physically impossible for me to grab your ass.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Like HE GOT GAME, this film is getting serious reevaluation now. Unlike Lee’s film, this film had a repugnant following that made that so much harder.

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