Hollywood is throwing the dregs of its summer season at us.
As August drifts … no, I will NOT use that word … as it slips toward September and the fall movie season, we are still being bombarded with product such as “Leave it to Beaver” and “G.I. Jane,” leftovers from a season flush with big box office but nearly bereft of enduring cinema.
It was a season of dinosaurs and extraterrestrials, bats and Greek heroes, hijackers and crooked cops, fixed fights and busted romance.
It was a season of winners AND losers, and we look back at it now:
Julia Roberts - While not exactly in need of career resuscitation, Roberts has traveled some since “Pretty Woman” blazed her hair, her smile and her barking laugh into our cultural consciousness. Films such as “I Love Trouble,” “Ready to Wear” and “Mary Reilly” haven’t helped her allure any (especially that last one).
Then came this summer, when Roberts was the key figure in not one but two of the season’s top-rated films. “My Best Friend’s Wedding” represented a return to the “Pretty Woman” Julia, when she was able to play both tough and vulnerable. “Conspiracy Theory” cast her with Mel Gibson, about as much star power as any female lead could ever hope to need.
Both movies proved to be among the summer’s best, and most popular, earning to date $157 million between them. Clearly, Roberts has returned.
Will Smith - If Roberts is returning, where did this guy come from? A practitioner of rap lite (“Parents Just Don’t Understand”), Smith made his first big splash on a television sitcom (“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”), and even that show was a play off his rapper persona.
He first showed he could act in the film version of “Six Degrees of Separation.” Then he showed he could do action in “Bad Boys” (opposite Martin Lawrence).
All of which led to last year when Smith jumped out of the crowded cast of “Independence Day” to become that blockbuster’s most recognizable presence (even ahead of Jeff Goldblum). He followed “ID4” up with “Men in Black,” this summer’s runaway hit, which again pitted him against extraterrestrials.
At this point, Smith’s career potential seems limitless.
Peter Fonda - Only a fraction of the moviegoers who will see the films of Roberts and Smith will even have heard of “Ulee’s Gold.” Yet that little Victor Nunez effort has earned this “Easy Rider” veteran the best notices of his long career.
It’s far too early to make any Oscar predictions, but Fonda has to be considered a front-runner.
Sylvester Stallone - Speaking of Oscar hype, Stallone did wonders for his career by forsaking his “Rambo” and latter-day “Rocky” paydays to make James Mangold’s neo-noir “Cop Land.”
Much has been written about Stallone’s weight gain, estimated at everywhere from 30 to 50 pounds. And he has received his share of criticism for being too passive in a film peopled by scene-eaters such as Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta.
But people forget that Stallone got his start playing slow, likeable guys with a conscience (“The Lords of Flatbush,” the original “Rocky”). If you watch him work in “Cop Land,” you see someone who is busy embodying a character. While there definitely is more flash and fire coming from the rest of the cast, it is Sly who provides the film’s heat.
Jodie Foster - By now, it’s no big scoop to report that Foster can act. She’s won two Best Actress Oscars, has been nominated for a third, and generally is a sure bet for one every time she flashes onto the big screen.
But her work in this summer’s “Contact” is unparalleled. I’m a big fan of “The Silence of the Lambs,” and I think the work she did in that film ranks with some of the best performances of the ‘90s.
Even so, what she does in “Contact” is better. And not just because she’s the best thing the film has to offer. Foster has the unique ability to make us believe something when everything else screams baloney. Only she could stare directly into the camera, opine about how unpoetic she is, and still move us to tears by saying how INCAPABLE she is of describing the very beauty that she so obviously feels.
Kevin Reynolds - I’ve seen four of the first five films that Reynolds directed (four and a half if you count the second-unit work he supposedly did on “Dances With Wolves”). And even the best of the lot, “Fandango,” say, or “Rapa Nui,” still play as if they were made by a guy who doesn’t quite know what he’s doing.
Then came this summer’s dark study of high-school violence, “187.” Given the film’s problems - a too-complex storyline, a flawed third act - “187” is still fascinating to watch. If unfolds with a studied cool, not unlike the acting of star Samuel L. Jackson.
It was enough to convince me that Reynolds may know how to direct after all.
Harrison Ford - Who else but Ford could play an American president, a Medal of Honor winner, who faces his duty without flinching and, through strength of will, triumphs over heavy odds? Under the best of circumstances, it would be a short list.
Ford, the thinking-man’s action hero, made “Air Force One” more than just a summer action movie. He made it a study of what we would like our leaders to be - strong yet compassionate, tender at heart but tougher than Kerri Strug.
Nicolas Cage/John Travolta - Talk about bright stars, Cage has parlayed his Best Actor Oscar (for “Leaving Las Vegas”) into a high-priced action career. Travolta picked up his comeback performance (was it his first? or second?) in “Pulp Fiction” and ran with it, alternating little character studies (“Michael,” “Phenomenon”) with such action films as “Broken Arrow” and “Face/ Off.”
It was in “Face/Off,” John Woo’s creepy action/thriller, that the two actors came together. And they demonstrated how much they have in common, even if they remain so very different. Their main similarity? The fact that they can do something such as “Face/Off,’ or in Cage’s case, “Con Air,” and have so much fun with it.
When they have fun, we are apt to have fun, too. (As in, “I said, put the bunnah back in the box.”)
Griffin Dunne - He first came to our attention in the John Landis horror/comedy “An American Werewolf in London.” He became a producer while acting in the occasional good film (“After Hours”) and the occasional dud (“Who’s That Girl?”).
Then, early this summer, he made his debut as a director with a little romantic comedy called “Addicted to Love.” While this Matthew Broderick-Meg Ryan movie wasn’t the best film of the season, it was far from the worst. And Dunne demonstrated that he might soon be able to become a Hollywood triple-player: an actor, producer and director.
Rupert Everett - The real reason why “My Best Friend’s Wedding” was such a hit, English actor Everett emerged from that film as the freshest comedic talent since, well, since Hugh Grant.
Of course, anyone who has ever seen the underground horror film “Cemetery Man” already knew that Everett could make audiences laugh. He’d already proven his dramatic abilities in such films as “Dance With a Stranger” and “The Madness of King George.”
James Cameron - All right, I’m getting a little ahead of things here. Cameron’s “Titanic” won’t open until December. Still, it is estimated to be one of the most, if not the most, expensive films in history ($185 million? $200 million? $285 million?).
And since it did miss its scheduled July 2 opening date, Cameron has to headline this list. Check back with me by Christmas.
The “Batman” series - The bat is dead, long live the bat. After two stylistic, if dark and (in the second installment, at least) overly complicated Tim Burton features, director Joel Schumacher took over.
Schumacher, more concerned with splash than with cinema, turned Burton’s vision into Superhero Lite. And George Clooney, as good as he can be, is simply no Michael Keaton - the true Dark Knight.
Disney - “Hercules” can’t carry its own weight, much less the weight of expectations after following the footsteps of such masterpieces as “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.’
Jan De Bont - “Speed 3”? As Sammy Hagar would say, “I can’t drive 55.”
Shaquille O’Neal - “Steel” is as much fun as watching its star shoot free throws.
Ridley Scott - From “The Duellists” to “G.I. Jane”: Now that is a true Hollywood tragedy.
Steven Spielberg - “Jurassic Park 3”? What’s the opposite of “Always”?
Billy Crystal/Robin Williams - Remember “Father’s Day”? Big talents, small effort.
Jennifer Aniston - After “She’s the One,” “Til There Was You” and “Picture Perfect,” she’s looking for her “Friends.”
Demi Moore - After seeing “G.I. Jane,” we’d settle for less.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 8 Color photos
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