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The Top 25 Movies of 1998 (#10 – 6)

July 10, 2023 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Ronin Image Credit: United Artists

The Top 25 Movies of 1998: #10-6

Okay, so this is the second to last part of this five part “Top 25 Movies of 1998” mega list and the response, so far, to the first three parts has been pretty decent. I’m actually kind of surprised that there hasn’t been more disagreement about the 1998 movies I’ve picked. I have a feeling that that may change with both this part and the final part. We’ll see.

And, again, does anyone read the intros to these things beyond, maybe, the very first one? Please, I would like to know. Let me know.

In case you missed the first three parts of this list or just want to read them again for some reason here’s the link for the first part, #25-#21. And the second part is here, #20-#16. And the third part is here.

And so, without any further what have you, what are the next five movies on the Top 25 Movies of 1998 list?

The Top 25 Movies of 1998: #10-#6

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

10-The Thin Red Line: When I saw this movie back in the winter of 1998 I think I was expecting some sort of all-star war movie. The movie featured Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, George Clooney, John Cusack, and Woody Harrelson in its cast along with plenty of other “name” actors (like Adrien Brody, John Travolta, and John C. Reilly). I knew going in that it wouldn’t be a “fun” movie (war movies about real wars have never exactly been “fun,” but after Oliver Stone’s Platoon it seemed like war movies were going to have to get even grimmer than ever before just to compete) but I figured that The Thin Red Line would be a slick, fast paced war movie. I also thought it was interesting that the movie was going to take place in the Pacific Theater of the war and feature the Japanese Imperial Army as the antagonists (it seemed like, at that point in time, that World War II in the pop culture zeitgeist was all about the Nazis in Europe and the Pacific part of the war was something that didn’t seem as important). The Thin Red Line is not fast paced at all. The movie is damn near three hours long and moves at a deliberate pace. It isn’t boring but it’s not an action movie. It is brutal as hell and shows what kind of madness American soldiers encountered in the Pacific, specifically Guadalcanal. The Thin Red Line is also one of the most beautiful looking movies I think I’ve ever seen. Even when we’re in the middle of a battle scene or a scene filled with tension or brutality it’s still striking how beautiful the movie is. Even if you don’t like what’s happening in the movie you can’t take your eyes off of it. The movie is also hypnotizing in its cinematography, especially on a big movie screen (it doesn’t quite play the same on TV. Even with today’s big and bigger TV’s it still doesn’t hit quite the same way). I left the movie feeling like I had just experienced something great but I couldn’t quite figure out why. I’m still not quite sure why it’s great, why it still works despite not being a “traditional” war movie. I haven’t seen the whole movie again since then. I’ve watched it in bits and pieces on TV and I’m still amazed by it. I think I need to watch it again all the way through.

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

9- You’ve Got Mail: I avoided this movie for years because I didn’t like Sleepless in Seattle and I really didn’t want to suffer through another Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan love story. I mean, I liked Tom Hanks and I liked Meg Ryan, but, based on Sleepless in Seattle, I didn’t like them together. And in this Mail thing Tom and Meg were going to fall in love over e-mail or something? Who the hell wanted to watch that? So, again, I avoided this movie for years. Deliberately. And I thought it was more important for people to acknowledge Hanks more for his other 1998 movie, the Steven Spielberg directed WWII masterpiece Saving Private Ryan than this e-mail horseshit. I mean, come on, people, why weren’t we all still mad that Saving Private Ryan lost the Best Picture Oscar to Shakespeare in Love? Goddamit! Many years later, out of the blue, I ended up just watching You’ve Got Mail. It was on TV, other people in the house were watching it, and I didn’t have anything else going on at the time so why not? I didn’t like it the first time I saw it but I didn’t really hate it, either. It was okay. But then I found myself watching it again and again when it was on TV, sometimes catching it in the middle and watching it because there was nothing else on, other times watching it because I knew it was coming on. And the more I saw it the more I liked it. Dabney Coleman was great, as usual, in it. Jean Stapleton was actually weirder than Steve Zahn in it (and Steve Zahn is weird as hell in it. How did anyone work with him at The Shop Around the Corner? How?). And Greg Kinnear was just an insufferable asshole that I loved it when Meg Ryan dumped him (I also love the whole thing where Meg Ryan thought Greg Kinnear was the Unabomber). And I actually grew to love the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan relationship story. Their e-mail relationship seemed almost plausible. I adore their final sequence together, when Tom comes around the corner with his dog and Meg realizes that Tom is the one that she’s been talking to online the whole movie and they embrace. It’s a great moment. And it’s still a great moment. I still well up a bit and cheer that, finally, Tom and Meg are together when Tom reveals himself. How many movies can you say that you do that with today?

Image Credit: New Line Cinema

8- American History X: American History X is probably best known for the performance of its star Edward Norton. Norton plays Derek Vinyard, a Neo Nazi who goes to prison for killing two young Black men and comes out of prison after three years with a new view on the world. Basically, after realizing that being a hateful Neo Nazi piece of shit is no way to go through life, Vinyard becomes reformed. When he gets out of prison his old Neo Nazi friends (Ethan Suplee plays Derek’s best friend Seth, Fairuza Balk plays his old girlfriend Stacey, and Stacy Keach plays the Neo Nazi gang leader and Derek’s former racist mentor Cameron) try to get Derek to come back into the fold. The Neo Nazi group also tries to get Derek’s brother Danny (Edward Furlong) to join up, and when the movie begins it looks like Danny might do it. Danny has been hanging around with Derek’s old friends, his bedroom is filled with all sorts of Neo Nazi paraphernalia, and he has a Neo Nazi gang tattoo. Danny is just about all in. But Derek thinks he can get Danny to drop all of the racist garbage and take the path that Derek realized in prison he should have (the non-racist one). And towards the end of the movie it looks like Derek might succeed. And then the end of the movie happens. Danny is shot dead in the high school bathroom by a Black kid that he beefed with earlier in the movie. If Derek hadn’t bought in to the cycle of hate Danny likely wouldn’t have started doing the same thing to be like his big brother. And had Derek not completely bought into the racist garbage that his father Dennis (William Russ) filled him with when Derek was a teenager Derek likely wouldn’t have become the Neo Nazi that he became (and if Dennis hadn’t bought into whatever racist garbage that his father/mother/grandfather/uncle/whoever told him then he wouldn’t have been able to infect Derek). Racism and hate is just this endless cycle that far too many people buy into. Norton is mesmerizing as Derek, both when he’s a Neo Nazi and when he isn’t. You don’t like Neo Nazi Derek at all but you can’t not watch him. You totally get why Danny would have bought into the seemingly bigger than life Derek (there are parts of the sequence where Derek kills the two Black men where it looks like Derek is a superhero of some sort. Norton is jacked to the gills, the swastika on his chest looking like some Superman symbol. It’s absolutely disgusting but you can see why someone might buy into it by experiencing it up close). And when reformed Derek does whatever he can to make sure that Danny doesn’t fall into the same life that he did you actually root for the guy you detested. Ethan Suplee is also fantastic as Seth. You laugh at how completely stupid Seth is, and then you jump back in horror when he attempts to become violent. The kid is a ticking time bomb. And Stacy Keach will make your skin crawl as Neo Nazi leader Cameron. Cameron is such a hateful piece of garbage. Norton, rightly, was nominated for an Oscar for this movie. Keach should have been nominated, too.

American History X is not easy to watch. It wasn’t easy watching it in the theater and it isn’t easy watching on TV. But it’s definitely something that you should seek out. It’s still as relevant today as it was back in 1998. The world at large is still dealing with the same racist garbage.

Image Credit: Well Go USA

7- Phantasm IV: Oblivion: Phantasm IV: Oblivion, sometimes referred to as Phantasm: OblIVion, is one of the weirdest movies ever made. Made for a fraction of the budget that writer/director Don Coscarelli had for Phantasm II and Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, Oblivion is a small movie with big ideas that take multiple viewings to truly grasp (and even then you still may not “get” the movie and how it fits into the entire Phantasm franchise. There are days where I think I get it, and then there are days where I don’t). Coscarelli uses unused scenes from the first Phantasm to tell Oblivion’s story, which has A. Michael Baldwin’s Mike out in the desert being chased by The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). The movie also has Reggie Bannister’s Reggie looking for Mike, Bill Thornbury’s Jody shows up, and we get to see Scrimm also play Jebediah Morningisde, the old man and mortician that eventually became The Tall Man. I didn’t care for Oblivion when I first saw it. I didn’t get it. I was somewhat annoyed that it was a smaller movie than Lord of the Dead and wasn’t as viscerally cool. And I didn’t get why Coscarelli filled the movie with all of the unused Phantasm footage beyond needing to pad the movie’s running time out. And it also seemed odd that this movie was somehow supposed to be the end of the Phantasm franchise. How could Phantasm end? Wasn’t the whole point of the movies that it was never really over? And if Oblivion was the end, why didn’t it end with a bang instead of a whimper? Didn’t the world deserve that? The more I watched it, though, the more I started to appreciate what I think Oblivion is all about and what Coscarelli was trying to do. And it was okay that we didn’t get the massive Phantasm sequel that we “should” have. It’s okay that Oblivion is a smaller movie, that it’s filled with weird ideas, and it’s okay that if it really is the end of the franchise that it ends with “just the wind.” It’s all about the unknown and being okay with it. Right? Please check out my full, in depth review of this movie here. And as we all know, Oblivion wasn’t the end of the franchise, as we got Phantasm: Ravager in 2016. That was the end. Or is it? (Cue The Tall Man saying “No, it’s not.” Because that’s exactly what The Tall Man would say).

Image Credit: United Artists

6- Ronin: When I saw the trailer for Ronin I was both excited for it (it looked like a solid action movie of some sort) but I was annoyed by the casting of Robert DeNiro. Jean Reno made sense (he’s the goddamn Professional) but DeNiro? The guy from Goodfellas and Casino? A monumental actor, yes, but was he an action hero (I didn’t consider then, and don’t really consider now, Heat to be an action movie. It’s a drama with action moments in it)? Shouldn’t something like Ronin star an action hero or at least a guy who could be seen as a “plausible” action hero? To a degree I still feel that way today, but I’ve come to accept that director John Frankenheimer (who at that moment in my life I knew as the guy who directed The Island of Dr. Moreau and those TNT miniseries Andersonville and George Wallace. I didn’t really know about LeMans or The Manchurian Candidate or The French Connection II or Black Sunday) wanted DeNiro in his movie because he was Robert DeNiro. The most important things were going to be the action and the story, whatever they happened to be. So I went and saw it and it was a solid movie from start to finish. The story was pretty standard spy thriller stuff, which was fine (Frankenheimer told the story well), and the assembled cast was fantastic (yes, the movie tried to have some sort of “sophisticated sheen” to it but everyone involved knew what they were making and totally committed to it. Jonathan Pryce, good old Jumping Jack Flash hisself, was the biggest scumbag in the world as Seamus). DeNiro did a good job despite being miscast (a guy from Brooklyn can be an old CIA operator/spy and handle a machine gun and grenade launcher and whatnot, but Robert DeNiro? Again, he does a good job but, come on, it’s still Robert DeNiro). But the movie’s calling card and sort of reason to exist and continue to be celebrated is its car chase scenes. They really are the best that have ever been filmed. On those super tight Paris streets, you swear to God that none of it is going to work out, that at some point everything is going to go to hell because no one in their right mind would drive fast on those streets. And yet we watch the cars chase one another and it’s enthralling. It was amazing to see on the big screen in a movie theater and it’s still just as enthralling on the small screen. These car chases are what give the movie its true energy. Have there been more spectacular car chase scenes since Ronin? Yes. But no one other movie has created car chase scenes as exciting, as enthralling. Will anyone even try to beat Ronin?

And I’m shocked no one has ever considered doing a sequel of any sort to this to find out what the hell was in the case. I know that the case was the movie’s MacGuffin and that it doesn’t matter, but still, it seems like the kind of thing someone would try to build another movie around.


Next time: The list concludes: The rules! Blood! More war! Even more war! More blood!


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