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The Single Finest American Film of Our Generation?

(Shuffles note cards nervously, tries to make eye contact with the back of the classroom, fails.) Webster's Dictionary defines a generation as "the entire body of individuals born and living at about the same time." Additional definitions imply that a subset of 30 years or an interval between parents and their offspring is what necessitates the classification of a particular "generation." Well I'm here to say boo to that. After celebrating our country's independence from Russia this past weekend by (among other things) watching the 1989 classic Road House starring Patrick Swayze for the first time in my life on basic cable in a cheap suburban hotel, and having been born not but six years before said film's release, I simply cannot call it a part of my generation.

In fact, I'm here to challenge and narrow the notion of generation and enlist your help in deciding what is indeed the single finest American film of our generation. Now there's no doubt that Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is right in saying Road House is "the single finest American film" in many ways. But I feel so saddened that I have lived 25.75 years of my life without having seen the Rowdy Herrington-directed blockbuster, whose achievements in gorgeously choreographed bar fights and zen-tinged backwoods dialogue are monumental and underappreciated fo shozies, that I cannot help but assume Nelson should have included the suffix "of my generation" to his statement.

So having also caught bits of Independence Day and Speed (two of the top contenders in this quest, one of which was discussed at some length by Brigitte in conjunction with another top contender, Con Air) this weekend, I decided we must forever put an end to the question, what is the single finest American film of our generation? And I don't mean of the past 30 years, or since your parents were our age, or any of that. I'm talking our golden years of cinema idolization, before we hated everything that entered our neighborhood multiplexes. So we're looking strictly at the years 1990-1998. I figure 1989 got the previous generation Road House right in under the wire, and 1990 includes one of my most memorable trips to the theater as a wee lad, so we'd start there. As for the end point, well see below to understand.

As you sift through the contenders listed by year below, some prerequisites for this "single finest American film" title will become apparent. First of all, we're clearly only talking about the best of the best. Like so good they won't be taught in film classes, they'll be taught by you to your young 'un and you'll go "HOLY SHIT!" when that awesome explosion happens or that wacky ordeal spirals out of control and your spouse will yell at you for swearing in the company of your child. But you won't care because that bus really made that leap across a giant gap in the freeway, or John Ritter actually drank urine, or turns out Al Pacino really is the devil!

Thus, in an attempt to narrow down the choices to peruse through, I decided to A) eliminate any films that were lower than #50 on the yearly box office breakdown of highest grossing films, B) allow only five films per year to be nominated for the title, C) only include movies I have distinct memories of seeing for the first time AND watching at least a couple times more on home video upon their release, and D) at some point during my later high school years, I relegated said VHS (either taped off free HBO previews or bought previously viewed from Blockbuster) to my "cabinet of shame" (or would have if I had owned said video rather than just rented it over and over again). Therefore, no films such as Face/Off, The Crow, or The Cable Guy, which at the time (and kinda still) I felt had genuine artistic merit (unlike the others listed below, which have a completely different kind of genuine artistic merit) can be included in this process.

Without further ado, I give you the nominees for "the single finest American film of our generation", listed first by year, then within that grouping by box office prowess...

1990: Home Alone, Ghost, Dick Tracy, Problem Child, Arachnophobia

1991: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Hook, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of The Ooze, The Last Boy Scout, Point Break

1992: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Beethoven, The Mighty Ducks, Encino Man, 3 Ninjas

1993: Jurassic Park, Cool Runnings, Demolition Man, Last Action Hero, The Good Son

1994: True Lies, Speed, Stargate, D2: The Mighty Ducks, Blank Check

1995: Die Hard: With A Vengeance, Congo, Outbreak, Bad Boys, The Net

1996: Independence Day, Twister, Ransom, Broken Arrow, Daylight
1997: Air Force One, Con Air, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Devil's Advocate, Breakdown

1998*: Armageddon, Godzilla, Deep Impact, Enemy of The State, Snake Eyes

*You might ask why I stopped my tallying of possible single finest American films for our generation at 1998. I'd like to first refer you to the fact that in order to garner five nominees for this year, I had to include such tripe as Godzilla and Snake Eyes. 1999 saw my entrance into the 11th grade, the first Star Wars prequel, and questionable milestones such as The Matrix and The Blair Witch Project. I am not yet far removed enough to admit these films are either A) still entertaining or B) not worthy of my "cabinet of shame", either in truth or hypothetically. 1998, by my estimation, is the death knell of obtuse nostalgic enjoyment for our generation until further notice. Perhaps in another ten years, things will be different. Perhaps not.

P.S. If you would be interested in this quest becoming a feature, focusing on each individual year at a time, possibly even with modern revisitations of each set of nominees, say so now or forever hold your peace.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 11:26 AM |  

    Feature this shi*! I also expect each of these posts to start with a nervous shuffling of note cards.

  2. Blogger Unspar! | 12:06 PM |  

    Feature! Feature! Feature! I predict a win for Jurassic Park, with Point Break coming in a close second.

  3. Blogger Papa Thor | 12:58 PM |  

    I agree this should be a feature (I luz rappin' 'bout flicks).
    However, I might not quite understand the criteria, e.g. where is Mrs. Doubtfire or surely something with Jim Carrey (your generation's Robin Williams) doing something outrageous? Maybe Boogie Nights? or Something about Mary?

  4. Blogger chris | 1:26 PM |  

    Three requests seals the deal. Feature it is. Perhaps this will replace Nerdflix I Love Thee for a while.

    In response to your excellent suggestions, Papa Thor...Mrs. Doubtfire surely would have been in the running had I not seen it recently and oscillated between boredom and slight sympathy with the protagonist. It's both not entertaining enough and too "genuine" to be nominated.

    Similarly, I don't think anyone could stomach any 90s Jim Carrey films besides The Cable Guy if watched today, though I have a strange urge to attempt to torture myself with The Mask. Overall though, he's just too much. Same thing with the Farrelly Bros. and There's Something About Mary (conversely, Jonathan Richman's appearance as the town minstrel is just too classy for this race).

    Boogie Nights, on the other hand, is taught in film classes. Automatic disqualification. Also, I don't believe I saw it until I was a senior in high school when I stupidly started to try only seeing movies that were "good", so it just doesn't fit with the rest. There were no butterflies leading up to its release nor any explosions/one-liners that constituted multiple dude "crash-over" viewings late at night.

  5. Blogger Christine | 2:29 PM |  

    I just came on to tell you you should definitely continue with this feature - only to find you'd already been convinced. Hooray!

    How will you narrow this down? Voting brackets? It's almost too much to even pick a yearly winner, let alone for the whole period.

    Did John Ritter drink urine in Problem Child? I thought that was the neighbor in Problem Child 2...

  6. Blogger chris | 2:45 PM |  

    Haha you are so right, Christine. Oh man that knocks Problem Child right out of the running I'm afraid. And Problem Child 2 made approximately two dollars, so no dice there unfortunately.

    I have no idea how I will narrow this down. I will probably ramble about each year for each post and ask for votes in the comments to help decide the winner for that set. When we have one representative for each year, I will prolly do one big final rambling post and the comments will decide the final victor.

  7. Blogger Adam Omelianchuk | 12:40 PM |  

    Jurassic Park. Though being 30 I am not sure I fit. The best film from the time period is Schindler's List by far and away.

  8. Blogger Lane | 1:24 PM |  

    Chris I am so sad you left out free willy...i lived for that movie. :(

  9. Blogger chris | 1:28 PM |  

    I meant to at least mention Free Willy. My bad!

    1993 was a tough year to pick noms for. Ultimately, Free Willy just didn't factor into my childhood as much as the other ones listed there (yes, even Last Action Hero! can't wait to write about that one!).

    I will add it as a "write-in" though when I write about 1993, because you're right, it was too much a part of our generation to just skip entirely.

  10. Blogger Dave | 1:53 PM |  

    There is NO WAY you should be ashamed of Jurassic Park or Independence Day. I know I'm an idiot, but Jurassic Park is seriously one of the 10 best films ever made. Straight. Face.

    But it's just that Chris Polley has to be ashamed of them, so I guess it's really up to you, Polley.

    Anyways, I totally vote Mighty Ducks. Though really D2 is where it's at. Bash Bros 4 Ever.

    "In my country we call it a love tap."-Evil Icelandic Hockey Player

  11. Blogger chris | 2:06 PM |  

    Who said I was ashamed now? The "closet of shame" existed for a relatively short period of cinematic confusion between 1999 and 2001.

    Now I laugh, cry, and tremble in fear at the awesomeness of these films. They're all pure spectacle and that's what we're celebrating with this quest.

    And don't fret, Davey, both The Mighty Ducks and D2 are eligible and will be discussed in upcoming posts.

    I will do my best to remember the votes placed here, but really you should be voting for a film for every year as I post on each set of nominees throughout the upcoming weeks!

    Check the recent 1990 post...

  12. Blogger Christine | 10:02 PM |  

    Jim and I just watched Clueless and would like to request you add this to your 1995 list. For the ladies.

  13. Blogger chris | 10:28 AM |  

    Haha I LOVE Clueless, but unfortunately, it cannot be nominated for the same reason Scream can't be nominated (which we just watched and loved all over again). It's a genuinely great movie! There's no unintentional entertainment value in Clueless or Scream I don't think like there is in the list of nominees.

    That said, at some point I will be looking back at the genuinely great movies of the 90s and surely Clueless will be mentioned!

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