Film: The colour of money
Moments That Made The Year: Box-office takings reached `Jurassic Park' heights. Teenagers chose `Trainspotting'. Kids and parents agreed on `Babe' and `Toy Story'. By Ryan Gilbey
Thursday 26 December 1996
Opening weekends, those crucial three-day periods when a film is deemed to have either succeeded or failed, were big industry news. Spielberg's 1993 dinosaur adventure had been clinging to its smile as the UK's biggest opener when along came a serial killer, a talking pig and a comedian in a bad safari shirt, uniting to give it a good kicking. Taking pounds 7.2m in the year's first weekend, Seven, Babe and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls needed to gang up to defeat the prehistoric record-holder, but they, too, were beaten later in the year by Independence Day's staggering first three days, in which it reaped pounds 10.1m.
With pounds 36.7m taken by mid-November, and with the film still on release, it was a foregone conclusion that the picture would be the year's biggest hit. In its wake came Toy Story (pounds 22.1m), Seven (pounds 19.5m) and Mission: Impossible (pounds 18.3m), with Twister (pounds 14.8m), which had the best advance trailer of the year but little else, bringing up the rear.
So that was where your money went. But what was going on inside your mind? The year's box-office Top 10 tells the same story as ever - big films and kids' films (or, in the case of Mission: Impossible, big kids' films), although the success early on in the year of Seven, Heat and Trainspotting among late-teens and twentysomethings indicates that the target audience of so much product being spat out of Hollywood does, in fact, take its entertainment a little darker. In fact, so many young people were going to the cinema this year that it was deemed judicious to launch a new film magazine, Neon, to cater solely for them.
Some complained that Neon gave the cold shoulder to foreign pictures, but you could argue that this was simply a reflection of there being so little to celebrate this year that wasn't in the English language. There were a few exceptions: Wong Kar Wai's Fallen Angels; Pedro Almodovar's The Flower of My Secret; Pierre Salvadori's Les Apprentis; Lars Von Trier's The Kingdom (which ruffled fewer feathers, but was a more astounding work than Von Trier's follow-up, Breaking the Waves). But the numbing lack of imagination in such indulgent exercises as Ulysses Gaze and Le Bonheur was overshadowed by the tragic sight of one of France's finest actors, Daniel Auteuil, appearing in two of the year's worst films, The Eighth Day and Une Femme Francaise.
Several directors changed their stripes, and looked better for it: Mike Leigh discovered that humanity wasn't such a bad thing after all, and made his best film, Secrets and Lies, which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival; Oliver Stone exhibited a sudden clarity of vision in Nixon; Stealing Beauty was Bertolucci's most coherent and bewitching work since Last Tango in Paris; and Mike Figgis finally found the movie - Leaving Las Vegas - to suit his reputation, and his talent. But there's always one - and Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite proved that trashy comedies like Kingpin and Happy Gilmore didn't have the monopoly on regressive infantile portraits of women.
It was an American who came up with the year's most startling film: Todd Haynes's Safe was a ceaselessly unsettling study of a suburban housewife gripped in the teeth of an environmental illness. Along with the year's other best work - Seven and Toy Story - it did things to you that you'd forgotten cinema was capable of doing. It took your breath away.
If there was something that hung heavy over the year, it was, as always, controversy. From the desperate efforts to whip up something in the neighbourhood of curiosity about Showgirls and Striptease to the very real outcry over Kids, it was a year of outrage. Over the violence in Casino, the politics of Michael Collins, and as for Crash ... well, anyone who's seen it will gladly testify to being completely befuddled as to what exactly the world and its maiden aunt were objecting to there (you'll be able to judge for yourself if the film earns a certificate in time for its late-January release).
The big success story, with all its attendant controversy, remains Trainspotting. A small film about a big problem - drug addiction - it captured the imagination of everyone who wanted to be a junkie but hated needles, as well as those whose bedroom walls had been crying out for a new poster since the Betty Blue one fell down. Objecting to the picture as a celebration of council- estate chic was futile. It was unstoppable, thanks to a world-dominating poster campaign that bugged the hell out of you at home but made your heart jump when you ran into it on the Champs-Elysees.
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