Moments that made the year: Fine romance proves that big isn't necessarily beautiful

The best films can take you back to the first time you were ever held in the spell of the cinema screen, with the smell of popcorn hanging in your nostrils, and the sound of the projector whispering in the distance. There were a handful of pictures this year that made me remember how intoxicating cinema can be. My favourite film of 1997 was Baz Lurhmann's Romeo & Juliet, which proved to be less a case of the film-maker adapting the text than lunging at it with a broad sword. Rather than simply updating the play, Luhrmann dragged the setting into modern times while audaciously keeping the language firmly plugged into the late 16th century. The results were sensual, witty and bold, with moments that made Fellini look like a master of understatement.

David Lynch made a breathtaking comeback with Lost Highway, which reminded you of his uncanny ability to tap into primal, intangible fears and desires. It was the kind of daring picture that a director only usually has the guts to make at the start of his career or during exile.

Meanwhile, David Cronenberg's Crash was finally released, and, as predicted by our more upstanding newspapers, many viewers imitated the behaviour of the film's characters and started getting their sexual kicks from causing motorway pile-ups. To date, the shocking number of deaths and injuries for which the film has been responsible amounts to no less than ... Hold on, I've got the figures here somewhere ... Oh, well, anyway, it's a lot, I can tell you.

There's every possibility that 1997 will be remembered as the year the big guns were forced to check the quality of their ammunition; the year the blockbuster died (or at least retired to its sick-bed); the year in which audiences realised that size wasn't everything, and chose The Full Monty over Speed 2. Of course, they also chose Bean, but to dwell on that fact would sabotage the most water-tight argument for the burgeoning health of popular cinema, so we'll move quickly on.

As the American magazine Premiere reported, many of the major studios were rocked by poor box-office returns. Flushed with the success of last year's Independence Day, 20th Century Fox loosened its purse strings and paid dearly when the budgets for Volcano and Speed 2 were not matched by their profits, while Warner Bros didn't notch up a single blockbuster hit, despite putting their muscle behind Conspiracy Theory, Contact and Batman and Robin. Even the best of the potential blockbusters, Men in Black, lost the box-office fight, in Britain at least, to The Full Monty, which is still hogging multiplex screens long after such a supposedly surefire hit as Batman and Robin has been despatched to the shelves of a Woolworth's near you.

This isn't blind patriotism, since the best two "British" films of the year, Nil By Mouth and The English Patient, were buoyed up by foreign money, while the majority of the year's finest work came from beyond these shores. From France: Ridicule, L'Appartement and A Self-Made Hero; from Japan, Kids Return; and from Belgium, Ma Vie en Rose, a picture that had the impish joy of Tim Burton's early work.

Burton himself came all over bitter and twisted with Mars Attacks!, and actually learnt to laugh at himself, which was a big improvement. Many of the year's sharpest comedies also came from America - Big Night, Swingers, Grosse Pointe Blank, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Any picture that ends with George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore getting busted on drugs charges has a head start on being the funniest film of the year, and David O Russell's Flirting with Disaster undoubtedly deserves that accolade. Horror made a significant comeback with three startling new movies: The Frighteners, Scream and Alien Resurrection.

But with any recognition of worth comes the simultaneous acknowledgement that there were some films out there that constituted serious crimes against humanity. This year may have been no worse than any other, but it's hard to remember that when you're watching Dangerous Ground, Shooting Fish or any film starring a member of the Friends cast who isn't Courteney Cox.

And can it really be a civilised world that even allows Chris Rea out of his house, let alone into a film studio to make La Passione?

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