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Movies of 1997 Bracket Game: L.A. Confidential vs Air Force One

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Okay, so these two films have only very tenuous similarities. What it came down to was that I found most of the mainstream action films of 1997 to be pretty forgettable or outright bad (coughCon Aircough), but also thought that the crowd-pleasing action movie Air Force One was one that couldn’t be ignored here. That left it with no naturally matching group of films to share a bracket with. What I’ve done is basically to create a “crime” bracket and awkwardly include this Harrison Ford-led box office hit alongside Jackie Brown, The Game, and L.A. Confidential. Hopefully everybody is okay with that. If not, well…it’s done already. Let’s see what we can say about these wildly different films in which people shoot at one another.

Our previous match appeared to be decided by the continuing fame of its main actors breaking open what I had viewed as a sort of toss-up. That means Good Will Hunting will move on to face Boogie Nights in the next round. A friend of mine is 0 for 2 in his rooting interests so far.

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I’m going to ask you to skip down and look at the trailer I’ve included here. It’s an interesting case. It’s almost like two different trailers mashed together to try to reach two different audiences. The first two thirds of it read like any other cops and robbers flick of the previous fifty years and is clearly meant to appeal to the mainstream action/crime audience. You know…”regular guys.” Then as it begins to wrap up the tone suddenly changes and becomes the kind of trailer a studio puts out for an awards season film, with soaring orchestral score and an emphasis on the pedigree of the people involved. It looks like there were competing versions of the trailer that they couldn’t decide between or like they didn’t realize until well through the process that they might be getting some Oscars buzz. It’s kind of strange and jarring, but it is also pretty representative of the film that it is trying to sell us. L.A. Confidential is exactly a hard-boiled detective thriller where plenty of the problems of the characters are solved with bullets. But it’s also a morally ambiguous “prestige” picture where the good guys aren’t particularly good. The movie takes a great deal of discussion afterwards and you’re going to find people on both sides of the fence who wish it was a little more like either the first half of this trailer or more like the last part. No matter which side you fall on though, there’s no denying that it’s a compelling movie experience.

On the other hand, Harrison Ford’s President vs. terrorist flick is sold as being right up the alley of most mainstream audiences. Its director Wolfgang Petersen, certainly has a history of delivering effectively tense thrillers which are a little smarter than they would necessarily have to be (think Enemy Mine and In the Line of Fire), but without giving up on the escapist thrills that make them crowd-pleasers. This is a delicate balancing act that will not always resonate immediately with everyone involved. The great Randy Newman was initially chosen to write the score for Air Force One, but when Petersen heard what he’d produced he panicked and commissioned Jerry Goldsmith to replace it on a severely shortened schedule (a job Goldsmith said he’d never try to do again). Maybe Petersen wasn’t familiar with all of Newman’s work when he selected him for the job? That’s the best explanation I can come up with. The fact that Petersen was unprepared for what he considered to be Newman’s satirical take on the material definitely suggests this. The discarded compositions were later re-used by Newman for his score of Toy Story 3. In contrast, Gary Oldman, who played the movie’s primary villain appeared to fully understand the tone Petersen intended and contributed to what cast and crew would later call “Air Force Fun,” the really enjoyable experience of shooting the film, by snapping in and out of character depending on whether they were rolling or not and immediately peppering the proceedings with jokes and glad-handing between takes.

So which way do you swing? Do you prefer the escapism of Air Force One or the hard-boiled cynicism of L.A. Confidential? Vote here and talk to us about it in the comments section.

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Posted on January 20, 2017, in bracket game, Movies, poll and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I wasn’t into action films AT ALL in 1997, so films like “Con Air” & “Air Force One” weren’t priorities to me; “L.A. Confidential” all the way anyway, as anything that even smells like Film Noir means that I’m present.

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  2. I find this one a fairly easy call. Air Force One is a well-done action thriller, but L.A. Confidential is a classic of neo-noir, with a terrific cast, and a script that should be the model for anyone trying to adapt a long, complex novel for the screen. It simplifies the plot sufficiently to yield a story you can tell within a little over two hours, while still retaining the spirit of James Ellroy’s source novel. Any crime film set in post-World War 2 Los Angeles made in the last 20 years is in this one’s formidable shadow.

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    • While I come to the same conclusion as you do in the end in preferring L.A, Confidential, I have come to value tightly conceived mainstream entertainment at a much higher level than I did back when these films were first released. That might mark me as a bit of a traditionalist who wandered where underground culture took me in my young adulthood. I must admit to preferring the more stylized noir films of the black and white fashion that you might see on AMC exactly because they feature a heightened reality that is perfect in its gritty artifice when at its best. L.A. Confidential doesn’t quite do that same thing for me, but it’s really well made nonetheless.

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  3. This one’s easy. LA Confidential is one of the year’s best. Air Force One was an acceptable time killer on a hot day. It’s not quite as good as Ford’s Jack Ryan movies which comprised his 3rd best movie franchise.

    I am impressed you got through an entire discussion of Air Force One on this particular day without a single joke about current events. I would not have shown such restraint. 😉

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  4. “Get off my plane!” Air Force One was released when Harrison Ford was still one of the bigger box office draws in Hollywood. It was absolutely a star vehicle, back when those still existed, To showcase Ford’s starpower back then, the film finished as the 5th biggest film of the year. Air Force One was a solid entertaining action thriller, even if certain people weren’t fans of the film I don’t think anybody will argue the point that its definately a few steps above your typical action film in terms of quality.

    Having said that, I voted for L.A. Confidential. Like Lebeau said it’s one of the year’s best films. If Titanic hadn’t taken off as a pop cultural phenomenon and won hearts and minds like it did, then I’m sure that L.A. Confidential would have been the Best Picture winner. I don’t mean to sound like I’m bashing Titanic, not at all I think it earned the Oscar but under different circumstances Confidential would have won.

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    • Air Force One was Ford’s last unqualified success before Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull Thingies. What Lies Beneath did well, but it was really a Michelle Pfeiffer movie.

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  5. So far, both of my picks have won.

    This one is easy. LA Confidential was the number 2 film of the year for me, surpassed only by Boogie Nights (so that tells which one I picked in the first round). It’s one film that uses well-worn tropes in new ways and offers up a well-done thriller that’s more ambitious than most thrillers. Many cheap thrillers don’t allow room for rumination. This one requires it.

    Air Force One was a fun movie at the time that honestly hasn’t held up that well. Not saying it’s bad, just that those who come to it now are apt to wonder why it was such a big deal. To me, the best of 1997’s blockbusters remains Face/Off which I would argue holds up pretty well. No, it isn’t the classic a few people made it out to be at the time. But it’s one I still watch unlike AF1 or Con Air.

    For the record, my top ten of 1997

    1: Boogie Nights
    2: LA Confidential
    3: Eve’s Bayou
    4: The Ice Storm
    5: The Sweet Hereafter
    6: Jackie Brown
    7: Wag The Dog
    8: Donnie Brasco
    9: Face/Off
    10: The Game

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  6. It seems unlikely I will get to tell my Air Force One story in a later round, so I’ll tell it now.

    When I think of Air Force One, the first thing that comes to mind is popcorn. Specifically, popcorn bags. In 1997, I was in the middle of my “career” as a movie theater manager. I think of this time fondly because this is when I was overseeing my favorite theater. It was a little art house in the mall. We did almost no business at all which made my job ridiculously easy. I basically had to make sure the place didn’t burn down.

    In the midnighties, one of the big innovations in concessions was the popcorn bag. We used to sell popcorn in these giant tubs made of thick paper. They were solid and very easy to fill. According to the company, the new bags were better for the environment which I don’t doubt. But more importantly, they were cheaper. Not only were they cheaper to make, it cost less to ship them and they were easy to store.

    The biggest downside to the bags was that they weren’t quite so easy to fill. The tub was like a giant scoop so it did most of the work for you. All you had to do was top it off. You had to open the bag. And you had to do so without putting your hands in it because obviously that’s gross. You couldn’t use it as a scoop, so you had to hold the open bag in one hand (without putting your thumb in it to hold it open, and scoop with the other. Sounds relatively easy, but there is a level of skill involved to do it properly.

    Then there’s the issue of properly topping off the bags. Your natural instinct is to push the corn down into the bag with your scoop. But if you do that, you end up crushing the kernels. What you need to do is give the bag a shake or two so the corn sinks to the bottom without breaking. Then you top it off. Then you added the “butter” which you had to keep away from the side of the bag or it would make a very unappetizing grease stain.

    Anyway, the reason Air Force One makes me think of these bags is that someone in our corporate offices came up with the idea of using them for advertising. We were part of the Sony family of companies, so most of the time our popcorn bags promoted their latest releases.

    Since the studio and the theater chain were both owned by the same corporation, no actual money was changing hands. But it was moved around on the internal spreadsheets. That meant the more popcorn bags they printed, the more income the theaters could show on their spreadsheets. Obviously, there was an incentive to print as many bags as possible.

    As I said before, my little theater didn’t do a lot of business. We were right next to the food court in the mall, so most of our customers had eaten before the show or had plans to do so afterwards. Our concession sales were pathetic. We may have averaged 10 large popcorn sales a week. And that was partially because I would let the employee’s friends and family in for free if they bought a large popcorn (I was bonused on concession sales, not ticket sales).

    When the shipment of Air Force One bags arrived, there were six large boxes with 500 bags each. I knew immediately, that I would be lucky to empty a single box before the next shipment arrived. And sure enough, the box was still mostly full when the next shipment arrived.

    At some point, Sony partnered with the Gap. Those of you who were around may remember the controversial campaign in which children posed in provocative position. Those pictures were on our popcorn bags. Eww. Since we were charging an outside company rather than a corporate partner, the printing run was more than doubled. I had a massive storage room, but after about a year I was running out of places to put the bags. We started stacking them behind the movie screens.

    We never did get rid of all those Air Force One bags. The following year, they closed my theater down and shipped all the bags to Chicago where they would be used in busier theaters. I wonder what patrons of Chicago theaters thought when their popcorn bag had Harrison Ford’s grimacing face a year or so after the movie had come and gone.

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    • What a story; I love your movie theater stories, and I especially remember the one about the bats.

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      • I have a million of them. Most of them remain untold. Even in real life, it’s just not something that comes up very often. But let me tell you, a lot of nutty stuff happens at your local cineplex.

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  7. I missed the vote on this, but still got my desired result. Great job, everyone!

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