There are ’90s teen movies with more shock value, but “Can’t Hardly Wait” (1998) is the one I point to as the “American Graffiti” of my generation – a sweet, universal story featuring every archetype under the sun, and darn near every notable young actor of the period. It doesn’t lean into the “end of an era” vibe as much as the purposely nostalgic “Graffiti,” as it’s much more of a comedy, but it ultimately strikes that note anyway, almost catching a viewer off guard after all the laughs.
On the “Buffy” fan Facebook page I frequent, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (Netflix) is often mentioned when someone asks “What’s a new show that’s sort of like ‘Buffy?’ ” It’s hard to resist the comparisons. After all, the nine episodes of Season 1, Part 2 end with (spoilers follow) …
1999 was a landmark year for movies and TV, so we’re being bombarded by 20th anniversary celebrations of these classics. But is “Cruel Intentions,” from March 5, 1999, one of those classics? I saw it in the theater when it came out and didn’t like it, but in all honesty about 90 percent of the reason is that I couldn’t handle seeing Buffy as a bad person. Giving it a fresh look today, I can see why people celebrate this film – and besides, at least Sarah Michelle Gellar distances herself from her iconic role by having brown hair here.
The brilliance of “mid90s” (2018), now available on Amazon Prime, is in the details. Writer-director Jonah Hill, known for his comedic acting roles, grew up in this time, and he has a great ear for the way teenagers talked – and the way coolness was the only currency that mattered. Watched from the perspective of 2019, the film makes us think about how the maturation of teen culture has benefited the most vulnerable kids, but also how mid-’90s teens were toughened up by the casual meanness around them.
I’m glad “Cloak & Dagger” Season 2 (8 p.m. Eastern Thursdays on Freeform) started with a “previously on,” because the plot specifics of this show don’t stick in my head – even though I enjoy the experience of watching it. Last season, as I was reminded, found Tyrone/Cloak (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy/Dagger (Olivia Holt) exposing the evil corporatists at Roxxon. So it’s good that Season 2 has a new plot, and that the duo is comfortable using their primary powers now. (Their secondary powers promise more weirdness, though.)
Irecall that the theater was packed with an enthusiastic crowd for “Varsity Blues” in January 1999. Not that it was a huge movie – all movies other than the summer blockbusters kind of snuck into theaters back then – but it was definitely a cool movie for young people. It features “Dawson’s Creek’s” James Van Der Beek, other soon-to-be-stars like Paul Walker (R.I.P.), and a soundtrack lineup that’s the 1999 equivalent of the 1929 Yankees (tracks 2-6: Green Day, Foo Fighters, Collective Soul, Fastball, Third Eye Blind).
Summer ’03” (2018) had the misfortune of coming out the same year as “Eighth Grade,” which showed new blood can be wrung from the stone of coming-of-age dramedies. Stacked against other entries in the genre – but especially that one – “Summer ’03” is tame, without a sharp or original perspective. The trappings of a decent film are here, including lead actress Joey King – very much in her “She’ll be a star someday” mode – and nice Georgia cinematography (although the film takes place in Cincinnati for some reason) by Ben Hardwicke.
The dominant genre of 2018 continued to be superheroes; even with the “X-Men” Universe and DC Extended Universe releasing only one film each, the three Marvel Cinematic Universe movies were impossible to overlook. Still, this was a less blockbustery year than 2017, and by year’s end I had seen at least one really good film in every genre. From a throwback thriller to an arthouse gem, here are my 10 favorite films of 2018.
Politics follow predictable historical cycles, but even political science experts must be amazed by how quickly mainstream public opinion has switched from “Gay people have a problem that needs to be fixed” to “Someone’s sexual orientation is no big deal.” At the start of Obama’s presidential term, his safe political play was to oppose equal treatment of gays under the law; eight years later, the opposite had become the case.
Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is easiest to describe to a newcomer if they are familiar with “Riverdale.” It’s like “Riverdale” but with witchcraft and likeable characters. Those two elements are what make “Sabrina” the more interesting show, but it shares “Riverdale’s” foundation of moody cinematography and an ephemeral sense of time and place. As a horror-tinged show (though not a scary one), those elements work perfectly on “Sabrina.”