The Ice Storm (1997; directed by Ang Lee)
"The Ice Storm" and L.A. Confidential were the two best films I saw in 1997. This is about the only thing they have in common, except that each has an incredible cast.
Most of the reviews of this film concentrated on the 1970s setting, the waterbeds and the self-help books and the bad clothes, but I found those to be surface details in a story which contains many deeper elements which still apply today. Families are still, without any evil intention, doing all kinds of damage to both parents and children, people are still finding out that having a variety of sexual choices doesn't make up for a lack of options in the rest of life, and people are still getting the things they think they want and then wondering why they aren't any happier than they were before.
It surprised me when I saw this again recently and noticed that Kevin Kline is officially the star of the picture (his name comes before the title at the beginning, everybody else is listed alphabetically) since it's always the women I remember most when I think about the story. Joan Allen got one of her three consecutive Best Supporting Actress nominations for this (she should have won all three). Many reviewers referred to Sigourney Weaver's character as "cold," but I think they're crazy. Janey Carver (imagine calling Weaver "Janey") is a volcano, she just hasn't erupted quite yet. And Christina Ricci, as the Watergate-obsessed daughter, captures perfectly how teenagers simultaneously know everything and nothing.
One thing which particularly struck me was how good the younger actors were. When you see Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline in the cast, you know the adult roles are in good hands, but Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood and Adam Hann-Byrd are just as good. Like many of the best movies (for example, this year's The Dreamlife of Angels) it had an impact at the end which was far stronger than I expected, since it's a more subtle film than it appears to be when you're watching it.
With Joan Allen: Nixon, Pleasantville
With Sigourney Weaver: Alien Resurrection
With Kevin Kline: In & Out, Soapdish, A Fish Called Wanda
With Christina Ricci: Buffalo 66, The Opposite of Sex, Sleepy Hollow
With Tobey Maguire: Pleasantville, Cider House Rules
With Katie Holmes: Go