How many have you seen?
Like a pumpkin that transforms into a carriage, some very shrewd casting (and the charisma of Julia Roberts, in particular) morphed this story of a Hollywood whore into a Disneyfied Cinderella story--and a mainstream megahit. This is the movie that made Roberts a star; the charm of her personality helping tremendously to carry viewers over the rough spots in the script (which was originally a cynical tale about prostitution called 3000--after the amount of money Richard Gere's character pays the prostitute to stay with him for the week). Gere is the silver-haired Wall Street knight who sweeps streetwalker Roberts into a fantasy world of room service at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel and fashion boutique shopping on Rodeo Drive. The supporting cast is also appealing, including Laura San Giacomo as Roberts's hooker pal, Hector Elizondo as the hotel manager, Jason Alexander, Ralph Bellamy, and Hank Azaria. Now, is this something you want your sons and daughters to see? That's entirely up to you. --Jim Emerson
One of the best romantic comedies of the 1990s, this box-office hit cemented writer-director Cameron Crowe's reputation as "the voice of a generation." Crowe could probably do without that label, but he's definitely in sync with the times with this savvy story about a sports agent (Tom Cruise) whose fall from grace motivates his quest for professional recovery, and the slow-dawning realization that he needs the love and respect of the single mom (Renée Zellweger in her breakthrough role) who has supported him through the worst of times. This is one of Cruise's best, most underrated performances, and in an Oscar-winning role, Cuba Gooding Jr. plays the football star who remains Jerry Maguire's only loyal client on a hard road to redemption and personal growth. If that sounds touchy-feely, it is only because Crowe has combined sharp entertainment with a depth of character that is rarely found in mainstream comedy. --Jeff Shannon
A real woman. A real story. A real triumph. Julia Roberts stars as Erin Brockovich, a feisty young mother who fought for justice any way she knew how. Desperate for a job to support herself and her three children, she convinces attorney Ed Masry (Albert Finney) to hire her, and promptly stumbles upon a monumental law case against a giant corporation. Now, Erin's determined to take on this powerful adversary even though no law firm has dared to do it before. And while Ed doesn't want anything to do with the case, Erin won't take "no" for an answer. So the two begin an incredible and sometimes hilarious fight that will bring a small town to its feet and a huge company to its knees.
Alicia Silverstone won everyone over with her portrayal of a Beverly Hills teen, Cher, whose penchant for helping others with their relationships and self-esteem is a cover for her own loneliness. Director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) made a smart, funny variation on Jane Austen's novel Emma, sweetly romantic and gently satirical of 90210 social manners. The cast is unbeatable: Dan Hedaya as Cher's rock-solid dad, Wallace Shawn as a geeky teacher, Paul Rudd as the boy who has always been Cher's surrogate brother--and the true holder of her most secret wishes. --Tom Keogh
Anyone who's watched just about any teenage film knows that the greatest evil in this world isn't chemical warfare, ethnic cleansing, or even the nuclear bomb. The worst crime known to man? Why, virginity, of course. As we've learned from countless films--from Summer of '42 to Risky Business--virginity is a criminal burden that one must shed oneself of as quickly as possible. And while many of these films have given the topic a bad name, American Pie quietly sweeps in and gives sex some of its dignity back. Dignity, you may say? How can a film that highlights intercourse with fruit pies, premature ejaculation broadcasted across the Internet, and the gratuitous "gross-out" shots restore the dignity of a genre that's been encumbered with such heavyweights as Porky's and Losin' It? The plot may be typical, with four high school friends swearing to "score" by prom, yet the film rises above the muck with its superior cast, successful and sweet humor, and some actually rather retro values about the meaning and importance of sex. Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, and Eddie Kaye Thomas make up the odd quartet of pals determined to woo, lie, and beg their way to manhood. The young women they pursue are wary girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid), choir girl Heather (Mena Suvari), band geek Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), and just about any other female who is willing and able. Natasha Lyonne as Jessica, playing a similar role as in Slums of Beverly Hills, is the general adviser to the crowd (when Vicky tells her "I want it to be the right time, the right place," Jessica responds, "It's not a space shuttle launch, it's sex"). The comedic timing hits the mark--especially in the deliberately awkward scenes between Jim (Biggs) and his father (Eugene Levy). And, of course, lessons are learned in this genuinely funny film, which will probably please the adult crowd even more than it will the teenage one. --Jenny Brown
Shes All That
This charming update of Pygmalion (by way of the John Hughes oeuvre, most notably Pretty in Pink) rode the crest of the late-'90s wave of immensely popular teen films (Varsity Blues, etc.), thanks primarily to the immense charisma of its two leads, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook. When school star Zach (Prinze)--who's a jock, smart, and popular--gets dumped by vacuous Taylor (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) after spring break, he's left dateless for the all-important prom. With a little goading from his less-than-sensitive best friend (hunky Paul Walker), he bets that he can make any girl into prom queen a mere eight weeks before the dance. The object of their wager: misfit Laney (Cook), a gawky art student too busy with her paintings and taking care of her brother and dad to worry about school politics. However, after a couple looks from Zach, and a few dates that reveal him to be a hunk of substance, Laney's armor begins to melt--and her stock at school soars. Soon enough, she's the lone candidate for prom queen against the bitchy and relentless Taylor.
As a producer, Jerry Bruckheimer makes movies for guys, mostly action films like Top Gun and Gone in 60 Seconds. The ones he makes that feature women, such as Flashdance and now Coyote Ugly, broaden their appeal with a fondness for "strong women." For Bruckheimer, that means self-determined, attractive women who don't need men to get what they want. Is there anything sexier than that? In Coyote Ugly, the charming young waif Piper Perabo stars as Violet, a New Jersey waitress who moves to New York to make it big as a songwriter. She has absolutely no idea how the music business works, relying instead on her faith in her own abilities. In order to make ends meet, she gets a job in a bar called Coyote Ugly, where the bartenders are scantily clad women who dance on the bar and order around their mostly male clientele. Really, they are strippers who don't have to take off their clothes. In fact, the owner (Maria Bello) orders them to enact the first rule of strip clubs: "Appear available but never be available." Bruckheimer is smart enough to focus on the naive girl instead of the seamier side of the story, following her as she realizes her dream and picks up a disposable but nice man along the way. Further "empowering" the female figures in the film, Zoe (Tyra Banks), the bartender whom Violet is replacing, leaves in order to go to law school. See? They're as smart as they are sexy! Then there's John Goodman, who turns in an absolutely charming performance as Violet's concerned father. This is a sweet and inoffensive film as long as you don't think too much about it. --Andy Spletzer
It's a good thing Sandra Bullock knows her strengths and weaknesses, because without Bullock as star and producer, Miss Congeniality would be an insufferable mess as opposed to being a mildly enjoyable trifle that is custom-made for Bullock's established screen persona. Only Bullock's fans could really appreciate this fluff (even then they'll wish its ripe premise had been more intelligently handled), but it's not without some highlights to accompany Bullock's reliable charms. Here she plays clumsy, nerdy FBI agent Gracie Hart, who is given the horrific pseudonym Gracie Lou Freebush (one example of the movie's juvenile tendencies) when assigned to infiltrate a beauty pageant to investigate threats of a terrorist attack.
If you've ever doubted how much a star can carry a movie, look no further than Legally Blonde, Robert Luketic's pop fluff about a sorority girl who becomes the reigning brain at Harvard Law School. The film tries way too hard to be pop fluff, but thankfully it also understands the comic glories of Reese Witherspoon. As Elle Woods, the supposedly dimwitted heroine, Witherspoon gives a high-wattage performance that somehow comes across as both lusciously cartoonish and warmly human. It's a radiant comic turn worthy of Marilyn Monroe, and Luketic throws the whole movie at her, even though its intentional kitsch and sledgehammer contrivances don't trust you enough to figure out on your own what might be guilty fun about it. It's a lame movie, essentially, that redeems itself by knowing just enough to keep things sunny and moving right along. The film is content to follow several steps behind the regal Witherspoon, carrying her train. You probably will be, too. --Steve Wiecking
For every TV-into-movie success like The Fugitive, there are dozens of uninspired films like The Mod Squad. Happily--and surprisingly--this breezy update of the seminal '70s jiggle show falls into the first category, with Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore (who also produced), and Lucy Liu starring as the hair-tossing, fashion-setting, kung fu-fighting trio employed by the mysterious Charlie (voiced by the original Charlie, John Forsythe). When a high-tech programmer (Sam Rockwell) is kidnapped, the angels seek out the suspects, with the daffy Bosley (Bill Murray in a casting coup) in tow. A happy, cornball popcorn flick, Charlie's Angels is played for laughs with plenty of ribbing references to the old TV show as well as modern caper films like Mission: Impossible. McG, a music video director making his feature film debut (usually a death warrant for a movie's integrity), infuses the film with plenty of Matrix-style combat pyrotechnics, and the result is the first successful all-American Hong Kong-style action flick. Plenty of movies boast a New Age feminism that has their stars touting their sexuality while being their own women, but unlike something as obnoxious as Coyote Ugly, Angels succeeds with a positive spin on Girl Power for the new millennium (Diaz especially sizzles in her role of crack super agent/airhead blonde). From the send-up of the TV show's credit sequence to the outtakes over the end credits, Charlie's Angels is a delight. --Doug Thomas
Andrea Nicole Baker