Today marked a trio of notable films — well, okay, two notable films and one amusing outlier — all released the same year. The one everyone was talking about at the time was The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan’s calling card about a terrified little boy (Haley Joel Osmond) who can see ghosts and a troubled therapist (Bruce Willis) who resolves to help him. Shyalaman’s subsequent descent into self-indulgence tarnished its standing, but its twist remains the stuff of cinematic legend, and while its artistry is more technical than dramatic, it still contains moments that can devastate you. the Sixth Sense opened today in 1999.
The other two notable films kind of got lost in the Shyamalan tsunami, but one of them, at least, weathered the storm to become a modern classic. The Iron Giant, Brad Bird’s wonderful homage to 50s sci-fi, arrived in time to remind us that Disney did not hold a monoploy on great animation, and the story of a gentle gigantic robot and the boy he befriends carries humor, heart, poignancy and sad wisdom on human nature in equal measure.
The last film to open that day was Mystery Men, a superhero parody loosely adapted from an obscure Dark Horse comic. It’s not a perfect film, but it wins points on sheer novelty value… and frankly, it was rather ahead of its time. Superhero films were on the outs when it was released — Batman and Robin had poisoned the well and the first X-Men film was a year off — but had it opened today, it might have enjoyed a huge success. As it stands, it makes for a welcome tonic for anyone who might be superhero’d out (and I confess it’s a personal favorite).
Five years later, Michael Mann scored one of the best films of his career with Collateral, the story of a hapless cabbie (Jamie Foxx) forced to drive an icy hitman (Tom Cruise) through Los Angeles in pursuit of his victims. Taut, tense and utterly unnerving, it demonstrated Foxx’s potential as a straight actor, while affirming that Cruise is at his best on the dark side of the street. It opened today in 2004.
Then there’s The Fugitive, Andrew Davis’s cinematic version of the old 60s TV show about a doctor (Harrison Ford), wrongfully accused of the murder of his wife, who escapes from custody in pursuit of the real killer. It’s a fine thriller, and one of the better entries in Ford’s canon. But the scene stealer is Tommy Lee Jones, who won the Oscar as the Federal agent doggedly pursuing Ford to ground. It opened today in 1993.