Monday, March 6, 2017

Best of the Best: 1998

Such a great movie, such a legendary actor.

Year: 1998
Movie: Patch Adams
Game: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Album: Nightfall in Middle Earth by Blind Guardian
Song: Dust in the Wind by Kansas

The first half of 1998 was rough. A horribly shitty time for me, in fact, as issues with my mother and school and everything else all just kind of came to a head, and I was absolutely miserable, to put it mildly. By the summer, however, things took a turn and started to brighten somewhat, as I got to live with someone else, got my first ever official summer job, and headed into my junior year in high school (back in home study by choice) in the fall, with at least for the time being, things seemingly looking up. The summer of '98 especially had many good times, dicking around with friends, etc.

Many great movies, again, came out in 1998. Some of my favorites were The Wedding Singer, Dark City, My Giant, Almost Heroes (Chris Farley's last film), The X-Files movie, Lethal Weapon 4 (my first exposure to the great Jet Li), There's Something About Mary, Ever After, The Avengers (I had never seen the old show, but I loved the movie), Wrongfully Accused (great Leslie Nielsen film), Rush Hour, Pleasantville, and The Waterboy. But the three that stood above and beyond for me, were also films that touched me or spoke to me in some deep way. The first was The Truman Show, which was technically still kind of a comedy, but it was also the first real taste of Jim Carrey's considerable dramatic acting ability. And it spoke to me on the level that, it was honestly a satire on our very society, the way we go about our daily lives, and to my 16 year old mind at the time, it totally made me think "My god, what if I actually live in a little plastic universe too?" Plus it was just damn entertaining. The other two are both Robin Williams films, diving right into his late 90s "touching but serious films" phase. One was What Dreams May Come, which is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring. Even though by this time in my life I was no longer the Christian I had been raised to be, the movie was very ambiguous and even universal in it's approach to the afterlife and all of that, and it was just a really deep, beautiful film.

But the movie that was the cream of the crop, for me, was Patch Adams, not only because it was a great movie somewhat inspired by a very awesome real life person. But also because, for me, the story and the things it had to say, about people, about life, and about what COULD be, instead of merely what is, really really touched me deeply and spoke to me. I simply cannot do justice with words to how much this movie impressed me. It was flawless, and it's concepts were enormous to my mind, and really got gears turning in my own head, with massive inspiration and ideas. It, of course, has the one major flaw, THAT scene, which some writer came up with, which never actually happened at all in Hunter Adams' life, and was absolutely unnecessary to give the movie a manufactured sense of drama. It already HAD it's own drama and tension, it didn't need that crap. And that kind of thing might bring a lesser movie down...but the rest of the film was SO strong that it thankfully survived that shit (and I really, truly hate that scene, in one of my otherwise favorite movies of all time). It is just a great movie, and in some very powerful ways, it quite literally changed my life, and had a big hand in my own personal evolution.

Da da da DAAAAAA!!

The game of the year, for me, and for many people, was of course Ocarina of Time on N64. There were many other good games in '98, not the least of which was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the original Playstation. That game was one of the last great fully 2D games that came along, for years, before the indie scene really popped up within the last decade. And it was just a fantastic action game with a nice rpg-lite type system in place. It heavily "borrowed" elements from the Super Nintendo classic Super Metroid, putting it mildly, but it put those elements to great use, and gave birth to what many gamers now refer to as the "Metroidvania" style of game. But, Zelda was where it was really at.

1998 was also the first year I could afford to buy my own brand new game console and games by myself, and the N64 was the first system I ever bought myself, that summer. And Ocarina quickly became the highlight of my collection when it released. The game has not exactly aged super well, even though it's still great, but at the TIME, let me tell you, it was mind blowing. As much as Mario 64 had been mind blowing in 1996, "Zelda 64" was far more-so in 1998. It had (almost) everything you could want, it was very cinematic, it had a great soundtrack, it was one of the first  games to REALLY do 3D gaming right, because it controlled and played very well (for the most part). There was an epic story going on, and the game was just fun to play. I think the only major complaint I had about it, even at the time when I first got it, was that when they were developing it, they had done a lot of vague talking up, insinuating that the game world was going to be massive, and that you were going to be able to go exploring like in the old Zelda games, and there would be all these villages you could encounter, etc. etc.....and then what it actually was, was a "hub" (Hyrule Field), in which you could go to different levels, basically like Mario 64. But in spite of that limitation, I still poured a ton of hours into this game, and enjoyed it very much (except for that goddamn Water Temple).

SUCH a great album. And just look at that cover art.

1998 also happened to be, thanks in large part to my first ever summer job, the year that I really started both getting more into heavy metal music, but also just getting less into radio, and more into actually buying and owning albums. There were many great bands and albums that I discovered in '98, such as Metallica's "Garage Inc." (an album of cover songs), Megadeth in general but especially their albums "Cryptic Writings" and "Countdown to Extinction", Iced Earth's albums "Burnt Offerings" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes", Testament's "Souls of Black", other classic Metallica albums like "And Justice For All" which would go on to become my favorite of all time, and Rob Zombie's "Hellbilly Deluxe". But when I think back to albums that specifically came out in '98 that I got into, one really stands out the most, and that is Blind Guardian's "Nightfall in Middle-Earth". I can't do the album justice just using words to explain it, but let me just tell you, it's epic, and it's artistic, and it's fucking awesome. The album tells a good half or more of the tales from J.R.R. Tolkien's posthumous Silmarillion, which was something of a history and creation myth of Middle-Earth. I first discovered this band, and album, as I did many bands in 98, on an old site called "", which you could listen to many songs for free to sample them. The song that did it for me, for Blind Guardian, among others, was "Nightfall", which tells of the first ever case of murder among the Elves, and their downfall into madness as they pursued the Jewels of Light (The Silmarils) into Middle-Earth. The entire album is just fantastic, playing out something like a metal "opera" of sorts, though not operatic vocally. And I must say, as a personal aside, Brian May of Queen is my favorite guitarist of all time, because the tone and texture of his lead guitar work is SO smooth and lyrical, and the lead work of Blind Guardian's Andre Olbrich is obviously heavily inspired by May, and that is never more evident than on his amazing work on this album. As a further side note, the album was produced by the Danish producer of the great Metallica 80s albums, Flemming Rasmussen, and it shows. If you've never heard it, even if you're not really into metal music, check it out, it's worth it.

BUT, as an odd bonus, my SONG of the year for 1998, was not even from the same decade. For some insane reason, even though I had grown up hearing various classic rock, there were many classic rock bands, and songs, that I just never heard. And as crazy as it seems, among them, was another band that would (along with Metallica and Queen) go on to eventually become one of my top favorite bands of all time, and that was Kansas. And the song, specifically, that won me over, was their biggest hit, "Dust in the Wind". Now, the irony was that I was just having lunch with my uncle one day, and the radio at the restaurant started playing the song, and it caught my ear and sounded amazing, and I asked him "Who's this?", and he replied "I think it's Kansas". It was game over after that, I went to Harold's house sometime later, and while his family stepped out to go get food or whatever, I looked up Kansas, and that song, on his computer. I'm pretty sure I found it on or wherever, and started listening to it. And I listened to it on repeat for like, seriously, half an hour. It was that good, and it just hit me like a tidal's simplicity, it's enormity, it's beauty and profound message. Plus that fuckin' sweet Robby Steinhardt violin solo. Sufficed to say, it instantly became one of my favorite songs that I had ever heard, and would eventually settle as my TOP favorite song ever made, of all time. That's right, my favorite band ever is Metallica, but my favorite SONG ever is by Kansas.

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