Here’s a take: The late ’90s were extremely good. I have several points to back up my argument:
- A pre-9/11 mix of brash confidence, idealism, converging genres, and a lack of streamlined business models worked wonders for pop culture and created an environment of frenetic tastes and almost-oversaturated originality. (This is the main point that informs all of the following points.)
- The top 10 grossing films of 1997 included an action/romance, two full-on rom-coms, a hyperactive sci-fi film, and a movie where a bunch of British guys became strippers.
- It was an era in which “Mambo No. 5” could be one of the biggest songs in a given year.
- No one knew how to dress. Ska-swing was a thing in the late ’90s—like legitimately a thing. Remember “Zoot Suit Riot”? Remember Swingers, a movie with Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn in bowling shirts and an extended homage to swing dancing?
- Last but not least, Face/Off was (a) made and (b) had a red-carpet premiere in 1997.
On June 19, 1997, Hollywood’s best came together at the Mann Chinese Theatre to celebrate the release of Face/Off, a movie you could show to aliens and say, “This is the peak of American culture.” In case you need a reminder, Face/Off is a film in which Nicolas Cage and John Travolta—two era-defining actors with completely opposite interpretations of what it means to emote—literally switch faces. It’s directed by John Woo, a visionary with a penchant for slow motion and chaotic, heavily edited action sequences. This is its trailer:
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment from that perfect trailer, but mine is probably the one when Nic Cage’s maniacal face cross-fades over a totally unrelated scene:
So anyway, of course the premiere of Face/Off was going to be a big deal in Hollywood. A big-budget action movie (during a renaissance for the genre) featuring two huge stars that basically defined the essence of the ’90s? The invite might as well have said, “Please join us to celebrate this absurd decade and become a time capsule.”
The guest list alone for this baby is magical: Aside from the main cast (which did include Gina Gershon), Hollywood notables Patricia Arquette, Kelly Preston, Michael Bay, Ellen DeGeneres, Anne Heche, Michael Douglas, Emma Thompson, Jake Busey, and Kris and Bruce Jenner were all there. And all of them brought their A-game. There’s a lot to cover here, but the opening monologue is over—now let’s get to the awards ceremony.
Most Impressive Performance: Nicolas Cage’s Eyes
Fun fact: Nicolas Cage’s eyes didn’t look at the right camera one damn time during this red carpet. The odds of that happening have to be extremely low—how was there not one time he accidentally looked into the right camera? This is the perfect game of red-carpet avoidance. You have to respect it.
Best Couple: Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche
DeGeneres and Heche are an iconic ’90s couple; do not argue with me on this. To win the Best Couple award, they edged out Cage and Arquette, Michael Douglas and Joan Allen, and John Travolta and Kelly Preston, who maybe kissed too much on the carpet. Also? Really good premiere look from Ellen here. Very informal, very square-toed.
Best “I’m Walking Heeah!” Face: Michael Douglas
Best Michael Douglas Impression: Frances Fisher
Wow, nailed it. (I’m trying to imagine what photographer Steve Granitz was yelling at these celebrities in order to get several of them to react in such a “What the fuck?” way. My best guess: He yelled, “Take your face off!”)
Most ‘Face/Off’: Jake Busey
The hair, the velvet zip-up, the pants—this is 1997 in one photo. Give Jake Busey credit where it’s due: This outfit truly screams “I’m going to see a movie about two guys switching faces.”
Best Red-Carpet Debut: Kylie Jenner
According to TodaysParent.com, by week 26 or 27, a fetus begins to respond to noises and vibrations, and infants actually remember what they heard while in the womb. Kylie Jenner was born on August 10, 1997, which means she was about 28 weeks along on the night of the Face/Off premiere—WHICH MEANS SHE WOULD HAVE RECOGNIZED NIC CAGE AND JOHN TRAVOLTA’S VIBRATIONS! Somehow, the fact that a yet-to-be-born Kylie Jenner was subjected to this scene makes so much sense to me:
If Kylie names her first child Castor or Troy, you all owe me money.
Most Outstanding Overall Everything: Emma Thompson
Only Emma Thompson has the power to dress up like Beetlejuice, get extremely high (maybe), and hold up a Face/Off one-sheet as if to say, “Can you believe this is a freaking movie?” while she’s at the premiere of the movie. This is one of the strongest red-carpet performances of all time, let alone the ’90s. It’s also the perfect reaction image for the next time someone asks you, “What do you think about Face/Off?”
On October 18, Bill Simmons, Chris Ryan, Jason Concepcion, and Shea Serrano will dissect Face/Off for a live episode of The Rewatchables podcast. All episodes of The Rewatchables are available here.