Ad it up

This past year hasn't produced much quality television. FOX, for one, seems to have completely abandoned ship, with its incessant airing of those When the World's Most Dangerous Animals Attack Before They Were Stars specials. But the year has produced some memorable commercials, and some we wish we could forget. For example, love it or hate it, everyone knows about Taco Bell's joke-gone-waaay-too-far, that Spanish-speaking Chihuahua (Como se dice annoying?). Or what about KFC's complete bastardization of the stately Col. Sanders' image, a dancing, rapping cartoon that says things like "Watch the Colonel get funky!" Spike Lee's series of NBA-spoofing Nike spots--"Two guys playing 'Horse' is faaaantastic!"--made us wish the NBA lockout would never end, that and the fact that the Dallas Mavericks were in first place in December for the first time in a decade.

Commercials have become abbreviated feature films, some with the budget to match. It's especially true of those that air during the Super Bowl, which annually attracts the largest number of viewers of any program. Not everyone can recall who won the 1984 Super Bowl (San Francisco 49ers 38, Miami Dolphins 16), but everyone who watched it remembers the Ridley Scott-directed commercial for Apple Macintosh that aired during halftime, a mini-epic based on George Orwell's 1984 that aired only one time. The memory of this year's Super Bowl is already fading (the Denver Broncos won, right?), but we still remember some of the commercials that appeared, especially the self-deprecating spot for WWF Wrestling that had more entertaining action than the entire second half.

Now that commercials are emulating feature films, they're beginning to be treated as such. For the past several years, the Cannes International Advertising Film Festival has recognized some of the best commercials from around the world, choosing a hundred of the best out of more than 5,000 entries from 22 countries. At last year's festival, the United States left with a third of the major awards (U-S-A! U-S-A!), with Nike's "Tennis" spot winning top prize. All the winners can be seen on Monday, as the USA Film Festival presents World's Best Commercials 1998, 77 minutes of uninterrupted advertising footage. Fortunately, that means you can feel free to run to the bathroom or pick up a snack at any time. Of course, you'll leave wanting to buy a new pair of sneakers.

--Zac Crain

World's Best Commercials 1998 screens on Monday at 7 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. at AMC Glen Lakes Theatres, 9450 N. Central Expressway, as part of the USA Film Festival's Independent Showcase series. Admission is $7, $6 for festival members. Call (214) 821-