1999: The years start coming and they don't stop coming

"How can you possibly be nostalgic about a concept like 'a little while ago'?"
George Carlin

20 years. Doesn't seem that long, does it? Though, understandably, the older you get, a coupla decades is a blink of the eyes. Added to that, it also depends on where you're standing; at 36 years of age, 20 years ago isn't as supercharged as if I were 26.

1999 may've just been the 1990s with higher contrast and maximum color saturation, but stuff like Britney Spears, Geico commercials, and new Star Wars movies don't exactly place me in a nostalgicoma of reminiscent bliss. In fact, when you hold it up next to any 20 year period from the last century, you'll see drastic changes in politics, science, and technology between then & now - but not so much in cultural avenues like fashion, cars, architecture, and especially entertainment. For a moment, compare 1950 to 1970... Or how about 1960 and 1980... They're like different planets, aren't they? But that's a stubborn argument for another time; besides, 1999 has enough of a mouthfeel that it certainly stands out a bit - at least in my own mind. I was in high school, which is a section of life when you're not entirely informed, but you're the most aware. For me, the air smelled of playful violence and abrasive cheapness. One thing that's always been consistent is that media and the culture have always had their sites on the youth, and I was a youth, and despite my own secret little interests and obsessions, the decibel level of everything else was too loud to concentrate. When you're older (or younger, even) you can design & maintain your own bubble, but it's a bitch when you're 16.

So, what was hip? You remember: The Matrix and The Mummy, "No Scrubs" and "Nookie," SpongeBob and Sopranos, mp3s and Y2K... It all seems like a parody of now, doesn't it? But in the Rap-Rock dumpster fire of pre-9/11 pop culture, there were a few things that were weird enough, silly enough, crazy enough, and/or interesting enough to penetrate my unique brand of teenage angst and elitist outlook: Eminem, multiple multiplex visits, and even Ms. Spears were a few of the freak flags that flew over my fortress of solitude - maybe I had the foresight to anticipate which subjects would have the longevity to hold my interest well into my adulthood. Or, I'm incapable of growth.

Speaking of! Back in 2010, I wrote a brief, crabby temper-tantrum about how Entertainment Weekly's declaration that 1999 was "The Year That Changed Movies" was, in fact, not. Though, looking back over the past 20 years, maybe it did -- just not in the way they'd predicted & I'd hoped for. But, once again, that's a stubborn argument for another time. So let us not make any sweeping statements about the lasting impact (or lack thereof) on the new millennium, and just all agree that '99 was a crazyass bananas year for the film & video medium.

Gaining distance from it now, what I take most from it is the unusually high volume of all-time favorite flicks, followed by a shitload of almost-as-good stuff. (Regretfully back-peddling a minute, these statistics immediately took a nosedive the following year and never recovered.) All my favorite directors released something, and people I'd never thought much of - or never heard of - were suddenly doing interesting things. New, competent actors were emerging. A new Star Wars movie had let me down. A horror movie actually scared me. Spacey had gone mainstream. Hanks was overshadowed by an ensemble cast -- as was Tom Cruise. Only one movie was noted for its special effects, while all the others were making waves with satire, human emotion, social commentary, innovative storytelling techniques, and other old-fashioned things like writing, editing, cinematography, and directing. Clearly we weren't done with the established hallmarks of traditional, narrative moviemaking, and while '99 could've marked a shift in originality, it instead was a curtain call for a century of film that would promptly lap itself in the other direction. And while none of these movies really stepped outside the parameters of just plain old mainstream fare (which is the evolution I'm still waiting for), there was a palpable effort toward quality and innovation - whether they worked or not, the passion for risk was as prevalent as it was in 1970s Cinema.
And that's my final answer.

- Paul

1. Magnolia
Still as young and pretty as the day I married her.
This was the direction I wanted to see filmmaking take - which will always be an inarticulate sentiment, though I tried my best to weight it down with my sorta review some years back. And what that confession boiled down to was that I'd never committed to one singular favorite movie, until I did, and still do.
Over the past two decades, I've proudly allowed my choice to define me or 'label' me in the eyes of others - much in the way one's choice of wardrobe or religious or political views will influence the perception of their peers. And I bring this up because there's always been an unspoken, sorta wonderful prejudice when it comes to other people's favorite films - especially when they're passionate - and for movie folks like you & I, it's the most legitimate and satisfying instance that we're allowed to sit back and quietly judge you.

2. The Insider
I ingested several doses of this drug before I started to feel the effects. Initially, I was coming at it from the wrong angle: its dense plot full of whistleblowing, gag orders, and tortious interference wasn't exactly rife with thrills, but something had me coming back again & again. Jess once described it as "not really a movie," and she was exactly right; the 'mood' of this thing is the movie - the high contrast cinematography and the spooky New Age/Techno soundtrack swirl around like smoky oils that give this otherwise dry drama some of the heaviest handmade texture I've seen in any movie ever.
Put it in your mouth, light it up, and you're gonna get your fix.

3. The Blair Witch Project
As usual, it's tough to talk about a movie that's been so talked-about (and so firmly divisive). And let's face it - we're never gonna retrace our steps all the way back to the car...
The series of events depicted are as unsettlingly unpredictable as the camera moves and edits that drive it, and the soundtrack consisting solely of the cold, crunchy woods and screams of terror in the darkness make a pretty strong case as the most causticly creepy campfire tale ever told.

4. The Limey
I'm a fan of simplicity, and I think this was the movie that helped me discover that. The story is so Plain-Jane and straightforward that it's like a blank canvas - allowing all kindsa colorful directing and acting and, most confrontationally, some innovative editing that - like it or not - you won't soon forget.

5. Eyes Wide Shut
I went to the theater three times during its run - with the knowledge that this was the last new Kubrick picture we were gonna get on the big screen. I can't say I didn't thoroughly enjoy the movie, but even at the height of my Kubrickian fandom, I was still ignorant to the simple fact that there were subtexts and subtleties and shots and riddles and pacing choices that I simply was unable to absorb in my initial hysteria. Like all his stuff, it was too big to wrap my arms around in just three measly viewings, and after two decades and countless more engagements, it cuts deep in all the vital areas while still hitting all those ambiguously beautiful notes. Also, a color-saturated cinematography guaranteed to melt your face off every time.

6. Payback
Alright, this is complicated. In '99, Brian Helgeland released Payback, which is a super solid pulp noir/kinda Comedy Thriller that largely satisfies, despite its tones of slapstick and a horrible, distracting blue filter applied in post that makes it look like it was made... now.
Then, in 2007, they released Payback Straight Up: The Director's Cut on DVD: the dramatically restructured original version with much much darker subject matter (and no blue), which ultimately elevates the movie high on the list of best hardboiled revenge flicks of all time. And since it was the original, intended cut, I'm counting it as one of the best of the year (more than the blue one).

7. Office Space
A lot of abrasive, sometimes obnoxious comedies came out this year, but there were a few on the subtle side. The cerebral side. The dry side. I don't know how many of these categories Office Space falls under, but its combination of 'low-key' and 'big laughs' is a style that resonates with me, mmmkay? And looking back on it now, it really was American Beauty without the flimsy dialogue or melodrama; exploring the same themes of monotony, freedom, and growth and regression as counterparts. And, how it does, indeed, feel good to be a gangsta.

8. Bringing Out the Dead
Either it was Marty's moodiest piece of work he'd done, or it happened to coincide beautifully with my own mood at the time.
The pace & editing felt less dynamic and/or inspired than Casino or Kundun, and John Goodman and Patricia Arquette turn in uncharacteristically lame performances - but again, I was in a mood.
Still though, between this, Cape Fear, and eventually Shutter Island, the guy's fully capable of committing to a straightforward Horror picture were he so inclined. (Though I feel like that probability has passed us by. Or, I could just be in a mood.)

9. The Sixth Sense
There are two things I take from this movie: one is that it really does feel like the Children's Horror cinema I grew up with (Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Lady in White, even The Good Son kinda), which is a weird, intangible atmosphere to grasp, let alone depict in an original story. Secondly - and I've been saying it since Muriel - is that Toni Collette fuckin' rocks, and her peers need to start congratulating her with various statues. The twist was its own moment, but the scene in the car between her & Haley Joel was a strong enough ending for this or any other picture.

10. Galaxy Quest
Count this one as a pleasant surprise (though I think the poor marketing had everyone misled).
Three Amigos in space is a good premise (though a pretty easy one), but the parody portion is spread so far & wide that no rock is left unturned: spaceship functions with no purpose, science vernacular with no substance, and the depth and intensity of nerd fanaticism is all played not just for laughs, but as a cohesive and compelling story.
It's a crazy cast, but the idea of Sigourney fighting aliens in outer space is a solid gag that the movie maturely never calls out.

11. Being John Malkovich
This should've been the wakeup call for original screenplays in the coming years. And in many cases, it was: though most of the ripoffs it inspired usually failed in balancing the formula of weird and quirky (they were usually too much of one and not enough the other). Even this movie wobbles a bit in the third act as it tries to maintain its abstract composure. Even so, it still Malkovich to be the Malkovich Malkovich that had yet to Malkovich.

12. The Green Mile
Preachy. Vulgar. Manipulative. Overwrought. Without these characteristics, it would've been a pretty ho-hum piece of puff, but instead it's the Scifi Shawshank mashup we didn't know we needed till it set our heads ablaze. Weirder, punk rock Stephen King never gets this much exposure or prestige (those're left to the made-for-TV folks), but if this is the result of big studio doings, there needs to be more of it.

13. The Straight Story
This wasn't an entirely new shade of Lynch, but this is two coats of broad strokes of his fascination with his Middle American roots. There's still plenty of smoke and flames and electricity and astronomy and dead animals to keep us oriented, but its core value is that the guy always knew and still knows how to tell a 'straight story' without any abstractions or dark subject matter.

14. The Iron Giant
It's not a Disney/Warner Bros. coproduction, but it sure-as-shit could be - and that's a great thing. A nostalgic ambience permeates this entire thing (as was shamelessly intended), and the effects are both comforting and engrossing -- and both of those sentiments are put to the test with a climax that separates the men from the boys.

15. Election
Very few movies capture the true flavor of high school - and Election is not one of those few. But, that's what makes it what it is: its hyperrealism steps so far over the line that this supposed Teen Comedy (full of teens and comedy) is so absurd and existentially painful that you can't actually define it.
On second thought, maybe it is like high school.

16. The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Paranoid Thriller genre had started to dry up by the end of the decade -- which made this jazzy approach to the formula so stimulating. Though its greatest accomplishment is that it's told through the eyes of a disturbed character, and so, logically, the story itself is often convoluted and disorienting - and very few movies support character development in such a challenging, ballsy way.

17. Fight Club
I don't care how closely it follows the book: the final act of this movie is pretty tedious and unmemorable. In fact, the middle sags pretty low to the ground as well. But it is on this list, because, even to this day, the first 30 minutes is some of the most fun I've ever had at the movies. And while I don't think it would have been wise to keep that pace for an entire feature, I'd just wished it'd gone in any other direction than the one it took.

18. Three Kings
A little less Platoon and a little more Catch-22 is an equation I'm usually down for - and disregarding all strengths and weaknesses, that's a fair observation of this decidedly cute war picture.
Despite its Desert Storm setting, this is the most "1999" movie on this list - it's shot & cut like a Sugar Ray video - but it's most notable to me as the first time I started to notice Clooney and Wahlberg as not just solid thespians, but also clearly interested in doing only cool and/or important stuff. (This assessment would eventually prove to be only sorta true.)

19. Felicia's Journey
So rarely has "journey" been such a prolific forewarning. The biggest bite this movie has is that however it was sold to us couldn't possibly scratch the surface of the path it takes; it picks us up & then drops us off somewhere with no hope of ever finding our way back.
& that's all I wanna disclose.

20. Flawless
The movie's not that great. Actually, it's kinda lame. Which is a shame, because the list of great Phil Hoffman performances is so extensive that it's hard to pick favorites. But I gotta say, if someone ever needed proof of his talents, I think this is the movie I'd show 'em.

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