Film Faves: 1999

Another year has arrived and so it is time for another edition of Film Faves, as promised.  For those of you who may not remember or are new to this feature, Film Faves counts down my favorites in a given film subject every month.  It is not intended as an objective "best-of" list; it is all about the pure enjoyment of cinema.  Unlike the Top Ten lists with Honorable Mentions that you'll find at other sites, Film Faves features just twelve of my favorites - and ends there. 

Last year, I counted down the previous decade with my favorites from each year (2009 - 2000).  This month, I'll continue the year-by-year march into the 1990s, starting with the year 1999.

I contend that the year 1999 was the best year for movies in the '90s.  This isn't because I happened to graduate from high school that year (hence the "thegibson99" moniker on Facebook and MySpace).  It happens to be thought by many to be "The Year That Changed Movies."  This is because it saw a higher quantity of significant films released than any other year in recent memory.

Let's take a look. 

The top grossing film of the year was Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, quite possibly the most anticipated film of the entire decade, which also turned out to be its biggest disappointment.

The foreign film to see that year was Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother, which gave the beloved auteur his first Oscar.

Disney also continued its climb out of the trenches of previous years with its take on Tarzan.

The roster of films from 1999 is full of so many notable and worthwhile films that it was very difficult for me to watch every movie I wanted to for this article, let alone create a list of just twelve favorites.  This roster includes one of the biggest lists of successful comedies in one year, including:
10 Things I Hate About You, American Pie, Analyze This, Blast from the Past, Bowfinger, Election, Galaxy Quest, Mumford, Rushmore, and South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut.

It also includes one of the longest lists of notable dramas and thrillers in one year:
Any Given Sunday, Boys Don't Cry, Buena Vista Social Club, The Cider House Rules, Eyes Wide Shut, Fight Club, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Go, The Green Mile, The Hurricane, The Insider, Man on the Moon, October Sky, Ride with the Devil, The Straight Story, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Thomas Crown Affair remake, Three Kings, and Varsity Blues

And there was still room enough for twelve more notable films, which I'll get to soon.

But no year is perfect and 1999 had its share of crap films:
The 13th Warrior, Bicentennial Man, Chill Factor, Cruel Intentions, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Dudley Do-Right, End of Days, Entrapment, The Haunting, House on Haunted Hill, Inspector Gadget, The Mod Squad, My Favorite Martian, The Other Sister, Stigmata, Three to Tango, Wild Wild West, Wing Commander, and The World is not Enough were all released that year.

But what matters isn't whether or not a year was impervious to dreck, it's whether or not the quality films outweighed the crap.  And 1999 is definitely best remembered for quality.

Without further ado, here are my favorites from the year...


1999:

12. The Blair Witch Project

This film may be remembered as being annoying for anyone who doesn’t like their characters to bicker so much – no matter how distressing the situation – but The Blair Witch Project is a precursor to an era now dominated by reality TV, pseudo-documentaries, and “found footage” films that often fight comparisons with it. Not only that, but The Blair Witch Project’s marketing campaign was quite the monster that effectively convinced many moviegoers of the film’s authenticity. As an entry into the horror genre, the film actually got a few things right: convincing characters, effective tension-building, and that rare (but highly effective) element of never actually showing us what the characters see. Despite your feelings on this film, these are the elements of a great horror movie.

11. American Beauty

American Beauty was the winner for Best Picture and out of those films that weren’t overlooked (The Insider, The Sixth Sense, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile), it was definitely the superior film. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really the best film of the year and has since become one of those Oscar winners that fail to resonate years later. That said, I contend it was the superior film of those nominated because it had the best-written script, best performances, and a direction that was rivaled only by M. Night Shyamalan (more on his film soon). Kevin Spacey gave one of the best performances of his career as a go-nowhere loser who has lost whatever magic existed in his relationships with his daughter and wife and is stuck in a telemarketing job where even people he doesn’t know hates him the moment he opens his mouth. Annette Bening reminds us why we like her with her performance as one of the film’s most despicable and unlikable characters, a woman who has become embittered by the disappointments of life. I could go on about the cast, but I won’t. It’s unfortunate that most of the supporting players have since entered “Where are they now?” status. But don’t hold that against this film. Look closer.

10. Notting Hill

This sweet romantic comedy from the king of sentimental romances, screenwriter Richard Curtis, wonderfully taps into the Fantasy Encounter we all imagine with celebrities and became an underrated addition to its genre. Julia Roberts, in a perfect bit of casting, stars as superstar actress Anna Scott, who drops by the struggling little book shop owned by Hugh Grant. What follows could only happen in our dreams (not those kinds of dreams!). Notting Hill is disarming, charming, magical, and witty.

9. The Iron Giant

This animated film is one of those hidden treasures of the medium. Starring the voice talents of Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., and a pre-Pitch Black Vin Diesel as the Iron Giant, it is a film set during 1950s rural Maine at a time when atomic paranoia was at its highest. A fatherless child befriends an alien robot and hides it from a suspicious government agent. The Iron Giant is charming, playful, and moving. It is a film that is full of wonder and great visuals for kids and a dose of substance for adults.

8. Magnolia

I reviewed this film last year as part of the Remember That Movie feature. I’m glad I did, because it helped me see Magnolia for what it does well: believable characters, performed by an incredible cast, interconnected by how they treat those closest to them. It’s a story that would be unbearably dull if not for Paul Thomas Anderson’s expert direction. See the film for its brilliant opening ten minutes, at the very least.



7. The Sixth Sense

The other best picture nominee – and probably the most enduring was also M. Night Shyamalan’s only great film; it all went downhill from here (Unbreakable is an outstanding, if lesser, follow-up to this film). The Sixth Sense is most notable for introducing the Big Twist, the final plot device from which everything else falls into place. Unlike many of the Twist films that followed – including many of Shymalan’s own work – The Sixth Sense also had a great story and excellent performances by its leads and actually holds up today. As a result, it is one of the best ghost stories in modern history.

6. Dogma

Dogma used to make me laugh a lot more than it does now. Maybe its irreverence surprised me at the time, but has since worn off. Despite whatever makes my favorite Kevin Smith film less comedically effective, Dogma is still creatively interesting in its examination of organized monotheistic religions (Catholicism in particular). From a black 13th apostle to the inspirations for Bluntman and Chronic as prophets and an atheistic abortionist as the descendent of Jesus Christ, Dogma is still worth checking out for its ideas. And anybody who’s seen the film knows, an idea is more important than beliefs.

5. Being John Malkovich

If I were to have to the power to revise the nominees for the Best Picture of 1999, I would include Fight Club, The Matrix, American Beauty, The Sixth Sense, and Being John Malkovich. This quirky black comedy must be acknowledged for its absolute brilliance and originality. John Cusack plays a puppeteer who takes an office job and discovers a portal at work that transports people into the mind of the actor John Malkovich. Bizarre? Yes. But absolutely fascinating. The film manages to introduce philosophical questions about identity and what makes us who we are, along with characters who are as peculiar and realistically flawed as any of us. How many comedies can effectively manage that while also being funny and entertaining?

4. Toy Story 2

Pixar took their flagship title to the next level both technically and creatively, making for the best animated film of 1999 – and one of the best films of that year, period. Woody discovers he’s an antique collectible while Buzz encounters a store full of doppelgangers and his arch nemesis, Zorg. The result adds depth, relatability, and hilarity to this world of wonderful characters. It was Pixar’s only sequel until last year’s nearly comparable Toy Story 3. Sequels are all we’ll see from Pixar for the next couple of years, but that’s fine as long as they bring as much top-quality storytelling as this one.

3. Office Space

Anyone who’s ever worked in an office will relate to Office Space. In spite of that, it bombed during its theatrical release, grossing just above its budget. This is sort of peculiar since it opened along with Jawbreaker and October Sky, neither of which was hugely anticipated. This leads one to blame the marketing, which leaned on the Beavis & Butthead connection (director Mike Judge also created the sometimes controversial MTV series) and perhaps put many off. Office Space has since sold very well in the home video market and become a classic comedy. Its legacy is well-deserved since it is one of the funniest and most quotable films of 1999.

2. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

To anybody who thinks of me as an art-house or awards-bait snob, I give you this, a film wherein coffee can get “a bit nutty”, a rocket incites various phallic expressions by random spectators, and a dwarf plays a miniaturized clone of Dr. Evil and is chased by a fat bastard who wants to eat him. The second film of the spy spoof trilogy went further than its predecessor in almost every way, but not always for the best. It was the first to lean too much on gross-outs (not nearly as much as Goldmember, which suffered as a result) and it unexpectedly laid waste to original hottie Elizabeth Berkley Hurley during the first couple of minutes; both of which were quite unfortunate. But The Spy Who Shagged Me also gave us the delicious Heather Graham as Felicity Shagwell (who arguably had better chemistry with Mike Myers), the glorious Mini-Me, and such great moments as the opening credit sequence, the tent scene, and the duet between Dr. Evil and Mini-Me, ‘Just the Two of Us’. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is a hilarious film that has endured thanks in part to its wonderfully cartoonish characters, including Dr. Evil who may be the most lovable villain ever put on film.

1. The Matrix

What is the Matrix? We all wanted to know in April of 1999. The Matrix may be the greatest film to come from 1999. Still capable of dazzling young newcomers, perhaps no other from that year had a bigger influence on film than The Matrix. It helped change how action was stylized for several years (often with poor results), as well as pushed the envelope for special effects. Any sci-fi film that rocks the filmmaking and pop culture landscapes inspires a bunch of knock-offs. What sets The Matrix apart is its mix of spectacular imagery and highly intelligent storytelling. This thing is rich with substance, dabbling in existentialism, religion, the hero’s journey, and romance. The less than crowd-pleasing sequels have tempted some to sour on the original as a bunch of philosophical hoo-haw. That’s unfortunate, because a great film should be recognized for what makes it great, not what came after or whatever minor shortcomings it has. The Matrix is certainly a great film made only better by its blu-ray release.


That about does it for the year 1999.  What are your favorite films from that year?  Vote on the poll to the right of the page.  Do you agree that the year 1999 is the best year for film in the 1990s or do you think another year was better?  Submit your feedback below, on Facebook or MySpace, or email me at thegibsonreview@gmail.com

Next time on Film Faves, Shakespeare dukes it out with Private Ryan and romance gets a bump from angels, email, and... hair gel.  It's 1998!

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