1999: The Year in ReviewFeature article by Matt Heffernan
January 28, 2000
I know this may be a little late, but it's taken me a while to catch up with all the late releases. To be considered 1999 films, they must have premiered in the U.S. in 1999, even if they hadn't been widely distributed until 2000. So, without further ado, I'll begin this article with my top ten list for the year.
1. American Beauty
2. Being John Malkovich
3. Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke)
4. The Blair Witch Project
5. Fight Club
6. Toy Story 2
: 3-pack including original Toy Story and bonus disk
7. The End of the Affair
9. Three Kings
10. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
Honorable MentionsOf course, several other films deserve mentioning. I've decided to organize this list like the college rankings in U.S. News. Consider the following ten films to be the "second tier", listed in alphabetical order.
And on the other side of the tracks...The preceding lists may paint a rosy picture of 1999, but let us not forget the harder times for the art of film. I didn't start reviewing films until June 30, 1999, so I'm sure that I missed some real stinkers. But, there is no question as to the worst film that I have seen since then. It's the only one that has received the dubious honor of a zero star rating at FilmHead.com. The horror that I speak of is, of course...
No other film in this period sunk so low. Everything is horrible: the acting, the direction, the screenplay, name it. Oh, and did I mention the acting? I am still bewildered by the fact that this film actually made it to theatres. Not only that, but wide release! Thankfully, it's now on video (where it belonged in the first place) and no longer poisoning the silver screen.
If only they had stopped there!
Other films also deserve dubious mention. But instead of dwelling on the very worst, I'll focus on some films that were either misguided or should have never been made.
Wild Wild West - The first "blockbuster" of the summer. With Barry Sonnenfeld directing Will Smith, who also records a catchy theme some, how could this retread of Men in Black possibly go wrong? See Murphy's Law.
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc - Luc Besson manages to insult his homeland and lose his wife (star Milla Jovovich) in the process.
The 13th Warrior - Essentially doomed from the start. Not only is the plot entirely pointless, but John McTiernan jumped out of the director's chair, leaving Michael Crichton to clean up the mess.
OK, enough of the negative. What else was good about 1999?I don't think I could have picked a better year to have become a film critic. 1999 shall be remembered as a landmark year in film. There was essentially a changing of the guard, ushering in the filmmakers of the 21st century. Established directors like Sydney Pollack and Oliver Stone offered up substandard fare. Not even Scorsese could make a big statement for the old wave, which was the new wave 25 years ago. All this, and Kubrick dies with a dreary wreck for his final legacy. At least Kurosawa managed to check out the year before, and keep the misery spread out. Luckily, balance was achieved with the introduction of new luminaries, and continued success for other recent entries to the world of film.
So, here are my choices for the most welcome additions to the art.
Best New Director: Sam Mendes. His success on the stage with such acclaimed work as The Blue Room and the revival of Cabaret helped get him access to Hollywood. His vision for American Beauty is no filmed play, with the camera neatly centered on the proscenium, but a dynamic visual feast. Certainly his collaboration with veteran cinematographer Conrad L. Hall helped achieve it, but his talent is unquestionable.
Best New Screenwriter: Charlie Kaufman. I don't know where he came from, but his screenplay for Being John Malkovich is nothing short of pure comic genius. He has a new screenplay in production right now called Human Nature, which should hopefully avoid a sophomore slump.
Best New Star: Taye Diggs. He made his debut last year in How Stella Got Her Groove Back and has shot to the top since then. His turns in Go, The Wood, and The Best Man display real talent in front of the camera. Hopefully, his future forays into "mainstream" films will be better than The House on Haunted Hill.
Best New All-Around Talent: Spike Jonze. Watchers of MTV have long been familiar with his work, including brilliant music videos such as Weezer's "Buddy Holly". In 1999, he landed a one-two punch by making his debut as both a feature film director and a film actor. He had walk-on parts in Allison Anders' Mi Vida Loca and David Fincher's The Game, but his first significant role was in David O. Russell's Three Kings. He created a wonderful character that held its ground with three established actors, proving that the film should have been called Four Kings. Three weeks later, Being John Malkovich was released, and he joined Anders, Fincher, and Russell in the new wave of revolutionary young directors.
As much as I hate to emulate Jerry Springer, I must give my Final WordWell, that's 1999 as I saw it. There were some inspiring moments that fill me with great anticipation for the coming century of film. The studios are finally coming around, making some films that are actually worth eight bucks to see. Attempts at formulaic success were mostly shot down, and films with bolder statements were embraced. Still, some people may wonder why I failed to mention the two most successful films of the year. Frankly, the top one was fairly good, but a large disappointment after years of buzz. The other was a surprise hit, especially since I never really thought much of it. And that's about all I have to say for this year. Soon I will look back on the 1990's and review the decade in film. I'm not going to try a list of the best films ever made, but I think I can make a pretty good round-up of the last ten years. Until then, I bid you happy filmgoing.
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© 2000 Matt Heffernan