Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top 20 Films of 1999

So far in my lifetime, I can confidently say that there hasn’t been a movie year more impactful than 1999. Veteran filmmakers and young auteurs alike released bold, independent, experimental films that continue to hugely influence pop culture. And as we close out one decade, I thought it be fun to jump back two decades and list my favorite flicks from a truly great film year.

20. The Straight Story
Directed by David Lynch
In the months leading up to this film’s fall release, I could not fathom that David Lynch made a G-rated Disney film. How could Lynch pull this off? Wouldn’t the family-friendly rating rob him of his uniquely terrifying narrative style? And sure, The Straight Story is much more akin to The Elephant Man than Lost Highway, but the remains an absolutely poignant, well-earned road movie helmed by a distinct master.

19. Man on the Moon
Directed by Miloš Forman
Though not as popular as Forman’s other biopics (Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt) Man on the Moon sought to tell the story of a man whose story couldn’t be told. Like Andy Kaufman himself, Man on the Moon does a great job at defying convention, while capturing a truly immersed Jim Carrey.

18. The Virgin Suicides
Directed by Sofia Coppola
As the decade close out, leave it to Sofia Coppola to come in and completely define her own unique style with her debut film. The Virgin Suicides, perhaps above all else, captures its director’s confident vision and distinct tone perfectly.

17. All About My Mother
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Occasionally throughout the year, you’d hear people whispering about this weird little avant-garde Spanish movie that you just had to track down. Life is Beautiful started the lone-foreign-film-of-the-year-that-people-flip-about trend a year earlier (and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would take that spot a year later), but the 1999 foreign film landscape was owned by Almodóvar’s painful masterpiece.

16. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
Directed by Trey Parker
I cannot express how much of a disruption this movie was to the summer of 1999. Everyone was talking about the South Park movie. It was ludicrous, profane, and… surprisingly well done. I remember taking my mom to see this movie in the theater (I was 14!) and a few days later, I heard her pleasantly humming “Blame Canada” while she cooked dinner. It had begun.

15. The Blair Witch Project
Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
When The Blair Witch Project was released in the middle of 1999, every person you encountered had an opinion about it. It. Was. Everywhere. The underground marketing of the film, in which Artisan Entertainment quietly convinced people that the found footage in the film was real, was ingenious, and completely worked. Watching the film at home now, it may seem a bit pedestrian, but believe me, if you saw The Blair Witch Project in a movie theater in 1999, you were absolutely fucking terrified. This remains the only film I have seen where people literally ran screaming out of the movie theater during the middle of the movie. It was such a pop culture moment.

14. American Beauty
Directed by Sam Mendes
I know. But if we can just focus on cultural influence, I promise this was another movie people could not stop talking about in 1999. I mean hell, with the exception of The Silence of the Lambs, the Best Picture winners of the 1990s read like a syllabus for modern, stuffy cinema. Seven long, epic, sweeping movies took Oscar’s top prize that decade, and when a weird little family dramedy by a first-time director won Best Picture, it helped shake up the Oscars . I wish another movie would come along and energize the Oscars the way American Beauty did in 1999.

13. Election
Directed by Alexander Payne
Unlike many movies on this list, no one talked about Election when it came out. It wasn’t until it hit DVD that it started making its way into the conversation. (Remember the days when a great movie could bomb in theaters but find life on DVD?) Today, Election is a milestone that helps define a decade of culture, while preparing us for the new century to come. This one will never get older.

12. The Talented Mr. Ripley
Directed by Anthony Minghella
Everyone was expecting another English Patient, and everyone was stunned to find out that Anthony Minghella’s latest film was a supremely weird, trippy psychological thriller. I watch this one every few years, and it still holds up perfectly.  

11. The Matrix
Directed by Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski
I may get taken to task for not including The Matrix higher on this list, but please chalk that up to personal preference, and not cultural significance. Because if we really examine 1999, one could make an easy argument that The Matrix was the most influential film of the year. Also, it’s worth pointing out that this movie would never get made today. Studio-funded, mid-budget, non-franchise, original story, huge scope, starring a fledging action star, directed by two people with only a single indie film to their name. I wish studios still took chances like this.

10. Fight Club
Directed by David Fincher
Fight Club was not received as the massive game-changer it is revered as today. Theaters weren’t full, critics weren’t jazzed – it just wasn’t around. But the moment the film hit DVD, with the help of the internet finding its legs, Fight Club absolutely fucking exploded. The film itself is a nihilistic rock-opera nightmare that is endlessly rewatchable. I may like other Fincher films better, but the significance of Fight Club is inarguable.

9. The Sixth Sense
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
The Sixth Sense was the water cooler movie of the year. More so than The Blair Witch Project, more so than The Matrix or Fight Club. If you lived and breathed in 1999, you talked about The Sixth Sense. And because this was still in the early years of the internet, it was actually possible to go for weeks without having a movie spoiled for you. And when you saw The Sixth Sense, you likely saw it two, three, four times, to try and crack its code. Few films have dominated the cultural conversation more since this one.

8. Any Given Sunday
Directed by Oliver Stone
I know some people think I’m crazy for placing this movie so high, but I fucking love Any Given Sunday. It is the movie on this list that I have seen the most, no bullshit. Oliver Stone has made better films (Platoon, JFK) and more culturally significant films (Wall Street, Natural Born Killers), but Any Given Sunday will always be my favorite Oliver Stone movie. A completely go-for-broke, gonzo work of maximalist art.

7. The Hurricane
Directed by Norman Jewison
The most heartfelt movie of 1999 for me. A classically constructed biopic that captured one of Denzel Washington’s best performances. I was surprised that The Hurricane didn’t do better with audiences and critics. I’ve always been so drawn to its earnestness.

6. Three Kings
Directed by David O. Russell
For my money, Three Kings remains David O. Russell’s masterpiece. Its style is completely singular, its performances totally genuine, and its message absolutely genuine. Three Kings was a movie no one really saw coming in 1999. It dropped out of nowhere and stunned people to the point that I don’t think they knew what to do with it. It’s too bad it didn’t catch on faster, because this one deserved Oscar nominations for just about everything.

5. Being John Malkovich
Directed by Spike Jonze
The weird mainstream movie is a popular thing today, but 20 years ago, it was very rare for a movie as goddamn strange as Being John Malkovich to hit the culture. This was the movie that inspired people to drive to the independent movie theater a little farther away. If you saw it in the theater, it was like you were part of this weird little club. You’d stand in the corner with the other weirdos and just laugh about how insane the movie was.

4. The Limey
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
I technically did not see The Limey in 1999, but I can tell you that few movies on this list have influenced my own filmmaking as much as this one. To see this movie in the theater must have been sensory overload. How would you keep up with its groundbreaking structure? I remember watching this movie at home when I was 15 and being completely dumbfounded by its choices. I had the benefit of hitting rewind, though. Which I did, repeatedly.

3. The Insider
Directed by Michael Mann
Even though I saw this movie in the theater and understood very little of it, I was aware of its technical power and commanding performances. And as I grew older, The Insider got better. Still today, everytime I see this movie, I appreciate it even more. This isn’t my favorite Michael Mann film, but I’d argue that it is the best movie he has made. In any other year, this would’ve made a serious run for Best Picture and Best Director.

2. Magnolia 
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
It’s the day after Christmas, 1999, and I drag my entire family to see Magnolia, which none of us knew anything about. Ten minutes into the film, right around the time Ricky Jay is closing up the prologue, my mom leaned over to my aunt and loudly whispered, “There’s no fuckin’ way I can do this for three full hours.” But we did. All of us. We sat and we marveled at a completely unique American epic. And when it was done, the only time I stopped talking about it was when I saw it again.

1. Eyes Wide Shut
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Another story. You’re 14 years old, it’s a few weeks after the Fourth of July, and your friend’s mom drops you both at the shit tiny local two screen movie theater. You buy two tickets to Inspector Gadget, and you enter that theater, unamused. You look at your friend and silently agree to sneak into the other theater, which is playing some weird movie starring two of the most famous people in the world, directed by the guy who made that violent Clockwork Orange thing that has terrified you for the past year. You sit in the very back of the theater and remain there for all 160 minutes of Eyes Wide Shut. You’re 14 years old. You’ll never forget this moment.

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  1. This was a really wonderful year. I still love American Beauty, I refuse to let Spacey ruin that for me.

    My dad took me to the South Park movie thinking it would be like the TV show and he frequently tells me one of his most embarrassing parenting moments was when "Uncle Fucker" started playing and he was there with his young kid. lol He at least admits it was funny.

    1. Hahha I love that! I had a similar South Park movie experience too. It's so great that Parker and Stone were able to pull one over on people that way. And I agree about American Beauty!

  2. The only film in that list I haven't seen in their entirety are The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Insider as my list is all over the place.

    1. That's a great list. I would love to hear your thoughts on Ripley and The Insider!

  3. Man, what a great year 1999 was for movies. I was only 10 that year, but i still remember when movies like The Matrix, The Sixth Sense and even The Phantom Menace were released and how big of a deal that was. It was probably the year i really started to fall in love with movies and get extra interested in them beyond just watching whatever kids movie my parents took me to. There are still a lot of movies on your list i need to check out like The Limey, Any Given Sunday and especially Eyes Wide Shut. For some reason that is one of the few Kubrick movies i still haven't gotten around to watching. I own it on blu-ray so i probably should do it soon. But i thought it was fun to figure out what my own top 20 of 1999 was as well.

    20. Man on the Moon
    19. Following
    18. Go
    17. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
    16. Election
    15. Office Space
    14. The Green Mile
    13. American Movie
    12. The Matrix
    11. The Talented Mr. Ripley

    10. Bowfinger
    9. Magnoia
    8. Three Kings
    7. Being John Malkvich
    6. American Beauty
    5. Toy Story 2
    4. The Sixth Sense
    3. Fight Club
    2. The Iron Giant
    1. The Insider

    I haven't watched a lot of these movies in years tough so take the list with a grain of salt. Some of them might be shifted around or even completely axed if watched them again.

    Toy Story 2 and The Iron Giant really are two movies i still love as much today as i did as a kid. I really miss big budget 2D animated movies. I think they hold up so much better than the 3D animated ones. As much as i love Toy Story 1 and 2, i gotta admit that they look pretty rough by today's standards, while even Snow White still looks good.

    Also, have you watched American Movie? If not i can really recommend it. It's a really funny documentary about a guy just trying to get his no-budget movie made. It's surprisingly inspiring as well.

    1. That is a great list! And I'm so happy you recall 1999 as such a memorable movie year as well. Love that The Insider ranks so high for you; I feel like that movie was almost too mature for its time. People talked about it, but it has held up better than most movies do.

      And American Movie is hilarious. Mark is such a character.

  4. Love the personal anecdotes you included here! Funny I actually have Eyes Wide Shut to watch very soon I planned to on Christmas but somehow I run out of time. So many of those movies here are easy 9 or 10s, I cannot remember any recent years when that was the case

    1. Thanks so much! I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on Eyes Wide Shut. It's so unique in its style, and it has really grown on me over the last 20 years. I love that film.

  5. I'd love for you to do more lists like this. As people have said above your passionate, annecdotal touch charges the writing with a personality so often absent on dry, clinical 'BEST OF YEAR' lists.

    Love so many of your choices. I'd go with:

    10. The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami)
    9. The Limey (Steve Soderbergh)
    8. Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay)
    7. Beau Travail (Claire Denis)
    6. Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter)
    5. Peppermint Candy (Lee Chang-Dong)
    4. Outer Space (Peter Tscherkassky)
    3. Audition (Takashi Miike)
    2. The Insider (Micheal fuckin' Mann)
    1. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson)

    1. Thanks so much, Mark! It'd be fun to do more stuff like this too. I'm glad people dig the stories; it was a hell of a year. Love that Magnolia and The Insider are so high. I never know what the hell to do with movies like Audition. I know its technical release was 1999, but no one in the States could see it until 2001 (not that that matters, heh). Still, that should be on my list. Freaky ass movie.

  6. What a year. Movies like those made me love cinema more than before. They produce me nostalgia. I always loved films, but I remember it was in my 14's when I began to feel some curiosity about more mature movies.
    This is a great list, another movies of 1999 that moved me:
    Boys don't cry
    Iron giant
    The green mile
    And I also want to include Office Space, I know it may be kind of silly, but 'Hi Peter, what's happening?' it's a phrase that I used a lot.

    1. The Iron Giant is a wonderful film.

    2. All of those movies you listed were very close to be included on my list as well. The Iron Giant is one of the great animated films of recent memory, Office Space is hilarious, and Boy's Don't Cry is so unflinching. And I'm glad you liked 1999 film as much as I did!

  7. great picks! I remember Blair Witch and saw it in the theater... I can't remember a film prior where they really nailed the marketing leading up to the film. Just brilliant. So many of these I saw in the theater... makes me yearn for the days when I had that kind of money and time!

    1. Ha no kidding! And yep, I love to tell younger people how huge Blair Witch was. I grew up 10 miles from Burkittsville, MD, and that added a whole new layer of creepy to the entire thing. What a pop culture moment that movie was. Thanks so much for the comment!

  8. Woah...like, we don't have movie years like this anymore. Actually, maybe we do. I felt like 2019 was pretty darn great.. I even fell in love in an Estonian movie.

    1. I totally agree, on both fronts. We don't get years like 1999 anymore (2007 and 2011 were great), but 2019 is definitely one of the best movie years since 1999. There was a ton of great shit.

  9. I love the idea of these retrospectives, especially when it involves the 90s!
    Man on the Moon, amazing how much this film has left an impact with Jim Carrey.
    Virgin Suicides, so many careers were launched (or assisted) with this film, with Sofia Coppola, Kristen Dunst, and Josh Harnett.
    South Park! My wife loves this movie and cannot stand the show but something about the film really speaks with her. I still think about the songs to this day, and that one rebellion student.
    I cannot believe all of these films came out in one year, how bonkers is that?! They feel like their own years.
    I saw Blair Witch Project after the buzz, which there was a time when it was either you saw it prior to the success or post success, and that really put the movie in a different light, but I can only imagine what it must be like to watch it now and treating it like it is any other found footage film. There was this 30 minute in-universe documentary that I still think about to this day.
    American Beauty, shame Scott Bakula does not do more films. A little hard to watch these days with Kevin Spacey.
    Election! I love this movie and it gave us an adult Matthew Broderick, a young Reese Witherspoon, and heck, even Chris Klein!
    I have still not seen Talented Mr. Ripley, but it is referenced around me a bunch, especially as a character type in other movies.
    The Matrix, another favorite film of my wife’s, and I just was never a Matrix guy. I was late to the party and it looks amazing but the story never grabs me.
    Fight Club! Another movie I was late too, post reveal being spoiled everywhere. I also run cold on Brad Pitt but I do enjoy me some Ed Norton.
    The Sixth Sense, I am a bigger Unbreakable guy and gosh, I guess I was watching different movies in the theaters as this was another movie that I had the concept spoiled for me ahead of time.
    I should revisit Three Kings as I remember watching it with the intent of wanting it to impress me and that is no way to watch the film. I am not sure why I had that attitude after I rented it but it felt like an assignment to watch.
    Being John Malkovich is one of my favorites! Great cast, great story, just execution, it just works!
    Magnolia is another film I should revisit as I think I was just too young for it. Which, I was 17/18, junior/senior year (class of 2000 represent!), and just not ready for it. I watched it as I am a huge fan of The Mace, but he is definitely minor in the film.
    Eyes Wide Shut, I was just talking about this yesterday! I run cold on Nicole Kidman, but this film is definitely one of her best. Leelee Sobieski, and the big bad of Val Kilmer’s The Saint is in it (and that same scene!) but I remember not really paying attention to this film.

  10. I had to look up 1999 to see what was driving me that year.
    Varsity Blues with JVDB
    She’s All That (I’m a huge Freddie Prinze Jr. fan)
    Office Space, a classic!
    The Other Sister, not sure what prompted me to watch this but I am glad I did as it made me think about other people and just being nicer to others who looked differently than me. It is silly but it was a story I got caught up in.
    Cruel Intentions, this graduating class!
    The Deep End of the Ocean, a story about a lost child, coming back, and a mother’s convictions. Especially if that mother is Michelle Pfeifer!
    10 Things I Hate About You, another film with an amazing cast.
    Existenz, another one of my wife’s favorite films
    Star Wars Episode 1, I just watched with my six year old son and it was not as bad. Sure, not every scene ends to end with Jar Jar making a funny, but I thought it was pretty good for the most part.
    Notting Hill! I went through a bit of a Hugh Grant phase two or three years ago and this film is very charming. I see where he had a career for as long as he did.
    Disney’s Tarzan. One of my favorite Disney films.
    Wild Wild West was the summer movie that year. Complete cheese now but I remember really enjoying it in my teens.
    Summer of Sam, probably did not appreciate it like I would now. I watched it as it had Mira Sorvino in it.
    American Pie! I was definitely watching a bunch of high school/college centric films.
    Deep Blue Sea, I do love me a shark film.
    Mystery Men, with The Mace in a rare lead role.
    Bowfinger, I was just thinking about as I could not recall of the plot but I remember really liking the pace and how zany it was.
    Detroit Rock City! I love a road trip film.
    Stir of Echoes, I was watching everything with Kevin Bacon.
    Mumford, here we go. One of my all time favorites! Shame Loren Dean does not work more and it introduced me to Hope Davis, who I simply adore. I watched it as it has Jason Lee in it but I was hooked.
    The Story of Us, I cherish, I was a huge Rob Reiner guy (until like Rumor Has It) but Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeifer? Yes please!
    Pokemon The First Movie, and my last with the franchise. It felt like it closed a door on that part of my life.
    Dogma, this would have been the movie I looked forward to the most, as I was a huge Kevin Smith fan, still am, but I definitely don’t listen to his podcasts and watch his films like I used too.
    Toy Story 2 was decent.
    Cider House Rules was probably the most movie movie that I saw that year.
    The Green Mile is a story I still think about.
    Ride with the Devil, I liked, but only watched it as it had Jewel in it but the movie won me over.
    Galaxy Quest, so much fun!
    This was way too long of a list but I do love me the 90s!