In my mind, 1999 was a very good year for movies. There are always good and bad ones, but this year seemed to have more than its share of winners. It was a joy to put this list together.
So here’s my list. I hope it does more for you than just rehash the year in movies. Hopefully you’ll reconsider some films you didn’t realize were good, and maybe you’ll learn about some that you missed. I hope you are surprised with at least one film on this list, and I hope there’s at least one you haven’t seen yet.
Because it gave me more laughs than any other movie this year.
Children Of Heaven
Because of its humorous and wrenching portrayal of the lives of children.
Because it put a small-sized, non-Hollywood, Nebraska "tragedy" on a very big screen.
Eyes Wide Shut
Because it's a very good finale to a lifetime of great movies.
The Iron Giant
Because it came from nowhere, answered to no one, and told a good, old-fashioned kids' story.
Because of its frustrating, perfect ending.
Because it was a summer blockbuster that actually deserved its glory.
Because of its traditional style and adult-sized mythology.
Run Lola Run
Because it broke energetic new ground for music, editing, and design.
South Park: Bigger,
Longer & Uncut
Because of its self-ironic, shocking inappropriateness, and because of the shocking, hilarious musical numbers.
Here they are:
10. The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan
...because even without the great ending, the supernatural suspense is well crafted.
The Sixth Sense may look like a horror movie, but it isn’t one. The mood is tense, but never outright frightening. Bruce Willis breaks from his tough-guy image and gives a surprisingly sensitive performance. Haley Joel Osment is above average for a child actor, and he portrays fear expertly. But the best thing about the movie is not an individual trait. It is that all the elements come together to produce the eerie atmosphere that empathizes with the haunted child.
9. The Straight Story, David Lynch
Because of the golden Iowa cinematography and the thoughtful, ambling pace.
Alvin Straight sets off to see his Brother in Wisconsin in the only vehicle he can drive—a lawnmower. At first his journey is merely functional: the destination is the goal. But over time it becomes his last great quest, the thing that will give meaning to his last years of life. It becomes a ritual for him, a way to put all his affairs right before he goes.
8. The Lovers Of The Arctic Circle
Because of the fantastic, mythical story.
This engaging Spanish film also takes place in Finland (thus the title). Two young lovers seem bound by a vague fate, which becomes more concrete as the movie progresses. Meanwhile the lovers’ relationship runs its course, in the shadow of, and in defiance of, fate.
7. Magnolia, P.T. Anderson
Because of the tightly-controlled tension and its wonderful release, as well as some of the best ensemble acting this year.
Although some parts are imperfect and some of the seams are badly stitched, the finished film is a work of art. Ten characters share center stage, and some of them never meet. But by following the chain, you can get from one to the next. Most of the characters share a very bad day. Halfway through, it’s clear that something’s got to give, something has to burst. Anderson’s release is worth the tension.
6. The Legend of 1900, Giuseppe Tornatore
Because it valued storytelling, and it made the fanciful real.
The Legend of 1900 is an unconventional, imaginative fable about a pianist (Tim Roth) whose entire universe is a ship. Because the story is told as a story, the movie is allowed to take on an imaginative, slightly-exaggerated, storybook feel. It gives the characters a larger-than-life charm. The storybook atmosphere is supported well by the cinematography and the music.
5. Besieged, Bernardo Bertolucci
Because of the enigmatic and subtle, yet solid and real, emotional core.
Besieged is elegantly structured and concisely told. It tells the story of a medical student and live-in maid, and her employer, a reclusive pianist. Bertolucci keeps the actors in an emotional middle ground, rather than locking them into a strong, fully-explained relationship. This leaves room to interpret words or deeds in different ways. That’s not to say that Bertolucci was being vague. Rather, he was acknowledging that when it comes to human behavior, there is usually no single, identifiable motivation.
4. American Beauty, Sam Mendes
Because of the great acting, the budding music, and Lester’s heartfelt absurdity.
On the surface the characters all seem exaggerated, quirky, and sometimes a little warped and sinister. But look closer and you’ll see they are all within the realm of credibility. The plot is not one of actions but of character development. Starting with Lester’s (Kevin Spacey) deliberate regression into adolescence, the characters shun the lives they’ve become accustomed to in exchange for the lives their natures demand. Scored by Thomas Newman, the music hints at discovery, awakening, and revelation, which ties in perfectly with the characters’ metamorphosis.
3. Fight Club, David Fincher
Because it has it all: comedy, action, horror, mind tricks, and a great, non-stop pace.
Although David Ansen of Newsweek was on to something when he called it a “mess,” referring to the multiple shifts in style and tone, it really didn’t seem to hurt the movie a bit. Ed Norton plays a bored cubicle-dweller who finds vitality in fistfighting. The movie follows Norton’s progress: it is first comedy, then action, then horror. Fincher packed a lot of stuff into Fight Club, and maybe that makes it a mess. I prefer to call it “getting your money’s worth.”
2. The Insider, Michael Mann
Because of its relentless pace, great acting, and well-crafted tension.
The Insider is an intense, involved drama about a whistleblower from Big Tobacco and a "60 Minutes" producer. Al Pacino and Russell Crowe give outstanding performances in serious, well-rounded, and substantial roles. No character exists merely as a plot device, so although the two main characters often collaborate, each has a different reason for doing so, each with a different goal. Although the movie is over two hours long, its intensity never falters. The Insider is excellent through and through.
1. Being John Malkovich, Spike Jonze
Because it was the freshest, most original Hollywood movie in years.
Being John Malkovich is a surrealist comedy. When you look at how the main characters feel, you understand that the story is rather mundane. What makes this movie so great, then, is the surreal detail that adorns the story, from set design to costumes, to hairstyles. It is the kind of well-made, completely original movie that reminds me why I love going to the movies in the first place.