best film: Magnolia has slowly edged its way into my top 50 of all-time and is, by a decent margin, the best film of 1999- which is a superb and incredibly deep year for cinema. Magnolia proved boogie nights was no fluke. It also showed that PT is as beholden to Altman as he is to Scorsese, and that he is perhaps the greatest director of his generation. It is sheer filmmaking confidence and ambition with an ensemble to rival Nashville. It’s a very big film. Ebert called it “operatic ecstasy” and PT Anderson said it’s the best movie he’ll ever make. Though I go back and forth now with There Will be Blood I think I still tend to agree.
most underrated: Unfortunately Anthony Minghella has sort of fallen out of favor with cinephiles. The Talented Mr. Ripley is nowhere to be found on the top 1000 and that’s a shame. I think, even without Minghella’s inarguable talent for large canvas filmmaking, it’s a borderline top 1000 just with the acting and writing. It’s a sharply written screenplay from the Patricia Highsmith novel (purple noon is a film adaptation too of course) and Damon, Jude Law, Paltrow and Philip Seymour Hoffman are all excellent. But the reason I think it’s possibly a top 500 film, hence being woefully underrated, is Minghella’s sumptuous photography and capacity for epic filmmaking. He’s the 90’s and early 2000’s David Lean with English Patient, Talent Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain being comparable (though not quite as good) as Lean’s bridge on the river kwai, Lawrence, and doctor Zhivago.
most overrated: It took me forever to find Clare Denis’ Beau Travail but I finally did around 2012 and saw it twice in one week. I think it’s outside my top 10 of 1999 but could see it moving up with a revisit. Still, the TSPDT consensus has it as #1 for 199 and #155 of all-time. I’m just not there… at least yet.
gem I want to spotlight: Being John Malkovich is my 1999 gem because it marks the arrival of two brilliant cinematic minds. It’s the debut film for Spike Jonze of course after a wonderful career as a music video director (hello Fincher and others). It also marks the first major accomplishment and archiveable work for mad man screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and introduction to his world. Both are doing auteur-work here as it’s impossible to say one or the other is the reason for this work of such imagination. My other gem of note here from 1999 would be The Virgin Suicides. With the lush photography, French new wave- Truffaut like freeze frames, it’s a hell of a debut for young Sofia Coppola as well.
trends and notables: 1999 is a fantastic year for film. It’s great at the top, but the true astonishment of 1999 is the depth. I have as many as 17 films that I think are really top 10 of the year quality films. That’s remarkable. Clearly PT Anderson is the largest story, even in a Kubrick year, because he’s now, as of 1999, given us the best film of the year in 2 of the last 3 years. After that, clearly Kubrick is the story. He passed away in 1999 and it also marked the 12 year absence since Full Metal Jacket. Fincher keeps rolling with fight club and as I mention in my “gem” section it’s a big debut year for Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze—two directors that would a make a top 10 film virtually every time they come out with one since. In 1999 Sam Mendes was the even bigger debut with his remarkably assured best picture winner American Beauty. I mentioned it in the underrated section above but for a 3-4 year stretch here with English Patient and Talented Mr. Ripley Anthony Minghella was absolutely one of the best directors working. It’s very sad he would pass away too young at age 54 in 2008. For actors we had a couple of very good actors get their first break into the archives with Reese Witherspoon in Election (she’s fabulous in it—more on her below) and Charlize Theron in The Cider House Rules. These aren’t firsts but both Julianne Moore and Matt Damon are on absolute fire. They both had been around since the early 90’s but got a big boost in 1997 with Boogie Nights and Good Will Hunting and the accompanying oscar noms. Damon would be in Rounders in 1998, Saving Private Ryan in 1998 and here in Talented Mr Ripley. That’s three years in a row in top 5 of the year quality films giving great performances. For Julianne Moore we had Boogie Nights in 1997, The Big Lebowski in 1998 and then Cookie’s Fortune (again with Altman after short cuts which no doubt had an influence on PT Anderson casting her in Magnolia and Boogie Nights), the End of the Affair and Magnolia in 1999.
best performance male: I had originally written down 9 performances here from 1999 but at some point you just have to rank them and then cut it off. My easy #1 is Tom Cruise. If anyone still thinks Tom Cruise can’t act (I don’t really think anyone thinks this) or they have just forgotten they should check out 1999—especially his work in Magnolia. If you combine that he’s the lead in Eyes Wide Shut (giving him the single most important and best performance in the best and second best film of the year)— well—Tom Cruise wins the year. It’s a big year for 1990’s heartthrobs and mega-stars because Brad Pitt is probably second behind Cruise for his work in Fight Club. After that it gets tougher. Hell, I’m just going to mention them all. I think Edward Norton is wonderful in Fight Club as well and that’s the start of a trend here with dueling strong lead performances in excellent films. I think Russell Crowe and Al Pacino are deserving for their work Michael Mann’s the insider and I think Matt Damon and Jude Law are pitch perfect in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Jim Broadbant is impeccable in Topsy-Turvy and Kevin Spacey gives perhaps the performance in his career in American Beauty. Peter Sarsgaard is terrifying in boys don’t cry and lastly, he’s an absolute odd duck, but I was very impressed with Denis Lavant in Beau Travail. As I said, the year is loaded.
best performance female: It’s a loaded year here as well. Believe it or not I think, in her archiveable debut, Reese Witherspoon gives the best performance of the year in Election. She’s been good since 1999- but never this good. Hilary Swank is a revelation in boys don’t cry and certainly isn’t undeserving of the Oscar she won for the film. Kidman is in surprisingly few minutes of eyes wide shut but when she’ is in it she’s very good. Emile Dequenn is the perfect vehicle for the Dardenne’s in rosetta. Annette Bening has rarely, if ever, been better than she is in American Beauty and ditto for Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club. Bening had to be pretty easy to cast in the Mendes film but Bonham Carter is a brilliance piece of casting for Fincher. I’m so used to seeing her and thinking of her in Merchant Ivory films.
- Eyes Wide Shut
- Fight Club
- American Beauty
- The Talented Mr. Ripley
- The Insider
- Being John Malkovich
- The Matrix
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|All About My Mother- Almodovar|
|American Beauty- Mendes||MS|
|Beau Travail- Denis||HR|
|Being John Malkovich- Jonze||MS|
|Boy’s Don’t Cry||R/HR|
|Bringing Out the Dead- Scorsese||R|
|Cookie’s Fortune- Altman||R|
|Eyes Wide Shut- Kubrick||MP|
|Felecia’s Journey- Egoyan||R|
|Fight Club- Fincher||MP|
|Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai- Jarmusch||R|
|Magnolia- P.T. Anderson||MP|
|Not One Less- Yimou Zhang|
|Pola X- Carax||R|
|Sleepy Hollow- Burton||R|
|Summer of Sam- S. Lee||R|
|Sweet and Lowdown- W. Allen||R|
|The Cider House Rules||R|
|The End of the Affair- Jordan||R|
|The Green Mile- Darabont||R|
|The Hurricane- Jewison||R|
|The Insider- M. Mann||HR|
|The Iron Giant- Bird||R|
|The Limey- Soderbergh||R|
|The Matrix- Wachowski||HR|
|The Sixth Sense- Shyamalan||R|
|The Straight Story- Lynch||HR|
|The Talented Mr. Ripley- Minghella||MS|
|The Virgin Suicides- S. Coppola||HR|
|The Wind Will Carry Us- Kiarostami|
|The Winslow Boy- Mamet||R|
|Three Kings- O. Russell||HR|
|Time Regained- Ruiz||R|
|Topsy-Turvy- M. Leigh||HR/MS|
|Toy Story 2||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives