I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray. Yep, I made that reference and I stand by it. But in all honesty 1999 was a phenomenal year for films. Whether they were films I got to see when they first came out or caught them in proceeding years. I was eleven at the time so my access to theaters and video rentals was a tad limited. On the plus side I had an older brother who often rented some interesting (i.e. R rated) titles and let me watch. So with 20 years of wisdom and the ability see many of these films let’s take a stroll down memory lane and discuss some of the big budget tentpoles, minor indie fare, and a lot in between. Dust off the VCR and adjust the tracking we’re going back to the 90’s!
Varsity Blues (Released January 15th)
As someone who grew up in a small town where sports reigned supreme in the school halls this film ringed pretty accurate. Sure, the football coach wasn’t shooting anesthetic shots into players, but he was a huge douche in the locker room and on the field. Plus will we ever for such iconic moments as James Van Der Beek declaring, “I don’t want your life!” or seeing Ali Larter in her whip cream bikini? I don’t think so. It is a touch sad knowing Paul Walker (Lance) and Ron Lester (Billy Bob) have both passed away.
She’s All That (Released January 29th)
Another teen film already? Yep, we can not deny the pop cultural significance of this genre. Freddie Prinze Jr. and Racheal Leigh Cook got the door to Hollywood opened to them in a sappy film I remember more for it’s overuse of Sixpence None the Richer. Not going to lie, I caught most of this on TV and it’s still amusing.
Office Space (Released February 19th)
Mike Judge made his live action directorial debut with a film that bombed at the box office. Thankfully through video rental stores (remember those?) and positive word of mouth this film became the hit it deserved to be from the get go. Ron Livingston is the perfect everyman dealing with the horrible work life and boss (played with expert precision by Gary Cole) that plague so many of us. But it was the beautiful performance of Stephen Root as Milton Waddams that no one can forget. We’ve all known a Milton in our lives. Whether we worked with them, were neighbors, or just spoke with occasionally. That is character writing at it’s best.
Cruel Intentions (Released March 5th)
What is it about this film that has made it endure? The story it pretty vapid, the conclusion is sort of dumb, and it is by no means a proper adaptation of it’s source material. I guess it all hinged on the fact that the entire cast is entertaining and seemed to be having fun in their roles. And will we ever forget how this film was the catalyst to getting Bittersweet Symphony onto many burned CDs from this era?
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Released March 5th)
Guy Ritchie’s directorial debut gave us a taste of what was to come from the man. Everything that has become signature in his work can be found right here. It is funny to hear people debate which is the better film: this or Snatch. Snatch may be the more polished of the pair, but you have to appreciate the roughness of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Who would’ve thought 20 years later Ritchie would be helming the live action adaptation of Aladdin?
10 Things I Hate About You (Released March 31st)
Can anyone deny that this film is pretty great? Heck, I still have a copy of it on DVD. In spite of weeding films out of my collection this one has stayed, why? Honestly, it all boils down to the cast. Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Krumholtz, Larisa Oleynik, Larry Miller, Allison Janney, and of course the heartthrob making performance of Heath Ledger. They took a fun script and made a film that was better than it had any right to be.
The Matrix (Released March 31st)
Oh how The Wachowskis’ career has been an interesting one. In spite of their recent films being a tad underwhelming we can never forget what they did with The Matrix. This was the sci-fi film of a generation. To quote filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, “The Wachowskis took all the great sci-fi ideas of the 20th century and rolled them into a delicious pop culture sandwich that everyone on the planet devoured.” It’s true, not all the ideas of The Matrix were original, but in execution they caught lightning in a bottle. Plus, this was the DVD every home theater enthusiast bought to show off their system. There have been rumors of WB revitalizing the franchise. I kind of hope they do as I miss this universe. (Yes, even the convoluted sequels).
Go (Released April 9th)
It’s funny how once Quentin Tarantino made back to back crime films with pop culture references with dark humor anyone who made something similar was called an imitator or ‘Tarantino Lite’. I personally think Go finds it’s own style thanks to John August’s fun script, Doug Liman’s competent direction, and an amazing cast. While Sarah Polley’s career has been pretty impressive it’s a shame she never opted to take on more high profile roles. She turned in performance that anyone who’s at that age in that kind of rut can relate to.
Election (Released April 23rd)
This was the film that introduced me (and I assumed numerous others) to Alexander Payne and I am amazingly grateful. While a lot of the previous teen films on this list were pretty fluffy this one has a bite. What makes this film fantastic is how no one in the story holds the moral high ground throughout. It also achieved the rare feat of getting good performances from Matthew Broderick and Chris Klein. Sorry, but look at the filmography of either actor and you’ll see they aren’t exactly known for quality. In truth, this is one of my all time favorite films. Thank you Mr. Payne for being a filmmaker who tells interesting stories set in Midwestern America.
Idle Hands (Released April 30th)
I know this isn’t a film that holds any pop cultural merit, but I love it. Idle Hands was the film that introduced me to the horror/comedy genre and I am extremely thankful for that. I still remember watching the film as a kid and being confused. Is this funny or scary? It is a shame the film was a box office bomb (earning a little over $4 million against of $25 million budget), but at least it gained a cult following and launched the career of Jessica Alba.
The Mummy (Released May 7th)
Stephen Summers has made some genuinely fun films. I would have to say that The Mummy might be one of my favorite 90’s blockbusters. In an age where we only had three Indiana Jones films I was starving for more swashbuckling archaeological action films. Sure, Fraser’s Rick O’Connell never reached the popularity of Ford’s Indiana Jones, but it’s still a damn fun film to watch. Too bad we were subjected to the Tom Cruise Dark Universe fiasco.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (Released May 19th)
Of course we had to address the film that kicked off Lucas’ prequel trilogy and started the schism in Star Wars fandom. I had already become a fan of Star Wars years before Episode I and I was excited to see these new films. Of course there was one major problem, I had no idea what was going on half the time. Is an 11 year old suppose to understand why the Trade Federation was blockading Naboo? But seeing the podrace and Duel of Fates made it all worth it. The prequels continue to be the source of many heated debates amongst Star Wars fans. I personally know all three films have their problems, but they are still a part of my childhood and I enjoy them for what they are.
The Thirteenth Floor (Released May 28th)
Never heard of this one? Well that’s understandable since it came out in the shadow of The Matrix and had a fairly similar idea of a virtual world. Produced by Roland Emmerich and starring a cast of arguably underrated actors (Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Armin Meuller-Stahl, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Dennis Haysbert) it’s a fun stylish sci-fi that got lost in the shuffle. If you haven’t seen it I recommend checking it out.
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (Released June 30th)
Riding high off the success of it’s first two seasons it didn’t take long for Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s animated elementary school miscreants to hit the big screen. Find me a teenager who didn’t spout off “Respect my Authoritah!” or cry out “Oh my God, they killed Kenny!”. It was everywhere! And in an era when you couldn’t stream uncensored episodes it was quite a treat to hear these characters drop the f-bomb. I’m sure some of the novelty of this film has worn off, but it’s still a fun watch.
American Pie (Released July 9th)
The film that made slapping unrated on the cover of a home video release to increase sales a trend. But it’s still a great teen film. Much like 10 Things this launched the careers of it’s entire cast. Will we ever forget that one douchey friend we had who tried to be the Stifler of the group? Unfortunately probably not, but hopefully they’ve grown out of it by now. This is the film that brought Milf into popular lexicon and might’ve been the reason some teens burnt their genitals on hot pie filling. To this day it’s still a fun film to pop on and enjoy the memories.
The Blair Witch Project (Released July 14th)
Love it or hate it this film changed the horror genre. Nowadays it’s easy to dismiss the impact The Blair Witch Project had, but I still remember logging onto the film’s website before it’s release trying to decipher whether or not it was real. It was the film made for $60,000 and had a box office return of $248.6 million! That kind of profit was unheard of at the time. It also was one of the first films to harness the power of the Internet for marketing purposes. Even if the series has had some missteps (but Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is a fun guilty pleasure) the original is iconic and stands as a horror classic.
Eyes Wide Shut (Released July 16th)
Director Stanley Kubrick passed away four months prior to Eyes Wide Shut’s release leaving numerous questions looming over the film. It became notorious before it’s release. Filming broke the record for longest consecutive days of shooting at 400 days. Rumors spread about his feelings on the final cut. According to R. Lee Ermey Kubrick told him the film was a piece of shit. (Who knows if that’s true) Then of course there was the censorship. CGI robe characters were inserted into scenes in order to obscure some of the more risque sex scenes and avoid an NC-17 rating. To this day the film is largely contentious amongst Kubrick fans. I personally enjoy the film and even if (big if) the film wasn’t completed to Kubrick’s specifications you can feel his style in every frame. It’s not exactly a film that I will throw on and enjoy, but with certain frame of mind I will watch and appreciate it.
The Iron Giant (Released August 6th)
One of the perks of living near an Alamo Drafthouse last year was getting the chance to see The Iron Giant in theaters. After growing up on the VHS it was unbelievably beautiful to see it on the big screen. While Brad Bird went on to have a box office success with The Incredibles franchise and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol it stings knowing this film was a box office disappointment. The story is heartwarming, the animation is breathtaking, and the voice acting is nearly perfect. If you haven’t seen The Iron Giant in high definition now is a great time to pick up the Blu-ray.
The Sixth Sense (Released August 6th)
Confession time, I personally find The Sixth Sense to be a decent film, but not the highly regarded piece of psychological horror many have dubbed it. I understand it’s appeal and merits, but when it comes to the filmography of M. Night Shyamalan I prefer Unbreakable. That said, the film does deserve the praise it gets. Before it became cliche for M. Night’s films to offer up a twist at the end of their story this film’s ending hit people like a hammer. It’s also nice to look back at an age when Bruce Willis put effort into his performances instead of just turning up on-set. And I will admit for child actor Haley Joel Osment gave a great performance. Critics hailed M. Night ‘the next Spielberg’ after this film. While he didn’t live up to that promise he has had a decent career with some good films.
Bowfinger (Released August 13th)
A Hollywood satire written/starring Steve Martin and directed by Frank Oz. If this description alone doesn’t get you intrigued I think you’ve got a problem. In truth this is probably one of the funniest and accurate critiques of no budget filmmaking and Hollywood culture. Martin’s Bobby Bowfinger is the perfect combination of optimistic and sleazy (Pretty much the only two speeds for a producer). And this may in fact be the last time Eddie Murphy put effort into a comedic role before he began cashing Shrek checks and making some painfully bad films. I love this film and think it’s one of the best comedies of it’s era.
American Beauty (Released September 15th)
Divorcing it from the baggage that now comes from being associated with Kevin Spacey American Beauty still stands as a great film. I know after the box office success and multiple Academy Award wins there came the backlash. I personally still think it’s one of the year’s best films and am thankful it launched the film career of Sam Mendes. It does make me sad knowing Thora Birch’s father tanked her reputation and got her temporarily blacklisted (While her recent films haven’t been great it is nice seeing her return to acting). Just discussing this film makes me want to pull it off the shelf and give it a re-watch.
Three Kings (Released October 1st)
There’s always been heavy debate about David O. Russell and his work. He has been known for being notoriously difficult with some actors including George Clooney who he had no interest in casting in this film. On the whole this film turned out to be a darkly funny film and one of the first the successfully satirize the Gulf War.
Fight Club (Released October 15th)
Here it is, the film that pissed off numerous people and in the end became a modern classic. I’ve spoken about this film multiple times and for good reason. It was one of the first films I saw that made me appreciate what I was watching on more than a superficial level. I began to understand how so many facets had to come together to craft an interesting film. The story was something I shouldn’t have seen at the age of eleven (Thanks big brother). But I still remember sitting in our living room watching and not understanding many of the jokes. When the two disc special edition DVD came out I bought it and began to learn from all the special features. Listening to Fincher’s commentary opened my eyes to the world of film and pushed me to study more behind the scenes tools of the trade. I do laugh/find it irritating that Rosie O’Donnell hated this film so much she spoiled the film’s ending on her talk show. Damn, that’s not cool.
Boys Don’t Cry (Released October 22nd)
Growing up in the Midwest during this time was tough. I began to see how much hatred was in the world. Matthew Shepard’s death had me asking questions I’m assuming a lot of grown ups weren’t comfortable answering. I saw Boys Don’t Cry a few years later and while I still didn’t understand it I got a look at a thought process tainted by bigotry. To this day there are moments from this film that are burned into my memory. Hilary Swank gave a powerhouse performance and deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Being John Malkovich (Released October 29th)
The film that introduced to wonderful imaginations of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, do I have to say anything else to sing this film’s praise? No, but I will anyway. I can not do the film justice with a few sentences, so I will say the script is brilliant, the acting phenomenal, and again it’s one of my personal favorites. With the Criterion Collection recently releasing a special edition Blu-ray I may have to upgrade when I have some disposable income.
Dogma (Released November 12th)
Kevin Smith took “28 years of religious and spiritual meditation” and crafted one of his best films. People tend to overlook/mock Smith as a filmmaker not giving him just credit as one of the 90’s indie movement filmmakers. He was the guy critics dismissed as the guy who made “that black and white dirty comedy”. Dogma is a great blend of his typical humor infused with more serious moments. I have a very personal connection with this film that I will not disclose here, but if we ever meet up in person I’ll tell you the story.
Toy Story 2 (Released November 24th)
Pixar’s third film had a rocky go of it. From initially beginning as a cheap direct to video sequel in the vein of most Disney sequels at the time the film showed promise and got upgraded to a theatrical release. Once that happened the original story was tossed out and a new plot was conceived over a weekend. Throw in the fact that the film changed directors, at one point had all of it’s files deleted, and was forced to finish production in the span of nine months it wasn’t an easy production. Out of all that chaos came one of Pixar’s best films and proof that they could craft a sequel on par with it’s predecessor. In fact this is one of five films on Rotten Tomatoes to have over 100 reviews and maintain 100% fresh status. Not bad for a film with such a rough history!
The Green Mile (Released December 10th)
Frank Darabont’s second adaptation of a work of Stephen King and it’s close to being on par with The Shawshank Redemption. We tend to forget how fantastic this film is as it does tend to get overlooked. Of course Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan (Rest in Peace good sir) gave phenomenal performances, but again people tend to forget about the supporting cast. Sam Rockwell and Doug Hutchinson are both perfectly scummy in their own ways. But even Graham Greene and Michael Jeter (Rest in Peace good sir) take their limited screen time and make the most of it. The end of this film is still heartbreaking to this day. The biggest compliment to this film is that despite clocking in at over three hours you never feel the run time.
Man on the Moon (Released December 22nd)
Jim Carrey had proven the year before with The Truman Show that he had the chops to be a dramatic actor, but Man on the Moon that cemented him as a rare talent. Andy Kaufman was a comedian who had some people laughing while others scratched their heads. This type of timing is not easy to achieve let alone attempting to recapture such a legend’s work. For better or worse this will probably stand as Carrey’s greatest performance and it’s a shame he was snubbed by the Academy. If you want to truly understand how much dedication Carrey put into this watch the Netflix documentary Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond.
Galaxy Quest (Released December 25th)
It’s a rare thing for me to compliment Tim Allen. The man has never had a wide range in his acting repertoire, but his douchebag alpha male mentality was perfect for a parody of William Shatner’s notorious personality. Add in the always amazing talents of Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, Enrico Colantoni, and Justin Long you get one hilarious film. I am disappointed Daryl Mitchell pretty much got relegated to predominantly television after this film.
Magnolia (Released December 25th)
Much like American Beauty this film has received a bit of backlash in the years since it’s release. At the time of it’s release Kevin Smith called it, “a constant reminder that a bloated sense of self-importance is the most unattractive quality in a person or their work.” and “a cinematic root canal”. Yikes, not exactly high praise. Anderson himself stated the film was, “for better or worse, the best movie I’ll ever make.” I myself still hold this film in high regard. It may be pretentious at times, but the cast keeps it grounded and much like The Green Mile never gets dragged down by it’s three hour runtime.
These are my thoughts, but as usual what are yours? I know I left some films off this list (Blast From the Past, October Sky, Analyze This, Existenz, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Summer of Sam, Mystery Alaska, Bringing Out the Dead, The Insider, Liberty Heights, The Cider House Rules, and many more) some of them I’ve not seen in over a decade or not seen at all, so I will not comment on them. What do you think of 1999’s crop of films? Did they shape you as much as they did me? What are your personal favorites from this year? Let me know. Remember you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @sdfilmthoughts. If you’re on Facebook I’m also a contributing author at https://www.facebook.com/midwestmovietalk. Give us a like! As always, thanks for reading.