The Best Movies of 1999
by Chris McCaleb


First let me say that I did not see every single movie that was released in 1999. I am admitting that my list is inevitably relegated to those movies that I was interested in seeing in the first place, and as such, you may feel the need to avoid it as hopelessly biased. No doubt I missed some real gems because of my bull-headed insistence on not seeing every film released in 99.

I'd be interested in hearing which films you'd add to this list, or which ones you disagree with here. By the way, this is not a ranked list.

1)
American Beauty

A movie that can be VERY funny, a bit disturbing, quite sad, and thought-provoking all at once should be treasured. This is a movie to see even if you donít get out much to the multiplex. It made me think about the state of our society as it is today, even though no character at any time came out and said YOU KNOW, WE SHOULD BE THINKING ABOUT THE STATE OF OUR SOCIETY. The scenes at the dinner table had me laughing and wincing at the same time. How's that for a reaction?

I love a movie that chooses to be theatrical in its style, too - those rose petals! That lighting! Kevin Spacey and Annette Benning got a lot of the acclaim from this movie, as they should have, but let's not forget how good Chris Cooper was as the military dad, Allison Janney as the spaced-out mom, and Peter Gallagher as the Real Estate King. I hope Mena Suvari keeps choosing movies like this as well.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Who cares?

2)
Go

The thing you should understand is that this is a list made from a filmmaker's perspective. I'm sure Go will not make it on many AFI lists, but it was one of those movies that teems with such fresh energy that it inspires me to start up all those tedious movie-making procedures of my own again.

One thing that makes me realize how much I like a movie, is when there are so many "good parts," that you realize you have to see it again to count them all. How about Sarah Polley having to prove she's not wearing a wire, or Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr trying to get out of dinner with the salesman cop and his wife?

If you couldn't enjoy this movie because it so blatantly copies the Pulp Fiction format, then I feel sorry for you. Go is so obviously indebted to Pulp Fiction that I immediately accepted it and moved on. I don't require every movie I love to completely invent or restyle its own genre.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Who CARES about the Oscars?

3)
Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

I will go ahead and utter the blasphemy: I'm not sure this movie should be on here.

Five viewings, and I'm still not sure what to think about this movie. The problem is, I am so utterly biased about the series that I am not sure how much of my positive reaction is due just to desperately wanting it to be good. What sort of horror would it be for Phantom Menace NOT to be on this list? Would I be betraying an inner child, or something? If I donít utterly embrace this film as the best, am I just getting old? Or was it honestly not that great? Or is it that I'm just comparing it to the other three?

The thing is, I can't help but think I should have been having more fun in this film. I realize there was an awful lot of stuff to set up, but... let's just say there are sections of the film during which I would feel very comfortable going to get some more popcorn. It's a movie filled with breathtaking technical innovations, the best sword battle ever put to film, and it ends up being a bit long. By the time we get to the end, I feel like I've seen maybe 1.5 movies... and it's that last .5, when I'm always spending time trying to figure out the politics of the story, that may be the killer. It suffers from the same syndrome as Lost World, I think - a strangely unsatisfying main section followed by an out-of-place coda. In Phantom Menace's case, an extremely long coda.

As much of a clichť as it is, I wonder if Lucas didn't concern himself too much with making sure some scenes and creatures were completely digitally-rendered, and not enough with making sure the story was the best it could be.

For instance, I'm not sure that we needed C3P0 in this film. What did he do, but provide a moment for us to say "Awww" when he meets R2? And I'm hoping beyond HOPE that the concept of the "midichlorians" ends up being a lot more palatable in Episodes 2 & 3. Touches like this left me with a bit of a sour taste.

And yet, what was I expecting? Maybe expectations were just too great. I'm sure when Christ comes back, many people will look at Him and say, "You know, I just thought the Four Horsemen would have been - oh, I don't know - a little SCARIER."

Anyway, there's still a number up there by it, so I must think this is one of the best of '99. I think what cinches it for me is that I look around and see other lists that place Matrix above this film. I look at that and realize that my choice is clear.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Who gives a damn?

4)
The Blair Witch Project

Here's another movie about a phantom menace that I have to say I was a bit more intrigued by. A lot of people don't seem to care for this film (some of whom know this without having to see it), which I think is due in part to the double-duty your suspension of disbelief has to handle to get into the story: you have to get past the faux-documentary format, and THEN get past the cheapness of the film / video.

As I mention before, this list is written from a filmmaker's point of view. I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief pretty far, because I would love to have the same courtesy for a movie that I make. The movie was incredibly effective for me - it carved out a new way to be scared in the movies. And all with nothing more than a few sounds, really. And of course some good performances.

Add it up however you will - whether you bought it or not, Blair Witch was a daring and imaginative venture.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: You can't hear me, but I'm making a "raspberry" sound.

5) Three Kings

Clooney again shows that he's movie star material here - as does Wahlberg and Ice Cube. I usually donít care for military-themed films, but this one didnít much feel like one. It was a sort of adult adventure film to me, with snappy visuals and a clever story.

And I donít have it here just because I liked the wild interior shots of the bullet wounds.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: I predict that the Oscar ceremony will last well over two hours, and that whoever they pick to host will laugh at their own jokes and say hello to Jack Nicholson from the stage.

6) Princess Mononoke

Does the fact that this movie comes from a culture somewhat unfamiliar to me add to my feeling that it's such a startlingly new and fresh sort of fantasy? Honestly, maybe so. I'm only recently discovering that there's a LOT more to Japanese animation than really big eyes and lots of ninjas jumping around and of course the pocket monster. But I suspect that even if you are familiar with Japanese animation, this one would still stand out. It's rare that we fantasy fans get a fix of the good stuff - and this is it.

If you have even an iota of curiosity about this genre, then you should check out this film.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: I'm also seeing a big dance number in my Oscar ceremony crystal ball.

7) Sixth Sense

Coming in seventh - although, again, this is not a ranked list - is Sixth Sense. Who thought a Bruce Willis movie would be one of the genuinely creepy movies of the year? I'm not Bruce-bashing - I happen to be a fan - but this movie took me by surprise. And the creeps are given without a single splash of gore whatsoever.

Willis and Haley Joel Osment were an EXCELLENT team. And I do mean "team" - Willis at no time played down to him. Haley, now I'm going to have to ask you to do a comedy. You've so obviously proven that you can be disturbed and distraught, let's not have you fall into the same trap as young miss Jena Malone, who seems set on a career of domestic abuse and cancer roles.

I wonder if, after Sixth Sense AND Blair Witch this year, the End of Days people are just scratching their heads and wondering where the hell they went wrong?

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: I can't work up enough electricity to fire those neurons that would even give a crap about it.


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© 1999 Absurd Pamphlet Press