By 1999, I was pretty solidly a cinema addict. Spring 1999 was the semester I took Art & History of Film with Murph, easily the best class I've ever taken. I was "forced" to watch about 40 classic films, a few of which I'd seen already, most of which I hadn't. I had access to the entire Houghton film library and watched plenty of other classics on my own time. I discovered Tarkovsky! Herzog! Kurosawa! So many other international masters. In 1999, I was also surrounded by other cinephiles. Ben Gallman was religiously taping films off of TCM. Joseph Lewis! Nicholas Ray! Raoul Walsh! Dan Krawiec was encouraging me to geek out with top 10 lists. 1999 is the last year that I remember making a top ten list before this year.
1999 was the culmination of my previous 20 years of loving movies passionately, but mostly ignorantly. I learned just how stupid I was and that felt liberating. I wasn't a know-it-all anymore; I was a little baby soaking up new knowledge.
As a child, my parents took my younger sister and I out to the cinema nearly every week. Sunday afternoons were glorious as they were filled with moving images and buckets of popcorn. Looking back now, I realize how lucky I was and how formative all of those trips were, whether I remember all of the individual movies or not.
Through high school and college, I continued to go to the movies almost weekly, except that, more often than not, I was going with my buddies instead of my parents.
By 1999, I was in the habit of watching a LOT of movies. I count that I saw over 80 films from 1999, the large majority of which I saw in a theater somewhere in 1999 and the rest almost immediately upon release to VHS/DVD.
I'm stressing all of this because 1999 also marked an end of sorts. 2000 was when I lived in London and I was usually watching at least 1 or 2 films a week at various cinemas, but, looking back now, I've forgotten most of what I've seen there and it turns out that I didn't actually see all that much that was released in 2000. After 2000, I entered a sort of Cinema Dark Age in which I watched much less of what was new and current. Getting married and having children slowed me down, but I was also less than thrilled by what was coming out at the time. Netflix wasn't around yet and it was difficult to find good foreign or Independent films in Binghamton at the time and I insist that most of what was available at the Multiplexes was pretty bad. As I make lists for the last decade, it will quickly become apparent that I'm not all that big a fan of the last decade.
But, there was 1999. What a year.
We got Stanley Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut, perverse in its way, but obviously important as the work of one of our masters. David Fincher raised the bar for himself with Fight Club. The combination of Jonze/Kaufman was unveiled as an original creative force of nature with Being John Malkovich. Michael Mann was confirmed as a major Hollywood talent with The Insider. Spike Lee evoked a specific time and place with Summer of Sam while Woody Allen playfully dabbled in a sort of faux-biopic in Sweet and Lowdown. Sam Mendes made us look in the mirror with American Beauty, overrated but important at the time. We also got new movies from Lasse Hallstrom, Neil Jordan, James Mangold, Milos Forman, Frank Darabont, Norman Jewison, Alexander Payne, M. Night Shyamalan, Tim Burton, and David Mamet. I liked some of these films. I hated others. None of them made their way into my illustrious top ten.
1999 was a strange year for science fiction. Virtual reality was the hot topic with eXistenZ, The Thirteenth Floor, and The Matrix all taking a stab at profundity, all falling a bit short. I suppose that The Matrix has won out of the three as it found its way into mainstream pop consciousness.
One of my favorite movie memories of 1999 was going to see a double feature with Yams. American Pie signaled the rise of raunch that was to come, turning me right off, but Inspector Gadget turned out to be quite unexpectedly enjoyable, crafted in the same spirit of fun that made Speed Racer such a delightful surprise as well. This night with Yams was infamous for being the occasion of our stupidest giggle fit. EDEDI HRUPYM!!!!!
I didn't like Run Lola Run, but thinking about it reminds me that Troeller was still alive at the time. He was one of my major movie influences, giving me a love of John Huston, introducing me to the Coen Brothers, and generally challenging me to stop being such an idiot.
Animation had a good year in 1999. There are 3 titles in my top 10, but besides those there was also Disney's decently tame Tarzan and the indecently perverse South Park, scathing in its satire and ferociously catchy in its musical numbers.
1999 was an unusual year for me in that I saw the release of two film adaptations of two of my favorite novels. Neither succeeds in being a great adaptation or a great movie, but each has its own charms. Breakfast of Champions is a madcap farce with a great cast, but it's so zany that it's nearly unwatchable. Jesus' Son earns some of its better moments, but fails in forcing the stories together into a single straight narrative.
Boys Don't Cry was one of my favorite movies of the year at the time, making this boy cry like a little baby. I haven't seen it since. Maybe it's unfair that I'm shoving it off to an honorable mention status, but, looking back, I think that I can honestly say that I enjoyed all of these other movies in my list below more.
Arlington Road and Stigmata are two "guilty pleasures" from 1999, both of which I enjoy far more than either probably deserves.
Twin Falls Idaho marked the debut of two of the sweetest filmmakers I can think of, the Polish brothers. I love everything I've seen of theirs with Northfork definitely being their masterpiece so far.
Galaxy Quest is just a lot of fun and dead-on in its spoofing of both "Sci-Fi" media and its strange fandom.
I've still left off a lot of films that were important in some way or another, but I'll let them go. It's time for a Top 10.
1. Julien Donkey-Boy (Harmony Korine)
2. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch)
3. The Straight Story (David Lynch)
4. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson)
5. Three Kings (David O. Russell)
6. Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki)
7. The Iron Giant (Brad Bird)
8. Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter)
9. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella)
10. Bringing Out the Dead (Martin Scorcese)