In 1999 we sat through 245 or so movies, of which Two Hundred Thirty Two reviews were written and, yeah, we know there are Twelve titles on our End of the Year "Top Ten" list. We're giving two of them "special mention" status -- The Matrix as best popcorn flick (which is what I said in the review, so stop with the dissmail!) and South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, whose blatant overuse of four letter words and equivalent visuals blinded most of the dissmail writers to the fact that this flick was the sharpest and funniest piece of satirical filmmaking of the year (IMO, of course) -- which leaves a nice round number, ten.
We now Proclaim these Fine Flicks to be our Most Favored in this, the last year of the Twentieth Century (but not the last of the Second Millennium...
With all the appearances of a teen comedy Election, starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon was much more a tale of middle age crisis as beloved teacher (Broderick) develops an almost insane jealousy of Witherspoon, the overly-perky, most popular girl at school (whether you like it or not). First to sign up for school activities. First to volunteer for any assignment. First to get her name on the ballot for student elections -- depending on the breaks, girls like this usually wind up as a Monica Lewinsky or Nancy Reagan. Broderick, who set the stage for all manipulative goof off high school students in the classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off now finds himself to be an authority figure and a damned good one. The students like and respect him. They come to him for advice and guidance and, darn it, when Mr. McAllister sees a situation requiring a bit of proactive teacher intervention, well, he sweats bullets about it, sleeps with his best friend's wife and tries to "fix" a school election so that Witherspoon's character gets hers. Election shows that all the long buried petty gripes and vendettas will eventually rise up and wreak havoc.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a "thriller" with a capital T. Matt Damon stars as a good looking lower class kid who, by a sheer mistake of a borrowed jacket, is assumed to be one of the upper class Ivy League set. Hired by a fabulously wealthy pappy of a world-travelling son (Jude Law) to lure the kidlet back to the business, the chameleon-like Ripley decides he prefers swinging with the E-Ticket crowd, clues the target in on the deal and the trio (Law's almost fiancée, played by Gwyneth Paltrow) spend all that lovely expense money up and down the Italian coast, in best 1950s jetsetter style. All good things, as we all know, come to an end and when this scam runs out of steam, The Talented Mr. Ripley switches into primo Hitchcock gear. No longer a "how is he gonna do it? (ie get the son back) TTMR becomes a ("how is he going to get away with it?") tale of murder, deceit, deception that would please the fat man (Hitch, of course) greatly, IMO.
The Sixth Sense, as of current year end figures had the second most successful box office take of the year, topped only by Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Starring Bruce Willis in one of his three non-action roles of the year (Breakfast of Champions and The Story of Us were the other two) his Dr. Malcolm Crowe ignores his steadily fragmenting marital life as he gets too deep into a career as shrink to traumatized kidlets. In this case, the kidlet is Haley Joel Osment, who "sees dead people". Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan's work was a surprise to everyone but the snotty kidlet who figured it out before anyone else and boasted of it, loudly, on our message boards. We killed him.
on the Moon is Milos Forman's film about the life of
not a...") comedian Andy Kaufman. If you know nothing at all
about Kaufman or his career, there is little here to give you any
great insight into who this man was. On the other hand, if you do
know who Kaufman was, you will be amazed by Jim Carrey's absolutely
dead on performance of the man who bought milk and cookies for the
entire audience after his one man show at Carnegie Hall
Negative reactions to my positive notes about Cider House Rules starring Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine started showing up in my eMail a month before the review went live. One read: "How DARE you endorse a movie about baby-killers you Jew bastard Christ killer! I pray Jesus show his mercy on all the babies you've already killed by jerking off that pathetically ugly and crippled Jew body (and yes I've read your so called "history" and it only proves that pictures can be faked! OR that God is just getting ready to teach you the real meaning of PAIN you babykillerbabykillerBABY KILLER!!!!!)". Then again, if your mind is so made up that you're already walking picket lines there's little I can say other than that both sides of the abortion conflict are given equal time, but it's only a subplot about an aging doctor trying to create a successor at a home for wayward mothers (this being the 1930s and 40s, "wayward" was the nice way of saying knocked up). Writer/adapter John Irving and director Lasse Hallström have left the final decision to this story "open" which means both sides can argue that it goes their way. It isn't the "problem" of abortion that is central to Cider House Rules, it's the concept of how people of one background or class (economic or otherwise) treat another. A very intelligent and terrifically produced tale.
American Beauty would win Kevin Spacey a second Academy Award, if it were mine to give. It is not a happy story with a fairy tale ending. It is a story of the final year in the life of a man facing a total meltdown during mid-life crisis brings. His marriage has hit the boring patch. His wife (Annette Bening) shows no signs of lust. His daughter is only attractive because her friends are so gol'darn cute. When Cranky was a kid, he saw all of this in the dads of my friends, all hitting forty. They bought motorcycles; got mistresses; dumped their wives; turned into total fools. Spacey gets grade A dope from the teen next door and body building instructions from the gay couple down the street. And when all is said and about to be done for the last time, he realizes that a life that sucks isn't really so bad, after all.
Snow Falling on Cedars comes from Scott Hicks, who wowed most of us with his last film, Shine. There are so many levels of story working in this film that it's amazing that this story of a cross-racial love triangle doesn't leave you feeling that you've missed stuff left behind in the book. A Japanese-American is put on trial for the murder of a "white" American. The evidence that can set him free has been discovered by an intrepid newspaper reporter . . . who was once in love with the Japanese girl now the wife of the accused. It would have been tough enough to love the girl in the pre-WWII days but now she's married one of her own and the only way to get back his one true love is to destroy the real love of her life. It screams chick flick but all the guy characters are strong and Cranky truly enjoyed this flick. For a while it topped the list, but then I got down to the nitty gritty....
Being John Malkovich was a great film, like nothing I've ever seen, or even conceived in my wildest film fantasy dreams . . . which, admittedly can be pretty wild but nothing like the sight of Cameron Diaz as a plain Jane, frizzy haired brunette, bound, gagged and locked in a cage with a diaper wearing, psychologically damaged chimpanzee named Elijah while her puppeteer husband (John Cusack) inhabits John Malkovich's head as said actor has sex with said husband's business partner and lust object (Catherine Keener) . . .
October Sky is the best of the year. In one way or another all the "best" of this year have something in common. They all have characters that dream of a better life. In this movie, in a coal mining town of West Virginia, dreams just don't exist. If you're good at football, you might have a chance at college on a scholarship. If not, you worked the mines until you died. The woman had the babies and nursed you when the black lung finally got to you, unless a mine collapse did. Then, one October night in 1958, Sputnik passed overhead. On that long ago night, dreams were born. A father lost his son. A son turned his back on his inheritance. A mother found a way to bring them together. A teacher found a meaning to her life which, she had been told, was about to end in a terrible way. No one curses. No one vomits or throws up or farts . . . and virtually every film I've seen this year has had at least one of those. Based on the sheer fact that I sat through two free previews and then paid three more times to see it again, Joe Johnston's October Sky, based on the autobiography of Homer H. Hickam, Jr. is the best film of the year. Makes Cranky cry every damned time he sees it, too.
As for the actors: Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) and Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry) take top honors (and both only by a nose over Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon and Janet McTeer in Tumbleweeds); Bill Murray (Cradle Will Rock) and Jean Smart (Guinevere) take the Supporting nods.
And, yeah, South Park was stuffed with obscenities. It was a funny li'l [expletive deleted], though...
and since you've made it all the way to the bottom of the page, click here for the Worst of 1999