Damn, I’m glad that year is over. I began the year by moving to Los Angeles and away from San Francisco, my friends, and my large secure paycheck. A life and career change was in order. Little did I know the horrors that awaited me.
Too many critics are wetting themselves in excitement to declare what a banner year it was at the ‘plex. Don’t believe the hype. Their short-term memory loss will kick in soon, just as it did concerning nearly the entire first three months of this year. It’s no big secret that January is the traditional Elephant’s Secret Graveyard where the big studios normally dump all their bloated corpses while critics are audiences are still hungover from the Christmas glut of “prestige” films which are mostly forgotten by Oscar time.
1999, however, was SPECIAL. Upon moving to Los Angeles I was greeted by an incessant s**t-storm that did not subside until the very end of March with the release of “The Matrix”. With the exceptions of a few foreign gems, the studio release schedule inspired me to write some of the darkest and most vicious material I have ever written about the movies (and for me, that’s saying something). Don’t even get me started on “The Phantom Menace”.
It was a special year in other ways. You know, Americans didn’t celebrate the end of the 19th century until December 31, 1900. I’m partially convinced all the hullabaloo about the Y2K-bug (the new “Red Menace” for a year and a half) was responsible for determining ’99 to be the end of the millenium. As a result, it seems as if nearly every major filmmaker attempted to turn one more out before the computers crashed and killed us all. The degree of success varied widely. David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Woody Allen, Michæl Mann, and Pedro Amadovar were standouts. Martin Scorcese, Syndey Pollack and Mike Figgis decidedly did not.
However, to the surprise of everyone, this is the year that a bunch of the brats of the Sundance Film Festivals over the last ten years stepped up the learning curve. Former golden boys Steven Soderbergh, David O. Russell, Paul Thomas Anderson, Trey Parker and Doug Liman among others made big impressions. Video director and Coppola stepson Spike Jonze scored with everything he tried and a pair of twins, Michæl and Mark Polish, whose biggest credit were parts in “Hellraiser IV”, produced a dark debut as powerful as Lynch or P.T. Anderson.
Now it’s time for the lists. Normally, my top 20 list is ordered not necessarily by quality but by my ability to personally connect or relate to them. Using that criteria, I’d really have to stated the best was “The Sopranos” (don’t ask). I’ll stick to film. This year was especially difficult, as the difference in feeling toward the top 15 is minimal and ordered only by my mood swings at the time of writing. Here goes:
THE BEST OF 1999
1) Twin Falls, Idaho
All due respect to Spike Jonze, but this is the greatest debut of 1999. But once you’ve exploited your twin status, and made the darkest twin-flick since either “Dead Ringers” or “A Zed and Two Naughts”, where do you go from there?
2) The Legend of 1900
Ten years after “Cinema Paradiso”, Italian writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore created this masterpiece about the joys and sorrows of music and the imagination and how the limitations of your world define you. Too bad nobody noticed.
It’s about bad fathers, absent mothers, needy children, and the game show as a metaphor for life. Better come up with the answers before you run out of time.
4) The Matrix
Yeah, I know, the Wachowski brothers stole pieces from a lot of sources, BUT WHERE DO YOU THINK “STAR WARS” CAME FROM!?! Besides, at this point, which do you care about more: “The Matrix 2” or “Star Wars: Episode II”?
5) Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
Here’s the last great documentary of the 20th century. Don’t we all lie to ourselves just to make it through the day?
6) All About My Mother
Spanish auteur Pedro Almadovar got his groove back with this, the best melodrama of 1999. You will cry like a little girl.
7) Being John Malkovich
How does a film that feels like they’re making it up as they go along manage to tie everything together in the end, and well? Props to director Spike Jonze for pulling off Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant but difficult script.
8) Fight Club
First rule of Fight Club: Go see “Fight Club”.
Second rule of Fight Club: It doesn’t glorify violence, idiot.
Third rule of Fight Club: All this trouble could have been avoided if the doctor hadn’t been so stingy with the medication.
9) I Stand Alone
Certainly the harshest film of 1999. This film is so rough it should require a note from a psychologist before viewing. They actually give you a warning and a disclaimer for the last five minutes, for a GOOD REASON! Must… get… darkness… out.. of my head… Happy dance… doin’ the happy dance….
10) The Iron Giant
Best animated film of 1999 and winner of the “Babe: Pig in the City” award for most botched release by a studio. Did Warner Bros. hire all the idiots who screwed up at Universal last year?
11) The Limey
It used to be that all the indie filmmakers wanted to be John Cassavetes and Martin Scorcese. Finally, someone wants to be Richard Lester and Mike Hodges. It’s a movie about unexpected consequences. Every film by Director Stephen Soderbergh has made my year-end list since “Schizopolis”.
12) Three Kings
David O. Russell has probably crafted the finest Gulf War movie that will ever be made, and the best satire since “M.A.S.H.” Who knew that George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg would carve out such nice careers?
In his first original story in 15 years, David Cronenberg proves he still has it. Too bad nobody paid attention because of that other virtual reality flick.
14) The Straight Story
What’s the big deal? This is just another David Lynch film about an American male facing his demons. Just because he survives the experience without racking up a body count, everybody acts so surprised. Richard Farnsworth gives a career capping performance, and probably the best and most natural performance of anyone in any Lynch film ever.
15) South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
Best musical of the ’90’s and several other decades. Is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences really going to find any movie songs better than the fifth best song in this flick? Jack Valenti, Terrence and Philip dance on your grave.
16) The Insider
In 20 years we’ll look back on Michæl Mann as one of America’s greatest directors. A thankfully subdued Al Pacino and a brilliant Russell Crowe learn how difficult choices can be when you try to honor both your responsibilities and your principles.
17) Breakfast of Champions
Every year there’s at least one film on my list that everyone sees and asks, “Are you on crack?” If I had a dime for every time someone’s asked me that.., well, I could buy a lot of crack. Regardless of my condition upon viewing, Nick Nolte and Bruce Willis are brilliant in a race toward disintegration.
After two failed swings by other directors (“Illuminata”, “Cradle Will Rock”) attempted to depict the “joys” of theatre, auteur Mike Leigh knocks one out of the park in his first historical, all-period film. A little long, but it’s really grown on me since I first saw it.
19) Sweet and Lowdown
Woody Allen succeeds once again with another talented anti-hero who must learn the right thing to do by trial and error. No, this isn’t autobiographical at all, now is it?
Ah, to be young AND stupid again…
DIDN’T QUITE MAKE IT
Ten Things I Hate About You
Eyes Wide Shut
Summer of Sam
“Office Space” could have been in the top 5 if it hadn’t lost its nerve in the second half.
BEST FILMS THAT YOU STILL COULDN’T SEE
Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia is probably the most exciting filmmaker unknown in America. Only his second film, “Day of the Beast”, has received a token release in America. “Perdita Durango” is his third feature (first in English) and based upon a novel by Barry Gifford. You may remember the character Perdita Durango as played by Isabella Rosellini in “Wild at Heart”. This time out, we get Rosie Perez at her most fierce. When I interviewed Gifford about his work on “”, he was most excited about the production of “Durango”. To imagine the impact of de la Iglesia’s work, look back to the first time you saw John Woo’s Hong Kong films. It’s a new sensibility, both confident and visceral.
What’s the deal? Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier was getting awards up the a*s for his previous film, “Breaking the Waves”, while this film, his first certified as Dogme ’95, has been released everywhere but America over the last year and a half. Yes, it has a lot of nudity and some actual sex scenes, but that didn’t stop a total turd like “Romance” from seeing release.
Richard Farnsworth, “The Straight Story”
Sean Penn, “Sweet and Lowdown”
Denzel Washington, “The Hurricane”
Philippe Nahon, “I Stand Alone”
Russel Crowe, “The Insider”
Tim Roth, “The Legend of 1900”
Cecilia Roth, “All About My Mother”
Julianne Moore, “Magnolia”, “The End of the Affair”, “Map of the World”
Uh…, not a good year for women flicks.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
John Malkovich, “Being John Malkovich”
Nick Nolte, “Breakfast of Champions”
Spike Jonze, “Three Kings”
Pruitt Taylor Vince, “The Legend of 1900”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Cameron Diaz, “Being John Malkovich”
Michele Hicks, “Twin Falls, Idaho”
Sarah Polley, “GO”
THE WORST OF 1999
1) Life is Beautiful (English Lang. Ver.)
There’s no mistaking the international language of suck-a*s.
Has one of your friends ever brought along a new girlfriend that might have been hell in the sack but pure evil when interacting with anyone else? That’s what it’s like to sit through this movie. This is the single worst call I’ve ever made about bringing my girlfriend to a movie since I mistakenly took her to see a series of Peter Greenaway’s short films. She’ll get back at me eventually.
What’s a “worst” list without Joel Schumacher? We’ll stick to just one entry per director, though. This is like what your mom must think an underground sex scene is like. Coming from a gay, Hollywood careerist like Joel Schumacher, this hate-mongering garbage is unforgivable.
4) The Other Sister
What’s a “worst” list without Gary Marshall? Once again, only one entry per director. I don’t remember San Francisco being quite so full of plucky, white retards. Oh wait, yes I do. They were driving the housing market out of control and that’s why I left. This film was released on the same day as “8MM”. Dueling suck-a*s.
5) Detroit Rock City
Here’s a movie for, and apparently by drug-addled 14-year-olds.
6) The General’s Daughter
What a lurid little piece of trash. Oh, and Travolta? When you said you wanted to be the biggest star in America, I didn’t realize this is what you meant.
7) Wild, Wild West
Proof that it may actually cost more to make bad movies than good ones. I feel that no big summer film is complete without a bunch of racial epitaphs. Barry Sonnenfeld, you are not Mel Brooks, and this definitely ain’t “Blazing Saddles”.
8) Brokedown Palace
Ah, to be young and REALLY stupid again…
Well, the first three letters are fairly accurate. Kevin Smith, perhaps it’s time for you to do something besides go to church, the comic store, watch “Star Wars”, or m********e.
Anthony Hopkins, thy name is W***e. Please grab Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Oscar when you’re returning yours.
ALSO INCREDIBLY BAD
My Favorite Martian
1999 was also a banner year for recycled crap that included:
WORST ADAPTATION OF A TV SHOW
Wild, Wild West
My Favorite Martian
Cruel Intentions (“Dangerous Liasons”)
The King and I (animated)
WAY, WAAAAAY OVERRATED
The Sixth Sense
The Talented Mr. Ripley