Sunday, 15 April 2012

My Movie Year: 1999

Back in 2006 the film magazine “Empire” launched an X factor style competition called “Thunderdome” were each week the nominee’s would have to complete a challenge set by the Judging panel (a panel comprised of various Empire staffer’s including my hero and critic inspiration Kim Newman) with the loser getting eliminated from the competition with the winner getting what could best be described as a glorified freelancer position with the magazine.

The opening challenge to find their contestants was deceptively simple, as all you were asked to do was “Write a 200 word review on the best film of 1999”. A challenge that I too took on and sadly did not make the final cut, though I did receive a very nice and hand signed rejection letter, which for the longest time was framed and hung up in my kitchen as a weird form of inspiration.

What this challenge did highlight for me though was just how good 1999 was for cinema, for as a century of film making drew to a close, it was not the studios who were making the most exciting movies, but indie directors like Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson and Sofia Coppola and writers like Alan Ball and Charlie Kaufman who were the ones making the most waves while also ushering in a whole new exciting era of film making, which not only challenged how films were made, aswell as how these stories could be told and inspiring a new breed of film maker in their wake, as they paved the way for the likes of Richard Kelly, Rian Johnson, Jason Reitman, Michel Gondry and Darren Aronofsky.

So allow me to present to you as part of the "My Movie Year" Blogathon being run by "Fandango Groovers Movie Blog" the five films which truly justify why 1999 was such a great year for cinema.

American Beauty

Every now and then you will have a talent who seemingly comes from nowhere, to create one of the most original films of that year and this was certainly the case when first time writer Allan Ball wrote the screenplay for this film, which would also be directed by first time director Sam Mendes, whom up to that point had been known purely as a theatre director, though looking at this film you wouldn’t believe it to be his first, while also containing one of the most recreated money shots of all time!

Following depressed suburban father Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), as he tires of his so called life and instead embarks on the mother of all midlife crisis, as he quits his job, starts smoking pot and working out, while lusting over his teenage daughter’s best friend Angela (Mena Suvari). Meanwhile his family are none the less screwed up with his success driven wife (Annette Bening), horrified by his sudden change of direction, while his socially reclusive daughter (Thora Birch) is embarking on the relationship with Ricky (Wes Bentley) the oddball student film maker and drug dealer living next door.

Darkly funny and highly original, Ball pushed the boundaries with his script which comes off completely fearless, while giving Spacey one of his more memorable roles as he attempts to break out from his daily grind and finally do what he wants to do and in many ways it would serve as blueprint for Ball’s writing style which he has since carried over into his TV projects “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood” and even years later this film seems as fresh as the year it was released, as the themes of alienation and conformity continue to ring painfully true.

Essentially driven by three plot lines of each of the family members, despite appearing that it’s Lester’s story the film aims for a complete picture of this dysfunctional family, as it constantly switches the focus between the three family members as they all in their own way follow Lester in breaking away from their own daily grinds. While the cast are all great, with Spacey clearly having a blast playing Lester, for me though Birch is easily at her most memorable, as she once again proves why she is the most underused actress currently working today. Still this is the sort of film you watch and instantly want to talk to someone about and a key movie of the year in question.


An ambitious film by no stretch of the imagination as it sets out to tell the epic story of seven characters over the course of a day and seeing how their lives intertwine more often than not unwittingly with each other, as well as looking at the powerful effect of coincidence.

A fascinating follow up to his homage to the porn scene of the 70’s & 80’s, this often overlooked film (no doubt due to it’s daunting length) was another example of the how storytelling in films was challenged, as finally directors / writers were actually having faith in their audience to be able to follow such complex plotting, let alone the occasional curveball, seeing how it memorably rains frogs at one point.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson once again assembles another great cast here giving some great performances, with Tom Cruise’s motivation speaker Frank Mackey easily being of one of Cruises’s best, as he essentially brings to the screen what many would see the real life Cruise as being like, as Mackey lectures rooms of date hungry men on “taming” women as part of his “Seduce and Destroy” program.

Thanks to its colorful characters it is both a touching and funny film, while Aimee Mann provides a really kick ass soundtrack, including a great cover of One Dog Night’s “One Is the Loneliest Number”. So if you can spare a few hours, why not lose them in this one.

Fight Club

Upon it’s release this film exploded into pop culture, while no doubt also being responsible for introducing a whole new audience to the twisted and surreal world of Chuck Palahniuk, aswell as perhaps an increase in food terrorism at the hands of disgruntled serving staff.

Like “American Beauty” this is another tale of one man breaking out of his daily grind in possibly the most extreme fashion, as our narrator is an insomniac who can only sleep by attending support groups for illnesses and diseases he doesn’t even have, though it is a chance encounter with the mysterious and charming Tyler Durden, with whom he is soon forming underground fight clubs and unwittingly starting his own revolution.

Another example of the ground breaking films which were being released this year, after all how many films open with a high speed journey through the synapses of it’s narrator before pulling out to find them with a gun being held between their teeth by their supposed best friend? This film pushed not only the censorship boundaries with scenes of brutal bare knuckle brawls, but also in terms of taste as it features soap made from human fat and splicing porn into kiddie movies amongst it’s numerous tricks it holds with in, with director David Fincher perfectly casting Brad Pitt as Tyler Durdan the man we all wish we could be while Edward Norton is every bit as horrified and strangely curious as you’d want from the narrator, while at the same time using every trick from his background in music videos and commercials to tell the story, as it challenges everything we see around us and perfectly capturing the askew world view of Palahniuk’s source novel, while the film would spark numerous copycat antics from more impressionable audience members as amusingly documented by Palahniuk himself in his Non-fiction book “Non Fiction” and earning the film numerous grumblings from more sensitive members of the press especially from it’s trailer campaign were Tyler is shown to be inspiring his followers to go out and start fights with strangers, but it’s intoxicating mixture of mischief and mayhem, still makes it one of my all time favorites….now if only there was a planet Starbucks!

Cruel Intentions

This was the film which I named the best film of 1999 and it’s a choice I’d happily stand by if asked the question again, for this MTV style reworking of the classic novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, which has over the years has been adapted no less than thirteen times, with certainly the most well known being the 1988 version released as “Dangerous Liaisons” while this version would be by far the most original as the story is relocated to modern day New York, as step siblings Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) play games of seduction, with their latest target being the virginal Annette (Reese Witherspoon) with the challenge being set by Kathryn that Sebastian cannot bed her before the start of the school year, while Kathryn sets about also corrupting the naïve Cecile (Selma Blair) as part of a plan of revenge against her ex boyfriend who left her for Cecile.

While it may have been released in the same year as “American Pie” this film proved to be a much smarter drama and with a sharper sense of humour, but none the less sex crazed which came as something of a surprise to Geller’s fans who were more used to her playing Buffy on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” so for her to be reeling off such lines as “In English? I'll fuck your brains out” all of course greeted with whoops of joy from most of the male audience, much like the much talked about experimental kissing scene between Geller and Blair, all from a film bizarrely marketed in some places as a chick flick, when it contains plenty to appeal to most audiences.

The cast at the time were largely B-list or unknowns, yet all embody their various characters, while for some the film marking a rare high point in their careers, still even years after it’s initial shocking dialogue has since been beaten in terms of filth, it still remains a solid drama and a nice twist on a classic novel.

Being John Malkovich

This film marked the start of the feature film invasion of the visionary directors, who’d spent their careers crafting extraordinary and visually arresting music videos and commercials and it’s a group that Spike Jonze belonged to, following hot on the heels of fellow visionary David Fincher, he finally found here a way of making the surreal screenplay by Charlie Kaufman work, as for years this debut screenplay had been passed from studio to studio, but Jonze managed to finally bring this black comedy to the screen in what would be arguably one of the most original films of the year.

The film itself is the story of an unemployed puppeteer Craig (John Cusack), who is married to the pet obsessed Lotte (Cameron Diaz) and who takes a job as a file clerk, were he discovers a mysterious door behind one of the filling cabinets, which leads those who enter into the mind of John Malkovich for fifteen minuites before it drops them into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey turnpike. Seeing an opportunity to make money, he teams up with his co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener) to sell tickets to curiosity seekers, eager to try the experience for themselves.

While it could have easily been made as some form of art house curiosity, especially seeing how it’s selling the idea of a journey into the head of an actor who at the time of it’s releases wasn’t especially well known, yet Jonze keeps all the curiosity and wonder, while still keeping the plot accessible, as he shoots it in a style almost comparable to that of Terry Gilliam.

This is not to say that the film is still not random as hell, for it features a chimp having a flashback to his capture and the curious lowered ceilings of Floor 7½ were Craig works, let alone a game Malkovich taking a trip in his own head and finding a world inhabited by his clones. Still the while the plot might be surreal to say the least it still manages to provide plenty of twists and turns along the way, as in this world nothing is black and white and just because you assume someone is the hero, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are.

A beautifully weird film, it rewards those willing to challenge their cinematic tastes and ushering in it’s wake a whole new exciting era of cinema, as the doors for creativity and artistic freedom were literally blown open by this film, as it reminded us all just how exciting indie cinema really could be.

So there you have it, my five films which show in my opinion just why 1999 was such a great year for cinema, but if you need further proof it’s worth remembering that this was the same year that saw the release of
  • Bringing Out The Dead
  • The Blair Witch Project
  • Dogma
  • Go
  • Girl, Interrupted
  • eXistenZ
  • Man on the Moon
But what was your movie year? Check out more Movie Years from the Blogathon here


  1. Another 1999 like me, but only one shared film. American Beauty, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, Bringing Out The Dead, The Blair Witch Project, Dogma, Girl, Interrupted and eXistenZ were all on my shortlist. Thanks for taking part.

  2. It was such a fantastic year and I think last year was the closest that any year has come close to it, though the early part of the 00's did produce alot of fun indie movies, so maybe if this was done again I would change my focus to one of those years.

    Thanks for running this :)

  3. '99 was a great year, and you have two movies here I never got around to seeing. Thanks for the ideas here.

  4. Always happy to help folks find something to watch :)

  5. 1999 again! I too did this and included American Beauty as well. I love how you included Cruel Intentions. It's not the "classiest" movie but without that film I wouldn't have been inspired to read the original book so it gets a pass for that!

  6. I love the source novel for "Cruel Intentions", which like you I read after watching this movie and while the sequels might not be anything special, the original movie still seems fresh even now, while perhaps packing a few cheap thrills let alone Sebastian's quips like

    Mrs. Sugarman: Oh! We played backgammon?
    Sebastian: Uh huh. You beat me three times.
    Mrs. Sugarman: I did?
    Sebastian: Yup. Then I fucked your daughter.
    Mrs. Sugarman: Excuse me?
    Sebastian: I said, would you care for some water?
    Mrs. Sugarman: No, thank you.

    which are still amusing even after numerous viewings.

  7. hi!movie blogger here looking for people to participate in my site's first blogathon! hope ur interested!

  8. Hmmm could be the needed excuse to revisit either "The Station Agent" or watch "Win Win"


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