Monday, October 19, 2009

1999 movies

NYT movie critic A.O. Scott, in an article about the movies of 1962, writes
Searching beyond the dozen at the Brooklyn Academy you find enough riches to support the contention of Armond White, the current chairman of the Critics Circle, that 1962 was as bountiful a cinematic year as 1939. Or maybe 1999, or for all we know 2010.

I'm not on the film geek memo distribution list, so I wouldn't have heard if this were the case, but: is there some consensus that 1999 was an especially great year in movie history? I can't say that it felt that way to me at the time; it seemed like the indie/ Miramax wave of creativity had crested and become a new kind of routine. See: Holy Smoke, starring Kate "naked again!" Winslett and Harvey Keitel; combine ingredients, press play.

The Matrix, of course, was epoch-making in its way. Toy Story 2 seems to be many people's choice for the best Pixar movie ever, or until the last three years. And The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project, and Being John Malkovich do make for a pretty impressive trio of creativity.

But that was the year of the greatest anticlimax in anticipated-blockbuster history (Star Wars Episode 1); a bunch of award-bait that I think are in retrospect agreed to have been overrated at best and really quite bad at worst (American Beauty, Cider House Rules, The End of the Affair, Eyes Wide Shut); some truly awful mass-market stuff (Wild Wild West); and I guess a couple of things that still inspire love-it-or-hate-it arguments (Magnolia, Three Kings, Talented Mr. Ripley).

And then it's the year of Runaway Bride, Never Been Kissed, The Mummy, Notting Hill, and Analyze This. Doesn't come any more ordinary than that, no matter how many "new classics" Turner anoints. I've never seen Notting Hill or Analyze This, and I do think The Mummy was a terrific ordinary movie, but I still think the overall judgment is sound.

Looking at the list, it turns out I can assemble a list to get enthusiastic about:
Being John Malkovich, Sixth Sense, Election, ExistenZ, Run Lola Run, South Park, Pushing Tin, The Matrix, Iron Giant, Dogma, Girl Interrupted, 200 Cigarettes, Better Than Chocolate. That seems like an impressive list, and maybe I'm letting my distaste for American Beauty carry too much weight.

But that's just my list, my tastes. Does that list make film geeks' hearts go a-twitter? Does it really tower over any other year of the 90s-- say, 1994, the year of Pulp Fiction, Clerks, Ed Wood, Muriel's Wedding, Reality Bites, two of the Three Colors movies, and Barcelona?

Or are American Beauty and Eyes Wide Shut really remembered as movies for the ages?


Todd Seavey said...

From his tone (with the 2010 reference immediately following), I think he may have been jokingly picking a random year -- but more important, I can't help noticing that you must be following the rule against talking about _Fight Club_.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Funny, but inadvertent; I never saw it.

Todd Seavey said...

My own choice for best movie of that year, for what it's worth -- and better sci-fi than an actual sci-fi movie, in the sense of starting from simple premises (the less you know, the better) and proceeding to change the world -- and mess with your head in the process, even if (as with _V for Vendetta_) you're not sure you fully approve.

Anonymous said...

I hate American Beauty as much as the next guy, but I do think of 1999 as an excellent year: American Movie, Boys Don't Cry, The Dreamlife of Angels, Election, Topsy-Turvy. And Scott, IIRC, was a serious proponent of at least three of those. I'm not sure he was being random.

Matt said...

I'd have to see Boys Don't Cry again to see if I still like it, but Election is really wonderful, for many reasons. (I like to imagine that it's Ferris Bueller gown up, among other things.) Eyes Wide Shut is a movie I've changed my mind about several times as I try to decide what's happening in it, if what's supposed to be happening is interesting or not, and if it's successful. That I'm unclear on all of those doesn't make it bad, to my mind, as that's often the case with Kubrick's films, I think.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Steve Saideman points me to this Entertainment Weekly article making the case for 1984. Interestingly, one of the first comments below the article argues for both 1999 and 1994.

Russell Arben Fox said...

I was about to say "Uh, what about Rushmore?"....until I double-checked, and saw that was released in 1998. Darn.

I still have yet to see Eyes Wide Shut; as a Kubrick completist you'd think that would be a priority for me, but I just have yet to develop the interest. I suspect his neuroses had basically taken over his talent by the time of Full Metal Jacket.

Three Kings was pretty dang awesome, though.