Saturday, March 14, 2009

I Wanna Party Like It's 1999: My Year at "Film School"

I just watched The Talented Mr. Ripley for the first time in years; however, this is probably the sixth or seventh time I've seen the film. It's an American classic, and was the best film of 1999; a great year for film, no doubt. Thinking back on 1999 I smile. I was a senior in high school and every film felt like it was the greatest thing ever. Looking back on that year in film, I can see why it was so important to me personally, but do any of those films hold up? That's why I sat through another sitting of The Talented Mr. Ripley. In a year that had Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, The Limey, American Movie, Rushmore, Election, Three Kings, Bringing Out the Dead, and tons more (I'll list 'em all eventually) it's hard, nay, near impossible to name one film better than all of the titles I just listed. But I remember being a senior in my film class singing the praises of Anthony Minghella's film. I hadn't seen anything so methodical, so chilling. It reminded me of the Hitchcock films we were studying in class. It also made me realize what an amazing actor Matt Damon is. Why do I bring all of this up about a string of films released a decade ago? More thoughts after the jump...

(Yup. I used to think this was the coolest movie ever. Just look at the symbolism!)

I still think 1999 is the greatest year in movies that I've ever experienced. I'll never forget seeing American Beauty four times in theater (I don't think much of the film now, but as a senior in high school who was taking film classes, it was the coolest thing ever. The bag is a metaphor! Haha) or seeing my one and only Stanley Kubrick film upon it's original release (Eyes Wide Shut). You also had the The Matrix, which I was the only kid in school who didn't think it was anything special (same goes for my initial reaction to Fight Club) and two spectacles that had totally different budgets: the low budget indie hit Blair Witch Project and the much anticipated Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace. There was also my introduction to the art houses in Portland (I had been a film nerd long before renting Bergman and the like from the public library, but now I was sharing this with a community of fellow film buffs), and saw for the first time Bicycle Thieves at the Hollywood Theater. I also saw my first Dardenne Brothers film (Rosetta) and Almodovar film (All About My Mother). My eyes had been opened to what film can offer, and that is why 1999 is such an important and memorable year for me personally.

("You tell him I'm coming!" One of the best lines of 1999 from The Limey.)

In addition to those monumental moments (for me anyway) it was just a wonderful year for film. You had the following directors, some new, some old masters, making interesting movies, some of these directors being: Anthony Minghella, Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Stanley Kubrick, Tim Burton, Pedro Almodovar, The Dardenne's, Milos Foreman, George Lucas, Spike Jonze, M. Night Shyamalin, Paul Schrader, Frank Darabont, Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Alexander Payne, Kevin Smith, David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Robert Rodriguez, Todd Solondz, Neil Jordan, Brad Bird, Albert Brooks, Darren Aronofsky, Antonia Bird, Ang Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Tom Tykwer, Wes Anderson, Carlos Saura, Clint Eastwood, David Lynch, Tim Roth, and David Mamet (whew!) just to name a few. Now some of these may have technically been released in 1998, but Portland or Salem didn't get them until 1999.

That's a hell of a list of directors making films all released in the same year. Some of those films were awful, others okay, some just plain interesting, and others masterpieces. But I remember them all so distinctly, because I was seeing everything that was released then. I was so into film and wanted to see every new film that looked interesting or played at the local art house theater (I spent a lot of money at Salem Cinema) I couldn't contain myself. One of our assignments for class was to construct a top ten list of the years best films. I couldn't do it. There were too many worthy choices (now I would probably change my mind), but I obliged and constructed a top ten list. And seeing how I am a pack rat, I actually found the list in my box of old English papers. It's an interesting list. It reads as follows:

Top 10 Films of 1999:

10. Bowfinger
9. Cookie's Fortune
8. The Faculty
7. American Movie
6. October Sky
5. Being John Malkovich
4. Bringing Out the Dead
3. American Beauty
2. Tie - Three Kings/Magnolia
1. The Talented Mr. Ripley

It's funny, even as a 17 year old I still cheated the whole 'ranking' thing and put an extra movie in there. I also noticed on my list several films crossed out, the one's I can make out are: Existenz, The Iron Giant, The Blair Witch Project, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Boy's Don't Cry, Run Lola Run, Election, Ravenous, Eyes Wide Shut, Rosetta, Rushmore, and Tango. I also see Lawrence Kasdan's Mumford on that list! Wow, I forgot about that film. I need to re-watch that. Obviously it must have been a hard decision to narrow this list down to ten. And I love the fact that in true adolescent, wannabe film snob form, I throw American Beauty so high on the list, but also stay true to my horror lovin' adolescent ways I put The Faculty in my top 10. Also, in pretentious art house-teen form I make sure to write the names of foreign films on the paper I turn into my teacher. Ha! It's funny to think how cool I thought I was simply because I chose to see films with subtitles. Oh well. Now that I think of it....I'm surprised I didn't give any love to Renny Harlin's masterpiece Deep Blue Sea. You know, keep my status as an everyman that my peers can relate to...

(Don't look so tired Nic, Wicker Man is still six years away)

Obviously looking at the list now there are some huge omissions, but it's interesting to see where my mind was at then. You can also see how influenced I was by the art house films. I did see Being John Malkovich twice in the theater. I still think it's a great film. Also, Bowfinger is kind of a forgotten Steve Martin classic. The sad thing that was the last truly hilarious film he wrote and acted in. And this isn't even taking into account films like The Thin Red Line or Gods and Monsters, two films I absolutely adore, that technically came out in 1998, but I didn't get a chance to see until '99.

The purpose of this very self-indulgent trip down memory lane is to take a look back, film by film, at the films that shaped my most memorable year as a film-goer. Obviously this isn't on par with the first time I saw Cries and Whispers or 8 1/2 or Touch of Evil, but this is something beyond those first steps I took as a lover of film. I remember distinctly sitting in my room studying Chaplin and Keaton and anything else I could get my hands on from the public library, but 1999 was so different, because where the former are essentials and you read about them in books published by famous film critics, it was the case with these films in 1999 that I was a film critic for the first time, sharing these first-time experiences with everyone else. Nothing had been written yet about Paul Thomas Anderson (at least not to the extent that there is now) and I felt like I was the only voice in the room singing the praises of Bringing Out the Dead while trying to deflect the overpraise for films like The Matrix or Fight Club.

So I'm going to journey back ten years and take a look at some of these films again and re-evaluate my initial thoughts, and see which films still hold up as quaint little surprises (films like Bowfinger, Cookie's Fortune, American Movie), which films don't hold up at all (American Beauty, The Sixth Sense), or the ones that still remain masterpieces (Bringing Out the Dead, Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley). I think this will be a fun little trip down memory lane as I look back on what I think is the greatest year in film that I've experienced. I'll be throwing these up randomly every other day, trying to mix them in enough so that I don't forget to write too much on the blog. I'm also working on an Argento piece (I swear Troy I'll get it finished so you can add to it) and some other thoughts on random films. But I thought this would be more fun to write about at the moment...

(1999 makes me smile too, Melora. From the final scene of Magnolia.)

So there.


  1. Kevin, great blog this week. It was a fun read and I am looking forward to hearing of your past and present thoughts on these films. I'll have to re-watch Talented Mr Ripley myself, cant remember anything about it. I agree with your ranking of Magnolia, it still is one of my favorite films. Funny to see John C Riley in that movie and then in one of the comdedies of late (talladega, step bros, walk hard).

  2. Thanks Brandon. Yeah, I think it'll be fun revisiting some of these films (either by watching them again, or just thinking about them for the first time in ten years) as not all of them hold up so well over time. To my surprise I watched "Dogma" about a month or so ago and it just fell flat. The only thing interesting about that movie was the dynamic between Affleck and Damon. Everything else was pretty bad, in retrospect.

    And yes, it is interesting about John C. Reilly. I remember when I first blogged (on myspace!) about Talledega Nights. I was so happy that somebody gave Reilly a chance to show his comedic chops. You can see the seeds of hilarity in his Paul Thomas Anderson films (especially "Boogie Nights" with the whole You've Got the Touch scene in the music studio). His humor is so understated (well, not now) that it's easy to see why people didn't think of him as a great comedic actor. I'm glad he's ventured into those roles. I still think his role in "Magnolia" is his best, though. He's the center of that great film.

  3. Can't wait to read these reviews - should be fun to go back and watch them as you do.

    And The Faculty better remain in your top ten. I actually remember watching that with you, most likely between an episode of Raw and The Knife Show.

  4. I'm looking forward to this! Finally you're talking about movies I've seen because you had me watch some of them back in the day.