Sunday, July 26, 2009

Revisiting 1999: The Top 10 Films of the Year, an Introduction

Hallelujah! The top 10 is near!

Here's what I've covered so far:

Intro: My Year at "Film School"
The (sorta) Forgettable Films
The Films That Just Don't Hold Up
When Bad Movies Happen to Good Directors

The Forgotten Gems of 1999:
The War Zone (Tim Roth)
Sunshine (István Szabó)
Beyond the Mat (Barry W. Blaustein)
Galaxy Quest (Dean Parisot)
Mumford (Lawrence Kasdan)
Bowfinger (Frank Oz)
Cookie's Fortune (Robert Altman)
Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton)
The Iron Giant (Brad Bird)
October Sky (Joe Johnston)
Election (Alexander Payne)

So, here we are. Finally we’re at the end of this long journey. Yeah, it’s been long, but so worth it. I’ve really enjoyed revisiting these titles from 1999 (I did re-watch all but a few of them that weren’t available on DVD), and this project has only cemented the fact that I think 1999 is the best year for film that I’ve ever experienced. Almost all of these movies I got to see in the theater, and whenever you have a year where movies by the likes of Sydney Pollack (Random Hearts), David Fincher (Fight Club), and Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut) range from terrible to forgettable, then that’s a strong year. Now I know I’m in the minority on the Kubrick, but my hope is that you’ll share your lists for the best films of 1999 in the comments section. I am obviously inspired here by my good friends Sam Juliano and his partner in crime Allan Fish of the phenomenal blog Wonders in the Dark, and Ric Burke who also has had great success compiling lists from fellow bloggers with his wonderfully entertaining Counting Down the Zeroes project. So…see what’s on my mind after the jump…

I’m curious what your list is for the ten best films of 1999, and what you think of this particular year in film in general. Just go ahead and post your lists in the comments section, and go tell all your friends to participate too…it should be a lot of fun.

Here’s where things get tricky as they tend to be with any year-end list…I’m talking about release dates. Go by whatever criteria you go by. I tend to think of masterpieces like The Thin Red Line, Rushmore and Gods and Monsters, which are sometimes thought of as 1999 films, as 1998 films. Other great films associated with 1999 like Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and The Virgin Suicides I consider 2000 films. So, my list may look a lot different than yours, but that could also be due to the fact that I live in a rather small city, so we don’t get smaller films until they’re well into their theatrical runs.

I’ve explained already why this year resonates so much with me, but I think it’s more than just the amount of quality films that were released…this is the year I attribute to me becoming a really serious filmgoer…a cinephile if you will. This is where the seeds were planted and my passion for film has been growing ever since. I’m always learning something new, and when I re-watch these films for the second or third, or sometimes tenth, time in the next month I am sure that I will look back with great fondness, because the films that occupy my top 10 list are the perfect metaphor for the beginning stages of my cinephilia.

1999 saw fresh young faces in Hollywood, young directors like: David O. Russell (Three Kings), Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia), Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich); faces that weren’t necessarily fresh, but were relatively new like Steven Soderbergh (The Limey) and the Dardenne Brothers (Rosetta); and old masters like Martin Scorsese (Bringing Out the Dead), Paul Schrader (Affliction), Michael Mann (The Insider), and Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley); and finally Chris Smith (American Movie), who made one of the most memorable documentaries about the passion needed to accomplish your dreams.

All of these filmmakers are the perfect metaphor for what I’m talking about…and what do I mean by that? Well, the young filmmakers were offering up something different, something Hollywood hasn’t seen since the glory days in the 60’s and 70’s when directors were given creative control. Hollywood's output had become banal (with exception of some of the older names on this list like Scorsese, Schrader, and Mann), and people were seeking the Indies to give them what they wanted; however, in 1999 filmmakers like David Russell and Paul Thomas Anderson were all working within the studio system, infiltrating that system with the Indie mentality, and by doing so were creating some of the most innovative and memorable films that I’ve ever seen.

I had just started becoming a cinephile, and as a senior in high school it only seemed apt that my new found passion for studying film – I mean really looking at what film says and how it can make us look at our world differently – coincided with this resurgence in Hollywood. That is why I look back at 1999 so fondly – not just because there are insane amounts of brilliant films, but for nostalgic reasons too – for reasons that are totally subjective, and thus make my whole journey here selfish. I just hope that you’ve enjoyed these reviews and re-thinking about some of these films as much as I have. Now the hard part begins…

This is where the whole ranking thing becomes so arbitrary…I mean how in the hell do I justify placing Magnolia, a film that speaks to my soul like few films have, over Bringing Out the Dead, a misunderstood masterpiece from a master of American cinema? How do I place one of the best films from one of my favorite filmmakers, The Insider, over the Palm d’Or winning Rosetta?

I could go on with example after example from this incredible year in film. It’s impossible to justify any of these choices being above the others, so just know that I would gladly take these ten with me to a desert island. Forget the numbers, in fact, and focus on the sheer amount of Quality found in each of these films, and stop and think and see if you conjure up another year in cinema within the last 20 years that compares to 1999. Also, all of these films hold such a special place in my heart – it’s almost impossible to think that I could pick one as being better than another.

But so it is with list-making…yes, it’s an arbitrary exercise, but a fun one. So what will follow starting at the end of August will be the same formula that I used for the “forgotten films” project. Every Monday I will post a new entry in my top 10. I am really excited about re-watching these films, and I hope you’ll share my excitement as perhaps a film I highlight here will prompt you to revisit some of these modern classics.

Here’s a list of other films that I liked from 1999 that I haven’t yet mentioned in this project: All About My Mother, The Big Kahuna, In Dreams, The Matrix, Office Space, Run Lola Run, Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, The Straight Story, The Thirteenth Floor, Topsy-Turvy, The Winslow Boy.

In case you didn’t notice, I strategically named 10 films (plus one for fun which was Burton’s Sleepy Hollow) as the “Forgotten Gems”. These are ten films I would consider a worthy addendum to the list I’m about unveil over the next couple of months: Beyond the Mat, Bowfinger, Cookie’s Fortune, Election, Galaxy Quest, The Iron Giant, Mumford, October Sky, Sunshine, The War Zone.

So...Starting August 24th I will post the first entry for my top 10…I hope you all stop by for that. As for now…what are your thoughts on the year 1999? What are your top 10 films for 1999?


  1. I agree that 1999 was an exceptional year. A real explosion of talent both young and old as you point out. As far my picks... tough, but:

    1. The Insider
    2. Eyes Wide Shut
    3. The Limey
    4. The Talented Mr. Ripley
    5. Magnolia
    6. Three Kings
    7. Being John Malkovich
    8. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
    9. Office Space
    10. The Matrix

  2. What a great list, J.D.

    We agree on 6 out of 10 there, and I have to say that it doesn't surprise me at all to see the masterful The Insider atop your list. Like I mentioned in the blog post, I consider Ghost Dog a 2000 film, but it was on my top 10 for that year, too. I love that you give Office Space some much needed love. I never get tired of that movie, but I just couldn't find a place for it in the top 10...and it really didn't fit as one of the titles for the "forgotten films" section I did, so I couldn't highlight it there...I had no way of talking about it in this project, so I'm glad you mention it here in your top 10.

    Thanks for contributing.

  3. Thanks! Yeah, I love OFFICE SPACE dearly. It is a film that has only improved with age and one of the few comedies that I can put on almost any time and enjoy it. And yeah, not too surprising that I ranked THE INSIDER #1, eh? heh.

  4. Office Space, especailly when compared to the other comedies from 1999, has definitely aged well. I think Mike Judge's film along with Martin's Bowfinger and Payne's Election stand as proof that all of the gross-out comedies of 1999 didn't ruin the genre, and that intelligent satire was still being produced.

    I'd be curious to see what order you place Michael Mann's films in...

  5. this WAS a great year. so heck I'll do 20:

    1. Magnolia
    1. (tie) The Thin Red Line
    3. The Straight Story
    4. Titus (best production design)
    5. Fight Club
    6. Eyes Wide Shut
    7. The Talented Mr. Ripley
    8. All About My Mother (favorite foreign film)
    9. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
    10. Rosetta
    11. The Matrix
    12. eXistenZ
    13. The Insider
    14. Office Space
    15. Election
    16. Bringing Out the Dead (my favorite soundtrack of the year)
    17. Run Lola Run
    18. The Virgin Suicides
    19. American Beauty
    20. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
    21. Payback (fun pick, love 'Point Blank' so I didn't mind this remake/rehash)

    I was a senior in HS in '99 and I worked at a movie theater, so I saw A LOT of free movies that year, just about everything that was in theaters.

  6. Huge gaffes on my part.

    forgot 'The Limey' (i'd put that at 17 and slide 'Run Lola Run' and the rest down a spot), and 'American Movie' (i'd put that at 6 and move everything on down from there, so I guess 'The Limey' is actually 18).

    urgh, i'll just repost tomorrow when i'm fresher.

  7. Jamie:

    Thanks for submitting your list. I really like the films you have on there. I was a senior in HS in 1999, too, and I worked at a video store, so I was in the same boat as you where I saw pretty much everything that came out that year.

    A lot of the films on your list I've talked about in the other sections of this project. Great stuff...thanks for contributing so wonderfully to this comment thread.

    Oh, and I'm with ya on the Bringing Out the Dead soundtrack. I think that film, not The Departed, is the one film he's released since Goodfellas that rivals anything he made in the 70's/80's. I liked The Departed, but I think it's a tad overrated, and I'll always defend the greatness of Scorsese's 1999 film. I've always felt that Bringing Out the Dead has been unfairly snubbed, and I'm sure some will think I'm crazy when they see how highly I rank it in my top 10.

  8. Kevin J. Olson:

    "I'd be curious to see what order you place Michael Mann's films in..."

    Oh man, that is a tough one. Lemme see:

    1. The Insider
    2. Thief
    3. Heat
    4. Manhunter
    5. Collateral
    6. Ali
    7. Miami Vice
    8. Public Enemies
    9. The Last of the Mohicans
    10. The Keep

  9. Interesting list J.D., and I'm sure you would agree with me that your list, like mine, could change any day. Here's mine:

    1. Manhunter
    2. The Insider
    3. Heat
    4. Miami Vice
    5. Thief
    6. Collateral
    7. The Last of the Mohicans
    8. The Keep
    9. Ali
    10. Public Enemies (just because I need some more time for it to establish itself)

  10. 1. Magnolia
    1. (tie) The Thin Red Line
    3. The Straight Story
    4. Titus (best production design)
    5. Fight Club
    6. American Movie
    7. Eyes Wide Shut
    8. The Talented Mr. Ripley
    9. All About My Mother (favorite foreign film)
    10. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
    11. Rosetta
    12. The Matrix
    13. eXistenZ
    14. The Insider
    15. Office Space
    16. Election
    17. The Limey
    18. Bringing Out the Dead (my favorite soundtrack of the year)
    19. Run Lola Run
    20. The Virgin Suicides
    21. American Beauty
    22. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
    23. Payback (fun pick, love 'Point Blank' so I didn't mind this remake/rehash)

    there, corrected.

    Kevin, I agree with your kind words for 'Bringing Out the Dead'. To me Scorsese's best film post-'Goodfellas' (or should I say post 'Cape Fear' as I prefer 'Cape Fear' to 'Goodfellas', and it came out just a year later or so) is 'Kundun'. But yes, I would take 'BOtD' over 'The Departed' if I had both in front of me to watch again.

    Though, my Scorsese opinions run somewhat different; my favorite thing he's ever done is 'Life Lessons' the 60 minute film from the 'New York Stories' compilation film (though after that I'd say 'Taxi Driver' so that's pretty standard).

    All this talk of 'The Insider' makes me want to see that again, as the only time I did was in the theater when in came out 10 years ago. perhaps that's why it only sits at #14. I'll bump it to the top of my queue right now...

  11. Yes, The Insider is one of the best films of 1999, and one Mann's premier films. I also love that you placed Paycheck on your list. I really liked that one, too. Thanks for sending in your refined list. Looks good.

  12. Kevin J. Olson:

    Nice list! You're right, my list changes all the time. I loved that you ranked MANHUNTER #1. Great film...

    As for PAYBACK, have you seen the Director's Cut? It is soooo much better than the theatrical cut.

  13. I have seen the director's cut of Payback, and I think it's cool that Gibson let Helgeland release that version. They basically were at odds about the ending, so Gibson said "you shoot your version, and I'll shoot mine". I wonder if there was some resentment there from Helgeland, but regardless, it's rare for a mega star/producer to be so okay with another version being out there.

    I think Gibson may have known his version would make the most money and Helgeland's would be the "better" movie...who knows.

  14. Jamie, THE THIN RED LINE is actually 1998, but regardless it's a great choice for any year.

    My Top 10 of 1999:

    1 Magnolia (Anderson)
    2 The Wind Will Carry Us (Kiarostami)
    3 Rosetta (Dardennes)
    4 All About My Mother (Almodovar)
    5 Girl on the Bridge (Leconte)
    6 Time Regained (Ruiz)
    7 Election (Payne)
    8 Titus (Taymor)
    9 American Beauty (Mendes)
    10 Cider House Rules (Hallstrom)

  15. OK, I forgot THE LIMEY, which would be at #5

  16. Sam:

    Those are some great choices you have there. I haven't seen The Wind Will Carry Us or Time Regained. I stupidly omitted Girl on the Bridge from my honorable mentions list. I love Locante's films. I put Man on the Train on my top 10 for 2004.

    Anyway, as you know I don't much care for American Beauty anymore, but it is a beautiful film to look at. Same goes for the awe-inspiring sets of Julie Taymor's Titus.

    I'm glad that Magnolia tops your list. It's certainly one of the most memorable films of the 90's.

    Thanks for chiming in with your fantastic list, Sam!

  17. I, too, have also always felt 1999 was a very special year. Looking back on it, some of those films originally thought of as masterpieces don't hold up so well...but what makes 1999 so unique and well regarded is that it that the overall quality of films released was overwhelmingly top notch. You make good note of the emergence of some great talents and it was a mini-renaissance year for the "independent" films --- but it's also very notable that much of the high-end Hollywood stuff (take for instance, THE MATRIX) was uncommonly good and more imaginative than the typical dreck that floods the multiplexes. Even the bad movies from 1999 were entertaining and different...take for instance DEEP BLUE SEA.

    One can debate the lasting impressions from the more heralded films from that year (many of which have been mentioned here)...but I think just overall, filmmakers both good and bad were on their A-game and out to entertain in 1999 and for whatever reason studios were willing to take more chances that year (maybe it was a what-hell-Y2K is coming mentality that allowed for this). I wish they could re-capture some of that magic 2009 is shaping up something awful (though it's still very early and there have been a few unexpected bright spots).

  18. David:

    Thanks for stopping by the blog! I'm glad you share my enthusiasm for 1999. You're right that even the dreck seemed to be pretty entertaining stuff (and it's funny that you mention Deep Blue Sea as I mentioned that in some previous entries about 1999, which are linked at the beginning of this blog post).

    Yes, 2009 is just kind of chuggin' along, but the amount of quality films that are sure to hit theaters in the fall/winter I'm sure will change everyone's view that that this has been a bad year for movies.

    Thanks again for stopping by!

  19. in my life time, 1999 may be second for all movie years... behind only 2007.

    that year featured 'Eastern Promises', 'There Will Be Blood', 'No Country for Old Men', 'Michael Clayton', 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly', 'The Lives of Others', 'Lust, Caution', '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days', 'La Vie en Rose', 'This is England', 'The Departed', 'The Last King of Scotland', 'Paranoid Park', 'Atonement', 'The Counterfeiters', 'Zodiac', 'Death Proof', 'Waitress', 'Rescue Dawn', 'the Darjeeling Limited', 'In the Valley of Elah', and 'Gone Baby Gone', 'Rendition'

    even the more entertainment oriented stuff was good ('Pan's Labyrinth', 'The Mist', 'Ocean's Thirteen', 'Bourne Ultimatum', Sweeney Todd', 'Shooter', '300'--which i loathed but liked to look at--, '28 weeks later', 'Feast of Love', '3:10 to Yuma', 'Shoot 'Em Up', 'American Gangster', 'Charlie Wilson's War', and 'The Orphanage')

    I mean jesus thats a stacked year.

  20. Yes. 2007 Was a great year for movies. My top 10 for that year went something like this:

    1. Zodiac
    2. No Country For Old Men
    3. Eastern Promises
    4. Michael Clayton
    5. Breach
    6. Into Great Silence
    7. Knocked Up
    8. There Will Be Blood
    9. The Orphanage
    10. Gone Baby Gone

    However, I could easily construct another 10 from that year:

    11. Atonement
    12. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
    13. Paranoid Park
    14. Bug
    15. Inland Empire
    16. [Rec]
    17. The Lookout
    18. The Hoax
    19. Talk to Me
    20. The Simpson's Movie

    And there were a lot more, as you mention. I think it's a toss-up, but for personal significance I'll take 1999.

    Also, release dates cause problems here again with limited releases and foreign films -- I actually consider Pan's Labyrinth to be a 2006 film...and not just the best film of that year, but probably the best film of the decade...but we'll wait for the inevitable end-of-the-decade list.

  21. Kevin, 'Inland Empire' is a 2006 film, I know this as I'd put it very high for that year.

    Interesting your fandom for both 'Knocked Up' and 'Pan's Labyrinth'. I would not put either of those film's anywhere near a top list. I understand the 'PL' pick as it has many fans, I prefer earlier works like 'The Devil's Backbone' or 'Cronos' (if I have to pick a del Toro as all).

    different strokes for different folks, is all one can say!

  22. I love early Del Toro, too. Heck, I loved Mimic, but Pan's Labyrinth is so damn impressive from both an aesthetic and narrative stand point. It's Del Toro's 8 1/2, and he even mentions that masterful film (which also blurs the lines of fantasy and reality) as a major influence in one of the special features on the DVD.

    Also, I'm pretty unapologetic in my love for all things Judd Apatow. I'm really looking forward to Funny People (Adam Sandler be damned) as I think Apatow is one of the freshest voices comedy has seen in quite some time. Basically its him and the guys from The State. But that's the kind of comedy I dig, and I understand that it's not for everyone. I mean I could watch Wet Hot American Summer 20 more times and still think it's hilarious.

  23. Jamie (and Kevin) -- I also contend that 2007 was one of the best years for film in my lifetime. Right now I would probably have it out-rank 1999, though it's very close and the films from 2007 are still fresher in my mind so that might cause a bias (BTW -- THERE WILL BE BLOOD would be my top pick...for the year and the decade -- and it would probably make my top ten all time...I LOVE THAT FILM).

    1996 (Fargo, The English Patient, Secrets & Lies, Breaking the Waves) was also a fantastic and memorable year...though I'm not sure the quality ran as deep and as wide as in 1999 and 2007.

    At any rate...fantastic posts and discussions here...I will be adding you to my blogroll!

  24. David:

    Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the conversation. I loved 1996, too, but you're right when you say that the breadth of films from that year don't quite stack up to the sheer quality found in 1999 and 2007.

    I'll be looking at your blog more closely tonight...although I have to admit that I am skipping all reviews of The Hurt Locker until I see it.

    Thanks again for your interest in the blog. I look forward to seeing you around here again!