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January 21, 2000

The Best Movies of 1999

1999 has truly been a great year for movies. Maybe there was something in the drinking water in Hollywood, maybe it was fear of an imminent apocalypse, or maybe just a lucky coincidence, but 1999 turned out to be one of the best movie years of the decade. We saw the return (and unfortunate death) of master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, return of modern "mythmaker" George Lucas (who unfortunately didn't die), and new films from such accomplished directors as Scorsese and Oliver Stone.

But despite the return of the old masters, 1999 will be primarily remembered as a year of innovation, with new talents making themselves heard (and making money doing so). Brand new names such as Sam Mendes, Spike Jonze, M. Night Shyamalan, and only semi-established directors such as David Fincher and P.T. Anderson made their names known by doing new and interesting plots rather than recycling old standards.

This list is solely MY list of what I saw and enjoyed. This is not a list of the top money makers from this past year, and it is not a list of what most critics liked best. And this list is by no means comprehensive. There is most likely a lot of talent out there that I missed. However, since I've seen about a movie per week this past year (I have 42 ticket stubs since this past March, to 29 different movies), partially because of this column, and partially because of my extreme geekiness, this is a fairly comprehensive list.

1. MAGNOLIA: Words cannot express how incredible this movie is. The acting is flawless, from the principal characters down to the smallest extra. The direction and cinematography is incredible. The script is pure gold. This is what I look for when I go to the movies. This movie, about a loosely connected group of people on one hectic day that includes everything from murders to a biblical plague, has to be seen to be believed.
2. AMERICAN BEAUTY: Until I saw "Magnolia" last week, "American Beauty" was a shoe-in for best of the year. Deservedly a top Oscar contender for nearly everything, this tale about a Lester Burnham's fall and redemption features incredible performances by Kevin Spacey, Wes Bentley, and Annette Bening, beautiful cinematography, and a tagline "Look Closer" that's more than just a marketing ploy. This movie finds beauty in a plastic bag, murder, and corporate America, and left me more aware of how much our mundane lives should be cherished.
3. FIGHT CLUB: "Fight Club" is the illegitimate child of "Taxi Driver", "A Clockwork Orange", and "Catcher in the Rye" for the post-modern world. It's an anti-capitalist satire that cost $70 million to make, and stars Hollywood poster boys Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. At first, it sounds like a bad joke; in retrospect, it's a very good joke. This movie subverts and twists our ordinary perceptions on what movies should do; it is simultaneously intellectual and incredibly visceral. But most importantly, it is incredibly entertaining.
4. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH: It still shocks me that this movie was ever even made. "Being John Malkovich" is probably the most messed up surreal movie that I've ever seen. The script is just pure brilliance, examining gender roles, the nature of love, our fascination with celebrity, and relationships with insane intelligence. It shouldn't have worked, but it did. This is the most dementedly brilliant movie of the year.
5. (tie) THE SIXTH SENSE / THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT: It was a good year for horror, and these two movies were by far the best of the lot, despite being polar opposites. "The Sixth Sense" featured beautiful cinematography, shocking visuals, and impressive acting (especially by young Haley Joel Osment), while "Blair Witch Project" was roughly shot, showed virtually nothing, and has received a fair amount of criticism for the acting caliber. These very different films had one thing in common though: they scared the crap out of me. My theory for why The Blair Witch Project had so much negative feedback is that the movie required two things of us. It required us to know that it was a fake, that the actions of the characters was artifice, but it also required us to suspend that disbelief and enter their world with them.
6. THE MATRIX: I liked this one a lot better than I expected. Science fiction is a notorious genre for movies, with a lot more schlock being produced than not. Add to that mix Keanu Reeves, and there's a definite possibility for disaster…which didn't happen. Taking cues from everything from comic books to the ultraviolent Hong Kong films of John Woo, the Wachowski Brothers created a stylish, intelligent, and extremely cool action movie. Whoa.
7. (tie) GO / ELECTION: Two movies about kids that weren't really for kids. "Go" is a hyperkinetic look at one incredibly odd amoral Christmas Eve, interweaving three stories into one tight hilarious narrative that leaves no threads hanging. "Election" is a wicked satire of a high school student body president election. Viciously funny with great performances by Matthew Broderick, Chris Klein, and Reese Witherspoon. These two films are not for everyone, especially those who object to amoral or blatantly immoral characters, but some will find them hilarious. I did.
8. IRON GIANT: In the year of Tarzan, Toy Story 2, and South Park, one cartoon movie was overlooked by nearly everyone. Directed and written by Brad Bird, an ex-Simpsons executive, this gorgeously animated film about a boy and his giant robot at the height of the Cold War is probably one of the best sentimental movies of all time.
9. DOGMA: Not Kevin Smith's best movie (that title still goes to "Chasing Amy"), but his most ambitious film. Although Catholic groups objected to the satirical nature of the movie, this (slightly overlong) epic is actually wholeheartedly pro-God. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are the standouts in the cast as angels trying to return to heaven by any means necessary.
10. LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS: Excellent camera work, distinctly individual characters, and a hilarious script turned what could have been a Tarantino ripoff into one of the funniest movies of the year. This film also has the best ending I've seen this year.


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