The last year with the number 1 in front of it: a year of film in retrospect

    This year I saw 115 films in the theatres. The first 40 contained many reasons for me to stop seeing movies for the rest of my life. The last 40 gave me a reason to continue seeing and reviewing films. That reason is unexpectedness and originality. 

    My yearly venture into the cinema began with the torturous Virus. Then came a long string of what was frankly, crap. Such films as 200 Cigarettes, Wing Commander, The Mod Squad and Never Been Kissed filled the movie theatres earlier this year. At the same time they emptied the seats. I slowly dug tons and tons of mediocrity in Pushing Tin, the highly overrated Election. On the way I found some gems like Run Lola Run, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, both imports to America. Then starting in September with the amazing American beauty, a half year of terrible cinema was raised from the gutters by a a string of greats like Three Kings, and Magnolia. Here's my list of my top films of 1999:

1.American Beauty- American Beauty is the absolute masterpiece of American cinema in 1999. It perfectly combines the elements necessary for a masterpiece but it is truly perfect because it lives outside the walls of Hollywood formula. First time Writer Alan Ball and First Time Director Sam Mendes shock you, make you laugh and then keep you thinking for weeks after you see the movie. Even the people who told me they hated it could clearly define a reason. I hear a lot of, " It just sucked." That doesn't answer a question. The film was dark, edgy, and brutal. I love lashing out that Lester Burnham  (Kevin Spacey) hands out to the world. Spacey, the perfect middle aged man, stops his life and does a total 180. His actions fulfill the dreams of many Americans who wish they could just break out and end there just getting by life. His character has a midlife crisis that is truly solved. Amazing performances from the whole cast including Annette Bening, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper, Thora Birch, and Mena Savuri. American Beauty is the complete package.


2. Magnolia- P.T. Anderson's follow up to his critically acclaimed, eye-opening film Boogie Nights comes in the form of a beautiful thematic thesis on life. This film far surpasses his amazing last effort. Hopefully Mr. Anderson has still not peaked as a writer/ director. P.T. seems to get the best cast every time out. In Magnolia he has the best talent in Hollywood lined up ready and waiting to deliver his words of wisdom.  He's got Tom Cruise, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C.  Reilly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and more. I mean it's just not fair to everyone else. It is easier for you to see Magnolia then for me to explain it to you. It is the telling of multiple stories that all connect in the end involving a game show, a sexual seduction motivational speaker, a lonely cop, and an ex-whiz kid. All of this and an amazing soundtrack by Aimee Mann that perfectly suits the film. It was real close between this and American Beauty but American Beauty got the nod because this film runs a tad long at times. Still definitely worth sitting down and enjoying every minute of. All I have to say is when it rains, it pours.  

3. Fight Club- David Fincher (Se7en)'s brilliant satire of our world. Some people found it anarchist but most people skipped over this $75 million dollar masterpiece. The film says. "Do not talk about Fight Club". I will not talk about Fight Club. I'll just say it was full of great performances, great quotes, and just an incredible film.


4. Three Kings- David O' Russell's new age war film was savior to the eyes compared to the much more drawn out and longer war films of last year (Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line). The film is set at the end of the Gulf War in the middle east, George Clooney leads  a few men to a city of riches so these men can gain some reward for their work. Once they get their the men, one by one, receive heavy guilt trips and decide to help out the locals that are being harassed by Saddam's army. His compatriots are amazingly portrayed by Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze (who coincidentally directed Being John Malkovich). The use of different stocks of films and new thoughts on cinematography including an amazing cadaver scene which shows how a bullet kills a person on the inside, set this war film apart from the rest in their long history.

5. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels- This was basically the first great movie I saw this year. It was my number one of the year for about sixth months. Lock, Stock is a Pulp Fiction-like British import. It is a very funny, action movie about a four guys who lose a lot of money in a card game and have to find a way to make it back in a week. The rest of the greatness in the story comes from the highly comedic coincidences and mistaken identities that occur to everyone in the film. I loved first time director Guy Ritchie rough style. Shot an extremely small budget, uses the camera as a tool for story telling instead of special effects. I especially enjoyed a drinking scene in the film, that uses a lot of trick camera angles. The films style makes it a short but sweet British film that is very exciting and worth your while.   

6. Run Lola Run- This heart pounding, high octane tale of Lola was just the most perfectly structured movie that I saw this year. Lola is a fiery red headed female that has 20 minutes to find a lot o money that she doesn't have for her boyfriend. Director Tom Dwyer does an amazing job of putting this film together with hip MTV type editing, mixed with animation and just using his brain to figure out how to do things instead of using computers. The film portrays three 20 minute scenarios, these scenarios are actually 20 minutes not Hollywood 20 minutes. When you see, look out for what I like to call future in pictures. Each time Lola lets say bumps into someone, the director shows in pictures how this action will cause a chain reaction and effect many lives. Run Lola Run shows the importance of second. One second too early or too late and Lola could get hit by a car. These three scenarios are just so visually awesome. An intense, low budget, foreign action film from Germany who would have known this would be a great film. This film should definitely win best foreign film of the year. Lola plays out as more of a silent film, the dialogue is short but important. It is only used when necessary and important circumstances. 80 minutes of pure adrenaline that must be seen.


7. Being John Malkovich- This movie was one of the most ingenious movies I have ever seen. I saw it four times. I loved Malkovich since Dangerous Liaisons. Great script, great performances all around, so funny, so cool, and just an unstoppable force. Being John Malkovich is about a man who finds a portal to the brain of John Malkovich and decides to sell tickets. You can only go into Malkovich's brain for 15 minutes then you are spit out on the side of the Jersey Turnpike. Thank G-d this movie has been widely recognized for its genius.


8. Go- Doug Liman's follow up to his cult hit Swingers was just a brilliant peace of work. The showing of one night from many different perspectives starting at the same place. Sarah Polley puts in a phenomenal performance. Check out my review for a more comprehensive plot description. Great script, great film.


9. Sixth Sense- "I see dead people." said Haley Joel Osment in the huge breakout hit of the year. $250 million dollars plus. Haley is seeing a lot more than dead people now. He's seeing a possible Oscar nod and a ton of film offers. Bruce Willis in his best performance since 12 Monkeys. Check out my review for more on this one.


10(tie). The Matrix- It was a phenomenon, it has become a trilogy. The Matrix 2 and 3 are being filmed right now back to back When you saw the bullet, tell me your mouth didn't drop to the floor when you saw that. Quite possibly the greatest pure action scenes and definitely the most creative special effect movie in history. A perfect little mix of karate, guns and cool sunglasses made this movie so great. Full Review.


10(tie). South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut- What does South Park have to do with The Matrix? They are both groundbreaking and hopefully more to come. I'd love to see more great sci-fi action films and adult animation films. South Park is harsh, mean, and actually deals with real issues plus it had an amazing and very funny soundtrack. So, so funny. I actually bought that one.


Honorable Mention(not in order): 

The Winslow Boy- David Mamet's latest masterpiece is a tale of major case in merry old England of a young boy is kicked out of school for a crime he did not commit and his father (Nigel Hawthorne) who spends all his money to defend him. No one can do it like Mamet.

The Talented Mr. Ripley- A very cool, hip film that is suspenseful, scary and even gory at times. Matt Damon plays a psycho very well. Damon's 2nd good performance in a row after Dogma. Also impressive supporting performances by Jude Law and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

The Insider- A heart pounding real life Drama. Russell Crowe gives a great performance.

American Pie- Funny, funny, funny. Full Review.

The Limey- A very suave and cool film starring the talented British actor.  Terence Stamp has the greatest and least understandable British accent I have ever heard. So cool so mean and great direction by Out of Sight's Steven Soderbergh. 

Bringing Out The Dead- Nicholas Cage gives an amazing performance as the stressed out medic with multiple partners like John Goodman, Tom Sizemore, and Ving Rhames. Great cinematography. Full Review here.

The Thomas Crowne Affair- The most pure happy movie this year. No one can possibly get in trouble. It's so happy. The heist scenes are just so smooth and suave. It's worth seeing just for a great ending. Rene Russo is very hot in this film.

Payback- Mel Gibson is the bad guy. So mean, very enjoyable. Full Review here.

Princess Mononoke- Amazing animation, Claire Danes' voice ruined my some of the scenes for me. I wish this would have done well so we could get some more Japanese animation in theatres in the US.

- just a real funny movie. Jason Lee was great.


, Dogma- These movies were supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread. They might be the best thing since Wing Commander but that means nothing.


Special Nod- Trekkies and Galaxy Quest- Two movies that parodied the Trekkies to the max. One is a low budget highly funny documentary about the lengths the true "Star Trek" fans go to for their love. Galaxy Quest is a very comedic parody of these fans. Tim Allen goes on an alien ship thinking it is a fan ship when it is a true space ship. He played a captain on TV but the aliens didn't know that and thought he was a true captain. A very clever film and a huge surprise for me at the end of the year.


Biggest Disappointment: Happy, Texas- What was Miramax thinking. $10 million dollars for a movie about a elementary beauty pageant used as a cover for two runaway criminals. We'll pass on Blair Witch and it's $150 million dollar gross and take this stinker. Good decision making.

Mediocrity Award: Pushing Tin- The prototypical mediocre movie. Great cast (John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton,  Angelina Jolie, and her bare breasts), good story idea, terrible execution. The movie just turns into every other movie of the #1 guy versus the hot new guy. Just pitiful.

And there you have it. Look here next week for the worst movies of '99 and in two weeks... The Best Film of the 90's List.


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