Every year we are greeted with at least one good film, a single entry into the world of cinema that not only redefines the idea and creative process of a major motion picture but also challenges an audience to rediscover why they go to the movies in the first place.
In recent years, however, this notion of at least one great film being released, one that will stand the test of time, has gone out the window and paved the way for good films that become better amongst the dullness of their peers.
But it wasn’t so long ago that a single year could produce more than one film that could be put on a shelf amongst the greats. The most recent example is 2007, with “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” standing proud as prime exhibits of creative force and the possibilities of a year in film that shines a light on more than one masterpiece. But even these seemed two amongst thousands in an otherwise standard year.
So now we will look at a year when great directors had the chance to make worthwhile films that dig deep into the human condition and are truly set as standards for all films and filmmakers to come. Years like this don’t happen often but when they do it is impossible not to notice. This is 1999, a banner year in cinema.
5. American Beauty
Sam Mendes’ Oscar winner has gotten some bad press as of late, with critics and audiences doubting the validity of the pitch black take on suburban life. But if you watch the film and get involved in the lives of Lester Burnham, his wife Carolyn and their daughter Jane you will find a rare and unbelievably moving demonstration of a film that works on every single level.
From Alan Ball’s perfectly adept script to Conrad Hall’s sweeping and evocative cinematography, “American Beauty” is a true film that handles character development and heavy themes with equally delicate and tasteful panache, making it a film hard to forget yet easy to watch over and over again, letting its inherent beauty wash over you as too few films are capable of doing.
4. Being John Malkovich
Heady, psychotic, self involved, these are all terms that could be attributed to screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s career, but the film that started it all was “Being John Malkovich”. With the unbelievable trippy and creative plot, Kaufman has created a world unmatched by any in cinema’s history, and aided by the understated and fluent direction of Spike Jonze, the film soars into realms of undeniable psychosis, touching on facets of the human condition that are a part of us all.
From love to betrayal, from artistry to the downtrodden nature of an artist, Jonze and Kaufman navigate their way through an engrossing plot of a man who finds a portal to John Malkovich’s brain and uses it to not only initiate his own dreams of being a famous puppeteer, but also to propel the dreams of others, who simply want the experience of walking in another man’s shoes, if only for fifteen minutes. It is true craft and the craftsmen must be commended.
3. Fight Club
Everyone knows the first rule of Fight Club and maybe that’s why it took so long for audiences to catch on to the socially slighting humor of David Fincher’s “Fight Club”. Though now almost thirteen years later this film defines cult classics, it was largely lost on American audiences upon its release.
The film is visceral, unrelenting and poaches on every standard we have adapted into our society, creating a cleverly disguised social commentary on the diminished and beaten state of our being. Fincher has set into motion a story ever unfolding and one that plays with your mind and your values even after you have seen it a hundred times. It is a rare example where a film matches, or even outshines, its source material, creating a universe wholly cinematic and forever engrained into the lives and memories of its fans.
Paul Thomas Anderson is without a doubt one of the premiere filmmakers of our time. He only releases films every few years, taking his time to mold the story and shape his characters not by other people’s standards but by his own. And perhaps the prime example of PTA’s workmanship and his unrelenting dedication to film-making is “Magnolia”, his sprawling epic of coincidence and fate amongst a group of people living in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley.
There are a multitude of characters, all of whom are richly defined in their motives and actions, and who are all loosely connected to one another whether they know it or not. Anderson’s work is always beautiful to uncover and this is perhaps his most intrinsic undertaking, with each piece of the story bridging to the next but not always in an obvious manner. It is a very controlled film that never gets away from him and becomes more and more involved and provocative with every viewing.
1. Three Kings
Writer/director David O. Russell was an independent filmmaker before starting “Three Kings”, a film riddled with internal and creative struggles. While the off screen battles between O’Russell and star George Clooney have been rolled into that of legend, the film itself seems unaffected by any tensions mounting on set.
It is a well-executed film about four soldiers in the boring and sandy days of the Persian Gulf War who happen upon a map leading to a stash of gold stolen from Kuwait. The film is evocative of the lackluster time that was the Persian Gulf “War”, and the off-branch humor and soulful interplay between the lead actors lends the film a touch of comedy amongst the atrocious horrors of the time. “Three Kings” is powerful, funny, touching and endlessly enjoyable to watch, racking up another point for 1999.
Interesting note: Spike Jonze, who was one of the leads in “Three Kings” spent much of his time flying back and forth between O’Russell’s set and Jonze’s own editing bay where he was putting the final touches on “Being John Malkovich”.
Other greats from 1999
While it would be great to explore all of the great films of 1999, there is only so much space on the internet, so we must relegate the rest to honorable mentions, which by no means lowers the impact or credibility of the film.
- Galaxy Quest
- The Matrix
- The Sixth Sense
- Office Space
- The Iron Giant