The Best of 1999: It's surprise time again!Feb 15, 2000 (Updated Apr 10, 2003) Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line All but two of Macresarf1's Best Films of 1999 examine some aspect of American life. Some of the best of them went largely unseen.
Looking back on the films of 1999, I can only say two things: 1) I should keep a list of the films I see; 2) I can't pick films I haven't seen. I should have taken in the animation films. I didn't. I meant to go to THE STRAIGHT STORY, THE END OF THE AFFAIR, GO, THE FIGHT CLUB, etc. I didn't do that either.
And so, at the risk of making you laugh or snarl, my list contains a few surprises:
10. DROP DEAD, GORGEOUS. This kind of film has been done before, notably by Michael Ritchie (SMILE, 1975) and in Holly Hunter's foray into TV (. . . CHEERLEADING MURDERING MOM, 1993), but it is always good to ponder why small and large town America sells their daughters to the White (and now Equal Opportunity) Slave Traders of the Beauty Contests. Cliched but very funny. The image of Ellen Barkin's hand seared in the shape of that Coor's Beer Can gives it a place of honor on my list.
9. THE OTHER SISTER. While some might feel the film exploits the situation of the -- what is the PC term? -- Mentally Challenged, I thought here was a fairy tale, with an unconventional princess (Juliet Lewis -- does anyone give her credit?), that carves out for all the not-so-beautiful people a place in the sun, at least for an hour or two.
8. TOPSY-TURVY. I am not crazy about Mike Leigh. I was not so crazy about this film as many critics. However, I felt the superb mis-en-scene, the conflict between Gilbert and Sullivan's personal and professional lives plus the period staging and lighting of the plays -- although elements did not always mesh -- made TOPSY-TURVY one of the year's best.
7a. THREE KINGS. This film was an awkward homage to GUNGA DIN (1939) in which Cary Grant was played by George Clooney and Ice Cube replaced Victor McLaglen, with a Hum-vee for Annie the Elephant. Still, the conceit of America replacing British Imperialism east of Suez -- plus the unique sight of Middle Easterners shown as sympathetic individuals in an American movie -- puts this film on my list.
7b. THE HURRICANE. Like 7a., this bio-pic of Black Boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was awkward, specifically in its depiction of its villainous racist detective (Dan Hadaya) and the three good samaritans who befriend the film's young catalyst Lesra. The former is overdone and the latter underdone. (Debra Kara Unger, who can carry strong roles, is given but a glance to suggest that her character later, for a time, married Carter. And pity or praise Lieb Schreiber. Three months ago he played Orson Welles; two months ago he opened as Hamlet on Broadway; last month he was a thinly written benefactor here; and then he was a nondescript character in SCREAM 3.) However, Denzel Washington's nuanced portrayal of Carter's spiritual pilgrimage in a basically true story, and his warm relationship to young Leszra, makes THE HURRICANE one of the year's best films.
6. THE LIMEY. Soderbergh's time-shifting look at the slimy LA music scene through a grieving, puritanical eyes of an English career criminal was one of the leanest, sharpest, more original films of 1999. Outstanding are Terence Stamp, the redemptive crook avenging his dead daughter, and Peter Fonda as a 1970's Flower Power Musician who fell in to it -- and continued sinking for 25 years!
5. AMERICAN BEAUTY and MAGNOLIA. Both these films are ambitious attempts to show us where we are as Americans. They tie at #5 because their strengths and weaknesses cancel each other out. The former is ironic and lean about American suburban life but glib in style, a bit too satisfied with itself. Spacey and Bening struggle gamely with stereotypical, underwritten roles while young stars-of-the-future shine as the teenage children. MAGNOLIA, on the other hand, is as earnest and deeply felt as AMERICAN BEAUTY is glib, but sprawling and a little self-indulgent.
4. CRADLE WILL ROCK. Here people will laugh, snarl or go, Huh? And while I agree the film lurched to a halt, inexplicably, every 20 minutes, and that Tim Robbins gores everyones ox gratuitously, no other 1999 film showed, through a meditation on Art, how America's pre-World War II Labor past led us to our sorry Yuppie present. The brilliant idea that our Arts, since 1937, have been processed to remove all but primitive content, and packaged to sell their glitz and sizzle, puts the film at Big #4 on my roster.
3. CELEBRATION. This Danish import follows the long course of a yearly birthday party for the restauranteur patriarch of a spectacularly dysfunctional family. Abused sons get equal time with abused daughters at last in this black comedy about Middle Class Life. Highly original. Not for the squeamish!
2. THE INSIDER. What does it say about America that we have no major movie about gun manufacture or prescription drug labs, and that a serious film concerning our criminal tobacco industry does just mediocre business? Hmm, see CRADLE WILL ROCK above! Despite its bifurcated shape, THE INSIDER creates a powerful study of how Big Tobacco controls its own Executive Leadership and influences the highest levels of our Media and Government. Don't talk of the lack of serious American movies if you haven't seen THE INSIDER.
1. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. Original, funny, thoughtful, Cosmic.... This film is an unique Swiftian satire on the absurdity and monotony of American life and our desire to escape ourselves. If you didn't get it, better see a shrink! It provides a right or left bookend for almost every other film on my list.
If you haven't seen these ten (12!), please do.
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