Top 10 Best Movies of 1999
10 - Trick
The best romantic comedy of the year just happens to be a gay-themed one. Don't let that stop you from enjoying this little film from newcomer director Jim Fall. The music ranks among the year's worst, but apart from that, the film is sheer exuberance and fun. A spoof of the musical genre while also holding it up as a superior form of entertainment, trick makes you forget all your problems for two hours. Watching two men try to find a place to shack up for the evening doesn't sound like great entertainment, but the film has a magical charm that works wonders. Christian Campbell is perfectly cast as the shy but loveable lead, and Tori Spelling gives her best performance to date as a hysterically inept actress. It's the cast that makes the film work, all led by Fall's easygoing direction.
9 - Arlington Road
Released in the summer season, this film got ignored by the vast majority of moviegoers, perhaps fearing the terrorist messages it contains. However, Arlington Road is one of the most horrific, shocking films I've ever seen, climaxing to a point of shuddering horror that calls into question our own safety as Americans. Mark Pellington directs the powerful screenplay by Ehren Krueger to virtual perfection. The film casts such a grim look at our society that it isn't hard to see why it might leave viewers depressed. Reminiscent of the Oklahoma City bombing and the events that followed, this film strikes fear in the heart of any American who sees it. It's a warning to not take everything for granted. This is a stunning achievement from mainstream Hollywood.
8 - The Sixth Sense
Bringing majestic qualities back to the horror genre, M. Night Shyamalan has created a fascinating character study disguised as a horror film. The surprise ending is the year's best, and warrants another viewing just to figure it all out. Shyamalan directs the film with such assuredness that it's easy to look over the logic gaps in the plot. However, his film is more about atmosphere and mood, and he creates a stunningly creepy film that suggests more than it shows. Bruce Willis gives a nice, understated performance here, but it is Toni Collette and Haley Joel Osment that make the film work. Collette is brilliant as Osment's mother, giving a sad and beautiful performance that should launch her a solid career in Hollywood. Osment, however, is the one to watch, giving what is probably the best supporting performance of the year. At such a young age, he's already surpassed most of Hollywood's great talents in terms of skill and charisma. This is truly a remarkable film.
7 - The Blair Witch Project
Speaking of horror films that suggest more than they show, The Blair Witch Project was the film that shouldn't have worked, but did. And it did so with flying colors. Creating one of the most unsettling experiences in years, directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez let their three actors go free, improvising dialogue and plot situations as they film. With a miniscule budget, the film used darkness more effectively than any film I can recall. Heather Donahue's emotional performance holds the film up--her final repentance while looking into the camera is the year's most realistic and heartbreaking scene. The final five minutes are as scary as any five minutes I've ever had to experience, ending with a haunting and memorable image that sticks with you long after you leave the theater. The film also holds the record for largest profit-to-budget ratio in history.
6 - Magnolia
P.T. Anderson tops himself here with a brilliant look at the interlocking lives of several citizens of California. The cast is absolutely amazing, with great performances from everyone. However, Tom Cruise stands out as a self-help guru, teaching his followers how to land and control women. Julianne Moore is also impressive as an unfaithful wife who finally realizes she does love her dying husband. Anderson's visual style is magnetic, letting the camera move freely. It's as kinetic filmmaking as you'll see all year. Nothing, I say, nothing will prepare you for the final 30 minutes, unless you have extensive Biblical knowledge and catch the Exodus 8:2 references. It's an unusual way to end a film, but it works perfectly. Things just happen. Author Tom Clancy stated once, "The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction must be logical." Here's a film that agrees.
5 - The Talented Mr. Ripley
Matt Damon as a sociopathic, bisexual killer? Nah, never could work. Or at least that's what some said before Anthony Minghella got ahold of the rights and created his own adaption. What results is the year's best Hitchcockian piece of work, splitting audiences and critics right down the middle. Critics praised the film's audacity; audiences seemed to shy away from the homosexual undertones and the serpentine plot. The Talented Mr. Ripley is as suspenseful as any film this year, drawing us slowly under its hypnotic imagery, and then slamming us with murders, lies, and betrayals. It's creepy entertainment, and at three hours, it manages to hold our attention throughout its entire run. Matt Damon is to credit for a stunning portrayal as the title character--he's menacing yet charming. Minghella's last film The English Patient made my top ten list of 1996, but he's surpassed even himself here.
4 - The Matrix
Everything Star Wars: The Phantom Menace should have been but wasn't. The Wachowski brothers' second film (after Bound, which was also on my 1996 top ten list) is larger in scope and budget, and it shows. Keanu Reeves is ideal as Neo (I'm one of Reeves' defenders), and Lawrence Fishburne is top notch as Morpheus, but look for Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity to become the future Michelle Pfeiffer. All of this, however, works hand in hand with the story, which deals with a false reality that we humans are presented. It's Dark City-lite, but it's also more action packed than that 1998 film. In fact, the action scenes are some of the most imaginative and hyper ever captured by American filmmakers. Using state-of-the-art special effects, the Wachowski brothers show us everything they could have imagined, and we are privileged enough to witness it. Not only is it a smart film, it's a stunning achievement in making the heart pump. I, for one, can't wait to see their two sequels.
3 - Run Lola Run
The best foreign film since 1994's Red, Run Lola Run takes all the standards we have created for narrating feature films and shoved them all into one 81-minute breathtaking journey. Starting with the opening credits to the final image, Tom Tykwer's film entertains to no end. There's animation, still photography, video, and 35mm film, all scrambled together to create one of the year's most original and memorable films. The editing is top notch (the film won the Online Film Critics Society's "Best Editing" award), and the music is absolutely perfect--if you like running for exercise, the soundtrack is a must-have. This is one of those rare films that gets the audience pumped up and cheering by the end. Credit Franka Potente for creating a fascinating heroine without much dialogue. She runs, and she runs a lot. Thematically rich and smart, the film eschews the normal boring method of filmmaking in exchange for something new and different. Beautifully shot, Run Lola Run is the year's most exciting film. Rent it, and then share it with friends. You'll be glad you did.
2 - American Beauty
DreamWorks' Steven Spielberg heralded this film as the best film he's seen in years. That's quite some praise, but it doesn't go unwarranted. First-time director Sam Mendes has crafted a beautiful, emotionally-challenging film that overstates its message because--let's face it--Americans just don't comprehend subtlety. Slow moving yet quickly paced, the film deconstructs the suburban neighborhood better than any film I can remember. There isn't a single wrong note hit here. Working from Alan Ball's fantastic screenplay, the cast is headed by Kevin Spacey, who gives his best performance to date (and that's quite an achievement in itself). Annette Bening is stunning in her career-best performance, while Thora Birch is maturing into a terrific actress. Newcomer Wes Bentley is powerful as the catalyst of change, but Mena Suvari has the most challenging role here. Her performance is vastly underrated, and her final admission to Spacey is quite a shocker. Mendes is a stunningly talented director who has crafted the year's most emotional film. This is Hollywood at its finest.
1 - Fight Club
David Fincher, my idol, has crafted here the year's most challenging, as well as the entire decade's most complex motion picture. The only film since Schindler's List that I've had to see twice before being able to review, Fight Club is a brilliant look at the man's role in this post-feminist society. In fact, there is so much here to absorb that people will be watching it for years just deciphering all there is to take in. Fincher's style is perfectly suited to the story, creating a wild alternative reality to our own universe. This isn't a glorification of violence like may people have said--it's a condemnation. It's also a condemnation of society's destructive influence on the male figure. The film doesn't ask easy questions, and it doesn't give any answers. Edward Norton is his usual brilliant self, creating one of the most memorable characters of the year. Brad Pitt, perfectly cast, finally eschews his pretty-boy appearance to let his real talent shine through. Helena Bonham Carter is superb as the wildly drugged out woman who symbolizes everything that women hate about themselves (I think). The twist at the end of the film is at first confusing, but on reflection, it's a brilliant and perfect ending to a brilliant and perfect film. David Fincher may not have topped his masterpiece Se7en, but he's still the best director working today.