Before we start, I just want to say I have heard the voices of the people and they tell me I should write more commentary for The Tuesday List (like I did an X-Files Month) than I have typically done. So I'm going to try to do that going forward. You'll see today reflects that new philosophy.
Second, I just want to make it clear that these 25 movies are important to me, not necessarily the best or most important movies of 1999. That said, most of the best are probably on here because I have fabulous taste.
25 Movies that Mattered to Me from the Year I Graduated High School (in Alphabetical Order)
1.) American Beauty- I know this has gained the reputation as one of the least worthy Best Pictures in history (strongly disagree!) but it forever has a place in my heart. It certainly has its excesses—the oft mentioned and parodied plastic bag, for instance—but overall, I am totally taken with its heightened version of late 20th Century America suburbia. It is a film I return to every few years and always feel different about it as credits roll. But I always feel something (and it is never boredom).
I am a sucker for a meaty Spacey performance as well, and this certainly boasts one.
2.) American Pie- Ok, this is probably near-indefensible. There were definitely better movies released that this is stealing a spot from. Hell, there were arguably better comedies. But…it was a comedy about seniors in high school the year I was a senior in high school that felt close (although still miles away) to how I felt about my friends, my life, my love life (or lack thereof) on the edge of graduation. It helps, I think, that I saw it post- graduation and post- the breakup of my longest high school relationship (almost exactly a year and a half, dumped two days before graduation) and it just had that extra sting of the bittersweet as a result.
It must be noted, however, that Tara Reid’s role is pretty brutal. She is no great actor, but her part is just written either so badly or with such desire to make her “bad” that I feel nobody could have made it work.
3.) Being John Malkovich- One of those movies that reminds you, “Oh yeah, movies can do that.” For film fans (geeks, worshippers, however you’d like to put it) it was just about a perfect film to paw over and think about from all angles.
4.) The Big Kahuna- I love talky movies. I know a lot of people that feel like a movie that does not demand a big screen is a bit of a waste of time, but I have never been one to agree. Maybe it is because, in my moments of ego, I sometimes fancy myself a writer. In any case, this is pretty much just three salesman in a hotel room together, unraveling one another, on purpose or by accident, to pass the time.
Second chewy Spacey role of the year, as well.
5.) Bowfinger- Depending how you feel about the bruise black dentist noir Novocaine or the quiet thoughtful Shopgirl, Bowfinger is either the last great Martin acting work, or one of the last few. Certainly, it is his last great comedy. And actually, it is probably one of Eddie Murray’s last satisfying comedic roles too.
6.) Bringing Out the Dead- Martin Scorsese. Nicolas Cage. Come on. What else is there to say?
7.) Cruel Intentions- So trashy. So fun. Also, a great soundtrack.
8.) Dick- Delightful alternate history that let the two leads (Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams) be unapologetically silly and funny. Dan Hedaya’s Nixon as soft-hearted grump is not to be slept on either.
The supporting cast is rounded out by great sketch and improv actors and the movie bounces along on that energy throughout.
9.) Election- One of those “different from the book but perfectly captures the tone” adaptations (see also: High Fidelity), Election was such a deft piece of work it is tempting to call it perfectly constructed. Matthew Broderick uses his increasingly crushed presentation to great effect, Reese Witherspoon becomes the best/most nightmarish student, and Chris Klein is so sweetly guileless. Somehow it ends on a wonderfully bitter note that nonetheless doesn’t leave a bad taste and feels utterly earned, not nihilistic.
10.) Fight Club- Genetically engineered to invade and hook into the soul of men and boys between 15 and around 25, I’d guess. I was never a Project Mayhem believer but the beleaguered blurry Narrator (Edward Norton) felt so close to the skin for me, even at 18, that I was compelled and scared by the movie in equal measure. To be clear, I never felt like Norton’s character, but I did feel like I could be two or three choices away from that.
11.) Galaxy Quest- If there was any justice, this movie would’ve been huge. Funny, smart, and quick with almost universally excellent performances top to bottom.
12.) Go- Can we call it Pulp Fiction for the Gen X set? That’s probably bit reductive (plus, isn’t Pulp Fiction Pulp Fiction for the teenage set?) but it was the label at the time and while that is probably asking too much of Go, it was still a chaotic treat. There’s so much damn charisma on-screen being captured with live wire fervor by Doug Liman’s (off of Swingers) direction.
13.) The Insider- Jeffrey Wigand spoke to my college class the first day of our official time at Connecticut College and we got to see a full scene from this film as part of his speech. It’s a great film beyond that, but it is now so tied in my memories of great college moments that I can’t not speak to it in a list of ’99 movies.
14.) The Iron Giant- The best Superman movie since the original Christopher Reeve offering, the best Jesus movie since Last Temptation. Vin Diesel and Brad Bird before you knew them. Makes grown men weep.
15.) Jesus’ Son- I’m consistently surprised that this movie is not better known. So quiet and gentle, so heartbreaking and beautiful at points. It is an addiction movie that never feels the need to blow the doors off to show the wreck of substance abuse or the difficulty of recovery.
16.) The Limey- I think this is considered a smaller or lesser Soderbergh (I could be wrong though) and those are the Soderbergs that seem to get into my blood—think Haywire or Side Effects as opposed to, say, the Oceans movies (which I pretty much dislike top to bottom) or Traffic (which I like, in a distant kind of unemotional way). Both Haywire and Side Effects are arguably much more flawed efforts but they just feel more…I don’t know. I guess they feel oddly deeper in some way? Anyway, The Limey is the best of that kind of Soderberg.
And to be clear, Out of Sight is just its own damn thing. And it is great. Great, great, great.
17.) Magnolia- I consistently respect PTA more than I like him, but Magnolia is probably the closest he comes to making a movie I like. It is a mess; overlong and lumpy; indulgent and a bit too convinced of its own cleverness. It is also a bracing blast of humanity that is full of quotable lines and a highlight reel full of actors just crushing it.
18.) Man on the Moon- Jim Carrey doing serious well. A soundtrack featuring R.E.M. and arranged by Michael Stipes. They had me from jump street.
19.) The Matrix- Yes, the sequels were rough. Sure. I don’t deny it. But The Matrix was and remains a rush of giddy fun. Arresting visuals, great style, excellent action choreography, and a well-used Keanu.
20.) Mumford- Small, sweet, with a deceptively dark heart (that nonetheless leaves room for light) this movie is a footnote of the year to most. For me though…I could watch it again and again.
21.) Office Space- One of the bits of pop culture that I have to give some credit to for my marriage. I was late on this one (like most) but I have to give it the nod because of that connection to my life.
22.) The Sixth Sense- The director, Mr. M. Night, have proven to be a pretty big disappointment. The reason I can call him a disappointment as opposed to, say, simply terrible is that he made movies like The Sixth Sense at the beginning. The twist ending get it attention, but it remains a smart well-built movie even if you have already seen it or had the twist spoiled.
23.) The Thomas Crown Affair- A stylish remake with a great music score. Pierce Brosnan is smooth and suave (arguably more so than he is as Bond) and Rene Russo is smart and quite sexy as his antagonist/lover.
A taciturn supporting role for Denis Leary is pretty good too. He’s essentially the movie’s Knox (of Batman ).
24.) Three Kings- The best movie about Desert Storm? Probably. David O. Russell’s directs what is arguably the earliest confirmation that Mark Wahlberg could hold the screen and a George Clooney performance that pulls some different stuff out of him. And, you know, probably the best of latter-day Ice Cube acting.
25.) Toy Story 2- Toy Story 3 is the better sequel but this was a delightful surprise when it was released. An animated movie sequel that somehow still felt fresh and not at all like a cash grab despite the real world machinations that brought it to the screen suggesting otherwise.