It was an unusually good year for movies. Yes, die blockbusters were monumentally disappointing—Eyes Wide Shut, The Phantom Menace, The Spy Who Shagged Me, The World Is Not Enough. But 1999 also saw some exceptional studio products, including Rushmore,
The Insider, American Beauty and Toy Story 2.
It was also a year in which independents scored David and Goliath coups
over the conglomerates. The Blair Witch Project boasted the highest profit ratio of any movie in history—the $150,000 production grossed $300 million. And Being John Malkovich pulled off a wilder suspension of disbelief than any film in recent memory.
This has also been a year of unprecedented gender-bending. In Malkovich, a woman makes love from within a mans body. In Boy’s Don’t Cry, the hottest guy in town is not, in fact, a guy. In All About My Mother, a father has breasts. And in American Beauty, Kevin Spacey fends off a sexual advance from a homophobic marine. A strange year indeed—and such a strong
one that singling out the 10 best was not easy.
Contenders left off the list include two that were among last year’s Oscar nominees, but did not get released in Canada until early January: The Thin Red Line and Central Station. Canadian director Patricia Rozema rejuvenated Jane Austen in fine style with Mansfield Park. Besieged, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Rome romance about art and property, also deserves honourable mention, as
does The Talented Mr. Ripley, a delicious suspense drama by Anthony Minghella (The English Patient). The Limey was a treat. And every reviewer should admit to a guilty pleasure, a bad movie that was hugely entertaining for all the wrong reasons: The Messenger, Luc Bessons Joan of Arc travesty, proved that battering rams and flaming arrows are more fun than Star Wars light sabres any day—and that a girl must go through at least five hairstyles to achieve sainthood. In order, the top 10 movies of 1999:
1. Being John Malkovich This story of a puppeteer who discovers a portal into the head of a semi-famous actor offers the
last word on art, success and celebrity. Plus it’s very, very funny.
2. The Dreamlife of Angels This gem from France about two vulnerable young women who ricochet through the hopes and cruelties of working-class life reminds us why we fell in love with French movies in the first place.
3. All About My Mother Swinging between melodrama and farce without surrendering its sanity to either, Pedro Almodovar’s homage to actresses— and women who act—is a work of passionate artifice that somehow rings true.
4. American Beauty With his feature debut, Britain’s Sam Mendes distils a moving meditation on love and death from a suburban satire about sex, dope and alienation. The kids are amazing.
5. Magnolia From Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson comes a sprawling crazy quilt of tales about lost souls and cancerous fathers in Los Angeles. Imagine Robert Altman’s Short Cuts on steroids. It has the freakiest apocalypse scene ever filmed, and a Tom Cruise tour de force that proves, once and for all, that he can act.
6. The Insider Director Michael Mann takes on Big Tobacco with the best investigative drama since All the President’s Men. His camera creates a thriller out of people talking on the phone. AÍ Pacino, Russell Crowe and Christopher Plummer are all superb.
7. Boys Don’t Cry Hilary Swank deserves the Oscar for her uncanny performance in the true story of Teena Brandon, a Nebraska woman who tried to be one of the boys, entering a romance that ended in rape and murder.
8. The Buena Vista Social Club This documentary about an aging band of Cuban musicians brought together by Ry Cooder has the beauty and emotional power of high drama.
9. Felicia’s Journey With Bob Hoskins as a cozy serial killer in industrial England, and Elaine Cassidy as his Irish quarry, Canada’s Atom Egoyan makes the year’s creepiest movie.
10. The Hurricane Denzel Washington deserves the Oscar for his performance in Norman Jewison’s epic about wrongfully convicted boxer Rubin Carter and the Canadians who helped set him free. ESI
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