After Danny gave a review of American Beauty it got me thinking about what a year 1999 was. Hence, the following.
American Beauty wins this by a few inches. An exceptionally well made film, featuring some of the best performances, score, writing, and direction in recent cinema. Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley is so unsettling which might explain the lack of love at certain ceremonies. But this is a near flawless film and terrific adaptation of the novel. Fight Club is a film that exists on so many levels – from the ostensibly hedonistic to the psychological and back. Sleepy Hollow and Election round out the top 5. Both genre films, both ignored by the major awards. The End of the Affair and The Insider come next. Both are good films that have been maligned to some degree by audiences, but both are worth your time. Being John Malkovich, The Sixth Sense and Toy Story II round out the top 10.
The three-horse race consisted of Sam Mendes, Anthony Minghella and David Fincher. All three manned their films ending up with great results. I don’t believe in ties so I won’t lump them all together. So it would be Minghella, Mendes, Fincher. They’re all pretty close though. P. T. Anderson comes next for Magnolia. A good film I was not all for, but his direction was underrated in this one. Tim Burton did his second best live action feature with Sleepy Hollow. An unorthodox adaptation of the original, definitely. But the reinvention worked on film. This was easily one of the most visually appealing films of the 90s. Spike Jonze rounds out the top 5 for his work controlling Being John Malkovich. It would have been easy to lose control of this unconventional piece. But Jonze manages well, directing the cast members [especially Keener and Diaz] to greatness. The top ten includes Mann who went slightly low-key directing The Insider, M. Nyght Shyamalam for keeping the suspense palpable in The Sixth Sense and even managing to sell off the potentially dodgy ending. Alexander Payne’s work is highly effective in the underrated Election and although Neil Jordan’s work in The End of the Affair, it’s more forceful if you look closer. Animated films are often ignored when it comes to direction but I feel John Lasster deserves recognition.
The Leading Men
This was quite a year for the leading men. I had a tough time narrowing it down to ten even…and the male categories are usually the weak ones. So let’s take a look.
Kevin Spacey was the clear winner for me. His exceptionally smooth portrayal of the role was spot on. You could not NOT be enthralled by his performance. He was followed by Matt Damon in a startling and off putting characterisation as the eponymous Ripley. This is the best thing that he has ever done. Those last few minutes of the film are extremely poignant and chilling at the same all because of him. Ed Norton rounds out the Trinity with his deliciously macabre performance in Fight Club. Completely overlooked, I was fascinated with his performance. Ralph Fiennes [The End of the Affair] and Johnny Depp [Sleepy Hollow] were both good and underrated that year, although their performances never picked up. Rounding out my top ten were Russel Crow [The Insider], Haley Joel Osment [The Sixth Sense], Matthew Broderick [Election], Ryan Phillipe [Cruel Intentions] and Denzel Washington [The Hurricane]. Each of these gentlemen truly commanded the attention of the audience although some were brasher about it than others.
The Wonderful Women
The women were unusually weak this year. Annette Bening stood head and shoulders above the rest in her mesmerising performance. Below her Hilary Swank and Julianne Moore in Boys Don’t Cry and The End of the Affair stand. Both give very capable performances finding the light in their somewhat troubled characters. Reese Witherspoon was a true delight in Election playing the character just right. And despite her meanness I was rooting for her all the way. But that’s just me. Janet McTeer comes next in Tumbleweeds. A flawed film but a fine performance nevertheless. Meryl Streep is a runner up for her able but unexceptional work in Music of the Heart. Julia Roberts is also a runner up for Notting Hill. She can do this role in her sleep. But she’s still pleasant.
Jude Law steals the show – by a mile. Despite leaving the film around the half way mark the impression he makes is indelible. Dickie is a cad, but he’s a charming cad and despite his arrogance we like him, we want to be his friend. It’s easy to understand why everyone finds him so interesting. Brad Pitt comes in second playing a character that’s somewhat similar. His Tyler Durder is a nice slice of horror and comedy. His chemistry with Helena Bonham Carter is scorching and every line reading from him is as deliberate as necessary. Chris Cooper comes next for his flawed character in American Beauty. He freaked the hell out of me the first time I saw this. This was a way better performance than his Oscar winning performance in Adaptation. Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Talented Mr. Ripley and Wes Bentley in American Beauty round out the top 5. Both men are rarely thought of…but they were perfect in their portrayals. Runners up include Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules, Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Room, Tom Cruise in Magnolia and Chris Klein in Election.
Helena Bonham Carter couldn’t even get a nomination for her performance in Fight Club. But she has my vote. Dirty, smart, sexy, repulsive, trashy, intelligent – it’s all their in her performance. Who the hell is Marla Singer? That’s a good question. But whoever she is Helena nails it. Angelina barely misses the crown for her wonderful turn in Girl, Interrupted. Although some are not fans – I was hooked. Lisa does it all, and more. After that it gets tougher because no one else is as obviously outstanding…but they’re good. So I’ll go with Cate Blanchett. Yes her role is short, and I do mean short, but I just want to give Meredith a hug. Okay, maybe more than a hug, but she’s the only truly likeable character in the movie. Julianne is all sorts of brilliant in Magnolia and then there are the ladies from Being John Malkovich. Catherine and Cameron are both awesome and cringe worthy at the same time. Not only for the acting – the movie itself. Toni Collette [The Sixth Sense] was a millimetre away from making the cut. She really does well in this film. Gwyneth Palthrow and Chloe Seveigny are also soft yet strong women in The Talented Mr. Ripley and Boys Don't Cry. Lisa Kudrow shows off her comic chops in Analyze This and goes toe to toe with DeNiro like nobody’s business. Thora Birch did well with her role in American Beauty. I would have liked to see a little more depth. But it is well done, all in all. And Miranda Richardson’s cameo in Sleepy Hollow stills makes my skin crawl.
The Scripts – Originals
Looking at this category effectively may probably require repeated viewings. But as it stands these piqued by imagination. American Beauty and Being John Malkovich, though so different, were both so similar in their originality. Both scripts were taut and fluid and featured realistic and interesting characters. Magnolia is a film I think I should see again, I haven’t seen it since 2001. But I do remember the goodness of its script. Analyze This was a favourite of mine with some insane dialogue. To some extent I felt The Sixth Sense screenplay was too in love with itself, but it had some really good moments.
The Scripts – Adaptations
The Talented Mr. Ripley deserved this award with so much fervour. One of those big mistakes on the part of The Academy. Election seems extra light, but it is deceptively so. As the climax of the film meets the screenplay gives us the shining moments. Fight Club may have gotten indulgent at times, but it never got too visceral. And even when it wasn’t 100% it was still gripping. The End of the Affair was unfairly treated. The screenplay did as much as it could not to be heavy handed and The Insider was a well written drama.
This is going to be flawed since I haven’t seen many of these films in years…but in descending order here are the outstanding film scores as memory serves.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
The End of the Affair
Set Design and Art Decoration
he Talented Mr. Ripley
The Cider House Rules
Anna & the King of Siam
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Anna & the King of Siam
The End of the AffairThe Mummy
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Being John Malkovich
These were the films I saw in descending order American Beauty [A], The Talented Mr. Ripley [A], Fight Club [A], Sleepy Hollow [A-], Election [B+], The End of the Affair [B+], The Insider [B+], Being John Malkovich [B], The Sixth Sense [B], Toy Story II [B], Magnolia [B], The Matrix [B-], Analyze This [B-], The Cider House Rules [B-], Notting Hill [B-], Cruel Intentions [B-], Tarzan [B-], South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut [B-], Girl, Interrupted [B-], The Hurricane [B-], Tumbleweeds [B-], The Virgin Suicides [B-], The Story of Us [C+], She’s All That [C+], The Mummy [C+], The Best Man [C+], Boys Don’t Cry [C+], Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me [C+], Anna & the King [C], Runaway Bride [C], Eyes Wide Shut [C], American Pie [C], Entrapment [C], Music of the Heart [C], The Wood [C-], 10 Things I Hate About You [C-], Jawbreaker [C-], Double Jeopardy [D+], The World Is Not Enough [D+], Dogma [D], Teaching Miss Tingle [D-], Message In A Bottle [D-], Big Daddy [D-], Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo [D-], Wild Wild West [D-]
But dear reader. What were your thoughts on 1999? Which of these films have I underrated? Overrated?