1999 Year In Review
1999 - One big "Eh" after another
1999 was boasted by "Entertainment Weekly" magazine as a breakthrough year for cinema. Hollywood blockbusters were ignored, while small, $30,000 black-and-white films made over $140 million. Are they true in this assumption? I don't think so. Personally, I thought 1998 was the breakthrough year, heralding more 4 star films than any year this decade. 1998 was and will always be the best year for film of the 90s. 1998 was just the starting point, though. 1999 definitely is spectacular in terms of box office receipts--who would have guessed The Blair Witch Project would end up making more than 90% of Hollywood's projects?--but in terms of quality, 1999 marks a drastic step down from previous years. In fact, I would go so far as to say that 1999 is one of the lowest points for films in quite a long time. To put it simply: it's the first year since 1993 that I haven't filled my Top Ten Best Films list with 4-star material. In fact, I only had seven films out of who-knows-how-many get 4-stars. This is not a good sign heading into the millenium.
Up at Sundance, word of mouth spread quickly that the must see film was a small, tiny-budgeted horror film. Obviously, I decided not to see it, as I only had ten tickets, and it only showed at midnight. In a matter of a week, it grew into the "must-see" film at Sundance. In a matter of two months, it grew into the "must-see" film of the year. The Blair Witch Project blew into theaters, grossing some of the highest box office takes without ever appearing at #1. It's one of my few 4-star films, but the film has also garnered a lot of negative feedback. An anti-Blair Witch hype began, and it's now considered a failure by most of America. Three of my top ten films were screened at Sundance, my first year attending the festival, and they have remained strong throughout the year. Then there is the phenomenon known as Being John Malkovich which opened late in the year to critical and commercial success. 1999 is definitely a strong point for independent productions.
Independence doesn't match Hollywood
Like 1998, 1999 was a year for studio films ruling the quality-meter. They ranged from great (American Beauty) to good (Anna and the King) right down to putrid crap (The Mummy). The quality was surprisingly spread evenly throughout the year as well, starting with April's phenomenal The Matrix to summer's Arlington Road and The Sixth Sense to end-of-the-year The Talented Mr. Ripley. Unfortunately for us, there was much crap to wade through, particularly in the summer season which gave one bomb after another. The highly-anticipated sequel Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me was a huge box office hit but was an amazingly sad and horrendous production. For any fans of the original film (me included), the sequel was the biggest letdown of the year. Try and tell that to any angered Star Wars fans, though, and they'll laugh in your face. Perhaps the most anticipated film ever, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace was the box office winner this year, but also one of the worst films in a while. A triumph of special effects and technical wizardry, the film proved the critics' most obvious point: special effects do not a movie make. It was a narrative failure, and bored this critic to tears. However, despite the horrible products Hollywood gave us, they created all but two of my 4-star films and even more of my 3.5-star films, which are some of the best films I've seen this entire decade. It's a shame there weren't more of such high-caliber films.