top 11 movies of 1999

Like Nigel Tufnel’s amp, this one goes to 11. I agonized over this, trying to whittle down a list of about 25 great movies of 1999 to a mere 10, and I just couldn’t go that far.

It pained me to eliminate some wonderful — and wonderfully adult — dramas from the list. The Cider House Rules, Cradle Will Rock, The End of the Affair, An Ideal Husband, The Insider, and Ride with the Devil are unapologetically films for grownups, and all require that you not check your brain at the door. These are films that I will buy when they come to DVD and watch again and again.

As much as I loved all those films, though, they are of the old school in a year when a new order crashed onto the scene, demanding to be seen and heard. Many of my top 11 films were written and directed by under-40 Generation Xers — and some were the work of under-30s — and most reflect positive influences of television, music videos, computer games, the point-and-click interconnectedness of the Internet, and an embracing of the dangerous and exciting spirit of the 90s that older folks decry.

So, in alphabetical order and with commentary, here are my top 11 films of 1999:

American Beauty:
The self-centeredness of Boomers is getting really old, though Kevin Spacey makes Lester Burnham’s midlife crisis worth watching. But it’s the teenage Ricky Fitts — drug dealer and video voyeur — who grounds the film in reality with his simultaneously harsh and poetic practicality.

Being John Malkovich:
Simply put, the most strikingly original film I’ve ever seen. How this ever got made in the Hollywood studio system is beyond me, but I’m glad it did. From the deeply existential questions it poses to its inexplicable, why-not bizarreness, this is a movie that will stick with you forever.

Whether Kevin Smith is attempting to reform fusty Catholicism or merely to figure out what his own beliefs are, he has given us a profoundly religious movie, full of the kind of joy and love that makes even an atheist like me understand what some people see in the idea of God in the first place.

Bitter, misanthropic, and wickedly funny, this high-school satire is our first taste of what Gen Xers burnt out from the roaring 90s are in for in the Uh-Ohs and beyond — and the kind of art that aging Xers are going to produce.

Fight Club:
Another satire, this one so caught up in its manliness that some may miss the fact that manliness itself is the object of its mockery. Not for the faint of heart, this is a violent, angry film that ultimately rails against violence and anger.

The Legend of 1900:
A beautiful fable about music and friendship — and a tour de force for actor Tim Roth — that manages to encompass all that is frightening and wonderful about the modern world within one sheltered, shy character. This is a movie to fall in love with.

This daring film about desperate, lonely people living boring, lonely lives should be deadly dull, but instead it’s totally enthralling. The tenuous interconnections between characters turn the film into a journey that’s akin to Web or channel surfing.

The Red Violin (not reviewed)
Another movie to fall in love with. Painterly and symphonic, this haunting film spans centuries but feels intimate, and is one of the few films to replicate and even celebrate the linkages of history that make the study of the past so profound.

The Talented Mr. Ripley:
A Hitchcock film for the 21st century. The more you think about it, the more you realize how much goes unanswered, and indeed even unasked, in this quietly disturbing thriller.

Three Kings:
One of a very few films that manages the convey the new global attitude, this film — as funny as it is horrifying — recognizes the paradox that is America: the country the rest of the world hates and yet also wants to emulate. This one sets the stage for a new brand of war movie.

Toy Story 2:
This adult view of childhood gets it just right, remembering how much things that now seem silly meant to us as kids. A wonderful film that’s a sheer pleasure to watch, this is the best of what film can do: transport us to a place that is entirely invented, one that could not exist in the real world.

Some honorable mentions:

Go, Speed Racer, Go
Dizzying speed and seemingly nonstop motion aren’t just for summer popcorn flicks anymore. The highly kinetic The Matrix and Run Lola Run are surely harbingers of what the next decade of film will bring.

Most Creative Use of Profanity
With its hypnotically hummable, unbelievably vulgar tunes, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut must stand as one of the most proudly insolent and irreverent movies ever made, or likely to be made.

The “Less Is More” Award
The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project — both splatter and gore free — reminded us, along with The Talented Mr. Ripley, that horror is all in the mind, and that thrillers are more chilling when their creators remember that.

Yeah, They’re Corny But I Bawled My Eyes Out Anyway
The Green Mile and October Sky. *sniff* It takes a lot to make a heartless bitch like me cry, but when John Coffey sees a happier world in the film of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing cheek to cheek, and when we cut from Homer Hickam’s little homemade rocket shooting skyward to a space shuttle roaring toward space, I lose it.

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