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(in alphabetical order)
The stream of accolades never stops for theater director Sam Mendes' auspicious film helming debut, and with good reason. Even multiple viewings do not blunt the impact of this indescribable film, which manages to flawlessly follow the fine line between outrageously wicked comedy and serious human drama. But what really makes the film so bitingly funny and emotionally rewarding are the efforts of its excellent ensemble (in particular Kevin Spacey and young stars Thora Birch and Wes Bentley), which deftly brings Alan Ball's terrific script to such vivid life.
Nothing screams out "unbridled imagination" quite like this deliriously inventive comic fantasia, courtesy of director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman. In any other film, the central conceit involving a portal leading into the mind of the titular actor (who brilliantly plays "himself") would be the biggest twist. Here, however, it's the mere jumping-off point for a hilarious and ceaselessly surprising exploration of, among other things, celebrity, identity, and sexuality. Stars John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, and Malkovich have never been better, and one is unlikely to see anything quite as warped and original on the big screen in the near future.
Neil Jordan's gorgeous screen rendering of Graham Greene's novel is the most traditional entry on my list, but even it is slightly off the beaten path. Rarely has a grand romantic epic allowed itself such an intense sexual charge, which is in no small part due to the strong chemistry between stars Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore; as such, the inevitable tragedy that ensues is that much more heartbreaking and haunting.
Films People Didn't Get, Part I: It's a shame that the media paid so much attention to the admittedly graphic violence and overlooked the far more incendiary and subversive element to David Fincher's controversial dark satire: how it boldly takes a stand against contemporary consumer-driven American culture. An instant cult hit--thanks in no small part to Fincher's energized direction, Jim Uhls' witty adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel, and superb performances by Edward Norton and Brad Pitt--I have no doubt that in the coming years the film will receive its just recognition as an important cinematic masterwork.
One of the big mysteries of '99 was the box office failure of director Doug Liman and screenwriter John August's vibrant and--forget the constant and annoying Pulp Fiction comparisons--original rollercoaster ride following three interconnected plot threads during one wild Christmas Eve. Funny, fast-paced, and featuring a cast of appealing young stars, perhaps it was one other quality that kept away the teen audience that made (gasp!) She's All That a smash--smarts.
Just when you thought it was safe to count out Warner Bros. as a legitimate challenger to Disney's animation throne, the studio came up with an extraordinary achievement that bested much of the Mouse's animated output in recent years. Nonetheless, Brad Bird's adaptation of the Ted Hughes book was one of the year's biggest box office disappointments; perhaps that was due to the weak trailer, which made many a moviegoer derisively call this tale of the friendship between a boy and a giant alien man of iron "E.T. with a robot." The irony is that the film really is like E.T.--in that it is an instant classic.
Films People Didn't Get, Part II: While I have received the odd hate letter in my years of reviewing film, I had never received quite so much as I did over my praise for Paul Thomas Anderson's three-hour-plus mosaic of misery in the San Fernando Valley. That the film gets under so many people's skin, in a negative way or otherwise, is evidence that Anderson is doing something right. Not only does Anderson so completely have command of his film--and does he ever--with it he has complete control of his audience, confidently immersing the viewers in his bravura vision. Call it overindulgence, but the fact that people get so riled up one way or the other about the film speaks more than any rave review or vicious pan.
In a year that saw the release of the long-anticipated The Phantom Menace, it's almost hard to believe that anyone could have outdone George Lucas and made a better sci-fi adventure. But that's exactly what Larry and Andy Wachowski did with their astonishingly entertaining mix of special effects, frenzied gunplay, martial arts, and--crucially--inspired plotting. Maintaining the level of quality and creativity through the forthcoming second and third installments will undoubtedly be a big challenge, but if anyone can pull it off, it is the Wachowski Brothers; after all, who else can make a great film not only headlining Keanu Reeves but also Models Inc. alumna Carrie-Anne Moss?
With Hollywood continuing to crank out by-the-numbers actioners (see: Chill Factor--better yet, don't), it's not terribly surprising that the best action film of '99 came from a foreign country--namely, Germany. In depicting the title heroine's (Franka Potente) breathless run to save her boyfriend's (Moritz Bleibtreu) life, writer-director Tom Tykwer pulls out all the stops--animation, quick edits, still frames, slow motion. The result is an electrifying and exhilarating adrenaline rush whose buzz lasts far longer than your typical stateside shoot-'em-up.
Yes, it's profane. Yes, it's also incredibly offensive. But there's also no denying the big contribution of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's big screen adaptation of their controversial animated television series (of which, I must say, I am not a fan): its rollicking revival of the movie musical. Absurdly naughty lyrics aside, Parker and Marc Shaiman's song score is arguably the most infectious to come down the pipeline all decade (yes, even over all the Disney animated features). That it is put in service of such an unpredictable and scandalously hilarious story is just the icing on an already-satisfying entertainment.
When Harmony Korine set out to make the first American film under the Dogme 95 manifesto, he obviously mistook the Danish code of cinematic-purity-through-simplicity as an excuse to make sloppiest piece of crap he could slap together. The visuals are certainly gritty and grainy, but to the point of being unwatchable; that said, at least some cohesive images could be discerned, which is more than anyone can say about the incomprehensible "plot" (that is, if there is one at all). I've seen filmmakers jack off with a movie before, but this is the first time I've seen one take a shit.
And, in alphabetical order...
If only I had the sense to turn off the VCR after this ghastly film's opening sequence, where a talking infant exercises his martial arts skills on security guards ten times his size. Alas, I only have myself to blame for the 80 or so precious minutes I lost sitting through the rest of this interminable "comedy."
I suppose it's only fitting that the year that saw Bruce Willis' highest-grossing film (The Sixth Sense) would also see his biggest commercial flop--this painfully unfunny adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's satirical novel. Thanks to writer-director Alan Rudolph, the most unpleasant image of a lingerie-clad Nick Nolte has scarred my eyes for life.
Note the first three letters of the first word of the title. That's all you need to know.
OK, it appeared to be a good idea--adapt a classic stage and movie musical to the animated medium. What wasn't such a good idea was to dumb it down for the young Disneyfied audience, throwing in cute animal companions and portly wisecracking sidekicks. It's little wonder, then, that this embarrassment marks the all-time low (yes, even lower than Rock-a-Doodle) of feature animation.
Those who called Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia overindulgent obviously haven't seen Mike Figgis' onanistic exercise in inanity, which juxtaposes semi-autobiographical vignettes about a man's sexual development against the story of Adam and Eve. It makes even less sense than that to anyone whose name isn't Mike Figgis.
Let it be known--I believe in God. But that doesn't automatically make any film that reaffirms faith good. And contrary to what many loyal viewers of the Trinity Broadcasting Network may say, this listless, idiotic thriller about the Bible's secret code is not good. Far from it. How far? The star is Casper Van Dien.
Interpol agent Dennis Rodman goes after bad guys with the help of a couple of "cyber-monks." No, I'm not making this up--nor the fact that this putrid actioner actually received a theatrical release.
Why, oh why, didn't someone put a stop to director Adam Bernstein after helming the disaster that was It's Pat? Now this pretentious and pointless example of all that's wrong with independent film exists to torture audiences everywhere.
Will Hollywood ever learn that video games are not strong source material for feature films? Likely not any time soon, so until then (that is, if the moment ever arrives), we'll have to be subjected to silly sci-fi schlock such as this.