Sunday, December 26, 1999

'99 Films: Embarrassment of riches

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What a thrilling year this has been for movie lovers. After a slow start, 1999 ultimately brought an embarrassment of riches.

        If there is a common thread that ties together the best of '99, it is depth of purpose. After too many years defined by brainlessness, this year we have seen a steady parade of intensely thoughtful movies.

        Whether couched in high-powered technical bravado (Summer of Sam, Bringing Out the Dead, Three Kings and the upcoming Titus), or grounded in traditional forms (A Walk on the Moon, Iron Giant, October Sky, The End of the Affair), the movies of 1999 put plenty of meat on the platterfor idea-hungry audiences.

        In fact, so many fine movies were released at the very end of the year that some of 1999's best will not open in Cincinnati until January or February.

        With so much quality at hand, it would have been easy to come up with a Top 20; alas, we have to call a halt somewhere. Here then — with a regretful nod to the arbitrary limit of a number — are my Top 10 movies of 1999:

        • American Beauty — This stunning screen debut by theatrical director Sam Mendes, based on a breath-taking script by TV veteran Alan Ball, is so beautiful to look at and sorrowful to witness, it belongs among the best movies of the decade.

        • Being John Malkovich — Director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman figure out how to be funny in ways nobody ever thought of being funny before. A true comedy breakthrough.

        • The Sixth Sense — Fans still guard the the surprise ending of this runaway success, so as not to ruin it for others. That is testimony to the profound connection it made with people of all ages, genders and tastes, thanks to writer-director M. Night Shyamalan and his young star, Haley Joel Osment.

        • Fight Club — This shattering, funny, vibrant movie dares to stampede over “action” conventions that celebrate the male capacity for mayhem; this one delves into why they fight.

        • The Insider — Director Michael Mann lifts this whistle-blower's tale above the ordinary ripped-from-the-headlines treatment and turns it into a thrilling, high-stakes showdown over moral and political realities.

        • Magnolia — Paul Thomas Anderson's third outing proves he ranks among the best new directors, a thoroughly visionary filmmaker, unbound by categories. A work of beauty and empathy, with a bonus knock-out performance from Tom Cruise.

        • Election — It takes place in a high school, true, but this is no teen movie-of-the-moment. A laser-like script by director Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, plus a blazing performance by Reese Witherspoon, yield one of the best political satires of all time.

        • Toy Story 2 — This effervescent romp shows what brave-new-world technology can accomplish when put in the hands of natural storytellers. Plus, it proves that sequels can outdo originals.

        • Three Kings — David O. Russell stands war-movie convention on its head, while eliciting fine work from an outstanding ensemble cast.

        • The Straight Story — David Lynch delivers a haunting work of minimalist beauty, with an unforgettable performance by Richard Farnsworth.


'99 Year in Review: Recalling the century's last gasp
'99 Sports: Color the year Red
'99 Local News: Prosperous year punctuated by hard times
'99 Business: Consumers hang on as economy and technology take rocket ride
'99 Nation/World: A fitting finale to the century
- '99 Films: Embarrassment of riches
'99 Pop music: Cincy back on the charts
'99 Television: A million reasons to watch
'99 Classical music: Life imitates opera
'99 Dance: Comings and goings
'99 Theater: A year to remember
'99 Visual art: All eyes on Vontz Center