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Ten Best - 1999

     After an astonishingly unmemorable spring and a calculatedly moronic "entertainment" summer, Hollywood entered fall 1999 ecstatic with billions in box office though on a spiral toward the most destitute year aesthetically in the history of cinema. In nine months, Election was really all there was for we critics to crow about. "Indies" with distribution had vanished. The studios, run by marketers and accountants and agents, seemed amnesiac about how to produce their stock-and-trade for almost a century: well-written and skillfully-directed movies.

     However, as the leaves fell on 1999, autumn tales broke through which weren't solely profit-driven, which showed - hallelujah! - cinematic originality and directorial talent: American Beauty, Three Kings, The Fight Club, Inside John Malkovich, Boys Don't Cry. As for movies held back until Academy Award-friendly, frozen December: this Yuletide is actually a jolly good time to pop into your favorite bijou, that is, if you are purchasing a ticket for The Talented Mr. Ripley, Titus, Man on the Moon, or The Insider. They're classy and excellent.

     So 1999 has been been salvaged, I suppose, from atrocity. But with those marketers, agents, and accountants so firmly in charge in LA, and with unusual "indie" cinema unable to lure distribution, who isn't gloomy already about American cinema of 2000 and beyond?

     The envelope, s'il vous plait.

     The Best Film of 1999: Election. My testimonial from an earlier Phoenix: "The comic spirit of the great Preston Sturges... has been rejuvenated with director/screenwriter Alexander Payne's hilariously screwy script and ingenious, unapologetically slapstick, sight gags.

     The rest of the Ten Best Films of 1999:

     The Insider-Michael Mann's brooding, intelligent tale of media paranoia, the finest American political drama since All the President's Men

     The Talented Mr. Ripley-An extraordinarily atmospheric version of the masterly Patrician Highsmith suspense novel, though the last minute of the movie is a misstep.

     Titus- Julie Traymor's wild, wild version of Titus Adronicus, glam rock and Orson Welles, proving there's life and a Tarantino-like modernity amidst the rampant sex and violence of Shakespeare's denigrated play.

     Show Me Love-A teen girl gets a crush on her high school's coolest and sexiest babe in this wonderful story of adolescent angst from Sweden, where the movie was called Fucking Amal. 1999's Best Foreign Film.

     La Vie Sur Terre-Filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako returns to the African town where he grew up and, in this work of cinema poetry, imagines December 31,1999 there, where his people ride about on donkeys and sit lazily in the sun and nobody cares about the Eurocentric millenium.

     Late August, Early September-Olivier Assayas' deeply felt, moving story of life, love, and death among a group of young and educated Parisians.

     American Beauty-The great Kevin Spacey dazzled by a high school girl and choking in suburban America. Did J.D. Salinger secretly write the screenplay?

     Man on the Moon-The Andy Kauffman recreations are fabulously on target, marvelously entertaining, so why hurt things with those endless, and unneeded, reaction shots of Andy's confused audiences?

     Boys Don't Cry- Kimberly Peirce takes the most gruesome story of rape and murder and transforms it into a mesmerizing romantic hero tale of a woman who really believes she's a man, and comes on like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

     These honorable runners-up: Inside John Malkovich, Walk on the Moon, Guinevere, The Wounds, An Autumn Tale, The Apple, Regret to Inform, The War Zone, Last Night, Mr. Death: the Rise and Fall of Fred Leuchter, Jr.

     Best Actor: Jim Carrey, Man on the Moon. A transcendent embodiment of Andy Kauffman, Carrey deserves cookies and milk and an Oscar. Runners-up: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, The Insider; Kevin Spacey, American Beauty; Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley

     Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon, Election. As is the character, she's little Miss Perfect. Runners-up: Diane Ladd, Walk on the Moon;Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry; Catharine (sp?)Keener, Inside John Malkovich; Sarah Polley, Guinevere

     Best Director: Sam Mendes, American Beauty
Best Supporting Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Talented Mr. Ripley Best Supporting Actress: Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don't Cry

     Best Newcomer: Lara Belmont, The War Zone

     Best Cinematography: John Seale, The Talented Mr. Ripley

     Best musical soundtrack: Gabriel Yared, The Talented Mr. Ripley

     Best Song: Aimee Mann, "Save Me," Magnolia

     Best scene in a movie: Cambridge's Frederick Wiseman's documentary take on a potato-products factory in Belfast, Maine, the assembly line doings scissored together as if by Eisenstein, if Eisentein possessed a mordant sense of humor.

     Best stupid movie: South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

Best Gay Film: Head On, homosexual heat in the Greek community of Melbourne, Australia

     Most underrated movie: Breakfast of Champions, so crazy and off-key that it was kind of terrific.

     Most overrated movies: Tumbleweeds (vomit!), Dogma, The Buena Vista Social Club, The Ideal Husband, The Cradle Will Rock

     The most disingenous romantic coupling: Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat in Anna and the King. Come out, Jodie, and do a love story with real passion!

(December, 1999)


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