The Year That Was ... Pretty Good

Even New Times critics liked what they saw

 Andy's Top 10
Film critics are by nature a sour lot, so it is with truly great pleasure that I suggest that 1999 has been the best year for cinema -- certainly for American cinema and even for the major studios -- in my fifteen years on the beat. I'm at a loss to explain this, beyond suggesting that Hollywood's ongoing assimilation of the independent film phenomenon has reached a particularly interesting stage. Most of the titles that made this year so exciting incorporated at least some indie values. And most came from filmmakers under age 30.

As always, my list is in constant flux: It has been arbitrarily frozen in this version by the paper's copy deadline. But here they are:

1. Being John Malkovich: (Spike Jonze) Completely original and off-the-map, without feeling forced. Hysterically funny but ultimately not really a comedy at all; rather, it's something in between a tragedy and a horror story. Read the full New Times review

Feeling good about Being John Malkovich
Feeling good about Being John Malkovich
Like South Park, movies this year were bigger, longer, and better
Like South Park, movies this year were bigger, longer, and better

2. The Matrix: (Andy and Larry Wachowski) Philip K. Dick meets Hong Kong action cinema. What more could one possibly ask for? The special effects are not only dazzling, they're also never gratuitous; the script is not merely clever but downright smart. The whole thing shows that loud action movies are not a played-out genre, if you're willing to take a few risks ... like trusting the audience's intelligence. Read the full New Times review

3. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: (Trey Parker) Okay, so the animation's crappy, but, you know, it's supposed to be. This is still the best musical comedy written directly for film in years and manages to stay true to the TV show while adding a little more thematic heft. It's also very, very funny.

4. The Straight Story:(David Lynch) Lynch's much-touted change of pace is merely the other side of the coin from his usual weirdness -- a paean to basic human decency and the strangeness of life. Read the full New Times review

5. The Sixth Sense: (M. Night Shyamalan) The perfect example of a big-studio production that is enriched by the indie sensibilities of its young writer-director. Not only amazingly clever and more complex each time you watch it, it has genuine emotional content. Read the full New Times review

6. Lovers of the Arctic Circle: (Julio Medem, Spain) This lovely and intriguing Spanish film flickered through theaters quickly. For those who like an intricately constructed, nonlinear story -- like Toto the Hero -- it was a treat.

7. Toy Story 2: (John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, and Ash Brannon) Pixar keeps up their unbroken chain of completely entertaining computer-generated features. Read the full New Times review

8. Cookie's Fortune: (Robert Altman) You can never quite count Altman out. After a string of less-satisfying films, he came back this year with a sweet, low-key look at a small Southern town. Every performance was spot-on. Read the full New Times review

9. Run Lola Run: (Tom Tykwer, Germany) It may not be profound, but it's a great reminder of the sheer kineticism that no narrative medium besides cinema can reproduce. Read the full New Times review

10. The Limey: (Steven Soderbergh) Soderbergh follows up Out of Sight with a very different kind of crime film: crisp, no-nonsense action that never stops being driven by character. Read the full New Times review -- Andy Klein

Jean's Top 10
1. Cider House Rules: No other film this year captures the complex, bittersweet nature of life so movingly. Michael Caine and Delroy Lindo are standouts in a terrific ensemble cast. Filled with grace, compassion, and humor, this is director Lasse Hallstrom's best work since My Life as a Dog. Read the full New Times review

2. The Insider: Idealism and harsh reality -- and all the moral shades in-between -- collide in this hard-hitting exposé that features formidable performances by Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. Director Michael Mann marries his sense of outrage with his trademark powerhouse visual style in a fact-based story that casts a harsh light on journalistic ethics and the personal cost of telling the truth.

3. American Beauty: As darkly comic as it is disturbing, this take-no-prisoners look at a dysfunctional American family marks an impressive directorial debut for theatrical director Sam Mendes (Cabaret). Kevin Spacey, arguably the greatest actor working today, is even more extraordinary than usual. Read the full New Times review

4. October Sky: A small treasure from director Joe Johnston, based on the memoir by Homer H. Hickham, Jr., about making one's dreams come true despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Heartfelt and moving, without being the least bit sentimental. Exceptional family entertainment.

5. All About My Mother: A richly textured film from Spain's Pedro Almodovar, one of the few true auteurs working today. Merging the comic, tragic, and subversive, this beautifully acted screwball drama is Almodovar's most mature film to date. Read the full New Times review

6. West Beirut: In his directorial debut, Lebanese-born cinematographer Ziad Doueiri examines the chaos of a divided, war-torn city (Beirut, 1975) from the perspective of an adventurous teenager who gradually comes to appreciate the corrosive effect of the conflict. Rami Doueiri, the director's brother, is a complete natural in his acting debut.

7. Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl: Chinese-born actress Joan Chen turns director in this stark but beautiful look at the failure of China's Cultural Revolution. Tibetan actor Lopsong brings heartwrenching dignity to his role of a peasant assigned to teach a naive city girl about herding horses. Magnificently shot by cinematographer Lu Yue, the film has an eloquent simplicity that proves emotionally devastating. Read the full New Times review

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