In 1999, “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” finally hit theaters. George Lucas had left fans hanging for over 20 years and the big payoff was ready to hit. However disappointing, and believe me it was terrible, it was a pivotal moment of one of the greatest years in the history of cinema. It’s no wonder I fell in love with my wife this year as well, after dating on and off the year before, it was 1999 when Andrea started working at the movie theater. I skipped more school and watched more movies than any other year in my life. I love the “event” of a big film, I bought my tickets early for “Phantom Menace”, I wanted to be at the first showing of the first day and there was no midnight release in Portales. Star Wars was not the only franchise that got re-tooled, or completely tooled, however you want to say it. “Carrie 2″ came out, “Deuce Bigalow” was born, “An American Tale: The Mystery of the Night Monster”, “Elmo in Grouch Land”, Muppets in Space”, “Godzilla 2000″, and “Pokemon: The First Movie” aptly titled, all hit theaters.
Some of the films in 1999 were no good, “The Phantom Menace” was great for me at the time, Darth Maul still is, as are all the Jedi who were cast, unfortunately the little boy who played Anakin as well as a hodge-podge story that tries to explain the mythology of the Star Wars world lacks a lot to be desired. I won’t even mention Jar-Jar Binks. In fact, all of the prequels very much remind me of “LOST”, we as an audience demand answers and then hate the ones we get. I watched “Bicentennial Man” starring Robin Williams at the Y2K party in Clovis where I was really hoping to win a mustang, that movie sucked. Andrea, Jared Sisneros, and myself skipped school and drove all the way to Lubbock to watch “The Blair Witch Project” only to be told we were to young to get in. We bought tickets to “The Iron Giant” and snuck in anyways, only to leave shaking our heads wondering what we had just witnessed, garbage. Turns out “The Iron Giant” was a much better film and was the start of Brad Bird’s career in feature length animated direction.
Many other directors made a huge splash in 1999, and ushered in a new group of auteurs. Spike Jonze directed “Being John Malkovich”, Sam Mendes directed Oscar winner “American Beauty”, Alexander Payne directed “Election”, David Fincher directed “Fight Club”, Paul Thomas Anderson directed “Magnolia”, and while it wasn’t his breakout hit, it established him as the auteur who would have Daniel Day-Lewis screaming “I’ll drink your milkshake” ten years later. The brothers Wachowski directed “The Matrix”, Mike Judge mostly known for “Beavis and Butthead” directed his classic “Office Space”, M. Night Shamalamadingdong directed “The Sixth Sense”, David O. Russell directed “Three Kings”, Sofia Coppola directed “The Virgin Suicides”, and Julie Taymore directed “Titus”. That list is absolutely staggering, the quality of work of that “freshman” class is one for the ages. Other more established directors had something to say in 1999 as well.
Martin Scorsese directed “Bringing out the Dead”, Stanley Kubrick, the master of all masters, would debut his final film posthumously, “Eyes Wide Shut”, Anthony Minghella directed “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, a film I still love and think is very underrated. Tim Burton directed “Sleepy Hollow”, Spike Lee directed “Summer of Sam”, Roman Polanski directed “The 9th Gate”, Jay Roach directed both “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” as well as “Mystery Alaska”, Milos Forman directed “Man on the Moon”, Steven Soderberg directed “The Limey”, Luc Besson directed “The Messenger”, Michael Mann directed “The Insider”, Jim Jarmusch directed “Ghost Dog”, Kevin Smith directed “Dogma”, Oliver Stone directed “Any Given Sunday”, Norman Jewison directed “The Hurricane”, Trey Parker and Matt Stone directed “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut”,Frank Darabont directed “The Green Mile”, Clint Eastwood directed “True Crime” and Harold Ramis directed “Analyze This”. Again, staggering.
There were also great popcorn flicks, chick flicks, and comedies in 1999. Not your run-of-the-mill either, some of these most definitely have stood the test of time. “American Pie”, “10 Things I hate About You, “The 13th Warrior”, “Big Daddy”, “Blast From the Past”, “Bowfinger”, “The Bone Collector”, “The Cider House Rules”, “Cruel Intentions”, “Detroit Rock City”, “For Love of the Game”, “Galaxy Quest”, “Fantasia 2000″, “Girl, Interrupted”, “The General’s Daughter”, “The Green Mile”, “Go”, “Idle Hands”, “Jawbreaker”, “The King and I”, “Life”, “Never Been Kissed”, “Payback”, “Runaway Bride”, “She’s All That”, “Stuart Little”,”Notting Hill”,”A Midsummer Nights Dream”,”Varsity Blues”, “Toy Story 2″, “The Mummy”, “8mm”, and “The World is Not Enough”.
You would be hard pressed to find a better single year in film. I must have almost bankrupted my parents because I saw a lot of these in theaters, and I see a lot of these over and over every year. I don’t know what happened in 1997, when most of these films were being written and 1998 when most of these films were being filmed, but it must have been something spectacular, or not. Maybe it was the luck of the draw, a mix of the right situations at the right time. We could remember it as the year of Jar-Jar Binks, when millions of “Star Wars” fans marked their line in the sand with the series, but then we would be missing 1999′s glory. We could call it the year of “The Matrix”, a time when all things were possible, when the world of cinema and storytelling were flipped on their heads, CGI, special effects, as well as superb craftsmanship of story all coming together in a perfect storm. Whatever it was, it has never been repeated, 1999 remains a “golden” year in the annals of cinema history. I hope this leads you to seeking out movies you’ve never seen, or revisiting some classics you love.