#TBT: Looking Back at the Best Films of 1999

Welcome back, everyone! This time, I’m going to take you guys back to 1999 in what will more than likely be the most divisive list I’ve posted to this day – hell, I’m even agonizing over some of my choices – one in particular. But to put it in perspective, I don’t just look at the films and judge solely on their composition and structure and all that jazz, but I also take into consideration the effect, if any, they’ve had on the film industry since their release – negatively or positively.

So with that being said, let’s get started shall we?

10. Fight Club

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

First rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. So I won’t talk about Fight Club.

9. American Pie

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Not wasting any time stirring the pot. American Pie ranked higher than Fight Club?! I can just hear it now but yes, I ranked American Pie higher than Fight Club. “Suck me, beautiful!”

Directed by Paul Weitz, American Pie very simply is about four teenage boys (Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas and Eddie Kaye Thomas) who make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night.

This is the teen comedy of all teen comedies. Looking past the pact that is made and the ultimate end game being to lose their virginity, American Pie brilliantly captures what being a teenager is all about; being a horn dog, failing miserably at trying to find love, flirting awkwardly, pretending you’re somebody you’re not to impress a girl and, most importantly, being awkward and coming into your own.

Who hasn’t wanted to hook up with the hot foreign exchange student? Or date a college girl while still being in high school? The characters all perfectly embodied people you knew in high school (and if you say you didn’t know people like Stiffler or Finch or Jessica in high school then I call bullshit). Oh, and the film is downright hilarious, so there’s that.

8. Magnolia

Courtesy of New Line Cinema
Courtesy of New Line Cinema

This is probably the weirdest and quirkiest entry in Paul Thomas Anderson’s impressive filmography. It rains frogs. ’nuff said.

Directed by the aforementioned PTA, Magnolia boasts a killer ensemble cast featuring William H. Macy, Tom Cruise, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly and Felicity Huffman in an epic mosaic of interrelated characters in search of love, forgiveness, and meaning in the San Fernando Valley.

Despite its quirkiness, Magnolia boasts typically great direction from PTA and strong performances from all actors – a PTA staple – and even bane of my existence Tom Cruise is in top form here. I’m convinced that PTA can pull an Oscar worthy performance from a broomstick, the guy is phenomenal.

7. The Iron Giant

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Before he was helming high profile films like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Tomorrowland, and Disney/Pixar classic The Incredibles, Brad Bird made this brilliant animated film.

Directed by the aforementioned Bird, The Iron Giant follows a boy who makes friends with an innocent alien giant robot that a paranoid government agent wants to destroy. It features voice work from Jennifer Aniston, Harry Conick, Jr., Cloris Leachman and Vin Diesel as the Giant.

One of the first animated films I saw as a young adult that made me feel real emotions, emotions I always thought were only reserved for live-action dramas. Such a layered, heartfelt story told with such compassion by Brad Bird. If I ever come across the film, I always need to make sure I have a box of tissues handy.

6. The Matrix

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

What? The Matrix at number 6?! Yes. Yes it is, and I can’t WAIT for you to see the films in front of it!!

Directed by The Wachowski siblings, The Matrix follows Keanu Reeves as a computer hacker who learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers. It also stars Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano.

What more is there to say about The Matrix that hasn’t already been said before? A revolutionary sci-fi/action film with ground-breaking use of CGI, superb action choreography, featuring all actors at the top of their game, but also was the high point of The Wachowski sibling’s career so far – which is unfortunate.

It spawned 2 lesser but still entertaining sequels, an animated film based in the same universe, launched Keanu Reeves into mega stardom and gave us countless memes about taking the red or blue pill. It has also spawned several imitators (I actually liked the action sequences in Equilibrium more than The Matrix) and a new breed of sci-fi/action films.

Its influence on the industry is undeniable, but I think the following entry’s influence trumps it.

5. The Blair Witch Project

Courtesy of Artisan Entertainment
Courtesy of Artisan Entertainment

Ah, there it is. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of my collective viewership losing their f-king minds! At least, I think it is? Bueller?

Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, The Blair Witch Project follows three film students who vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind.

This has got to be one of the most divisive films in the history of cinema. Some people love it, like me, and some people hate it – but there’s never a middle ground. I do, however, understand both sides of the equation and why people don’t like it. However, what is not up for debate is that this is one of the most profitable films ever made.

Made on a budget of $60,000 in 1999, the film went on to gross over $240 million dollars worldwide. I’m no math expert or financial analyst, but even I can understand that the film made an enormous profit, and it made that profit strictly because of its absolutely brilliant and ground-breaking viral marketing campaign – literally getting the world to buy into its “found footage” claim.

It also ushered in the much maligned and just as divisive – but highly profitable – found footage sub-genre of horror, which I also like….sometimes.

The viral marketing campaign conducted by The Blair Witch Project is likely never to be duplicated with the fingertip access to technology, which is why I feel it should be commended for capitalizing when it was able to. The argument can be made that the marketing campaign for Blair Witch is what made a marketing campaign – a brilliant one at that – like Deadpool possible.

Blair Witch changed the movie business by really pioneering viral marketing and tapping into a whole new way of looking at how to publicize a film and the benefits that can come from running an effective marketing campaign. The film is also a pretty damn good one, focusing more on creating an eerie and tense atmosphere and scaring you whilst showing you as little as possible.

The directors showed some great restraint in their filmmaking to achieve this and for that, I will always admire, enjoy, and defend this film until the day I die.

4. The Insider

Courtesy of Spyglass Entertainment
Courtesy of Spyglass Entertainment

One of the last really fantastic films from Michael Mann.

Directed by Michael Mann, The Insider is a true story about whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), a research chemist who comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco.

A taut, tense, fantastic thriller that boasts magnificent performances from its leads and brilliant direction from Michael Mann. Al Pacino before he became Al Paemo and screams in everything, and Russell Crowe at the top of his game with Michael Mann at the helm – I’ll take that 10 times out of 10. Regardless of where that trio’s career has wound up, this film is a testament to each of their talents.

I always marvel at directors who are able to create tension with films that are based on a true story where the outcome is already known because they must keep the audience engaged and, at the very least, entertained. Knowing how a film is going to end really takes the wind out of the viewing experience and lends itself to just having the audience detach itself completely from the film, but Michael Mann is able to keep you engaged throughout – even planting some doubt that maybe, just maybe the film won’t end the way you think it’s going to end.

A real tour de force here.

3. The Sixth Sense

Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures
Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan before he became known as Shyamalamadingdong, The Sixth Sense follows a boy (Haley Joel Osment) who communicates with spirits that don’t know they’re dead, seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist (Bruce WIllis).

The exact reason people get so frustrated with Mr. Shyamalan – though I don’t think he’s as bad as some people claim he is. With a twist that will leave you catching your breath (and if you say you saw it coming, I again call bullshit), this horror film was so much more than meets the eye. Choosing to focus on the characters and even with some implication that perhaps Toni Collette’s single mother couldn’t handle her motherly duties, The Sixth Sense is a multi-layered drama disguised as a horror film. Dat twist, doe!

I was really happy when The Visit, Shyamalan’s latest film, turned out to be really, really good because I like him and want him to succeed. He also created and executive produces Wayward Pines,  which is a pretty terrific show. I’m hoping Shyamalan is back and here to stay.

2. Toy Story 2

Courtesy of Disney/Pixar
Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Directed by John Lasseter, Toy Story 2 sees Woody stolen by a toy collector, Buzz and his friends vow to rescue him, but Woody finds the idea of immortality in a museum tempting.

One of the rare sequels that lives up to the original, Toy Story 2 was another classic added to Pixar’s stellar filmography. It introduced us to several new characters that we can no longer imagine the Toy Story universe without, and took the toys into the city to hilarious and heartfelt moments.

There isn’t much more I feel I can say about Toy Story 2 other than it’s terrific. A franchise that a lot of us grew up with that has kept getting better with age and shows just much Pixar has grown and how they tell fantastic stories for children and adults alike.

1. American Beauty

Courtesy of DreamWorks Distribution
Courtesy of DreamWorks Distribution

Directed by Sam Mendes, American Beauty follows a sexually frustrated suburban father (Kevin Spacey) as he has a mid-life crisis after becoming infatuated with his daughter’s best friend (Thora Birch and Mena Suvari, respectively)

A modern masterpiece. It’s as simple as that. On the surface it may seem like this is one of those roll your eyes films that focuses on people you can’t relate to with problems that only the privileged can understand, but it’s so much more than that. Kevin Spacey does such a good job grounding Lester in reality and making him feel like he’s your next door neighbor and his mid life crisis is at times hilarious, other times sad but always entertaining and timely.

At first glance, the Burnham’s seem to have everything and are living the American dream. But what Mendes and the film explore is just how miserable some people are and how the mantra of “money can’t buy happiness” can ring true. Wes Bentley’s performance is also quite incredible, as well as the rest of the ensemble cast.

It’s easy to dismiss a film that had the hype and acclaim that American Beauty had when it was released – I sure did – but I was proven way wrong when I re-watched the film in preparation for this entry.

Honorable Mention:

The Green Mile, 10 Things I Hate About You, Galaxy Quest, Being John Malkovich, Go, Run Lola Run, Boys Don’t Cry

And that’s all, folks! I hope you enjoyed your trip down memory lane with me. Please let me know how I did – did I miss any films or get it right? Any suggestions, comments, or concerns? Anything at all, please, feel free to comment and follow! Most importantly? Thank for reading!

You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and you can also join my Facebook film group Reel People, Real Reviews for more discussions about film, television, and anything pop culture!

This is Jovanni, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.

FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: © 1999 – Artisan Entertainment

Jovanni Ibarra
jovannixibarra@gmail.com