Combustible Celluloid

1999: The Year in Film

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A top ten list of the best movies of the year can in itself have a personality. There are so many movie reviewers out there, and each one makes his or her own list. Many moviegoers who don't have the luxury of writing about the movies week after week make their own lists. And yet I have never seen two lists alike.

In choosing my list, I am torn between movies I love dearly, movies I think are great films, and movies that I think other people should see. Sometimes I love a movie dearly, but it's mine alone. No one else will see it like I do. I hope I have provided a reasonable mix of these films.

In the end, I found myself attracted to underdogs; treasures that were too rich to be watered down into advertising and hype. The one exception was American Beauty, a good film that made money. There is hope.

Happy New Year and best wishes for the next Millennium.

The Top Ten

1. Eyes Wide Shut
By now Stanley Kubrick's last movie has earned a reputation as a failure. It's scoffed at by professionals and moviegoers alike. I suspect, though, that if it were released in the praise-days of December, it would have been received with more awe. And so I wave my flag alone. I was overjoyed to see Kubrick deliberately and maturely exploring the fantasy world between two married adults. This was a major growth for the great artist, whose only other forays into sexuality were violent and pedophiliac in nature. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman have nothing to be ashamed of. On the other hand, the MPAA ratings board and Warner Brothers have everything to be ashamed of for their censorship antics. I eagerly await the inevitable uncut home video version, which will negate the entire controversy. Eyes Wide Shut will be around long after most other 1999 movies have aged badly or faded away.

2. Run Lola Run
Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run was the impossible made possible. It was an 85 minute feat of skill, a movie that moved at top speed, jumping back and forth between animation, video, and film, and maintaining not only its pace, but an amazing human connection. Lola (Franka Potente) was the redheaded punk mother of us all, the powerful woman who can fix any problem by sheer will and stamina alone. Her primal scream will resonate long after those who dismissed this as an Empty-V exercise have forgotten.

3. Autumn Tale
On the verge of 90 years of age, France's Eric Rohmer has found a place of supreme comfort and clarity with Autumn Tale, the concluding chapter of the "Tales of the Four Seasons" series. It's one of the very best films of his long career. On paper it plays like a Hollywood love triangle, but its beauty, intelligence, and delicacy elevated me into a state of utter bliss. Rohmer once said that he would keep making the same film again and again until he got it right. He finally did.

4. Bringing Out the Dead
Martin Scorsese's newest film was unfairly compared to Taxi Driver and trashed. It has nothing to do with Taxi Driver except for some obvious surface elements. It's a darkly comic exploration of an ambulance driver (Nicolas Cage) with a damaged spirit. Scorsese, cinematographer Robert Richardson, and editor Thelma Schoonmaker make the city of New York seem like the inside of Cage's head, filled with ghosts, illusions, creepy-crawlies, and bluish darkness. Scorsese works best when dealing with the spiritual; with this and his last great movie, Kundun, he gets a little closer to the Divine.

5. Rushmore
I didn't know what to make of Wes Anderson's Rushmore when I first saw it during the holiday rush over a year ago. I included it on last year's "runner up" list, even though it officially opened in San Francisco in 1999. I saw it a second time on laserdisc, and its funky rhythms (and Bill Murray's exquisite performance) vibrated more clearly. This comedy is ultimately about the noblest of noble themes: being sad and lonely and looking for something to make it stop.

6. The Straight Story
Two of my top ten are from artists over 70; Eric Rohmer's Autumn Tale, and Richard Farnsworth, who plays Alvin Straight in David Lynch's The Straight Story. Could it be that we're ready to learn a few things from our elders? Would that it were true. Straight hands out plenty of sage wisdom during his cross-country trip atop a lawnmower to see his brother. Lynch stays true to his own vision and keeps away from excess. The concept itself is ridiculous, but The Straight Story is sublime.

7. American Beauty
This will no doubt be the popular choice for the year's best picture. I include it at number 7 because of its indelible artistry mixed with nuggets of hilarious truth. Director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Alan Ball, both working for the first time in movies, bring us a picture of American suburbia in 1999 and artfully crack open the facade to let a little light shine through. It's Blue Velvet updated for the 90s. It's a supreme movie of the moment, even if it's not a movie for the ages.

8. The Lovers on the Bridge
This modern classic was released in 1991 to great acclaim and controversy in France under the title Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. It arrived here eight years late and was quietly dumped into second-tier rep houses by former indie saviour Miramax. Its wild hugeness combined with small delicate moments make it a beautiful epic folly. Director Leos Carax is clearly a madman, but his vision of two homeless lovers (Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant) living on the Pont-Neuf bridge not only recalled Chaplin's City Lights (1931) and Jean Vigošs L'Atalante (1934), but foreshadowed James Cameronšs Titanic (1997).

9. Election
Reese Witherspoon gives the performance of the year as Tracy Flick, the wound-up, supercharged candidate for high school class presidency. Matthew Broderick is her complacent teacher on the verge of cracking. Director Alexander Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor show us high school politics as a mirror to the vicious, back-stabbing real-life version. But Election gains heart through its smaller characters, simple people looking for acceptance in a wind tunnel of power lust.

10. eXistenZ
The brilliant filmmaker David Cronenberg returns for the first time since his 1996 masterpiece Crash and with his first original screenplay since 1983's Videodrome. Jennifer Jason Leigh stars as a guru-like video game designer who takes Jude Law on a trip into his first virtual reality video game. This game requires one to have an implant in one's spine and to plug the game cartridge directly into the body. Once inside the game, nothing turns out the way it seems. Cronenberg delivers sci-fi thrills while all the time staying true to his vision of finding the link between humans and technology. Fans may find certain similarities between eXistenZ and Videodrome bothersome, but both films are the real thing.

Runners Up

American Movie (Chris Smith), The Apple (Samira Makhmalbaf), Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze), The General (John Boorman), The Iron Giant (Brad Bird), julien donkey-boy (Harmony Korine), The Limey (Steven Soderbergh), Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter), The War Zone (Tim Roth), Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl (Joan Chen)

Honorable Mention

Affliction, After Life, All About My Mother, Bedrooms & Hallways, Beyond the Clouds, Buena Vista Social Club, Children of Heaven, Cookie's Fortune, Cradle Will Rock, Dick, Divorce Iranian Style, Dr. Akagi, The Dreamlife of Angels, The End of the Affair, Eternity and a Day, Fight Club, Genghis Blues; God Said, "Ha!"; Limbo, The Love Letter, Magnolia, Man of the Century, Man on the Moon, Mansfield Park, My Name Is Joe, On the Ropes, Princess Mononoke, Sitcom, The Sixth Sense; Sleepy Hollow, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut; Spectres of the Spectrum, Sweet and Lowdown, The Swindle, Three Kings, Topsy-Turvy, True Crime, West Beirut, The Winslow Boy


The Acid House, Best Laid Plans, The Blair Witch Project, Dogma, Following, Lake Placid, Men Cry Bullets, Ravenous, The 13th Warrior, The World Is Not Enough


  • Buena Vista Social Club
  • On the Ropes
  • Divorce Iranian Style
  • The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg
  • Genghis Blues
  • Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr.
  • Citizen Hong Kong
  • The Last Days
  • Get Bruce
  • The Source
  • Hands on a Hard Body

    DVD Release of the Year

  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (Criterion Collection)


  • Grand Illusion (1937, Jean Renoir)
  • Blow Up (1966, Michelangelo Antonioni)
  • The Passenger (1975, Michelangelo Antonioni)
  • L'Avventura (1960, Michelangelo Antonioni)
  • Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma)
  • A Hard Day's Night (1964, Richard Lester)
  • Legong: Dance of the Virgins (1935, Henry de la Falaise & Gaston Glass)
  • The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed)
  • Nightmare Alley (1947, Edmund Goulding)
  • La Signora di Tutti (1934, Max Ophuls)
  • Le Plaisir (1952, Max Ophuls)
  • The Reckless Moment (1949, Max Ophuls)
  • The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926, Lotte Reiniger)
  • Days of Heaven (1978, Terrence Malick)
  • Dial M for Murder (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

    The Worst Movies of 1999

  • The Loss of Sexual Innocence
  • Angela's Ashes
  • Chill Factor
  • The Cider House Rules
  • A Dog of Flanders
  • Dreaming of Joseph Lees
  • End of Days
  • Inspector Gadget
  • The King and I
  • The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
  • Music of the Heart
  • Pokemon: The First Movie
  • Ride With the Devil
  • Romance
  • Teaching Mrs. Tingle
  • Wild Wild West

    Guilty Pleasures

  • Anna and the King
  • Twice Upon a Yesterday

    Some Other Worthy Opinions


    1. Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer)
    2. Open Your Eyes (Alejandro Amenabar)
    3. The Red Violin (Francois Girard)
    4. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze)
    5. Limbo (John Sayles)
    6. The War Zone (Tim Roth)
    7. American Beauty (Sam Mendes)
    8. October Sky (Joe Johnston)
    9. The Winslow Boy (David Mamet)
    10. Bringing Out the Dead (Martin Scorsese)
    11. Cookie's Fortune (Robert Altman)
    12. The Limey (Steven Soderbergh)
    13. Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter)
    14. The Iron Giant (Brad Bird)


    1. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze)
    2. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson)
    3. Three Kings (David O. Russell)
    4. Boys Don't Cry (Kimberly Peirce)
    5. Bringing Out the Dead (Martin Scorsese)
    6. Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki)
    7. The War Zone (Tim Roth)
    8. American Beauty (Sam Mendes)
    9. Topsy-Turvy (Mike Leigh)
    10. The Insider (Michael Mann)

    J. HOBERMAN (Village Voice)

    1. Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
    2. Khrustaliov, My Car! (Alexei Guerman)
    3. Topsy-Turvy (Mike Leigh)
    4. Rosetta (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
    5. eXistenZ (David Cronenberg)
    6. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson)
    7. Holy Smoke (Jane Campion)
    8. Divine (Arturo Ripstein)
    9. The Hole (Tsai Ming-liang)
    10. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze)

    STEPHEN HUNTER (Washington Post)

    1. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze)
    2. Three Kings (David O. Russell)
    3. American Beauty (Sam Mendes)
    4. Election (Alexander Payne)
    5. The Matrix (Andy & Larry Wachowski)
    6. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella)
    7. Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton)
    8. An Ideal Husband (Oliver Parker)
    9. Autumn Tale (Eric Rohmer)
    10. The Thomas Crown Affair (John McTiernan)

    DAVE KEHR (New York Daily News)

    1. All About My Mother (Pedro Almodovar)
    2. Autumn Tale (Eric Rohmer)
    3. Holy Smoke! (Jane Campion)
    4. Election (Alexander Payne)
    5. julien donkey-boy (Harmony Korine)
    6. Besieged (Bernardo Bertolucci)
    7. Dogma (Kevin Smith)
    8. The Limey (Steven Soderbergh)
    9. Rosetta (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
    10. The 13th Warrior (John McTiernan)

    MICK LaSALLE (SF Chronicle)

    1. The Dreamlife of Angels (Erick Zonca)
    2. Mansfield Park (Patricia Rozema)
    3. Go (Doug Liman)
    4. Autumn Tale (Eric Rohmer)
    5. The Red Violin (Francois Girard)
    6. Election (Alexander Payne)
    7. Tea with Mussolini (Franco Zeffirelli)
    8. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze)
    9. The Matrix (Wachowski Brothers)
    10. Dogma (Kevin Smith)

    JANET MASLIN (New York Times)

    1. Topsy-Turvy (Mike Leigh)
    2. Boys Don't Cry (Kimberly Peirce)
    3. All About My Mother (Pedro Almodovar)
    4. The Straight Story (David Lynch)
    5. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella)
    6. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze)
    7. The Insider (Michael Mann)
    8. American Movie (Chris Smith)
    9. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick)
    10. The Dreamlife of Angels (Erick Zonca)

    WESLEY MORRIS (SF Examiner)

    1. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (Trey Parker)
    2. Election (Alexander Payne)
    3. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze)
    4. Meeting People Is Easy (??)
    5. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson)
    6. Boys Don't Cry (Kimberly Peirce)
    7. The Limey (Steven Soderbergh)
    8. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella)
    9. Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer)
    10. FILL-IN-THE-BLANK: Late August, Early September; first hour of Fight Club; Summer of Sam, My Son the Fanatic, Dick, The Blair Witch Project, Topsy-Turvy, All About My Mother, eXistenZ, Three Kings, American Movie, The Straight Story, Rushmore

    1. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick)
    2. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick)
    3. Rushmore (Wes Anderson)
    4a. Divorce: Iranian Style (Kim Longinotto & Ziba Mir-Hosseini)
    4b. Narita: Heta Village (Shinsuke Ogawa)
    5. I Stand Alone (Gaspar Noe)
    6. The Lovers on the Bridge (Leos Carax)
    7a. Besieged (Bernardo Bertolucci)
    7b. The Hole (Tsai Ming-liang)
    8a. The Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Julio Medem)
    8b. Circle's Short Circuit (Caspar Stracke)
    9a. Dr. Akagi (Shohei Imamura)
    9b. Mr. Zhao (Lu Yue)
    10a. American Beauty (Sam Mendes)
    10b. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze)
    10c. The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan)
    10d. Three Kings (David O. Russell)

    CHUCK STEPHENS (Film Comment & SF Bay Guardian)

    1. Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
    2. Lies (Jang Sun-woo)
    3. Fight Club (David Fincher)
    4. The Matrix (Andy & Larry Wachowski)
    5. The Power of Kangwon Province (Hong Sang-soo)
    6. Late August, Early September (Olivier Assayas)
    7. Rosetta (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
    8. Election (Alexander Payne)
    9. Gedo (Rokuro Mochizuki)
    10. Seventeen Years (Zhang Yuan)
    11. Faa (Kaos)
    12. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch)
    13. Beau Travail (Claire Denis)
    14. Topsy-Turvy (Mike Leigh)


    1. Three Kings (David O. Russell)
    2. Besieged (Bernardo Bertolucci)
    3. All About My Mother (Pedro Almodovar)
    4. The Straight Story (David Lynch)
    5. The Dreamlife of Angels (Erick Zonca)
    6. Late August, Early September (Olivier Assayas)
    7. Dick (Andrew Fleming)
    8. The Insider (Michael Mann)
    9. Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders)
    10. The Limey (Steven Soderbergh)

    MICHAEL WILMINGTON (Chicago Tribune)

    1. Eternity and a Day (Theo Angelopoulos)
    2. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick)
    3. The Emperor and the Assassin (Chen Kaige)
    4. Bringing Out the Dead (Martin Scorsese)
    5. Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter)
    6. The Hurricane (Norman Jewison)
    7. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson)
    8. Black Cat, White Cat (Emir Kusturica)
    9. Besieged (Bernardo Bertolucci)
    10. The Straight Story (David Lynch)

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