The Matrix. The Sixth Sense. Fight Club. The Insider. Magnolia. Need I say more. For various reasons, the last year of the millennium saw an outpouring of auteur-driven filmmaking. Movie genres were redefined: was The Sixth Sense a horror, thriller or ghost story? What was Fight Club or Being John Malkovich? And new genres were invented like the horror pseudo-documentary – The Blair Witch Project.
Part of this creative outpouring could be traced back to Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 Pulp Fiction. It was a critical and box office success which gave studios the confidence to experiment with less conventional movies for years to come.
The decade also saw the increasing anxiety amongst the middles classes, especially men, which allowed movies like Fight Club, American Beauty and Office to touch a nerve. Then there was the rise of the internet and fears of the Y2K bug that set the stage for The Matrix. Finally, the year also the return of heavyweight directors like Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut), and Terence Malick (Thin Red Line). It also saw the debut of Christopher Nolan with his film Following.
I learnt all this in Brian Raftery’s excellent ‘Best.Movie.Year.Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen’. It’s packed with anecdotes and insights on the top movies of that year. Did you know that the first choices to play Neo in The Matrix were Will Smith, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Sandra Bullock. In the end, it went to Keanu Reeves. Even funnier was that Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered for the Morpheus character (it went to Lawrence Fishburne).
At the time, many thought 1999 would mark the beginning of a golden era for movies, but instead, it signaled the peak. Y2K, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq war resulted in audiences to prefer escapism to being challenged. The rise of the Chinese film audience required less nuance and the success of 2002’s Spiderman began the CGI superhero movie juggernaut. Then there was the shift of creative talent to TV. 1999 was the debut year for The Sopranos and The West Wing.
While the golden era never happened, at least we have the movies made in 1999 – here’s a more complete list to enjoy:
The Sixth Sense
Boys Don’t Cry
Being John Malkovich
Run Lola Run
The Blair Witch Project
Eyes Wide Shut
Thin Red Line
10 Things I Hate About You
The Best Man
Star Wars Phantom Menace
All About My Mother
The Virgin Suicides
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