The Best of 1999

Overall this has been a disappointing year for movies. Entertainment Weekly recently called 1999, “The Year That Changed Movies”, and yet I don’t think that is nearly the case. Yes, there were quite a number of good films (as are the ones listed below), but relatively few great ones. In any case, here are my picks for the best movies and performances of the past year:

Runner Up – James Woods – True Crime and The General’s Daughter
Winner – Chris Cooper – American Beauty and October Sky
This was a tough category, with such prospects as Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Malkovich, Max von Sydow and Clark Gregg running close behind. However James Woods did an outstanding job in two rather pathetic films. He enlivened them, and made the experience much better than it would have otherwise been. In fact, he’d be my top choice were it not a truly superb year for Chris Cooper. For his work in October Sky alone, he would have been my choice, but his excellent role in American Beauty adds the icing to the cake.

Runner Up – Chloe Sevigny – Boys Don’t Cry
Winner – Julianne Moore – Magnolia, An Ideal Husband, and Cookie’s Fortune
Things aren’t as rich in the Supporting Actress category, yet there were two superb supporting actresses in the year. First of all, Chloe Sevigny turned out some outstanding work in Boys Don’t Cry, holding even with Hilary Swank’s spectacular performance, and making the film one of the best of the year. However, Julianne Moore turned in not one, but three great supporting performances this year. Her best was the scheming Mrs. Cheveley in An Ideal Husband, but Magnolia, and Cookie’s Fortune wouldn’t have been the same without her.

Runner-Up – Rupert Everett – An Ideal Husband
Winner – Denzel Washington – The Hurricane
This one was another tough race, with Richard Farnsworth of The Straight Story barely missing the cut. However, he was up against two superb actors. Rupert Everett positively shined in An Ideal Husband, obviously relishing his role as Lord Goring, and making the audience relish it as well. However, he was outdone by Denzel Washington in The Hurricane, who took a familiar role and made it absolutely fascinating.

Runner Up – Cecilia Roth – All About My Mother
Winner – Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry
Two strong choices easily top this category. First of all, Cecilia Roth’s wonderful performance in Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother seals that wonderful film together. Moving from grief to joy, she enlivens the unusual tale, and makes it all look simple. However even she is blown away by not only the year’s best actress, but the year’s best performance from Hilary Swank. She makes the tragic, real-life role of Brandon in Boys Don’t Cry come alive with electrifying energy. It’s a fascinating, real portrait and a credit to Swank that she pulls it off so well.

TOP TEN FILMS (in reverse order)

10. The Matrix
A film that probably wouldn’t have made the top ten in a less lenient year. The Matrix does get credit for weaving some deep issues in what could have been a mindless shoot-’em-up. Who’d of thought that a Keanu Reeves film would end up in the top ten, much less being so fun?
9. The Iron Giant
The best animated film of the year, with plenty of material for kids and adults. When was the last time a children’s movie really made you think? The Iron Giant‘s rich storyline provides ample room for philosophical ruminations, as well as some all-out entertainment.
8. Snow Falling on Cedars
Beautiful and haunting, Snow Falling on Cedars boasts the best cinematography of any film on this top ten. But the film is more than just a collection of pretty pictures, and its intelligent and moving storyline is underscored by an ensemble of great performances.
7. Magnolia
Ambitious and slightly chaotic, Magnolia is never quite what you expect from an ensemble drama…but in a good way, a very good way. You’re never quite sure where the story will take you, but that is a large part of the film’s charm.
6. October Sky
A good solid story makes for the best family film this year. October Sky is about dreams, hopes and ambitions, and the struggle to make them come true. There need to be more films like this one.
5. An Ideal Husband
A great deal of the credit behind An Ideal Husband‘s brilliance must go to Oscar Wilde. But this film is more than just a simple reproduction of his witty stage play. A series of wonderful performances (including Rupert Everett and Julianne Moore, who are credited above) add the perfect amount of zest to this great comedy.
4. Being John Malkovich
The best comedy (albeit a dark one) in a year painfully short on good ones. Also, the strangest film of the year, and perhaps the decade. Intelligent and offbeat, Being John Malkovich is one of those rare films that gets better each time you reflect back upon it…and that is quite often.
3. The Straight Story
David Lynch delivers his most straightforward tale, and, amazingly it turns out to be not only one of the best of the year, but his personal best as well.
2. Boys Don’t Cry
This was a close runner-up for number 1, and a spectacular and moving film. Take it as a beautiful love story, an engaging character study, a portrait of the American heartland, or an examination of the brutal power of hate. Any way you view it, Boys Don’t Cry is a powerful work of art.and….

1. American Beauty
The best film of the year is never quite what it seems. Is it a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family? A portrait of a nervous breakdown (or a few)? A statement on what it means to be normal? There are many ways to examine this layered, well-structured film, and each seems more brilliant than the last. Top it off with some terrific performances, and you have the best film of 1999.
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