The Year of Being John Malkovich

Top 10 Films of the Year, Decade, and Eternity

Everywhere, pundits have been proclaiming 1999 as a good year for movies, citing the number of excellent films released during the past months and the ease of compiling Top 10 lists as evidence of the year's bounty. Here, the Chronicle's film reviewers add their voices to the national chorus. Unlike years past, when one or two films, like Titanic, Schindler's List, or Shakespeare in Love, would rise to prominence as obvious front-runners, 1999 has seen no real consensus among the various critics' groups regarding their No.1 choices. Yet, what's interesting is that so many of the same titles keep cropping up on all the lists. The only real variation is in their order of placement. Still, there's a pall hanging over the whole sense of the year in movies that resembles our general reaction to the Y2K bust. Months and years of frenzied anticipation were cruelly deflated by the reality of the non-event. None of the plentiful disaster scenarios came true. Might we say that Y2K resembled a phantom menace? Star Wars: Episode One -- The Phantom Menace, perhaps? All that build-up and commotion for such little payoff. Sure, the movie earned a gazillion dollars and won a place on the list of all-time top-grossers. But did anyone really love it? Even the diehard fans were heard grousing. In fact, the year 2000 may come to be remembered as the boom time for picking up cheap, never-used, second-hand generators and Jar Jar Binks lunchboxes (also never used).

1999 was, indeed, a good year for movies. The big studios released an amazing number of smaller-scaled, unpredictable movies such as The Straight Story, The Limey, Rushmore, Election, and Summer of Sam. The certainty of "sure things" like Wild Wild West and Eyes Wide Shut failed to become summer blockbusters, while such small-budgeted films as The Blair Witch Project and American Pie packed in audiences throughout the summer and the galloping success of films like The Mummy and The Sixth Sense surprised even their distributors.

It was also a good year for narrative experimentation as demonstrated by such films as Being John Malkovich, Go, The Limey, and Run Lola Run. With South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, we saw the most daring musical to come out of Hollywood in many a year. Horror films received a breath of fresh life with The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project, which reminded us that there is nothing scarier than what we can imagine in our own minds. Blair Witch also gave us a glimpse of the future of movies in terms of marketing strategies and digital technology. Animation had one of its best years ever with the releases of The Iron Giant, Princess Mononoke, Tarzan, Toy Story 2, and, yes, South Park. All are deserving of year-end kudos and praise for their appeal to adult audiences.

Ultimately, 1999 was a year of the unexpected. It included such things as the visual intoxication of The Matrix and the unconventional heroics of Three Kings; the big box-office success of not one, but two Julia Roberts' vehicles, Notting Hill and Runaway Bride, and the continued broad appeal of Adam Sandler in Big Daddy, while such stars as Kevin Costner in For Love of the Game, Harrison Ford in Random Hearts, and Will Smith in Wild Wild West all raked in disappointing returns. If unpredictability turns out to be the legacy of 1999, then the future of movies looks very good indeed.

Some notes about the tabulating: A total of six reviewers submitted Top 10 lists. Individual entries on each list were assigned numerical values. Each first choice received 10 points, the second film nine points and so on. Films classified as "near misses" were not assigned any numerical value. The points were then tallied to find the cumulative Chronicle Top 10 Films of 1999. All genres of film were equally eligible -- narrative, documentary, foreign, etc. -- as long as they opened for a theatrical run in Austin during the calendar year 1999.

This strictly local definition of "the calendar year 1999" creates a list that is exclusive to Austin. This means that such films as Magnolia, The Hurricane, All About My Mother, Snow Falling on Cedars, and Angela's Ashes -- all of which were released during the last few day of 1999 but will not open in Austin until the early weeks of January 2000 -- are out of the running. It also means that numerous 1998 movies that similarly arrived in Austin in 1999 were eligible for consideration. Thus, many of the titles that figured prominently in these lists, including Rushmore, Affliction, Gods and Monsters, and The Thin Red Line were, technically, 1998 films. We don't believe it matters though. Clearly the time lag doesn't diminish these films' greatness or freshness. To view the entire list of eligible films that opened in Austin during 1999, turn to the "Screens" section of our Web site (http://www.auschron.com).

Following the Top 10 lists are yet more lists: best of the decade and desert island movies. These are presented as the individual reviewers' lists, but no effort was made to tabulate these into combined totals. Their purpose is twofold: to drive our reviewers stark-raving mad and provide food for thought for the readers. We encourage you to have fun making your own lists -- of Top 10s, movies to catch on video, and things to watch for on the screen. And resolve to see even more movies in the new century.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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