Sunday, August 11, 2019

Movies of 1999

Today's episode of Sounds of Cinema took a look back at the movies of 1999. That was a transformative year in American cinema with old directors fading away and new talents making their mark and many films were experimental, original, and exciting. Rather than examining a handful of titles, this show looked at some of the trends in cinema from that year. You can find the full commentary from the show here.

 Here is run down of some of the exceptional films from 1999. Keep in mind, all of these films were released in a single year.

American Pie - A group of teenage boys plot to lose their virginity on prom night. The picture was extraordinarily crude for its day but the picture was also very funny. American Pie echoed 1980s sex comedies like The Last American Virgin but it was better hearted than those films.

Angela's Ashes - Alan Parker directed a well-received adaptation of Frank McCourt’s memoir. It retained McCourt's humor and soulfulness and had a vivid feel for its time and place.

Any Given Sunday - Oliver Stone released the 1999 football drama Any Given Sunday and the movie concluded a prolific decade for the filmmaker.

Being John Malkovich - Directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich had a wacky conceit: a puppeteer discovers a portal that puts travelers into the mind of actor John Malkovich.

The Blair Witch Project did not invent the found footage genre but the film did it very well and popularized the format and inspired a whole niche of imitators.

Bowfinger - This show business satire starring Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy was a very funny take on Hollywood with an independent filmmaker getting his movie made by any means necessary.

But I’m a Cheerleader was a satire in which a high school studen is sent to gay conversion therapy.

Boys Don’t Cry - Based on a real life incident, Hilary Swank plays a transgender man who navigates life in rural Nebraska. Director Kimberly Peirce should have had a bigger career following this film's success.

Cruel Intentions - Based on Choderlos de Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons, the film was a frankly sexual story of seduction and manipulation at a private prep school. Its satirical qualities are obvious now but they weren’t necessarily so evident to viewers of 1999.

Dick lampooned the Watergate scandal with the story of two dimwitted young women (Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams) who are hired to be Richard Nixon’s dog walkers and they eventually expose the thirty-seventh President’s misdeeds and lead to his resignation.

Dogma - The Catholic League organized a campaign against Dogma but this film was no mere act of provocation. Kevin Smith’s work is so well loved because he mixes humor with sincerity and Dogma was genuinely interested in matters of faith and theology.

Drop Dead Gorgeous was a pseudo-documentary about a Midwest beauty pageant gone awry. Drop Dead Gorgeous was not well received at the time but it has developed a cult following.

EdTV - Reality television was just getting started in 1999 and EdTV was ahead of the curve with its story of an everyman who is followed twenty-four hours a day by a camera crew.

eXistenZ - David Cronenberg has long been fascinated by the intersection of technology and the human body and the director’s 1999 film was about characters stuck in a virtual reality program. eXistenZ was well reviewed but it was released less than a month after The Matrix and got lost.

Election - Adapted from Tom Perrotta’s novel, Election was whip smart and wickedly funny but it also had the unusual feature of shifting points of view which allowed it a level of nuance that satires rarely achieve.

Fight Club - A seminal film of a generation, Fight Club was exciting and subversive and brutal and funny. The movie has gained popularity since 1999 for both the right and the wrong reasons, with some of its biggest fans completely misunderstanding the film's message.

Galaxy Quest - This sci-fi satire starred Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman and has developed a cult following worthy of the films and television shows that inspired it.

The Green Mile - Frank Darabont followed up The Shawshank Redemption with this underappreciated Stephen King adaptation.

The Hurricane - Norman Jewison helmed The Hurricane which was the final high note in a directorial career that included In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof, and Moonstruck.

The Insider -Michael Mann made one his best films in 1999 with this true story of a whistle blower who exposes big tobacco.

Magnolia - Paul Thomas Anderson's follow up to Boogie Nights was an ensemble piece that wove together the stories of various characters living in Los Angeles. This film makes especially effective use of Tom Cruise's talents.

Man on the Moon - Milos Forman helmed the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon starring Jim Carrey. The movie was a financial disappointment but time has been kind to Man on the Moon. It’s an intelligent and playful movie and Carrey’s performance is a career high.

The Matrix - One of the sleeper hits of 1999, The Matrix’s fast-paced filmmaking, counter cultural ideas, and hip style pointed to the future, at least in the short term.

Office Space - Originally a box office failure in 1999, Office Space became a popular title due to its repeated showings on Comedy Central in the 2000s. It is also a highl quotable comedy from Mike Judge and it foreshadowed his HBO series Silicon Valley.

Ravenous balanced horror with black comedy in a story of cannibalism on the American frontier.

The Sixth Sense - M. Night Shyamalan was dubbed "The Next Spielberg" by Newsweek magazine following the release of this film. Things didn't quite work out that way but The Sixth Sense remains an impressive piece of work.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was as smart was it was lewd. American culture of the 1990s was preoccupied with the impact of media on children and South Park contorted that moral panic into a violent and vulgar and hysterical farce.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace - The biggest box office hit of 1999 came across creaky and anachronistic but two decades on the first Star Wars prequel has an undeniable legacy evidenced by the remake of The Lion King and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Three Kings - David O. Russell's war film took place during the first Gulf War as a group of American soliders find a stash of gold.

Titus - This adaptation of Titus Andronicus was one of the most bizarre Shakespeare adaptations ever. The movie is severely stylized with outrageous costumes, unusual cinematography and production design, a soundtrack that includes different genres of music, and a wild performance by Anthony Hopkins.

Varsity Blues - This R-rated story of high school football players coping with the pressures of their Texas community punched a hole in the mythology of high school football glory. It makes an interesting double feature with The Virgin Suicides.

The Virgin Suicides - Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut was an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides novel was a quietly distressing story of sexual repression.

Monday, August 5, 2019

1999 Retrospective on Sounds of Cinema

The episode airing Sunday, August 11, 2019 will break from Sounds of Cinema's usual format for a special retrospective of movies from the year 1999. That was a transformative year in American cinema with old directors fading away and new talents making their mark and many films were experimental, original, and exciting. Rather than examining a handful of movies, this episode will look at some of the trends of 1999 and feature a cross section of film music from that year.

Sounds of Cinema airs Sundays at 9am on 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona, Minnesota and at 11am on 89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato, Minnesota. The show can be heard over the air, online at each station's website, and live streaming with the Tune In app.