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Screen It Like It’s 1999

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While many critics are scouring their old notebooks to dredge up the “best of the decade” film lists, I wanted to venture back a little further, to a year not only immortalized by a Prince song, but one that may just be one of the best ever in film.

Historians often point to 1939 as the golden year for film, but if the films made six decades later do not get the silver, then the voting may be rigged. I would dare say that aside from a small handful, not one of the films released this past decade has spoken to me as much as some of the films of 1999.

They were innovative in a way that we have really yet to see since. They were amusing in bold and fresh ways, and they marked the end of some of the last quality work from many a dependable star/director.

Listed below is a fond reflection of a few of the films released one decade ago as we now prepare to enter a new one.

American Pie: Easily one of the funniest teen comedies in a long time, as well as an introduction of the term "MILF" into everyday vernacular. Its combination of sweet and salty situations would beget its own cottage industry and a host of palsied attempts to capture its charm. Sadly, it's name has since been sullied by Universal, who has pimped out the title in countless inferior direct-to-DVD sequels. Films in which you can see its influence: Sex Drive, Road Trip Euro Trip, Superbad, and The Girl Next Door.

Being John Malkovich: Charlie Kaufman, meet the world. World, Charlie Kaufman. Did it just get a little brighter here? Imagine the pitch for this film: A puppeteer, who lives with an animal-obsessed closeted lesbian, gets a clerical job in a vertically challenged office and discovers it also houses a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich. What, another one of those films? It paved a path for writer Kaufman to enchant us time and again with Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The Blair Witch Project: A lightning-in-a-bottle wonder of marketing wizardry and filmmaking gumption, Blair Witch gave hope to every kid with a video camera and was perhaps the birth of the now commonplace viral marketing.

Bowfinger: Respectively the last funny picture that comedic titans Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy made. Plus, it kicks Scientology around before it became hip to do so.

Boys Don’t Cry: Hilary Swank has never been more moving or vulnerable on screen. She would go on to play another “girl from the trailer park” a few years later in Million Dollar Baby, but there was grit and hunger here that has gone unmatched since.

EDtv: Not so much groundbreaking as it was ominously prophetic, perhaps even more so than the similarly themed The Truman Show. For in Truman, Jim Carrey's character had no idea of his life being exposed to the public at large and Matthew McConaughey's Ed willingly signed on to air his every move to a gawking audience.

Election: Brilliant, biting, left field satire that truly demonstrated Reese Witherspoon’s talent far better than her Oscar-winning Walk the Line ever did. It's hard to imagine, but this was one of the first films produced by MTV Films, which, before this, had bestowed upon us the cockroach musical Joe's Apartment, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, and Dead Man on Campus. And casting Ferris Bueller himself as a high school principal? Genius!

ExistenZ: David Cronenberg waxes prophetic about gaming culture and escapist behavior in general. Before he shifted to more mainstream fare like History of Violence and Eastern Promises, he was making films that were not afraid to be graphic and profound.

Fight Club:
My obsession for this film is limitless (as the title of my review blog "Use Soap" will attest). It has inspired countless filmmakers and its failure at the box office only maintains its cult credibility. It was one of the most technically accomplished films of its time.

Galaxy Quest:
Sigourney Weaver, hotter than ever, Tim Allen doing a spot-on Shatner interpretation, and the ever-dependable Sam Rockwell as the “guy who always dies.” A rare sci-fi spoof that does not mock its core audience.

Girl, Interrupted
: Hollywood's hottest of-the-moment talent (Brittany Murphy, R.I.P) that features some of their finest performances (Winona Ryder, where have you gone?).

The Insider:
Michael Mann’s moody, slow-burn drama is a peak for both Al Pacino and Russell Crowe. The film is a doctoral-level display of cinematography. It's a film that is often mistakenly overlooked when reflecting upon Mann's flashier efforts (Miami Vice, Collateral), but ranks among the top.

The Iron Giant: Vin Diesel’s best performance, ever. It is also one of the greatest 2-D animated films ever, and it keeps improving with age.

Magnolia: It’s raining frogs, hallelujah! It’s raining frogs, amen. P.T. Anderson, who most recently won over critics for the 2000s' most accomplished picture, creates a surreal world of love, lust, and loss through multiple plot lines that Crash could only dream of.

The Matrix: The game changer. The look,style, and attitude forever changed the landscape of action and sci-fi films.

Run, Lola, Run:
Tom Twyker’s adrenaline-fueled flick easily sprints circles (quite literally) around much of the action from the last decade. Told in a fractured style, in which the film literally rewinds to the beginning and starts anew, its influences were as diverse as video games to Alfred Hitchcock.

Office Space:
Virtually ignored upon release, this is now considered biblical to office drones everywhere. Red staplers, O faces, Michael Bolton, pieces of flair, and countless pale imitations of Gary Cole's clueless boss still resonate in the cubicle farms of today.

The Sixth Sense:
M. Night Shyamalan liked his concept so much, he decided to make it a signature in his next few films (to diminished returns). Say what you will, the film got audiences abuzz and made it fun to go to the movies and try to decipher his riddle of a coda.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: Trey Parker and Matt Stone at the top of their game.  Still one of the most catchy musicals you'll never show to your kids. Often dismissed as potty-mouthed brats, the film is insightful, crass, and undeniably infectious.

Three Kings: David O. Russell created the most “fun” war movie since Dr. Strangelove.

Toy Story 2: Too often unjustly lumped with its predecessor because of the “2” in its title, this is yet another sparkling gem in Pixar’s bejeweled crown. Side by side with the original, this second Story remains more emotionally resonant and splendid in every way possible.

The Virgin Suicides:
Arguably (actually, not arguably… I deem it so), Sophia Coppola’s finest hour(s) on film so far. That's right, suck it, Lost in Translation. Haunting and ethereal, Suicides plays out like a dreamlike poem.

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About Rob Rector