My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1999

05 Mar

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the 10 films on this list is the abundance of directing newcomers on it. 7 of the movies were made by people who made their feature film directorial debuts, and while not all of these film-makers would go on to lasting greatness, it still makes for an impressive class of 1999. The other three films are made by two well-established masters and one quickly rising star. There’s also, as usual, a lot of comedy on here. This shouldn’t surprise you with my lists any more.

So far in this series of blog posts, I have chosen to largely abstain from making honorable mentions. This has largely been due to a stubborn adherence to principles; if one sets out to make a list of 10 films, one should not name 20 films. I have now realized that this is counter-productive to the aim of these lists, which is to give people an idea of what movies I like.

With that in mind, here are some 1999 films I really like that didn’t quite make my list. Honorable mentions, if you will. In alphabetical order:

Arlington Road, Beyond the Mat, Bringing Out the Dead, Girl Interrupted, The Green Mile, In China They Eat Dogs, Magnolia, Office Space, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Toy Story 2

Now on to the list proper. As usual, I’m going by IMDB’s year of release.

10 – EYES WIDE SHUT (Stanley Kubrick)

“No dream is ever just a dream.”

Equal parts nightmare sightseeing tour through New York City and meditation on infidelity, Stanley Kubrick finished off his career in great fashion with Eyes Wide Shut. Impeccably designed and shot – as is to be expected from Kubrick – and with one of Tom Cruise‘s best performances in the lead, this film is also helped by having a strong story, one that might seem simple and straight-forward on paper but that reveals more layers with each watch.

9 – THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez)

“I’m afraid to close my eyes, I’m afraid to open them.”

While this movie didn’t invent the found footage genre of film (Cannibal Holocaust from 1980 seems to be the agreed-upon originator), The Blair Witch Project popularised it, paving the way for films like REC, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and many others. When I first watched it at home alone one night as a teen, it had me rattled to the core. Even today, it remains a highly effective horror film by making us fear what we can’t see, rather than throwing a monster right in our faces. A picture might say more than a thousand words, but in horror, so does a sound that shouldn’t be there.

8 – THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (Sofia Coppola)

“We knew the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love, and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.”

To teenage boys, the biggest mystery in the world is teenage girls. This film, centering around five daughters to a controlling mother and the boys that desire them, does an excellent job of portraying this, keeping just enough puzzle pieces out of our hands as to fully understand the girls. And this was directed by a woman, interestingly enough, which tells me that there’s a great deliberate female conspiracy at work in the world. I knew it all along!


“That’s just what we need now: some sensational story in the papers making these boys out to be superheroes, triumphing over evil.”

The Boondock Saints is very much a case of style over substance. It’s also actually pretentious in the way it tries to shoehorn in half-assed debate over vigilante justice towards the end, after having spent the entire film utterly glorifying it. So yeah, this film has some issues. Fortunately, if one looks past these, there’s a tremendously fun action comedy to be had about two brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) believing themselves to be hand-picked by God to clean up the criminal elements of Boston. Using slick jumps back-and-forth in time to show their deeds and the police investigations thereof (conducted by a superbly scenery-chewing Willem Dafoe), The Boondock Saints rises above most of the other Tarantino-inspired “clever” crime flicks.

6 – MAN ON THE MOON (Milos Forman)

“Andy, you have to look inside and ask this question: who are you trying to entertain – the audience or yourself?”

I’m not overly familiar with provocative comedian Andy Kaufman‘s work, so I can’t say whether Jim Carrey‘s performance as him in this biopic is accurate or not. What is clear, however, is that this is a fascinating portrayal of a man torn between his artistic impulses and his desire to entertain people. For some, these could be fused together. Not for Kaufman, who always felt the need to defy everyone’s expectations and travel steps beyond into subversion. While not strictly speaking a comedy, Man on the Moon still inherently has lots of funny moments during its run-time, from Kaufman’s pro wrestling shenanigans to his lounge singer alter ego Tony Clifton. A great and sometimes overlooked biopic.

5 – THREE KINGS (David O. Russell)

“Didn’t think I’d get to see anybody get shot in this war.”

War movies is not a genre I’ve found much to love in so far in my cinematic journey, but Three Kings is a stellar exception to this, perhaps thanks to the infusion of heist film elements. Title notwithstanding, Three Kings follows four American soldiers of the Gulf War (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and a publicity-wise forgotten Spike Jonze) as they venture out in search of gold during the Iraqi uprisings of 1991. What’s interesting is how director/writer David O. Russell plays with the expectations of both the characters and the audience. The soldiers at first sees their treasure hunt as a fun adventure, but as their search goes on, they realize that the realities of war – and its aftermath – are ever-present. So the film gets increasingly more serious and poignant as it goes on, and yet there’s always a hint of satire to the proceedings. Add in some memorable stylistic choices – including a great shot of a bullet entering a human body – and you have one hell of a great film.

4 – PAYBACK (Brian Helgeland)

“Nobody likes a monkey on his back. I had three, and they were cramping my style. I was gonna have to lighten the load.”

One of the coolest movies ever. It cruises along on a general atmosphere of badassness, together with some noir sensibilities, a washed-out color scheme, and a comically grim-faced Mel Gibson in the lead. The story is simple: a Chicago crook is after some money he had rightfully stolen. What follows is a violent and funny series of events as he goes up against crime syndicates, corrupt cops, and old friends. Pure entertainment.


“Here’s the thing: If you ever get me, you wouldn’t have a clue what to do with me.”

Not just the feature film directing debut of Spike Jonze, but also the first film to be penned by Charlie Kaufman. And what a unique and twisting story it is, all centering around a portal that inexplicably puts people in the head of actor John Malkovich. Then you have a bunch of people all trying to use this remarkable thing for their own selfish purposes, an off-beat kind of humor, and some delightful performances from John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Malkovich himself, and others. Most importantly, Being John Malkovich is a film where you never know what’s going to happen next. This is a rarer quality than it should be, and thus, this film deserves all the acclaim in the world.

2 – FIGHT CLUB (David Fincher)

“You have a kind of sick desperation in your laugh.”

Too many viewers took Fight Club‘s anarchaic elements at face value rather than seeing the condemning satire beyond, so certain elements of its story could perhaps have been handled in a different way – or maybe the lesson is that at the end of the day, people will be people. Regardless, Fight Club remains a modern black comedy masterpiece, combining David Fincher‘s filthy sense of aesthetics and source novel author Chuck Palahniuk‘s unique view of the world into one stylish and biting package. Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and (especially) Helena Bonham Carter put in some of their best work on screen. Oh, and the film is really effing funny too.

1 – AMERICAN BEAUTY (Sam Mendes)

“It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself.”

This one could have earned its top spot by virtue of all its amazing line readings alone. Sam Mendes‘ first look at the dark side of suburban life – a theme he’d follow up on with 2008’s Revolutionary Road – is a wonderfully funny movie that excels in most areas, from dialogue and performances to cinematography and score. Hopeful and despairing, beautiful and ugly, hilarious and tragic. There’s good reason why I for a long time called this my very favorite movie. It’s not quite up there any more, but it hasn’t dropped far.

What were you favorite films of 1999? What do you think of the movies on this list?


Posted by on 5 March, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year


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13 responses to “My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1999

  1. Dave

    5 March, 2012 at 22:01

    Man, this list is nothing like mine. So far, I’d say it’s our most divisive year yet! I strongly agree about American Beauty, Being John Malkovich and Eyes Wide Shut. Brilliant masterpieces. The rest of your list — meh. Mostly overrated, I thought. The only one I didn’t see was Boondock Saints. I didn’t care for Blair Witch at all, and Virgin Suicides didn’t overly impress me. But I did enjoy Fight Club, Payback, Three Kings and Man on the Moon on a 3-star-out-of-5 level. Not great, but good nonetheless.

    You need to bump Magnolia from your honorable mentions up to the greats. It’s flawed, for sure, but what a sprawling masterpiece that is. So many scenes still resonate with me strongly. Toy Story 2 also deserves the bump up.

    I won’t list all of my favorites on here, but I cannot NOT mention Michael Mann’s brilliant The Insider, Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and McTiernan’s rollicking fun, The Thomas Crown Affair.

    Ah…well. There’s always next year.

    • Emil

      5 March, 2012 at 22:14

      Oh! I meant to put The Talented Mr. Ripley among the HMs all along. Guess I forgot to. Problem rectified. Thanks for the heads-up. Haven’t seen the other two suggestions you made, but they’re on my radar.

      I think maybe our lists will turn out more and more divisive the further back we travel through the 90s. There will be more “mainstream” stuff and a bit less hidden gems, as I haven’t explored the decade quite as thoroughly as the 00s yet. There will also be many films showing up that I first saw way before I really became a movie fan, so nostalgia will play a bigger part in my selections. Or maybe things won’t differ too much. Maybe 98 will be an identical match kind of year. We’ll see.

  2. Tyler

    6 March, 2012 at 03:37

    Though I’m sorely sad to see MAGNOLIA miss the cut, I am happy for the presence of EYES WIDE SHUT, which is my second favourite film of 1999. AMERICAN BEAUTY would also definitely be on there, though perhaps not FIGHT CLUB (which I like but don’t love). I also saw MAN IN THE MOON a while back and thought it was great, so it’s nice to see some love for that one.

    I’ll just stick to one film from 1999 that I’ll recommend: the popular Japanese horror film AUDITION. Try to avoid reading anything about it and just watch it. The less you know about it, the more amazing it is to watch. Believe me.

    • Emil

      6 March, 2012 at 09:17

      Ha! I was actually thinking about you when I put Magnolia among my Honorablle Mentions. “Man, Tyler is gonna hate me now”. It was a close call between that one and Eyes Wide Shut for #10 on the list.

      I have seen Audition, but was sadly unable to do so without knowing “that” in advance. I’m pretty sure that’s part of my tepid response to that film. It just didn’t have any real impact. I agree: Audition is one of those films you should just see without knowing a single thing about it.

      But maybe that’s not the whole story. I have seen 6 films by Takashi Miike in total, and have yet to find anything to truly love, so it’s possible that he’s just not my cup of tea.

  3. Corey Atad

    6 March, 2012 at 08:42

    Cool list. Some really unexpected choices. Love seeing Three Kings getting love. To my mind, 1999 was one of the great years for cinema in terms of hugely innovative films and films that had a wider cultural impact. The list of films from 1999 is kind of crazy, even disregarding quality. Some films you didn’t mention:

    Star Wars Episode I
    The Matrix
    The Sixth Sense
    All About My Mother
    American Pie
    Ghost Dog
    Galaxy Quest
    The Iron Giant
    The Insider
    The Limey
    South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut
    The Straight Story

    Such a great year.

    • Emil

      6 March, 2012 at 09:23

      Indeed, it was a very good year. Your list shows shows some of the width available, and many of them are really good films. I don’t think I’ve seen The Matrix since it was in theaters. That was a long time ago. I probably haven’t seen The Sixth Sense more than once either, long ago. I probably owe them both rewatches.

  4. Pete

    6 March, 2012 at 08:43

    I’d go Fight Club, American Beauty, BWP, Office Space, then maybe Green Mile. What an amazing year for film! Still need to see Payback, Man on the Moon and Boondock Saints! Nice list man!

    • Emil

      6 March, 2012 at 09:24

      Thank you! You’re in for a treat with Payback. That one’s just rock-solid fun. I won’t guarantee you’ll like The Boondock Saints, though. That films seems to have as many detractors as it does fans. Still, I very much enjoy it, obviously. Hope you do too.

  5. Alex Withrow

    7 March, 2012 at 15:03

    1999 was, to me, that last truly great year for cinema (well, 2007 was damn fine too). So many excellent films to chose from. Love seeing that your number 1 pick is my number one pick too. Great list, my friend!

    • Emil

      7 March, 2012 at 16:38

      I try to be of the mindset that every year has its share of great movies. Some years, you just have to dig deeper for them. 1999 certainly had a good amount of them, though. Thank you for the nice words!

  6. vinnieh

    12 July, 2012 at 09:41

    Interesting list of great films. The Virgin Suicides is a haunting and lyrical watching accentuated by the music provided by Air.

    • Emil

      12 July, 2012 at 11:02

      Yeah, I remember the music having quite the effect in The Virgin Suicides. Now I really want to rewatch it. Or at least check out the soundtrack.

      • vinnieh

        12 July, 2012 at 11:04

        Yeah I remember that it had such a dreamy sound tinged with inevitable melancholy.


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