Actor Reese Witherspoon in scene from film Election.
Actor Reese Witherspoon in scene from film Election. Supplied

It’s true, movies peaked in 1999

Can we talk about 1999?

That was such a great year in movies. Maybe it's the nostalgia talking, maybe it's all the 20-year anniversaries or maybe I was a certain age at that time, but increasingly it seems like 1999 was the best year in movies.

NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour recently devoted a podcast episode to 1999 movies they loved, nominating Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Talented Mr Ripley and Office Space as highlights.

It got me thinking. What else came out in 1999? The Matrix. The Sixth Sense. Being John Malkovich. And, one of my personal favourites, Election. What a year. Even, the best year.

Before you protest, hear me out.

 

‘You are the one, Neo.’
‘You are the one, Neo.’

 

It's not just that 1999 had produced movies whose cultural impact is still reverberating two decades later, it's also that they were, for the most part, original stories born out of the minds of their screenwriters.

The year was full of incredible, entertaining and imaginative movies that weren't sequels, remakes, a Broadway show, theme park or board game reimagined for the screen or part of a larger 23-movie franchise. Only a few of them were adapted from books.

Of the worldwide top 20 grossing English-language movies in 1999, 10 were original, two were sequels, one was a Bond, another was a Star Wars, one was a loose remake and the others were book adaptations.

Contrast that to 2019 where only two of the top 20 grossing English-language movies are original - Us and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and those two are hovering near the bottom so will be pushed out by Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Frozen 2 before the year is out.

 

The Blair Witch Project spawned copycat ‘found footage’ movies.
The Blair Witch Project spawned copycat ‘found footage’ movies.

 

It's not just about box office takings. So many movies that came in 1999 influenced the next generation of filmmakers and became cultural phenomena that were talked about then and now.

The Blair Witch Project inspired, for better or worse, many more "found footage" movies, American Pie was part of a wider renaissance of teen flicks and Being John Malkovich remains one of the biggest mindf**ks in cinematic history.

In 20 years' time, people are still going to be whispering, "I see dead people" or ask you to choose between the blue pill and the red pill.

But how many people will continue to declare, "I love you 3000"? I'd wager not as many - there will have been another 45 Marvel movies to displace Tony Stark's legacy.

Which is not to say that excellent, original films aren't made anymore, there just aren't that many which catch on in the wider cultural conversation like a new movie would every month in 1999. We're too obsessed with sequels and franchises to pay serious attention.

Get Out is the only original movie of the past few years to hit that spot. Crazy Rich Asians if you count book adaptations. Maybe La La Land?

Before that, you'd have to go back almost a decade for something like Christopher Nolan's Inception.

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Get Out is the only original movie to have hit cultural phenomenon levels in recent years.
Get Out is the only original movie to have hit cultural phenomenon levels in recent years.

Now, you can curse every Hollywood studio for churning out sequels and franchise blockbusters, but remember, money talks. They're only chasing the box office receipts they know they're going to get.

Why spend $20 million to make a movie that might gross $60 million at the cinema when you can lay out $250 million for a movie that's going to make $2 billion. It's a no-brainer for the accountants.

And you could also argue that TV has come along and taken over the share of conversation that used to belong to movies. We talk about Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, Killing Eve and Brooklyn Nine-Nine with the same fervour we reserved for Fight Club and Notting Hill.

Until another halcyon year like 1999 rolls around, why don't you relive these gems?

The Matrix: Directed by the Wachowskis and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix had us all questioning the nature of our reality.

The Sixth Sense: Directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Bruce Willis, Toni Collette and Haley Joel Osment, the ghost story with a stunning twist still freaks us out.

 

He sees dead people.
He sees dead people.

The Blair Witch Project: Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez and starring Heather Donahue and Michael C. Williams, Blair Witch Project was made with a $60,000 budget and inspired a load of copycats.

Fight Club: Directed by David Fincher and starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, the movie was adapted from a book by Chuck Palahniuk, a scathing indictment of capitalism and a certain form of masculinity. Whose Jack's smirking revenge now?

Being John Malkovich: Directed by Spike Jonze from a script by Charlie Kaufman and starring John Cusack, Catherine Keener, Cameron Diaz and John Malkovich, this movie about obsession and identity remains one of the most original films you'll ever see.

Notting Hill: Directed by Roger Michell from a script by rom-com king Richard Curtis, it stars Hugh Grant as a foppish English bookshop owner (remember those) who falls in love with an international megastar played by Julia Roberts.

 

Gwyneth is told that one day she’ll sell jade vagina eggs through a website called Goop.
Gwyneth is told that one day she’ll sell jade vagina eggs through a website called Goop.

 

The Talented Mr Ripley: Directed by Anthony Minghella and based on Patricia Highsmith's crime thriller, it has an all-star cast of Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman in this story about the sociopathic pretender Tom Ripley.

Three Kings: Directed by David O. Russell, it stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube as three American soldiers who try to pull off a gold heist during the Gulf War.

Office Space: Mike Judge's Office Space about disaffected workers starred Ron Livingston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole and Jennifer Aniston. Its absurdist comedy remains one of the most meme-able movies.

Dogma: Kevin Smith's irreverent comedy was decried by Catholic groups which tried to lead a boycott against its release. Alanis Morissette plays God, whose incapacitation opens a loophole for a pair of banished angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) to try and re-enter heaven.

Election: Writer and director Alexander Payne's dark comedy with Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon is ostensibly about a high school election for student body president. But it sharply captures the power dynamics of modern society. Plus, Tracy Flick - what an icon.

 

Pick Flick.
Pick Flick.

 

Go: Doug Liman's crime caper starring Scott Wolf, Sarah Polley and Katie Holmes follows three different perspectives during a wild night of drugs, accidental hostages and soap actors.

Drop Dead Gorgeous: Directed by Michael Patrick Jann and starring Kirsten Dunst, Allison Janney, Denise Richards and Kirstie Alley, this satirical mockumentary about a small town beauty pageant is bonkers and amazing.

Cruel Intentions: Directed by Roger Kumble, this modern reimagining of French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses updates French aristocrats to teenage Manhattan private schoolers engaged in games of sex and betrayal, and starring some of the hottest young actors at the time, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon.

American Pie: Directed by Paul and Chris Weitz and starring Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Alyson Hannigan and Natasha Lyonne, this raunchy teen comedy had us all looking at pies and flutes differently.

 

Oh, Jim
Oh, Jim

The Virgin Suicides: Sofia Coppola's directorial debut was adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides' bestseller, the story of the tragic Lisbon sisters, beautiful and ethereal and kept from the world by their strict parents. It starred Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett and Kathleen Turner.

Never Been Kissed: Directed by Raja Gosnell, it starred Drew Barrymore as a mid-20s journalist who agrees to go undercover at a school high to uncover the lives of today's teens, but can she overcome her memories of her daggy high school self, Josie Grossie?

Two Hands: Australian crime drama Two Hands was a breakout for Heath Ledger and Rose Byrne, and follows the travails of Jimmy who loses $10,000 that belong to a local mob boss. It was written and directed by Gregor Jordan and made a hit out of Powderfinger's These Days.

What's your favourite movie from 1999? Is there a better year for original filmmaking? Let us know in the comments below.

Share your movies and TV obsessions | @wenleima


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