IT WAS THE BEST OF MOVIE TIMES, SOMEtimes — herewith our year in favorite films.
TOPSY-TURVY. MIKE LEIGH TOPS HIS OWN BEST work with this warm, rich and irritably loving portrait of Gilbert and Sullivan prepping for The Mikado. Upper-crusters who don't talk like twits — whatever next from the great champion of the working class? A fond biopic of the queen?
The Talented Mr. Ripley. The talented Mr. Anthony Minghella's deeply satisfying take on the Patricia Highsmith novel about a deeply dissatisfied man trying to fill up his hollow self by thieving the lives of others.
All About My Mother. Pedro Almodóvar calms down without selling out in this delicious low bow before the female spirit, elastically conceived.
The Insider. More than an expertly directed thriller with Al Pacino in top (rather than over-the-top) form, Michael Mann's film was one of the few big deals this year that was actually about something — the abuse of corporate power. And took a position. And had the wit to give Russell Crowe the role of his career as the nerdy whistle blower who stood up to the tobacco barons.
The Third Miracle. Ordinarily, miracles leave me stone cold, but I wept buckets over Agnieszka Holland's wise, empathic study of a Catholic priest anguishing over his wobbly faith as he dukes it out with the bishops and the Vatican on behalf of a potential saint.
Photographer. Polish filmmaker Dariusz Jablonski inverted — and so subverted — the long-lost photo collection of the Lodz ghetto's Nazi accountant, originally designed to catalog the efficiency of the Third Reich, by remounting it as a chronicle of the degradation of the ghetto's Jews.
Being John Malkovich. Any film with the brass and the imagination to cast the New Jersey Turnpike in a leading role has my vote. And didn't you love the way the movie, directed by Spike Jonze and written with lunatic abandon by Charlie Kaufman, made itself up as it went along?
Buena Vista Social Club. For the music, and for those fabulous geezers getting their 15 minutes at long last — you go, Wim Wenders.
The Dreamlife of Angels and Rosetta. Stylistically worlds apart, Erick Zonca's expressionist French fever dream and the brothers Dardennes' superrealist Belgian portrait both pay the deepest respect to the inner torment of young girls on the skids.
Dr. Akagi. Through a fussy country doctor with a hepatitis fixation, Shohei Imamura doffs his sublimely irreverent cap to an unlikely Japanese idealist on the eve of Hiroshima.
The year's best movie moment: In one creepily murmured phrase, “Oh Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy,” Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a murder victim's dissolute friend in The Talented Mr. Ripley, speaks volumes about his own character, that of the panicked man he's addressing, and the coming fate of both. –Ella Taylor
ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (PEDRO ALMODóVAR); Autumn Tale (Eric Rohmer); Dogma (Kevin Smith); Election (Alexander Payne); Fight Club (David Fincher); The Insider (Michael Mann); License To Live and Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa); The Matrix (Andy and Larry Wachowski); Romance (Catherine Breillat); Rosetta (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne).
Best film of the year that will top my list next year: Le Beau Travail, directed by Claire Denis (forthcoming from New Yorker Films).
What unites my favorite freak-outs of the past year is fearlessness, in content and in form. Topsy-Turvy, the latest feature from one of my favorite filmmakers, Mike Leigh, may be better directed than Dogma (Leigh certainly knows where to put the camera), but I'd rather watch Kevin Smith's ebullient heresy again — or Leigh's own Naked — than sit through another handsomely mounted minute of Gilbert and Sullivan. (Period detail and sympathetic performances get you only so far if you're bored out of your mind.) Reckless attempts, flickering brilliance and even gutsy failures seem invariably more praiseworthy than careful or obvious successes, which is why I'd rather luxuriate over a minute of freakish greatness — the first hour of Fight Club, most of Election, All About My Mother and Romance — than 90 minutes of good taste and better lighting.
Which brings me to Kiyoshi Kurosawa, whose films often have neither. Last September, during the Toronto Film Festival, I spent several evenings immersed in the weird world of the Japanese writer and director, who was being honored with a retrospective after having been similarly lauded earlier in the year at both Hong Kong and Edinburgh. Of the films I saw, my favorites were License To Live, a devastating character study of a young man who emerges from a 10-year coma, and Cure, a supernatural policier starring the great Koji Yakusho. No relation to the late Akira Kurosawa, either in blood or in sensibility, the prolific Kiyoshi — the three features he shot in 1999 went on to screen at Berlin, Cannes and Venice — seemed one of the most exciting voices to emerge on the international scene in ages. Except that he's been making films for the last 15 years. Although his films are neither as lyrical or anyway near as rigorous, Kurosawa shares with his contemporary Takeshi Kitano an unabashed sentimentalism, a sense of the absurd and an unsettling gift for violence — and, like Kitano, he obviously enjoys freaking us out.–M.D.
MAGNOLIA (PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON); RUN Lola Run (Tom Tykwer); Go (Doug Liman); Limbo (John Sayles); Election (Alexander Payne); Meeting People Is Easy (Grant Gee); All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar); The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan); The Insider (Michael Mann); Romance (Catherine Breillat)
The two most underrated films of '99: Felicia's Journey (Atom Egoyan), Ride With the Devil (Ang Lee).
Great movie moments: Liev Schreiber attempting to dance to rock music in just one of many eloquent scenes from Tony Goldwyn's graceful A Walk on the Moon; Lucinda Jenney asking for and receiving a kiss from John Doe during childbirth in Allison Anders and Kurt Voss' grown-up love story Sugar Town; a shower of sparks arcing over the New York City skyline as an impaled drug dealer is cut from an iron gate in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead; a wet, gray snowfall in Kore-eda Hirokazu's After Life; a young Iranian wife listening to the rustle of a wedding dress on the stairs as her husband brings home a second wife in Dariush Mehrjui's Leila. –Hazel-Dawn Dumpert
THIS WAS SUCH A GOOD YEAR THAT I COULDN'T restrict myself to just 10. Therefore, here is a numerologically exact list that rounds out at 22, the number signifying mastery.
1. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick); 2. Holy Smoke (Jane Campion); 3. Eternity and a Day (Theo Angelopoulos); 4.Beyond the Clouds (Michelangelo Antonioni); 5.Guinevere (Audrey Wells); 6. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson); 7. The Third Miracle (Agnieszka Holland); 8. Mumford (Lawrence Kasdan); 9. Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Julio Medem); 10. Iron Giant (Brad Bird); 11. Topsy-Turvy (Mike Leigh); 12. The Straight Story (David Lynch); 13. The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan); 14. Mansfield Park (Patricia Rozema); 15. The Emperor and the Assassin (Chen Kaige); 16. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze); 17. Fight Club (David Fincher); 18. American Beauty (Sam Mendes); 19. The Ogre (Volker Schlöndorff); 20. After Life (Kore-eda Hirokazu); 21. The Hurricane (Norman Jewison); 22. Your Choice Here.
My own choice for the “22” spot is a picture with which I was involved (as screenwriter), The Big Brass Ring, which I can shamelessly recommend to you on the strength of its superb performances by William Hurt, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Hawthorne, Irene Jacob, Gregg Henry and Ewan Stewart. It's fascinating how many ambitious movies of the past year, Big Brass included, dealt with the slippery nature of identity and the growing chasm between our true selves and the masquerades we enact in public. Twenty-first century, here we come — and each of us contains a crowd. –F.X. Feeney
AFTER LIFE (KORE-EDA HIROKAZU); AMERICAN Hollow (Rory Kennedy); Boys Don't Cry (Kimberly Peirce); Children of Heaven (Majid Majidi); The Dreamlife of Angels (Erick Zonca); Edge of Seventeen (David Moreton); Election (Alexander Payne); Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson); The Matrix (Andy and Larry Wachowski); Romance (Catherine Breillat); Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer); The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan); South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (Trey Parker); The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella); Three Kings (David O. Russell); Tumbleweeds (Gavin O'Connor).
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT THE LAST MILLENNIUM:
1. Big, Bad-Ass Black Men in White-Boy Films. They wave guns while quoting Scripture, spew righteous fury, usually sport bad wigs, and pander to white-boy ideas about cool niggers.
2. Cloying queer film, especially those masterpieces that feature “the fat-girl best friend.” Please, no more “queer Big Chill” flicks. And unless someone is planning to film Fag, Interrupted, no more drag queens, either.
3. “Oh, Lawd Hav Mercy” Negro films (Soul Food) and Black Bourgie Lifestyle Ads (The Best Man). Note to Negro filmmakers: When Oscar Micheaux died for your sins, little did he know how grievous they would be.
4. Hip-hop straight-to-video movies.
5. Movies starring Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal — basically, anyone associated with Comic Relief.
6. Amazing Hong Kong talent — Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li, John Woo and Tsui Hark — wasted in and on Hollywood.
7. From this point on, Oprah Winfrey can star only in a remake of Mahogany, complete with wigs, furs and Isaiah Washington in the Billy Dee role. Please, no more variations on The Color Purple's Sofia: “You tole Harpo ta beat me!”
8. Movies seemingly put together to sell soundtracks — especially true for “urban flicks.”
9. Films in which Brad Pitt played anything other than the sexy starlet-hussy he so brilliantly essayed in both Fight Club and Thelma & Louise.
10. Films without equal-opportunity nudity. (Harvey Keitel is exempted from this clause.)