Tom Jolliffe travels back in time 20 years to 1999 to look over the cinematic landscape…
The millennium suddenly draws in. The century is in its final year. Cinema has a pre-occupation with apocalypse and disorder, chaos, among other things. It’s 1999. 20 years ago now. That’s pretty frightening, but regardless, hold my hand, lets go have a look back over the years cinematic output.
Ending a century should be done in style. There are two films in particular that had a long standing impact on pop-culture and cult fandom from the year, which still maintain a strong following. First, 1999 is the year of The Matrix. It kind of grew slowly, really capturing the sub-cultures of society, and garnering a legion of geeky fans who fell in love with anything from the sci-fi references, the clothing, the Hong Kong inspired martial arts action, the ground-breaking effects and the philosophical and literary references within the film. True enough, that whilst The Matrix was certainly a magpies nest of stolen influences, it revolutionised visual effects and coined a term, that we still hear today, ‘Matrix style action.’ For a time after in the burgeoning years of the 21st century, you couldn’t move for the amount of films poorly riffing on Matrix-bullet-time-Fu.
Even today the film still looks spectacular and is engrossing, even if it’s almost aggressively po-faced, particularly in the face of a lot of silly dialogue and costumes. That said, the importance of what The Matrix did for sci-fi cinema can’t be underestimated. It was a much needed shot in the arm for a genre that was weighted down with disasters through the 90’s. Reeves himself had not long recovered from bombing spectacularly with Johnny Mnemonic. The success gave studios a boost in green-lighting more in the following decade, though the output was erratic as far as quality.
The other significant film of the year was Fight Club. Again, like The Matrix, this seemed to snowball a growing legion of fans. It wryly deconstructed modern consumerist society, with David Fincher’s trademark visual style, and housed the ‘other’ big plot twist of the year (the other being, The Sixth Sense which launched M. Night Shyamalan, and his fascination with final act rug pullers). It reconfirmed, if it actually did need it, that Brad Pitt was a sex God. The film feels uniquely ‘Fight Club’ with nothing really before or since drawing reasonable comparison. It’s not aiming for high art, but it’s a great piece of film-making and probably remains Fincher’s finest hour.
1999 saw significant launching pads for young directors, particularly the aforementioned M. Night Shyamalan with The Sixth Sense. His sophomore feature but one which made huge waves on the big screen and began a significant attempt to stifle a spread of spoilers for that end reveal. The year also saw Sam Mendes, coming from a theatre background, hit the big time fast with American Beauty, which whilst a tad overrated, and possibly difficult to watch in retrospect given Kevin Spacey’s current status, was a great signifier of his talents (I preferred his follow up, The Road To Perdition). The film also won the Best Picture award at the Oscars. Sofia Coppola also came to the attention of cinema with her film The Virgin Suicides as did David O. Russell with Three Kings.
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