Making Movie History – A Look Back At 1999
So far this year we've covered films that are 30-years-old, 25-years-old, and 20-years-old, and with the end of the year quickly approaching its time to look at the films that finished out the 20th century and came out in 1999, celebrating their 15th anniversary. As films from 2004 and 2009 are still too new to have any sense of nostalgia, and films from 1974 and 1979 are probably a little too old and outside of our demographic, this will likely be the last one we do until 2015. Originally, I planned to do 1999 after the original 1984 post, but passed on it to focus on 1994, thinking it to be a superior year in film. Wow was I wrong. And just like the previous posts, we've included a synopsis for each film, but in the cases of films with shocking twists, avoided spoilers where possible.
'Varsity Blues'January 15, 1999
Synopsis: Set in the fictional Texas town of West Canaan, the movie centers around Jonathan “Mox” Moxon and his friends and teammates on the high school football team, coached by the overbearing Bud Kilmer. In a town where nothing is more important than football, Mox wants to leave Texas behind and go to Brown University. But things in Mox’s life get turned upside down when his best friend and 1st string Quarterback Lance is injured and taken out of the season, throwing Mox into the spotlight as the new star Quarterback, butting heads with his football-obsessive father and the immoral Coach Kilmer.
Legacy: ‘Varsity Blues’ hit big with the MTV generation, opening at #1 and staying there for two weeks despite a drastic box office drop in the second week and mixed reviews from critics. Star James Van Der Beek became the standout in a young and impressive cast that included the late Paul Walker, Amy Smart, Ali Larter, and ‘Hawaii Five-0’ star Scott Caan. Van Der Beek would go on to win “Best Breakout Performance” at not only the MTV Movie Awards but also the Teen Choice Awards. The film would also serve as a primary source of parody in ‘Not Another Teen Movie’ with ‘Varsity Blues’ star Ron Lester (Billy Bob) parodying himself in the spoof.
'The Boondock Saints'January 22, 1999
Synopsis: Irish-American twin brothers, Connor and Murphy MacManus, kill two mobsters in self-defense after embarrassing the mobsters the previous night in a bar fight. Turning themselves in to the authorities, the MacManus twins are regarded as heroes by the media and locals, spending the night in jail to avoid attention. That night the twins get what they feel to be a sign from God to continue what they’ve started, acting as vigilantes and ridding Boston of the mob. Teaming up with their friend Rocco, Connor and Murphy gain the attention of the mob who in turn hire “Il Duce”, an assassin with a mysterious past, to take out the twins.
Legacy: Due to the then-recent Columbine school shooting, the film received a very limited theatrical release, five screens in the U.S. for a single week run. The film was picked up by Blockbuster video as an exclusive rental for the video chain, turning into a hot commodity by word of mouth and becoming a best seller on VHS and DVD. Originally only earning back $30,000 of its $6 million budget, the film would go on to earn $50 million in U.S. video sales. The film was a critical failure with critics citing the excessive violence and comparing the film to Tarantino knock-off. The film had enough of a fan base to warrant a sequel in 2009, ‘The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day’ and a third film, subtitled ‘Legion’, being announced earlier this month.
'Office Space'February 19, 1999
Synopsis: Peter Gibbons works as a programmer at Initech, a job he finds no personal fulfillment in. Initech brings in a pair of efficiency experts, both named Bob, to interview the crew and make lay-offs where necessary. While attending an occupational hypnotherapy session, Peter is hypnotized to help him relax and find peace in life, but the doctor dies of a heart attack while Peter is still hypnotized, leaving Peter in an overly carefree state of mind. With his new laid-back attitude, Peter meets with the Bobs and is extremely honest about how he feels about Initech, impressing the consultants so much that they promote Peter, much to the ire of his boss, Bill Lumbergh. Peter’s friends, Samir and Michael, are both laid off, but with Peter having advance knowledge of their termination, the three hatch a plan to hack Initech’s accounting system to steal the fractions of pennies and are rounded out of the system thousands of times a day.
Legacy: Coming off the success of the MTV cartoon ‘Beavis and Butthead’, this was Writer/Director Mike Judge’s first run into live-action. Primarily filmed in Austin, ‘Office Space’ had a limited theatrical release, but was met with critical acclaim, praising Judge for making his sense of humor transition from cartoons to live-action. The film didn’t lose any money at the box office, bringing in $12 million on a $10 million budget, but quickly went on to become a cult hit on home video, earning nearly $8 million on DVD and VHS sales, being one of the highest selling DVDs for Fox.
'The Matrix'March 31, 1999
Synopsis: Hacker Thomas Anderson (“Neo”), is contacted by a fellow hacker, Trinity, who wants to arrange a meeting between Neo and a man named Morpheus, promising that Morpheus can explain the “the Matrix”, which Neo has regularly encountered during his hacking. Morpheus tells Neo that the world he knows is a lie, a computer simulation created by machines that are harvesting humans for energy in the real world. Morpheus, believing Neo to be the one with the ability to defeat the machines, pulls Neo out of the Matrix to join his group of human resistance fighters who must hide from the machines in the real world and avoid “Agents”, programs in the Matrix trying end the human resistance, while in the Matrix.
Legacy: ‘The Matrix’ was a financial and critical success, but more importantly it revolutionized filmmaking with is use of bullet-time and wire-effects. The production team developed a new system of using a chain of cameras surrounding the actors, all filming at once at high speed, to create the effect of slow-motion while characters fought or dodged bullets and allowing the scene to not be locked into a single, fixed position. This, along with Asian-style wire stunts in the fighting scenes, helped make ‘The Matrix’ one of the most visually stunning films of the decade. The success of the film lead to video game adaptations and a series of anime shorts, as well as two sequels filmed back-to-back, ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ and ‘The Matrix Revolution’. Unfortunately, the sequels were criticized for being overly philosophical and using poor CGI, and were met with such negativity from critics and fans that the franchise as a whole was damaged.
'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace'May 19, 1999
Synopsis: Set 30 years prior to the original Star Wars trilogy, ‘The Phantom Menace’ focuses on a young Obi-Wan Kenobi as a padawan (Jedi apprentice) to Qui-Gon Jinn. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon have been sent to Naboo to help negotiate the end of a trade blockade from the Trade Federation against Queen Amidala and Naboo. Before negotiations can start, the Trade Federation is ordered by the mysterious Lord Sideous to kill the Jedi and occupy Naboo. The Jedi escape and rescue the Queen, with the intention of taking her to the capitol on Corusant to plead her case to the Galactic Senate. While on their way to Coursant, the Queen’s ship is damaged and they take refuge on Tatooine. While searching for parts to repair the ship and avoiding the Sith apprentice Darth Maul, they befriend and free a young slave, Anakin Skywalker, the boy who goes on to become Darth Vader.
Legacy: Yeah, you probably heard the complaints. “George Lucas killed my childhood!” At the time of its release the film had mixed reviews from critics, some calling it boring while others praised its scope and effects. Long-time fans flocked to the theater to see the film repeatedly (I saw it seven times in the theater), but over time as the hype died down the film became infamous and was greatly criticized for George Lucas’ dialogue, the inclusion of annoying characters like Jar Jar Binks, and the poorly realized Yoda puppet, just to name a few. ‘The Phantom Menace’ was re-released in 3D in 2010 with the intention of re-releasing the rest of the saga in 3D, one film each following year. Plans were halted when Star Wars was purchased by Disney, who preferred to direct attention towards a new film. While the film ushered in a new fan-base for Star Wars, it regularly shows up on lists of the worst sequels/prequels of all time.
'Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me'June 11, 1999
Synopsis: While on his honeymoon with Vanessa, Austin is attacked by Vanessa who is revealed to be one of Dr. Evil’s Fembots. Meanwhile, Dr. Evil returns from space and is presented with a clone 1/8 his size, who he calls Mini-Me, and travels back to 1969 where an overly fat Scottish guard named Fat Bastard has stolen Austin’s mojo while Austin was cryogenically frozen. Austin also travels back to 1969 to reclaim his mojo, teaming up with CIA agent Felicity Shagwell who shares Austin’s free-love attitude, but Austin isn’t able to reciprocate due to his lost mojo.
Legacy: Though receiving mixed critical reviews, the film was a box office success, making back its budget ten-times over and being nominated for a range of awards including MTV Movie Awards, Kid’s Choice Awards, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup. Mike Myers received praise for his portrayal of three characters, Austin, Dr. Evil, and Fat Bastard, as well as fleshing out the characters more from the original film and increasing the comedy. One highly praised scene had Dr. Evil reemerge from his spaceship on the Jerry Springer Show to confront his son Scott and ultimately get into a fight with Jerry Springer himself. The film was followed by a poorly received ‘Austin Powers in Goldmember’, which many consider the beginning of Mike Myers’ career downfall.
'South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut'June 30, 1999
Synopsis: After sneaking into the theater to see ‘Terrance and Phillip: Asses of Fire’, Stan, Kenny, Kyle, and Cartman begin to emulate the film, swearing profusely and lighting farts, which results in the death of Kenny. While Kenny goes to hell and befriends Satan, the rest of the boys get into trouble for seeing the movie again and Kenny's death. The parents of South Park respond by declaring war on Canada and planning to execute Terrance and Phillip as war criminals. Unknown to the parents, the death of Terrance and Phillip will open the final seal of hell, allowing Satan and his overbearing boyfriend, Sadam Hussein, to rise and take over the world. The children decide to band together to save Terrance and Phillip and stop the world from falling into chaos.
Legacy: The film came out while South Park was still fairly new to television audiences, pushing the boundaries that the television show wasn’t able to do at the time. The movie also shocked audiences by being a musical, mimicking songs and plot points from ‘Les Miserables’. The music was so well received that the soundtrack became a best-selling album and the song ‘Blame Canada’ was nominated for an Academy Award and performed live at the Oscars by the late Robin Williams. The film also delved into the themes of censorship and parental control, specifically the blaming of film and television for the perceived corruption of youth. The film also marked the first time Kenny’s face is seen, as he said goodbye to his friends.
'American Pie'July 2, 1999
Synopsis: Four friends and high school seniors in western Michigan pledge a pact to all lose their virginity before graduation after a party where a geeky classmate claims to have lost his. Jim is intelligent but awkward around women, Kevin is the only member of the group with a steady girlfriend but can’t get her to go all the way, Oz is a popular lacrosse player who decides to join the glee club to work the sensitive guy angle, and Finch acts like a sophisticate but cannot impress any women. The four friends reevaluate themselves and the primal urges to lose one’s virginity, culminating at Senior Prom and a party at the lake.
Legacy: Intended as a sleeper hit, ‘American Pie’ was not only a hit in America but also overseas, with foreign distribution rights helping the film to bring in a quarter billion dollars. The film was praised for accurately portraying the angst of young adults (as someone who was class of 1999 just like the characters in the film, I can definitely relate to the film), and bringing the R-rated comedy back to the public eye and praise. Eugene Levy as Jim’s dad was among the standout performances, going on to become a beloved character and the only actor to appear in every film as well as the straight-to-DVD spin-offs. ‘American Pie’ was followed by three sequels of varying success and response, with a fifth film rumored since 2012.
'The Sixth Sense'August 6, 1999
Synopsis: Child psychologist Malcolm Crowe begins treating 9-year-old Cole who is believed to suffer from hallucinations. Dr. Crowe is concerned about his ability to treat Cole after his failure with a similar patient earlier in the year who shot Dr. Crowe in the stomach before committing suicide. After learning to trust him, Cole confides to Dr. Crowe that he doesn’t have hallucinations, he sees dead people. According to Cole, the dead don’t know they are dead and come to him for help. With Dr. Crowe’s help, Cole must learn to accept his gift and use it to help the dead find peace.
Legacy: Let’s just assume that after 15 years you know the twist at the end of the film. At the time, the reveal at the end of the film was considered one of the greatest movie twists of all time, on par with ‘The Usual Suspects’. Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan was praised for his script, specifically the twist, and Haley Joel Osment received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Shyamalan would follow up ‘The Sixth Sense’ with ‘Unbreakable’, working with Bruce Willis again and including another twist, though not as successful and shocking as ‘The Sixth Sense’. However, each of Shyamalan’s successive films has been received worse and worse, with his reliance on twists being heavily criticized.
'American Beauty'September 17, 1999
Synopsis: Middle-aged writer Lester Burnham is in a dead end job, with an unaffectionate wife, and a 16-year-old daughter who deals with low self-esteem and hates her parents. After meeting the drug-dealing son of his new neighbor, Lester starts smoking pot and developing a new attitude on life. Lester gets laid off from his job but ends up blackmailing his boss for a year’s pay, buys his dream car, begins working out, and even starts lusting after his daughter’s friend Angela. His wife Carolyn begins having an affair with her business rival, and his daughter starts seeing the drug-dealing neighbor Ricky. Lester’s new outlook on life and lusting for Angela, his new neighbor’s homophobic attitude, Ricky and Jane’s relationship, and Carolyn’s affair all come to a head on one, tragic night.
Legacy: ‘American Beauty’ was a financial and critical hit, winning the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director for Sam Mendez, Best Actor for Kevin Spacey, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Many praised the film for embracing then-risqué subject matter, such as homophobia, teenage self-esteem issues, and mid-life crisis. The film also shocked many viewers by hinting at a tragic end in the trailers, but opening the film with a voice over from Lester admitting that he will be dead within a year. The film was also criticized for underage nudity, with then 16-year-old Thora Birch appearing topless, who was given special permission by her parents.
'Fight Club'October 15, 1999
Synopsis: The unnamed narrator works for a car company, suffers from insomnia, and attends various support groups for disorders and illnesses he doesn’t have. While on a plane home, he meets soap salesman Tyler Durden, whom he reluctantly calls for help when his apartment blows up. After a night of drinks, the narrator and Tyler get into a fight in order to better understand themselves, transitioning into an underground fighting group called “Fight Club”. With Tyler Durden as the leader, Fight Club grows in numbers with new followers who look to Tyler like a cult leader. Tyler turns his fellow fighters into his own private gang who carry out “Project Mayhem” with the intention of destroying the public’s reliance on corporate America and setting them free.
Legacy: Like ‘The Sixth Sense’, we’re going to assume that you already know the twist in the film to protect it from the few who may not know. The film’s dark and intense tone made executives at Fox uneasy, calling for several lines and scenes to be changed. Though considered an iconic and groundbreaking film today, critics were polarized when the movie first came out, some praising the film while others bashed it. Rosie O’Donnell attended an advance screening of the film, recounting the experience to the audience of her daytime talk show, saying she had trouble sleeping ever since seeing it and even revealed the closely guarded twist in an attempt to dissuade people from seeing it. The film hit close to home with its male audience, resulting in the creation of fight clubs across the country.
'Dogma'November 12, 1999
Synopsis: Two fallen angels, Loki and Bartleby, having been banished from Heaven for eternity, have discovered a loophole in Catholic dogma that will allow them to reenter Heaven by receiving salvation by passing through the doors of a 100-year-old church that is promising forgiveness for all who enter. Abortion clinic worker Bethany is tasked by the Metatron to stop Loki and Bartleby because if they are successful they will prove God wrong and negate all of existence. Bethany is joined on her quest by two Prophets, Jay and Silent Bob, the 13th apostle, Rufus, who is upset for being left out of the Bible, and the muse Serendipity. However, Bethany and her group are being targeted by the demon Azrael who is tired of Hell and wants Loki and Bartleby to succeed in order to end all existence. Things get even worse when God, who occasionally takes a human form to play skeeball, goes missing.
Legacy: ‘Dogma’ peaked out at #3 at the box office and became a modest financial hit by recouping its budget three times over. The film was a critical success, but caused a great deal of controversy among religious groups who protested the film on the religious nature of it alone. Writer/Director Kevin Smith even joined the protesters as a joke, anonymously joining their picket line and being interviewed by local television stations as a protester. Kevin Smith has said he’s been considering a sequel to the film ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but at this point doesn’t have any plans to start production. ‘Dogma’ has been referenced in Kevin Smith’s ‘View Askew’ films since, specifically ‘Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back’ and ‘Clerks 2’, with singer Alanis Morissette reprising her role as God in a cameo.
'The World Is Not Enough'November 19, 1999
Synopsis: After recovering money stolen from a British Oil tycoon, Sir Robert King, James Bond returns to MI6 to return the money King, only to discover the money is hiding a bomb which kills King. Feeling responsible for King’s death, Bond volunteers to hunt down the killers. Discovering a link to the money and the previous kidnapping of King’s daughter Elektra, Bond is tasked with protecting Elektra and hunting down her kidnapper, Renard, a terrorist who feels no pain due to a failed attempt on his life. Teaming with a nuclear physicist, Christmas Jones, Bond must stop Renard before he detonates a nuclear warhead, contaminating the Caspian Sea.
Legacy: Though a financial success, becoming the highest grossing Bond film at the time, the film has been widely criticized, even regularly showing up on lists of the worst of Bond films. Denise Richards was marked as the low point of the film, being totally unbelievable as a nuclear physicist, winning the Golden Raspberry award for Worst Supporting Actress. The film was adapted into a first-person-shooter video game of the same name, with the Nintendo 64 version being praised as the superior port and a worthy successor to the N64’s previous Bond hit, ‘Goldeneye’.
'Toy Story 2'November 24, 1999
Synopsis: While getting ready for a week at Cowboy Camp, Andy inadvertently tears Woody’s arm, causing him to leave Woody behind. While Andy is away, his mother has a yard sale and sets several of his old toys out to sell. Woody, wanting to rescue one of Andy’s favorite toys, heads out to the sale and rescues the squeaking penguin, but is left outside and stolen by the owner of a local toy store, Al’s Toy Barn. Getting back to Al’s apartment, Woody discovers his history has a 50s children’s puppet show star, and that Al plans to use Woody to complete the collection which includes Jesse, Woody’s horse Bullseye, and Skinky Pete, and sell them to a toy museum in Tokyo. Buzz Lightyear bands the toys together in a rescue mission to get to Al’s Toy Barn and save Woody before Andy comes back from camp.
Legacy: To say that ‘Toy Story 2’ was a critical success is an understatement. It holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and many critics noted that the film did something sequels rarely do, producing its own, unique story and outshining the original. Randy Newman received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for “When She Loved Me”, losing out to Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Disney’s ‘Tarzan’. A third film was planned a few years later, dealing with Buzz Lightyear being recalled, but a sequel didn’t come around until 11 years later, centering on Andy going to college and the toys being donated to a day care. To many ‘Toy Story 3’ surpassed the previous two, not only winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature but also being nominated for Best Picture.
'Galaxy Quest'December 25, 1999
Synopsis: A group of actors from a once-popular 80s sci-fi series are making the rounds on the convention circuit and appearing at store openings, never having succeeded past their 18-year-old show. The commander from the show, Jason Nesmith, is approached by a group of aliens who he mistakes for overzealous fans who hired him for a solo appearance, and unknowingly joins them on their ship. The Thermians received transmissions of the old television show and mistook them for historical documents, believing Nesmith to actually be Commander Taggert and modeling their whole society after the show. Nesmith convinces the rest of his co-stars to join him on the ship to negotiate peace between the Thermians and their enemy Sarris, who Nesmith opened fire on previously. In over their heads, the actors must learn the difference between playing heroes and being heroes.
Legacy: ‘Galaxy Quest’ was originally envisioned as an “R” rated comedy, directed by Harold Ramis. Ramis and the studio butted heads over the casting of Tim Allen, which resulted in Ramis leaving the project. The film still shot with most of the original script intact, including several f-bombs and a subplot involving Tony Shalhoub’s character being a pot head, both of which had to be changed to get a lower rating. It was a critical and financial success, but more importantly was a success among fans and stars of Star Trek. Several former Star Trek stars, such as Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Wil Wheaton, and George Takei, praised the film for its realistic portrayal of the reality of being in such a show and for not bashing Star Trek or its fans. ‘Galaxy Quest’ was so well received by Star Trek fans that it recently named one of the Top 10 Star Trek films as voted on by fans, beating out nearly half of the actual Star Trek films.