The Year in Film

1999 brought a cinematic bounty to the art house and the multiplex alike

 

7. The Straight Story. Some saw Forrest Gump in director David Lynch's back-to-basics (Mid)western, the gentle tale of the 20th-century cowboy's last ride into the sunset. Notwithstanding the filmmaker's characteristically dense sound design, I could have sworn it was John Ford in the saddle.

 

8. American Movie. Milwaukee filmmaker Chris Smith deservedly hit the big time with this funnier-than-fiction doc, although anyone who still doubts the talent of horrormeister Mark Borchardt would do well to note that, in more ways than one, he wrote it.

 

9. The War Zone. Named for the bloody battlefield otherwise known as the family home, actor Tim Roth's unflinching directorial debut succeeds where another English star's recent effort--Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth--mostly failed. Daring to chart a family's sexuality from the archetypal to the aberrant, and mostly from the perspective of two tragically damaged teens (Freddie Cunliffe, Lara Belmont), Roth delivers a film of powerful ideas and intense precision: His placement of both the camera and the actors--around the living-room couch, for instance, and later in a seaside pillbox for a scene befitting a POW documentary--is evocative enough to tell the story without words. Like Rosetta, The War Zone pulls no punches--and, as yet, there's no local release date for this one, either.

 

10. Fight Club. Blood, guts, Brad Pitt, queer subtext, kick-ass style, twists aplenty, and a bite-the-hand-that-feeds brand of anti-capitalism--all for the price of your ordinary action blowout. Director David Fincher portrays violent machismo largely by embodying it, beating the viewer into submission as surely as Pitt's bruise-covered Evil Id breaks the fourth wall by shaking the film right off its sprockets. What more do you want from a Hollywood movie?

 

The Rest of the Top 40

(in order of preference). Any of these gems would have made my Top 10 in a less stellar year: An American Love Story; The Dreamlife of Angels; After Life; Being John Malkovich; Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.; The End of the Affair; Photographer; Run Lola Run; The Insider; The Winslow Boy; Notting Hill; Dr. Akagi; Autumn Tale; The Matrix; I Stand Alone; Ravenous; The Hole (a.k.a. Last Dance); Show Me Love; eXistenZ; The School of Flesh; Besieged; Boys Don't Cry; Drylongso; The Iron Giant; Cremaster 2; Cabaret Balkan; Hands on a Hardbody; Summer of Sam; Wisconsin Death Trip; and Cradle Will Rock.

 

Better Than You Heard

These ten got a rather bum rap, critically and/or commercially: Blue Streak; Dill Scallion; Dick; A Dog of Flanders; Life; The Mod Squad; Outside Providence; The Rage: Carrie 2; The 24-Hour Woman; and A Walk on the Moon.

 

Musts to Avoid

(alphabetically). How on earth to pick just ten? Your SASE gets my list of 20 more--for your protection:

 

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. A cut-rate Muppet movie in which the title character goes slumming among the dirty denizens of a flea-market ghetto--run by a greedy Jewish slumlord (Mandy Patinkin) and the African-American "Queen of Trash" (Vanessa Williams). Fun for the whole family!

 

Arlington Road. Just what we need: a suburban-terrorist thriller that sets out to prove "Your paranoia is real." Continuing indefinitely on the 10:00 p.m. news.

 

8mm. Director Joel Schumacher is a rare gentleman in conversation, but that doesn't change the fact of his having perpetrated both the ill-titled Flawless and this illegal-porn shocker in the same year. Each one unconsciously evinces the A-list auteur's fear and loathing of down-and-dirty cinema: In 8mm, the Nicolas Cage character's vigilante search leads to "the Jim Jarmusch of S&M" (Peter Stormare) and his bare-bones crew, whom our well-equipped private dick succinctly disses as "small-time muthafuckas." Whereas Schumacher shoots in 35.

 

For Love of the Game. Kevin Costner on the mound, indeed. I dare you to watch the pitchin'-and-smoochin' montage set to Bob Seger's "Against the Wind."

 

The General's Daughter. Named for the sexually promiscuous, raped, and murdered army captain of the title, who's in charge of "psychological operations," but apparently not her own. In other words: She asked for it.

 

Magnolia. Per P.T. Anderson: "Strange things happen all the time...because I say so!"

 

Random Hearts. Delivering as moronic a snooze-fest as their Sabrina remake, director Sidney Pollack and a super-stiff Harrison Ford reunite for a middle-aged "romance" that might have been scripted by Susan Faludi.

 

Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace. 'Nuff said.

 

Teaching Mrs. Tingle. The cinematic equivalent of a contortionist's act: High schoolers are justified for wanting to kill their teachers--sort of, although this is a Miramax film, and the Columbine incident has put Heathers ripoffs in detention, and Katie Holmes is really cute, and Kevin Williamson is her boyfriend, and...

 

20 Dates. Repugnant misogyny masquerading as documentary innovation: Director Myles Berkowitz films himself shamelessly hustling 20 unfortunate women. An even greater number of (male) critics who should have known better fell for it, too.

 

You Must Remember These

In another strong year for local repertory and festival programming, the (many) standouts included: "Cinema Novo," "Japanese New Wave Cinema," "Women in the Director's Chair," "Harry Smith: A Re-Creation" (with M. Henry Jones and DJ Spooky), The Chelsea Girls, the Juneteenth Film Festival, the "Changing the Guard" series of new Brit cinema, the Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage programs, and the Werner Herzog retro (including Lessons of Darkness--the film and the proclamation!) at Walker Art Center; the Mpls./St. Paul, Jewish, and LGBT fests at U Film Society; Asian Media Access's Hayao Miyazaki and Wong Kar-wai retros at Metro State University; Red Eye's movies-and-music series (including Car Wash) in Stevens Square Park, and the Walker's (including Killer's Kiss) in Loring Park; the "Multiplex" indie conclave at the Soap Factory on July 4; Z, "New Czech Cinema," the "Tibetan Film Series," the Radley Metzger retro (including Score), and the "Somewhere in Europe" series of Hungarian cinema at U Film; "Whole Lotta Lynch" and the "MN Makes Movies" series at Red Eye; "Jazz on Film," Foxy Brown, The General (with live organ), and Aliens (in 70mm!) at the Heights; Harold and Maude and Mighty Peking Man at the Uptown; and damn near everything at Oak Street, but especially the "Electric Shadows" series of vintage Chinese cinema, the Sirk, Sturges, Takeshi, and Truffaut retros, The Saragossa Manuscript, The Third Man and Grand Illusion, Eat the Document, Ed Wood, "Hindi First Fridays," "Universal Horror," and Psycho/The Birds/Marnie.

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