The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, She’s all That, The Iron Giant, Fight Club, Eyes Wide Shut, Office Space, Run Lola Run. What do all these very different films have in common? They were all released in 1999. Brian Raftery’s books Best Movie year Ever explores these films and many other cinematic releases from 1999, speaking to the directors and actors that were a part of these memorable and/or genre bending films.
I first heard about Best. Movie. Year. Ever. while listening to an episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour that was focused on looking back at 1999 as a significant year for film. The episode gave me two things: several old film titles to revisit and a new book to be read.
Brian Raftery, author of Best. Movie. Year. Ever, is an established culture writer and former editor of Wired magazine. Best. Movie. Year. Ever. illustrates that some of the films from 1999 such as The Matrix and Fight Club go beyond being ‘popular in their time’ and have a legacy as ‘must see’ films, dotting themselves through ‘top films to see before you die’ lists across the internet. Conversely, some titles like Office Space weren’t appreciated upon release, only earning cult followings in the subsequent years when released to DVD. Films like The Blair Witch Project and Being John Malkovich experimented with form and genre in ways which were previously unexplored and illustrated that 1999 was a year which would give us a glimpse of the cinematic possibilities to come.
Cinema at the Dawn of the New Millennium
Raftery’s book is usefully set up chronologically by season. The wider cultural and societal backdrop of the time is revealed with his textual montage of news and pop cultural snippets. This successfully takes the reader back in time and contextualises the western world as we knew it in 1999:
WINTER The Euro, the new currency for most of Europe, got off to a strong start yesterday… My Loneliness is killing me (and I)/ I must confess, I still believe (still believe)... MONIKA LEWINSKY RETURNS TO WASHINGTON TO GIVE DEPOSITION… A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me … “So we tell the American’s as people”, Bin Laden said softly, “and we tell the mothers of soldiers and American mothers in general that if they value their lives and the lives of their children” … I think Ross knows about me and Monica… -Extract from Best. Movie. Year. Ever.
The book takes the reader 'behind the scenes' as it were, as Raftery speaks with actors and directors involved with producing some of the year’s best known or most talked about films. In several places this interview content, like the seasonal snippets which break up the book, function to demonstrate how external events and public opinion at the time shaped the production and/or reception to the films. Events such as the Columbine school shootings impacted viewers receptions of films like The Matrix, adding to the ongoing debate about the impact of on screen violence on ‘impressionable youth’. Likewise, films can reflect concerns that have been long forgotten. For example, Peter Gibbons job in Office Space is to prepare the computer systems of Initech for the threat of the ‘Millennium bug’ which caused real world mass panic in the lead up to December 31st 1999.
I turned 10 in 1999 and so I didn’t end up watching many of the films from the list including The Matrix, Cruel Intentions, The Blair Witch Project and Run Lola Run until my teen years in the mid 2000s. This meant that a lot of the initial discussion or hype passed me by, and so Raftery’s book acts as a ‘filling in the blanks’ giving me insight into how they impacted the film landscape at the dawn of the new millennium.
The Lasting Legacy of Films from 1999
From the popularity of teenspolitation coming of age films including 10 Things I Hate about You, She’s all That and American Pie to films with cult followings like Office Space and Drop Dead Gorgeous to the more thought provoking and interpretive films like The Matrix and Being John Malkovich, 1999 was a cinematic kaleidoscope appealing to wide and varied audiences.
Twenty years on many of the films released in 1999 are still proving their relevance through online discussion, cult fan theories and film study . Personally, a number of the films released in 1999 influenced my postgraduate dissertation on adolescent girlhood in cinema. Indeed countless researchers and academics have been able to invoke 1999 cinematic titles to explore an endless selection of themes from psychoanalysis to hegemonic masculinity to adolescent sex education. What these pieces of research, and Raftery’s book, show is that numerous films from 1999 go beyond being just entertainment. They offer a lens through which we can examine different facets of western society as we approached the early 2000s.
"The movies of 1999 aren’t mere nostalgia trips; they’re a part of people’s lives." - Brian Raftery, Best. Movie. Year. Ever.
Besides an interest in the film releases from this particular year, Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is recommended reading for anyone seeking a dose of 90’s nostalgia and hearing from those involved in the making of films themselves. It’s a highly enjoyable read which offers unique insight and insider perspectives.