For even casual movie fans, it’s not a question of if you’ve seen one of the many films that Brian Raftery dissects in Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen but how many. I’m a little ashamed to admit that the number I’ve seen is comparatively low, although it’s usually films like The Wood which Raftery admits didn’t have very packed theaters. I, like most fans, am drawn to this book for the obvious ones: The Matrix, Fight Club, The Phantom Menace, The Sixth Sense, 10 Things I Hate About You. Even in my decidedly Millennial college dorm, well after ‘99, these classics kept playing alongside more modern staples like Marvel movies and episodes of Sherlock. In chapters organized both by theme and time of release, Raftery explores how these films broke the rules only to reset them for a brand new generation of filmmakers and audiences.
Raftery begins almost alphabetically, with The Blair Witch Project. However, it’s not the jump scares or the early viral marketing that counts – it’s the way the film blurs the line between audience and character. Instead of telling a straightforward story, he points out how, in 1999, movies begin to trick audiences into having an experience. Another “experience” film he points in Tom Tykwer’s Run, Lola, Run (another college hit: Lola Rennt, they call it in German class), which mimics the style of a video game where Lola gets three lives in order to make things right for her and boyfriend. As the year wears on, movies start crossing personal boundaries (Go, Cruel Intentions), delightfully twisting existing genres (She’s All That, The Best Man), and exploring the weirdos that the guys in marketing just couldn’t sell (Office Space, The Iron Giant). Despite their differences, nearly all the movies on Raftery’s list have one thing in common: a cult following.
Readers will soon be creating long lists of movies to watch, either for the first time, or for a closer look. Mine reads: Election, Rushmore, Office Space, Cruel Intentions, Go, The Wood, Three Kings, and The Limey. Speaking of reads, I even burned through the Tom Perrotta novel Election, on which the movie’s based, a day after reading this book. Fans will be delighted to know that The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, and Fight Club dominate this book. For Raftery, it’s all about the twists that rocked audiences and spoke out the rebellious tendencies that had been building up all throughout the nineties. Two other films that occupy a large chunk of his book, however, that have a less obvious impact: Magnolia and Eyes Wide Shut. I haven’t thought about Magnolia since maybe 2005, which is the last time I played Scene-It. Eyes Wide Shut frequently gets overshadowed by Kubrick stalwarts 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, and Lolita to the point that fandom, if not viewership, is almost as exclusive a club as the one Bill crashes in the film. These films were nominated for and won Oscars, which makes their low rewatchability more surprising. Raftery also makes room for Boys Don’t Cry in his litany of great films, delivering insightful looks behind the scenes, and providing testimony for it’s landmark status. However, this comes at the end, almost as an afterthought to the artistic spark that ties the rest of the movies packed into this book together.
So, is 1999 the Best.Movie.YearEver? I personally think there’s a case to be made for 1939 or 2012, but I don’t know if I have a book in me about either year. 1999 broke the rules and paved the way for a lot of those new movies I love so much. Plus, there’s clearly more to watch, and rewatch going forward.
Four out of five stars
Favorite quote: “But the surest way to feel that static electric zap of possibility, was to walk into a movie theater.”