“The car I’ve always wanted and now I have it. I rule!”

My Top 20:

  1. American Beauty
  2. Magnolia
  3. The End of the Affair
  4. Three Kings
  5. Eyes Wide Shut
  6. All About My Mother
  7. Topsy-Turvy
  8. Being John Malkovich
  9. Princess Mononoke
  10. The Sixth Sense
  11. The Talented Mr. Ripley
  12. Toy Story 2
  13. The Insider
  14. Sweet and Lowdown
  15. Run Lola Run
  16. Following
  17. Fight Club
  18. Limbo
  19. Abre los ojos
  20. Man on the Moon

note:  Actually a great year.  It has 15 of the Top 100 films of the decade and a long list of ***.5 films. But two of the top 5 fail to earn any Oscar nominations.

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  American Beauty
  • Best Director:  Sam Mendes  (American Beauty)
  • Best Actor:  Russell Crowe  (The Insider)
  • Best Actress:  Hillary Swank  (Boys Don’t Cry)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Michael Caine  (The Cider House Rules)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Chloe Sevigny  (Boys Don’t Cry)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Cider House Rules
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Being John Malkovich
  • Best Cinematography:  American Beauty
  • Best Animated Film:  The Iron Giant
  • Best Foreign Film:  All About My Mother

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  American Beauty
  • Best Director:  Sam Mendes  (American Beauty)
  • Best Actor:  Kevin Spacey  (American Beauty)
  • Best Actress:  Hillary Swank  (Boys Don’t Cry)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Michael Caine  (The Cider House Rules)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Angelina Jolie  (Girl, Interrupted)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Cider House Rules
  • Best Original Screenplay:  American Beauty
  • Best Cinematography:  American Beauty
  • Best Foreign Film:  All About My Mother

Proof that my wife and the Top 1000 list don’t always mix

Top 5 Films  (Top 1000):

  1. Eyes Wide Shut  –  #529
  2. Fight Club  –  #561
  3. The Matrix  –  #627
  4. All About My Mother  –  #660
  5. Magnolia  –  #679

Top 10 Films  (1999 Best Picture Awards):

  1. American Beauty
  2. The Insider
  3. Being John Malkovich
  4. Topsy-Turvy
  5. The Sixth Sense
  6. The Cider House Rules
  7. Three Kings
  8. The Talented Mr. Ripley
  9. The Green Mile
  10. The End of the Affair

note:  For the second year in a row, two of the top four films fail to earn Oscar nominations.  The Green Mile‘s 9th place finish is the lowest for an Oscar nominee since 1988.

Top 10 Films  (Awards Points):

  1. American Beauty  –  2745
  2. The Insider  –  1268
  3. Being John Malkovich  –  1182
  4. The Talented Mr. Ripley  –  843
  5. Boys Don’t Cry  –  818
  6. The Cider House Rules  –  693
  7. Topsy-Turvy  –  664
  8. The Sixth Sense  –  661
  9. The End of the Affair  –  556
  10. The Matrix  –  505

note:  American Beauty has the largest margin of victory in history – 1477 points – and its percentage of margin (53.81%) is the highest since 1983.  The Green Mile, in 11th place, is the first Oscar nominee to finish outside the Top 10 since Field of Dreams in 1989.

Still a brilliant poster

Top 10 Films  (Domestic Box Office Gross):

  1. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace  –  $431.08 mil
  2. The Sixth Sense  –  $293.50 mil
  3. Toy Story 2  –  $245.85 mil
  4. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me  –  $206.04 mil
  5. The Matrix  –  $171.47 mil
  6. Tarzan  –  $171.09 mil
  7. Big Daddy  –  $163.47 mil
  8. The Mummy  –  $155.38 mil
  9. Runaway Bride  –  $152.25 mil
  10. The Blair Witch Project  –  $140.53 mil

note:  I saw these films a combined 11 times in the theater.  Seven of those are Phantom Menace.  I’ve still never seen Big Daddy, Runaway Bride or The Blair Witch Project.

Top 10 Films  (Worldwide Box Office Gross):

  1. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace  –  $971.2 mil
  2. The Sixth Sense  –  $672.8 mil
  3. Toy Story 2  –  $485.0 mil
  4. The Matrix  –  $463.5 mil
  5. Tarzan  –  $448.2 mil
  6. The Mummy  –  $415.9 mil
  7. Notting Hill  –  $363.9 mil
  8. The World is Not Enough  –  $361.8 mil
  9. American Beauty  –  $356.3 mil
  10. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me –  $312.0 mil

note:  This replaces three films I haven’t seen with three I have, two in the theater, so I much prefer this list.  Austin Powers barely makes the list, earning 2/3 of its total in the States (Big Daddy was worse – 69% – Sandler comedies don’t travel well).  Notting Hill, on the other hand, does 68% of its business worldwide – which is nothing compared to Princess Mononoke, which earns 98% of its money outside the States.  This is the start of a trend – Mononoke is the first film to make over $100 million and earn less than 10% of that in the States – there are now 8 films that have done this and 4 of them are Miyazaki films.

AFI Top 100:

  • The Sixth Sense  –  #89  (2007)

Ebert Great Films:

  • Magnolia

Nighthawk Golden Globes:


  • Best Picture:  American Beauty
  • Best Director:  Sam Mendes  (American Beauty)
  • Best Actor:  Kevin Spacey  (American Beauty)
  • Best Actress:  Annette Bening  (American Beauty)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Tom Cruise  (Magnolia)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Toni Collette  (The Sixth Sense)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The End of the Affair
  • Best Original Screenplay:  American Beauty


  • Best Picture:  Three Kings
  • Best Director:  Mark O. Russell  (Three Kings)
  • Best Actor:  George Clooney  (Three Kings)
  • Best Actress:  Reese Witherspoon  (Election)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  John Malkovich  (Being John Malkovich)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Samantha Morton  (Sweet and Lowdown)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Election
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Being John Malkovich

Samantha Morton earns an Oscar nomination and wins the Nighthawk for her wonderful performance in Sweet and Lowdown

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture:  American Beauty
  • Best Director:  Sam Mendes  (American Beauty)
  • Best Actor:  Kevin Spacey  (American Beauty)
  • Best Actress:  Annette Bening  (American Beauty)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Tom Cruise  (Magnolia)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Samantha Morton  (Sweet and Lowdown)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The End of the Affair
  • Best Original Screenplay:  American Beauty
  • Best Editing:  American Beauty
  • Best Cinematography:  American Beauty
  • Best Original Score:  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  • Best Sound:  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  • Best Art Direction:  Topsy-Turvy
  • Best Visual Effects:  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  • Best Sound Effects Editing:  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  • Best Costume Design:  Topsy-Turvy
  • Best Makeup:  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  • Best Original Song:  “The Great Beyond”  (Man on the Moon)
  • Best Animated Film:  Toy Story 2
  • Best Foreign Film:  All About My Mother

Almodóvar’s All About My Mother – easily the Best Foreign Film of 1999

Top 4 Foreign Films:

  1. All About My Mother
  2. Aimee and Jaguar
  3. Three Seasons
  4. Romance

note:  It’s really a terrible year for Foreign films.  No wonder that All About My Mother became the most dominant winner in the history of the category.  It took 5 of the 6 critics awards and swept all the awards groups.  My other three films (the only ones that make my ***.5 cutoff) are all lower ***.5 films.  There are great Foreign films from the year, but they were submitted to the Academy in 1997 (Princess Mononoke) and 1998 (Run Lola Run) – and neither got nominated at the time.  But the Academy chunked it here too, because Aimee and Jaguar and Three Seasons were both submitted but not nominated.

Absolutely adorable, but don’t let her near your bookcases.

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  Toy Story 2
  • Best Line  (comedic):  “1970 Pontiac Firebird. The car I’ve always wanted and now I have it. I rule!”  (Kevin Spacey in American Beauty)
  • Best Line  (dramatic):  “You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.”  (Kevin Spacey in American Beauty)
  • Best Opening:  Toy Story 2
  • Best Ending:  American Beauty
  • Best Scene:  the final lightsaber duel in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  • Best Use of a Song:  “Wise Up”  (Magnolia)
  • Best Ensemble:  Magnolia
  • Funniest Film:  South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
  • Most Over-Rated Film:  The Matrix
  • Worst Film:  Inspector Gadget
  • Worst Film I Saw in the Theater:  200 Cigarettes
  • Worst Performance By a Great Actor:  Kenneth Branagh in Wild Wild West
  • Worst Line:  “I thought Christmas came only once a year.”  (Pierce Brosnan in The World is Not Enough)
  • Performance to Fall in Love With:  Rachel Weisz in The Mummy
  • Sexiest Performance:  Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut
  • Highest Attractiveness / Acting Ability Ratio:  Heather Graham in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
  • Best Guilty Pleasure:  Lake Placid  (especially for the scene where the crocodile eats the bear)
  • Best Death Scene:  Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea
  • Best Soundtrack:  South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut
  • Star of the Year:  Julianne Moore  (The End of the Affair  /  An Ideal Husband  /  Magnolia  /  Cookie’s Fortune  /  A Map of the World)  –  she is the first person to ever get nominated in all four acting categories in my Golden Globes in one year
  • Best Trailer:  Magnolia
  • Best Tag-Line:  “Things fall down.  People look up.  And when it rains it pours.”  (Magnolia)
  • Best Cameo:  Jerry Springer in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
  • Best Animated Character Performance:  John Ratzenberger in Toy Story 2

Film History:  American Beauty becomes the first film to sweep the awards (Oscars, BAFTA, PGA, BFCA, Globes).  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is released, shattering the opening day box office record by 33%; it ends the year as the second film to gross $400 million in its initial theatrical release and #3 all-time on the domestic box office list and #2 on the worldwide list.  Stanley Kubrick dies unexpectedly on 7 March just after completing Eyes Wide ShutGene Siskel dies in February.  Oliver Reed dies with his scenes in Gladiator unfinished.  George C. Scott dies in September.  Roseta wins the Palme d’Or at Cannes.  Zhang Yimou’s Not One Less wins the Golden Lion in Venice.  Three Seasons wins the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.  Election wins Best Picture, Director and Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards.  The Blair Witch Project, with excellent marketing, returns 20,000% back on its original budget.

Academy Awards:  For the first time in seven years, no film earns double digits in nominations.  The five Best Picture nominees combine for only 32 nominations (lowest since 1992) and 7 Oscars (tied with 1994 for lowest ever).  American Beauty is the fifth film since 1981 to earn nominations in the big 5 categories, but the only one to do with an Original Screenplay.  The Matrix becomes the first film since 1988 to win Best Editing without a Best Picture nomination.  The Matrix wins all four of its nominations – the most for a non-Best Picture film.  Dreamworks wins its first Best Picture.

On the one hand, the Academy gets it right – giving five Oscars to American Beauty, including Picture, Director and Actor.  On the other hand, they gave a Best Picture nom to The Green Mile while failing to bestow a single nomination upon Three Kings or Eyes Wide Shut.  They nominated “Blame Canada” from South Park, but gave the Oscar to a weak song from Tarzan (there was a good song, “Two Worlds”, but it wasn’t nominated) and failed to even nominate “The Great Beyond”.  They gave the supporting Oscars to performances that miss my top 5, but failed to nominate vital supporting performances from Christopher Plummer (The Insider), John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich) and Cameron Diaz (Malkovich).  And they went with a completely sub-par group of Foreign Films.  They also decided, somehow, that Makeup was worthy of four nominees, but that Phantom Menace, Sleepy Hollow and Fight Club weren’t to be among them.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Original Song for “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Tarzan
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Original Song for “Music of the Heart” from Music of the Heart
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Original Song for “The Great Beyond” from Man in the Moon
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  Bicentennial Man
  • Best Eligible Film with No Oscar Nominations:  Three Kings
  • Best Foreign Film Submitted But Not Nominated:  Aimee and Jaguar
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Makeup
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Sound Effects Editing
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Picture, Director, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Actor, Cinematography, Costume Design, Foreign Film

Golden Globes:  For the first time in 10 years, five films are nominated for Picture and Director, but only two of them (American Beauty and The Insider) earn Oscar nominations – the other three don’t (The Hurricane, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The End of the Affair).  American Beauty is the first film in six years to win Picture, Director and Screenplay.  The Insider is the only other film nominated for Picture, Director and Screenplay and it goes 0 for 5 (also losing Actor and Score).  The four losing films nominated for Best Picture – Drama (The Insider, The End of the Affair, The Hurricane, The Talented Mr. Ripley) are all nominated for Director and go a combined 1 for 17, only winning Best Actor – Drama for The Hurricane.  In a year with Three Kings, Topsy-Turvy and Sweet and Lowdown, the Globes instead nominate Analyze This for Best Picture – Comedy, which, thankfully, loses to Toy Story 2American Beauty, with three wins, is the only film to win more than one award.  For the second year in a row, Jim Carrey wins the Golden Globe (this time for Comedy) and fails to earn an Oscar nomination.  There is remarkable agreement between the Globes and Oscars – agreeing on Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Song and Foreign Film.  In an inspired move, Courtney Love, going to give out the Best Song award, sings “The Great Beyond”, which failed to get a nomination.

Awards:  American Beauty becomes the only film between 1993 and 2003 to win multiple critics awards and go on to win the Oscar.  There’s not a whole lot of consensus among the critics groups.  The Insider and Being John Malkovich basically tie for first place in points (507 and 506), but neither wins more than one Best Picture award (LAFC for The Insider, NSFC for Being John Malkovich) and neither wins a Best Director award.  Their strengths are acting (Insider wins three Actor and Supporting Actor awards each) and writing (Malkovich wins four Screenplay awards).  Boys Don’t Cry comes in third, but all the awards are for acting – four awards each for Actress and Supporting Actress.  American Beauty and Topsy-Turvy are the only two films to win two Best Picture and Director awards (Beauty wins both in Chicago, Picture from the NBR and Director in LA while Topsy wins Picture and Director from New York and the NSFC, though it ties with Malkovich in the latter for Picture).  The final Picture and Director awards go to Three Kings from the Boston Society of Film Critics.  The other big critics winner is All About My Mother, which wins five Best Foreign Film awards (NYFC, LAFC, BSFC, CFC, NBR).

American Beauty sets new guild records for points (775) and nominations (15) and ties the record for wins (10).  The only guilds it is nominated by are SAG (Supporting Actress) and the Annies.  It becomes the second film to win the SAG Ensemble and the PGA and, unlike the previous one, Apollo 13, it goes on to win the Oscar.  It becomes the second film to win Actor and Actress at SAG.  It becomes the only film in history to win the big 5 at the guilds – PGA, DGA, WGA, Actor and Actress.  It becomes the first film to win three SAG Awards.  It is the first film in five years to win the PGA, DGA and WGA (which would not happen again for another six years).  The other four Oscar nominees combine for 25 nominations but only 1 award (Supporting Actor for The Cider House Rules).  None of them can quite capture all the major groups – The Insider gets the PGA, DGA and WGA but not the SAG Ensemble.  The Cider House Rules gets the SAG, PGA and WGA but not the DGA.  The Green Mile only gets the SAG and DGA while The Sixth Sense only gets the DGA and WGA.  On the other hand, Being John Malkovich becomes the first of only two films to earn PGA, DGA, WGA and SAG Ensemble nominations and fail to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (Almost Famous would be the other one)

American Beauty sets a new record for points at the BAFTA Awards – 615 points (which will stand until 2010).  It earns 14 nominations (including Picture, Director, Screenplay and all four acting categories) and wins 6 awards (Picture, Actor, Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Score).  Also nominated for Picture, Director and Screenplay are The End of the Affair (10 noms, wins Adapted Screenplay), The Talented Mr. Ripley (7 noms, wins Supporting Actor) and The Sixth Sense (4 noms).  East is East is nominated for 5 awards, including Picture and wins British Film.  All About My Mother wins Foreign Film and Director – the third time in four years the Best Director award goes to a film not nominated for Best Picture.  The final three Oscar nominees combine for two nominations: Actor (The Insider) and Supporting Actor (The Cider House Rules).

American Beauty becomes the first (and until 2008 the only) film to win Picture, Director and Screenplay at the Broadcast Film Critics Assocation.  The Green Mile wins Best Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor to go along with a Best Picture nomination.  All five eventual Oscar nominees are nominated for Best Picture along with The Talented Mr. Ripley, Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, Man on the Moon and Three Kings.

Best Director:  There is almost as much Consensus on Best Director as there is on Best Picture.  Sam Mendes wins two critics awards (LA and Chicago) and then almost sweeps the awards groups – only losing at the BAFTAs (tough he also loses at the lesser known Satellites).  There isn’t a lot of consensus other than Mendes; he is followed by Anthony Minghella for The Talented Mr. Ripley (NBR win, BAFTA, Globe, Satellite noms), Michael Mann for The Insider (Satellite win, DGA, Oscar, Globe noms), Mike Leigh for Topsy-Turvy (NYFC and NSFC awards) and M. Night Shyamalan (DGA, Oscar, BAFTA noms).  My own list is Mendes, P.T. Anderson for Magnolia (Satellite nom), Neil Jordan for The End of the Affair (BAFTA, Globe noms), David O. Russell for Three Kings (BSFC win) and Stanley Kubrick for Eyes Wide Shut.  My 6 through 10 are Pedro Almodóvar for All About My Mother (BAFTA win), Minghella, Leigh, Shyamalan and Tom Tykwer for Run Lola Run.

Best Adapted Screenplay:  (A slight interlude:  If I were to ever win an Oscar, my speech would end this way: “I just want to mention something written by a man who won this award in 1999.  You have to get obsessed and stay obsessed.  You have to keep passing the open windows.”)  The ironic thing is that one of my favorite writers wins the Oscar and Consensus Award (as well as the NBR and earning WGA and Globe nominations) and he doesn’t make my top 5: John Irving for The Cider House Rules.  He’s followed by Election (WGA, NYFC wins, Oscar nom), The Talented Mr. Ripley (Oscar, WGA, BAFTA noms), The Insider (Oscar, WGA, Globe noms) and The Green Mile (Oscar nom, BFCA win).  The last is kind of ridiculous for a film that’s so simplistic and so over-long.  My own list is The End of the Affair (which won the BAFTA), Eyes Wide Shut, Ripley, The Insider and Election.  It’s not nearly as good a year for adapted scripts as it is for originals (it often works like that – when one side has a really great year, the other one has an off year; for examples see 1974, 1991, 1994, 2001).  My 6 through 10 are The Cider House Rules, Felicia’s Journey, Fight Club, My Son the Fanatic and Mansfield Park.

Best Original Screenplay:  It’s not the award for Most Original Screenplay, I remember explaining to a friend after the Oscars.  It’s the award for Best Original Screenplay.  And that’s why American Beauty won and why it deserved to win.  Being John Malkovich would wow the critics though and take home the consensus on the basis of wins from LA, Chicago, the NSFC, the NBR and the BAFTAs (with Oscar, WGA and Globe nominations as well).  American Beauty would prevail at the latter three and the BFCA (and earn a BAFTA nomination).  Rounding out the Consensus Awards would be The Sixth Sense (Oscar, WGA, Globe, BAFTA noms), Magnolia (Oscar, WGA noms) and Topsy-Turvy (Oscar, BAFTA noms).  It’s too bad that certain categories explode in certain years and are terrible in others.  Any of my top 5 I could see giving the award to: American Beauty, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, Three Kings (WGA nominee) and All About My Mother (BAFTA nominee).  And the 6 through 10 list is a hell of a group of great writing as well: Topsy-Turvy, The Sixth Sense, Sweet and Lowdown, Following and Toy Story 2.  Those last five would be a strong group of nominees and none of them even make my top 5.

Best Actor:  Russell Crowe proves that L.A. Confidential was just a stepping stone for him.  He wins the Consensus Award for The Insider by winning the LAFC, NSFC, NBR and BFCA and earning Oscar, SAG, Globe and BAFTA noms.  He’s followed on the list by Kevin Spacey for American Beauty (CFC, SAG, Oscar, BAFTA wins, Globe nom), Jim Carrey for Man on the Moon (BSFC, Globe – Comedy wins, SAG nom), Richard Farnsworth for The Straight Story (NYFC win, Oscar and Globe noms) and Denzel Washington for The Hurricane (SAG and Oscar noms, Globe – Drama win).  The year seems to screw up the next two years, as Crowe and Washington seem to win makeup Oscars the next two years.  But I actually think the Oscars got it right and that Spacey’s brilliant performance is the best of the year.  He’s followed on my list by Ralph Fiennes for The End of the Affair (BAFTA nom), Crowe, George Clooney for Three Kings and Sean Penn for Sweet and Lowdown (Oscar, Globe – Comedy noms).  My 6 through 10 are Carrey, Tom Cruise for Eyes Wide Shut, Terrence Stamp for The Limey, Matt Damon for The Talented Mr. Ripley (Globe nom) and Washington (and then Farnsworth in 11th place).

Best Actress:  Hillary Swank easily wins the Consensus – taking home the NYFC, LAFC, BSFC, CFC, Oscar, Globe and BFCA (while also getting nominated at SAG and BAFTA).  Following her on the list are Annette Bening for American Beauty (SAG and BAFTA wins, Oscar and Globe noms), Janet McTeer for Tumbleweeds (NBR and Globe – Comedy wins, SAG and Oscar nominee), Julianne Moore for The End of the Affair (SAG, Oscar, BAFTA, Globe noms, with a Globe – Comedy nom for An Ideal Husband) and Meryl Streep for Music of the Heart (SAG, Oscar, Globe noms).  Personally, I don’t understand the acclaim for McTeer or Streep (one of her weaker performances).  They barely make my top 20.  And while Swank is great, she is fourth on my list, behind Bening, Moore and Cecilia Roth (who is brilliant in All About My Mother), with my fifth nominee being Sigourney Weaver for Map of the World (who only earned a Globe nom).  My 6 through 10 are Nicole Kidman for Eyes Wide Shut, Reese Witherspoon for Election (NSFC award, Globe – Comedy nom), Moore (for An Ideal Husband), Kate Winslet for Holy Smoke and Emily Watson for Angela’s Ashes (BAFTA nom).

Best Supporting Actor:  It’s a close finish at the top, with the top three being Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules (SAG, Oscar wins, Globe, BAFTA noms), Christopher Plummer for The Insider (LAFC, NSFC, BSFC wins) and Tom Cruise for Magnolia (CFC, Globe wins, SAG, Oscar noms).  The final two spots on the Consensus list are Michael Clarke Duncan for The Green Mile (BFCA win, SAG, Oscar, Globe noms) and Jude Law for The Talented Mr. Ripley (BAFTA win, Oscar, Globe noms).  My own list has Cruise as the runaway winner with the riskiest performance of his career.  I follow that with Haley Joel Osment (SAG, Oscar, Globe noms), whose performance in The Sixth Sense has been over-looked since then because his big scene, so well done, has been parodied so often.  Then I go with three who somehow didn’t receive Oscar nominations: Plummer, John Malkovich for Being John Malkovich (NYFC win, but nothing else) and Chris Cooper in American Beauty (SAG nom).  I have Caine leading off my second group, followed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Magnolia (he won the NBR for his role here and in Ripley), Dan Hedaya, for his hilarious portrayal of Nixon in Dick, Charles S. Dutton, with the best performance in Cookie’s Fortune and then Law (followed by Hoffman again, for Ripley).  I don’t even rate Duncan’s performance as worth mentioning.

Best Supporting Actress:  Chloe Sevigny wins four critics awards for Boys Don’t Cry (LAFC, NSFC, BSFC, CFC) and wins the Consensus in spite of losing the SAG, Oscar and Globe.  Angelina Jolie wins all three of those, as well as the BFCA for Girl, Interrupted and comes in second.  They are followed by Catherine Keener for Being John Malkovich (NYFC win, SAG, Oscar, Globe noms), Cameron Diaz, also for Being John Malkovich (SAG, BAFTA, Globe noms) and Julianne Moore (NBR for Magnolia, A Map of the World and An Ideal Husband – even though she is lead in the latter and could have been also mentioned for Cookie’s Fortune, as well as a SAG nominee for Magnolia).  My own winner is Samantha Morton for Sweet and Lowdown (Oscar and Globe nominee).  My nominees are Diaz, Oscar nominee Toni Colette (for The Sixth Sense), Moore (for Magnolia) and Keener.  My 6 through 10 are Sevigny, Jolie, Cate Blanchett (for The Talented Mr. Ripley), Moore again (this time for Map of the World) and Thora Birch (for American Beauty), with Moore popping up again in 11th for Cookie’s Fortune.

Sweet and Lowdown – Woody Allen’s wonderful and under-appreciated film

Under-appreciated Film of 1999:

Sweet and Lowdown  (dir. Woody Allen)

This is a tough year to figure out a film here.  Two of my top 5 films of the year – Three Kings and Eyes Wide Shut – failed to earn any Oscar nominations, but there were many others who appreciated those and they have never quite felt under-appreciated (I might have said that Three Kings was if not for the Best Picture award from the Boston Society of Film Critics).  Then there is Following, the brilliant debut film from Christopher Nolan that people don’t seem to have gone back and discovered after all his success, but I didn’t really feel like writing about it.  And then I thought about Sweet and Lowdown – one of the best films of the year and its only accolades were for Sean Penn and Samantha Morton.  And then I looked at my own awards, and the year was so crowded that those were the only awards I gave it either (though Morton won the Nighthawk for Supporting Actress).  The Best Picture list and Best Original Screenplay list is so good, it couldn’t quite crack the top 5 in either one.  So it continues to fly just under the radar.  But this might be the best film that Woody Allen made between 1994 (Bullets Over Broadway) and 2011 (Midnight in Paris).

Part of what is so great about it, of course, is the acting.  Sean Penn gives one of his best performances (an impressive feat, when you consider his career has included two deserved Oscars).  But more impressive, Penn doesn’t act as a Woody stand-in like John Cusack (Bullets Over Broadway), Kenneth Branagh (Celebrity) or Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris).  He is a fully realized character and a fully realized performance – possibly the best lead male performance in a Woody Allen film and certainly the best one not performed by Woody himself.

What must it be like to be Emmet Ray, the second best Jazz guitarist around?  He always knows that he’s second-best and he knows that he will never match up to Django Reinhardt.  No matter his life will bring him up, no matter what magic he can create with his guitar, he will never be the best.  So he continues to create as much magic as he can, sweeping people away in the beauty of his music, and when the music stops, his life takes over.  It doesn’t take over very well, because all the magic in his life goes straight into his fingers on the guitar.  Outside of the stage, he is the kind of drunk who wants to go down to the pound and shoot rats.

But that’s the brilliance of the character, both in the way that Woody Allen writes him and the way that Sean Penn writes him.  He’s so involved with himself that it seems to take him an aeon to realize that the cute girl he is chatting up isn’t responding to any of his talk.  Eventually he realizes that she’s mute, but by then it hardly seems to matter.  And that’s when Samantha Morton starts to take over the film with an absolutely captivating performance that doesn’t require any words at all.  Here we have a director who has directed four different actresses to Oscars (Diane Keaton, Diane Wiest (twice), Mira Sorvino, Penelope Cruz) with all their great non-stop chatter, and one of the best performances he’s ever gotten doesn’t get a word in at all.  She takes over with her eyes and wins everyone over.  Just like the film itself – a winning film that somehow seemed to slip through the cracks and was only more forgotten when so many of Allen’s films in the years that followed seemed not worth remembering.  But this one is, for the performances, for the screenplay, for the very music and magic in the film itself.

Still the coolest scene of the year

Reflections on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

What follows below are my original thoughts on the film.  They were written in an e-mail to my best friend sent at 9:54 AM on Wednesday, May 19, 1999, some seven and a half hours after watching the film at a midnight showing, in response to his e-mail (he sent his earlier, being on the East Coast – I don’t have a copy of that).  The only editing is the correction of spelling.  Below that are my thoughts, some thirteen years later.

don’t have time to say much – i liked it a lot for a lot of reasons – my feelings of what the film focuses on is different than yours (you go with THE FORCE – as a lit major i see the thing as a very long story about redemption and salvation)  you are definitely right – this is the setup for the next two but it gives us some great insights into the background of the characters before anakin becomes death

weaknesses – length of the pod race – you are right, far too long; the herky-jerky style of the end – my main focus was the lightsaber battle, which i think blows away any of the previous battles in the original trilogy – not enough Obi-Wan – that was who i really wanted to see

strengths – however, i can deal with this because a good part of this story is how Obi-Wan comes into his own – our paper complains there is no likeable rogue like Han – however, Luke was supposed to be the focus NOT Han – well this works – Obi-Wan (as played by Ewan, and by Alec as well) is much more likeable than the whiny Luke – finally a Jedi we can really get behind; great lightsaber battles and we finally get to see what a Jedi in combat looks like – I love the early battle trying to escape; a good setup to help us understand what is going on – i will probably see it again tonight or tomorrow – I will also rewatch Star Wars and listen to all the background stuff they say about the Senate and such to make sure that everything lines up – while Star Wars was self-contained; some of the dialogue – dialogue is not Lucas’s strength despite American Graffiti – he was lucky that people loved Star Wars because a lot of the dialogue was simply hokey – witness Empire where he gets Lawrence Kasdan (writer of Big Chill, Silverado, etc) to help out and the dialogue skyrockets to new heights – a lot of this dialogue was hokey – but some of it was quite good – my favorite dialogue scenes have always been the Han / Leia moments in Empire – well this is closely matched by young Anakin taking on look at Natalie Portman and asking “are you an angel?” – great fucking moment which helps to foreshadow later events – and given one good look at Natalie, probably true

one last thing I thought of while watching it – i was more riveted than i had been in a movie in years because I cared about the characters – I knew that Amidala, Anakin and Obi-Wan had to survive so a little suspense was lost – but I really cared because I like the characters – I also figured that Qui-Gon was going to die but this was a great move because this helps to explain the way Obi-Wan is – he watches his mentor killed by a Sith Lord and in later years watches his pupil go that route – no wonder Alec Guinness played him as so old and worn out – he wants to forget this ever happened but he can’t because Luke is his chance for redemption – Lucas has made a big deal about the story being a son redeeming his father – but in a sense, in Jedi, when Luke says “No.  I am a Jedi like my father before me.” that father is Obi-Wan and that scene is Obi-Wan’s redemption for watching Qui-Gon die and losing Anakin to the dark side

things i look forward to in Episode II – Palpatine taking over and becoming the Emperor, and obviously revealing himself as Lord Sidious – the hunting down and destruction of the Jedi Knights – that should make for some interesting battles – Yoda flees to Dagobah but we know Obi-Wan sticks it out and fights for a while – but that might not happen until III because I thought Vader had something to do with the extermination and he doesn’t become Vader until the end of Episode II – but we should see the Clone Wars and supposedly a Mandalorian (ie Boba Fett – Boba Fett, Boba Fett, where?) cloned army – lots of rumors on the internet about Portman baring her back side for this one but it’s all bullshit i’m sure – also, i think we see Anakin go back for his mother – that and the courtship between Anakin and Amidala will be interesting to see – also interesting – we’ve always known Vader was a dark lord of the Sith – well now we know why there weren’t more – two there are always of the Sith – a master and an apprentice – well obviously Palpatine takes Anakin as his new apprentice – I hope we will find out in II why the Sith are taking revenge on the Jedi

anyway, more later – I thought the acting was quite good for a space action movie and this is the first part of a mini-series but I for one can’t wait to see the rest – i thought Neeson, McGregor and Portman were all good – McGregor especially because he makes us understand Guinness and Portman because she bears a good resemblance to Carrie Fisher and we can see a lot of Leia in her mother – also I liked Jake Lloyd and was surprised that he was as good as he was

Now, 13 years later.  I remember writing these words in the morning before heading off to work.  I worked at KinderCare and all the kids were jealous that I went to the midnight showing, as were a lot of the parents.  I remember having just read what Kevin Smith had written about it (he wanted to get his positive review out there because he figured it would soon be in to badmouth the film) – I had delayed because other than the trailers, I wanted to know nothing about the film going in.  I had even avoided looking at the soundtrack, even though I already owned it, because I didn’t want the title of any of the tracks to give anything away (like say the track titled “Qui-Gon’s Funeral”, though, as I say in the e-mail, I had already guessed at that).

I put up my original review, verbatim, for a couple of reasons.  The first is that there are some things I wrote that I no longer agree with (we’ll get to that).  The second is that I didn’t want to hide the fact of how much I liked the film when it came out, because, guess what, so did everyone else.  I live a life (or did, then, anyway) full of Star Wars fanatics.  I went with several to the midnight showing, saw it again that same night with a couple more, was writing about it to yet another.  And all of them liked it.  No matter what they say about it now, their first reaction was that they liked it.  That was a lot of people’s first reactions, including mine.  The third reason is that I still like it.

I actually considered writing about the film as the under-appreciated film of the year because so many people bad-mouth it.  But instead, I looked back at what I thought then and looked ahead to what I think now.  My first thought is this: I saw this film seven times in the theater and I didn’t bother to see The Matrix.  And given the chance, I would do it again in a second (I admit that I have not seen it in 3-D, but this is because of a severe lack of time and money and because 3-D glasses give me a headache because I wear glasses – but I seriously considered it).

The one major difference between what I thought about it then and what I think about it now is that I don’t think Jake Lloyd is very good and he grates on me through the film.  I’m surprised I didn’t mention Jar-Jar as a weakness because he irritated me even when I was watching it the first time, but I think people were already worried about how annoying he would be and I felt no need to mention it.  The reduction of Jar Jar’s role, and better, the dubbing over of him and the Federation members are the best thing about The Phantom Edit, and I recommend getting a copy if you can.  But The Phantom Edit wouldn’t work as a film if the original didn’t already work.

I like the film for the same reasons that I mentioned all those years ago.  I love seeing the Jedi in their splendor, watching how fast they can move, how dangerous they can be.  The confident manner in which Obi-Wan, who’s not even a full Jedi yet, walks towards the droids holding the pilots captive and says “I’ll handle this,” makes me smile.  Natalie Portman has all the spunk and nerve that Carrie Fisher had playing Leia.  Liam Neeson is suitably mysterious as the Jedi who doesn’t exactly abide by the orders of the Council.  And Ewan, who years later would prove he could perfectly emulate Albert Finney, shows already how much he is the young Alec Guinness (that Guinness is my favorite actor of all-time and Ewan is probably my favorite current actor makes a nice connection between them).

Then there is Lucas’ ability to tell a story.  As much as he can struggle with dialogue, the story is compelling, across all six films.  Though he does get caught in inconsistencies (he was stuck with no way out – with the droids as the essential link through the films, there was no way to get out of there being some problems with continuity), he does well with most of it.  And he sets up a lot of the future films here in this first film.  I wanted to know where this would go.  And I liked the way it hearkened back to the earlier films – all three of the prequels would, in some way, match the earlier films – Phantom Menace, like Star Wars, has the early flight from the planet, the middle section when they are stuck, and then a final space battle (and it has similar types of editing wipes as the first one).

Then, of course, there is that final lightsaber battle.  Even knowing full well that Obi-Wan had to survive, I was on the edge of my seat once the shield-ray came down and so was everyone else, cheering wildly out of control.  Of course, it helps that one of the key things that holds the Star Wars Universe together are the John Williams scores, each of them magnificent in and of themselves, and “Duel of the Fates”, the main fight music is absolutely perfect.

People were already reacting to the film by the time of the awards that year.  It was nominated for three Oscars (Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Effects Editing) but won none, losing all three to The Matrix.  But I think higher of the work in Phantom Menace than I do in The Matrix.  I give it those three Nighthawk Awards, as well as Original Score and Makeup and give it nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design.

What were people reacting to?  Well, in part they were reacting to Jar-Jar, who was unbelievably annoying, to the point of distraction (one of the more subtle scenes in the film, almost always missed, is that when they are in the core and Jar-Jar is freaking out, Qui-Gon says “Relax” and touches his shoulder and Jar-Jar slumps, almost into unconsciousness, and Obi-Wan says “You overdid it.”).  In part, they were pissed because the film couldn’t replicate the experience of the first three films because they were no longer kids and weren’t going to react to them as kids.  True, I have a special connection to the original films because I saw all three in the theater and Star Wars was the first film I ever saw, at age three.  But an entire generation grew up watching them as children and they had grown up now and weren’t going to react the same way and they were pissed off.  And because it became the in thing to do.  I have spent over a decade now listening to people tear down the prequels and then expect me to agree because I’m a die hard Star Wars fan and they never seem to understand that I love the prequels.  But had they been able to go in to the film, tabula rasa, they probably would have come away pretty damn happy.  As a space adventure film, it is a very good film.  It’s a hell of a lot better than most of what it is out there.  But because it’s not Star Wars and Empire – because it’s not better than 99% of what is out there, people can’t seem to forgive George Lucas.  Well, they can be bitter.  I’m gonna go watch the films again.  All six of them.

end note:  Looking at what I wrote about the potential for the other films, clearly everything was based on rumors at the time, and some was true, and some wasn’t.  Much of what I expected to see in Episode II actually didn’t come until Episode III.  And why the Sith wanted revenge?  That actually came in one of the novels.  And Natalie’s backside?  Well, thanks to Wes Anderson, that came around almost a decade later.