Thursday, April 30, 2009

1999 (The 9 Years, Part 7)

As we are now in 2009, we can expect to see a great many articles trumpeting the 70th anniversary of the fabled "Best Movie Year," 1939. This is tradition, dating back probably to every 9 year of every movie-oriented decade.

But is 1939 really the best year for movies? I don't know about that. It was great, but after the watershed year 1979, I started having my doubts. In 1989, I started noticing a trend. And in 1999, I was sure I was on to something.

I have a theory: that the 9 year in every decade is the best of that period. Why? I can only surmise that filmmakers working during the decade in question want to get out their final word on the era, and thus save their best for last. But, in the end, who really knows why: maybe it's simply just chance working here. Still, it's a very definable trend.

I first started conceiving this article (which you can see in full here) in 1999. Though I began thinking, in that year, that movies were doomed, I was blown away by the number of 1999 titles notable for their innovative quality (mostly due to the new influence of videogames, video cameras, and for the generational shift). Though it's too soon to say, 1999 really may be the greatest movie year ever, and this very well may be because filmmakers consciously or subconsciously felt the need to blow away the 1939 worship.

I should note: here in this 7th part of this ongoing series, I start talking WAY more in depth about why these movies should be noted, because the time that's elapsed since their release has not been great enough to ensure their inclusion into the filmmaking canon.

And so:

10 years ago this year--very possibly cinema's greatest era:

Aimee and Jaguar (Oscar-nominated German drama centering in on lesbian relationship set, with inevitable complications, in Nazi-era Berlin)

All About My Mother (Pedro Almodovar's Oscar-winning masterpiece about a Madrid mother--portrayed by an unsparing Cecelia Roth--traveling to confront her recently-deceased son's long-estranged father, now a Barcelona transvestite; the many turns in this film's serpentine plot are universally, uniquely transfixing. Even now, film is tastiest fruit yet born from Almodovar's bountiful career--from this point on, he's been regarded as Europe's premier autuer, and he thus netted Best Director honors at 1999's Cannes Film Festival)

American Beauty (1999's Best Picture winner; the film debut from Tony-winning stage vet Sam Mendes, who pounds Alan Ball's much-lauded scripting of poisonous suburban malaise into a visually electrifying work; vividly colorful cinematography and lighting from Oscar-winner Conrad Hall is his secret weapon, as is Thomas Newman's influential, oddly-syncopated score. But, of course, the film's MVPs are its actors, with lead Kevin Spacey winning his second Academy Award (Best Actor this time) as put-upon business writer/domestic drudge Lester Burnham, Annette Bening as his icy wife Carolyn, Thora Burch as their fed-up daughter Jane, Wes Bentley as their weed-dealing weirdo neighbor kid Ricky Fitts, Chris Cooper and Allison Jenney as Ricky's deadly despairing parents, and Mena Suvari as Jane's friend, a faux-worldly sexpot deemed by Lester as his mid-life crisis's creamy, sensual center. Film arguably didn't deserve Best Picture but, given its consitantly loving embrace by the industry, and its massive $130 million box office take, one has to admit its capture of late-1990s zeitgeist. Its cynical survey of American home life has been explored to better effect in a host of other pictures but inventive, fun-to-look-at, ultimately touching film is so detailed in its vision and performance that it stands up to numerous viewings; it still just misses my top ten of the year, mainly because I do have to admit it feels strangely dated now)

American Movie (my favorite documentary from 1999; director Chris Smith follows troubled ultra-indie filmmaker Mark Borchardt around rural Minnesota as he recruits his friends and family in the making of a financially-strapped black-and-white 20-minute horror film called Coven; cult hit is both deceptively depressing and extremely entertaining pop-culture portrait of one rather unprepared man's desperate dreams of fame and fortune; Borchardt, with his elderly, unwitting producer Uncle Bill, and recovering tripoholic collaborator/friend Mike Schenk (who provides the documentary's fantastic acoustic guitar score) each emerged as 1999's most idiosyncratic, and somehow inspiring, film personalities)

American Pie (blockbuster reboot of teen sex comedy genre, delivered with surprising warmth, along with inevitable vulgarities, by debut filmmaking brothers Paul and Chris Weitz; Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Eddie Kay Thomas, and Thomas Ian Nicholas portray horny friends vowing to lose their virginity before prom night; their female compatriots are assayed by Tara Reid, Natasha Lyonne, Shannon Elizabeth, and cute Buffy The Vampire Slayer vet Alison Hannigan (who, along with manic Eddie Kay Thomas, walks away with the movie); also sports a career-transforming perf from SCTV vet Eugene Levy as Biggs' square father)

American Pimp (along with Pimps Up, Ho's Down, the definitive doc chronicle of pimp life, directed by The Hughes Brothers)

Analyze This (made the same year as The Sopranos, Robert De Niro delivers his one great lead comic performance as mob boss who visits psychiatrist Billy Crystal for therapy; merely diverting movie, but a gigantic hit, directed by Harold Ramis)

Any Given Sunday (Oliver Stone's caffinated football saga, damning but somehow celebratory of the harsher sides of the sport's business; fun cast--Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, LL Cool J, Ann-Margret, James Woods, Matthew Modine, and Jamie Foxx, who makes a deep impression in pre-Oscar supporting role as sickeningly egotistical quarterback)

Arlington Road
(underrated paranoia creep-out with Jeff Bridges as widowed professor who suspects weird neighbors Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack as bomb-planting terrorists; sometimes lame, often exciting movie sticks with you; outstanding credits sequence)

Audition (Hong Kong horrormeister Takeshi Miike's US breakthrough, and one of the genre's recent greats, following widower Ryo Ishibashi as he suffers unforeseen consequences as the lovelorn amateur casting director for his friend's new movie. "Kiri, kiri, kiri, kiri, kiri!" Have fun...)

Being John Malkovich (gloriously befuddling debut film from former video director Spike Jonze casts John Cusack as artist-cum-office-worker who discovers a portal to the mind and spirits of actor John Malkovich; extremely weird and profound; a little disappointing in its final third, but a bold, deservedly much-treasured cult movie, with great work from Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, and Orson Bean; sharply written by Charlie Kaufman, who instantly shot to screenwriting's A-list; earned Oscar nominations for Jonze, Kaufman, and Keener)

Beau Travail (powerful, Oscar-nominated Claire Denis film about the passionate, destructive relationship between a CO and a French Foreign Legion recruit stationed off the cost of Djibouti)

The Blair Witch Project
(horror "shockumentary" from Florida filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez; three college kids venture into a notoriously haunted New England forest to shoot a non-fiction film about "infamous" title character. After a historic viral on-line ad campaign made it into one of the most profitable movies ever produced, Blair Witch became an singularly divisive love-it-or-hate-it event; I fall on the love-it side, because I find the woods to be frightening (if you aren't shaken even a little by this side of nature, the film won't work for you). Questionable shaky-cam DV work--made way worse by strobe-causing film transfer--resulted in a rash of vomiting incidents in movie theaters)

Boondock Saints (writer/director Troy Duffy's debut is spiritually-tinged action movie, a smash on video, that has Irish brothers Willem Dafoe and Sean Patrick Flanery taking on the Russian mob, ultimately all in the name of God; a very strong cult following is out there for this movie, but I don't get it)

Bowfinger (Steve Martin scripted this lively Hollywood-based comedy with Martin as a penniless movie director trying to trick sweet, goofy regular-guy Eddie Murphy--a dead ringer for big-movie-star Eddie Murphy--into being the lead in his next picture, intending to pass him off as the star; another underrated script from Martin, and equally excellent but ignored performance by Murphy)

Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce's harrowing directorial debut detailing real-life teenager Brandon Teena's notoriously violent fate after "friends" discovered she was a woman masquerading as a man; career-defining, Oscar-winning lead performance from Hillary Swank is given equally strong support from Chloe Sevigny, Peter Saarsgard, and Brendon Sexton III)

Bringing Out The Dead (very bleak Martin Scorsese picture reunites him with Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader, and furthers that movie with a more damning, depressing portrayal of NYC streetlife--a real achievement; it follows sickly-looking EMT worker Nicholas Cage on his nightmarish nightly rounds through the city, with a game supporting cast and queasy-colored cinematography from Robert Richardson)

Buena Vista Social Club (Oscar-nominated, wildly energetic Wim Wenders doc about the kings and queens of the Cuban music scene; lit a big fire of popularity for all artists involved, as it was cleverly designed to do)

The Cider House Rules (Lasse Hallstrom directed this classically-flavored filming of John Irving's abortion-themed saga; Irving won an Academy Award for his screenwriting, as did Michael Caine for his supporting performance--his first with an American accent--as the ether-addicted head of a New England women's hospital; key film for leads Tobey Maguire and for Charlize Theron, who stunningly looks in some shots as if transported from the MGM stable of 1930s beauty queens)

Cookie’s Fortune (likable Robert Altman trifle with Patricia Neal as wealthy small-town success whose death and will causes strife amongst her satellites; with Julianne Moore, Glenn Close, Liv Tyler, Chris O'Donnell, Charles S. Dutton, Ned Beatty, Courtney B. Vance, Donald Moffat, and Lyle Lovett)

Cradle Will Rock (Tim Robbins wrote and directed this slightly overstuffed pastiche of Orson Welles' radical 30s-era theater group the NTA, culminating with a reinacting of the company's most famous production; huge cast includes Hank Azaria, Rubén Blades, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, Cary Elwes, Philip Baker Hall, Cherry Jones, Angus Macfadyen, Bill Murray, Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, Jamey Sheridan, John Turturro, Emily Watson, and Bob Balaban; this engaging lineup of talent, plus film's brave ambition to tell an largely unknown story makes it quite worth seeing)

Cruel Intentions (modern-day retelling of Dangerous Liasons with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Ryan Phillipe, and Joshua Jackson; cult hit is actually much better than one might expect)

Dogma (Kevin Smith's inevitably vulgar screed against organized religion has fine cast--Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Chris Rock, George Carlin and many others--but remains another of the year's love-it-or-hate-it filmgoing experiences; this time, I fall wholly on the hate side, but plenty of people strongly disagree)

East-West (Oscar-nominated French film follows Catherine Denueve as Russian-born French citizen whose family is lured back to Stalinist USSR, only to be squeezed hard by the dictator's iron-fisted grip)

Election (Alexander Payne's scintillating follow-up to almost-equally brilliant debut film Citizen Ruth is based on Tom Perotta's novel, screen-adapted with Payne's longtime writing partner Jim Taylor. It's a perfect blend of high laughter and pin-point political satire (sexual realms included) that's at once insistent and subtle. Matthew Broderick is Mr. McAllister, a popular creampuff-liberal high school teacher overseeing the school's student presidential election; Reese Witherspoon is extraordinary as Tracy Flick, the embarrassingly but somewhat admiringly gung-ho "presidential" candidate for whom an in-the-know Broderick has a distinct distaste; Chris Klein is the popular former football star Broderick slyly goads into the race; and, in a low-key but triumphant performance, Jessica Campbell excels as the school's heartbroken misfit--Klein's adopted sister--who spitefully submits her name for candidacy and ends up defiantly representing the school's politically indifferent populace. Smart, entertaining, unrelentingly discomforting comedy should have garnered a slew of top Oscar nods, but only managed a screenplay citation (it did however nab Best Picture, Director and Screenplay at 1999's Independent Spirit Awards). Outstandingly well-cast and performed by all. Rolfe Kent's memorably smirky score is accompanied by upbeat source music selections. For me, the third best movie of the year)

The End of the Affair (Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes and Stephen Rea are all excellent in Neil Jordan's handsome, tastefully soapy adaptation of Graham Greene's novel recounting, against a WWII London backdrop, brewing adulterous passions between Moore and Finnes, with Rea as Moore's wounded, hang-dog husband)

eXistenZ (outrageous David Cronenberg commentary--what other kind is there?--on video game culture with Jennifer Jason Leigh as designer of new game system that plugs directly into player's spine and results in bizarre alternate reality; obviously, with its graphic mash-ups of flesh and machine, it'd be perfect on a double-bill with Cronenberg classic Videodrome; compact and actually pretty funny movie also stars Jude Law and Ian Holm)

Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick's final film was released four months after his March 7th 1999 death at age 70. Kubrick turns his famously exacting eye to Arthur Schnitzler's phantasmic 1926 novel dealing with marital crisis between a successful, self-obsessed doctor and his strong-willed wife who rocks him after confessing a one-time urge to stray sexually. First considered by Kubrick as a possible follow-up to 2001, but idea didn't gel until the mid-90s when the great director landed superstar married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as his leads; for three years, Kubrick's crew toiled amongst production designers Les Tompkins and Roy Walker and cinematographer Larry Smith's rich, Christmas-lit--but very much intentionally "off"--recreations of New York cityscapes; working on this movie must've demanded more honesty than the Cruise/Kidman marriage could withstand, because it ended not very long after the film's controversial release. Eyes Wide Shut registered as a strong disappointment with many viewers who likely weren't expecting a maze-like, Freudian-gassed experimental-film /murder-mystery (they didn't even get to see Cruise and Kidman get it on, which I think really pissed some ticket buyers off). No matter, because it remains a career highlight for the two leads, who forged a unique bond with the legendary director. Despite being widely misunderstood, Kubrick's swansong landed a surplus of votes as one of the ten best movies of the 1990s by Film Comment's vast critic/filmmaker poll, published in early 2000. This tells me that many film lovers see it as the creepy, cryptic, romantic masterpiece as which it'll eventually be hailed. Film's dramatic and visual riches are too many to enumerate here, so I direct you to my longer review; the best movie of the year, in my opinion, and I recommend that haters give it a more open-minded chance)

Felicia’s Journey (writer/director Atom Egoyan's grim, measured yet suspenseful character study with tremendous lead acting from Bob Hoskins as milquetoast serial sex criminal and Elaine Cassidy as the unsuspecting Irish girl destined to be his next victim)

Fight Club (culture-rocking adaptation of Chuck Pahlaniuk's anarchic novel casts Edward Norton as insomniac lead whose affliction leads him to the mindspace of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a violence- worshiping rebel who propels Norton on to a perhaps-real, perhaps-fantasy fate. Helena Bonham Carter is outstanding as the constantly-smoking woman they share. Film was unjustly ignored by the Academy, earning only a Sound Effects nod, but quickly became an indispensable cult film because of its unique worldview and filmmaking prowess; incredible Jeff Cronenworth cinematography, Alex McDowell art direction, and perhaps the decade's most inventive visual effects; a masterpiece, for many, but not without fascinating problems)

Galaxy Quest (Oscar-winning short film director Dean Parisot made his biggest mark to date in the world of features with this truly hysterical, constantly inventive comedy, written by David Howard and Robert Gordon, about a crew of has-been actors, all now sci-fi convention regulars as the adored cast of a geek-loved Star Trek-ish TV show; Tim Allen gets his juiciest live-action film role here as tube star and "ship captain," cocky drunk Jason Nesmith who, while on a bender, is transported into space by troubled, confused aliens who have received "Galaxy Quest" TV transmissions and are now seeking his "crew's" assistance in a species-threatening battle with the scaly General Sarris; the film's "crew" includes Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Darryl Mitchell, a delightfully deadpan Tony Shaloub; Enrico Colatoni and Missi Pyle co-star as the starstruck head aliens; that's Robin Sachs underneath all that Sarris makeup; and you can't miss the gut-busting turn from Sam Rockwell as a jittery one-time "Galaxy Quest" extra who stumbles into the action and spends the movie convinced his expendable show status marks him as the mission's first victim--his may be my favorite supporting performance of 1999; easily the year's best all-out comedy)

Girl, Interrupted (Angelina Jolie won the Supporting Actress Oscar for playing the rule-breaking inmate in the psychiatric ward visited by Winona Ryder; not a movie I like, but must be cited)

Girl on the Bridge (Vanessa Paradis and Daniel Auteuil are platonic friends who realize, after much heartache, that they were meant for each other; beautiful visuals in this passionate Patrice Leconte-directed romance)

Go (writer/director Doug Liman's enjoyably hopped-up comedy about the chaos surrounding a drug deal gone wrong, with Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Timothy Olyphant, and a particularly memorable William Fichtner)

Grass (breezy but substantial, ultimately infuriating Ron Mann documentary about the history of America's pointless war on marijuana)

The Green Mile (Frank Darabont's popular--if terrible--Stephen King adaptation about magical inmate at small southern prison; Michael Clarke Duncan is vibrant in the key supporting role, but it's a mystery why else anyone would like this film; still, received a Best Picture nomination--and I must reiteraste here how much I HATE HATE HATE this movie. But here it is....)

Hands on a Hard Body
(surprisingly tense and affecting documentary about group of contestants who vie to keep both hands on the body of a car longer than the other, in order to win the car itself; the modern-day They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is more substantial than one might think)

The Hurricane (Norman Jewison-directed biopic with Denzel Washington unwaveringly dynamic as wrongly-imprisoned boxer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter)

An Ideal Husband (genially amusing adaptation of Oscar Wilde's work, with Jeremy Northam as upper-crust denizen of 19th Century England whose placement in society is threatened by wise Julianne Moore as a woman who has some not-so-salient background on the man, and blackmail on her mind; excellent cast rounded out by Cate Blanchett and Minnie Driver)

The Insider (key film from director/producer Michael Mann follows Al Pacino as Lowell Bergman, the real-life 60 Minutes producer who lands whistle-blowing former Big Tobacco scientist Jeffery Wigand for a TV expose of the cigarette industry's crooked dealings, only to incur the suffocating wrath of the tobacco lobby and the ultimate power of truth-telling; Russell Crowe gained thirty pounds to play the frumpy Wigand, and delivers an explosive performance--one of the year's best. Also notable for having a superb supporting cast that includes Michael Gambon, Bruce Magill, Debi Mazar, Gina Gershon, Philip Baker Hall, Lindsey Crouse, Stephen Tobolowsky, real-life anti-tobacco lawyers Mike Moore and Jack Palladino, and Christopher Plummer, who's phenomenal as 60 Minutes anchor Mike Wallace. Superb scripting, cinematography by the amazing Dante Spinnoti, editing, sound, and evocative scoring by Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance) and Pieter Bourke. This is a smart, suspenseful, abjectly perfect moviegoing experience that's easily enjoyed in repeat viewings; my eighth favorite movie of the year)

The Iron Giant (former Simpsons producer Brad Bird debuted in features with this animated masterpiece, an adaptation of poet Ted Hughes' The Iron Man that follows a young boy's relationship with a gigantic robot from outer space; cautionary tale about 50s-era cold war fears perhaps came too late in the game to be properly noticed, as it is the last great, largely cel-based feature in a now-3D-controlled world of animation; brilliantly designed and animated movie still seems to be searching for its cult, but that doesn't detract from fact that it's among the five best animated films of the last three decades; voices provided by Jennifer Anniston, Harry Connick Jr., John Mahoney, Christopher MacDonald, Eli Marienthal, and Vin Diesel as the Giant; my seventh favorite movie of the year)

Judy Berlin (very sweet little black-and-white indie, written and directed by Eric Mendelsohn, about a meek, unhitched schoolteacher carrying on a dalliance with the school's married principal; Sopranos star Edie Falco is charming in the title role, and film sports a nifty supporting cast, including Bob Dishy, Barbara Barrie, Carlin Glynn, Julie Kavner, Anne Meara, and Madeline Kahn in her final film outing)

Julian Donkey-Boy (somehow much-seen second feature from Harmony Korine is a mess; it's officially a Dogme 95 entry, but is most laudable for exacting supporting performance from director Werner Herzog)

Kikujiro (Hong Kong autuer Takeshi "Beat" Kitano is a long way from his more blood-sodden efforts with this tiny-scaled road movie that has his title character electing to accompany a kid on his cross-country journey to see his estranged mother; lots of laughs here, provided in part by Great Gidayu and Rakkyo Ide as lunkheaded bikers who assist Kikujiro in his attempts to cheer the boy up)

The Limey (Terence Stamp delivered one of 1999's best characterizations as a long-jailed British hit man visiting L.A. to find the man responsible for his daughter's death; he's led into the underbelly of the California music scene, with Peter Fonda also scoring as the record producer who may or may not be Stamp's target; Luis Guzman offers a notable, laugh-inducing supporting performance in this, ostensibly a continuation of Ken Loach's 1967 debut Poor Cow)

Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson's impossibly large-scaled, Altmanesque opus surveys intertwined lives amongst the lowly and the successful in L.A.'s San Fernando valley; film willfully examines fate, death, love, sex, family, misery, forgiveness, and greed amongst diverse cast of characters; incredible cast--perhaps the best of the year--includes Tom Cruise (whose sex-addicted superstar stands as his most unlikable film role--a gamble that got Cruise an unusual Supporting Actor Oscar nominiation), Julianne Moore, Jason Robards (in his final film), William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Baker Hall, Jeremy Blackman, Luis Guzman, Ricky Jay, and my two favorite supporting performances of the year: John C. Reilly as a dedicated street cop and Melora Walters as the coke-addicted woman he falls in love with; it's a picture that tends to divide people into the pro or con categories, but I see it as an undeniable masterwork; eerie score by Jon Brion, with essential songs by Aimee Mann acting as the film's "Greek Chorus"; my fourth favorite movie of the year)

Man on the Moon (Milos Forman-directed Andy Kaufman biopic, with Jim Carrey striving mightily in the lead, and with Paul Giamatti and Courtney Love stealing his thunder as support)

Mansfield Park (a comeback for Canada's Patricia Rozema (I've Heard the Mermaids Singing); Jane Austen-adapted romance is fast-paced and very entertaining)

A Map of the World (Sigourney Weaver is intense as suburban mother who struggles with neighbor child's death that occurred while in her care; quietly effective family melodrama co-starring David Strathairn, Julianne Moore, and Chloe Sevigny)

The Matrix (game-changing sci-fi action classic by Andy and Larry Wachowski justifiably blew audiences away with its rare synthesis of excitement and philosophy; Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a computer geek who's enlisted by a band of freedom fighters out to short-circuit the alien-controlled enslavement of the human race. It's arguable that the film altered movies in a way that hasn't been seen since the days of Star Wars; its Oscar-winning editing, sound, and ultra-outstanding special effects ushered reached a new watershed mark for cinema. Though it cribs a lot from many sources, film remains a true original (though its two lame sequels helped to bring its reputation down a bit). Lawrence Fishburne, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving (as the daunting villain Agent Smith), Gloria Foster (as The Oracle), and the fetching Carrie-Anne Moss round out the great cast; my ninth favorite film of the year, and the source for my #1 most memorable moviegoing experience)

Mystery Men (extremely lovable, absolutely hilarious, unjustly maligned spoof of superhero genre, based on comic book by Bob Burden, that has amateur "superheroes" angling to assist Champion City's reigning star Captain Amazing after he's kidnapped by supervillain Casanova Frankenstein; Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Kel Mitchell, Paul Reubens, Wes Studi, and especially the way-bitchy Janeane Garafalo are outstanding as the title crew, as are unctuous Greg Kinnear as Amazing and snarling Geoffrey Rush as Frankenstein; mindbending cast is rounded out by Tom Waits, Eddie Izzard, Lena Olin, Ricky Jay, Louise Lasser and Claire Forlani; with its wonderfully stitched-together set and costume design as icing on the cake, director Kinka Usher's comedy classic is my choice as the #1 Most Overlooked Film of 1999; certain to one day be a cult mainstay)The Ninth Gate (another dark-cast "is it a comedy or isn't it?" entry from Roman Polanski; Johnny Depp is a book collector searching for famous tome that will allow him a glimpse into Hell; might seem stupid at times, but shockingly resonate)

Notting Hill (good-hearted Richard Curtis effort with famed movie actress Julia Roberts striking up romance with mere mortal bookseller Hugh Grant)

October Sky (remarkably fast-paced bio-pic about early life of Homer Hickham, who sprung from 50s-era Kentucky coal miner to pioneering rocket scientist; lead debut for Jake Gyllenhall; really terrific family movie, with extremely sharp editing; directed by Joe Johnston and co-starring Chris Cooper and Laura Dern)

Office Space (TV animation king Mike Judge made the leap to live-action features with this, the best-loved comedy of the year. Though it wasn't a box office hit, film about a lowly office worker who's hypnotically transformed into a ruthless power broker became a sensation on home video, where it garnered legions of fans who recognized the untold honesty in its hilarious jabs at bland, corporatized America; excellent performances from Ron Livingston, Jennifer Anniston, Gary Cole, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Diedrich Bader, and especially from Stephen Root as the office's aging whipping boy; it's a movie that gets better and better each time I see it)

One Day in September (Kevin MacDonald's stunning, Oscar-winning documentary about the Palestinian-led kidnapping of the Israeli athletes at 1972's Olympics at Munich)

Ratcatcher (Scottish director Lynne Ramsay's dreamy filmmaking debut, following a young boy through the horrors of an impoverished life in trash-ridden 1973 Glasgow)

The Red Violin (epic anthology film, of sorts, by Canada's Francois Girard, and written by actor/screenwriter Don McKellar; it follows an immaculately constructed, legendary violin through three centuries, culminating in its modern-day auction; Oscar-winning score by 20th-Century classical composer John Corigliano; involves actors from Italy, Germany, China, Canada, and America)

Romance (Catherine Breillat's controversial exploration of one woman's sexual frustration and release; a breakthrough for the director, who includes both a hardcore sex scene and a birth within the film)

Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer's German-language debut is a breathless action film/love story with Franke Potente as athletic girl racing against time to deliver sachel of money to boyfriend Moritz Bleibtreu before he launches into robbery of supermarket; time-juggling work leaves one reeling with its visual brilliance--its video-game-flavored playfulness comes complete with time limits and start-overs; along with The Matrix and eXistenZ, made 1999 the year video games truly invaded movieland territory, which instantly makes it one of the most influential movies ever)

The Sixth Sense (writer/director M. Night Shymalyan won critical acclaim and humongous box office receipts with moody horror film starring Bruce Willis as psychiatrist studying young Haley Joel Osment, who maintains an ability to talk to dead people; film plays like an extended Twilight Zone episode, with a twist ending that made it a must-see; though it's not something I like, it is often genuinely creepy, and garnered a slew of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (the preternatural Osment), and Supporting Actress (Toni Colette, as Osment's mother); Shymalyan would go on to make much better movies, but this is the one he'll be remembered for)

SLC Punk (Matthew Lillard is superlative in this indie period piece about 80s-era punks living in strait-laced Salt Lake City; unexpectedly exacting direction and writing from James Merendino)

The Sopranos
(absolutely spellbinding first season of David Chase's HBO series is so steeped in cinematic quality that it's impossible not to include it on this list; James Gandolfini stars as mob boss Tony Soprano, whose debilitating panic attacks leads him to the office of psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco); hugely influential series went on for seven more seasons, and transformed the television landscape with its unparaleled writing and production; with Edie Falco, Steven Van Zandt, Michael Imperioli, and an unending cast of ruthless yet still likable liars, cheats, and murderers; all said and done, my favorite film event of 1999, and a continuing influence on film and TV throughout the 21st Century)

South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
(Trey Parker and Matt Stone surprised all with transformation of their cut-out animated TV hit into a mesmerizing big-screen musical (with tunes by Parker and Marc Shaiman); the town of South Park is torn asunder by the arrival of the profane new Terrence and Phillip movie, which inspires the town kids to be as foul-mouthed as their heroes; gotta love a movie that gives such a nifty part to hilarious "Saddam Hussein" (who has the film's best number, "I Can Change"); still, that's only one of many songs that makes an impression in this wickedly well-scripted hit)

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (very long-awaited prequel to first three Star Wars movies tells of difficult childhood for Annikin Skywalker, later to become villainous Darth Vader; written and directed by George Lucas, in his return to hands-on filmmaking, movie was a tremendous hit, but began downward spiral in series quality; of course, the John Williams score and the ILM special effects are first-rate, but unbearably wooden scripting and acting failed to capture hearts this time around; with Ewan MacGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ian McDiarmid, and Amhed Best as universally-despised Jar Jar Binks)

The Straight Story (bountiful David Lynch movie, released under the unlikely Disney imprimatuer and based on a true story, tracks octogenarian Alvin Straight as he travels slowly through America's heartland on a power mower, sojourning to console his dying, long-estranged brother; former golden-age film stuntman Richard Farnsworth, who was deathly ill during this taxing production, lovingly plays Straight with folksy, unshowy emotion; he was everyone's sentimental favorite that year for the Best Actor Oscar. Supporting cast includes superb Sissy Spacek as Alvin's old-maid daughter, and a key cameo by Harry Dean Stanton; lilting Angelo Badalamenti score acts as background to scrumptious Freddie Francis photography. Though the film--and its lead character--seems to gush sentiment, there's a typically Lynchian edge of darkness to be found here; just missed being in my top ten)

Sugar Town (fluffy examination of L.A. music biz wannabes, directed by Allison Anders and Kurt Voss, with Rosanna Arquette, Ally Sheedy, Jade Gordon, Beverly D'Angelo, Lumi Cavasos, and a few 80s-flavored pop personalities: Duran Duran's John Taylor, Spandau Ballet's Martin Kemp, Power Station's Michael Des Barres, and X's John Doe)

Sweet and Lowdown (realistically sentimental character study from Woody Allen, who also narrates this look at impoverished guitarist Emmet Ray, played with much heart by Sean Penn; movie's inextricably haunted by the spirit of guitarist Django Reinhardt, idolized by Penn's character; incredible supporting performance from Samantha Morton as dedicated deaf girl in love with philandering lead; Allen's finest movie of the 1990s)

The Talented Mr. Ripley (a remake of Rene Clement's 1960s masterpiece Purple Noon, mounted by writer/director Anthony Mingella, who casts Matt Damon as author Patricia Highsmith's morally bankrupt hero who murders his way into high society; extremely beautiful to look at, and wonderfully, radically different than the Clement film, it co-stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Cate Blanchett; the late Minghella's most notable film)

Three Kings
(David O. Russell's complex tale has Iraq-based soldiers George Clooney, Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg, and Spike Jonze plotting to steal Saddam Hussein's cache of gold bars--however, the team finds itself also committed to going against orders in delivering a crowd of innocent Iraqis to border freedom; Russell's literate, funny, constantly moving screenplay is a marvel, as is Newton Thomas Sigel's skillfully overexposed photography)

Titus (former stage director Julie Taymor submitted her filmmaking debut with this sizzling adaptation of William Shakespeare's gory play chronicling the violent headbutting between a valiant Roman general (Anthony Hopkins) and the one-time enemy who becomes his queen (Jessica Lange); astonishing supporting performances from Alan Cumming and especially from Harry Lennix, whose monologue before his execution is one of the year's greatest scenes; film's wowing Oscar-nominated period sets--by Dante Ferreti--and costumes--by Milena Canonero--are likably augmented by cars, motorcycles, and modern-day ephemera, which add to the story's considerable weirdness; my ninth favorite film of the year)

Topsy-Turvy (Mike Leigh's detailed, riveting look at the gestation of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado is a celebration of stage collaboration; Allen Corduner and Jim Broadbent play the often-battling team whose redoubled efforts result in one of the most treasured of stageworks; Leigh, no stranger to the theater, wisely elects to film rehearsals and backstage drama, giving full portraiture to the demands and rewards of the theatre; Oscar-nominated script, costumes, and Oscar-winning period stage makeup are all astonishing; my tenth favorite film of the year)

Toy Story 2 (directors John Lasseter and Ash Brannon equal, if not surpass, quality of groundbreaking 1995 computer-animated hit; film continues to examine our relationship with toys, here focusing in on young Andy's inevitable growth away from his playtime friends, voiced again by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, and Jim Varney; movie delves now into adult fascination with toys as a nostalgic commodity, with Wayne Knight perfect as the ruthless toy collector villain; Joan Cusack and Kelsey Grammar play museum-bound toys inextricably linked with Woody, who's now revealed as part of a set; movie boasts of the most moving song of the 1990s, Randy Newman's "When She Loved Me," which, when coupled with its intricately-directed visuals, never fails to make me weep; a true masterpiece, and my sixth favorite film of the year)

Twin Falls Idaho (headache-inducing debut indie from Mark and Michael Polish, who star as siamese twins in love with the same girl; a cult hit on video)

The Virgin Suicides (debut film from writer/ director Sofia Coppola is a poppy, gloomy adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel about band of beautiful sisters whose stifling home life leads them to terrible fates; Kirsten Dunst, A.J. Cook, Hanna Hall, Leslie Hayman, and Chelse Swain are all outstanding as the doomed girls; supporting cast includes James Woods, an unrecognizable Kathleen Turner, and Josh Hartnett; shimmering Edward Lachmann cinematography and score by Euro-pop giants Air)

A Walk on the Moon
(sweet vehicle for Diane Lane--twenty years after her debut at 13 in George Roy Hill's A Little Romance--as a late 60s housewife whose clandestine affair leads her to the Woodstock Music Festival)

The War Zone (devastating directorial debut from Tim Roth about teenage boy dealing with terrifying home life; scary lead performance from Ray Winstone, and a radical, jaw-dropping ending)

The Wind Will Carry Us (typically, beautifully slow-paced Abbas Kierostami character study about Iranian city engineer attempting to fit into rural town's life)

The Winslow Boy
(David Mamet's elegant adaptation of Terrence Rattigan play about rich kid accused of stealing valuable stamps while at all-boys-school; with Nigel Hawthorne, Jeremy Northam, and Rebecca Pidgeon; very different ground for Mamet)

I wanted to include Rushmore on this list, to make it an even 80 notable films from 1999, but alas it was released for a week in 1998, so even though it didn't hit wide until February of 1999, it still has to be considered a '98 film. But it doesn't matter because 1999 is such a ridiculously rich year for cinema that, surely, 79 notable titles would do for just about anybody. Though 1979 barely beats '99 with 83 titles, it's quite possible that the combination of The Matrix, Toy Story 2, Eyes Wide Shut, Three Kings, Office Space, Galaxy Quest, American Beauty, Titus, Topsy-Turvy, Run Lola Run, The Straight Story, Magnolia, All About My Mother, Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, American Movie, The Insider, Election, The Sopranos and The Iron Giant--all unqualified masterpieces--is enough to safely conclude that we still, maybe, don't realize how lucky we were in 1999. This dazzling list of movies--all challenging, entertaining, and exceedingly well-crafted--has to give the collected movies of any previous year a run for their money. And so:

The scorecard now stands at:
1939: 41 titles
1949: 56
1959: 66
1969: 73
1979: 85
1989: 67
1999: 79

Now, you tell me: is 1939 the greatest year for movies? Or am I on to something greater?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

1989 (The 9 Years, Part 6)

As we are now in 2009, we can expect to see a great many articles trumpeting the 70th anniversary of the fabled "Best Movie Year," 1939. This is tradition, dating back probably to every 9 year of every movie-oriented decade.

But is 1939 really the best year for movies? I don't know about that. It was great, but after the watershed year 1979, I started having my doubts. In 1989, I started noticing a trend. And in 1999, I was sure I was on to something.

I have a theory: that the 9 year in every decade is the best of that period. Why? I can only surmise that filmmakers working during the decade in question want to get out their final word on the era, and thus save their best for last. But, in the end, who really knows why: maybe it's simply just chance working here. Still, it's a very definable trend.

1989 was the first drop in quality for the 9 Years theory. But it also was the first year in which I couldn't decide between Do The Right Thing and Drugstore Cowboy as my favorite film of the year. Usually, for me, these things are easy to see, but still I can't decide between the two, so it's the only year that I have a tie for my most treasured title.

I should note: here I start talking more in depth about why these movies should be noted, because the time that's elapsed since their release has not been great enough to ensure their inclusion into the filmmaking canon. You will see this trend in my writing increase, for the same reasons, with the last entry in this series.

And so:

20 years ago this year, we celebrate:

84 Charlie Mopic (unusual Vietnam film about photographers filming the Southeastern Asia carnage)

The Abyss (James Cameron epic, very difficult to shoot, about an underwater oil drilling crew confronted by Cold War politics and alien intrusion; on-point performances from Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Biehn; cutting-edge digital-derived special effects; unspeakably convincing production design and Mikael Solomon photography; exciting, moving film later released in an even-better director's cut; my sixth favorite film of the year)

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (joyous but dark Terry Gilliam quasi-biopic about a tall-tale-telling German Baron coming to the aid of a troubled town; pop-out cast includes John Neville, a young Sarah Polley (in her debut), Eric Idle, Charles McKeown, Jack Purvis, Winton Dennis, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams, Sting, Ray Cooper and Valentina Cortese; troubled picture, a mature take on the family film, was rightfully Oscar-nominated for its special effects, makeup, art direction, and costumes)

Apartment Zero (notably taut thriller with Colin Firth and Hart Bochner as contentious roommates in Buenos Aires)

Batman (the year's biggest box office hit; Tim Burton directed this intermittently successful comic-book adaptation, with Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson impressive as The Joker; Kim Basinger, Billy Dee Williams, Pat Hingle, and Jack Palance co-star; wonderfully dark Oscar-winning art direction by Anton Furst. The rousing score by Danny Elfman is sullied by intrusive Prince songs)

Baxter (Jérôme Boivin's wretchingly bleak French work about sentient pit bull-terrier became a popular cult film on video)

The Bear (Jean-Jacques Annaud's masterful, nearly-wordless movie about an orphaned grizzly bear; magnificent photography by Phillippe Rousselot)

The Big Picture (cautionary tale following a first-time filmmaker, played by Kevin Bacon; Christopher Guest's directorial debut)

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (hit stoner comedy starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as time-traveling surfer dudes; George Carlin co-stars)

Black Rain (devastating black-and-white movie from Shohei Imamura about survivors of Hiroshima nuclear blast is truly unlike anything you've ever seen)

Born on the Fourth of July (Oliver Stone won Best Director Oscar for biopic of Ron Kovic, one-time gung-ho Vietnam soldier who returned, politically-awakened from war in a wheelchair; Tom Cruise got his first Oscar nomination for overpowering work in the lead)

Breaking In (low-key comedy about safecrackers with Burt Reynolds and Casey Siemaszko; directed by Scot Bill Forsyth and scripted by John Sayles)
Cinema Paradiso (Oscar-winning Italian film from Giuseppe Tornetore about kid's lifelong relationship with small villa's cinema; unrelentingly romantic and touching, with outstanding lead from Philippe Noiret)

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (inevitably sentimental Oscar-winning doc about the famed AIDS quilt)

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (nauseating but somehow beautiful Peter Greenaway effort with Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Tim Roth and Richard Bohringer)

Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen's last true masterpiece; two stories: Allen as intellectual doc filmmaker forced to sell out in making film about popular movie producer, and Martin Landau as uptown NYC doctor/family man backed into corner by woman with whom he's having an affair; great performances from Landau, Alan Alda, Angelica Huston, and Sam Waterston; seems daring to say, but is this Woody's finest screenplay?)

Dead Calm (extremely tense redo of Polanski's Knife in the Water with then-newcomer Nicole Kidman as wife of Sam Neill, a wealthy, troubled couple vacationing on their sailboat where they are stalked by sociopath Billy Zane; thrilling direction from Aussie Phillip Noyce)

Dead Poets Society (Australian Peter Weir directs extremely popular melodrama about poetry-loving teacher Robin Williams and his boys-school charges; I will forever hate that its script won the Oscar over Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing)

Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies' UK-set autobiographical period film about childhood with abusive father and passive mother, played well by Pete Posthelwaite and Freda Dowie)

Do The Right Thing (writer/director Spike Lee has still never hit such heights as he did with this firey, funny, devastating look at a day in the life of a dynamic Brooklyn neighborhood in the throes of heat wave and bubbling-over racial tensions; incredible cast--the best of 1989--includes Lee, Danny Aiello (Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actor), John Turturro, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Rosie Perez, Bill Nunn, Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Edson, Paul Benjamin, Robin Harris, Joie Lee, Martin Lawrence, Frank Vincent and John Savage; tremendous, heated, sweaty photography from Ernest Dickerson and diverse orchestral score from Spike's dad, Bill Lee; Public Enemy's "Fight The Power" is, unequivocally, the 1990's most important and powerful movie song; energetic credits sequence choreographed and performed by Rosie Perez; absolutely essential, with endlessly debate-sparking climax)

Driving Miss Daisy (Oscar-winning Best Picture with Best Actress Jessica Tandy as racist elderly Atlanta matron who strikes up friendship with her driver, played impeccably by Morgan Freeman in one of the year's best performances; good-hearted but unrealistic hit was directed by Australian Bruce Beresford; former Atlantan Alfred Urys won the Oscar for adapting his prize-winning play to the screen)

Drugstore Cowboy (Gus Van Sant broke into the big time with this riveting account of team of addicted drugstore thieves; another astonishing cast: Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James Le Gros, Heather Graham, Max Perlich, James Remar, and William Burroughs; great script by Van Sant and Daniel Yost, and zazzy source music score; Do The Right Thing might be the more important movie, but is it more siddown-and-shucher-mouth? Hell, certainly not!! Van Sant's film is a freakin' bear! Co-written by Daniel Yost; really---it's a masterpiece!!!)

Enemies: A Love Story (critically-acclaimed Paul Mazursky period romance about NYC man with three wives; Ron Silver, Angelica Huston, and Lena Olin star)

The Fabulous Baker Boys
(feather-light movie pairing Jeff and Beau Bridges as piano-playing lounge act disrupted by beautiful Michelle Pfieffer; earned well-deserved Oscar nominations for Pfieffer, director Steve Klove's intelligent screenplay, and Michael Chapman's elegant photography)

Field of Dreams
(extremely sentimental Phil Alden Robinson adaptation of Ray Kinsella novel about Iowa farmer who's instructed by God to construct a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop; shouldn't have worked but does, with Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, Burt Lancaster (in his final performance), Ray Liotta, and great James Earl Jones; gorgeous James Horner soundtrack)

For All Mankind
(astonishing documentary about US space program; primarily a visual experience, it's best seen on the big screen)

Glory (Edward Zwick's largely masterful look at the first all-black military regiment, fighting against the South during the Civil War, with Matthew Broderick and Cary Elwes as their leaders, and Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Jihmi Kennedy, and Supporting Actor Oscar-winner Denzel Washington; wonderful photography from Freddie Fields and scoring from James Horner)

Great Balls of Fire (amusing Jerry Lee Lewis biopic enlivened by committed performances from Dennis Quaid as The Killer, and Winona Ryder as his young cousin)

Happy Together (much-loved gay romance from Wong Kar-Wai)

Heathers (cult hit with Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as murderous teens offing school's "best and brightest")

Henry V (Kenneth Branaugh's rousing directorial debut, an adaptation of Shakespeare's enlivened epic about the heroic king, with Branaugh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi and an equally impressive supporting cast)

High Hopes (lovely Mike Leigh (American) breakthrough with Philip Davies and Ruth Sheen excellent as loving, pot-smoking lower-class Brits dealing with doddering elderly mother (standout performance from Edna Dore), charmingly dim friend Jason Watkins, social climbing sister Heather Tobias, and nasty wanna-be-rich neighbors Leslie Manville and David Bamber)

How to Get Ahead in Advertising (much-loved British cult movie with Richard E. Grant as ad exec who grows second head that advises him; written and directed by Bruce Robinson)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (third entry in Steven Spielberg's throwback action series, this time a quest for the Holy Grail; most memorable for including a game Sean Connery as Indie's tweedy father)

Jesus of Montreal
(great effort from Canadian Denys Arcand, about a committed group of Passion Players who begin to take their Biblical roles too seriously)

Johnny Handsome (Walter Hill-helmed B-effort with fine lead work from disfigured Mickey Rourke)

Last Exit to Brooklyn (German Uli Edel's VERY depressing adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr's novel about destitute Brooklyn neighborhood, with fine supporting performance from sexy Jennifer Jason Leigh)

Lethal Weapon 2 (the best entry in action series helmed by Richard Donner, starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, and Joe Pesci)

Leningrad Cowboys Go America (peppy Aki Kaurismäki comedy about Finnish country-rock group touring the US)

Let It Ride (unjustly ignored farce with compulsive gambler Richard Dreyfus having his best day ever at the racetrack; incredible cast includes Teri Garr, Jennifer Tilly, Cynthia Nixon, David Johansen, Allen Garfield, Michelle Phillips, Richard Edson and Richard Dimitri; really, one of the 1980s funniest comedies)

Licence to Kill (the best Bond movie of the 1980s, and Timothy Dalton's first outing as a newly-tough 007)

The Little Mermaid (incredibly popular Disney animated effort, with Oscar-winning score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman)

Meet the Feebles (New Zealand's Peter Jackson offends all with nasty, funny Muppet spoof)

Miracle Mile (the world is about to end and Anthony Edwards knows it and has to search for estranged girlfriend Mare Winningham in order to make up before the apocalypse hits; Mykelti Williamson makes a deep impression, too, in underseen comedy-thriller)

Monsiuer Hire (Michel Blanc is tremendous in the lead as anti-social Frenchman who's suspected of murder simply because he doesn't like anyone; Oscar-nominated as Best Foreign Language Film)

My Left Foot (Daniel Day-Lewis justifiably won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as cerebral-palsy-afflicted Irish author Christy Brown; mother Brenda Fricker (Supporting Actress Oscar-winner), father Ray McAnally, and young Christy Hugh O'Conor just as good, though; written and directed by Jim Sheridan)

Mystery Train (one of Jim Jarmusch's best: a triptych of intertwining stories set in Memphis, Tennessee, with transplanted leads Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase as too-cool Japanese tourists, Italian Nicoletta Braschi as stranded woman visited by ghost of Elvis Presley, and Brit Joe Strummer as drunkard who drags friends Steve Buscemi and Rick Aviles into violence; my favorite supporting performance of the year comes from rock legend Screamin' Jay Hawkins as hotel manager; a masterpiece)

The Navigator
(mind-bending sci-fi movie from New Zealand's Vincent Ward)

New York Stories (Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen contribute episodes to this anthology film, with only Coppola coming up with zero; Scorsese's sequence, "Life Lessons," is among his best works, with painter Nick Nolte trying to hold on to student/lover Rosanna Arquette; Allen also scores with "Oedipus Wrecks," where he plays an NYC man terrorized by his mother, played exquisitely by Betty Boop herself, Mae Questel)

Paperhouse (Bernard Rose's debut as director, with Charlotte Burke as lonely little girl that gets psychologically lost in her drawings; an unusually humanistic entry into the horror genre)

Parenthood (raucous comedy from director Ron Howard and scripters Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz about the perils of parenting, with top-notch cast including Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Leaf (Joachim) Phoenix, Martha Plimpton, Tom Hulce, Rick Moranis, Keanu Reeves (in his best performance), and Jason Robards)

Parents (the anti-Parenthood; Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt excel as scary, cannibalistic parents in actor Bob Balaban's directorial debut)

The Rachel Papers (lovely little indie with Dexter Fletcher and Ione Skye)

Roadhouse (cult film with Patrick Swayze; terrible, but with sizable following)

Roger and Me (funny, sad debut doc from now-iconic Michael Moore, about failing car town Flint, Michigan)

Santa Sangre (typically weird doings from Alejandro Jodorowsky)

Say Anything... (John Cusack chases longtime love Ione Skye in smart, charming writing/directing debut from Cameron Crowe; excellent supporting performances from John Mahoney and Lili Taylor)

sex, lies and videotape... (smash hit indie debut from Steven Soderburgh about romantic gamesmanship in Baton Rouge, LA; winner of the Best Feature at Sundance, Palme D'Or at Cannes and of the fest's Best Actor prize for James Spader as sexually repressed lead; career-changing performances from Andie McDowell, Peter Gallagher, and Laura San Giacomo)

Sidewalk Stories (black-and-white silent movie homage written and directed by star Charles Lane; one of the year's best movies, but very little-seen)

Steel Magnolias (Southern-based star vehicle for Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Darryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and then-newcomer Julia Roberts)

The Tall Guy (extremely funny Brit-set romantic comedy with Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson)

True Believer (diverting courtroom vehicle for wild James Woods and Robert Downey Jr.)

True Love (famed indie movie from Nancy Savoca, with Annabella Sciorra and Ron Eldard as troubled NY-borough fiancees; lots of early work from later Sopranos cast members, including Aida Tururro and Vincent Pastore)

UHF (cult comedy vehicle for Weird Al Yankovic)

The Unbelievable Truth (Hal Hartley effort with fine lead from Adrienne Shelley)

Vampire's Kiss (horror-comedy with outstanding lead work from Nicolas Cage)

When Harry Met Sally (Rob Reiner's Woody Allen rip-off with star-making performances from Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal)

ALSO: Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean's 1962 masterwork was re-released in 1989 in a newly-restored version, co-produced by Martin Scorsese, that deepens our understanding of the film's complex lead, played by Peter O'Toole; certainly deserves to be one of 1989's most notable film releases)

A step down, quality-wise, for the theory of the 9 Years, but still a smash-bang showing. Big year for the indies--the watershed mark for the indie revolution--and for foreign product, with movies from France, New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Canada, Mexico, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, and Italy. Big year for directorial debuts: Cameron Crowe, Bob Balaban, Kenneth Branaugh, Christopher Guest, Steven Soderburgh, Michael Moore and Edward Zwick, among others. Also the year that, with The Abyss, ushered in the use of CGI special effects. Perhaps, if I'm honest, not the best year of the decade, but certainly one of them! Next on The 9 Years, we take a gigantic step upwards with 1999!

The scorecard now stands at:
1939: 41 titles
1949: 56
1959: 66
1969: 73
1979: 85
1989: 67

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

1979 (The 9 Years, Part 5)

As we are now in 2009, we can expect to see a great many articles trumpeting the 70th anniversary of the fabled "Best Movie Year," 1939. This is tradition, dating back probably to every 9 year of every movie-oriented decade.

But is 1939 really the best year for movies? I don't know about that. It was great, but after the watershed year 1979, I started having my doubts. In 1989, I started noticing a trend. And in 1999, I was sure I was on to something.

I have a theory: that the 9 year in every decade is the best of that period. Why? I can only surmise that filmmakers working during the decade in question want to get out their final word on the era, and thus save their best for last. But, in the end, who really knows why: maybe it's simply just chance working here. Still, it's a very definable trend.

It was in 1979, as a young film fan--only 12, going on 13--that I started noticing articles hailing 1939 as the finest year for movies. But, but the end of 1979, I started saying "What the hell? I know 1939's great, but this year has been unbelievable." Even now, I look at 1979 as the true rival to 1939 as the cinema's most notable year. I will admit: I was a kid then, and everything we see as kids, we hold up as the best the world has to offer. But who can really argue the following list. It's a monster.

I should note: here I start talking more in depth about why these movies should be noted, because the time that's elapsed since their release has not been enough to ensure their inclusion into the filmmaking canon. You will see this trend in my writing increase, for the same reasons, with each subsequent entry in this series.

And so:

30 years ago this year occurred my favorite movie year ever, so we celebrate: 

Alien (Ridley Scott's genre-changing sci-fi film--really a remake of 1958's It! The Terror From Beyond Space--with unmatchable art direction, Oscar-winning special effects (including H.R. Giger and Carlo Rambaldi's monster designs) and career performances from cast Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton and then-newcomer Sigourney Weaver)

All That Jazz (Bob Fosse's autobiographical masterpiece and surely an entry into the American canon; movie and stage director Joe Gideon--embodied by an uncanny Roy Schieder--tries to juggle art with personal demons, resulting in his Fellini-esque death; unspeakably fantastic musical numbers, scored by Oscar-winner Ralph Burns; superb performances from Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer, Cliff Gorman, Erezebet Foldi, Max Frost, Sandahl Bergman, and an electrifying Ben Vereen; editing by Alan Heim; Oscar-winning costumes and art direction by Tony Walton; cinematography by Fellini vet Giuseppe Rotunno; won the 1980 Palme D'Or at Cannes, making 1979 the rare year with 3 Palme D'Or-winning pictures (see Apocalypse Now and The Tin Drum)

...And Justice for All (chaotic NYC courtroom antics, directed by Norman Jewison, with Oscar-nominated lead from Al Pacino)

Apocalypse Now (perhaps the most taxing movie ever made; Francis Ford Coppola battled foreign governments, heart attacks, hurricanes, self-doubt, studios, and Marlon Brando to get John Milius' and Michael Herr's adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness on screen; what results is the most colorful, discombobulating of Vietnam war films--produced a mere 4-5 years after the end of the war. It has its faults, but is obviously colossal, with Oscar-winning photography by Vittorio Storaro, and editing and sound work by Walter Murch, who pioneered the art of sound design with this film; this is all not to mention a purple-hearted cast that includes the heroic Martin Sheen, Albert Hall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Harrison Ford, G.D. Spradlin, Dennis Hopper, the young Lawrence Fishburne, and the inscrutable Marlon Brando; winner of three Oscars; shared the Palme D'Or with The Tin Drum at 1979 Cannes Film Festival)

Baby Snakes (cult hit masterminded by Frank Zappa)

Being There (Hal Ashby's final masterpiece; after delivering all throughout the 1970s with The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, and Coming Home, Ashby gifts us with this sneaky comedy about unwitting, TV-loving political player Chauncey Gardener, played by Peter Sellers in a performance that easily bests his greatest moments on-screen; Sellers died shortly afterwards, and the troubled Ashby would never regain such heights)

Best Boy (Ira Wohl won the Best Feature Documentary Oscar with this intimate portrait of his cousin Philly, an aging mentally-challenged man living with his even-more-elderly parents, who with the help of Wohl, stakes his independence in the world; emotionally devastating, and a pioneer in autobiographical docs)

The Black Hole (cult Disney sci-fi movie with notable art direction and special effects)

The Black Stallion (amazing feature debut for director Carroll Ballard; immaculately crafted film about a boy and his horse that works as adventure story and intimate fiction; Carmine Coppola's score, Alan Splet's Oscar-winning sound effects, Dean Tavoularis' art direction, performances by Kelly Reno (as the boy), Mickey Rooney (as his trainer), Hoyt Axton (excellent as the gambling father), Teri Garr (Alex's mother), Clarence Muse (in his final screen performance), and Caleb Deschanel's landmark photography are all stunning; an absolute must for kids, and adults)

Breaking Away (my favorite screenplay ever, written by Steve Tesich, who won every conceivable award for it, including the Oscar; Dennis Christopher is Italian-loving bicyclist in Bloomington, Indiana college town, trying to figure out what to do with his life; crack supporting cast includes Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley and Daniel Stern as his best friends; the amazing Paul Dooley and Barbara Barrie as his parents; and Robyn Douglass as the girl he loves; understated direction by Brit Peter Yates, with perhaps the most rousing competition-based climax in cinema; sophisticated, classically-inspired Patrick Williams score)

The Brood (stomach-churning, deliberately paced psychological horror from David Cronenberg, with Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed as members of an angry cult)

Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (peppy prequel to 1969 classic, with fine cast, headed by the young Tom Berenger and William Katt (and with excellent supporting cast of character actors, including Brian Dennehy), all put together by director Richard Lester)

La Cage Aux Folles (massive hit, gay-themed French farce helmed by Edouard Molinaro; inspired two sequels, a much-loved Mike Nichols remake (The Birdcage), and a Tony-winning Broadway musical)

California Dreaming (underrated 70s-era beach movie, with nerd Dennis Christopher arriving beachside, then meeting beachbum Seymour Cassell, and falling for his unattainable daughter, played by Glynnis O'Connor; fun movie, directed by the estimable John Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly, Let's Scare Jessica to Death)

Caligula (inevitably offensive retelling of Roman emperor's decadence, with Malcolm McDowell, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud, and Helen Mirren, as well as lots of violence and porn; a bad movie, but one of the most notorious bad movies ever made; produced by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione)

Cannibal Holocaust (cult Filipino horror film; another bad movie, yet it has its fans, though it's difficult to say why; controversial for including the brutal murders of animals, so there's a version out there with all that stuff cut out)

The China Syndrome (James Bridges directed this sobering look at a failing nuclear power plant, with Jack Lemmon as the plant's chief engineer, Jane Fonda as a muckraking local TV reporter, and producer Michael Douglas as her cameraman)

The Corn is Green (moving George Cukor-directed TV movie with Katherine Hepburn as strong-willed teacher of poor rural kids)

Dawn of the Dead (George Romero's sequel to Night of the Living Dead ups the ante successfully; it's not only one of the great sequels of all time, it's one of the best horror movies ever, too; incredible no-star cast, score by Goblin, and Tom Savini makeup)

Dracula (John Badham's version of Bram Stoker's novel is really fine, with a terrific, career-changing lead performance from Frank Langella (my mom always thought him to be the sexiest Dracula, and she would know, having been a lifelong fan of the character); nice to see Lawrence Olivier as Van Helsing, too; absolutely perfect John Williams score).

Driller Killer (nasty early horror movie from debut director Abel Ferrara)

Elvis (still the best film bio touching on the King of Rock and Roll, with Kurt Russell in the lead, Shelley Winters as his mother, Pat Hingle as Colonel Tom Parker, and Season Hubley as Priscilla; directed by John Carpenter!)

Escape from Alcatraz (Don Siegel's tense account of the only successful escape from San Francisco's notorious island prison, with Clint Eastwood impressive in the lead; Siegel and Eastwood's final collaboration)

Fedora (failed final effort from legendary writer/director Billy Wilder; still worth a look, with leads William Holden and Marthe Keller)

The Europeans (lush adaptation of Henry James novel by director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala)

French Postcards
(lovable little movie about American exchange students in Paris; early film for Debra Winger and Mandy Patinkin, written by American Graffiti's Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz)

Gal Young 'Un (early Victor Nunez effort that follows a mistress being placed in a older woman's home by a Florida bootlegger who steals away a great deal of the time, forcing the women to become close; the beginnings for a great territorial filmmaker's career)

Going in Style (stealth, realistic comedy-drama about three elderly men--George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, all better than ever--who embark on a bank robbery attempt in order to battle their shrinking incomes; brilliant screenplay by Edward Cannon and director Martin Brest, in his debut)

The Great Train Robbery (fun period Nicholas Meyer caper movie with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland)

Hair (energetic filming of hit stage play, helmed by Milos Forman; the score is, of course, astounding, but the screenplay by Michael Weller deepens the stage play; the brilliant cast includes Treat Williams, John Savage, Beverly D'Angelo, former Chicago bandmate Don Dacus, Dorsey Wright, Annie Golden, Nicholas Ray, Charlotte Rae, and perhaps the greatest one-scene supporting performance ever filmed from Cheryl Barnes, who sings "Easy to Be Hard"; the number of lovable songs by Galt MacDermott will floor all; limber choreography from Twyla Tharp)

Hardcore (Paul Schrader's blow-away powerhouse, starring George C. Scott as religious zealot who ventures to seedy L.A. in order to rescue his runaway daughter from a life as a porn star; great supporting performances from Peter Boyle and Season Hubley)

The In-Laws (maybe the best all-out comedy of 1979: Peter Falk is a rule-breaking CIA agent, Alan Arkin is a everyman dentist who gets irretrievably mixed-up in international scandal on the eve of their children's wedding; the best movie ever by director Arthur Hiller, with a hilarious screenplay by Andrew Bergman and notable supporting performance from Richard Libertini as a crazed Latin-American dictator; "Serpentine, serpentine!")

The Jerk (Steve Martin's debut as a leading man, the first in a long line of collaborations with director Carl Reiner; a comedy masterpiece, co-starring Martin's one-time lover Bernadette Peters)

The Kids Are Alright (incisive cult documentary about Brit-rock superstars The Who)

Kramer Vs. Kramer (culture-changing Best Picture winner about bitterly divisive child custody case, with Best Actor Dustin Hoffman pitted against Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep for possession of Justin Henry, a great kid actor who equals his co-stars; written and directed by double-Oscar-winner Robert Benton and photographed with utmost beauty by Nestor Almendros; based on Avery Corman novel)

The Lady in Red (Roger Corman-produced biopic about John Dillinger, with screenplay by John Sayles)

The Legacy (a guilty pleasure; well-mounted British horror movie sports distinguished cast--sojourning Americans Katherine Ross and Sam Elliott (still married to each other in real life), Kubrick favorite Margaret Tyzack, The Who's Roger Daltrey, John Standing, Ian Hogg, Charles Gray, and Hildegard Neil; quite a few true shocks here)

A Little Romance (the most moving love story in all of cinema; high IQed teens Diane Lane (American) and Thelonious Bernard (French) meet by chance in Paris, and later plot to run away together to Venice, in order to fulfill a prophetic myth relayed to them by darkly-shaded Lawrence Olivier, who acts as their loving chaparone; romance is a time-honored theme in movies, but for me it has never been more aptly portrayed than in this picture scored by Georges Delarue (an Oscar-winner), directed by George Roy Hill, and written by Allen Burns; supporting cast includes Sally Kellerman, Arthur Hill, Broderick Crowford, Ashby Semple (as the ditzy Natalie), Graham Fletcher-Cook (the worldly Laudet), and David Dukes; a masterpiece--in my opinion, one of the 10 best movies ever made--that inevitably has me bawling tears of pain and joy at its finale)

Love at First Bite (hit Dracula spoof starring George Hamilton)

Love on the Run (final outing for Francois Truffaut and his alter ego, Jean Pierre Leaud's 400 Blows character Antoine Doinel, whom we followed through five movies over exactly two decades)

Luna (controversial Bernardo Bertolucci movie about incestuous mother/son relationship, starring Jill Clayburgh)

Mad Max (George Miller's eye-popping action opus, with Mel Gibson as a post-apocalyptic police officer chasing down the villains who've killed his wife and daughter; a totally believable world is here constructed in this Australian masterwork, replete with stupendous stunts; perhaps the most distinct offering from Australia's New Wave; spawned two sequels and a worldwide following)

Manhattan (Woody Allen's epically grand black-and-white paen to his home city; unmatched Gordon Willis cinematography and Andre Previn-adapted George Gershwin score captures the romantic doings of NYC intellectuals, headed by Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemmingway (excellent as Allen's underaged love object), and Anne Byrne; there have been more lovable movies in Allen's career, but really none have been better--it's essential viewing)

The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbender's biggest American hit, the first in his West German trilogy, starring muse Hanna Shygulla)

Meatballs (dumb but also with a lot of heart, this Ivan Reitman-directed Canadian comedy was the first to give SNL alum Bill Murray a starring role; excellent score by Elmer Bernstein, and surprisingly sensitive screenplay by SCTV alum Harold Ramis)

Mr. Mike's Mondo Video (the one feature writer/director achievement from wildman Saturday Night Live writer/performer Michael O'Donoghue--the guy responsible for a lot of the series' chanciest moments in the 1970s; works only intermittently, but has a huge SNL-related cast and is historically important)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (controversial and hilarious Christ spoofery from the famed British troupe; could never be made today)

The Muppet Movie (Jim Henson's consummate cinematic effort, with Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Dr. Teeth, and the whole Muppet gang trying to achieve Hollywood stardom; with villains Charles Durniing and Austin Pendleton, and with cameos from Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Milton Berle, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Dom Deluise, Orson Welles, Carol Kane, Bob Hope, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, Richard Pryor, Elliott Gould, Cloris Leachman, Telly Savalas, and Paul Williams; Williams contributed the Oscar-nominated score; the first of many in a series)

Murder by Decree (sly Sherlock Holmes movie with Christopher Plummer and James Mason as Holmes and Watson; excellent supporting cast includes David Hemmings, Susan Clark, Anthony Quayle, John Gielgud, Frank Finlay, Donald Sutherland, and Geneviève Bujold; directed by superlative Canadian autuer Bob Clark)

My Brilliant Career (debut lead performance from Judy Davis as stubborn Austalian woman who eschews marriage to Sam Neill for career as a nanny; one of the first offerings from the Australian New Wave, directed by Gillian Anderson)

1941 (WWII-set Steven Spielberg bomb, ripe for rediscovery, with nutty Bob Gale/Robert Zemeckis script about the Japanese "attack" on Hollywood. It sports dazzling William Fraker cinematography, Dean Mitzner production design, John Williams scoring, Michael Kahn editing, and convincing L.B. Abbott and A.D. Flowers special effects. It's not well-thought-of, but what other movie has Warren Oates, Ned Beatty, Toshiro Mifune, Slim Pickens, Christopher Lee, Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi, Tim Matheson, Robert Stack, Nancy Allen, Treat Williams, Eddie Deezen, Murray Hamilton, John Candy, Frank McCrae, Lorraine Gary, Bobby Di Cicco, Perry Lang, Wendy Jo Sperber, Patty Lupone, Joe Flaherty, Elisha Cook Jr., Lionel Stander, David L. Lander, Michael McKean, Dick Miller, Dub Taylor, Penny Marshall, James Caan, Sam Fuller, Susan Backlinie, and Mickey Rourke? Unquestionably 1979's most unparalleled cast; Stanley Kubrick once told Spielberg "It's not funny, but it's a great movie")

Norma Rae (Sally Field won her first Oscar as the real-life union organizer who transforms her deep south community; Ron Liebmann, Beau Bridges and Pat Hingle are the men in her life; directed by Martin Ritt, written by his longtime collaborators Harriet Frank and Irving Ravetch, with Oscar-winning song "It Goes like It Goes" by David Shire and Norman Gimbel, sung beautifully by Jennifer Warnes)

North Dallas Forty
(one of the best, most unsparingly honest sports movies ever, with cynical, beat-up, hard partyin' pro footballers Nick Nolte and Mac Davis, and an unbelievable supporting cast; directed by Canada's Ted Koecheff)

Nosferatu The Vampire (Werner Herzog's respectful remake of Murnau's vampire masterpiece, with a frightening Klaus Kinski seeking the blood of pretty Isabelle Adjani)

Oblomov (perhaps the most unjustly forgotten movie on this list: Ivan Goncharov's indispensable mid-19th Century Russian novel about a personable but whiny high-class layabout is given elegant vision by director Nikola Mikhalov)

The Odd Angry Shot (underseen Vietnam film following Australian troops through the Asian jungles)

The Onion Field (great true crime movie, based on Joseph Wambaugh's novel about L.A. policemen John Savage and Ted Danson kidnapped by small-time crooks James Woods--in a breakthrough performance--and jittery Franklin Ajaye; tensely directed by Harold Becker)

Opening Night
(John Cassavetes' self-reflexive film about the revelatory nature of true acting, with Gene Rowlands delivering another devastating portrait of a woman at the end of her tether--this time, an aging actress haunted by a dead fan's ghost while trying to inhabit a corny role in an expensive comeback play she continually tries to undermine; with Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, Paul Stewart and Zohra Lampert)

Over The Edge (teen rebellion has never been as bountifully, controversially filmed as here by director Jonathan Kaplan; nowhere teens in New Grenada, Colorado rebel against boredom with drugs, sex, and violence; the debut performances from Matt Dillon, Michael Kramer, Vincent Spano, Pamela Ludwig, Tom Fergus, Tiger Thompson and a whole host of well-cast teens; source music score from Cheap Trick, The Cars, Little Feat, Jimi Hendrix, Valerie Carter, and The Ramones; excellent original score from formerly blacklisted Sol Kaplan; blazing screenplay by Tim Hunter and Charlie Haas)

Penitentiary (latter-day blaxploitation entry, starring Leon Isaac Kennedy as prison-bound boxer Too Sweet)

Phantasm (cult-adored dreamy horror film--still legendary in indie circles--by Don Coscarelli; for pure horror feel, unlike any other entry in the genre, with stars Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm as the memorably menacing Tall Man)

Quadrophenia (Franc Roddam's historically accurate, unusual adaptation of The Who's album about life amongst the Mods and the Rockers in early 60s Britain, with key performances from lead Phil Daniels and The Police's Sting; excellent soundtrack utilizes much more than Pete Townshend's music)

Real Life (hysterical debut feature from writer-director Albert Brooks, who stars as himself, a former stand-up looking to make a hard-hitting but inevitably effed-up documentary about a typical American family, headed by Charles Grodin; a spoof of 1973 TV-doc miniseries An American Family, starring the Loud family)

Rich Kids (Robert M. Young directs, Robert Altman produces in this quirky look at mature latch-key teens living with immature adults in late-70s NYC)

Richard Pryor Live in Concert (unmatched stand-up comedy concert film, with Pryor at the top of his game; the movie and the man sing like a symphony; one of the very best films of the year)

Rock and Roll High School (wacked-out Allen Arkush movie with P.J. Soles dynamic as punk rockers The Ramones' biggest fan; surprisingly diverse soundtrack)

Rocky II (more upbeat, yet still gritty sequel to 1976 Best Picture winner, written and directed by Sylvester Stallone)

The Rose (barely-disguised Janis Joplin biopic with impassioned debut performance from Bette Midler)

Rust Never Sleeps (cult concert film featuring Neil Young and Crazy Horse)

Saint Jack (Ben Gazzara gives the year's best male lead performance as an American pimp in Thailand in this comeback of sorts from director Peter Bogdanovich, who's never done a movie quite like it)

Salem's Lot (landmark TV movie became cult classic; Tobe Hooper's best film next to Chainsaw, with vampires invading Stephen King's idyllic New England town; David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, and Elisha Cook Jr. star)

Scum (hateful, brutal British prison movie by Alan Clarke, with early performance from Ray Winstone)

The Seduction of Joe Tynan (Washington, DC dirty-dealings, with Alan Alda as compromised senator and Meryl Streep as his assistant)

Sextette (notorious final film for lead Mae West, who embarasses throughout, alongside supporting cast that includes Timothy Dalton, Dom DeLuise, Ringo Starr, George Hamilton, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Tony Curtis and Regis Philbin; a must for bad movie lovers)

Stalker (creepy Russian science fiction film submitted by the masterful Andrei Tarkovsky)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (long-awaited big-screen debut for the cast of much-loved 60s sci-fi show, directed by Robert Wise, with a rousing score from Jerry Goldsmith and delectible special effects from Douglas Trumbull and Richard Edlund; kind of a disappointment, story-wise)

Starting Over (terrific romantic comedy with divorcee Burt Reynolds--in his best performance--juggling wanna-be singer ex Candice Bergen and neurotic new love Jill Clayburgh; uniformly funny supporting cast includes Charles Durning, Frances Sternhagen, Austin Pendleton, and Wallace Shawn; written by James L. Brooks and directed by Alan J. Pakula)

10 (Blake Edwards sex farce with breakthrough lead performance from Dudley Moore, supported by Julie Andrews and corn-rowed pin-up queen Bo Derek)

That Sinking Feeling (hilarious caper comedy about poor kids trying to steal and unload a shipment of sinks; the debut feature from Scottish autuer Bill Forsyth)

Time After Time (lovely, imaginative sci-fi-tinged romance with Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells, David Warner as Jack the Ripper, and Mary Steenburgen as the woman they battle over in present-day San Francisco; director Nicholas Meyer's screenplay has holes, but the performances patch them up; memorable final score from Miklos Rosza)

The Tin Drum (Volker Schondorff's Oscar-winning adaptation of Guy Green's famed novel about a WWII-era boy in Nazi Germany who defies nature by refusing to grow; preternatural lead performance from young David Bennett; shared the Palme D'Or with Apocalypse Now at 1979 Cannes Film Festival)

The Tree of Wooden Clogs (supremely magical film about small Italian village, helmed by the Taviani Brothers)

Vengeance is Mine (depressive Japanese director Shohei Imamura's character study of a serial killer, with Ken Ogata impressive in the lead.)

Voices (one of my favorite not-so-guilty-pleasures is this lovely NYC-set love story between a poor, aspiring songwriter (Michael Ontkean) and a deaf ballet dancer (Amy Irving). The only theatrical feature directed by Emmy-winning TV helmer Robert Markowicz, and with an emotional script by John Herzfeld, the film features brilliant tunes written by songwriting legend Jimmy Webb)

The Wanderers (cult movie by Philip Kaufman about 50s-era leather jacket gang)

The Warriors (Walter Hill's dynamic actioner following "innocent" NY street gang as they attempt to escape rival gangs out for their blood; a huge cult hit--"Warriors, come out to play-ee-ayyyy!")

The Whole Shootin' Match (the first winner of Best Feature at Sundance--then the USA Film Festival--and the debut feature from Eagle Pennell, director of another indie pioneer film, Last Night at the Alamo).

Winter Kills (William Richardt's bizarre cult politico thriller, with an incredible cast that includes Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Dorothy Malone, Ralph Meeker, Anthony Perkins, Eli Wallach, and Toshiro Mifune. One of the most memorable endings of any movie this year.)

Woyzeck (the second Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski collaboration of the year, with Kinski exciting as mentally fragile soldier in a troubled marriage)

Yanks (lyrical love story with American soldiers wooing British women during WWII; Richard Gere, Lisa Eichhorn, Vanessa Redgrave and William Devane star; directed by John Schlesinger)

Zombie (famous movie by cult horror director Lucio Fulci, most noted for having an underwater battle between a zombie and a shark)

In the interest of honesty, I admit a bias: In 1979, I was an ambitious, movie-loving teenager. Many filmmakers have stated that the movies we see at this age are the most powerful. Though I saw about half of these titles in their release year, I saw the other half over the course of two later years, in which my family had acquired cable television, thus I was able to get a complete overview of 1979's offerings. Still, the greatest of all movie years; it is indisputable, to me. Big year for bank robbery movies, with six titles represented. Also a big year for Canada, Germany, and Australia, each with four movies in the mix. Many Saturday Night Live-related debuts: Steve Martin (three films repped), Bill Murray, Albert Brooks, and Dan Ackroyd. Great year for Meryl Streep who has three movies on the list. The most romantic of all movie years (13 titles). And the most musical (9 titles)! Seven science-fiction entries, and thirteen horror movies, too! Even if you're a fan of bad movies, you got Moonraker, Meteor, Hurricane, CHOMPS, Nightwing, Starcrash, HOTS, Disco Godfather, Mad Monkey Kung Fu and The Late Great Planet Earth, among many others! So many great things to see here; if you haven't caught many 1979 titles, consider yourself lucky: you have a host of fantastic entertainments ahead of you. Next, The 9 Years fun continues with 1989!

The scorecard now stands at:
1939: 41 titles
1949: 56
1959: 66
1969: 73
1979: 91