I was having a conversation with a younger coworker at my other job. It was about 1999 being one of the best years for movies and his response was “Really? What came out that year?” Well, Being John Malkovich, All About My Mother, and The Sixth Sense, for starters. And that’s just a few of the 23 movies that TIFF is showing for a retrospective that commemorates that year. It’s the second last banner year, getting that recognition twenty years later.
1999 was a strange year. Older friends have clearer memories of it, especially the creative output and energy of that time. They reminisced about the films they caught in cinemas that are now Pottery Barns. However, I was on the other side of the world which wasn’t a total cinematic vacuum. I was able to experience movies like The Sixth Sense and ahem, the first Star Wars prequel during its first theatrical run.
But I was an eleven-year-old boy who would have never been able to catch more of the good stuff. I was also living in a country that experienced both heavy censorship and economic troubles, making family trips to the cinema less frequent. What helped was emigrating to a country where most of those movies lived on. They had second lives in television, competing with newer movies for our attention. And of course, TIFF is here so that everyone can catch up on the year that was.
Looking at the line-up helps crystallize the connective tissue between each movie. The last year of a century made filmmakers want to look back. Blockbuster directors and international auteurs felt that sentiment strongly, and TIFF thankfully includes a lot of the latter their program. One of these inclusions is Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother. This is a meta-film, playing around with form and vibrant color and seamlessly uses cultural references to tell the story of a mother, Manuela (Cecilia Roth).
Another reason why All About My Mother‘s inclusion in the retrospective feels right is that it is one of a few movies that are obscure to some audiences. And people who only know of Leos Carax because he made Holy Motors will find themselves lucky to experience an older film of his like Pola X. Bruno Dumont’s L’Humanite is also an exciting deep cut. Movies at the Millennium is what a retrospective should be – one that expands cinematic bucket lists.
There’s also something about 1999’s films that felt like it was a culmination point to an art form and its genres. Lynne Ramsay shows her perspective of working class British strife in Ratcatcher. I’m happy for her inclusion although with that comes the burden of not lumping her with other female directors in the retrospective. Her sensibilities are different from, say, Sofia Coppola’s in The Virgin Suicides. That’s true even if they’re tackling stories taking place during the same decade.
Nonetheless, the movies on this continent showed us that nerdy is just as cool. Films like Being John Malkovich showed how insane art can be for the next century. Independent filmmakers like Spike Jonze beings his music video sensibilities to more expansive ways of storytelling. He didn’t just reference the past century but the past millennia. He brings his obsession of Peter Abelard and uses that as a jumping point for something more surreal.
Films earlier that decade had felt grounded, reflecting times of austerity. And in some ways cinema was taking baby steps away from that. Directors like M. Night Shyamalan would eventually go for higher concepts. But back in 1999, a story about a psychologist (Bruce Willis) meeting a troubled kid (Haley Joel Osment) felt so simple. So much that its iconic lines and unbelievable twist made audiences feel more alive than ever.
There’s much on this list that some will inevitably discuss what it excludes. My favorite movies that year are The Green Mile and Drop Dead Gorgeous. The former encapsulates the decade’s middle brow sentimentality while the latter shows both that generation’s teen angst and spunk. Maybe one day they’ll do or re-do a retrospective of the teen films that came out during or around that banner year. But thankfully, TIFF took charge with highbrow fare.
The party’s not over yet. TIFF is screening movies from their 1999: Movies at the Millennium and it’s going on until March 8. For more information go to tiff.net/1999 and watch movies like it’s 1999.
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Thriller
- Release Date: 1/17/2018
- Directed by: Bruno Dumont, Leos Carax, Lynne Ramsay, M. Night Shyamalan, Pedro Almodóvar, Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze
- Starring: Bruce Willis, Cecilia Roth, John Cusack, Kirsten Dunst
- Produced by: Agustín Almodóvar, Andrea Calderwood, Bruno Pésery, Francis Ford Coppola, Frank Marshall, Jean Brehat, Steve Golin
- Written by: Bruno Dumont, Charlie Kaufman, Herman Melville, Lynne Ramsay, M. Night Shyamalan, Pedro Almodóvar, Sofia Coppola
- Studio: American Zoetrope, BBC Films, Canal +, Centre National de la Cinématographie, France 2 Cinéma, Hollywood Pictures, Propaganda Films