1999 Top 10, According to James Berardinelli

These are presented in "reverse order" (saving the best for last):

Runners-Up (alphabetical): Being John Malkovich, The Dreamlife of Angels, Election, Eyes Wide Shut, Felicia's Journey, Magnolia, Open Your Eyes, Snow Falling On Cedars, The Straight Story, Toy Story 2.

10. (TIE) All About My Mother and Angela's Ashes: I'm not normally an indecisive person, but I couldn't determine which of these films was worthy of the final space on the Top 10 list, so I gave up and handed it to both of them. All About My Mother is Pedro Almodovar's most mature and thoughtful film to date. It was a rousing success at Cannes, and rightfully so - the film is a delight, and will likely appeal even to those who have previously thought of the director as too "fringe" or "strange." Angela's Ashes, on the other hand, is a more conventional motion picture that mixes wry humor with powerful drama. Based on the memoirs of Frank McCourt, the film uses strong writing and a great cast to leave a lasting impression. The incomparable Emily Watson is superb.

9. The Hurricane: Undoubtedly the feel-good movie of 1999, The Hurricane is the best of director Norman Jewison's recent efforts. This bio-pic gets deep into the soul of the main character, burrowing so far in that we see the world through Rubin Carter's eyes. And it comes complete with a rousing last act that, while a little melodramatic, stays close enough to the true facts to be satisfying. Denzel Washington, who has the chameleon-like ability to transform himself into the characters he plays (remember Malcolm X), turns in another standout performance.

8. The Insider: Michael Mann's absorbing, undermarketed expose of the smoking industry is a condemnation of how big business can pervert the supposedly uncorruptible news business. The Insider is a riveting film, characterized by a well-paced script and top-drawer acting by Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, and Christopher Plummer. Some "60 Minutes" insiders have called the film's veracity into question, but its strength as a movie is undeniable.

7. 42 Up: The finest entry into Michael Apted's 7 Up series is also the best documentary of 1999. Whether or not this is the last Up movie, it represents a powerful look at how human beings develop from children into adults. The boys and girls that Apted began interviewing when they were seven years old are now 42, and, through the judicious use of old footage intercut with new interviews, Apted gives us a moving portrayal of real life drama that has been 35 years in the making.

6. Run Lola Run: Although most of the films on this Top 10 list fit into the category of "serious" cinema, Run Lola Run is pure entertainment. Fast-paced fun fueled by adrenaline and amplified by a restless camera and an energetic lead performance, Run Lola Run became a film festival hit early in the year, and an instant art house favorite during its summer run. Three tales in one - the movie toys with alternate reality - Tom Tykwer's picture lets its audience have a good time without abandoning intelligence along the way.

5. American Beauty: Even though there are one or two minor things about American Beauty that I thought were a little clumsy, the film as a whole is a positive triumph of satire and social commentary. Perhaps the most scathing black comedy about marriage since The War of the Roses, American Beauty pulls no punches in pursuit of its goal. The script is simply brilliant, but the real reason for the movie's unqualified success is the level of performances turned in by everyone, especially Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, and Thora Birch.

4. The Cider House Rules: Considering how disappointing all of the previous screen adaptations of John Irving novels have been, calling The Cider House Rules the best of them isn't a ringing endorsement. But this movie isn't just a little better, it's a quantum improvement. Adapted by Irving from his novel, The Cider House Rules is a deeply moving story of one young man's search for himself. Beautifully acted and wonderfully written, this is the kind of magical, old-fashioned tale that draws the viewer in and holds him or her enraptured until the closing credits roll.

3. Xiu Xiu: Not surprisingly, this movie has been banned in China. Xiu Xiu, the directorial debut of actress Joan Chen, is a devastating and unforgettable portrait of hopeless love and the erosion of innocence set against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution, and its overt condemnation of the historical movement has not pleased those who are currently in power. Although it only explicitly depicts the downfall of one girl, it hints at a widespread corruption that is terrible to contemplate. The film is currently available on video, and, for those who aren't frightened by the thought of a challenging motion picture, this is more than worth the price of a rental.

2. The Fight Club: For some unknown reason, The Fight Club became a lightning rod for those who wanted evidence that Hollywood is enamored with violence. I'm not sure why. Admittedly, there are times when this movie turns violent and bloody, but it is far less grotesque than dozens of more graphic action and horror films. Perhaps the reason is that The Fight Club's violence has the power to disturb - and that's because the movie carries a message. Those who fail to recognize that David Fincher is actually bringing forth a theme of anti-violence (as well as a condemnation of the social climate in which it is almost revered) have missed the point. The Fight Club is not an easy film, but it is a masterpiece of writing, execution, and pacing. The narrative is convoluted without being obtuse, and this film's "secret" is far more rewarding than the hocus-pocus offered by The Sixth Sense. The Fight Club bombed at the box office, probably because it's too dark and smart for the majority of the public. Hopefully, it will find its audience on video, because it richly deserves to be seen.

1. The War Zone: What can I say about The War Zone that I haven't already said. This is the standout film of the year, a piece of cinema so powerful and arresting that it earned a place in the #6 position of my Top 10 of the '90s list. "Devastating" is the word I most frequently use to describe the movie; only two other pictures this decade (Schindler's List, The Sweet Hereafter) have had a similar impact. Like those films, this one is tough to sit through, but the reward of viewing something of the highest cinematic caliber is worth the sacrifice. Actor-turned-filmmaker Tim Roth may go on to have a stellar career behind the camera, but it will be difficult for him to top what he has accomplished with this feature.

© 2000 James Berardinelli

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