An exploration of a significant year in late-20th-century film.
In a year shrouded in worldwide concerns over Y2K, filmmakers “shared one unspoken trait,” writes Raftery (High-Status Characters: How the Upright Citizens Brigade Stormed a City, Started a Scene, and Changed Comedy Forever, 2013, etc.): the “ambition to make something no one had seen before.” Whether it was the greatest year ever is highly debatable (likely not), but the author, thanks to more than 100 interviews with key players, offers a spirited celebration of the year’s movies. As Sam Mendes, creator of the “dark, suburban fantasy” American Beauty, told Raftery, “it’s astonishing how many different genres were being redefined.” The author examines more than 30 films, mostly American, from January’s “jumpy, star-free vomit comet,” The Blair Witch Project, to December’s “movie-ist movie of the year,” Magnolia. He does a fine job taking us behind the scenes to reveal how the films were made, actors chosen, and film scores written. In addition to the blockbusters—Star Wars: Episode One—The Phantom Menace, The Sixth Sense, Three Kings—the author discusses smaller films, including Iron Giant, The Best Man, and The Wood. Tom Twyker said his German film, Run Lola Run, was about “breaking the chains of our existence.” The Matrix, Raftery writes, tried “to make sense of the confusion and unease that were beginning to take hold in the late nineties.” Office Space “was intended to reflect the new decade’s collective middle-class malaise” and had a “lucrative afterlife” in DVD sales. Though he doesn’t make a fully convincing case for the importance of 1999 in film history, Raftery offers plenty of interesting trivia—e.g., Brad Pitt’s then-girlfriend, Jennifer Aniston, shaved his head for Fight Club. Other interviewees include Edward Norton, Reese Witherspoon, Kirsten Dunst, Steven Soderbergh, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Taye Diggs, and “the man who played Jar Jar Binks.”
Fun, light entertainment for devoted moviegoers.