20 Years of 1999: Pt. 1
Looking Back at the First Few Months of 1999
The year 1999 was only 20 years ago, but it seems so much longer. It seems so, so…..so last century. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Although, the changing of the century was a big part of 1999 as companies scrambled to update their computer software amid fears that the rollover of the clocks on December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000 would set all the internal clocks in the computers back to 1900. Y2K fears would dominate the news cycle for the latter half of the year. Doomsday preppers would stockpile food and guns, and more in the event that the software didn’t get updated in time. Ultimately, of course, nothing happened. There was no blackouts and no riots, and we were not plunged into a lawless society.
The world kept turning, and life went on.
The movies kept on coming—there were A LOT of movies released in 1999. A lot of seminal movies; movies that have now woven themselves into the fabric of our culture. There are far too many movies to cover in one article even. Therefore, in this first article I’m just going to cover the first quarter of the year, and seeing as how we just finished the first quarter of 2019, it seems like a good time to write this for you.
Not every movie released in ‘99 deserves a full write-up, but I’ll at least mention them because turning 20 is a pretty big deal. All these movies are one year away from their legal drinking age.
Varsity Blues and She’s All That – There isn’t too much to be said about these two besides that they did provide more than a little inspiration for Not Another Teen Movie. They are fun, but a forgettable teen fare.
Payback – It came with the tagline, “Get ready to root for the bad guy,” and it was a fun movie. However, when Mel Gibson is playing the bad guy (before he got drunk and left racially charged voicemails, or hurled racial insults at a cop who pulled him over for driving drunk) you know you’re going to root for him. Based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake who wrote as Richard Stark and was previously made as Point Blank, which was directed by Sam Peckinpah and starred Lee Marvin, Payback had a great ‘70s style cinematography and score.
Blast from the Past – Starring Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Walken and Joey Slotnick, it’s a sweet movie that is about how much better life was so long ago, though when you stop to think about it and you realize the characters whose POV we are sharing are all White, it begins to be about how life was better for White people so long ago… I try to still enjoy this movie, because it really does mean to just be simple fun, but that thought keeps nagging at me.
Office Space – I don’t really need to say too much more about this when I said it all here.
8mm – From the writer of Se7en, a movie that truly does make your soul feel dirty, which is not to say it’s a bad movie, it’s just hard to watch. About a P.I. who is hired to investigate the possible death of a woman in a snuff film, it is a movie that sets out to explore and show us the truly filthy underside of the L.A. porn industry. It doesn’t disappoint.
Analyze This – This movie didn’t do anything new for comedy, but audiences loved the pairing of Billy Crystal as a shrink and Robert DeNiro as his patient, who also had ties to the mob. This was a premise that inspired a very well regarded TV show from ‘99…Can you guess what I’m talking about?
Cruel Intentions – Sarah Michelle Gellar was also in Simply Irresistible from 1999, but no one will remember her from that movie. THIS is the movie SMG will be remembered for from ‘99, and for A good reason; I do not just mean her shared kiss with Selma Blair.
Gellar is a force of sexual nature in this movie. She is bold, unapologetic, and a complete reversal from her role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A modern-day version of Dangerous Liaisons set in high school, which is a perfect example of a movie that would not be made today. Teenagers having sex? A step-brother/sister making a bet for sex? A man seducing a woman out of her virginity— two different women, in fact! There is no way it would be made today at all! What I have said about this movie makes it sounds like trash, and it is, but it is high-class, glossy trash with a sheen with some great music, too! Also, who can forget the iconic use of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” at the end?
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – This movie launched Guy Ritchie’s career; it is a gritty movie with a sense of humor about low-end London criminals (which makes Ritchie seem like an odd choice to direct the live-action version of Aladdin, but there you go).
EDtv – This movie came and went without too much fanfare, but upon closer rewatching today, it is kind of stark version of the state of reality TV in today’s world…
10 Things I Hate About You – Heath Ledger was amazing as The Joker in The Dark Knight, but this is the way I want to remember him; the loner rebel who wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself as Patrick Verona in this modern-day adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew set in high school. The following scene definitely steals the show:
Julia Stiles played the Shrewish object of Patrick’s affections, but it’s really the whole cast who steals the show. This is one of those Shakespearean adaptations that really works!
The Matrix – It arrived virtually unheralded in theaters and blew us all away. It was unlike anything we had seen before, and behind the movie was a brilliant marketing scheme and trailer moment in which Laurence Fishburne told us, “Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”
In all honesty, this movie deserves its own article, but as I am in the process of moving this month, this blurb will have to do.
The Matrix combined the earnestness of a Western (the newspaper flying by in the final action scene between the hero and the villain is the direct equivalent of a tumbleweed)-
-with a Japanese anime style sense of action and fluidity in movement, along with themes of mythology, religion, and, yes, even transgender themes. At the time of the The Matrix’s release, the writer/directors were men, but after its success, they were afforded the ability to come out as transgender women. When Agent Smith refuses to call Neo by that name (instead choosing to call Neo by his Matrix name of Mr. Anderson), it is an example of “dead naming,” which is calling a person by a name they no longer associate with.
The Matrix has even been likened to Alice In Wonderland, and indeed there are mentions of a “White Rabbit” in the movie.
Although, perhaps the biggest legacy of The Matrix was its use of “wire-fu” and “bullet time,” a type of cinematography that slowed the action down to the speed of a bullet, a trick that at once stunned audiences and then quickly became overused by ever action movie released after The Matrix; including its two sequels: The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. The opening scene of The Matrix Reloaded was enough to ruin us for the rest of that movie overtime.
The Matrix was well received by critics and audiences alike that was praised for its themes, its style, and its melding of philosophy and action. It was praised as the thinking man’s action movie, though perhaps in 2019 and with the pro-trans themes in mind, it should be “the thinking person’s action movie.” It gave everyone hope for the movie that everyone was waiting for in 1999, which would be related in May – Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. There will be an article about that later, and it will be noted that The Matrix proved to be superior to George Lucas’ first installment to his prequel trilogy.
The Matrix inspired a series of comics, books, and even a series of short cartoons, which were collected in The Animatrix, which bridged the action between the original Matrix and its sequels.
Ultimately, The Matrix would be bogged down by the weight of its own philosophy in its sequels. The direct sequel would give us not just one but two monologues, which even though they sounded spectacular, they ended up being made only of sound and fury, as well as signifying nothing.
Also, the same could be said of the climatic showdown between Agent Smith and Neo in the final installment, The Matrix Revolutions.
Be that as it may, The Matrix itself still holds up, and if you haven’t seen it (and if what I said hasn’t convinced you), well then, you need to see it for yourself.
Yet, the first quarter of 1999 wasn’t just about movies. There was also that HBO TV show that shared the same premise as Analyze This. Of course, I am talking about The Sopranos.
With that iconic opening theme music, The Sopranos firmly established itself in the national zeitgeist. Like Seinfeld had been in the ‘90s, this was the water cooler TV show that everyone couldn’t wait to talk about on Monday morning.
The show offered us a sprawling cast of characters, and we all identified with at least one, but the sprawling cast wouldn’t have meant anything if it wasn’t spearheaded and led by the force of nature that was James Gandolfini. Even before he was the patriarch that was Tony Soprano, Gandolfini demanded your attention whenever he was onscreen. Look at this scene from True Romance, which was released six years before The Sopranos.
When Tony Soprano appeared, audiences were treated to an imperfect hero. Less like Jerry Seinfeld, who was also very imperfect, but for more comedic purposes, Tony Soprano was more like Archie Bunker. Bunker was a small-minded bigot and racist, and he made no apologies for his antiquated ways of thinking. Yet, what redeemed Bunker was his absolute love for his family. Bunker did not understand his daughter’s boyfriend, but if she loved him, he would try. Also, despite Bunker’s racism and his bigotry, we couldn’t get enough of him. He was interesting.
The same could be said for Tony. He cheated on his wife, he gambled, he had people killed, but he loved his family, and we couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
Tony Soprano, and indeed all the characters on the show, were the brain child of David Chase, who had once written for the TV show, The Rockford Files. Before The Sopranos found its life on HBO, ABC was ready to give it ago with one caveat, but they wanted Tony Danza to play Tony Soprano. Chase walked away and history was written.
The Sopranos riveted audiences for six and half seasons (I don’t know why they didn’t call it seven seasons), and its final moments are still hotly debated to this today.
No doubt, HBO has/had the best water cooler shows that are looking to create just as much buzz with each season; especially with a final season that just wrapped in May. If you don’t know that I am talking about Game of Thrones, then where have you been?!
So, how far does the legacy of The Sopranos reach? There is prequel movie in production right now about Tony Soprano’s dad. We know a little bit about him, but not too much.
Between The Matrix and The Sopranos, 1999 definitely had a lot to offer— so many quality movies and television shows came out in one year, which seems hard to imagine, but it did. Don’t believe me? Check out 1999 movies and TV for yourself, or just wait for my next article.