When the end of the 20th century arrived in 1999, movies started to transform and became something different. Traditional cinema had worn its welcome, so a bastion of innovative filmmakers experimented in new ways. Gone was the boring and formulaic storytelling, which was replaced with fast cuts, electrifying effects and nonconformist story structures. Young filmmakers were able to emerge and make their mark—some of which still continue to reinvent cinema nowadays. The summer of 1999 distributed a new Star Wars film, a gross-out comedy and two low-budget horror films that we’re still talking about today. The autumn released two films about male ennui and how to combat it, and a film where frogs fall from the sky for no reason. Fifteen years ago, many of these films paved the way for our current universe of indie cinema and big-budget action films, and moviemaking hasn’t been the same since.
10. American Pie
This gross-out comedy wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it did reignite the puerile ‘80’s comedies. Five high school men decide to lose their virginity before they graduate, and hijinks ensue–including molestation of an innocent apple pie. The young cast members all became overnight stars, with Jason Biggs and Natasha Lyonne currently starring on successful show, Orange Is the New Black. The film only cost $11 million to make and grossed $200 million worldwide, which led to several sequels.
9. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
It had been 16 years since there was a Star Wars film (Return of the Jedi was the last one in 1983), so when George Lucas wrote and directed the prequel, Phantom Menace (his first film as a director since 1977’s Star Wars), everyone ran to the theaters to see it, with some people camping outside megaplexes a month in advance. This was the first in a new trilogy that explored a young Darth Vader and how he eventually turned to the dark side, all done with state-of-the-art special effects. The film received mixed reviews, especially over the much derided CGI character, Jar Jar Binks. Although, the bad reviews didn’t prevent the film from grossing $924.3 million worldwide.
8. American Beauty
Alan Ball, of Six Feet Under and True Blood fame, wrote his debut film script about a suburban man (Kevin Spacey) who’s grown bored with his life, so he quits his job and starts flirting with his daughter’s best friend (Mena Suvari). The dramedy not only was nominated for several Oscars, but it swept most of the major categories: Best Actor, Director, Screenplay and Best Picture. The most famous scene is that of a paper bag floating, filmed by Spacey’s neighbor Ricky, who always has a camera tethered to him: “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in,” Ricky says.
7. Office Space
When Office Space was released in February of 1999, it didn’t make a big dent in the box office, but it found rabid fans through its DVD release. The workplace comedy focuses on a guy (played by Ron Livingston) who hates his office job, so he decides, “I’m not gonna go” anymore. The film is extremely quotable and launched the terms, TPS report and “case of the Mondays” into the mainstream. Akin to Fight Club, it’s a film about dissatisfied thirty-something men who dislike their white collar job and instigate revenge on “the man.”
P.T. Anderson already had two films under his belt, but Magnolia would become his opus. The all-star cast included movie star Tom Cruise, who garnered an Oscar nomination for his role. The film takes place in L.A. and features interlocking character-driven stories about chance, against a killer Aimee Mann soundtrack. When Anderson wrote the film, he structured the script on a Beatles song. “I tried to structure my movie after “A Day in the Life,” how it would sort of build build build build build build build—fall off a cliff, and then start building back up again,” Anderson told Entertainment Weekly back in ’99. “I took more structurally from that song than from any movie I’ve seen.”
5. Being John Malkovich
Indie cinema got pretty weird in the late ’90s, especially with the advent of director, Spike Jonze. In his first feature, Jonze directed John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener and John Malkovich, who played a version of himself. Writer, Charlie Kaufman wrote a zany script about a guy who finds a portal into John Malkovich’s brain, and proceeds to have an affair with a woman who isn’t his wife. Jonze was nominated for a Best Director Oscar but didn’t win. Finally this year, he won a Best Screenplay Oscar for another highly original and experimental film–Her.
4. The Matrix
In March of 1999, Warner Brothers unleashed The Matrix, which would become one of the most talked about sci-fi films of all time, and brought, “red pill, blue pill” into our lexicon. Keanu Reeves plays Neo, a man who must choose between reality (red pill) vs. fantasy (blue pill). The film debuts a special effect called, “bullet time” where the shot (a bullet) moves in slow-motion, yet the camera angle moves at normal speed. The film was a hit and grossed over $460 million and spawned two successful sequels, both of which were released in 2003. Reeves and his co-star, Carrie-Anne Moss have opted for lower profiles since the franchise wrapped up, and to date, it’s their best-known roles. Do we live in the matrix? Who knows.
3. The Blair Witch Project
With the low cost of the film (less than a million) and the high return (over $200 million worldwide gross), the faux-documentary film inspired every film kid to go out and make a low-budget film. There would be no psychological horror films like, Cloverfield or Paranormal Activity without Blair Witch, which relied more on what you can’t see than blood and gore. The film takes place in 1994 and centers around three college kids who go into the woods to film the legend of Blair Witch, but they go missing and all that is left is their camcorder footage. The film cast unknown actors, who improvised the dialogue. Unfortunately, the sequel bombed and the actors themselves were never heard from again.
2. The Sixth Sense
This ghost story/thriller became a sleeper hit in August of 1999, grossing $293 million domestically. The critically-acclaimed film received six Oscar nominations and established Bruce Willis as something other than an action star. First-time director, M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed a tale about a psychologist who tries to help a child who apparently, “sees dead people.” With the film, Shyamalan invented the twist ending we’ve become so accustom to today, except this ending actually shocked viewers because they didn’t see it coming.
1. Fight Club
“The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.” Brad Pitt and Ed Norton portray [spoiler alert] the same person, in this mind-bending and subversive film from David Fincher. What makes the film so memorable 15 years later is its spot-on commentary on machismo, and how men cope with trying to live in a consumer-driven world, yet finding an outlet like recreational fighting, to prove their masculinity. In making the film, Fincher told one of his producers: “Don’t worry, the audience will be able to follow this. This is not unspooling your tale. This is downloading.” Fight Club would set the stage for our current rapid-fire society of sensory overload, and video-game-like attention spans. Plus, it had the second best twist endings of the year.