It was the year of The Matrix, when reality and simulation was distinguished by the red and blue pill, and the Internet’s boyfriend Keanu Reeves was the hacker/messiah. In 1999, as we looked at the end of a decade, a century and millennium, The Matrix echoed all the fin de siècle angst.
Stanley Kubrick’s last film, the controversial Eyes Wide Shut (did Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman split because of it?) was released in 1999 as were Martin Scorsese’s underrated Nicolas Cage-starrer Bringing Out the Dead, the multiple Oscar-winning American Beauty, David Fincher’sedgy Fight Club, Anthony Minghella’s psychological thriller The Talented Mr Ripley, Kimberley Peirce’s Boys Dont Cry, The Cider House Rules based on John Irving’s eponymous novel and the Winona Ryder vanity project Girl, Interrupted. It was also the year of George Lucas’ return to a galaxy far, far away with the execrable Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.
Apart from all these heavy-duty films, 1999 was also the year for a bunch of cheerfully cheesy movies. Groovy Austin Powers tripped along for a second round of psychedelic adventures in The Spy who Shagged Me, Woody and Buzz got back together in Toy Story 2, while Julia Roberts was “just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her” as Anna Scott (Notting Hill). Meanwhile, a teenager was having unnatural congress with an apple pie (American Pie).
But as we look back 20 years down the line, here are our five guily pleasure picks from that iconic year which we can still find solace in…
This is the movie in which Oliver Platt plays a crocodile-worshipping mythology professor. A giant crocodile terrorises the good people of Maine while a sweet old lady feeds her husband and sundry cows to it. The film spawned five sequels for television including last year’s Lake Placid: Legacy. There is Bill Pullman as Fish and Game officer Jack Wells, and Bridget Fonda as townie Kelly Scott, the palaeontologist from the American Museum of Natural History. The star of the film, of course, is the lumbering crocodile who jumps out of the water at opportune moments to bite people and grizzly bears in two.
Deep Blue Sea
While Dr Evil was asking for sharks with laser beams on their heads (so they could at least have a hot meal), a couple of scientists were doing research on mako sharks to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. So noble right? But then they have genetically engineered the sharks to have bigger brains making them smarter and meaner. The highlight of the film was Samuel L Jackson as corporate executive Russell Franklin being devoured mid-monologue. Obviously the sharks did not think much of his ice monologue (“It moves like it has a mind. Like it knows it killed the world once and got a taste for murder”). This Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger) film packed in the B-movie thrills complete with smart lines from LL Cool J as the chef. Most of the sharks were CGI or animatronic. Last year’s The Meg unfortunately does not have the fun quotient of this 20-year-old creature feature.
‘Deep Blue Sea’
Who can forget that screaming face in the sand? The Stephen Sommers’ film had everything — action, adventure, romance, humour and many scuttling scarab beetles. Brendan Fraser plays Rick O’Connell, an Indiana Jones style soldier of fortune. He helps Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) a librarian, find the lost city of Hamunaptra. Despite Evelyn’s very reasonable assertion that no harm came out of reading a book, the cursed mummy of Imhotep is reanimated. All sorts of mayhem follow. As CGI took baby steps, we watched spellbound at the magic unfolding on screen. None of the movies that followed — the two sequels or the Tom Cruise reboot in 2017 matched the breezy fun of the first movie.
This Tim Burton adaptation of Washington Irving’s 1820 short story is gorgeous to look at. The Academy Award for art direction is well deserved. Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is a police constable following revolutionary procedures to solve crimes. He is sent to the village of Sleepy Hollow that is being terrorised by a headless horseman. The movie with all its Gothic flourishes also works as a whodunit with the dark humour as a bonus. Christopher Walken as the headless horseman has no speaking lines — so there is no chance of a crazy lazy monologue. A giant set for the entire village of Sleepy Hollow was built and as the cast said it feels like one is walking inside Burton’s head.
While there is an excellent show on Netflix and a Robert Wise film from 1963 based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, Jan de Bont’s (Speed), reboot The Haunting was commercially successful… but received five Razzies including worst actress for Catherine Zeta-Jones, worst director and worst film. The movie was fun with its CGI-heavy silly scares. Watching Liam Neeson as David Marrow conducting secret experiments in fear, offers a happy chance to imagine how Bryan Mills (Taken) would have used his particular set of skills at Hill House. Would he have said, “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you,” to the nasty ghost?