American Beauty (winner)
Being John Malkovich
The Sixth Sense
Evidently, 1999 was a great year for original screenplays. It’s a year good enough that I almost wish there was room for 10 nominees. No, really. The best options might well be the nominees, because a lot of the films I would put here will be objected to by plenty of people. So, let’s get started. It’s impossible to discuss 1999 without mentioning The Matrix. I like The Matrix, but let’s be honest; it didn’t deserve to be nominated for its screenplay. The problem with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is that it’s difficult to understand about half of the characters, but I love it anyway. Some will also object to Ghost Dog, but it’s a better movie than its reputation, and I like the screenplay a lot. Don’t like any of those? How about Rushmore? Both Boys Don’t Cry and Man on the Moon are more traditional Oscar fare and could’ve stood a mention. I’m not serious when I suggest Bowfinger, but that’s a movie much funnier than it’s given credit for being.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: Topsy-Turvy is too damn long. I can’t say it’s not an interesting film or that I didn’t enjoy watching it. But it’s 161 minutes long and there’s not 161 minutes of plot here. Topsy-Turvy doesn’t get boring, but it also doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. And while there’s entertainment to be had here, this is the film I’d dump to add in something else from the year. It’s a fine movie, but not one of the five best original screenplays from 1999.
4: I think it’s entirely possible that I’m judging The Sixth Sense too harshly and comparing it too much with Stir of Echoes, which came out about a month and a half after. I like the story of Stir of Echoes more; it benefits from having been written by Richard Mattheson, for starters. Beyond that, it’s a better version of something that is essentially the same plot. The Sixth Sense is probably better than fourth place, but for me, it can’t overcome that hurdle.
3: I think Being John Malkovich will be the choice of a lot of people reading this, and I understand that choice completely. It is probably the most inventive and creative screenplay of the year, and certainly the most inventive of the five nominees. I can’t take it higher than third, though; it suffers from being filled with characters that I really dislike, and that’s hard for me to overcome on a gut level. In fact, the only character I like is Malkovich himself, and I only really like him for the first part of the movie. I know that’s the intent. I just wish I liked the people more.
2: My placement of Magnolia will probably bother a lot of readers. Some will think that this belongs on the bottom, and I’m guessing that a few will think that it deserves the top position. Magnolia is pretty polarizing. I happen to like it, and I like it pretty well. There’s a lot going on here, and I think all of it works. I get that not everyone does and I get that the main objection is the event that happens at the end. Don’t care. I like it. It’s not my winner, but if it had won, I wouldn’t have been terribly upset.
1: No, American Beauty was the right winner. This is a movie that is filled with anger, and it gets all of the anger right. There are plenty of movies that attempt to show that middle aged malaise, the true depth of a mid-life crisis, and none do it as well as American Beauty. Even the things that lean more toward the froofy artistic stuff—the blowing plastic bag, for instance—are done well. There’s always a lingering doubt with me how much of this I’m supposed to take at face value and how much I’m not, and I like that about it, too. If it’s messing with me, it does it well enough that I’m not sure it’s doing it. A good choice.