Monday, May 7, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1999

The Contenders:

American Beauty (winner)
The Cider House Rules
The Green Mile
The Insider
The Sixth Sense

What’s Missing

1999 is such a great year for movies, if not specifically a great year for the sort of movies that Oscar loves to honor. For instance, the horror movie Ravenous came out in 1999, and while it’s not a great movie (and barely a good one), I love it so damn much. The same is true of The Ninth Gate, The Mummy and Sleepy Hollow. This is also the year of movies that had massive impacts on culture--Fight Club, Office Space, Dogma, The Blair Witch Project, and especially The Matrix have affected our expectations or became culturally viral in specific ways. Movies I like that would never be nominated include Three Kings, Galaxy Quest, Ghost Dog, and Stir of Echoes, a film that I maintain is a much better one than the nominated The Sixth Sense. On the animated front, Toy Story 2 may be the least of the trilogy, but it’s damn good, but even it takes a back seat to The Iron Giant. When it comes to serious contenders, Being John Malkovich is a movie I’d think would get play, even if I like it less than everyone else. The reverse is true of Magnolia, a movie I seem to like more than a lot of other people. For a non-English entry, I’d suggest All About My Mother. Rounding out the list of movies that could be legitimately nominated, we have Man on the Moon, probably not considered because of Jim Carrey’s presence (and despite the fact that Carrey was robbed of a deserved nomination); the Oscar-winning Boys Don’t Cry, arguably snubbed for this award because of its subject matter; and The Straight Story, possibly snubbed because it’s so small in scope.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I realize that it’s fashionable to bag on M. Night Shyamalan and so it would be easy to point at that as the reason I’m putting The Sixth Sense last. The truth is that I do think this is a good movie, but after a single rewatch to catch all of the things missed on the first view, there’s nothing here. I contend and have long contended that The Sixth Sense is the second-best film from 1999 that has a title starting with “S” and that features a kid who interacts with dead people (this is a snotty way of saying I think Stir of Echoes is a better film).

4. What strikes me as odd about The Insider is that for as much as I typically like Michael Mann as a director, he might not be the best person to tell this story. The Insider is about the controversy and cover-up of tobacco companies and the addictive properties of nicotine. The problem I have with it is that despite the great cast and some truly wonderful work by Christopher Plummer, Mann films this as a thriller and it’s a huge stretch to call this a thriller in any real respect. In that sense, it feels a bit disconnected.

3. I like The Green Mile quite a bit. In fact, the only real problem I have with it is that it’s far too long for the story it wants to tell. I remember when Stephen King released the book as a serial novel, with each new installment coming out in a small paperback. All told, it’s not really that long of a work, and yet the movie is over three hours long. It could stand to spend some time in the barber’s chair getting trimmed down by about a third. It’s good, potentially even great, but it’s far too much and too overwhelming for me.

2. What impresses me the most about American Beauty is how angry it is. Everyone in the film is so aggressively unhappy and deals with that by damaging the lives of everyone around them. It’s weaponized cynicism, and there is a part of me that finds that fascinating, even if it’s not easy to watch. Fight Club came out this year and is filled with people angry at society and where they are placed in it. In American Beauty, everyone is angry, but in this case, they’re angry with the fact that they exist at all.

1. The Cider House Rules seems almost too sedate to be a Best Picture, but that’s one of the reasons I appreciate it as much as I do. This is a movie that is filled with controversial subjects and actions, the sort of film that seems designed to push the buttons of everyone who watches it, and yet it weaves these elements into the story naturally, focusing on the people and not their choices and actions. Truthfully, I think any of my top three would be good picks for Best Picture. The truth, though, is that there are 1999 films I think deserve it more.

My Choices

I'm constrained in ways by how I have decided to do these posts. Honestly, none of my top-three in the nominations is a bad choice. All three are respectable choices, and even good ones, but they aren't the best ones. In a perfect world, movies like The Iron Giant would get the love and respect they deserve not just from movie geeks, but from everyone. Controversial films like Fight Club would be celebrated for their controversy instead of attacked for it. And the Academy would realize that despite the dumb science, The Matrix would change the way that we watched movies forever.

Final Analysis


  1. I don’t know why but I’m surprised that Cider House came out on top for you, but I’m in agreement with that choice. I love that movie. It’s understated and measured but more powerful because of just those things. I think I expected American Beauty, a good film but as you said corrosive and ultimately rather draining.

    I really like The Sixth Sense though it loses much of its power on a rewatch but the acting is very good but it’s not Best Picture material.

    A couple that you suggests as alternates would be many people’s choices as well but wouldn’t be mine. Fight Club did nothing for me, I can’t stand any of the Toy Story films and I flat out loathe The Matrix, God that movie was agony!!! I do share your love of The Mummy though. It would never be a Best Picture contender but what a fun ride it is!

    I have several that I love that would probably never garner awards consideration, Galaxy Quest, Tea with Mussolini, Blast from the Past but I think both The Talented Mr. Ripley and Mansfield Park could fit in the conversation.

    There’s two though that would definitely make my list. The first is Election which like Office Space is wickedly subversive and sly. But the big miss of the year for me was October Sky. One of my favorite films and it would be my choice for the win in an open field.

    1. I've yet to see Election, which is why I didn't place it here. October Sky is another that has managed to elude me.

      I think Fight Club is interesting, and both shockingly and expectedly, the book goes much further than the movie in a lot of ways. I find it also subversive, but it's a lot more overt in that respect. I also like the Toy Story movies, but I'm not as enamored of them as man people seem to be.

      As for The Matrix, I think the first one is absolutely genre breaking, and there's a reason it became a cultural touchstone in the late '90s/early '00s. While the science is really stupid, the filmmaking is innovative and fascinating. I'm happy to admit that I'm far more attracted to the glitz and slick production than I am the kindergarten philosophy.

      The Talented Mr. Ripley would be an interesting addition.

  2. I actually liked watching The Sixth Sense a second time...mostly so I could kick myself for not figuring it out earlier the first time I saw it. The Green Mile or Fight Club would be good choices for the top spot. I’m surprised The Green Mile didn’t make the 1001 book! I still like American Beauty, which is one of my all-time favorite screenplays. I haven’t seen The Cider House rules or even read John Irving’s book! I’ll add them to my list.

    1. The Cider House Rules is successful in my opinion not because it is about controversial subjects like abortion. It's successful specifically because it treats those subjects as a part of the world and not as the main focus of the film.