Screencap from "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" featuring Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor)

9 from 1999: Memorable Films from the Turn of the Century

This piece was originally published in the now defunct Mantle Magazine on May 26, 2019.

Ah, 1999. What a time that was to be an impressionable teen!

The year was hailed by many critics as one of the greatest in movies, and just skimming the titles that came out that year is proof enough. A lot of my favorite films actually came out in 1999—never mind that I was only 13, and I only got to watch some of them much later on VCDs (who remembers those?) and cable TV.

For many of my peers, a lot of the movies that came out in 1999 greatly influenced our adolescence, and we think fondly of them to this day. Here are nine 1999 films that, while not necessarily the most award-winning, helped shape our young adult minds while paving the way for new cinematic techniques and narratives.

The Matrix

Promotional image of "The Matrix" featuring Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Neo (Keanu Reeves), and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss)
Image from Empire Online

You really can’t write about 1999 films without mentioning The Matrix.

It turned 20 years old recently, and it was my gateway drug to the cyberpunk and action genres. It redefined how fight scenes and stunts were done in film.

Everyone is still familiar with the iconic “bullet time” slow-mo sequence that’s been copied and spoofed over and over since then. Many films with notably badass action sequences take obvious inspiration from The Matrix, like Kill BillWanted, Sucker Punchand even Inception.

I would even argue that Love, Death & Robots was inspired by The Matrix, or at least by its epic animated spinoff, The AnimatrixThe Matrix left us in awe, but at the same time curious and paranoid—is reality we know actually real?

Fight Club

Screenshot from "Fight Club" featuring Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and The Narrator (Edward Norton)
Image from NY Daily News

“The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You DO NOT talk about Fight Club.”

Twenty years later and people are still talking about Fight Club. It gives us more than just a glimpse into the minds of angry young men: it offers important lessons in freedom and how much of our potential is wasted when we stick to conforming to what society expects of us.

The Blair Witch Project

Screenshot from "The Blair Witch Project" showing the iconic stick totems
Image from Vox

Not necessarily the best in terms of storytelling, but The Blair Witch Project was so different for its time. The “raw footage” shot with a handheld camera tricked many of us into believing that we were watching actual found footage of events that could happen to us should we find ourselves lost in the woods. Horror movies that came out in succeeding years, like Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity, also played with this raw, first-person style to immerse their audiences in terrifying experiences.

Bicentennial Man

Screenshot from "Bicentennial Man", featuring Robin Williams as Andrew Martin
Image from IMDB

Of all the movies on this list, this one is my personal favorite—and also the most critically-panned. One look at its 36% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes can tell you that it really isn’t one of the best from 1999 (and that I possibly have terrible taste in movies).

Admittedly, this tale of a robot becoming human is a bit dragging and could have benefitted from better scriptwriting, but it had just the right amount of heart, humor, and Robin Williams to win a place in my own teenage heart. Plus I do think that this movie, along with The Matrix, successfully got my fantasy-obsessed self to watch more futuristic/sci-fi films, especially the ones involving artificial intelligence and robots, like A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Chappie, and the original Ghost in the Shell (which I had not seen in full at the time; I only watched it after seeing both Bicentennial Man and The Matrix).

The Mummy

Screencap from "The Mummy", featuring Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr), Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), and Jonathan Carnahan (John Hannah)
Image from Fanpop

Growing up watching Indiana Jones and playing a lot of Tomb Raider probably made my generation receptive to The Mummy, but even film critics had to admit that the film is just fun. It’s not an award-winning action flick in terms of story, effects, or script, but there’s something hilariously entertaining about Brendan Fraser running away from demonic beetles and screaming at the titular villain’s face before blasting him with a shotgun.

The first film was successful enough to warrant two sequels (The Mummy Returns in 2001 and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor in 2008), a spin-off movie (The Scorpion King in 2002), and even an animated TV series in 2001.

The eponymous 2017 film was Universal’s attempt at rebooting the original 1930s-1950s franchise, but it did so poorly that I’m left wondering if they should have taken cues from what made the 1999 film so enjoyable.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Screencap from "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" featuring Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor)
Image from Bustle

Who wasn’t excited by a new Star Wars film coming out after 16 years? It may not be the best film in the franchise (some may even argue that it’s the worst), but it was still successful in getting our generation into a franchise our parents loved, and it paved the way for the rest of the new Star Wars films, series, and video games. Without that revival of interest, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten great movies like The Force Awakens or Rogue One.

Among the movies in this list, this is the only one I actually got to watch in the cinema. I still remember sitting in awe of Amidala in her impressive costumes and being on the edge of my seat during that fight scene between Darth Maul, Qui-Gon, and young Obi-Wan.

Girl, Interrupted

Screencap from "Girl, Interrupted" featuring Lisa Rowe (Angelina Jolie) and Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder)
Image from Sony Pictures Museum

I caught this on cable TV in the early 2000s, and only found out that it was a 1999 film later on. Where Fight Club gave us an idea of what went on in the minds of angry young men, Girl, Interrupted let us peer into the minds of young women with varying degrees of psychological and personal issues. This film showed us just how important it is for girls to have a support group composed of girls who can relate to each other’s problems and quirks.

The film received mixed reviews, but Angelina Jolie’s performance as Lisa Rowe was her big Hollywood break, earning her the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, as well as the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Supporting Female Actor.

10 Things I Hate About You

Screencap from "10 Things I Hate About You" featuring Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) and Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles)
Image from The Hollywood Reporter

I only got to watch this movie this year, much to the distress of many of my girl friends who view it as one of the most important and most memorable films of their teenage years.

This adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew features a strong, feminist leading lady while giving us a healthy dose of romance through lovely performances by Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Kat Stratford shows us how harshly society can judge outspoken women who refuse to fit the norms, and how important it is to keep being true to yourself, regardless.

Many of the leading ladies in rom-com films that came out in the years that followed are also independent, outspoken, and unafraid to be themselves: Cady Heron in Mean Girls, Violet Sanford in Coyote Ugly, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, and Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries.

I’m willing to bet that Kat Stratford was the one who set the pace.

The Iron Giant

Screencap from "The Iron Giant" featuring Horgath Hughes and the Iron Giant
Image from Mental Floss

Ask any ’90s kid what their favorite animated movie is, and they’re likely to mention a Disney flick like Toy Story 2.

But, a lot of us also loved Warner Bros.’ The Iron Giant. So, you can imagine our joy when the big guy made an appearance in Ready Player One, which came out in 2018. The Iron Giant may not be a Disney classic, but it was yet another film that showed us that being different shouldn’t stop us from being human.

1999 was a year of introspective, insightful films.

These movies were barely the tip of the iceberg: 1999 was a year when moviemakers played around with new visual effects and unusual—sometimes even raw and messy—storytelling techniques. It was a year full of movies that made us think, with stories focused less on the obstacles the outside world throws our way and more on the challenges we face within our flawed selves. These movies taught us that it was okay to fail, to be angry, to be honest, to be different, and more importantly, to just be ourselves.

This piece was originally published in the now defunct Mantle Magazine on May 26, 2019.

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