Why 1999 Was Hollywood’s Greatest Year

Many of the movies, Raftery points out, came with a fin de siècle edge: a pervading apocalyptic angst. The story lines, with their aggrieved outsiders and collapsing families, prophesied our current condition, post-9/11 — plagued as we are by forever wars, increasing wealth disparity and the oppressive rise of the autocrat, the bigot, the corporate state. Frogs rain from the sky in “Magnolia.” The Burnham household implodes in “American Beauty.” Sexual obsession and decadence envelop “Eyes Wide Shut.” Angry young white guys rage against the machine in “Fight Club,” whose release was postponed in the wake of the killings at Columbine. “Boys Don’t Cry,” which recounts the murder of Brandon Teena, a transgender man, was filmed, Raftery says, just as “Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, pistol-whipped and tied to a fence in … Wyoming.”

For all this, the book has its hiccups. Raftery, despite a nice shout-out to John Hughes, favors ’90s kids-in-crisis films over “crummier Reagan-era teen movies.” There’s no mention of “Quiet: We Live in Public,” the dystopian social experiment webcammed 24/7 on the eve of the new millennium — until the cops shut it down. That said, Raftery dares to think bigger than the big screen. He explains that once HBO rolled out “The Sopranos” in January 1999, its influence would prove seismic: Thereafter, a generation’s most engaging onscreen stories would be serials, viewed in our homes or on our phones. He notes, as well, that in 1999, when AOL began its $165 billion play for the Time Warner colossus, the deal presaged the current Digital Ice Age, in which tech (Netflix, Amazon et al.) is slowly slaying the Hollywood dinosaur.

Raftery’s right. Ninety-ninety-nine did rewire how we tell stories in moving pictures. Morpheus, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Then again,Best. Movie. Year. Ever.” may also be biased, inflating the significance of the cultural touchstones of its author’s youth. In that regard, I’d like to speak up for 1968, which turned out 2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Yellow Submarine,” “The Producers,” “Bullitt,” “The Lion in Winter,” “Night of the Living Dead,” …


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