In the ninth month of the year, we look at a number of the films released twenty years ago at the turn of the century. This selection includes the final film from one of film’s most celebrated auteurs, Stanley Kubrick, as well as early films from a new generation of directors including the Dardenne Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Spike Jonze.
10 Things I Hate About You
By Carson Schilling
Embodying every trait and quirk of your typical romantic comedy, 10 Things I Hate About You is an essential piece of 90’s cinema. Filled to its exaggerated brim with cheesy dialogue, a grungy soundtrack, and characters who look much older than they actually are, this film is a perfect representation of everything charming about this cultural era. Adapted from William Shakespeare’s classic play The Taming of the Shrew, director Gil Junger’s happy-go-lucky movie is a welcome relief to the reality of our world, despite its characters’ almost archetypal depictions.
The late Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles lead this cast of mismatched high schoolers and ultimately steal the show. The way their relationship is written is one of the most authentic I have seen on screen and this chemistry definitely carries what could have been a much messier film tonally. Other romantic comedies might be able to accomplish much more romantically, as this film unfortunately feels a bit coincidental. However, one might be able to find love and hope within Junger’s cheesiness and for that, this movie has accomplished its goal. While it may not be the most well-crafted of the genre, 10 Things I Hate About You is an undeniably adorable movie that hopeless romantics will cherish for generations.
By George Morris
Arriving hot off the heels of the Wachowski’s genre-defining The Matrix just months earlier, David Cronenberg’s slick, pseudo-psychological sci-fi horror failed to carve a name for itself upon release. It’s a shame too, as now with the development of virtual-reality gaming, the film feels more timely than ever. When Jennifer Jason Leigh’s renowned game developer Allegra Geller falls under corporate espionage, Jude Law’s Ted Pikul is assigned as her bodyguard both in reality and inside the world of EXistenZ – Allegra’s newest, most immersive release yet.
Packed with Cronenberg’s typical body horror (the ‘gamepods’ are intestine-like sacks that surgically hook up to your spine with an umbilical cord as you play), it’s the notion of reality and free will that’s perhaps most interesting within eXistenZ. By playing with such heavy themes and ideas, the film’s world(s) take on a transcendent quality far beyond the dingy industrial makeup that’s seen on screen. eXistenZ is a world of backalleys and untrustworthy mechanics, foreboding restaurants and winding roads – there’s no kung fu and trench coats to be seen. It doesn’t quite hit its mark at times, but a film that dares to ask questions about reality under the barrel of a bone-gun sounds a lot more interesting than one without.
Eyes Wide Shut
By Ben McDonald
Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut isn’t quite as widely discussed as 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, or The Shining (to name a few), but his last film is nevertheless a haunting masterpiece at the same artistic caliber of his more extensively celebrated works. Starring two of the best actors of our generation, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Eyes Wide Shut is an erotic pyschological thriller that follows the distraught Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) over the course of one night and a morning after his wife Alice (Kidman) describes to him a sexual fantasy she had about another man. As much an odyssey as 2001 and as much a descent into the deepest parts of the human psyche as The Shining, Kubrick’s final effort before his death explores and deconstructs the delicate interweaving of sexuality, marriage, and desire.
While many critics at the time chided Eyes Wide Shut for lacking the erotic pull demanded by its narrative, the film’s dreamlike lure is actually its most seductive quality. It’s no secret that Kubrick’s work is exceptionally cold, and while Eyes Wide Shut is no different (it’s arguably the most emotionally unavailable film he ever made), it’s precisely because of such restraint that the film is able to entice its audience into an eager trance. There are perhaps no better actors for such a film than Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who have founded much of their careers in impenetrable mystery (in the case of Cruise) and icy frigidity (in the case of Kidman). The emotional vacuum of Cruise’s performance especially serves as a direct portal for the audience into the film’s world; often we feel less like we’re watching a movie than experiencing its events first-hand through Harford’s eyes. Though Eyes Wide Shut is not nearly as ingrained into the popular consciousness as Fight Club or The Matrix, it is of my opinion that Kubrick’s ultimate film is the best and most defining piece of 1999 cinema.
The Sixth Sense
By Ben McDonald
Although M. Night Shyamalan’s filmmaking career has devolved into something of a mean punchline amongst cinephiles and casual movie fans alike, his 1999 breakout film The Sixth Sense remains a carefully crafted and exceptionally unsettling piece of supernatural horror 20 years later. Haley Joel Osment (in his breakout role as well) plays the part of Cole Sear, a young boy gifted and cursed with a supernatural sixth sense, one that renders the barrier between the living and the dead nonexistent. Cole “sees dead people”, as he famously announces about halfway through the film to Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist overseeing his case (played by an unusually contemplative Bruce Willis). The Sixth Sense follows the doctor-patient relationship between Cole and Malcolm, unfolding the mystery of Cole’s unique condition with eerie quietness and blood-chilling setpieces alike.
Very few films have imbued as deep a terror within me as The Sixth Sense. It was one of the first horror movies I remember watching, and its believable juxtaposition of the supernatural with reality so thoroughly frightened me that thinking back on its scares still gives me goosebumps. Shyamalan creates Cole’s precarious world under the terrifying assumption that he is alone with his fear and trauma. His mother (played masterfully by Toni Collette), doesn’t understand why he is scared all the time, and for much of the film Malcolm believes his experiences to be hallucinations. Although the latter does eventually offer him counsel, it is Cole himself who must overcome his inevitable and frequent ghostly encounters. The Sixth Sense ends on a cathartic note, with a twist so often spoiled that it’s not worth mentioning here, but in the end the film succeeds most marvelously at instilling a long-lasting feeling of anxious dread.
Bringing Out the Dead
By Eugene Kang
Martin Scorsese arguably started the decade with the best film of the 90’s with Goodfellas and ended it with another of the decade’s best, Bringing Out the Dead, a nightmarish, frenzied look at a paramedic suffering from insomnia and haunted by the ghosts of the patients that he could not save. Like Taxi Driver, Bringing Out the Dead is also penned by Paul Schrader, and Schrader’s typically bleak view of the world permeates the entire picture. Also like Taxi Driver, the film portrays New York City, especially at night, as a hellscape of desperate people in pain. The scenes of chaos, callousness and agony in the emergency room just by themselves are enough to make viewers do everything in their power to never have to end up in one. Yet the film is not all bleak misery, as we see Nicolas Cage’s Frank Pierce stumble his way into peace. He is no Travis Bickle, with his twisted view of the world mutating into vigilante entitlement. Pierce is a much gentler soul who only wants comfort, physical and spiritual, and Cage gives one of his finest performances in a career chock full of them. Bringing Out the Dead received no awards consideration in an admittedly very competitive year, and few cinephiles ever list this as top Scorsese, but this film needs a serious reevaluation, especially when Scorsese’s later film The Wolf of Wall Street is alarmingly not being received as the satire it was meant to be.