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I was dreamin' when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray ♫

A topic worth thinking carefully over though this stream of consciousness must do for now.

Esquire claims that 1999 was the last Great Year of Movies. Several good points are made but OF COURSE the writer had to throw out that exhausting false equivalent "tv is better than film" argument again that actually has very little to do with the topic at hand. Stop people of the internet. Think before you type. The two art forms are not interchangeable - they have different strengths and weaknesses and the transcendent TV series are but a tiny sliver of the product on TV just as the most magical movies are a tiny sliver of films made. The best TV is not equivalent to cinematic blockbusters, what's equivalent to that if you must have your damn equivalencies are massively watched shows like The Big Bang Theory, The Voice, Duck Dynasty and Modern Family and the like and anyone who thinks those shows are better than what's been at movie theaters in 2014 deserves to be slapped. Or at least be strapped to a chair and forced to sit through these pictures plus Boyhood and Love is Strange (which will be here soon).

The problem of abundance and people ignoring and not supporting that abundance is complicated. The truth is people are lazy and windows to home viewing are short which as only rewarded the laziness and people would rather just let stuff come to them. That doesn't in any way mean that "stuff" playing in movie theaters is lesser than it used to be.

Anyway the article is a good read and there are strong points made about just how creatively fertile that period at the movies and how influential versus the depressing sequel fanaticism of the now. And, what's more, we don't know what's going to be influential from the now. Maybe Under the Skin will have descendants. The lack of originality is not fully to be blamed on Hollywood's creativity or filmmakers but on us. We're the ones that pick the hits and the world wants Transf4rmers for some ungodly death-wish reason, you know? "Age of Extinction" is right!


But anyway, yes, 1999 was a great year for movies. Still, most of the best ones cited in the article were not enormous hits: Run Lola Run made $7 million; Go made $17 million; Being John Malkovich made $22 million, Fight Club made only $37 and was considered a financial disappointment, etcetera. Time has made these movies enormously celebrated but that time was not 1999.

My very longwinded point is this and it's always this and those citations help underline my point: there are always great movies. You just have to actually look for them because almost never do they fall in your lap on 4000 screens and make $200 million plus in the US. And, finally, to wrap all this up there has been at least one year since 1999 that was phenomenal all over your face - bam! -  and that was 2004 as recently discussed on the podcast. 

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Reader Comments (21)

I thought you were going to conclude by praising 2013. I thought it was a great movie year, the best since 1999 (though 2007 is close). That said, I was 24 in 1999 and it was a terrific time to be an obsessive movie fan at that age. There may always be great movies, but some years just happen to be remembered more fondly (justifiably) than others.

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I can never really understand the TV-is-better argument, partly because I see the need to be so much more discriminating in my TV choices - a season of a show is such a huge time investment! I only have about four or five TV shows on the go over the course of a year, and I don't feel like I'm missing very much.
Whereas, even in the dog days of summer, my movie queue is overflowing, and even when I don't love something I watched, I don't feel like I wasted too much valuable time. (Unlike the valuable time I wasted finding out I don't want to keep watching American Horror Story or Breaking Bad.)

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

2007 to me is my favorite recent year ; Once, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Savages, Eastern Promises, Michael Clayton, Control, Zodiac and so many more.

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

BrianZ - I don't think it will be long before we start seeing articles about how great 2007 was. The twin pillars of No Country and Blood stand so high in terms of reputation, success and recognition - and there's so much more beyond it.

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

So is the argument that TV shows are better than movies in general, or that the people prefer to stay home and watch movies on TV? Because , you know, same old, same old, some movies make their way in my city somewhere like 6 weeks after they opened ( some, never ) and by that time they usually are on VOD anyways ( if not sooner ). If the talk is about the movies that actually play in wide release, I agree, TV is better. So it's, let's say, complicated.

Having said that, 1999 was a great year indeed

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradelutza

You are absolutely right. Hindsight lets the mediocre fall away so all you have left are the remarkable and memorably awful, which becomes mistaken for "how things were then." You'd think people would be attuned to that, but then, what would your vaguely nostalgic internet articles be about?

(You mean "descendants," not "ancestors," by the way xo)

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBRB

I had the instinctive, "wait, 2007" gut response too, and I don't think that was the only great year of the '00s, either. 2004 and, if we can abandon America for a moment, 2000 are both right up there.

@BRB- That "ancestors" for "descendants" distracted me too. Nathaniel's out for the day, so I've taken the liberty of correcting it for him.

July 24, 2014 | Registered CommenterTim Brayton

I always remember 1999 for the great teen film renaissance, which I think went hand-in-hand with The WB's amazing casting.

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

A good year for movies no doubt, but I can't say it's any better than '04, '06, '07, or '10.

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Late 1998 through early 2000 was maybe the most exciting 18 months or so of my movie going life. Week in and week out, a wide range of directors were tapping into the cultural currents of the day and working at the peak of their powers to produce vital, unique work. But most of the films that we look back on so fondly, as Nathaniel points out, didn't make much money, and worse, a lot of them lost money - and so did a lot of the movies that these filmmakers made as follow ups. Movies like I Heart Huckabees, The Life Aquatic, Marie Antoinette, Zodiac and There WIll Be Blood - the last two widely considered consensus modern classics - were also flops, big ones, and they flopped at a time when corporate culture was reasserting itself over the cult of the auteur, which 1999 in part helped relaunch, but was really an outgrowth of the whole 80s and 90s indie movement. TWBB famously brought down Paramount Classics, and helped usher in the collapse and consolidation of the studio "dependent" world. The ones who remained - Focus and Searchlight most prominently - became more conservative, both in budget and taste. Most of the "class of '99" directors, and unfortunately not as many of the gals, are still working, some of them are still doing good work, but the cultural urgency has been lost, because, with the exception of the Anderson boys and Spike Jonze (thanks to the protective wings of Scott Rudin and Megan Ellison), they're all working in a corporate culture that rewards safety and familiarity, and these guys want to work and provide for their families so they have to play along.

Right now we're at a low ebb, but we've been here before. The cycle that the '99 directors have traveled reminds me a lot of what the movie brats of the New Hollywood went through - getting the keys to the kingdom, kinda blowing it with out of control budgets and low box office, and then forced to adapt or die when corporate culture at the studios took over.

Hopefully we'll go through a new cycle of creative innovation, but I have to say the destruction of the theatrical business model, the aesthetic degradations of the form, the pernicious "TV is better" formulation, and the relative dearth of exciting new artists makes me wonder how long we'll have to wait. This summer's depressed box office at the blockbuster level reminds me of the fatigue and rejection that the studios went through in the 60s with the mega budget epics, but in 2014 there is robust international box office to salvage bad US box office. The studios have insulated themselves against institutional failure, even while creative investment suffers. Who the hell knows where we'll be in another ten years!

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

I don't agree with the TV is better than movies argument either -- it's like asking a marathon runner and a 100 meter sprinter to compete against each other. That said, I agree with Adelutza that access has a great deal to do with the perception of quality of TV, which can be accessed at anytime, and current movies playing at the theater. The major city closest to me is far enough away by transit and by vehicle that it's a serious consideration every time if the trip is worth it. If I make that trek, that movie had better be worth it, so there's already an equation that begins, unwillingly formed but active in the determination of quality nonetheless despite my best efforts, even before the movie has started, which is unfair to the movie.

In short, more arthouse movies with a release like Snowpiercer please. I want to see Ida and Boyhood and Only Lovers Left Alive. Speaking of that, can I just say how difficult it is to be a Tilda Swinton fan living in the sticks? I miss 90% of her output easily at release date.

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterF

I really strongly agree with Nathaniel that people (the internet specifically and especially) needs to drop this whole "TV is better than movies now" thing. It is an ancient war that has been raging since television first came into being, and comparing the two has always been like comparing apples and oranges. Although, frankly, what Marvel is trying to do with its film franchise is approaching TV-style long-from storytelling and has its good points, even though I am dead tired of all the goddamn superhero/comic book movies out there.

I also still have my old issue of Entertainment Weekly declaring 1999 "The Year That Changed Movies", which I have read too many times to count, and it really was a great year - even the great indie and foreign films did far better at the box office than their counterparts today do (even though it wasn't 1999, I highly doubt there will ever be a day when we get a Crouching Tiger situation where a foreign language film grosses over $100M domestic). But saying it was the LAST Great Year of Movies doesn't make much sense to me, especially considering 2000/2001 (I get these years confused), 2004, and 2007 (and possibly even 2010, which by itself very nearly justified the expanded Best Picture category).

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

1999 is so overrated. I wish people would stop trying to turn it into 1939. It's not even the best movie year of the '90s. That's most likely 1994.

I love that you agree that the phrase "TV is better than movies" is BS. When people say that, I wonder if they've even seen movies like 12 Years a Slave, 20 Feet from Stardom, Frances Ha, or The Broken Circle Breakdown (or even know they exist).

I'd say 2011 was the last great year for movies, but really every year is great. If you can't find 10-20 great movies in a year then you don't actually watch movies. And you definitely can't tell me there are 10-20 great new TV shows that premiere every year.

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

The odd thing for me with 1999 is a lot of the movies I loved back then (American Beauty first and foremost) have fallen far in my estimation in the years since.

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

@Sean Troutman - I 100% agree with you that 2011 was the last great year for movies, and am surprised it took this long for someone to mention it. After reading the article though, it seems that the author of the piece is more sentimental for the movie-watching culture pre-Internet explosion than actually believing that 1999 was the last great year for movies. Like someone mentioned earlier, people tend to get nostalgic for different reasons but never for the reason they claim.

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

2002 is beastly strong.

I derive more pleasure from television than movies at this point in my life.

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan


July 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Give me what's going on with television to films any day of the damn week. It's pretty snobby to assume that the people who do prefer television right now are just too "lazy" to sample what films are offering. And frankly, for those who don't have the privilege of living in NYC or LA, it can be a trying battle to see the latest Sundance indie over the megaplex blockbuster (which I don't give a shit about anyways). With HBO, Showtime, Netflix, AMC, FX, etc., in the mix (and okay networks, I'll throw you a bone here too: ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox), there's really no need to have to see "X-Men 10" or twee indie destined to be nominated for obscure Spirit Awards glory over "Breaking Bad" or "Mad Men." Whatever notable be out on DVD/VOD/Netflix eventually anyways for the Oscar completionists eventually. And not all of us television watchers flock to only the populist dreck of "Two and a Half Men" or whatever that show is that Melissa McCarthy is slumming her way through. Now excuse me while I go back to binge-watching "Orange Is the New Black" (living for Crazy Eyes right now!).

July 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRien

I was hearing in both 2007 and 2012 that they were the "best year since 1939," because everyone knows that was a great year. All of them were great years, but I think it's smarter for me to compare movie years in my lifetime. Living through it brings a different emotional aspect and there are some movies that are so hard to appreciate on the same level when you aren't hearing about the films for the first time. (Part of the problem with classics is you know quite a bit about the critical consensus before you see them.) That said, I loved 1999 as a movie year and it was definitely up there for me among the 90s. (1997 was also pretty great.)

I do hear that this is the golden age of TV quite often, and there are some damn good shows out there. The two things have always been different though. I'm glad we have both. (And both range from incredible work to total crap - they just play by different rules.)

July 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Re: TV vs. Movies--- so much of contemporary journalism does so insist on dichotomies. Which is silly and unnecessary to make a valid point that 1999 did have a great many great films. I find myself running into that in politics all the time, but it's in sexuality (gay/straight, top/bottom, male/female) where there are multiple identities and intersections of identities, and all over the place. I know this was three or four days ago so I'm about 10 years late in internet time, but I wanted to share that thought.

For my money, since 1999, we had 2001 and 2007 to say nothing of 2013 that could be thought of as "great" film years (particularly 2007). But when I look at a top dozen of the 2000s, I'm 2002 and 2005 heavy. You are so right, Nathaniel, that greats come out every year and it's a matter of finding them.

July 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDanny Hall

Danny, that's a great point. it's part of our whole binary culture and list-fetish and whatnot everything is about categorization and pigeonholing and idealogies and this or that.

July 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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