294: Retrospectating 1999 - AMERICAN BEAUTY

 
 

It’s a complicated movie with a complicated legacy. These are complicated times.
So it’s going to take a complex conversation to properly excavate the Best Picture winner from 1999 on the week of its 20th anniversary. Join us as we celebrate and ruminate [on] American Beauty, a film that–for better or for worse–defined the end of a decade and a bygone era of incorrigible ennui.
Listen closer. This is a complicated one.

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290: Retrospectating 1999 - THE SIXTH SENSE

 
 

In the tenth installment in our ongoing series about 1999 we revisit M. Night Shyamalan’s zeitgeist-rattling supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense; a film we had previously covered in our AFI Top 100 series and had been disproportionately hard on. This time around we look at the film with fresh eyes, examine its relationship to the horror movies that bookended it on the calendar (The Blair Witch Project and Stir of Echoes respectively), and even find time to throw some love toward under-appreciated gems Arlington Road and Deep Blue Sea- both of which also turned twenty last month to zero fanfare. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy M. Night.

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Grain of Salt - The Death of “The Filmmaker Farm System”: Examining the Implications of the Fringe-to-Franchise Pipeline

(Originally published 12/1/17)

Every aspiring filmmaker has a fantasy of how they would like their career to progress. Even those who wouldn’t admit it to their colleagues or family members have still spent hours daydreaming about directing an elaborate crane movement across a sea of costumed extras, delivering an inspired creative note that unlocks the potential for a brilliant performance, accepting a prize at Sundance or Cannes or on the glittering Oscar stage, fame, wealth, legacy, immortality... Wannabe filmmakers (even those with fiercely independent aspirations) who claim to have never visualized their own successes are, at best, lying to themselves. And while his name has become synonymous with a certain kind of mainstream, studio fare it would be hard to argue that Christopher Nolan’s career path has been anything but the Platonic Ideal of a creative and commercial Hollywood success story.

Nolan rose to prominence at the turn of the 21st century- “breaking through” with the kind of low budget fare that exemplified the spirit of the grassroots independent film movement of the 1990s. His perfectly-executed hopscotch from obscurity to golden boy anointment might be the most elegant example of the transition ever performed. He cut his teeth on the black and white, Super 16, DIY, shoestring, genre lark, Following when he was in his mid 20s. Following led to Slamdance, Slamdance led to industry attention, industry attention led to financing, financing led to Memento, Memento led to Sundance, Sundance led to studios, studios led to Insomnia, Insomnia led to movie stars and budgets, movie stars and budgets led to Batman Begins and so on... In less than seven years Nolan went from spending his weekends single-taking 16mm short ends to rebooting a superhero franchise with Oscar winners in the ancillary roles. And while the legend of Nolan’s rise to prominence is inspiring in its trajectory, it wasn’t necessarily uncommon at the time. Few careers have been as consistent or distinct as Nolan’s but there are scores of filmmakers from Linklater to Bigelow who dutifully climbed the ladder from indie ghetto to mainstream success to awards recognition to the holy grail of artistic autonomy.

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287: Retrospectating 1999 - EYES WIDE SHUT

 
 

We’re a week late for our 20th anniversary celebration of Stanley Kubrick’s provocative final masterpiece, Eyes Wide Shut. But the added buffer gave us more time to stew and reflect upon the truly bizarre cultural real estate that the film occupies in the the filmmaker’s career, in Cruise and Kidman’s respective filmographies, and within the weird and wonderful contextual sphere of the summer of 1999.

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Grain of Salt - The Midnight Ride of the Monoculture: Excavating the Confluence of Avengers: EndGame of Thrones Weekend

Dear Mr. Fantasy play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything, take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy

You are the one who can make us all laugh
But doing that you break out in tears
Please don't be sad if it was a straight mind you had
We wouldn't have known you all these years 

Something remarkable happened last weekend. Something that is unprecedented in the history of popular culture. Something that may never happen again. Something that quite likely signposts the end of an epoch or more likely signals the beginning of another. The confluence of events occurring between Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 when Avengers: Endgame opened in most countries around the world (interestingly enough, the United States was one of the last countries to open the film–two days later–perhaps inadvertently acting as reminder that it’s no longer the dominant global box office force) and Sunday, April 28th, 2019 when HBO aired the Game of Thrones episode “The Long Night” (in which the much-heralded Battle of Winterfell finally played out over the course of an epic 82-minute “telefeature”), may someday be remembered by historians as the last time that a true “monocultural” media event took place. And one in which the two dominant forms of mass entertainment–cinema and television–reached the maximum number of viewers and achieved the apex of their own cultural relevance in the same watershed weekend. Movies and TV may never again be this individually impactful–co-existing simultaneously and autonomously–as they were over the five day stretch in question.

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