Best Movie Year Ever – Brian Raftery

“It was New Year’s Eve, and on a private beach resort in Mexico, a handful of couples had gathered to celebrate the end of the century.”

It’s weird when you start being old enough to have lived through periods that now attract a great deal of nostalgia, but the turning of a century is a pretty big deal. In this book, the author attempts to convey a sense of what was going on in the world at that time, and how that impacted the movies that were made.

To be honest, I’m not sure he’s convinced me that 1999 was indeed the ‘best movie year ever’, but it was pretty dang impressive. American Beauty won the Oscars (and the afterword does acknowledge the cringe factor of that and other things, in light of recent scandals), Star Wars got a very long-awaited new chapter, and the world was introduced to bullet time and the Matrix.

It’s fair to say 1999, perhaps inspired by the once-in-a-lifetime feel of the date and the world on the brink of change – possible catastrophic, with the Y2K bug fears – produced more than its fair share of ‘weird’ or groundbreaking movies. Or perhaps the real thing is that such films were embraced by audiences and have survived to critical acclaim.

Themes of the year included a resurgence in teen movies (10 Things I hate About You, American Pie, Cruel Intentions, Election), a bit of nostalgia for the past (Talented Mr Ripley, The Mummy, Man on the Moon, etc), and questioning reality, either directly or the ‘is this it’ feeling, with movies such as The Matrix, Fight Club, Sixth Sense, Being John Malkovich, and the Blair Witch Project. The latter played with reality directly, pushing itself as ‘true events’ and keeping the not-dead actors away from the press to save the secret.

It’s amazing to realise that a ploy like that could work, or that UK audiences managed to see The Matrix without massive spoilers, when it opened several months after the US, or that anyone had the joy of the big reveal in the Sixth Sense. The internet was a different, fledgling beast in those days, obviously.

I loved reading about movies, it turns out, and the snippets of back story here were fantastic to a film geek. Stanley Kubrick took the world’s most famous actor (Tom Cruise) out of circulation for almost 2 years – and that impacted huge tranches of the industry. There’s a lot of revealing info about how much the studios like to meddle, and definitely a sense of how disconnected and damaging poorly devised marketing campaigns can be.

And through all this there’s the reminder of what life was like a scant 20 years ago. That a movie like Boys Don’t Cry was *so* shocking, whereas I’d like to think trans rights have come along a great deal, and today we’re more shocked by Lester drooling over a teenager in American Beauty.

Definitely recommended, then, especially for movie buffs (natch!). Be ready for debates about why some movies get whole chapters, and others brief – if any – mention. Austin Powers was released that year, and Dogma, and I could go on.

Now, can we have a series of these books for every other year, too, please?! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 416 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 27th April – 9th May 2019

My rating: 8/10

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