Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '99 - Sean Wicks ""

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Underrated '99 - Sean Wicks

Sean is a movie obsessed, all-around social media lover, he's very active on twitter (https://twitter.com/wixpix), tumblr (http://seanwicks.tumblr.com/) facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WicksFlicks), and letterboxd (http://letterboxd.com/wixpix/).

1999 was the year of Star Wars. Full of promise thanks to Mr. George Lucas bringing his galactic vision to the big screen once again, the first new Star Wars picture since 1983 (unless you count the Ewok TV movies, which in this case, I am not). I lived right around the corner from the Chinese Theatre then (I was about a block away on Sycamore and Hollywood, right behind the Hollywood Galaxy cinema –no longer there, now a fitness club I believe), and daily as I walked down Hollywood boulevard starting sometime in late March/early April of that year, the line for The Phantom Menace started and it included a fully Internet capable tent (remember, this is pre-smart phone and wi-fi) occupied by the folks at Countingdown.com (or was it comingsoon.net. That part is foggy). People were quitting their jobs to stand in line, and almost a full week before the picture opened, the line snaked down Hollywood, and up Orange and was around the block days before. And then, we saw it. To be clear, I was not in that line. I saw it on opening day at the Loews Cineplex in Century City (across from the mall and is also no longer there sadly). I saw it 3 times that opening weekend, then saw it again a few months later at the Burbank AMC which was also the first ever public digital projection screening (I have an official lanyard to prove it. There were speeches and guests and everything). During 1999, it was all about Star Wars and then later, The Matrix.

Star Wars aside, looking back at ’99 (which thankfully we can since Y2K didn’t happen) there were a lot of big-name directors with pictures that don’t really stand out on their filmography like some of their other titles do. ’99 had new features from Oliver Stone, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann to name a few, and put M. Night Shyamalan on the map thanks to The Sixth Sense. So, on my list, you will see some significant names of people whose pictures I feel have been lost in the shuffle of time, and overwhelmed by their other work.

1999 was also cool in that I attended the Oscar Ceremony (in 2000) which saw American Beauty win Best Picture. Oh, how time changes things as American Beauty is often now slammed as much as it was praised back then (the now persona non grata Kevin Spacey has a little to do with that) and there were clearly other pictures that were better than that one. One of them, the one that clearly SHOULD have won, is on this list, which begins…now!


8MM (Director: Joel Schumacher)
Nicolas Cage wasn’t always considered as much of a joke punchline as he seems to be now. In fact, he had won an Oscar for Best Actor in Leaving Las Vegas only 4 years earlier (1995). He makes this picture great.


At this point, director Schumacher coming off being pummeled for destroying the Batman franchise with Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997). This neo-noir thriller slipped out in February of 1999 and is so far removed from those two Batman atrocities and gives Schumacher (whose office btw was right next to the office I was working in at the time) some of his street cred back.

The picture (about to come out at this writing in a new Scream Factory Blu-ray Disc collector’s edition – probably out as of the posting) features Cage as an investigator going deep into an extremely seedy underworld of BDSM and pornography in order to ascertain whether a ‘snuff film’ is authentic or not. Schumacher creates such a creepy and realistically nasty underworld, that you will feel the need to shower after watching it. Cage gives a great performance in a thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Not recommended for watching with a date, especially if it’s a first date.
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THE INSIDER (Director: Michael Mann)
So that movie I suggested should have won the Best Picture Academy Award over American Beauty, well, this is it. I’m not sure how underrated this can be considered as most cinephiles love it (I know Brian has brought it up a few times on the Pure Cinema Podcast) but for me, I feel it easily falls into this category because anyone who remembers it, loves it. The trick is, finding those who remember it (which most hardened cinephiles do).

Russell Crowe was on the verge of superstardom with Gladiator coming right around the corner (in 2000), and he is in fine form here as a researcher who dares to whistle-blow on Big Tobacco on national TV – specifically, the CBS news program, 60 Minutes. The standout cast includes Al Pacino as a 60 Minutes producer, Christopher Plummer as anchor Mike Wallace as well as Philip Baker Hall, Rip Torn, Michael Gambon, Colm Feore and Gina Gershon. Corporate politics get in the way as Crowe’s character is caught the crossfire, ruining his professional and personal life in the process. Based on a true story with a great screenplay by Eric Roth & Michael Mann, it checks off quite a few boxes solidly – drama, thriller and true story.

The title is available on Blu-ray Disc and has aged extremely well. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest it go to the top of your list!
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FOR LOVE OF THE GAME (Director: Sam Raimi)
Evil Dead director Sam Raimi throws a curveball (see what I did there) with this romantic sports drama about an aging pitcher on the verge of retirement (Kevin Costner) throwing a perfect game – and for the most part, completely unaware of it – while he reminisces about his life. As I mentioned, I was a creative executive at this time, and this was the 1990s when the script market was on fire. This script (by Dana Stevens) came across my desk as a sample (it was already in production) a few years earlier and was one of the ones that really stuck with me. It’s just a solid picture and Costner really is great in these baseball roles. It has everything – romance, sports and a nail biter of a element with the no-hitter being pitched. Oh yeah, Raimi has Vin Scully play the game commentator so right there it was a win for me.
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THE MUSE (Director: Albert Brooks)
Director and Co-writer Albert Brooks stars as a blocked screenwriter who enlists the aid of Sharon Stone who claims to be Zeus’ Daughter, to help inspire him. She becomes more of a thorn in his side than anything else inspiring everyone around him as well which affects his personal life.

This picture, Mother (1996 – great with Debbie Reynolds) and Defending Your Life (1991) are three pictures from Brooks’ filmography that I keep thinking about going back to. Sharon Stone is perfect as a very annoying Goddess and inspiration (and looks fabulous) in a cast that also includes Andie MacDowell, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd and Jennifer Tilly.

Only has been released on DVD (and is still available from the looks of it on Amazon) and not sure if it is streaming anywhere or not, but worth tracking down.
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SWEET AND LOWDOWN (Director: Woody Allen)
Sweet and Lowdown (which I saw at another lost theater in Los Angeles, the Sunset 5 which was in the same complex with the Virgin Megastore – also gone) is easily lost in the vast Woody Allen filmography because for four or more decades, he was churning out a film a year. The funny thing with Woody is that his career would take these wild dips thanks to some bad pictures (Scoop anyone?) but then he would totally be back in the conversation thanks to something like Bullets Over Broadway or Match Point (talking career here because his personal life is a whole other story – but that’s for another conversation). There are so many Allen movies that fit into this underrated category – Husbands and Wives, Another Woman and this one to name a few – that it’s easy to forget - the clunkers, like Scoop.

Sean Penn got himself an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his role as a fictional Jazz Guitarist that is a mess of a human being who is obsessed with Django Reinhardt. Samantha Morton also got herself nominated in the Supporting Actress category for playing a mute character who seems to be the only person who brings out the best in Penn’s character. Woody fashions it as a mockumentary (he had success with other pictures in the past with films like Zelig) and it has that Woody charm even if it doesn’t stand out like an Annie Hall or Manhattan.

Oh, and the soundtrack is great too!
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MUMFORD (Director: Lawrence Kasdan)
Lawrence Kasdan wrote and directed this dark comedy that has Loren Dean becoming a hit as a psychiatrist in a small town thanks to his unique brand of therapy, but then catches the attention of the local shrink (David Paymer) who losing business because of it. It ends up the Doctor has his own demons which are about to catch up with him thanks to his success.

Not at all what it was marketed as (the trailers were light and comedic, and this takes a decidedly dark turn at one point), it’s a picture I haven’t seen in a while but want to revisit as it really has stuck with me. It wasn’t well received when it came out, but I was somewhat of a champion for it at the time. I would like to see how it has stood the test of time.
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THE STRAIGHT STORY (Director: David Lynch)
Richard Farnsworth jumps on his lawn mower and hits the road (and steers himself into an Academy Award nomination) in this delightfully sweet story that will bring a tear to your eye. Definitely not your typical David Lynch picture, which makes it stand out so much more as great. Would love to see this get some loving Blu-ray Disc treatment from a company like Kino Lorber, Shout Select or the Criterion Collection (hint, hint).
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GO (Director: Doug Liman)
So, at the end of the year when all the unorthodox Christmas movies like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon or The Long Kiss Goodnight get discussed, where is Go? The opening credits feature a Christmas rave and Christmas features prominently in the story. Go is also great!

Go is one of those pictures that have interlocking character stories told from different points of view. This format can feel overdone but Go still feels fresh and exciting with an energy that can’t be beat. It has a great cast that includes Katie Holmes, Sarah Polley, Tim Olyphant, Jay Mohr and William Fitchner to name a few. Taking us from L.A. to Vegas, with the main story involving Sarah Polley desperately trying to get her hands on some money so she won’t be evicted – on Christmas day at that! The landlord is clearly named Scrooge or Marley. Drugs, sex, strippers and Amway all come into play during a very eventful Christmas Eve.

So good, and well worth re-visiting if you haven’t seen it in a while.
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DICK (Director: Andrew Fleming)
Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams wander around the white house, meet President Richard Nixon (Dan Hedaya), become dog walkers for Checkers and get a front row seat to the Watergate scandal. VERY funny.
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Honorable mentions:
BRINGING OUT THE DEAD (Director: Martin Scorsese)
Nicolas Cage trying to keep it together in what could be re-named ‘Ambulance Driver’.
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SUMMER OF SAM (Director: Spike Lee)
A serial killer and a massive blackout turn New York into a mess in this fascinating Spike Lee joint (this and Clockers are Lee pictures that deserve some attention).
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