Since the mid-nineties, the world at large had been in thrall to the excitement and anticipation of the end of the millennium. Rumors of the Y2K virus circled chat-rooms on the internet and made for very effective scare-mongering pieces to sell tabloids. Some felt that the change of the calendar would mark catastrophe, others expected the sudden dawn of a new era in the history humanity. This high-energy buzz of excitement and foreboding paid dividends for filmmakers and cinephiles a-like, as filmmakers began channeling these feelings and the abundance of free-flowing funds that came with them into some of the most exceptional cinema of the 20th Century.
Doubtless many producers and distributors were keen to put their name to a forward-looking film, that would withstand the trials of the changing pop culture landscape after the millennium, and there were big bucks to be had in turning-out films that encapsulated their place in the waning 20th Century. The results in 1998 and in the coming 3 years were like a non-stop Christmas for cinephiles – particularly those in Britain, where the UK Film Council was pushing hard to diversify what British audiences were able to see in the cinema.
Franka Potente in Lola Rennt.
Thomas Winterberg’s Festen launched the Dogma ’95 movement with an uproarious and not at all gentle BANG in 1998 – fitting, given that the millennial change acts as a convenient marker for the shift from celluloid filmmaking towards the cheaper, faster, lighter digital methods. Terrence Malick came out of hiding with The Thin Red Line and Terry Gilliam turned in perhaps the last great film about the American counter culture of the 1970s – sadly to very little box office return, which was later compensated by a massive cult following on DVD.
A handful of unpredictable, rough and rude upstart auteurs also made their debuts in 1998: Vincent Gallo, Darren Aronofsky and Gaspar Noé – whose avowedly un-commercial first releases were well complimented by established enfants terribles, Todd Solondoz, John McNaughton, Tom Tykwer and Todd Haines, whose inexplicably maligned Velvet Goldmine is surely a top contender for Most Underrated Film of the Decade. But most startling, of their time, and purely exuberant of all 1998’s films were Lola Rennt and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, a one-two combo of European indies flourishing stylishly in the Tarantinoish atmosphere of post-modern, first world cinema. The best words to describe the European cinema of the four years surrounding the millennium are Slick, Savvy, Cheeky, Sly, Rowdy and Rhythmic. Certainly, Lola Rennt and Lock Stock… fit this description and can arguably be credited with delineating the styles of medium-budget indies (along with a thousand beer commercials) for years to come.
“Keep it under your titfer, lads, but I reckon the Dutch already blagged this gaff.”
The Medals System: Platinum Medal Outstanding films of enduring quality and among the finest of their decade. Absolutely essential viewing. Gold Medal Fantastic films, essential viewing. Silver Medal Great films, brilliant films, highly recommended viewing. Bronze Medal Excellent films falling just short of greatness, strongly recommended. Honorable Mention Outstanding but imperfect films, flawed masterpieces, compelling peculiarities and oddities that made the year more exciting.
Of all the films that I’ve seen in any given year, not all of the top guns have made my lists. This is partly to save space and partly because some simply didn’t take my breath away. As such, this is by no means a straight-forward “Best Of” list. But as a reference for exploring new films or a refresher on the year that was, I’d say you could do a lot worse.
Platinum Medal: Festen (‘The Celebration’ Denmark, dir. Thomas Vinterberg)
Platinum Medal: The Thin Red Line (USA, dir. Terrence Malick)
Gold Medal: π (‘Pi’ USA, dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Gold Medal: The Big Lebowski (USA, dir. Joel Coen)
Gold Medal: Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (USA, dir. Terry Gilliam)
Gold Medal: Happiness (USA, dir. Todd Solondz)
Gold Medal: Out of Sight (USA, dir. Stephen Soderberg)
Silver Medal: Buffalo ‘66 (USA, dir. Vincent Gallo)
Silver Medal: Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (UK, dir. Guy Ritchie)
Silver Medal: Lola Rennt (‘Run Lola Run’ Germany, dir. Tom Tykwer)
Silver Medal: パーフェクトブルー (‘Perfect Blue’ Japan, dir. Satoshi Kon)
Silver Medal: Rushmore (USA, dir. Wes Anderson)
Silver Medal: Velvet Goldmine (UK/USA, dir. Todd Haynes)
Silver Medal: Wild Things (USA, dir. John McNaughton)
Bronze Medal: Seul Contre Tous (‘I Stand Alone’ France, dir. Gaspar Noé)
Honorable Mention: Le Dîner de Cons (‘The Dinner Game’ France, dir. Francis Veber)
Honorable Mention: Ronin (USA, dir. John Frankenheimer)
And I’ve yet to see… THE BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA – BLACK CAT, WHITE CAT – CENTRAL STATION – CROUPIER – THE IDIOTS – LOVE IS THE DEVIL – MY NAME IS JOE – SOMBRE – THE TERRORIST …Any further watchlist suggestions are quite welcome :)
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