When many think back on pivotal years for cinema, no doubt they cast their minds back to the mid-seventies when films such as Jaws and Star Wars changed what films meant to both culture and as a business commodity. Some may even go further back to the late sixties and highlight films such as The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde which re-defined what was acceptable in terms of what you could show on screen and what your film could essentially be about with a new cynicism creeping in which would reach its nadir in the cinema of the seventies.
More recently I doubt anyone would dispute that 1994 was a year where cinema changed again with films such as Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Speed and arguably Forrest Gump dictating how cinema would go for the next ten years.
So what about 1999? It’s perhaps telling that people do not recognise major cultural shifts when they are happening but instead with the benefit of hindsight you can pinpoint the moments in the past. Whilst everyone was concerned that planes would tumble from the sky when the clock struck midnight, the last year of the last century was without a doubt the moment when cinema changed again in a major way with the indie spirit of 1994 giving way to filmmakers with a different kind of energy but who were familiar with new techniques and still enough in love with the classics to give us something that felt fresh, daring and influential.
Even if 1999 hadn’t been such a pivotal year for a whole host of up and coming directors, you still got things like The Phantom Menace, The Mummy, Toy Story 2 and American Pie either changing blockbuster expectations or being damn enjoyable in their own right. Even established directors such as Martin Scorsese, Mike Judge, Doug Liman, Renny Harlin, Antonia Bird, Kevin Smith and Tim Burton made some of the most interesting if not entirely successful films of their careers.
So here without further ado are the filmmakers who shaped the last most recent pivotal year in cinema, what they did up to this point, the film in question and what came next:
Before 99: Starting off in the music video/commercial realm where he made a dent with promos for Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones, Fincher’s feature film debut was the nightmarish studio experience of Alien 3. Luckily this didn’t make him give up and become an accountant instead and we got Seven in 1995 which was a massive hit and shaped further films with serial killers all the way up to today. Fincher followed this up with the low-key and somewhat lesser film The Game which nonetheless retained his visual style and challenged expectations.
The 1999 film: Fight Club, an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s blistering satirical novel about malaise in disenfranchised young men in an increasingly corporate world. Initially moved from its July release date, Fight Club came out in a wave of controversy in October and died at the box office. The simple fact is, America and sometimes the world, does not like having a mirror held up to it and it would take the new format of DVD for the film to find its audience. Initial box office aside, Fight Club is a frankly amazing film, employing every innovative technique and narrative nuance from the last thirty years into one roller coaster two-hour ride with a career best performance from everyone involved. Although it’s only fifteen years on, this would probably never get made and released by a major studio in 2014.
Post 1999: Fincher, like almost every one on this list, took his sweet time with a follow-up. This took the shape of 2002 thriller Panic Room, a smaller film which Fincher made his own with camera moves that seemed to defy the laws of physics. With subsequent films we have learned that Fincher is at his best when he is passionate and somewhat angry with the material he has, so we got the near masterpieces of Zodiac and The Social Network and the less interesting The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher made a blockbuster comeback this year with a great adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and is probably one of only a few directors on this list who can get audiences to come to a cinema.