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The Boston Phoenix Election Year

1999 is Hollywood's worst year since 1919

By Gerald Peary

JULY 19, 1999:  Shame, shame, shame! We're more than midway through 1999, and all the bankers and agents and producers and marketers and accountants and studio heads and story analysts and script doctors and directors and writers, and all those zealous VIP meetings and anxious story conferences and cell-phone super-emergencies, and all those trillions of dollars spent and more zillions pocketed, have managed, in total, . . . one genuinely fine Hollywood release (or American indie release) in all those dealing-wheeling months.

Election. That's it, baby.

Watching Reese Witherspoon fight, fight, fight, for the student-council presidency in Election, seeing Matthew Broderick bumble so comically in the classroom and in the bedroom, one can feel jubilation over being at the movies. The comic spirit of the great Preston Sturges (Miracle at Morgan's Creek, Sullivan's Travels) has been rejuvenated with director/screenwriter Alexander Payne's hilariously screwy script and unapologetically slapstick sight gags.

Otherwise? Two pretty good dramas (Limbo, Cookie's Fortune), two fairly decent teen films (Go, Cruel Intentions), two erratic but funny gross-out comedies (Austin Powers, South Park), one underrated drama (October Sky), one underrated comedy (A Fish in the Bathtub).

One very good movie and seven bearable ones in six months. Conclusion: unless things shape up in July-December, we are on our merry miserable way toward the worst annum for American cinema in all celluloid history.

Did movies used to be better? You betcha.

At the risk of being a pedantic old poop, let me take you back, pilgrim . . .

It's 1939, 60 years ago. (Peter Bogdanovich wrote a famous essay crowning 1939 the choicest year ever for American movies.) Gone with the Wind. The Wizard of Oz. The Women. Ninotchka. Young Mr. Lincoln. Stagecoach. Only Angels Have Wings. Wuthering Heights. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Gunga Din. The Roaring Twenties. That's a lasting classic every month!

Let's try 1959, 40 years ago. North by Northwest. Some Like It Hot. Rio Bravo. Imitation of Life. Anatomy of a Murder. Porgy and Bess. Suddenly Last Summer. The Nun's Story. Some Came Running. Ben-Hur. Ten enduring films!

Even 1919, 80 years back, gave us two still-revived D.W. Griffith masterworks, True-Heart Susie and Broken Blossoms, and some decent but unremarkable films from Chaplin, John Ford, Erich von Stroheim, Cecil B. DeMille. The 1999 American cinema is on a thrilling path to be the new 1919!

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