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The 10 most intriguing films in an intriguing year for film.

1999 Critics Choice: Cinema's Fin de Siecle

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Although not quite over, 1999 has turned out to be an intriguing year for film. The power of the independent was reborn with "The Blair Witch Project." And then nearly trampled to death under the weight of its own hype. Hollywood continued stooping to conquer, with a slew of movies aimed at the lowest common denominator scoring big at the box-office. And an audacious German import infused filmgoers with a breathless redefinition of storytelling.

The oddest occurrence this year? That both Bruce Willis and Keanu Reeves starred in movies worthy of critical acclaim. Who knew?!

As always, the list I am about to present is the culmination of a year's worth of subjective thoughts on the movies I have seen. These are my top 10, my favorites. An eclectic list for sure, it includes the films that kept me smiling or intrigued long after the lights came up. And for once, the list includes a movie I found less than enthralling, but because of its place in contemporary cinema history deserves recognition.

"Run Lola Run" — Kinetic, frenetic and music-driven, this surrealistic experiment in time-travel left me breathless. All about a young woman with only 20 minutes to save her undeserving boyfriend from his ruthless gangster boss, writer-director Tom Tykwer sends his heroine running through the streets of Berlin.

When Lola (a wild, red-haired Franka Potente) doesn't accomplish her task the first time, Tykwer rewinds the clock and sends her out again. Some things she does the same, others she subtly changes; but all the time she's running, running, running. When her second 20 minutes end, Tykwer startles us by sending Lola back a third time.

Effortlessly original, "Run Lola Run" is a treat for anyone worried about the future of filmmaking.

"American Beauty" — At once hilarious and painful, this movie hits contemporary America right where it lives — suburbia! Those cookie-cutter lawns, well-manicured rosebushes and white picket fences may look wholesome, but behind those front doors it's a whole 'nother world.

No one brings this domestic duplicity home better than Kevin Spacey's Lester. A beaten-down husband and father, he shocks his success-driven wife (Annette Bening) and sullen teenage daughter (Thora Birch) by becoming obsessed with his daughter's sexy 17-year-old friend (Mena Suvari).

Written, directed and acted with great original flair, "American Beauty" flirts with nearly every suburban myth. But every time you think you know where the movie's going, it veers off into uncharted territory.

"Boys Don't Cry" — Although "Boys Don't Cry" has not played in Richmond yet, it is one of the year's most haunting, impressive films. Based on a true story of the brief life and death of a teenage girl who runs away to live her life as a boy, it features terrific performances by both Hilary Swank (as the girl/boy Brandon Teena) and Chloe Sevigny (Brandon's girlfriend Lana).

Full of white-trash misfits and stalwart denizens of America's heartland, this harrowing tale of persecution and man's instinctive need to kill anything it doesn't understand is enthralling. A film of such frankness and painful humanity, it defies traditional definitions and demands attention.

"The Green Mile" — Though "The Green Mile" is far too long and structurally a tad flawed, director Frank Darabont and cast more than make up for the missteps in this Stephen King adaptation. Tom Hanks is his usual openly caring self as a guard on a Louisiana death row back in 1935. But like Spacey laid claim to "American Beauty," this movie is the sole and soul property of Michael Clarke Duncan, who plays convicted murderer John Coffey. A simple-minded, kind-hearted giant, Duncan's Coffey is a bright shining spot of goodness and light among mankind's darkest evildoers.

Tough to watch at times, "The Green Mile" is melodrama at its best depicting man's worst.

"The Sixth Sense" — Brilliantly eerie, this tale of a young boy's ghostly visions is both contemplative and touching. And it stars Bruce Willis, which may be the scariest thing about this unnerving movie.

Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan craftily leads the viewer along a haphazard path that seems to nonchalantly mix the tales of two boys: the grown-up child psychologist Willis who is getting over a traumatic, unwanted reunion with one of his "lost" patients and Haley Joel Osment, an 8-year-old outcast with a deep, dark secret.

An entrancing film, "The Sixth Sense" offers viewers a rare mix of profoundly real characters and unnerving paranormal plotting.

"The Red Violin" — Spanning three centuries and several continents, this movie follows the personal and musical history of a master craftsman's red violin.

Crafted in 17th century out of love for his unborn son, the violin seems cursed after the artisan's wife dies in childbirth. Over the next 300 years, that grief never seems to leave either the violin or its subsequent owners.

While I readily admit that "The Red Violin" suffers from an overdose of melodrama and sentimentality, it struck the right note with me.

"South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut" — Now I've shocked you haven't I? But truly, I cannot remember when a movie made me giggle more, made me squirm more, or compelled me more to try and explain why I liked this obscene, flatulence-redolent film.

Perhaps it's because the movie has no hidden agenda other than to skewer every conceivable sacred, politically correct cow. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone push the edge of the satirical envelope beyond recognition in their profane send-up of movie censorship and media hypocrisy. Months later, thinking about this stupid, little cartoon musical, I still smile.

"Being John Malkovich" — For his feature film debut, director Spike Jonze struck gold with a highly original and perversely bizarre script by Charlie Kaufman. World-weary puppeteer Craig (John Cusack) and a sexy opportunist named Maxine (Catherine Keener) discover a portal into the brain of actor John Malkovich. Things get really weird when Maxine conspires to make love with Malkovich while Craig's wife Lotte (an almost unrecognizable Cameron Diaz) is nestled inside the actor's brain.

A surreal fantasy about celebrity, the movie would have been a dismal failure without the presence of Malkovich. But since he's there, willing to be the brunt of the movie's central joke, the movie's skewed version of reality works.

"The Straight Story" — Delicately wrought and devoid of cynicism, the movie chugs along following 73-year-old Alvin Straight (an endearing but no-nonsense Richard Farnsworth) as he travels hundreds of miles to see his ailing and estranged brother (Harry Dean Stanton). The journey takes more than six-weeks because of Alvin's choice of vehicle — a tractor — the only thing he's allowed to drive.

Farnsworth gives the performance of a lifetime and Sissy Spacek is equally wonderful as his stuttering daughter Rose. And incredibly, this G-rated charmer comes from David Lynch. Uplifting and inspiring without being melodramatic, "The Straight Story" is a valentine to America's heartland and the good folk who call it home.

"Eyes Wide Shut" — Although it is a middling psycho-sexual mishmash that only hints at its director's genius, this tale of marital betrayal deserves attention because it is the last work by the incomparable Stanley

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