1999 was a Mt. Vesuvius of pop culture

All year long we’re taking a look back at some of the best, most memorable, or at least culturally significant movies from 1999.  That was twenty years ago and it feels like last Thursday. Already in the series we’ve considered M. Night Shyamalan’s breakout hit: The Sixth Sense. It’s a horror-thriller that stands the test of time and works as a great movie that would have been great in any year of release. M. Night could have made this movie yesterday and he would have had a smash on his hands. He could have released it in 1989 and it would have been just as tremendous.

We then looked at Fight Club, a movie very different from The Sixth Sense. It was very much a product of its time and time has not been good to it. It’s obnoxious, pretentious, gritty but undramatic, and the twist at the end was flat compared to Shyamalan’s first big shocker. In March we reminisced about the bygone fun of The Mummy, a film that has certainly held up, precisely because it leaned heavily on the past and its Indiana Jones inspirations. Already we have a tremendously eclectic few movies. One modern-day thriller/horror, one gritty 90’s-esque macho-fantasy, and one 1920’s-set throwback.

In April, everything was thrown aside as we reflected on the revolutionary and genre-defining sci-fi feature, The Matrix. In May, we talked about the awesomeness that was Star Wars Episode I….’s teaser trailer, before lamenting in June how the masterful IRON GIANT fell through the cracks. Last month we reflected on the seminal low-budget horror hit, The Blair Witch Project.

Still to come are looks back on Office Space, Sleepy Hollow, Man on the Moon, and Galaxy Quest.

Let’s pause the series for a month, however, and consider how 1999 as a whole was such a humongous year for pop culture. There are probably a few factors that played into this, two primary ones being the dawn of the modern internet era and the way 9|11 cast a “before and after” pall over every aspect of western culture. A huge, tragic, and world-changing event like that has a way of calcifying a lot of cultural events and situations, so a lot of the jokes and memes (before they were called such) from the end of the 90’s sort of…stuck.

If you are under the age of, let’s say twenty-five, you might not be able to appreciate what kind of a year 1999 was. In short, if you were a fan of any kind of genre about anything, there was something for you in 1999. Don’t believe me, here are a few quotes from a few movies that not only defined the era but which all sprang from the same year…

  • “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”
  • “I see dead people.”
  • “Take the red pill.”
  • “By Grabthar’s Hammer…what a savings…”
  • “PC Load Letter?!”
  • “It feels like warm apple pie, man”
  • “Blame Canada!”
  • “I’ll trying spinning; that’s a good trick!”

Okay maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. And then there are the many many movies that were significant for one reason or another, that this year-long series isn’t even able to get to.

  • Cruel Intentions (small budget, sleazy premise, young cast = big profit)
  • Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick’s finale)
  • The Green Mile (a movie that still resonates in pop culture today)
  • American Beauty (that scene with the rose pedals is still parodied and instantly recognized)
  • Toy Story 2 (solidified Pixar as a juggernaut)
  • 10 Things I Hate About You (a generation-defining movie, not quite as culturally-revolutionary as The Breakfast Club, but close enough for the ’90s)
  • Wild Wild West (infamous is still famous)

And that’s just movies. What about music? You’d be hard-pressed to find a year since 1999 that was as diverse in its biggest hits. For example, this:

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basically was 1999. And then there’s…

  • “My name is (what?) my name is (who?); Slim Shady”
  • “I want it that way”
  • “She’s Livin La Vida Loca”
  • “Hey now, you’re an all star, get your game on, go play”
  • I’m a Genie in a Bottle, you gotta rub me the right way”
  • “Oh, where oh where can my baby be? The Lord took her away from me…”
  • “I don’t want no scrub. A scrub is a guy who can’t get no love from me.”
  • “Say my name, Say my name…”
  • “I’m torn; I’m all out of faith; this is how I feel; I’m cold and I’m unchained, lying naked on the floor…”
  • “Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99…Wear Sunscreen.”

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Now I’m sitting here just getting nostalgic, listening to Natalie Imbruglia and TLC, thinking about how simple life was in the 9th grade.

1999 was the year my family got a real computer (and got rid of the mid-90’s Macintosh that couldn’t do anything more than play Around the World in 80 Days and The Oregon Trail). It was the year I got my first email address (which I still use!). It was the era of peacetime, airport goodbyes, the balanced budget, VH1’s Behind the Music, and the last gasps of the greatness from The Simpsons.

It’s my definitive “formative” year, and it just so happened to be one of the last, most diverse, most meme-inducing years in pop culture history.

Happy twentieth.

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