Was ‘The Matrix’ Part of Cinema’s Last Great Year?

In 2014 Esquire argued that great movies like The Matrix “predicted a revolution in film that never happened,” adding “We are in many ways worse off now than we were 15 years ago as a culture. We seem to have run out of original ideas.”

This week two film critics debated whether 1999 was in fact cinema’s last great year. Slashdot reader dryriver writes:

Notable films of 1999 are Fight Club, Magnolia, The Matrix, Eyes Wide Shut, Three Kings, The Sixth Sense, EXistenZ, Being John Malkovich, Man On The Moon, American Beauty, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Office Space, Boys Don’t Cry, Election, Rushmore, Buena Vista Social Club, The Virgin Suicides, Sleepy Hollow, The Insider, Girl Interrupted, The Iron Giant and Toy Story 2.

According to Nicholas Barber, 1999 also was the beginning of the end for quality cinema:

“The release of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace proved that long-dormant series could be lucratively revived. Toy Story 2, the first ever Pixar sequel, proved that cartoon follow-ups needn’t be straight-to-video cheapies, but major, money-spinning phenomena. The Matrix proved that digitally-enhanced superhero action could attract audiences of all ages. And The Blair Witch Project proved that found-footage horror in particular, and microbudget horror in general, could be a gold mine. As wonderful as those films may have been — The Phantom Menace excepted, obviously — they taught Hollywood some toxic lessons. Instead of continuing to bet on young mavericks, studio executives twigged that there was a fortune to be made from superhero blockbusters, Disney sequels, merchandise-friendly franchises and cheapo horror movies. And that’s what we get in 2019, week after week.”

He also writes that the boom in DVDs in 1999 had “encouraged studios to fund offbeat projects,” ultimately concluding 1999 was “the year when everything began to go wrong.” He argues that today it’s a different technology driving innovation. “In the 21st Century, streaming platforms have made the small screen the home of fresh ideas, as well as for conversation-starting communal cultural experiences.”

But film critic Hannah Woodhead counters with a line from the 1999 film Magnolia: “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”

“Nostalgia is often the enemy of progress when it comes to pop culture. We have a tendency to look back fondly on what came before, ironing out the flaws in our memory until the past is something that seems truly great, and even aspirational.”

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