Critics' Awards 1999 - Film: Where have all the adults gone?

It's only sensible to worry for the health of an art form which hasn't produced a single masterpiece all year. But one thing makes me confident that better days are round the corner. The majority of this year's best cinema has been the work of debutantes or near-debutantes. The Blair Witch Project, the glorious Festen, Rushmore, High Art, and the little-seen Australian film Praise were all first features, or thereabouts.

The Blair Witch Project, unquestionably my film of the year, was a minor work possessed of that perfection which only minor works can achieve. It was a quintessentially cult film that inevitably disappointed some impossibly high multiplex expectations. But it will last. Blair Witch is a beautifully-timed essay on the relationship between the camera and anxiety. As a work of art it may have been the product of flukish accident, but then again, so was Anne Frank's Diary. Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick had a genius editor who excavated this little gem from their planned, plodding mockumentary. I fear that Sanchez and Myrick will prove one- hit wonders. As a debut, Lisa Cholodenko's High Art was comparable in its impact to Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies and videotape (1989), only it was sexier, less mendacious, and better filmed. Its exquisite architecture generated a world of multiplying ironies of which Henry James would have been proud. Peter Curren's Praise had many of the same virtues. It may have been less intelligent, but it had redder blood. Both films were youthfully solemn, but a sense of humour - as opposed to a joke-reflex - is one of the slowest-maturing virtues in an artist. Cholodenko and Curren are already slyly witty (unlike, unfortunately, 1999's victim of overpraise, Lynne Ramsay and her Ratcatcher) and can write as well as they direct: they've both got It.

Like Max Fischer. Or not. Along with Dianne Wiest's Helen Sinclair (Bullets Over Broadway) and William H Macy's Jerry Lundegaard (Fargo), Max, the genius nincompoop hero of Rushmore, was the decade's great toe-curlingly comic creation. Wes Andersen's debut, like Max, may signal great things or may merely be so much unreliable charm. But his was the year's most thrillingly fresh voice.

All four of these films, unsurprisingly, are concerned with people in their early twenties or younger. Given the ages of their creators, this is only natural. But something else entirely seems to be happening to the mainstream, to commercial cinema's lifeblood. This was, definingly, the year of the high-school movie - 10 Things I Hate About You, The Faculty, Cruel Intentions, Election, She's All That and (less laudably) American Pie and Never Been Kissed. These films are emphatically not millennial Breakfast Clubs and Pretty in Pinks. As adult audiences are coming to realise, they're thoughtful and sharp as tacks. But they are popular because there's a growing vacuum where cinema's heartland used to be - the wide world of grown-up everyday existence. On one side of this hole were films so sour and defeated that their loss of faith was their subject: Your Friends and Neighbours, Fight Club, The Opposite of Sex. On the other side, mushy dinosaurs like You've Got Mail and Notting Hill were films in complete denial about human behaviour, films that shamed the distinguished Hollywood tradition of romantic comedy. The most honourable exceptions aside from the debutantes list include Bertolucci's Besieged, Mike Hodges' Croupier, Gillies MacKinnon's Hideous Kinky, M Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense and Steven Soderbergh's The Limey. And Todd Solondz's Happiness gave just that to many. And British Film? In continuing to overpraise and cosset substandard domestic work, we injure no one but ourselves. Well, awards are our current mania, so why fight it? The best and worst of 1999: the most implausibly stoned person in the history of narcotics: Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut. Least likely intergalactic make-over: turning the Jedi into a plc in The Phantom Menace. Base metals into gold award: Keanu Reeves, a revelation in The Matrix. Best camerawork: Wim Wenders unafraid to stay put and gaze in Buena Vista Social Club. Best comeback: the five- dimensional Ally Sheedy in High Art. Best moment: when the good son Christian accuses his father in Festen (and everyone carries on eating their tiramisu). Best performer: the French actor Daniel Auteuil in Chris Menges' The Lost Son. His was a masterclass in quiet and in intent, in how a character emerges through minutiae - an optimistic glance around the bar, a blink suggesting the wringing out of tears. Oh, and a tip to casting directors: Daniel Craig (The Trench, Love is the Devil) would make a perfect Jack Kerouac. Scattered diamonds aside, it's been an underwhelming year. But as Philip Larkin said in The Trees: "Last year is dead, they seem to say / Begin afresh, afresh, afresh."

Previous winners

Best films

1991 Edward Scissorhands

1992 The Double Life of Veronique

1993 Groundhog Day

1994 Schindler's List

1995 Crumb

1996 Smoke

1997 The Sweet Hereafter

1998 The Truman Show

Best actor

1991 Annette Bening in

The Grifters

1992 Jon Lovitz in A League

of Their Own

1993 Holly Hunter in The Piano

1994 Daniel Day-Lewis in In The Name of the Father and The Age of Innocence

1995 Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise

1996 Kevin Spacey in Seven

1997 Kathy Burke in Nil by Mouth

1998 Nick Nolte in Affliction

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform