Best. Movie. Year. Ever. (Simon & Schuster) is one of those debut books by a career journalist that just makes sense, as if the journalist has a compelling argument to make and needs more than 1500 words to make it.
Brian Raftery, the author responsible for this exploration of 1999’s game-changing film lineup, had previously established his status as pop culture consumer and connoisseur writing for Spin, GQ, and Wired, and here he parses would-be think pieces out into seventeen discreet chapters.
Raftery’s suggestion that 1999 was a genre-defining year across all genres ensures that virtually all moviegoers can name one or more films that really resonated with them from that year. As it follows, each chapter covers the history of one or more impactful films—the book is arranged chronologically, by season—and fans of Being John Malkovich can skip the Matrix chapter, or read both, or read about Magnolia but sit out Virgin Suicides. When I picked up this book, for instance, I didn’t think I’d care to read about Varsity Blues; yet Raftery’s straightforward, archivist approach drew me in.
Raftery knows film, but he doesn’t really need to, because he knows journalism. Oft-repeated anecdotes from the set of Phantom Menace and Fight Club could feel stale in the hands of an author unequipped to retread well-worn stories. Raftery doesn’t know or care who’s already familiar with how the Wachowskis pulled off “bullet time—” an action-movie technique relying on a hundred rotating cameras and robust digital effects—he’s going to tell that story anyway because it just fits into the larger story he’s telling.
For those who have never read about studio interference on the set of Office Space, they’ll be treated to new information. For those who know all there is to know about the production of that movie, the information is presented in a new and compelling way, and reading Best. Movie. Year. Ever. there is never a moment where it feels like Raftery is rehashing yesterday’s (or 1999’s) news.
In 2019, two decades of film have come and gone since Sixth Sense, Iron Giant, Boys Don’t Cry, and Eyes Wide Shut first hit the screen. In that time, Hollywood has changed as well. The #metoo movement exposed industry abusers such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, two Nineties indie darlings notably absent from Raftery’s rolling series of oral history-like interviews.
Each chapter that is forced to touch on the eventual fall of a star accused of sexual assault does so delicately, careful not to overshadow the work done on the film in question by the rest of the cast and crew. Still, Raftery is writing both a book to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of 1999 in film and a book that will join other film crit tomes on your shelf, so such a tumultuous cultural movement cannot be breezed past.
Raftery offers context contemporary and current so that a reader picking up this book in 2019 or 2029 will understand that a lot has changed since BlacKkKlansman producer Jason Blum was being chastised by Harvey Weinstein and Jennifer Aniston was shaving Brad Pitt’s head for Fight Club.
Best. Movie. Year. Ever. will appeal to film geeks and casual moviegoers alike with its simple yet surprisingly deep summaries of the making of thirty hits from 1999. The book delivers nostalgia and quirky trivia in equal parts and makes for a highly entertaining and informative read. It will be available for purchase on April 16.
About Brian Raftery
Brian Raftery has written for such publications as Wired, GQ, New York, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly. You can read some of his previous works here.
He lives in Burbank, California, with his wife and daughters.