The Great Performances: 1999

Posted by · 9:18 pm · November 7th, 2009

Terence Stamp in The Limey1999 was a strange year.  And it’s hard to believe a full decade has slipped past since.  There were some great award-winning performances, to be sure, but there seemed to be just as many not nominated that certainly should have been.

Ten years later, I remain stunned that Reese Witherspoon was not nominated for her brilliant work in “Election” as a pathologically ambitious, grasping social climber student doing anything it takes to head up the student council in Alexander Payne’s astute and black comedy.

Witherspoon won the National Society of Film Critics award for Best Actress, besting eventual Oscar, LAFCA and NYFCC champ Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry.” What made Witherspoon’s work so incredible was that we all must have known a Tracy Flick during our high school days, and the actress created such an accurate depiction.

Swank was a most deserving winner for her superb performance, winning over nominees, Annette Bening in “American Beauty,” Janet McTeer in “Tumbleweeds,” Julianne Moore in “The End of the Affiar” and Meryl Streep in “Music of the Heart” (perhaps the perennial Oscar favorite’s least accomplished nominated performance).

Bening’s performance was brilliant, she won the Screen Actors Guild award for it, and though there seemed to be a swell of support for her as Oscar night approached, there was no denying Swank for her career-altering work.

Looking back at the nominees, I wonder what happened to Sigourney Weaver’s fearless work in “A Map of the World,” in which she portrayed a woman devastated by a tragedy when a child dies in her care. Weaver was spiky and unlikable in the film, giving a most unsentimental performance which might have alienated some voters.

Julia Roberts also offered a fine performance in the romantic comedy “Notting Hill,” but voters might have thought she was simply portraying herself.

The Best Actor category bordered on being scandalous that year. No Jim Carrey in “Man in the Moon,” no Brad Pitt or Edward Norton in “Fight Club,” no Tom Hanks in “The Green Mile,” no Matt Damon in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” I thought the great Terence Stamp was simply terrifying in “The Limey” and had great hope he would be nominated, but alas…it was not to be.

Any five of the aforementioned actors could have made up the Best Actor category, and I do not mean that as an attack on those nominated. The actors singled out — Russell Crowe in “The Insider,” Kevin Spacey in “American Beauty,” Denzel Washington in “The Hurricane,” Richard Farnsworth in “The Straight Story” and Sean Penn in “Sweet and Lowdown” — were fine contenders all, and it’s tough to decide which should have been left off in favor of any of the others.

Damon is certainly stronger than either Penn or Washington, while Pitt and Norton might have been better than the whole field, with the exception of Crowe, who was fantastic in “The Insider” and might have been a more deserving winner than Spacey. That said, I have never been able to shake the “Fight Club” boys, who hit me on a rare level.  And one performance does not work without the other.

The Best Supporting Actor nominees were short one major performance: Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace in “The Insider,” who actually won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for his riveting portrayal. Plummer is crisp and edgy in the film, capturing that brilliant mind of the newsman who misses nothing and is among the greatest interviewers on the globe.

But hey, the best supporting actor of 1999 was Tom Cruise in “Magnolia,” as a seething motivational speaker struggling with his past and a connection to his dying father.  Never before had Cruise given so much of himself to a role, never had he dared to go as deep as he did in this film, willing to be disliked, willing to risk everything in the performance for the sake of the art. He was never better, never more vulernable, arrogant or, finally, broken.

The “I see dead people” meme and the hushed terror of a quietly haunting performance made Haley Joel Osment an Oscar nominee for “The Sixth Sense,” and there was genuine surprise when he and Cruise were bested by Michael Caine and the weakest of the year’s nominees for the legendary actor’s performance in “The Cider House Rules.”

There might have been room to nominate either Philip Seymour Hoffman or Philip Hall Baker from “Magnolia,” and for that matter, John C. Reilly was brilliant in the film as well.  The great Chris Cooper was mesmerizing in “American Beauty,” giving the film’s best performance as a sexually ashamed military man.  He should have been a nominee along with co-star Wes Bentley.

One could also argue for John Malkovich in the Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich,” along with Peter Sarsgaard for “Boys Don’t Cry,” who was terrifying.

Best Supporting Actress was a tough category, eventually won by Angelina Jolie in “Girl, Interrupted,” though Julianne Moore might have been a better choice as an emotional wreck of a wife, full of guilt and shame in “Magnolia.”

In a near silent performance, Alison Janney was extraordinary in “American Beauty,” along with the younger actress Thora Birch, who brought a new dimension to teen angst. Helena Bonham Carter was brilliant in “Fight Club,” and Sissy Spacek was quite fine in “The Straight Story,” yet all went unnoticed.

To this day I struggle with Jolie’s win, along with some of the nominees, who included Toni Collette in “The Sixth Sense,” Catherine Keener in “Being John Malkovich,” Samantha Morton in “Sweet and Lowdown” and Chloe Sevigny in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Keener I understand, but if she was nominated, why not Cameron Diaz, who was equally brilliant in the film?

That’s my take on the performances of 1999, what’s yours?  Have your say in the comments section below!

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42 responses so far

  • 1 11-07-2009 at 9:23 pm

    al b. said...

    Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden is one of the great characterizations in all of film! The fact he didn’t get nominated still confuses and angers me!

  • 2 11-07-2009 at 10:06 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    fight club ya, but spacey was epic, and the performances in american beauty make it one of the best ive seen

  • 3 11-07-2009 at 10:27 pm

    Alex said...

    Eyes Wide Shut had some great performances….

    I wouldn’t say that film is ahead of its time but it is an exceptional film and quite misunderstood.

  • 4 11-07-2009 at 10:39 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut all the way.

  • 5 11-07-2009 at 11:07 pm

    Erik said...

    Best Actor was crowded, so no Cruise for EWS but a nod for Magnolia seemed like the best thing to me. No supporting nod for Kidman in EWS in a much weaker field, not so good.

    Tracy Flick always has and always will always make part of my brain go “look, it’s teenage Hillary Clinton”. Which, by the way, is a huge compliment, coming from me.

    I love Fight Club to death. I watch it at least once a year. I somehow think I prefer it without major oscar nominations.

  • 6 11-07-2009 at 11:12 pm

    Chris138 said...

    Yeah, I must say… Brad Pitt deserved to be nominated for Fight Club. Probably my favorite performance he’s given in a David Fincher film yet, even though Se7en is my favorite film Fincher has made.

  • 7 11-07-2009 at 11:20 pm

    Jeremy said...

    I’d add Nicole Kidman for “Eyes Wide Shut”, and Tom Cruise as well, though I understand his work in “Magnolia” attracted more praise. Damon’s performance in “Talented” remains his best work in my mind.

    Anyone else kind of devastated that Wes Bentley’s career derailed after terrific performances in “American Beauty” and “The Claim”?

  • 8 11-07-2009 at 11:40 pm

    mark said...

    1999 nominees * winer


    russell crowe
    kevin spacey*
    denzel washington
    jim carrey
    matt damon


    reese witherspoon
    annette bening*
    kate winslet
    sigourney weaver
    hilary swank


    wes bentley
    haley joel osment*
    tom cruise
    jude law
    christopher plummer

    julianne moore
    cameron diaz*
    gwyneth paltrow
    angelina jolie
    toni collette

  • 9 11-07-2009 at 11:45 pm

    tc said...

    Yeah, Cruise was great in EWS, but nothing near his performance in Magnolia, which is some of the finest acting I’ve ever seen.

  • 10 11-07-2009 at 11:59 pm

    Marshall1 said...

    Sorry, maybe it’s me, but so Michael Caine won for Cider House Rules…..but didn’t Chris Cooper also won for supporting in American Beauty???

  • 11 11-08-2009 at 12:03 am

    Jeremy said...

    Marshall1: No, Cooper won three years later for “Adaptation”.

  • 12 11-08-2009 at 12:18 am

    Douglas said...

    why doesnt he do more roles like that now?

  • 13 11-08-2009 at 12:28 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Russell Crowe is fantastic in The Insider but Sean Penn gave one of the performances of the decade in Sweet and Lowdown. Kevin Spacey shouldn’t have even been allowed to vote for Best Actor, let alone win it against those two.

  • 14 11-08-2009 at 1:48 am

    Nigel Bridgeman said...

    There wasn’t “genuine surprise” when Caine won. He was the favourite going in for a very stupid reason – he wasn’t able to attend the Oscars when he won the first time because he was busy filming “Jaws: The Revenge”. Everyone wanted to see him up on stage accepting.

  • 15 11-08-2009 at 2:47 am

    par3182 said...

    1999 is such a great film year yet one of the worst for the academy’s choices (especially in the best film category)

    Jim Broadbent – Topsy Turvy
    Russell Crowe – The Insider
    Matt Damon – The Talented Mr Ripley
    Richard Farnsworth – The Straight Story*
    Edward Norton – Fight Club

    Frances O’Connor – Mansfield Park
    Franka Potente – Run Lola Run
    Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry*
    Kate Winslet – Holy Smoke
    Reese Witherspoon – Election

    Wes Bentley – American Beauty
    Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Talented Mr Ripley
    Jude Law – The Talented Mr Ripley
    Hayley Joel Osment – The Sixth Sense*
    Alan Rickman – Galaxy Quest

    Helena Bonham Carter – Fight Club
    Toni Collette – The Sixth Sense
    Edie Falco – Judy Berlin
    Gwyneth Paltrow – The Talented Mr Ripley
    Chloe Sevigny – Boys Don’t Cry*

    ps – tom cruise just proves what a terrible actor he is in ‘magnolia’ (not that he needed to prove it by that stage of his career)

  • 16 11-08-2009 at 3:17 am

    tom_tucker said...

    The supporting performance of the year came from Cate Blanchett in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’. It’s a short but immaculate realisation of the dreadful, irritating face from the past you never want to see, but somehow always do. My favourite Blanchett performance, it owns the film.

  • 17 11-08-2009 at 3:43 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yeah, I must echo what Nigel says: Caine was the favorite going into Oscar night, following his SAG win and the “Cider House Rules” surge. His win wasn’t surprising, just disappointing.

    I’m rather stunned you don’t find room to mention Jude Law in “Ripley” — I still can’t decide between him and Cruise.

    I actually think the field of Best Supporting Actress nominees is one of the strongest the category ever served up — though, typically, the least of the performances won.

    Cecilia Roth in “All About My Mother” is a major omission in the Best Actress discussion.

  • 18 11-08-2009 at 3:48 am

    Encore Entertainment said...

    No mention of Jude Law? My pick along with Annette Bening, Helena Bonham Carter and Kevin Spacey. Good performances of the year included Matt Damon, Hillary Swank, Julianne Moore was great in The End of the Affair, Cate Blanchett was good in her Talented Mr Ripley Cameo.

  • 19 11-08-2009 at 3:51 am

    Encore Entertainment said...

    Ah forgot to mention Angelina Jolie. She was good. Michael Caine was NOT.

  • 20 11-08-2009 at 4:22 am

    Mike said...

    Richard Farnsworth – The Straight Story
    Cecilia Roth – Todo sobre mi madre
    Sigourney Weaver – A Map of the World
    Chloë Sevigny – Boys Don’t Cry

    are my favorite performances of the year.

  • 21 11-08-2009 at 6:01 am

    John H. Foote said...

    Law was nominated for his work in “Ripley” and deserved to be so, and someone mentioned Cooper won for “American Beauty?” — nope, not even nominated.

  • 22 11-08-2009 at 6:02 am

    John H. Foote said...

    Sorry gang, I don’t get the love for “Eyes Wide Shut”…never did.

  • 23 11-08-2009 at 6:31 am

    Kokushi said...

    John, i think Sarah Poley in Go gave a good and underrated performance, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Carrie-Anne Moss were great in The Matrix and even Keanu Reeves gave a good performance in the movie.

  • 24 11-08-2009 at 6:47 am

    Cassidy/Pam said...

    Should been:


    Jim Broadbent, Topsy-Turvy
    Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story*
    Sean Penn, Sweet & Lawdown
    Kevin Spacey, American Beauty
    Denzel Washington, The Hurricane


    Annete Bening, American Beauty
    Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds
    Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair
    Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart
    Hilary Swank, Boys Don`t Cry *


    Tom Cruise, Magnolia*
    Jude Law – The Talented Mr Ripley
    Haley Joel Osment – The Sixth Sense
    Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile
    Doug Hutchinson, The Green Mile


    Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense
    Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich
    Julianne Moore, Magnolia
    Samantha Morton, Sweet & Lawdown
    Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don`t Cry *

    (I also liked the other underrated perfomance`s in this option like:

    Patricia Clarkson, The Green Mile
    Thora Birch; Mena Suvari, American Beauty
    Cameron Diaz, Being John Malkovich
    Madeline Kahn, Judy Berlin
    Sissy Spacek, The Straight Story
    Vinessa Shaw, Eyes Wide Shut

  • 25 11-08-2009 at 7:01 am

    Scott said...

    I think Ripley should have won both supporting Oscars that year, with Law and Blanchett. And I’d also say the lead actor nominees were rather off. I’d have gone with Spacey and Crowe, but added Damon and Norton – and sure, maybe Stamp.

  • 26 11-08-2009 at 7:45 am

    Chris said...

    Russell Crowe – The Insider ***
    Matt Damon – The Talented Mr. Ripley
    Edward Norton – Fight Club
    Al Pacino – The Insider
    Kevin Spacey – American Beauty

    Annette Bening – American Beauty
    Nicole Kidman – Eyes Wide Shut
    Winona Ryder – Girl Interrupted
    Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry
    Reese Witherspoon – Election ***

    Supporting Actor
    Tom Cruise – Magnolia
    Jude Law – The Talented Mr. Ripley ***
    John Malkovich – Being John Malkovich
    Haley Joel Osment – The Sixth Sense
    Christopher Plummer – The Insider

    Supporting Actress
    Helena Bonham Carter – Fight Club
    Toni Collette – The Sixth Sense
    Catherine Keener – Being John Malkovich ***
    Julianne Moore – Magnolia
    Chloe Sevigny – Boys Don’t Cry

  • 27 11-08-2009 at 8:44 am

    Marshall1 said...

    oh ok, thanks for the clarification!
    It’s a travesty that Michael Caine won instead of so many other more deserving actors:(

  • 28 11-08-2009 at 8:44 am

    Marshall1 said...

    Being John Malkovich still remains my favourite movie of all time…..and it’s in part due to a fierce malkovich who is not afraid to mock his own persona.

  • 29 11-08-2009 at 9:56 am

    tc said...

    Oh, Jim Carrey would be my best actor that year, easily.

    And top 3 supporting actors:

    And Morton winning on the female side.

  • 30 11-08-2009 at 10:04 am

    Leighton said...

    Agree, still, in my opinion, Damon’s finest performance. Should’ve been nominated.

    As well with Tom Cruise. I love Michael Caine, but this was Tom Cruise’s strongest moment on film.

  • 31 11-08-2009 at 10:20 am

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Sigourney Weaver after the 1980s was shunned by the membership of the Academy for her 90’s work – Dave (1993); Death and the Maiden (1994); Map of the World (1999).

    I disagree about Fight Club being shut out – Pitt’s character plays like a psychotic frat boy – and Edward Norton has been better elsewhere as well as Carter.

    I think Mark Walhberg should’ve been recognized for his supporting work in Three Kings – he’s always superior when working with O Russell.

    I hate that Nicole Kidman’s work in Eyes Wide Shut went unnoticed – she’s better here than her first nominated performance.

    You should now assume John the Academy hates Tom Cruise and will never give him a competitive Oscar.

  • 32 11-08-2009 at 10:51 am

    Cameron said...

    I’m not one for celebrity cameos, but John Malkovich was so brilliant that he definetly should have been nominated.

  • 33 11-08-2009 at 11:48 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    It’s a real testament to the extraordinary talent and career that John Malkovich has had that his best performance is as himself possessed and looping through his own mind in a movie called Being John Malkovich.

    I agree with you that both Norton and Pitt’s performances were essential to the success of Fight Club, my favorite film of 99, but of the two I would have nominated Pitt simply because his character created a more indelible cultural impression.

  • 34 11-08-2009 at 2:12 pm

    Albiony said...

    Pitt and Norton for Best Actor

    Witherspoon should have been nominated for Election.

    Jude Law nailed Dickie, what a charismatic performance, full of ambiguity

    And Antonia San Juan was great in Todo Sobre Mi Madre in the supp category

    But the snub of the year was definitely The Kidman for Eyes Wide Shut. Legendary.

  • 35 11-08-2009 at 2:47 pm

    Xavi Rodriguex said...

    My line-up:

    -Russell Crowe, The Insider (Winner)
    -Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley
    -Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown
    -Kevin Spacey, American Beauty (Runnep-up)
    -Terrence Stamp, The Limey
    Alt: Denzel Washington, Hurricane

    -Annette Bening, American Beauty (Runner-up)
    -Cecilia Roth, All About My Mother
    -Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry (Winner)
    -Kate Winslet, Holy Smoke!
    -Reese Witherspoon, Election
    Alt: Sigourney Weaver, A Map of the World

    Supporting Actor:
    -Wes Bentley, American Beauty
    -Tom Cruise, Magnolia (Runner-up)
    -Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley (Winner)
    -Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense
    -Christopher Plummer, The Insider
    Alt: Peter Sarsgaard, Boys Don’t Cry

    Supporting Actress:
    -Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense
    -Angelina Jolie, Girl Interrupted
    -Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich (Runner-up)
    -Julianne Moore, Magnolia (Winner)
    -Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don’t Cry
    Alt: Cate Blanchett, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cameron Diaz, BEing John Malkovich

  • 36 11-08-2009 at 6:05 pm

    Pablo (Col) said...

    Would be nice to see Cameron Diaz as an Oscar nominated actress.

    Helena Bonham Carter, as i said before, should be a three times nominated actress.

    The Sixth Sense… good but that good ?

    I do not agree wih Tom Cruise winning.

    Russel Crowe should have won two Oscars by now but whatever…

    I adore Michael Caine but this should have been Jude Law’s moment.

    Let’s see what you give us for 2000 !!! Actress awards hit far from the right spot that time.

  • 37 11-08-2009 at 6:51 pm

    Ed said...

    Was Fight Club a strong Oscar contender in the 1999 season? Were people predicting a strong showing in the critic’s awards, Golden Globes, Oscars? Did it campaign…. I only ask because, I wasn’t around and a lot of people seem surprised by its omission.

  • 38 11-08-2009 at 7:09 pm

    Simon Warrasch said...


    American Beauty
    The Green Mile
    The Sixth Sense
    Being John Malkovich
    Girl, Interrupted


    Sam Mendes – American Beauty
    Spike Jonze – Being John Malkovich
    M. Night Shyamalan – The Sixth Sense
    Alexander Payne – Election
    Pedro Almodovar – All About my Mother

    Leading Actor:

    Richard Farnsworth – The Straight Story
    Kevin Spacey – American Beauty
    Sean Penn – Sweet and Lowdown
    Matthew Broderick – Election
    Bruce Willis – The Sixth Sense

    Runner up:

    Jim Carrey – Man on the Moon
    Tom Hanks – The Green Mile

    Leading Actress:

    Hilary Swank – Boys don’t Cry
    Annette Bening – American Beauty
    Reese Witherspoon – Election
    Cecilia Roth – All About my Mother
    Winona Ryder – Girl, Interrupted

    Supporting Actor:

    Chris Cooper – American Beauty
    Wes Bentley – American Beauty
    Michael Clarke Duncan – The Green Mile
    Peter Sarsgaard – Boys don’t Cry
    Haley Joel Osment – The Sixth Sense

    Supporting Actress:

    Angelina Jolie – Girl, Interrupted
    Cameron Diaz – Being John Malkovich
    Thora Birch – American Beauty
    Chloe Sevigny – Boys don’t Cry
    Samantha Morton – Sweet and Lowdown

    Runner up:

    Julianne Moore – Magnolia

  • 39 11-09-2009 at 12:09 am

    Gabe said...

    A name I haven’t read yet:

    Harry Lennix in “Titus”

  • 40 11-09-2009 at 7:50 am

    Morgan said...

    Brittany Murphy in “Girl, Interrupted” and Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy in “Bowfinger”

  • 41 11-09-2009 at 10:14 am

    Marshall1 said...

    Wow, in retrospect, 1999 was a great movie year. Two of my most favourite movie, Being John Malkovich AND Topsy-Turvy. Now that someone mentioned it, I thought Titus was a powerful movie, not perfect, but still.

  • 42 11-09-2009 at 11:18 am

    Ivan said...

    All About My Mother
    Fight Club
    The Matrix
    The Sixth Sense

    Pedro Almodovar/All About My Mother
    Paul Thomas Anderson/Magnolia*
    David Fincher/Fight Club
    Sam Mendes/American Beauty
    M. Night Shyamalan/The Sixth Sense

    Russell Crowe/The Insider*
    Richard Farnsworth/The Straight Story
    Edward Norton/Fight Club
    Kevin Spacey/American Beauty
    Ray Winstone/The War Zone

    Lara Belmont/The War Zone
    Annette Bening/American Beauty
    Cecilia Roth/All About My Mother
    Hilary Swank/Boys Don´t Cry*
    Reese Witherspoon/Election

    Michael Caine/The Cider House Rules
    Tom Cruise/Magnolia
    Jude Law/The Talented Mr. Ripley
    Haley Joel Osment/The Sixth Sense
    Brad Pitt/Fight Club*

    Helena Bonham Carter/Fight Club*
    Toni Collette/The Sixth Sense
    Samantha Morton/Sweet & Lowdown
    Antonia San Juan/All About My Mother
    Chloe Sevigny/Boys Don´t Cry

    Being John Malcovich
    Girl, Interrupted
    200 Cigarettes

    All About My Mother
    Being John Malcovich
    The Sixth Sense

    Fight Club*
    The Green Mile
    The Insider
    The Talented Mr. Ripley

    All About My Mother/Spain*
    East West/France
    Not One Less/China

    All About My Mother
    Angela´s Ashes
    Eyes Wide Shut
    The Insider*
    The Matrix

    American Beauty
    Fight Club
    The Matrix*
    The Sixth Sense

    All About My Mother
    Eyes Wide Shut
    Sleepy Hollow*
    The Talented Mr. Ripley

    Anna and the King
    The Matrix
    Sleepy Hollow
    The Talented Mr. Ripley

    All About My Mother
    Sleepy Hollow

    Arlington Road
    Fight Club
    The Green Mile
    The Insider
    The Matrix*

    Fight Club
    The Matrix*
    The Mummy
    Sleepy Hollow

    Beautiful Stranger/Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
    Save Me/Magnolia*
    The Great Beyond/Man on the Moon
    Blame Canada/South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
    The World Is Not Enough/The World Is Not Enough

    American Beauty
    Angela´s Ashes
    The Cider House Rules
    The End of the Affair
    The Insider*

    All About My Mother*
    Buena Vista Social Club
    The Insider
    Summer of Sam
    10 Things I Hate About You