I'VE SEEN ENOUGH post-apocalyptic movies that I know exactly what's likely to happen. Not everybody will be wiped out by the terror destined to rain down upon us at midnight, January 1, 2000. The good Christians will be pulled up by the Rapture, and good riddance, too -- I, for one, could not tolerate the eternal echoes of "I told you so!" Those of us who survive the riots, minor earthquakes, and destructive weather systems, not to mention the failure of technology and the crumbling of our fragile infrastructure, will gather in packs. Some will become infected by a disease that will turn their eyes white and cause them to fear the sun. Others will take to eating people. In Australia, whoever is left will spar for precious gasoline in souped-up cars. Some monkeys will break out of local zoos and begin their evolutionary path to becoming the fascist leadership of the world. An odd few will pile into an RV with the late George Peppard to fight their way through Damnation Alley to the safety of the promised land. One man will find a bag of mail and deliver hope to scattered people. Me? I'm going to Taos, New Mexico, to meet the end of times with my family at my Aunt Sue's bed & breakfast, "Alma del Monte."

Since there's no point in looking forward to what might have been, we must act more like the Viking gods, who knew from the start that their immortality would end at the time of Ragnarok -- brought on by Loki, but foreseen by Odin and sealed by fate; the death of them all followed by a (nuclear?) winter to clear the slate for the next generation of (more peaceful?) gods. This is our Ragnarok.

Knowing this will likely be the end, I could use this space to reminisce about the last century of films, birth to death, starting with the Méliès/Lumière split of special effects versus "realism" that never quite healed -- but that would require research, and I have precious little time for that. Instead, I'll look at the last year in film -- think of it as a metaphor for every year in film.

Two of the most profitable movies of all time were released this year, and both of them had little to do with "film" except as a distribution format. I am talking, of course, about Analyze This and South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut. No I'm not. I'm actually talking about Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace and The Blair Witch Project.

George Lucas, the richest independent filmmaker you'd ever want to meet, has once again remade Star Wars, this time as a children's film. Lucas is enthralled by the toys and gimmicks of the digital age, and has put all his creative energy into exploiting the technology, while letting tiny details like story lines and character development go out the window. He's positioning himself as a guru of high-cost, high-tech filmmaking, whose "future" would have eventually included shooting digitally, editing digitally, adding all the clumsy cartoon characters he'd like digitally, and then exhibiting with digital projection. Too bad the coming apocalypse will cut him short of his beautiful dream.

On the opposite side of the budget spectrum, but with the same intention of undermining movies as a film-based medium, is the rise in digital production. On the heels of last year's incest-based dramedy The Celebration, shot with consumer-grade camcorders and pieced together with computers, came a bunch of followers. Foremost among them was the marketing phenomenon known as The Blair Witch Project (in which the scariest thing, next to that last shot, was how the filmmakers perfectly captured that "We're lost and now we're arguing" family-car-trip aesthetic). Though critics are worrying that Blair Witch will inspire more of the same, I think we've already seen the bulk of its offspring: roughly one million parodies on TV and the Internet.

It's a rare person cutting a feature film on film these days. Digital editing is all the rage, and it's easy to see why: It's easier. Sure, purists complain endlessly that it's better aesthetically to edit on film, but it's harder and more time consuming. Plus, music and sound effects shifted to digital years ago with nary a peep. As for digital distribution? I love my DVD player, and wouldn't give it up for the world.

Sure, people have been saying that this "digital revolution" will forever change the nature of cinema, what with the emergence of digital movie halls full of digital movies by any Jane or Joe willing to spend a couple thousand bucks on digital cameras and editing equipment. I say cinema has survived bigger cataclysmic changes than the onslaught of computers (the coming of sound, the invention of television), and if by some miracle the world doesn't end in a few days, it will continue to thrive.

A little more than a week before the coming apocalypse, Robert Bresson died. He was 98 or 91 (depending on the reference book). Though each of the Grand Illusion's revival series have been extraordinary (Sam Fuller, Douglas Sirk, the ongoing Max Ophuls stuff), some of the best films shown this year were part of their Bresson retrospective. Though he took his own sweet time making films, the precision, thought, and care paid off, as every single one has been called a masterpiece at one point or another.

The films of Bresson define cinema, not in the way that most people think of it -- as action and movement and sound and fury -- but by pushing to the opposite extreme. His characters never said so much as when they were unable to find the right words, or any words. There were never more exciting moments than when the camera was still, just waiting for something to happen.

Without Bresson, some aspects of film would never have been discovered, shown, used, or abused in his wake. Even though his last film was in 1983, it's somehow fitting that his death would come after a period pregnant with inaction, and at the end of time. Of course, if cinema dies with Bresson, what's to be said of Jean-Luc Godard, who has always been 10 years ahead of the rest of us? If anyone survives the coming apocalypse, it will be Godard.

Greetings to everybody who skipped the rest of my brilliant article -- the last one I may ever write! -- to discover my thoughts on the best and worst of 1999. Normally I hate lists, particularly the random and annoying lists of magazines like Entertainment Weekly, but I must admit that I do like reading other people's year-end lists, so I may as well write my own. It's only fair. Particularly since this may be the last such list of all time!

Let me first say that every film in my top five turns conventional storytelling on its ear. It's not like the traditional forms are dead; it's just that filmmakers this year had a lot more fun with them.

1. Being John Malkovich -- What a tragic story of personal dissatisfaction. First-time director Spike Jonze treats the dark material in the most appropriate way: as a comedy. I even like the last 20 or 30 minutes, when it shifts from focusing on identity to focusing on eternity.

2. A Moment of Innocence -- When he was 17, director Mohsen Makhmalbaf stabbed a police officer while protesting the Shah. Twenty years later he meets the police officer at one of his casting calls, and decides to recreate the altercation from both points of view. Another brilliant film from Iran that blends truth and fiction in fantastic and joyful ways.

3. The Limey -- Perhaps nobody in Hollywood is having as much fun as Steven Soderbergh. Riffing on a revenge story, resurrecting Terence Stamp and Peter Fonda, messing with time and memory, The Limey actually turns out to be a touching story of love and loss.

4. eXistenZ -- A grand metaphor for the seductive illusions that are movies, couched in a futuristic virtual reality game by the master of the mind-fuck, David Cronenberg.

5. Fight Club -- Every year they say comedies get overlooked in "best of" lists. Well, this was overlooked as a comedy. Plus, it's a lot smarter than casual critics give it credit for.

Rounding out the top 10 (plus one), in alphabetical order, are Affliction (which opened in Seattle last January), American Movie, Late August Early September, Lovers of the Arctic Circle, Ride with the Devil, and The Straight Story. Runners-up include Deep Blue Sea, The Insider, julien donkey-boy, and The Sixth Sense.

The worst movie of the year, by a long shot, was The Mod Squad. Nothing beats it for its cringe-inducing combination of annoying hipness and generic boredom, though special mention goes to The General's Daughter for its awful take on... well, just about everything. That's it for me. See you in hell, fuckers!

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