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What the movie of the future will look like

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As critics and film execs examine last year's box-office trends, many are coming to the conclusion that 1999 was a turning point for American cinema.

From the cyberpunk hyperrealism of "The Matrix" to the fractured storytelling of "The Blair Witch Project," the year's films point to an emerging tug-of-war between old-guard producers who have refined their techniques over decades and new iconoclasts who are changing the way stories are filmed and told.

Girded with computer technology and encouraged by moviegoers increasingly eager for innovation, this "PlayStation Generation" is offering a glimpse of the future of film. The outcome, observers say, will be a melding of traditional Hollywood formulas and Internet-age experimentation.

"This is a real pivotal moment for Hollywood," says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University in New York. "All of the innovation that used to percolate in obscure films seen only in Greenwich Village or San Francisco art houses is now going on in ... mainstream Hollywood films."

Hollywood this year continued to set records for box-office attendance and intake, and some of the most successful movies broke new ground.

In "The Matrix," the fifth-highest-grossing film of 1999, actors dodge bullets rippling by in super-slow motion, scale walls like insects, and step in and out of a virtual world. In "The Blair Witch Project," a herky-jerky, hand-held video camera creates a vivid documentary-esque realism while the story develops in an improvisational fashion.

Among the other harbingers of the trend: the ultra-bizarre "Being John Malkovich," the rapid-fire "Run Lola Run," and the multistory collage of "Magnolia."

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