Part 1- A Brief Discussion
In many ways, this is the hardest list I have ever had to compile.
The 1990s produced both some of cinema's greatest moments and it's most enduring classics. It explored counter culture, changed the way we look at dialogue, and brought film back down to Earth after the often excessive 1980s. Indie, art, and style flourished; the star's aligned to produce everything from CG animation, to a Star Wars comeback, to Hannibal Lector's iconic lispy moment (you know the one!) Moreover, as a young boy, I was introduced to the magic that is cinema.
Thus, it was agonizing to have to choose just ten movies for a top 10 list.
If you don't believe me, just check out the honorable mention list below!
Part 2- Honorable Mention
Toy Story (1995), Safe (1995), The Insider (1999), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Fight Club (1999), The Limey (1999), Election (1999), All About My Mother (1999), Silence of the Lambs (1991), The Age of Innocence (1993), Scream (1995), Boogie Nights (1997), The Trois Coleurs Trilogy (1993-1994), Jacob's Ladder (1990), Short Cuts (1993), The Matrix (1999), Heat (1995), Raise the Red Lantern (1992), Jurassic Park (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), Trainspotting (1996), JFK (1991), Dead Man (1995), The Big Lebowski (1998), American Beauty (1999), Run Lola Run (1998), Barton Fink (1991), Casino (1995), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Yup, the Honorable Mention List is that long. And, I could name more....many more...
Part 3- The List
Well, here goes nothing. Here are the films that, in my humble opinion, represent the 90s 10 greatest achievements...
10. Being John Malkovich (1999)
The world of narrative and normalcy was rocked the moment that Charlie Kauffman and Spike Jonze first announced the arrival of a great partnership with this absolute gem. In perhaps the weirdest plot of all time, the film centers around a frustrated puppeteer who discovers, in an office with unusually low ceilings, a portal into the mind and consciousness of actor John Malkovich. Soon he shares this psychadelic rush with others. Things begin to go his way until his abiding will to control begins to turn sinister for all those around him. Stunning visuals and one-liners (look out for the hilarious old man who runs the office) abide in a film as unique as any will ever be.
Highlights: A great sense of self-mockery makes this sometimes disturbing film laugh out loud funny. At a push, I personally feel that an ugly Cameron Diaz and a cameo from Charlie Sheen are the ultimate highlights.
9. Schindler's List (1994)
It is a Hollywood epic that proved that, in the 1990s at least, they did still make 'em like they used to. Grand, bold, beautiful, and human, this film represented a huge leap forward in maturity for the once style-over-substance Steven Spielberg. The films style- sometimes documentary-like and sometimes cinematic- is flawless in capturing passionate Holocaust tragedy. Liam Neeson and a devastating Ralph Fiennes add to the operatic hammer blows.
Highlights: Aside from the great John Williams score and the over-discussed girl in the red dress, Neeson's final monologue still makes me tear-up every time.
"He who saves one life saves the world entire"
8. Se7en (1995)
A movie in which the term "hell on Earth" barely even covers it, Se7en reaches for the gut and succeeds in a way that many people feel borders on the horrific. Still, it is possibly the best-crafted modern noir film. Often imitated, never bettered, the claustrophobic photography, performances, killer plot, and eventual twists make this film a glimpse into a world that you shall not forget easily.
Highlights: "Gluttony", "Sloth", and...of course...the ending.
7. Chungking Express (1994)
What a rom-com! To discard narrative structure is a brave thing, as is a film that trys too hard to play the "cool" card. However, here is a film that laughs in the face of both notions and succeeds with great aplomb. The color is mesmerizing, perhaps the best portrayal of a distinct city scape in the history of technicolor. And yet, the best moments of Chungking Express are the human ones. Wong Kar Wai makes it so that we never look at a woman with red sunglasses or hear "California Dreamin'' the same way again.
Highlights: The tinned-pineapple revelation, along with any moment from the stunning, angelic Faye Wong.
6. Bad Lieutenant (1992)
Rarely, if indeed ever, has a film began with such vulgarity and yet ended with such humanity. For nigh-on two hours, we witness Harvey Keitel cheat, steal, take drugs, be a bad father, curse at a nun, and masturbate in the presence of innocent young women....and then redeem himself. To say that this character is an anti-hero would be the just a tad of an understatement. And yet, the film fearlessly asserts that anybody has the ability to be inspired to do good. Perhaps, this is the parable the Bible would never tell.
Highlights: The protagonist cries before his Messiah in a church isle....wow.
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Okay, so let's get the one that everybody knew would be here out of the way...
Dialogue, music, chronology, genre mash-up; this film changed the game to the extent that the film's many, many, many imitators have since made it's conventions annoying to many film buffs today. Still, what a revelation this is. The film was an andrenaline shot to the heart, waking namy artists from their collective coma. Pulp Fiction basically is the 1990s. Oh, and what's in the case?!
Highlights: "I'm trying real hard to be the Shepard."
4. Before Sunrise (1995)
As boldly static a work of dialogue and ideas that film had seen since the days of Goddard, this incredible film is a true homage to falling in love. The conversations play out in real time without the convenient buffers of plot and direction (who needs 'em, eh?), allowing the city of Paris to do what it does best-allow lovers to do what they do best. The "strangers on a train" motif had been done before, but never with this level of experimentation. Before Sunrise is a bitter-sweet, romantic riot.
Highlights:The opening and closing scene. Had the film been a stand-alone effort it may have been the best rise-and-fall relationship movie of them all.
3. Goodfellas (1990)
Like Pulp Fiction, this entry had to be here. Like Tarantino's film, this film owes a lot to its actors (Joe Pesci's scene-stealing neurosis, Ray Liotta's anti-hero scowl), yet, for this reviewer, it is the craft that makes this mob movie stand alone in the midst of the genre's other contributions. How about the freeze-frame as Henry informs us "as far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster"? Or the extended one-take night club sequence? Even a routine garlic-slicing shot becomes the long-time subject of film lore. Simply put, this film is worthy of getting made.
Highlights: The sequence set to Eric Clapton's Layla, Jimmy Conway staring down Morty to Sunshine of your Love, or, naturally, the "Funny how?" scene.
2. Magnolia (1999)
Frogs, Bartenders with braces, angel wings, the numbers 2 and 8, the quick-pan scene changes, 20 lead characters, and Tom Cruise speaking the words "tame the cunt"; yes, this might be the most ambitious film of the decade. Rarely, perhaps never, has a director been more ambitious. Thankfully, Paul Thomas Anderson supplemented hijinks like a musical sing-a-long number with solid, solid performances from a very human cast. Don't let those (including Kevin Smith) who find the film too-ambitious sway you too far, this film is worthy of it's narrative ambitions. PTA even said that he would never make a film this good again...enough said.
Highlights: The introduction montage, along with Frank TJ Mackie's introduction, and the scene where Mackie breaks down at Earl's bedside.
And, the winner is...
1. Breaking the Waves (1995)
Surprised by my Number 1 choice? You may not be if you have seen the movie.
When human history defines it's great artistic moments, it is usually the ones that come utterly without compromise or fear that distinguish themselves the most; but not if they come without a certain humanity and feeling. For Lars Von Trier to stage a Biblical re imagining around the story of a simple-minded woman who learns to sexually humiliate herself before her paralyzed husband, that is certainly without compromise. However, I defy you to emerge from this film without a profound feeling of humanity,, kindness and possibility. The best example of the Dogme movement's spare, gritty style, and one of the best films ever made, Lars Von Trier's Breaking the Waves is (shockingly, even to me) my favorite film of the 1990s.
If you have yet to see it, please do. If you have, let's watch it again together!
Highlights: The rugged non-style of the cinematography and Scottish plains, the 70s soul-music (totally out of context), Bess' moment of silent prayer, Stellan Skarsgard, and the mind-blowing allegory of the ending.
That'll do it!!
Do you agree with this list? Any comments, grievances, suggestions?? I would love to hear them.
Yup, Kino Shout! is back in business! Do tell your friends and share this to your hearts content. As for me, I will see you all next time...it won't be another 7 months this time, honestly it won't.