Don’t let the title above get me wrong: The A.V. Club’s recently-completed list of the 50 Best Films Of The ’90s is as close to a definitive consensus as anyone could ever hope for. It’s a terrific list. Barring the inclusion of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (I understand why they felt they needed to include it, but it’s a bad movie), there isn’t anything I could even begin to object to — in fact, most of their choices would have been mine. But since the 1990s are the decade in which I [sort of] came of age, I thought up 50 more that could have been included. In my opinion. There. Disclaimed.
Here are some of my favorite 1990s movies, any of which I could make a strong case for as the decade’s best, grouped by year NOT by numerical rank:
Incredible imagery from a true master of cinema.
Read my dissertation at Daily Grindhouse!
All three leads are brilliant in this con-man crime film written by Donald Westlake and directed by the hugely-underrated-by-film-geeks Stephen Frears.
Look at the upper left side of that poster. There’s no better vote of confidence on the planet.
This is one of the best of the decade based on the music alone.
Known to true Bill Murray fans as the most underrated Bill Murray movie, this one was actually co-directed by our hero, and it’s an expert farce and one of the better New York movies ever.
A radio shock jock (Jeff Bridges) and a homeless man (Robin Williams) cross paths in another underrated New York movie, this one from the genius visual wizard Terry Gilliam.
This choice comes down to whichever definition of “best” you’re personally using at the time in regards to movies. Are there more culturally resonant and artistically sophisticated movies than this one? Sure. Am I more likely to put one of those on at the end of a long day over this one? Nope.
What does “best” mean? Maybe I equivocate too much. I’m an action guy, and this fits the term “best” under any definition. John Woo is an artisan of cinematic mayhem and this is arguably the pinnacle of his career.
Because nobody else ever before or since made a movie like this one.
One of the few movies that genuinely emotionally moves me every time I see it. A high point for Jeff Bridges, who has had a ton of high points.
It’s not exactly that Robert De Niro and Bill Murray trade personas here. This movie isn’t a stunt. It’s something way more sensitive and thoughtful than that. But De Niro does play the meek, mild-mannered police photographer and Murray the unpredicably-violent gangster who dreams of being a stand-up. And it was written by the great Richard Price and directed by the man who made HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER.
Enthusiasm for this movie seems to have dimmed, as has much appreciation for director Jonathan Demme (people are a little too much “What have you done for me lately?”, but this movie represents a key moment in the cultural mainstreaming of things that needed to be made mainstream at the time. Honestly it’s been a while so I don’t know how much it all holds up, but to my memory, it was a thoughtful, character-based film about the big issues. Terrific soundtrack also.
Well I said a bunch here and here. This movie is a switchblade-arsenal of terrific actors, showcased with bombastic direction from Tony Scott working in concert with the unconquerably individualistic Quentin Tarantino script. It’s kind of a nexus of everything that became important and trendy in 1990s crime and action films.
This wouldn’t make a personal top 50 or 100 or maybe not even a top 200, but it’s impeccable Disney entertaining for the widest possible audience and believe me, it still works as hugely as it did nearly twenty years ago. (You’re old.)
C0-written by David Peoples (UNFORGIVEN), which makes it important right there. But again, Terry Gilliam, this time challenging Bruce Willis into another great performance (Bruce always seems to do best with the most individualistic filmmakers). Madeline Stowe is great. And character-actor Brad Pitt beats leading-man Brad Pitt six out of seven days a week.
Super-serious great movies are easy. Great comedies are hard. This is one of the funniest of the decade.
Yeah, I get it. Some of you think it’s too much. I think it’s opera. I think Michael Mann is criminally underappreciated by the listmakers and the award-givers. I think it’s one of the few movies more than two hours that I can watch over and over without getting bored. This movie got in my soul the first time I saw it, and it’s still there.
This came toward the end of John Carpenter’s remarkable run of horror and action classics, but it still has moments of colossal inspiration, and a truly memorable lead performance by the great Sam Neill.
I’ll admit it’s probably a stretch to call this one of the best movies of the 1990s, but it’s one of my favorite filmmakers, Sam Raimi, taking on one of my favorite genres, the “spaghetti” Western, and supercharging it with his anarchic cartoony innovations. There’s more energy in this movie than in most of the Best Picture winners of the decade.
All I’m saying is, I’ve seen this one more times than I’ve seen RUSHMORE and THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS combined.
Some people maintain that this remains Paul Thomas Anderson’s best movie. Some days I can see what they mean. It’s certainly his tightest, most controlled, most focus, most conventional. And it’s the Rosetta Stone where many of his later musical cues, character names, themes, and company players were first established. For me, it’s a treat to see Robert Elswit’s camera roam around Nevada — Elswit is the (until-recently) unsung hero of Anderson’s oevre (until recently. I also like this movie because it makes me feel like an asshole. It was released when Anderson was 26. You should have seen what I was doing at 26. Feeling like an asshole is good, though – it motivates me.
This is a black, black comedy. You gotta give these guys credit — they did not take the easy road after DUMB & DUMBER kick-started their careers. Even THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY goes to some daring places (it’s a romantic comedy about stalking, after all), but it’s nowhere near as nasty as this one. And once again, Bill Murray, comedy’s supreme ninja master, comes in for a few scenes and completely destroys throughout every single moment he appears.
Chris Rock’s favorite Tim Burton movie. I don’t have a favorite Tim Burton movie — impossible for me to choose — but this one is up there. It’s pure anarchy on film. Somebody gave the creepy kid down the street complete access to fireworks and all the best toys — expensive sets, costumes, huge movie stars — and he went to work blowing them all up with demented glee. (Demented Glee is my favorite Fox TV show, by the way.) It was a stroke of inspiration to reframe the alien invasion movie as a 1970s-style disaster movie, and to make the whole thing a comedy. This weirded out a country more interested in the more straightforward INDEPENDENCE DAY, but I’m with the weird kid.
Because as much credit as Eddie Murphy and Rick Baker get for their brilliance, it still isn’t enough.
A case could be made for THE TRUMAN SHOW as the best Jim Carrey movie of the 1990s (maybe ever, barring ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND), but I’m a fan of the big weird risk and the sudden detour and the critical and popular underdog. THE CABLE GUY is even weirder than you may remember, and in retrospect it paved the way for enduring cult comedies to follow like ZOOLANDER and ANCHORMAN.
Best-of lists always go heavy on lauding the director and the actors, but how about the screenwriters? You know, the guys and gals without whom the entire movie would not exist in the first place? Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski are the kings of the gonzo biopics of the 1990s, with ED WOOD, MAN ON THE MOON, and this, the story of Hustler founder Larry Flynt. Woody Harrelson is incredible in the role, and the whole thing, under the stewardship of the mighty Milos Forman, is a raunchy, raucous, searing, and sad affair.
Leon Gast’s film is one of THE essential sports documentaries ever made. It’s the story of Muhammad Ali’s match against George Foreman for the title of heavyweight champion of the world. The ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ took place in Africa in 1974, and the movie is supercharged with electric history.
In my local paper at the time, the shoddy film critic referred to this movie with a cheap shot: “Lifeless, Ordinary.” It’s anything but. It’s everything but. The follow-up to TRAINSPOTTING from the team of Danny Boyle, John Hodge, and Andrew McDonald is a deranged, delirious trip through America. It’s colorful and kinetic and enthusiastically acted and it sounds like a million bucks. (Why not?) It’s boistrous and unruly and maybe a little too self-indulgent, but it’s my kind of self-indulgent — the boldly original kind – so the complainers can go screw.
In 1997, Kevin Smith was still a filmmaker who led with his heart and inspired an entire generation of creatively-inclined young’uns to write with honesty and candor. Smith’s first four movies were sloppily-made but felt incredibly personal, and CHASING AMY was maybe the rawest of them all. I’m not sure I could revisit it now any more than I’d like to look at a high school yearbook, but I’m grateful for that long-ago validation the success of CHASING AMY gave me and a ton of more-famous, more influential up-and-comers. As for Smith, he made an encouraging return to form with the flawed but fiery RED STATE. Unfortunately, he seems to be more interested in everything BUT filmmaking nowadays. Too bad.
There’s over-the-top pulp, and then there’s JOHN WOO over-the-top pulp. This is the most gloriously operatic and unrestrained of any of John Woo’s Hollywood movies, and both of its stars seem to have been stuck in that mode ever since.
The first BABE is pure sweetness and you should definitely see it too, but this is the one directed by George Miller, of MAD MAX fame. It’s wilder, sadder, scarier, and even more bizarre. It’s great. George Miller doesn’t work nearly enough.
Michael Mann again. This is his most high-minded movie, and there’s no reason it should be remotely as watchable and rewatchable as it is. It’s about network TV, journalism, and big tobacco, and yet it’s suspenseful, moving, and entertaining as all hell. So much of that comes from the dynamic, unusual directing choices of Mann, working with his DP from HEAT, Dante Spinotti. The musical selection, both of score and soundtrack, is impeccable and distinctive as it ever is with Mann, and the editing style is somewhat hypnotic. Of course the script by Mann and Eric Roth is impeccable, and then you have a roster of some of the world’s greatest actors, led by Al Pacino in maybe his last truly excellent role, and Russell Crowe, who was so ridiculously incredible in his transformative role that the Oscars realized they fucked up by not giving him Best Actor for this movie and corrected it the next year.
Still the best Superman movie since Richard Donner was making ‘em.
Look, I’ve had it up to here with M. Night Shyamalan too, but no one, not even Shyamalan himself, can strike this one from the win column. It’s a very solid script accompanied by thoughftul direction, with an unusually soft-spoken and gentle performance from Bruce.
This movie came on like a revelation from director David O. Russell, who had made two small movies at that point and no one could have expected him to make an action-comedy/war movie with an eclectic ensemble cast (including director Spike Jonze!) with raucous energy and actual formal innovations (with bleached-out cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel). It’s like KELLY’S HEROES but with more of a social conscience. This is one of the reasons people think of 1999 as a banner year for American film.
A bizarre and beautiful chimera that is a perfectly-modulated melding of the sensibilities of Jim Jarmusch and The RZA. Contains what is probably the last of the great wackadoo Henry Silva performances.
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