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.
Even the people who already love this movie probably don’t even fathom the full extent of its excellence. 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-even-by-film-geeks-who-should-know-better 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. Read more from me on this one here!
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. More from me here.
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. Rosie Perez is wonderful also.
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. Expanded thoughts on this movie here.
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.
As an undergraduate, I wrote a seventeen-page paper on GROSSE POINTE BLANK, so convinced was I about how great it is. I still love it, but I’ll try to be more brief here.
GROSSE POINTE BLANK has a brilliant one-liner comedy concept – contract killer accepts invitation to high school reunion due to its proximity to his latest contract – and a brilliant fit of a leading man in John Cusack. Cusack and his co-writers fine-tuned Tom Jankewicz’s original script and got the movie made under the direction of George Armitage, a filmmaker who works way too infrequently, having made the underrated MIAMI BLUES and the even more underrated HIT MAN with Bernie Casey and Pam Grier. Armitage nails the unusual tone of GROSSE POINTE BLANK, a very dark comedy about a paid murderer who is lovable mostly because he’s played by that guy who everyone loved in BETTER OFF DEAD and SAY ANYTHING.
The score is by Joe Strummer of The Clash. Pretty epic. The soundtrack is stacked with killer songs from the late ‘70s and ‘80s. The supporting cast is deadly – Dan Aykroyd deftly playing against type as an insane hitman and rival of Cusack’s Martin Blank. Alan Arkin as Blank’s traumatized psychologist, who begs him to stop coming back. Joan Cusack as Blank’s secretary, equally traumatized. MAGNUM FORCE’s Mitch Ryan as the dad of Blank’s high school sweetheart (Minnie Driver). Jeremy Piven’s original hairline in an extended cameo. And many more.
In retrospect, GROSSE POINTE BLANK is less successful in its action-movie moments as it is anytime it’s being a hyper-verbal, deep dark and truly bizarre character study. But boy, it’s not like we ever get too many of those. I mean, technically this is a romantic comedy where plenty of people get shot dead. My kind of movie entirely. And in case you were ever wondering where the name of my site ‘DEMON’S RESUME’ comes from… now you know!
Most people would argue that PULP FICTION is Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece. A lesser number would argue for this one. I tend to favor JACKIE BROWN, largely because I love Pam Grier and Robert Forster so much and this movie is a highlight for both of them. It’s interesting that almost everybody favors either PULP FICTION or JACKIE BROWN — these are the only Tarantino-directed films where his recognizable and dominant authorial voice has ever been ameliorated by second writers. PULP FICTION drew on material by Tarantino’s one-time collaborator Roger Avary, while JACKIE BROWN is of course based on a novel by Elmore Leonard. I’m not saying that’s good or bad or necessary or even interesting — it just is what it is. But until DJANGO UNCHAINED, I never loved a Tarantino movie as much as I loved JACKIE BROWN. JACKIE BROWN started from a great place (the book RUM PUNCH) and is stocked entirely with maybe the greatest Tarantino cast ever, with one of the greatest Tarantino soundtracks. It’s pretty glorious.
Here’s what I wrote about this movie for a list of Underrated Horror films:
As far as strict classifications go, LOST HIGHWAY is more of an elliptical art film (which goes heavy on the L.A. noir elements) than a horror movie. Try telling me that in 1997, when friends and I saw it twice in theaters just because it was so goddamned freaky, or when I creeped myself out listening to the soundtrack while driving down a dark highway. When my friends and I were younger we reveled in absurdities – the less sense something made, the more invigorating it seemed to be. Then you become a film major and you start looking to ascribe meaning to everything. I don’t know that you can make sense out of a movie like LOST HIGHWAY. It seems to be the story of a jazz musician (Bill Pullman) who is arrested for killing his wife (Patricia Arquette) and then has a psychotic break, wherein he imagines himself as a younger man (Baltazar Getty) being mentored by a violent gangster (Robert Loggia), only to fall in love with the gangster’s girl (Patricia Arquette). In both storylines the protagonist is haunted by a Mystery Man (Robert Blake in ghostly pale makeup) who seems to know everything and be everywhere.
Been a Howard Stern fan for a long time, regardless of what anybody has to say against me for it. This movie is pretty unassailably good, regardless of your feelings on a lifelong flashpoint of controversy like Howard. It’s a super-smart, efficient, fast-moving, and very funny flick, a sterling example of the biopic format. Really, it’s THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT with a happier ending.
Yeah, I can’t look at that poster without laughing. First of all, even the title is funny, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, which, as the story of a small-town theater company eagerly anticipating the visit of a big-city critic, is obviously a play on Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT. Then you have Christopher Guest’s bowl-cut, Kriss-Kross ensemble, and beatific smile. His character’s name is Corky St. Clair. I’m now making tons of typos because I’m laughing while I pound this out. The sincerity and the naïveté of the cast of this movie, played by a roster of comedic ringers including Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Larry Miller, Bob Balaban, Brian Doyle-Murray, and the great Fred Willard, is simply astounding. It’s probably not accurate to say you watch this movie and laugh with these characters — you’re most definitely laughing at them, but somehow loving them sincerely at the same time. Pillory me for a non-consensus opinion, but I like this movie way better than THIS IS SPINAL TAP.
Sam Raimi made his name on a trio of uniquely comic horror films and a superhero movie that felt like a Universal horror film, but in the 1990s, he branched out and made a Western, a baseball picture, and a Southern Gothic drama, and this, a grim suspense thriller about two small-town brothers who find a downed plane in a remote snowbank. The plane has a dead body inside, and also a huge sum of money. A SIMPLE PLAN was based on an excellent novel by Scott Smith and if anything, Raimi’s horror expertise adds to the creeping dread of what could be very dry and formulaic in another director’s hands. All of the performances are uncommonly good and unexpectedly moving and/or upsetting. Raimi’s cross-genre experiments in the 1990s turned out to be a proving ground for his mega-budget blockbuster career, and I do love his SPIDER-MAN movies, but if we’re going to be getting stuff like that OZ movie from here on out, I’ll be over here praying that Raimi goes back to these smaller-budgeted treasures instead.
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.
Normally I hate long, indulgent movies; however, this one I adore. With good reason. It’s like a symphony.
This is Tim Burton’s tribute to the old Hammer horror pictures. Some people think it isn’t serious enough, seeing the great potential lost when frights are swapped out for comedy’s sake. Honestly I agree, but not to the point where I can’t enjoy the movie Burton did make. After all, it could be way worse. The greatest cinematic treatment of Washington Irving’s eternal tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman continues to be the 1949 Disney cartoon version. But this one has its fair share of great moments.
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.
Am I missing any? Is it possible? Find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb