Generation Film’s Top 20 Films of the 90s

20. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas- Adapting Hunter S. Thompson’s extremely subjective novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was not an easy task but Terry Gilliam finished an extremely successful decade, including acclaims for The Fisher King and 12 Monkeys, by grasping this difficult narrative source with precise interpretation and a psychedelic visual touch that accentuated the entire film’s message. This alienating film was a box office flop but its standing as a film example of art can be felt throughout its disorienting camera angles and manipulative use of technique. The unfortunate pigeonhole effect from druggies and their admiration for the film just shows how this film is continually misinterpreted and demands more than one viewing for its nuanced subtleties.

19. Chun King Express- Wong Kar Wai’s intensely visually Chun King Express is incredibly experimental while also remaining grounded in its extremely emotional and romantic story. Splitting the film into two stories, one a romanticized and failed version of love while the other is a realistic and contemplative one, Wong Kar Wai shows his abilities to make resonantly sympathetic characters and accentuate their longing and desires through subjective and experimental uses of the camera. Chun King Express certainly shows that love can happen sporadically with two strangers and makes for an emotional and heartfelt tale.

18. Se7en- Another filmmaker with a relatively good decade, excluding Alien 3, was David Fincher and his most cerebral and methodically paced film was Se7en, which follows two detectives trying to catch a serial killer who utilizes the seven deadly sins to target and kill his victims. This twisty tale presented in a trademark style from Fincher made this crime thriller an engaging and memorable cinematic experience. Any first time viewers will leave the film with a haunting and weighty feeling on their shoulders, making this smart thriller one of the best films of the 90s decade.

17. Hoop Dreams- the documentary that follows the basketball dreams of two separate urban kids is a film that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s almost as though you’re watching a live game, getting deeply involved with the idealistic expectations, individual’s follies, and unfortunate events that are layered throughout this long, emotional, and trying documentary. People in the real world are just as complex, engaging, and tragic as anyone in fiction and Hoop Dreams is one of those rare documentary gems that show in detail the human condition at a time in place using people’s dreams as a manipulator rather than politics.

16. Bottle Rocket- Wes Anderson’s French New Wave crime comedy about three bumbling nobodies trying to become notorious criminals is a stylish and humorous tale that established Anderson as a modern filmmaking auteur in the classic understanding of the word. This inventive comedy is filmed intimately and explored in a very subtle fashion amongst extremely strange characters that are more innocent than they even realize either with crime, relationships, or all around scheming. Bottle Rocket established the style and delivery of Wes Anderson in later celebrated and unique works including Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

15. Beauty and the Beast- A defining moment for Disney’s innovative storytelling prowess and a remarkable achievement from the dismal 80s, Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for best picture. Its catchy musical tunes and colorful imagery are only the superficial qualities that can be admired in this beautiful film which also contains a great deal of imagination. Without this golden egg, Disney probably wouldn’t have survived to continue its beloved Renaissance period that proved animation could be quality storytelling which could rival the best in live action filmmaking..

14. Fight Club- David Fincher’s mesmerizing onslaught of visual disarray and subjective exploration known as Fight Club was a deeply innovative story and stylistic delivery to come out of the 90s. Extremely memorable in its twists and realizations demanding multiple viewings for its complex narrative, Fight Club was an experimental and defining moment for 90s cinema that defined the capabilities of the decade in many technical elements of filmmaking. This intriguing thriller is definitely a pop culture favorite but remains a piece of quality cinema despite the fan base that glorifies it beyond reproach.

13. The Usual Suspects- a film that continued the tradition of Noir thrillers in the same vein as Carol Reed’s The Third Man was Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects that possessed a twist ending that was original and shocking. Going through this film’s twists and turns is an entertaining experience especially with such a superb cast and unique script. The thrilling experience that The Usual Suspects has to offer has yet to be ridiculed or panned by any critic or viewer, at least from this writer’s experience. It is loved and admired for its gripping characters and manipulative conclusion.

12. Forrest Gump- A little overrated but deservedly so, Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump combined the naivety of a mentally challenged young man with the most important people and events of modern history to make a modern age Being There, where a relatively unknown and unimportant man acts as a blank slate for better and smarter people. It’s a genuine tale that can make even the most hostile person smile and the only film to have a chain of restaurants named after it. It’s an historical journey that also focuses on the lasting attributes of love and friendship, which endures the most trying of circumstances.

11. Trainspotting- Another film in the 90s that explored the vice of drug use exceptionally well was Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting that mixed humor, subjectivity, and a potent message together for a resilient piece on flawed human nature. This stylish film keeps a tight focus on its complex characters and hooks the audience with its unique dialogue and visuals. It is not a film to be taken lightly and is another film that is misinterpreted on many occasions but remains a prime example of 90s filmmaking and established Danny Boyle as a director to be respected.

10. Toy Story- the groundbreaking animation film that launched the phenomenon known as Pixar into deserving fame was John Lasseter’s Toy Story. This extremely witty and well developed story on the mysterious world of toys once left alone was unique and opened up the forum of 3D animation for the rest of the world to experience. Lasseter’s imagination for telling stories that connect on multiple levels with both adults and children is unprecedented and Toy Story remains one of their best works along with the fact that it established the quality standard that Pixar is now known for.

9. Magnolia- Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic tangled story of various individuals in the San Fernando Valley trying to find meaning is an incredibly unique and thought provoking film that becomes as beautiful as its darkest moments. This biblically referencing tale on human suffering and our interconnectedness remains a hotly debated film in all of the stories uncomfortably realistic moments among its surreal conclusion. If there were more filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson willing to explore grandiose concepts such as the complex intention of Magnolia than film would remain an incredibly special place to tell stories.

8. L.A. Confidential- Curtis Hanson’s complex crime noir drama L.A. Confidential was simply robbed of best picture by James Cameron’s over hyped Titanic, which demonstrated that intellectual dramas with multi-dimensional characters and complex storylines will always play second fiddle to over dramatized romance schlock. Fortunately L.A. Confidential will be remembered as a flawless depiction of 40s noir cinema while remaining modern in delivery and original in scope. Combining various genre styles and conventions Curtis Hanson was able to make an exceptional crime drama that is entertaining and thought provoking.

7. Unforgiven- Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven is a hauntingly reflective piece on regret and explores the ridiculousness of legend making in the barbaric outlands of the west. Making an ambiguous moral world where good and evil are not definable qualities in man Eastwood allows for his film to incredibly complex characters carry the films hard to swallow realism. The visuals are beautiful yet mournful and maintain that complexity throughout the entire film in its story, characters, and message.

6. Saving Private Ryan- When Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan lost the Best Picture Oscar to the horrid Shakespeare in Love it was a travesty considering that Spielberg’s war drama was a marvel of realism and established how modern war films would continue to be presented. This emotional and awe inspiring film will be remembered for its portrayal of the soldier’s experience and delicately contemplates the significance of a life and earning grace. Saving Private Ryan knew how to establish complex and relatable characters amidst the chaos and brutality of war that demands endurance and understanding from its participants.

5. Silence of the Lambs- Jonathan Demme’s intriguing and hauntingly suspenseful take on the horror genre proves that subtlety triggers at an audience’s nerves more than slasher gore and music stings could ever accomplish. Known for Sir Anthony Hopkins’ extremely memorable portrayal of the sociopath cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs goes beyond simple film expectations delivering chills and atmospheric tension that builds unlike any other film of its kind. At times disturbing and uniquely charming, much like the character Lecter himself, Demme’s film will be copied and referenced for the rest of cinematic history.

4. Fargo- the darkly satirical film Fargo by the Coen Brothers is an incredibly fascinating study of a different type of barren wasteland of snow and it’s reflection to human nature. The film’s tongue and cheek credit opening claiming the events are based on a true story, which is not the case, makes the dark humor resonate with each folly and miscommunication. Morbid and extremely humorous, Fargo is considered to be the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece and is a finely made film that is hard to beat in balancing contradictory emotions, well developed characters, and accentuating the themes and messages with visual effectiveness.

3. Pulp Fiction- Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece Pulp Fiction was leap forward in storytelling that focused on character dialogue interactions through a non-linear narrative and was a defining moment for cinema from that moment onward. Its influence is incredibly felt but still remains to be beaten at its own game for intriguing scenarios, unique characters, and successful mixing of various cinematic styles, including noir, gangster films, and fragmented story classics such as Orson Welle’s Citizen Kane and Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon.

2. Schindler’s List- Steven Spielberg’s haunting and reflectively paced holocaust film Schindler’s List may not be the best holocaust film ever made (a fact they would like you to believe) but it is still an incredibly made film that explores many dark and difficult themes. Schindler’s List is a riveting tale of survival and friendship amidst the historical horror that was the holocaust that demonstrated Spielberg’s talents as a fine director and reminds us of a time when he made consistently good films that had something to say.

1. Goodfellas- Martin Scorsese’s fine direction and grasp for characters morality is greatly explored here in this intelligent and complex script based on Henry Hill’s autobiography. In Goodfellas Scorsese perfected his unique style of camera work, multi-dimensional characters, and explored a complex theme of flawed human morality set in the corrupt world of the mob making an extremely memorable gangster film that is one of the best in history. Goodfellas is violently gripping and creates an emotional rollercoaster that will be remembered by all who experience it.

Honorable Mentions: The Shawshank Redemption, Man Bites Dog, Breaking the Waves, Rushmore, Fallen Angels, Quiz Show, The Insider, The Thin Red Line, The Matrix, Miller’s Crossing, and In the Name of the Father

6 Responses to “Generation Film’s Top 20 Films of the 90s”
  1. Johnny says:

    HELL ya Goodfellas number 1

  2. rick says:

    Pretty good list although I consider Braveheart the greatest movie off all time. I would have also liked to see “Dumb and Dumber” or “Tommy Boy” if you’re going to include funny movies. Fargo seems to be on a lot of lists for some reason. It wasn’t that special.

  3. Wes says:

    Goodfellas all the way Baby. Scorsese is a true Movie making genius.

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