Generation Film’s Top 25 Films of the 90s Redux

Metropolitan225. Metropolitan (1990) – The immediate reaction people will have with this pick will be an angry outburst relating to how they’ve never even heard of this independent film. Director/writer Whit Stillman received an Academy Award nomination for original screenplay for this oddly unique film that focused on a young man’s romantic misadventures as he meanders through the New York debutante society as an outsider. There are no films even to this day that are truly like Metropolitan because it’s a film that acts more like a literary work than it does a cinematic one. It’s a film that embraces character complexity and captures a bourgeoisie culture in honest form that is both mocked and admired in Whit Stillman’s witty script. Though it is the subject of a particular time, a particular place, and a particular class of people the story itself couldn’t be more timeless because it relates to the troubles of growing up. Despite the sophisticated dialogue, the constant literary allusions, and the alienating upper class setting, Metropolitan is a film that is an undeniably tender and relatable tale of adolescent anxieties.

large_being_john_malkovich_blu-ray_0724. Being John Malkovich (1999) – the incredible and distinctive mind of Charlie Kaufman was first introduced to the world with the surreal film Being John Malkovich. Audiences peering into the guided lens of director Spike Jonze are basically being transported into the mind of Charlie Kaufman for a brief period of time as we view the bizarre and truly unrecognizable world of sexual marionettes, a bombardment of non-sequiturs, and a twisted spin on the idea of immortality. The film takes a basic idea of imagining being someone else and makes it a literal occurrence as a puppeteer is placed inside the actor John Malkovich’s actual head. Being John Malkovich is a film that transcends description and is extremely philosophical while also being stylishly humorous. As difficult as the film can be to comprehend due to its cynically peculiar observations on literal transference there isn’t a film in existence that is even remotely similar to it. This humorously surrealist film opened up the world of film in fascinating ways and remains a truly unique example of philosophical and psychological experimentation in cinema.

Fear-and-Loathing-in-Las-Vegas23. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) – there is no doubt that adapting any work of the late Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson would always be an ambitious undertaking, especially when it came to the psychedelically subjective book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Director Terry Gilliam brought his exceptionally distinct visual eye to aid in the creation of a feverishly accurate adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s book, which is a celebration and dissection of the American Way of life. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is both horrifying and hilarious in the same viewing because of its truthful spiral into the extremes of self-indulgence or the elimination of all recognizable human qualities. The quote by Samuel Johnson in the opening of the film speaks volumes, “he who makes a beast out of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas might have been a box office flop but it couldn’t have been made without Terry Gilliam’s genuine attention to detail that highlighted the social commentary at the heart of Hunter S. Thompson’s work.

sweet-122. The Sweet Hereafter (1997) – More often than not there is tragedy in life splitting the victims to one side who are lost looking for someone to blame and on the other side are those looking to profit off of misery, whether it’s financial or influential gain. Egyptian director Atom Egoyan brought this challenging idea to the screen in The Sweet Hereafter as this tale of loss, bitterness, and internal struggle becomes an ethereal visual experience. What is so fascinating about the film is that the lawyer (Ian Holm) on the external level appears to be a greed mongering opportunist but the revelations we have of his character hint at an internal sense of justice. It’s a film that feels beyond our world contemplating all the varying character points of view in a sort of transcendental objectivity. Not many can appreciate this movies deliberate slow pace but it’s a rare gem in contemplative cinema.

295ddvl21. Chungking Express (1994) – director Wong Kar Wai could be considered the Jean Luc-Godard of Hong Kong cinema and his beautifully visual and romanticized film ChungkingExpress definitely serves as the best example of that connection. Instead of giving you a single film about love Kar Wai serves up a dualistic film with two varying tales that have varying cultural expectations of love. These two thematically related stories follow two different cops who are both pining over ex-lovers until someone else eventually sweeps them off their feet. Generally films that try to convey the idea of love are erroneously idealistic and while there is still an optimistic tone to Chungking Express the characters find love like we all find it, through trial and error. Wong Kar Wai demonstrates that truly romantic filmmakers are the ones that capture the deep seated longing of desire, which he accentuates through his genuine characters, beautiful cinematography, and clever use of pop-culture tunes.

img_current_711_00220. Hoop Dreams (1994) – the aftereffects of competitive sports can have unbelievably positive results but more often than not those dreams of professional glory dissipate from attainable reality. The documentary Hoop Dreams is a rarity on the documentary scene because while it might revolve around two specific high school basketball players the theme is undeniably universal. Experiencing the film is almost as if you’re experiencing a live game with all the frustrations, the struggles, the hopes, the failures but with much more at stake than just rankings. The highs and lows of competitive sports can be seen through the struggle of two inner city boys and how life on the court is no different from their lives in the real world. Hoop Dreams is relentless in its honesty as it follows the two boys with a patient and purely objective point of view. Whatever the dream, whether it’s basketball, filmmaking, or science, what is required is true heart and trueness of self and Hoop Dreams definitely shows this theme in an honest fashion.

seven219. Se7en (1995) – meticulous and deeply psychological thrillers definitely preceded David Fincher’s serial killer film Se7en but it was the callous, technical execution that made it truly unforgettable. Focusing on the anonymous killers’ methods and deeply held beliefs gave insight to the disturbing side of humanity inevitably asking the question if any of humanity is worth saving. Two philosophically divergent detectives work together as horrific murder after horrific murder is uncovered challenging each of their preconceived beliefs in a gritty, dirty cinematic world that seems alien yet hauntingly familiar. While many revere Fincher’s later film Fight Club as the high point of his technical and cynical style but really it’s Se7en that not only defined his future approach it also redefined serial killer films for the next generation.

Picture3-118. Breaking the Waves (1996) – Controversial auteur Lars Von Trier doesn’t make films that are easily digestible and his masterpiece Breaking the Waves is no different. At the heart of the film is the idea that life is swinging on a pendulum between pleasure and pain implying that without one there won’t be an authentic experience of the other. Von Trier was one of the Dogma 95 independent revolutionaries and his minimalist style heightens the uncomfortable situations in the film from coping with sudden physical ailments to sexual exploitation. Through the pain in the film there is immense beauty and though the entire experience is a relentless barrage of personal sadness, religious doubt, and physical abuse the final shot of the film inspires a great deal of hope. Not many filmmakers are truly honest about the realities of life because film is usually an escapist medium but Von Trier sets out to remind us that there is real pain in the world but there is also genuine beauty that can come of it.

ed-wood17. Ed Wood (1994) – As love letters to cinema go there is none more appropriate then the heartfelt admiration piece by Tim Burton on the “worst director of all time,” Ed Wood. The will to create as well as the desire to be remembered are two very relatable human qualities and director Ed Wood, though left wanting of talent, undoubtedly had an incredible desire to create as a genuine artist. The film shows all the humorous follies in the making of an Ed Wood picture from the awkward inoperable octopus in Bride of the Monster to the odd approach to his sex-change picture Glen or Glenda. The crux of Tim Burton’s film is that individuality can come at a personal price where acceptance doesn’t necessarily follow. There is obviously a lot about director Ed Wood that Tim Burton admired when he made this picture because the whole idea of not compromising your integrity as an artist is what’s most important as a struggling creative type. Most Hollywood tales end quite horribly so really Ed Wood is a bittersweet comedy about a man who will always be remembered though not in the way he wanted.

toy-story-production-stills-walt-disney-pixar-1995-2439216. Toy Story (1995) – Pixar began their illustrious feature career with the beloved and imaginative Toy Story that brought to life a world of talking toys that no one had really ventured before. Animation has always opened up the realm of possibilities for cinema but Pixar began a new revolution with genuine, personable storytelling with this delightful and ingenious film. Through the toys there are numerous lessons to be learned relating to friendship, purpose, and sacrifice, which brought back a sort of fable element to the purpose of animation film. Toy Story isn’t one of those films that is dependent on nostalgia to be enjoyable or understood because it’s very much a timeless animation experience with humor, character, and tenderness to spare. Not only will Toy Story be remembered for years to come as the catalyst for a new wave of imaginative animation movies but it will be known as one of the best complexly character driven animated films ever made.

rushmore15. Rushmore (1998) – auteur Wes Anderson’s quirky sophomore effort Rushmore was a diverse blend of inventive coming-of-age tale, French New Wave homage, and a throwback to screwball comedy. What’s so impressive is that while this blend of differing styles seems so conflicting it’s a roaring success in all three. Wes Anderson and co-writer Own Wilson’s disconnected wittiness mixed with emotional depth creates a portrait of adolescence that is realistic in its cheerfulness and pain. This semi-biographical film both for Anderson and Wilson is obviously heartfelt and that dedication created a film that is exceedingly intricate and visually vivid. Rushmore can’t be pigeonholed and defies categorization because it’s more of a cinematic poem to the nostalgia of our adolescent years in all of its sober honesty. Wes Anderson took the inventive style of his first feature Bottle Rocket and perfected it for Rushmore leaving a distinct stamp on cinema that would continue in the remainder of his career.

Barton Fink14. Barton Fink (1991) – The Coen Brother’s Barton Fink is satire of the highest order blatantly mocking Hollywood, artistic integrity, and themselves. The character of Barton is the embodiment of pretentious proclaiming to write for the “common-man” as a Jewish New York playwright and yet can’t even muster cordial conversation with his “common-man” neighbor. Barton Fink is a self-referential farce that seems to evolve as Barton’s experiences in Hollywood change his surroundings both physically and mentally. Writing a story for the “common-man” in Barton’s perspective is to write gripping, eloquent dramas with plot, character, and wit but ironically the “common-man” demands the lowest common denominator of entertainment thus creating the humorous paradox in the film and in life. Both Joel and Ethan Coen cynically mocked themselves as Jewish writers in Hollywood struggling to keep a sense of their identity in a business that demands simplicity. In creating this oddly surreal film that changes in dynamic tone the more engrained in the business Baton Fink becomes the Coens preserved their uniqueness while also highlighting that selling out is not necessarily the equivalent of selling your soul to the devil even if Barton believes that to be the case.

usualsuspects13.The Usual Suspects (1995) – manipulation of expectations on a grand scale is what Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects is all about and how the power of belief outweighs the power of truth. Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie won the Academy Award for Best Original screenplay for this immensely clever modern noir that kept most of its actors in the dark about the classic twist ending. But The Usual Suspects goes beyond just a clever twist because it has an incredibly vibrant cinematic feel and complex characters creating a crime world that is at once unique while also paying tribute to ones before it. It’s a tapestry of clues, verbal cues, and character traits that involves you every single viewing even if you’re aware of the surprise ending. The Usual Suspects is one of the finest examples of screenwriting from the 90s and due to Bryan Singer’s tactful direction it became an instant cult classic. No matter what you know going into a viewing of The Usual Suspects the tale itself is as convincing as the first time you heard it.

threecolorsblue-finale12. The Colors Trilogy: Blue (1993), White (1994), Red (1994) – perhaps it’s unfair to include three separate films in the same posting but really these three mastered films by Krzysztof Kieślowski are merely movements to a fully completed piece of orchestral cinematic beauty. Each color is representative of the French Flag with blue meaning liberty, white meaning equality, and red meaning fraternity. While each film embraces their colorized meaning it’s still too vague to describe each film’s unfathomable gorgeousness. Though they are all separate stories set in different places (Paris, Warsaw, Geneva) and have a wide range in tone from tragedy to comedy they are all interconnected. Individually Blue, White, and Red feel distant from each other in tone, character, and theme but together they make an awe-inspiring cinema experience that has yet to be mastered by equally magnificent creators. Krzysztof Kieślowski ended his dynamic career with this beautiful tribute to love and loss with three films that are as beautiful as they are poignant.

ariane179254_TheSilenceOfTheLambs_311. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Director Jonathan Demme was one of the first genre skippers as he was able to turn typical conventions inside out making the familiar unfamiliar again. The pulsating and exhilarating horror film The Silence of the Lambs is unlike any other horror film that preceded it in the sense that the woman is not the victim but rather the hero. Clarice Sterling is the one hunting down the culprit rather than the one being hunted until a vital twist near the end of the film that makes it all the more horrifying and tense. The deeper meaning behind Silence of the Lambs is rather uncomfortable to confront because of the disturbing implications it has on our society. As the film seamlessly shifts between Gothic psychological horror fantasy and deeply intricate police procedural the meaning becomes clear with the end shot of an American flag that serial killers are part of the American culture. There is nothing conventional about Demme’s accurate adaptation of Thomas Harris’ best seller and it transformed the horror genre for the better.

Boogie Nights10. Boogie Nights (1996)/Magnolia (1999) – another objectionable pairing of multiple films in one slot but the similarities in structure, message, and cinematic style between Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia are staggering. The time periods, the settings, and the carefully written unique characters in each of PTA’s character portraits might be different but the similar themes of identity, redemption, and loss are all placed on these two marvelously shot films. Together they resemble in their own individual creative ways how life is full of hope, pain, regret, and ultimately forgiveness. Boogie Nights embodies the more comedic approach in Anderson’s cinematic arsenal while Magnolia is the full immersion into a dramatic onslaught. If these two portraits reveal anything it’s that Paul Thomas Anderson was one of the most stylish and inventive filmmakers to emerge out of the 90s showing us that the classic way of telling stories can be modernized.

trainspotting9. Trainspotting (1996) – when a film attempts to tackle some form of social commentary it enters dangerous ground of reverting into a cliché or becoming overtly pretentious damaging the entire film experience on enjoyable levels and potential thought provoking levels. However, when director Danny Boyle followed his haunting yet darkly humorous thriller Shallow Grave with an adaptation of Irvin Welsh’s book “Trainspotting” (adapted by John Hodge) he stylishly remained above pretentious criticism or forcible creative cliché by giving an authentic, edgy, and shocking objective look at the world of drug addiction. Never taking a stance on the morals of drug usage, Boyle instead takes a deep focus on characters that are undeniably flawed but that meant making them exceptionally relatable and human. It’s a vibrant film filled with disorienting colors, nightmarish fantasies, and the uncomfortable trade between substance highs and responsibility lows. It isn’t an easy film to sit through by any means but Trainspotting was a clever display of how cinematic technique, even the rule breaking kind, can deliver riveting worlds that are real in their actions and consequences.

still-of-james-cromwell-in-l.a.-confidential8. L.A. Confidential (1997) – director Curtis Hanson’s beautifully constructed homage to 40s noirs entitled L.A. Confidential is a rarity of genre filmmaking that depended on cleverness in its mystery injected script that is as meticulous as it is intelligent. Curtis Hanson co-adapted the James Ellroy novel of the same name with Brian Helgeland, which brought to the screen an arguably perfect film noir that represented the moral ambiguity of 1940s/50s Los Angeles through intense character performances, unabashedly honest scenarios, and a corruption plot that is as twisty as the drive on Mulholland. Not only is L.A. Confidential a phenomenal tribute to noir classics, including The Big Sleep and Double Indemnity, but it’s such a successful embodiment of the genre that it very well will continue along with them as a noir classic. It’s a shame that Curtis Hanson’s crime thriller masterpiece was overlooked by the in the moment romanticism of Titanic at the 1997 Academy Awards because the deserving winner was the smartly written and tactfully executed noir.

fargo 47. Fargo (1996) – The real brilliance within the Coen Brothers’ comedic crime film Fargo isn’t its matter of fact absurdity or its farcical characterization of Mid-western culture but rather it’s brilliant because it’s a tragedy dressed as a comedy. This comedy of errors has a deeply tragic plot of a man so desperate he concocts a plan and conspires to have his wife kidnapped so that he can share on the ransom money with a couple of hired thugs. It’s practically Shakespearean if you think about it because it’s not exactly dependent on time or place, yet The Coens chose Fargo, North Dakota as their specific location. Because of its isolation from normal city living and its cold, innocently white settings it juxtaposed poetically with a story that showcases the darkest and most desperate sides of humanity. Fargo is a film experience that is tragic in theme but extremely comedic in execution showing the delicate touch the Coen Brothers needed to deliver a film with such dualistic tendencies that is immensely thought provoking and always entertaining.

SPR-wallpaper-saving-private-ryan-1669460-1680-10506. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – War in all of its horror, grandiosity, challenging morality, and grasping of humanity had never felt so real until the incredibly made Saving Private Ryan came around at the hands of the talented Steven Spielberg. Saving Private Ryan is at once a dramatic experience that is reflective on the human costs of war but it’s also an incredibly engaging action film that allows you to realistically experience the cringe worthy horrors of the battles all throughout World War II. Though the battles have thematic thought provoking questions and the action places you in a discomfort zone, the real story in the film is about the lives of the soldiers who experienced it all. Human life isn’t something to be taken for granted and this idea is gracefully shown in the realistic and palpable characters throughout the film with doubt, innocence, honor, fear, and sacrifice. It’s unlikely that a war film can ever top the emotional and visceral level that Saving Private Ryan created because it is a film that changed everything.

unforgiven-clint-eastwood5. Unforgiven (1992) – at the heart of every western from Stagecoach to the The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence there was the idea of legend making where the power of myth was always more desirable than the reality. Clint Eastwood’s western masterpiece Unforgiven takes the idea of legends and turns them into an undesirable egoist lie where reality is practically void from the stories that are told. From the exaggerated beginning crime for vengeance effect to the biographer notating the myths of English Bob, Unforgiven turns tales into repugnant truths while also following a protagonist whose past is something he’d like erased. Remorse, vengeance, and myths are all classic western themes but they were revitalized into something fresh, dark, and meditative through Clint Eastwood’s tactful and thoughtful direction. While most westerns thrive off the idea of mythos making Unforgiven becomes an unforgiving antithesis of that classic western construct igniting a deep focus to the dark interior of humankind, especially in the lawless, amoral west.

Schindlers-List24. Schindler’s List (1993) – The Holocaust is one of the most significant and horrifying events in human history and one of the more reflective and artistically viable cinematic illustrations on a glimmer of light in the darkness of tragedy was captured by the keen eye of Steven Spielberg in Schindler’s List. What separated this genuinely humane artistic work from Spielberg’s previous blockbuster successes was the heart and respect the filmmaker had to genuinely portray the horrors in the most humanist way possible. Focusing on the moral conundrum of a German industrialist, Oskar Schindler, Spielberg exposed through cinema the suggestive power to do wrong and the struggle of doing right when the world all-around seems so wrong. The black & white cinematography is poignant, the John Williams’ score is hauntingly beautiful, and the story has relatable characters despite the already established sympathies to the events themselves. While the documentary Shoah might give you the full immersion into the horrors of the Holocaust, Schindler’s List goes out of its way to not only give you grounding in tragedy but also in hope.

pulp-fiction3. Pulp Fiction (1994) – it’s a bit angering that Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore feature Pulp Fiction has become the iconic perfection of film for a generation of self-proclaimed film connoisseurs who can barely recall a movie past the 90s, but there is a reason that this cleverly disorienting film has had such a profound culture shock. The concept of time has no meaning in this rabbit hole of a picture that goes deep into the mind of Tarantino the auteur bringing the audience a bizarre world filled with danger, hilarity, destiny, and spiritual possibility. Tarantino has a deep focus on characters rather than cohesive plot coherence, specifically characters that are paradoxically morally unpleasant and personably charming. Pulp Fiction was perhaps the perfect representation of a new wave of screenwriting where pop culture, profane realism, and surreal reflection all combine into a thrilling and engaging experience. Despite having led to an over indulgence in self-referential filmmaking, Quentin Tarantino will always have a place in cinema history because Pulp Fiction is a cultural masterpiece that changed the way we experience movies at a time when people thought all had been done before.

thinredline22. The Thin Red Line (1998) – No one ever thought that after two decades of cinematic silence from Terrence Malick that he could uproariously return with the most contemplative, conceptually driven, and humanist portrait of war that had ever been seen. The Thin Red Line follows Malick’s previous philosophical works, Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978), but widens his poetic gaze to the idea of war that followed and perfected his previous themes of nature and culture, humanity versus inhumanity, and transcendence coupled with profound loss. If Saving Private Ryan is the gritty realism of war then Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (based on James Jones’ 1962 novel) is the ethereal thoughts and contemplations of war. Bloodshed counter acts the beautiful surroundings of the Pacific with Malick revering both the lightness and the darkness of war reflecting on the possibility of transcendent realities we have yet to inhabit. The Thin Red Line acts as a cinematic poem about the metaphysical interpretation of war giving us a film that is a profound reflection on how the artistic usage of cinema is the only way of visualizing a transcendent reality.

goodfellas_91. Goodfellas (1990) – If Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather was a representation of how the mafia is like being in a family then Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas was a reminder that they are purely and unmistakably gangsters and nothing more. Mafioso fantasies have always been romanticized, especially in the medium of film, and are portrayed quite bluntly in Goodfellas through the idealistic narrated reflections of real life protagonist Henry Hill. Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi (who also wrote the book for Henry Hill’s biographical confessions) bludgeon the temptations of a criminal life by constructing their tour de force script around the downfall and devastating consequences of turning to a life in the mob. It’s a film that is authentic in its delivery, witty in its criticisms, reflective in its visuals, and timeless in its themes. Goodfellas is not only a damning portrait of mobsters and the mafia lifestyle but it’s also a stylishly made film that has inspired countless directors because of Martin Scorsese’s always inventive ways to be expressive and a fully engaging storyteller.

Honorable Mentions: Clerks, Naked, Dead Man, Hard Boiled, Forrest Gump, Bottle Rocket, Fight Club, Short Cuts, Beauty and the Beast, Shawshank Redemption, Miller’s Crossing, Braveheart, Quiz Show, American Beauty

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