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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Movies that Defined the 1990's: 20-11

cast of "Seinfeld" courtesy of
Part four of our look at the films that defined the 90's and all the magic it had to offer...list of the 50 films that best defined the 1990's..blah blah...not the best films of the decade...yadda yadda. Now we're building up to easily the most culturally significant on society and ones that stick in everybody's mind, I'm sure. Onto #20- #11.

#20. Saving Private Ryan (1997)

Every person's pick for the film that should've won Best Picture instead of Shakespeare in Love (not me - The Thin Red Line in my book), Steven Spielberg's World War II epic about a group of men who go looking for one soldier is packed with all-star talent, weaves a pretty watchable story, and pairs it with some pretty realistic war scenes. The Oscar snub made it all the more likable, shining a light on an out-of-touch Academy in a year when it was supposed to be a sure thing. Either way, however pandering the third act becomes, Private Ryan is an essential piece of 90's cinema.

#19. Goodfellas (1990)

Another one of those "this isn't a best of list" movies, Scorsese's should-have-been first Best Picture Oscar film kicked off the decade with a brutally honest, exciting mob movie starring Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci (in an Oscar winning role) and Robert De Niro. Marty has since won the Oscar (The Departed), but more than deserved to take it home with this pitch-perfect, beautifully acted and written movie about the romance of mob life and what it means to be a part of something that makes you "special." It doesn't really feel like a 90's movie, but it does feel like the best film of the decade.

#18. The Sixth Sense (1999)

Ah, the misguided promise of an up-and-coming filmmaker. In 1999, a young director named M. Night Shyamalan gave the world The Sixth Sense, a suspenseful spine-tingler about a child who sees dead people. Starring Bruce Willis as a therapist helping the boy (played expertly by Haley Joel Osment), this twisting mystery gave us another one of the best twist endings in recent memory. The fan base of this film is pretty substantial, even after Shyamalan has since not delivered on the high expectations his debut film set. That's what you get for leading with your best.

#17. Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Horror films don't win Oscars. In fact, they rarely get nominated. Though I still hate that this film is classified as such, it still holds that genre-definition and, thus, is the only horror film to ever take Best Picture home. Jonathan Demme's film adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel stars Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster (both winning Oscars) in maybe their best roles and won Demme the Oscar for directing and Ted Tally the Oscar for screenplay. A rare sweep, Silence of the Lambs wasn't just a critical success - the pop culture response to the great character of Hannibal Lecter is immeasurable, even if we tried to take a census. I won't, though; it doesn't end well.

#16. Pretty Woman (1990)

In 1990, we saw this young Southern belle named Julia Roberts get nominated for an Oscar in the ensemble dramedy Steel Magnolias, but weren't ready to give her a lead role yet. Enter Garry Marshall and the story of a "hooker with a heart of gold." Pretty Woman unleashed Roberts onto the world, "America's Sweetheart" if ever there was one. She proceeded to star in about 20 films through the 90's, most of them being substantial hits. Pretty Woman redefined the romantic comedy (for better or worse) and created waves of Julia Roberts wanna-bes.

#15. Reservoir Dogs

In the early 90's, a video-store employee named Quentin Tarantino planned to shoot a movie with his friends for $30,000. Actor Harvey Keitel got involved and helped produce and fund the movie which would become Reservoir Dogs, an ultra-violent heist film where we never see the original crime. Starring Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, and Tarantino, this exciting new take on filmmaking and violence on screen was stomach-turning for many, but made an immediate impact. Since, we have seen waves of Tarantino-imitators, but none will rival what this original vision did to an unsuspecting general public.

#14. Independence Day (1996)

From an indie success to a gigantically successful sci-fi disaster pic - that's how the 90's worked. Up to this point, we knew Will Smith as the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" - part comedian, part rapper. The year before, he managed to break out into action-comedy with Bad Boys, but, when paired with director Roland Emmerich, he took the world by storm. Also starring Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Randy Quaid, Independence Day was an exciting take on the alien invasion subject and helped usher in a world of summer blockbusters that were meant as nothing more than exposure for their leads. From that point on, Will Smith could do pretty much whatever he wanted.

#13. Thelma & Louise (1991)

It had been a while since the world got a good old fashioned women's lib movie. In 1991, they got it from director Ridley Scott - Thelma & Louise stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as two friends from Arkansas who shoot a rapist and then go on the lam in a '66 Thunderbird. A movie about taking your life into your own hands if ever there was one, the film won screenwriter Callie Khouri the Oscar for Original Screenplay and earned five other nominations. Oh, and it was the first memorable appearance of a guy named Brad Pitt. To this day, few films can measure up to the true feminist power of these two leads - all this helmed by the same man that directed Gladiator.

#12. Boyz n' the Hood (1991)

Two years after Spike Lee publicized the race discussion ten-fold with Do the Right Thing, John Singleton wrote and directed Boyz 'n the Hood, a more extended saga of childhood friends growing up in the Los Angeles ghetto. All in all, a simple story of choices made and what it means to have pride in oneself and one's family, this honest portrayal of the social problems of the inner-city was a starting point for Cuba Gooding, Jr., as well as a surprisingly strong showing for rapper Ice Cube. Nominated for two Oscars, Singleton's film tackled the race questions Spike Lee attacks so well, but expanded the discussion to a larger audience.

#11. Scream (1996)

 The scary movie genre was losing steam in the 1990's, as were some of its biggest advocates and directors. In 1996,  horror master Wes Craven decided to turn the tables and make a "meta" horror film - a parody of the genre, while also fitting into those genre restrictions. But, above all the innovative decisions was the biggest - killing off your most bankable star in the first act. Drew Barrymore was pitched as a lead, but in a stroke of genius, Craven sent her packing immediately in the film. Imitators would follow, but Scream redefined what the genre could be.

Whew...that was tough. Next up is the top ten - the most important blog post you will ever read.

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