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Monday, March 26, 2012

The Movies that Defined the 1990's: 30-21

MC Hammer courtesy of
Here's part three of our look back at the films that defined the 90's as the decade some of us may want to forget. I'll reiterate that this is a list of the 50 films that best defined the 1990's - this doesn't mean they are the best films of the decade. I didn't see all these movies when they first premiered, but I was aware of the cultural significance of them and the impact they made on society and have since checked them all out. So let's continue looking back with #30 - #21.

#30. There's Something about Mary (1998)

It was a toss up between this one and Dumb and Dumber and, while I like the other better, I can't ignore how much bigger this movie became. While the Farrelly brothers had succeeded with the Jim Carrey project, it wasn't until this sick-minded R-rated comedy that they discovered what they could do when they stopped trying to "tone it down." A true gross-out comedy for the years leading up to the 21st century, this Ben Stiller star-maker featured enough dirty humor to make just enough somewhat unwanted impact. Oh, and Brett Favre is there, too.

#29. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

In 1984, an independent filmmaker named James Cameron made a little film called The Terminator, becoming one hottest directors in Hollywood. Seven years later, he got a much bigger budget and re-framed his story with the original antagonist now playing a hero - the rest is history. A huge hit that is every bit as good as the original, Cameron's visionary sci-fi action film proved what this mostly effects-focused director could do when he spent as much time on the story as he did on the special effects. Almost twenty years later, enter Avatar and the abortion of script and acting in favor of CGI. I blame T2.

#28. Natural Born Killers

A modern day Bonnie & Clyde, Oliver Stone's story of mass media glorification actually has story credit to Quentin Tarantino, too. Starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as friends from traumatic childhoods becoming psychopathic serial killers says more about how the news can turn things from bad to worse was a   graphic, but honest reminder of the dangers of public exposure. A tough one to get through at moments, with touches of Man Bites Dog-level scenes in places, it still may be Oliver Stone's best film since Platoon. And, let's be honest - what better casting was there in the 90's than Rodney Dangerfield playing Lewis' father?

#27. Schindler's List (1993)

More recently, Steve Spielberg has given into the "please the audience" dogma, easing up on topics and having as many happy endings as he can. In 1993, he made his most personal, difficult film with the Best Picture winner Schindler's List, a Holocaust true story much more about personal relationships than World War II itself. Centering around German businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) and his efforts to rescue his mostly Jewish workforce, this true story was easily one of the most deserving top Oscar winners of the decade. The dark, sharp filmmaking proved that Spielberg can make a bigger impact than just thrill-based films about aliens and horses.

#26. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Fiasco or not, think about what happened in this country when George Lucas announced his intentions to make these films. The first of these was released in 1999, much to the chagrin of Star Wars purists around the world. This scattered, misguided prequel to one of the greatest film trilogies of all time came packaged with more merchandise than anyone could count. Eventually leading to the re-release of the original three, this got the updates off to bad a start, easily being the worst of the six. Congrats to George Lucas for almost ruining the entire series with one name: Jar-Jar Binks.

#25.  The Usual Suspects (1995)

Its title was taken straight out of Casablanca. Its film noir detail was a call-back to the Hollywood studio era. Beyond that, there was nothing familiar about this wholly original film. Packed with A-list stars (and some undervalued B-level ones), Bryan Singer's film earned Kevin Spacey his first Oscar for Supporting Actor as Verbal Kint, as he recalls the fuzzy details about a boat heist he and his accomplices attempted to an investigator played by Chazz Palminteri. Even people who haven't seen the film know the ending - one of the best twists ever conceived. Kaiser Soze would have been proud.

#24. Clueless (1995)

Girls, man... In the 80's, director Amy Heckerling captured high school life with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In the 90's, she did it again - this time through the lips of Cher Horowitz, played by Alicia Silverstone - in Clueless. A variation on Jane Austen's 1815 novel Emma, this catchphrase-driven comedy used stereotype after stereotype to tell the story of a popular West Coast teenager and her matchmaking, fashion-finding ways. Featuring early work from Donald Faison, Breckin Meyer, Paul Rudd, and the late Brittany Murphy, it seems like a pretty dumb film, but it's smarter than you think. If you don't think so...well...whatever...

#23. Jurassic Park (1993)

The same year Spielberg released the dramatic Schindler's List, he also adapted the Michael Crichton novel Jurassic Park into a robotics/CGI showcase starring Sam Neil and Laura Dern. When a number of scientists and possible investors visit a dinosaur theme park that works like a zoo, you can't count on anything going well, especially when Speilberg ratchets up the special effects. Also starring Jeff Goldblum and Samuel L. Jackson, this big, brash action film was an exciting trip through a world we could only imagine, serving as an early look into a world of filmmaking with which we would soon be inundated.


#22. The Truman Show (1998)

Looking back now, it's amazing how ahead of its time this film was. A movie about a man whose life is fictional - a world setup for the purpose of the greatest reality show ever conceived - The Truman Show stars Jim Carrey as the title character, going through an existential crisis as the world around him begins to fall apart. Directed by Peter Weir, the film gained success due to Carrey's inclusion, but was a much better film than just a summer blockbuster starring a physical comedian. A layered discussion about the control the media tries to put on its stars, this was Carrey's first truly honest, solid performance. It's a shame it has since gone mostly to waste.

#21. The Lion King (1994)

In the late 80's, Disney's animation department was completely reborn. With the success of The Little Mermaid, the studio went on a winning streak, turning out other hits in succession, with Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Then came the biggest of all - the first Disney animated film without a single human character, The Lion King took a stellar voice cast and created an international behemoth. Touching on Shakespearean topics, the story of Simba's rise to the throne is fun for all ages and will always remain one of the biggest hits the studio ever had, Broadway show and all.

Well, we're to the top 20. Coming soon, we'll look at #20 through #11.

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