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Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Movies that Defined the 1990's: 50-41

Nirvana courtesy of
I was born in 1983, so the bulk of my memorable youthful existence took place in the 1990's, a time when flannel became a fashion statement, music became extremely "cleaned up" by the studios, and movies got, for the most part, bigger (not necessarily better). In an effort to relive my childhood, I compiled a list of the 50 films that best defined the 1990's - this doesn't mean they are the best films of the decade. Keep in mind that these are all films commercially distributed in the United States - I lived a sheltered life back then. 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. So without further ado, let's open it up at #50 and stop at #41 for this post.

50. American History X (1998)

 It was a revelation, shining a light on a still rampant culture of racism and bigotry. We may have been decades removed from segregation and the Civil Rights movement, but prejudice still existed/s. A star-making performance from Edward Norton, Jr., this brutal story of a white supremacist's transformation from a life of hate to a life of tolerance is not the easiest to stomach, but, even with some hyper-stylized directorial decisions, it still has the power to turn some heads and incite some change.

49. Being John Malkovich (1999)

Music video director Spike Jonze stepped behind the camera again for his first full-length feature with Being John Malkovich, working off an original script by a little known TV writer named Charlie Kaufman. This fascinating collaboration grabbed some big name stars, including Malkovich himself, and proved that even the strangest concepts are worthy of high-level talent. Kaufman has since written some of the most innovative scripts of the past decade, while Jonze has kept busy with smaller projects and the occasional team-up with Kaufman for more feature film brilliance.

48. The Big Lebowski (1998)

 I know what you're thinking, but remember - this isn't a favorites list. While the Coen brothers comedy has become one of the biggest cult hits of all time, upon its release, it received very little buzz. Set in the early 90's, this tribute to film noir and the subset of Americans obsessed with doing nothing has become one of the most beloved "late-night" films ever, not to mention a proponent for recreational drug use. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman anchor a hilarious film that, if it had received the attention it deserved upon its first release, it may have peaked higher here. It plays more like a film nostalgic for the 90's, rather than a movie made in the 90's.

 47. Goldeneye (1995)

This tired film series needed a reboot. The emergence of a dapper British actor named Pierce Brosnan as a budding movie star coincided, giving us Goldeneye, a much more controlled Jamed Bond film than the Roger Moore 80's ventures. The film itself isn't so great - what embedded this film into the public conscience was its collaboration with the Nintendo 64 and the release of one of the most influential first-person shooter games of all time, named after the film, but encompassing all the past films, too.With the film being released when this new gaming system became popular, the fit was there - gaming would never be the same and the Bond series had its new star.

46. Se7en (1995)

Again...not a "best of" list, I'll remind you. Director David Fincher's first real success, this crime drama starred Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as partners looking for a John Doe (played by Kevin Spacey at his creepiest) - a man murdering people with a seven deadly sins theme. It's gruesome and scary, but also a brilliant mystery that twists and turns through people and places, as well as the detectives' heads. One of the most ingenious endings put on film, it turned Pitt into more than a sex symbol and Fincher into one of the most visionary directors in Hollywood.

45. American Pie (1999)

As we prepare for, in my mind, an unwanted new installment of this series, I can still fondly remember the original American Pie as a new phase of teen comedy. Released when I was a sophomore in high school, it hit all the right notes for a teenage boy fully ingrained in his awkward years. Watching it again, it's a pretty sloppy, lazy film; but, that doesn't mean it wasn't somewhat honest. It began an era where every single movie involving high schoolers had to focus on the need for sex. Whether that's good or bad is your call.

44. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Johnny Depp had shown flashes of strange movie role decisions (collaborations with Tim Burton - Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood), but Terry Gilliam's interpretation of the life and writing of Hunter S. Thompson was a twisted, drug-fueled look at the man that would become a kindred spirit for the young actor. Another "late night" movie, Fear and Loathing is essentially plotless, but found its following somehow within "bat country." Above all, it signified that Johnny Depp wouldn't be just another pretty boy - he would do what he wanted, when he wanted, even if it made him look absolutely insane.

43. Legends of the Fall (1994)

Hey, it's Brad Pitt again. Pitt had made his sex symbol mark on the world with his small role in Thelma & Louise, but this epic coming of age story made him the go-to guy for those roles. Also starring Anthony Hopkins and Aidan Quinn, the film catapulted not only Pitt into stardom, but made his character's name (Tristan) into a favorite among expectant mothers. The sexiest man alive drove women to the box office for this Edward Zwick film and gave birth to any number of long-haired, gruff leading men.

42. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

I bet you were wondering when Tom Hanks would show up for the first time. Back when Meg Ryan was still a respectable actress, her second collaboration with Hanks was their best (though You've Got Mail has Dave Chappelle) - a touching story of a boy who wants his dad to find love again. One of the most respected romantic films of the past 25 years, the simple narrative didn't make it any less affecting. I wouldn't be surprised if it was the biggest date movie of the year, if not the decade.

41. Twister (1996)

Two years after Speed (sorry...didn't make the list), Jan de Bont directed one of the first true disaster movies of the decade with 1996's Twister, starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. It helped usher in a weird obsession with natural disasters, giving way to films like Volcano and Dante's Peak, then shifting to even larger scale disaster films like Armageddon and Deep Impact. Whether we like it or not, this one was the catalyst - a CGI-driven movie with an unrecognizable, scattered story that still made a pretty exciting watch. How many other movies have flying cows?

Well, that's it for part one. Part two coming soon with movies #40-#31.


  1. How is a meg ryan not a "respectable" actress anymore? The film "The Deal" in 2009 with William H macy was a great project. Really miss her in the cinema today.

  2. Well, since '98, she has done few projects, most of which have just been atrocious - I don't doubt she still has the chops. She just needs to pick better projects. Until she gets back to being more dependable as a leading lady (or even a character actress), I doubt I'll be swayed.