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Monday, April 2, 2012

The Movies the Defined the 1990's: 10-1

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson
in "The X-Files"courtesy of
And we've arrived...the top ten movies that defined the 1990's. When I look at this list again, I can't help but be happy with myself. The rest of the list may have been a tad arguable, but I don't think anybody can complain about these ten films. Maybe the order is up for debate, but these are the ten. The definitive list. Culture was shaped by these films or they were a direct response due to societal behaviors and ideals. So, take a peek at #10 to #1.

#10. Braveheart (1995)

Before everybody and his brother lost respect for Mel Gibson, he was a talented actor and just starting to show himself as a solid director. In 1995, he gave the world an epic re-telling of the Scottish historical story of William Wallace, which he directed and starred in. It won him the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director, cementing him as one of the biggest A-list talents of the day. Maybe this film is so definitive because it reminds us of what Gibson is capable of when he isn't sticking his foot in his mouth. Maybe it's definitive because of the iconic battlefield speech. Or, it could just be because my friends and I parodied it quite a bit in our film "The Ode-Z," based on Homer's Odyssey. Either way, it was one of the biggest of the decade.

#9. The Matrix (1999)

Just when you thought they couldn't make movies any more mind-bending, enter the Wachowski brothers and a little film called The Matrix. Capitalizing on the ever-growing popularity of the world wide web, the film creates a world where life takes place entirely within an artificial reality filled with agents who all happen to look like Hugo Weaving. Neo - the role Keanu Reeves was born to play - goes from computer hacker to kung fu expert to all out hero as he tries to lead the rebellion against the controllers. In 2003, the brothers tried to ruin the film by slapping on two lackluster sequels, but the original still stands as one of the most important films of the 1990's.

#8. Reality Bites (1994)

 If there was a film that best described the youth of the 90's, it would be Reality Bites. Centering around Generation X graduates and the fear of "real life," this star-studded cast included Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Winona Ryder, Steve Zaun, and Janeane Garofalo as the lost souls looking for meaning in their lives. It's a comedy and it doesn't really go anywhere, but it's a snapshot of what those Generation X kids were thinking at the time. Grunge was dying, we were starting to hit our economic stride as a nation, and "yuppies" were taking over. Enter Ethan Hawke and his "winter of discontent" - as whiny and self-absorbed as it may have been, Reality Bites hit a note that made it a definitive 90's movie. Also, look for an early role for a young woman named Renee Zelwegger.

#7. Titanic (1997)

At the time, it was the biggest movie ever. James Cameron took the story of the "greatest ship ever built" and made it into a love story of the most epic proportions. It may have been a lazy story of class differences with a lot of two dimensional characters, but it could not be missed on the big screen. Paired with the biggest, cheesiest theme we'd heard in a long time ("My Heart Will Go On"), it took the world by storm. It's getting re-released into theaters in 3D (for whatever reason). What I always wondered - what about the guy that Rose eventually marries and has children with? Does he just not measure up to Jack? Weird...

#6. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

It's #1 of IMDB's list of the top 250 movies of all time, thanks to voters. If that's not impact, I don't know what is. Released in one of the greatest years ever for movies, The Shawshank Redemption took a Stephen King short story and turned it into a touching story of friendship and, well, redemption. Starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, this Frank Darabont feature film directorial debut hit all the right notes to make it one of the most beloved films of the last 30 years. So much intelligent dialogue and fascinating discussions make up this wonderful story that reminds us to "get busy living or get busy dying."

#5. Clerks (1994)

If Quentin Tarantino proved that any film buff can make a movie with Reservoir Dogs, Kevin Smith proved pretty much any person could make a movie with Clerks. What is nothing more than a day in the life of two convenience store clerks, this dialogue heavy, simple story brought something audiences had never seen. Made up of mostly unprofessional actors, Kevin Smith's labor of love was an early indicator of what independent filmmakers could do, good or not. Full of interesting fan-boy level discussions and memorable one-liners, this security-camera film introduced the world of Jay and Silent Bob and began a renaissance of indie films that just felt like nothing more than documentary films with no story, but still managed to be entertaining.

#4. Home Alone (1990)

What happens when you make a kid-centered holiday film that involves booby traps and Rube Goldberg-type machines? You get one of the most successful films of all time. Home Alone introduced the world to Macaulay Culkin as the next big child star, as he is left behind by his family at Christmas, only to have to defend his house from two burglars (Daniel Stern and 1990 Oscar winner Joe Pesci, for Goodfellas). Culkin gives a pretty solid comedic performance in what is a simple, goofy story, but it has  staying power. Compare it to all other holiday films of the time - you may remember some, but no network would ever show them every holiday season and expect viewers like they do with this one. Home Alone is the perfect piece of nostalgic filmmaking that grabs a hold of late 80's/early 90's children.

#3. Philadelphia (1993)

Tom Hanks had been nominated for an Oscar before for his comedic work in Big, but he was never really recognized as a dramatic actor. The came Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia, which pitted Hanks as an AIDS infected lawyer who is fired by his firm, resulting in him searching out a homophobic lawyer as the only man who will help him with his wrongful dismissal suit. It won Hanks his first Oscar and, more importantly, introduced the world more honestly to a disease that they didn't understand. Philadelphia gave a face and a life to a disease the general public tended to assign stereotypes to. Alongside Hanks is Denzel Washington, giving one his finer, quieter performances as a bigot who sees the light. A dark, but moving portrait of hope in the face of death, Philadelphia may not have been one of the best films of the 90's, but it sure is one of the most important.

#2. Toy Story (1995)

Animation had forever been cell over cell or flipbooks. In 1995, Disney collaborated with Pixar, a computer graphic animation division to create the first full length CGI cartoon, Toy Story. Dinsey and Pixar have since separated into two companies, but this is what started it all. Every CGI film (or any film that involves computer graphics) since 1995 owes a huge debt to the innovators behind this trailblazer. Work by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and many others also pointed to the new trend of hiring A-list actors to do voice work on a regular basis. All of this and we haven;t even touched on the heartwarming story of jealousy and love, told through the toys in a child's room. Imaginative and completely satisfying, Toy Story changed the game in the industry forever.

#1. Pulp Fiction (1994)

So here we are. A couple years after Quentin Tarantino brought Reservoir Dogs to Sundance, he steamrolled the pre-Oscar film festivals with Pulp Fiction. The film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, won tons of critical awards, and took almost every award that year offered for Original Screenplay. Then came Oscar and an unprecedented loss to Forrest Gump. In retrospect, it doesn't matter. #4 on IMDB's top 250 film of all time, Pulp Fiction embedded itself into popular culture and the social tropes of the times. It resurrected John Travolta's career. It proved Samuel L. Jackson was one of the most bad@## actors in the world. It showed that Bruce Willis could give a layered, non-action performance. It gave birth to years of people trying to do what Tarantino did - jumble narrative and turn up the talking, but keep it all tied to a strong storyline that keeps you invested from start to finish. If aliens came to Earth and demanded a movie from each decade that defined film and society, our 1990's delivery would have to be Pulp Fiction.

Game, set and match. That's it. Any arguments? Let me know and I'll shoot them down. :)

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