It is extremely difficult to narrow a decade of film to the ten best pictures. It’s impossible to have a list that pleases everybody, so I doubt there will be anyone that will truly agree with my choices. However, it is a list I put work and serious thought into. I stand by it, and welcome arguments (they’re half the fun!). Some people who are aware of my personal rankings of favourite movies will notice this is not in the same order. When it comes to such a list as this, some personal feelings and/or connections are not as important as how influential and/or important a film was. Also, some movies, even when they are not your cup of tea, are far too great to ignore.
So here are my picks for the ten best masterpieces to come out of the 90’s…
Wes Anderson, the strangest, most original writer/director of the decade, maybe longer, made one of the most memorable comedies of the 90’s. Rushmore is so odd, that on first viewing it is easy to dismiss it as nothing more than strange. All of Anderson’s movies have the same effect. After second (or even third) viewings, the richness, depth and brilliance can reveal itself. Rushmore is the funniest and best of his work. One of the most interesting love triangles (actually, this list is bookended by brilliant love triangles) of the cinema in which a young high school student and an aging industrialist vie for the affection of a middle aged kindergarten teacher. The performances from Olivia Williams, Bill Murray and newcomer Jason Schwartzman are pitch-perfect. It launched Schwartzman’s career, and established Murray as a superb serious actor.
9. Boogie Nights
Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson emerged as one of the most entertaining young filmmakers alive with the release of Boogie Nights. Sort of the “Goodfellas” of porn, the film was an unusually insightful look at an unusual industry. At it’s heart, it is neither critical nor complimentary towards it’s subject, Boogie Nights is simply honest and fair. At times hilarious and fun, at others it is depressing and all too real. It must also be mentioned that the camera work is outstanding.
Some will be happy and not at all surprised to see Clerks on the list, others will scoff. Kevin Smith is somewhat controversial. He is one of the best screenwriters working today, his dialogue is unmatched. His characters are easy to relate to and have become cult icons. It is undeniable, however, that Smith lacks talent as a visual director. In my opinion, this is forgivable. Especially considering Kevin Smith’s ability to add social awareness to seemingly dirty comedies. His movies are silly at first glance, but they give insight into his generation and the struggles they share. Smith made Clerks by maxing out his credit cards and hiring his friends. The result was a classic. How could Clerks not be on this list?
Quentin Tarantino’s debut film was a masterpiece. The movie ingeniously follows a cast of characters after a bank heist goes wrong. Throughout the story, we see what happened before and during the job gone wrong through flashback. Intense, explosive acting powers the classic dialogue. Harvey Keitel, Micheal Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn and especially Tim Roth are all staggeringly excellent. Unquestionably original and fresh, Tarantino established himself as one of the most talented and most entertaining filmmakers ever.
Perhaps the most talented director in American cinema, Martin Scorsese’s gangster classic is a shoe-in on this list. No one can tell a story like Marty, and one of the biggest thrills of a critic is when the next Scorsese picture comes out. The screenplay is gold, the acting is spot on but most of all, Goodfellas brings unprecedented insight. The viewer is afforded a unique window into this lifestyle, and it is a truly remarkable experience. A timeless classic.
5. Schindler’s List
Perhaps the most challenging topic for a filmmaker to tackle is the holocaust. Spielberg had established himself a master of his craft ever since Jaws, but it seemed doubtful that even he could succeed in truly capturing the horror and despair behind the worst event in human history. Surprisingly, Spielberg avoided a “Hollywood” approach and made one of the most devastating and moving films ever made. Perfect in every aspect, Schindler’s List should make every list of the 90’s best movies.
Magnolia is my favourite movie from one of my favourite directors, Paul Thomas Anderson. Certainly epic, but not in the traditional sense. Anderson uses common human shortcomings and emotion to create a uniquely epic masterpiece. We follow loosely connected characters simultaneously dealing with large issues. In some cases, the stories don’t really reach a satisfying outcome (much like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, another 90’s classic), but that’s kinda the point. Written after the death of his father, P.T. Anderson creates a film filled with so much despair, it’s overwhelming. However, by the end, we become overwhelmed by Magnolia’s hope.
3. Princess Mononoke
The best animated film of all time from the greatest animated filmmaker of all time. Hayao Miyazaki delivers the grandest feature in the medium. Epic beyond belief, with an unforgettable story and a score to match. The most beautiful movie ever produced is not a happy one. Human nature is examined in many ways and the results are unfortunate. We see how destructive we can be, despite good intentions, and the only “hero” of the movie does not act until he is forced to. Peculiar, imaginative, thought provoking, jaw-dropping entertainment.
2. Pulp Fiction
I don’t need to make much of a statement here. Out of all the people I have discussed movies with, Pulp Fiction is the most common favourite flick. Incredible, intertwining, non-linear short stories compose Tarantino’s masterpiece. One of the most memorable casts ever charge one of the best screenplays ever written. Stylistically original and super cool, It’s probably the most fun I’ve had watching movies.
1. Chasing Amy
Earlier, I mentioned that I didn’t always follow my personal choices to make this list. However, in this case, I had to. It’s rather pointless to have a #1 favourite movie of all time if you can’t defend it at all costs. Considering my “#1 favourite movie” came from the 90’s, it needed to be #1 on this list. Chasing Amy may be the only unconventional entry on this list, but I will defend it to no end. To this day, it remains the most honest and sincere film I have ever seen. Kevin Smith, maybe the best screenwriter to emerge from the decade, delivers a human masterpiece. We see one of the most accurate, true to life friendships ever depicted on screen with the characters of Holden and Banky. What’s surprising is that Ben Affleck and Jason Lee give performances so incredible, that occasionally, just through the emotional strength of their acting, I am moved to tears. Speaking of being moved to tears, of the countless times I have watched Chasing Amy I have not escaped without at least a single tear. Those close to me know that it’s not too hard for a movie to make me cry (although I’d defend I only do so if the movie truly earns it), but at times, I have sobbed to the extent that i had need to pause the film to compose myself. In one scene, Holden and Banky have a long argument, that while containing some humour (“who gets to the $100 bill first?”), is one of the most devastating things I have ever witnessed in a movie. During this sequence, the writing, acting, and perhaps for the only time of his entire career, Kevin Smith’s camera movements, combine for perfection. Hilarious, heart-breaking, beautifully written and acted, and not to mention, made with a ridiculous budget ($250 000), Chasing Amy is the crowning achievement of the 1990’s.
And an honourable mention…
Certainly one of the most influential movies from the 90’s, but also so much more. The Matrix displayed how intelligent and action film could be. A challenging concept does not usually lead to a blockbuster hit. Visually perfect and revolutionary. The Matrix became somewhat of a cliche’ due to it’s cultural impact and subsequent endless parodies. Which, in a way, has caused it to become underrated. Just shy of making my list, The Matrix deserves recognition.