40. Groundhog Day (1993) - This year, Bill Murray tries his lot with a dramatic turn, playing Franklin Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson coming out this December. But I hope that people, particularly the younger generation take a chance to go back and reflect on Murray's entire career, and realize that while he can nail dramatic roles, his true genius comes in comedy. And he was never better than in 1993's comedy classic, Groundhog Day. The set up is one that has repeated itself many times. A supernatural event causes the main character, in this case, Murray's Phil, to live in some alternate world. In this case, he plays a weatherman who keeps living the same day over and over again. But Groundhog Day separates itself from the pack. It manages to keep being fresh, despite its repetition, and it also delves interestingly into its characters, instead of maintaining superficiality liek so many comedies. But what really makes it work is Murray. His ability to only perpetuate physical comedy, but also allow for some subtlety is a rare gift that is simply magical to watch.
39. Boogie Nights (1997) - Paul Thomas Anderson is tackling an interesting subject in The Master this fall. But if you want to get a feel for the kind of director he is, one should start with his intense and funny look at the 1970's porn industry, 1997's Boogie Nights. It is darkly funny, impeccably pulled together with a unique vision like only Anderson can forsee, and draws itself some of the most interesting characters with their own individual characteristics better than most films of the modern era. It also features great performances from Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham, and many others, including his new leading man, Philip Seymour Hoffman. All of whom embrace the wonderful script and breathe life into these well-drawn characters. But what makes Boogie Nights one of the best cult classics of the 1990's is its direct filmmaking, tackling a controversial subject head on, and embracing the nostalgia, and spirit of the 1970's in a way that both celebrates and criticizes its subject. Now that is great filmmaking.
38. Reservoir Dogs (1992) - Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite directors, in case you haven't figure that out by now, and while 1992's Reservoir Dogs wasn't his greatest film to date, it certaintly was still one of his best. It tackles the subject of a group of criminals who began to question one another's loyalty after a jewelry robbery goes wrong. This is not an unusual subject in film, as almost every crime or gangster movie has a mole and a rat, or a snitch (some have all of them like The Departed). But Tarantino, as usual, dares to go where few directors are willing to. The action is brutually violent, and at times unexpected, basically Tarantino found his inner Scorsese when filming this movie. But beyond the in-your-face violence, Tarantino actually shows some restraint, by sticking with character actors, and not trying to commercialize the film which could have ruined its purity and integrity. Instead, Tarantino dives into a deep psychological character study about group dynamics, and brilliantly protrays the complexity, violence, and hard realities of a life of crime, making Reservoir Dogs one of the hardest and most fascinating to watch films of the 1990's.
37. The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) - I started my journey into Abbas Kiarostami's film repertouire with last year's Certified Copy, which if you recall, I initially thought was more of a film exericise, than an actual film experience. Upon a second viewing I still think it is not as good as his previous efforts, but after I had seen some of his other films, I began to embrace his style a lot more, and also began to recognize his utter brilliance. The film that really did it fro me was 1999's The Wind Will Carry Us. It tells the story of a rude man who moves to an Iranian village to take care of a dying relative. After this initial setup however, Kiarostami doesn't plan huge plot twists or grand revelations. Instead, he shows us the quiet change of a man as he feels out his new surroundings and faces his own issues. It is a quiet character study that tackles huge metaphysical subjects such as the meaning of life, and the changes we face. It is done so delicately, and so masterfully, full of style and quiet moments that while some may get hazy and bored, those that open their mind to it, are bound to get wrapped up in its subtle beauty.
36. JFK (1991) - Oliver Stone's revision of the Kennedy assassination has been labelled everything from a liberal nutbag conspiracy, to a brilliant look at what could have possibly happened. While I openly admit that most of what Stone presents about the event is crap, I do agree that it is brilliantly constructed, incredibly entertaining, and at moments even incredibly believeable story. That is thanks to the stunning performances, particularly Kevin Costner, whose paranoia is at times shockingly frightening, and even more scary, sometimes utterly convincing. Sissy Spacek plays his wife with a sadness and love that is passionate and brilliant. Add in names like Gary Oldman, Jack Lemmon, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, and a whole host of others, and JFK is one of the best acted films of the 1990's. But what has made JFK such a pop culture icon is Stone's vision. We see all the conspiracies, we see the psychological damage of paranoia, and more importantly, whether you are a right wing conservative or a left wing liberal, all of us who appreciate Stone's brilliant portrayal of one of the most important events of the 20th Century, increasing its legendary status, and giving us history lovers one more weapon in our film arsenal.
35. Princess Mononoke (1997) - Hayao Miyazaki is probably the best animinator in the world that is not working for Pixar. And throughout his career he has delivered brilliant effort after brilliant effort, and has even been awarded an Academy Award for his efforts in 2001. If there had been a Best Animated Feature Oscar in 1997, my guess is that he would have won one a lot earlier, with his effort Princess Mononoke. The film features a wonderful combination of Japanese animation, war, romance, and fantasy, and has even been called the "Star Wars of animated features" by the New York Post, and its not hard to see why. It goes so far beyond most live action films by finding great actors for its voices, beautifully translating it into English while maintaining the dignity and culture of the original version, and featuring a wonderful script and visionary direction that is the combination of all great films, whether they are live action or not. It is also thoroughly entertaining and engaging, never have a dull moment, while also tackling the issues of our human interactions with Mother Nature. It is one of those films that most people don't know, but they definitely should.
34. Unforgiven (1992) - Throughout most of American film history, the western was one of the most popular genres, with names like John Wayne forever engrained in the American conscience. But in the 1970's and 1980's the western took a back seat to historical epics, science fiction and action blockbusters, and teenager movies. But in 1992, one of the classic Western stars, the undeniable Clint Eastwood, brought back his once passionate genre with his Best Picture winning Unforgiven. The stoyr is like one we have seen times before, an old gunslinger goes on one last job, with the help of some of his cowboy friends. But Eastwood managed to elevate it beyond the formula, but digging deep into the brutality of the American west, as well as diving into the psyche of these cowboys. His throughtful character study is brilliant acted by himself, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, and others, and perfectly layered with good ole-fashioned western violence. Unforgiven may not have completely revived the Western genre, although we have seen more since its success, but it go a long way to adding to its greatness, by showing us the complexity of supposedly bad man, and maintaining a realistic and honest portrayal.
33. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - Frank Darabont's 1994 classic The Shawshank Redemption remains IMDB's number one film among its users, and to this day remains one of this passionate films that is beloved by its supporters, and one that people can't seem to forget. Shawshank Redemption is one of those emotionally charged films that is thoroughly entertaining, a great lesson on life and friendships, and buoyed by its stunning lead performances. The chemistry between Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman is stunning, creating one of the great onscreen relationships in American film history. More importanttly, The Shawshank Redemption is a soul-stirring film that is at times funning, dramatic, emotional, and incredibly moving. It is about the American hopes and dreams, and it also is incredibly simplistic, it required no special effects, no gimicks, and no fancy movie tricks to be great. It is a straightforward narrative about human relationships that is quite simply, one of the best movies made in the 1990's.
32. Toy Story 2 (1999) - So many times, sequels are poured out by studios without thought, without care. by Pixar is not one of those studios (excluding Cars 2), as its first attempt at a sequel to one of its classics was a slam dunk. Toy Story 2 is a sweet, funny, and well-made action adventure, that really is something that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It doesn't just rehash the same old story, but continues it with ease, adding depth, darkness, and humor all at the same time. The details on both the animation and the story are take with such care, a rare sight in modern cinema. More importantly, it is one of those films that lingers with you, a film that hits you directly in the heart. So many of the films that are considered great, are also those that have lost their humanity. It is so nice to see a film that has a lot of heart, a film that teaches people about loyalty, family and love, and does so in a fun way. Toy Story 2 isn't just one of the best, if not the best sequel of the 1990's, it also happens to be one of the best films period.
31. American History X (1998) - American History X has to be one of the most disturbing movies ever made. The story of the innerworkings of the white supremacist movement, and the struggle of an older brother trying to prevent the spiral of his younger one, is full of emtion, grit, and images that are simply haunting and frightening. It is even more frightening, because of its deep psychological look at the mind of individuals who spend their lives hating someone because of the color of their skin. Not only is the script and direction taut and gritty, but the stunning, snubbed of an Oscar performace by Edward Norton is one of the most jaw-dropping, electrifying acting performances in the history of American film. He delves so deep into his character Derek Vinyard, that you sometimes forget that underneath all of that, there is the quiet Edward Norton. If actors in school are looking for the perfect performance to model, look no further than Edward Nortion in American History X. All of these elements combine for one of the most terrifying, brilliant films of the whole decade.