Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Top 100 Films of the 1990's: Part VIII

30. L.A. Confidential (1997) - Curtis Hanson is one of those underappreciated directors, whose films are well-liked, but never marveled at, with the exception of 1997's seedy, film-noir classic L.A. Confidential. The 90's answer to Chinatwon, L.A. Confidential effortlessly blends the gritty crime scene, and overwhelming corruption of 1950's Los Angeles, with the stylistic film noir aspects that make it highly entertaining and beautifully rendered. Furthermore, Hanson brings out some fine performances that complement the style of the film, while embracing each character's flaws and attributes perfectly. Kim Basinger was the Oscar winner of the bunch, but Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, David Strathairn, James Cromwell, Danny Devito, and a host of others all bring their A-game to the table. L.A. Confidential is one of those stunning period pieces that captures the essence and mood of the times, as well as tells a riveting story. And like its event, it too will stand the test of time as one of the best.

29. Dead Man Walking (1995) - To this day, Tim Robbin's 1995 crime drama classic Dead Man Walking remains one of the finest acted, and most emotionally harrowing films, not just of the decade, but of all time. The moral dilemma that it proposes, empathy for both murderer and loved ones of the one murdered is a tricky binary situation that is delicately and masterfully handled. But what makes this film shine is the excalibur performances of its two leads Susan Sarandon (in an Oscar winning role), and Sean Penn (in a role that should have won him an Oscar). The back and forth between the two characters, the simultaneous chemistry and fear/respect, and the unparelled situation that both face make for both an emotionally challenging, and engaing film experience. Most importantly, Dead Man Walking's empathetic and challenging look at Death Row is one of those pertinent films that dissects real issues facing our society, and may make some people change their preconceived notions of capital punishment.

28. The American President (1995) - Still a personal favorite, The American President is every liberal politico's film wet dream. It tells the story of a man who stands by his principles, who overcomes nasty conservative hypocriticism, and openly goes after causes that are near and dear to liberals hearts such as gun control and higher environmental standards. It is a perfect combination of Aaron Sorkin detailed political analysis, sharp comedy, and budding romance. It is impeccably acted by Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Anna Deveare Smith, Martin Sheen, and Michael J. Fox, and while educational of the inside nature of politics, is also impeccably entertaining. For me though, The American President was one of those films, that while it ended up not being an Oscar favorite (although some of the nominees that year across the board were not as good), it is one of those that has stood the test of time. It shows a politician standing up for what he believes in, as well as standing up for the people that he loves, no matter the political cost. And whether you are a liberal or a conservative, I think that is something we all can admire.

27. All About My Mother (1999) - Pedro Almodovar is one of the most talented directors working today, whose films have successfully crossed the language barrier and made an impact on cinema across the globe. One of his crowning achievements, was 1999's smart dramedy All About My Mother. In All About My Mother, Almodovar takes surface level female stereotypes, but delves so deep into them, mixes in a wonderfully, funny, warmth, and yet sometimes devastating story about family, and humanity. The film has such heartbreaking and real characters, real female and family psychology, that it lingers with you long after its final frame. It is impeccably acted, and also shows the depth and talent of Almodovar as not just a filmmaker, but a real humanist who understands complicated emotions and perfectly presents all of their quirks. Style is important in film, but a great story is what makes it soar. Almodovar understands that, and if you want proof, this is the film you need to see.

26. Secrets & Lies (1996) - Mike Leigh consistently makes movies that are perfect renditions of the human experience, classically British, and always a pleasure to watch. Secrets & Lies may not be as pleasureable as some of his more humorous fair, but it is definitely his most intimate and powerful film to date. It dissects racial relationships, combined with secrets and lies that humans keep from one another in order to save themselves. It is a magnificent story about human emotions that carefully paints each character with grace and detail, while evoking empathy in every frame. It is also impeccably acted, particularly by Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. But in the end this is Leigh's baby, as he carefully constructs every line and every scene, to make an effortlessly flowing film that allows its audience to connect with the characters. It also proves that Mike Leigh is one of the best humanist directors working today, or hell, one of the best period.

25. Before Sunrise (1995) - Apparently Richard Linklater, another great humanist director, is working on a second sequel to his 1995 masterpiece Before Sunrise, once again starring the magnificent Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. If it is anything like 2004's Before Sunset then we are in for a real treat. Because both films, but particularly this one, are two of the most underrated and well-made films of the last two decades. The first part, Before Sunrise, set the tone for what makes this particular film series so magical. Above all, it is simple. It doesn't rely on fancy cinematic tricks, obnoxious directorial flourishes, or unbearable cheesiness. It is a straight from the heart love story that its well-written, beautifully rendered, and well-acted. It never tries to be more than what it is, which is so refreshing in modern cinema. It almost has an old-school charm of classic film, like Casablanca expect strangers, meeting in a foreign land and become encompassed by human emotion. It is definitely one to watch, particularly before another film in the series hits theaters.

24. Close-Up (1990) - Abbas Kiarostami has made this list a few times before, but now we get to my favorite film of his, and for me, the one film that defines the greatness of his storied career. It is also a semi-nonfiction piece, and one of the most creative looks at crime, fraud, and Iranian film making. Following the story of Ali Sabzian, who pretends to be famed director Mohsen Makhmalbaf and is tried for fraud. It is a haunting look at true events, that unfolds before you piece by piece like a complicated and beautifully made puzzle. The combination of real footage and reenactments provide for an incredibly effective dramatic punch, as well as a unique vision to tell a facisnating story. Like all Kiarostami films, Close-Up is not for everyone. It's pace is not exactly light speed, and its winding storyline can be frustrated, like stuck in a maze. But also like the rest of his films, the ending is so pitch perfect and such a rewarding experience that it makes the difficult journey worthwhile. And that is what challenging cinema is all about.

23. The Usual Suspects (1995) - Some films are so unlike anything else you've ever seen, that they are considered defining films of their times. Bryan Singer's 1995 crime classic, The Usual Suspects, is one of those films. On the surface, The Usual Suspects is a mess, with intertwining characters, messy storylines, and chocked full of psychological character studies that it is hard to keep up. But if you take the time to look beyond the surface, you will find that The Usual Suspects is one of the most deeply rendered, psychologically haunting, and effective crime thrillers of the 1990's. The acting is top notch, particularly Kevin Spacey and Gabriel Byrne, the characters are each unique and thoughtfully carried through the story, and Bryan Singer makes one of the best directorial debuts of our time, with a film that still rings as one of the best. He, and scribe Christopher McQuarries, keep the editing and story taut and well-paced, with plenty of nice surprises that never feel forced and always have an impact. A winner indeed.

22. Beauty and the Beast (1991) - It truly is a tale as old as time, and if I need to spend paragraphs describing why Beauty and the Beast is great, then you have a heart made of stone. It is one of the most beautifully drawn Disney animated features, and remains the first and foremost of the genre to receive a Best Picture nomination. That is because, not only is it a master class in animation, but it provides a classic love story, mixed perfectly with humor, clever songs, mystery, horror, and of course love. It is action-packed, fast-paced, and more importantly, offers something that kids of all ages, from 1 to 92, can enjoy. Finally, and most importantly, it is the perfect fairy tale that transports us to a magical world, filled with fascinating characters, and dangers and joys alike. It reminds us what it is like to be a kid again, to take awe in such feats. It reminds us of a simpler time. And if you are ever feeling nostalgic for your happy childhood, this is the quintessential film.

21. Apollo 13 (1995) - The events of Apollo 13 were some of the most harrowing in American space history. And in 1995, Ron Howard, along with an excellent cast including Tom Hanks, Kathleen Quinlan, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, and Gary Sinise, this true experience was brilliantly brought to the silver screen. Howard and his team took great care to paint a picture of these astronaut's lives, to adequately build the tension and the emotion that they felt locked in this situation far from home. But more importantly, they fascinated viewers by making a film that was true to its heroic characters as well as a perfectly entertaining Hollywood endeavor. It is one of those films that you can't look away from until you know what happens. And no matter how many times you tell yourself how it ends, it doesn't make it any less anticipating. It is one of the best films of the 90's, the best of Howard's directing career, and a truly American film that reminds us of the bravery and importance of America's space program, and the astronauts who make it possible.

1 comment:

  1. I agree L.A., Beauty, and Apollo are all great movies!