Thursday, October 18, 2012

Top 100 Films of the 1990s: Part IX

20. Out of Sight (1998) - Just a few years after this, Steven Soderbergh received dueling Oscar nominations for Best Director and won for his brilliant look at drug trafficking in Traffic. But if I had had a vote, he would have been at least in the running for 1998's brilliant effort Out of Sight. It is one of those slick movies that after you watch you feel like you are just an inch cooler than you were before. It is part heist thriller, part romance, part dark comedy, and its elements combine together for a smooth concoction that does Elmore Leonard's novel justice. The cast also gives their best, including Ving Rhames, Albert Brooks, Catherine Keener, Don Cheadle, and a host of others. But still at the center of this film is the attraction and chemistry of George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez who slide into these characters with ease, and send crackling sparks flying from the screen. If today's romantic films (of any subgenre) won't to be successful, they need to be reminded that co-lead chemistry is the key, something apparently Soderbergh understood very well.

19. Jurassic Park (1993) - Every boy in America at some point went through a dinosaur phase. Steven Spielberg's phase apparently lasted well into adulthood (his house was built near a huge fossil site, so it's not hard to understand why), and I think we can all agree, that with 1993's Jurassic Park, we're glad it did. Spielberg managed in 1993 to make all of our dreams, and worst fears, about the awesomeness and magestic power of dinosaurs come true. It is a magical piece of filmmaking that takes us to a new world without ever really leaving the one we live in. He aptly adapted Michael Crichton's brilliant novel. stocked it full of amiable actors such as Sam Neill and Laura Dern, and utilized the new technology of the 1990's to make us truly believe that we were looking at real dinosaurs. While that year Schindler's List got all the credit (something I  don't necessarily disagree with, as you will see), I think that every generation since then has looked back at Jurassic Park as one of the most exciting, thrilling, and yes, scary, adventures of all time.

18. Forrest Gump (1994) - Oh Forrest Gump. How many people do you know who learned all of their 20th c. history from Forrest Gump? Who can quote almost every line? Some still debate the greatness of this film, calling it overly long, filled with too many cliches, etc. But whether you like it or not, Forrest Gump remains one of the most beloved American films, and has truly become a pop culture icon. It is emotional, humorous, and incredibly entertaining. While the supporting characters are great, especially Gary Sinise, Sally Field and Robin Wright, it is Tom Hanks lovable, deep, and incredibly moving performance that drives this film into greatness. He has created one of the singular most important film icons of all time, and even in the moments where the film seems to drag, it is Hanks that keeps it going, it is Hanks that makes us keep believing, and it is Hanks that we most care to see what happens to. Forrest Gump probably should not have beaten Pulp Fiction for Best Picture in 1994, but it doesn't mean that it isn't a truly wonderful American film.

17. Election (1999) - I have to admit, between The Descendants, About Schmidt, Sideways, and this stroke of comedic/high school genius, I really do find Alexander Payne to be one of the most creative and fascinating directors working today. 1999's Election is not as soft as his recent efforts, and at times can be brutally blistering. But it remains today a classic high school film, a richly dark comedy, and one of the best films of the 1990's. Led by Paynes apt direction, and brilliant script (written alongside his longtime writing partner Jim Taylor), Election is one of those great films that simply just clicks from its first frame to its last. It doesn't hurt that we have one of the best comedic performances of the 1990's exuding from this film in Reese Witherspoon, whose vicious Tracy Flick remains one of my favorite film characters, and certaintly one of Witherspoon's best performances to date. I think the most important thing that I have always taken away from Election is that high school is brutal, that politics on any level is dirty, and that morals are not so clean cut as people think they are, all of which are life lessons we all could use.

16. The Lion King (1994) - Disney began to revive itself in the late 80's and early 90's with films like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast which became the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. But for me, Disney really reached their full swing in 1994, with Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff's brilliant rendition of Hamlet, The Lion King. I actually wrote a paper in high school, utilizing the C.S. Lewis/T.S. Eliot battle over what constitutes a work of art, to argue that in fact The Lion King was more of a work of art than its source material, Hamlet, which is still considered the greatest piece of literature in the English language (despite my futile protests). I argued that by adding humor, grace, awesome and catchy musical numbers, and a range of human emotion (all classic Disney features), that The Lion King was not only more enjoyable, but also more intriguing. Hey, maybe I'm wrong. But I guarantee you every child of the 90's like myself still loves The Lion King, still knows all the words to every song, and still watches it every time it's on television. If that isn't magic, I don't know what is.

15. Se7en (1995) - David Fincher has quickly become one of the most prolific directors of our time. His range and focus in his films is unlike any other. And Fincher was never better than in 1995's disturbing and thrilling masterpiece Se7en. A sick killer (Kevin Spacey), creates murders based on the 7 deadly sins, and makes us all sit on the edge of our seats wondering what exactly is in the box!? What makes Se7en really spectacular is that it takes a normal cop/murder thriller, and makes it a work of art. Complete with stunning visuals, a taut and deep script that incorporates sin and death, and the consequences of both, and great performances from Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, Se7en is no ordinary crime movie. It is a beautifully dark and twisted film that is entirely thrilling, shocking, and one of a kind. It also truly launched launched the career one of the best working directors, and did it with style.
14. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - I am still so surprised that the stingy, old-fashioned Motion Picture Academy ever allowed a film like Silence of the Lambs to win Best Picture, especially since it was sandwiched by an films like Unforgiven and Dances With Wolves. But nonetheless, for at least one year, the Academy really did break the mold, and we are all grateful for that. It is not just any horror movie, it is a deep psychological drama about a cat and mouse game that takes us deep inside the mind of a cannabilisits serial killer, and never lets up on the chills and thrills. It features two stunning performances, although Anthony Hopkins Hannibal Lecter remains one of the greastest character creations in recent memory. What makes Silence of the Lambs such an effective and lasting horror film is not just Jonathan Demme's excellent direction, not Ted Tally's great screenplay, not even Hopkins' Lecter. No, what sets it apart is that it never dumbs itself down like so many standard horror films. Its is intelligent, deep, and well-paced, which makes it truly a scary and wonderful film.

13. Heat (1995) - Michael Mann's Heat is one of the most underrated crime thrillers of all time, still dwarfed by Scorsese and Coppola films. While I recognize that Scorsese and Coppola crime films are usually brilliant, so is this one. A grand ensemble film featuring a dozen or so great performances including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer. But its pacing, its smart screenplay that aptly balances all of the different characters and action set pieces, is what makes it so great. Mann's vision of robbers and police clashing is violent, gritty, and at times utterly shocking and breathtaking. He also delves deep into the minds of both cops and criminals, blending the lines between good and evil, and providing full arcs for each individual, another accomplishment of great writing, acting, and directing. Most importantly, Heat is one of the most blisteringly entertaining films of the 1990's that is fast-paced and well worth the watch.
12. Boyz N the Hood (1991) - John Singleton has been recently reduced to a meandering director with a lack of vision. This is truly a shame considering some of his past work, particularly his 1991 case study of urban strife and race, the classic and brilliant Boyz N the Hood. L.A. went through so much turmoil in the late 80's and 90's, from poverty, to drugs, to the riots. Singleton perfectly captures the strife and hard times of the L.A. urban streets. It stands out from other efforts by not trying so hard to be gritty and urban. Instead it simply tells the story, which is at times brutal, and at other times poignantly honest. It features solid performances particularly Cuba Gooding Jr. (another promising artist, whose career has not matched his early efforts), and the always underrated, yet brilliant Laurence Fishburne. Most importantly, Singleton's film tells a story that needs to be told, it tells us of some of the underlying family issues that cause violence and drug use, and hopefully continues to be a reminder that there is still so much left to be done in the area of civil and economic rights in this country.

11. The Thin Red Line (1998) - I have not liked the last two efforts by Terrence Malick as New World was just not well done, and The Tree of Life wasted a wonderful story about a family with bookends that were either ridiculous or useless. But his previous efforts, including Badlands and Days of Heaven are pure genius, and this 1998 classic remains one of his best, and one of the best of the decade. Like all of Terrence Malick's films it is at times deep philosophical, and in the midst of action and character it springs forth with wisdoms and theories about war and humanity. But for me, The Thin Red Line still remains one of Malick's most accesible and real films. It provides in depth looks at the consequences, particularly human and psychological ones, while providing us a brilliant adaptation of James Jones' WWII classic autobiography. Probably most importantly, The Thin Red Line is a sweeping, beautifully rendered psychological humanist film that like the middle part of The Tree of Life, tells us a little more about ourselves. A cinematic experience like any other.

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