Best Films of the 90s

If I was given the mythical ‘desert island’ ultimatum that decreed I could only watch movies from one decade in perpetuity from this point, I’d take the 90s.

The 90s: Not all good.

While I think the following list is more than enough evidence to back up this statement, it is by no means the only reason that I say this.

The 90s didn’t invent the Blockbuster but it sure did see the concept refined as technology and ingenuity caught up with the imaginations of such luminaries as James Cameron.

The 90s also saw the introduction of low budget films as more than mere B movies or direct to video fare, Tarantino emerged from behind the video shop counter to create some of the best films of the era and David Fincher kicked off his own big screen career after shlubbing along making music videos (good ones, but still music videos).

Jackie Chan was still in his prime for most of the decade and managed to bang out even more action classics and Arnie similarly was still headlining massive action flicks – but more than this while it doesn’t show on the list below the B Team ensured that even the non-blockbuster stuff was pretty solid: Jean Claude Van Damme might not ever win an Oscar but he managed to churn out a couple dozen reasonably entertaining films, Jet Li made fewer films but managed a higher quality in his output, and of course your Stallone’s and Willis’s kept on keeping on with decent films at regular intervals.

  • Torture porn wasn’t yet in vogue. (In truth it was a bad decade for horror – but a great decade for action.)
  • It was good enough to just show muscle bound guys killing minions – you didn’t need to justify why in tediously PC fashion.
  • Shakey-cam wasn’t yet used as an excuse not to show carefully choreographed action.
  • Mel Gibson hadn’t yet imploded into himself.
  • Hollywood hadn’t run out of ideas meaning board games, video games and the toys you get in cereal boxes weren’t exciting enough to be greenlit into movies like they are now. “You sunk my battleship – In 3D. Coming soon!”
  • Being ‘likable’ meant unfunny movies went straight to VHS, meaning Sandler, Ferrell, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carrell weren’t insanely overpaid like they are now. Rewarding more mainstream mediocrity and ensuring much more of the same.

And most importantly CGI didn’t yet stand for “Can’t Guarantee Inventiveness”, leading to dozens of films where computers lazily spit out uninspired imagery and sequences in lieu of creativity and hard work. If you couldn’t do it with special effects or camera trickery it usually wasn’t done… or you left it to James Cameron!

A good decade really. Actually the best until someone proves otherwise.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Amazingly enough there are a number of sequels on this list. (I’d never given it much thought until now.) Without doubt the biggest bad boy of the bunch – that’s alliteration Holmes – is Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Yet another Jim Cameron classic, this seems to be the film where he decided to ease up on the violence, but he went out with a bang.

Even though he is basically recycling elements from his own 1984 classic (2 future guys come back to kill/prevent the killing of, members of the Connor family) the introduction of the T1000 (Robert Patrick) and the ball-tearing special effects and action sequences mean that T2 still stands tall next to anything else made in the 20 odd ensuing years.

Michael Bay can keep his giant car-robots, I’ll take Arnie vs the T1000 (with mannish Sarah Connor standing buff in the background) any day of the week.

Drunken Master 2

Drunken Master 2

If Jackie Chan called a press conference on the last day of the 80s to announce his retirement it wouldn’t alter his position at the pinnacle of martial arts cinema, that would already have been assured. (I would’ve probably cried like the Miami Heat).

Thankfully he didn’t as during the 90s he managed to bash out Armor of God 2: Operation Condor, Police Story 3, Rumble in the Bronx, Who Am I, even Rush Hour was quite good… and this: the greatest martial artist in the history martial arts films makes the greatest martial arts movie in the history of film.

If Jackie Chan then stepped to the podium at the close of the 90s to reluctantly announce his retirement I would again have been devastated… at the time.

After a decade of The Tuxedo, The Medallion and The Spy Next Door. Now in retrospect, not so much.

Tremors

Tremors

Giant underground worms move along a sparsely populated valley snapping up the few people they find along the way. The result is the funniest, freshest and most rewatchable B movie horror-comedy this side of Evil Dead 2.

You can argue all day whether it was deliberate or a fluke. I don’t care, all that arguing wastes time.

Time I could be spending watching Tremors again.

Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction

Ummmmm. Because it’s Pulp Fiction.

Because it’s 3 hours of intricately plotted, sure-handedly directed, unbelievably quotable and amazingly memorable cinema.

Because it resurrected the careers of several fading stars, turned out to be the highlight for many others, and made Samuel L. Jackson a synonym for ‘bad mother-fucker’.

Because without Pulp Fiction the fanboys wouldn’t have any reason to nearly melt down the internet every few years prior to the release of his latest ‘instant classic’, despite the fact that since this film he hasn’t made anything even remotely as memorable and creative. (I love the Kill Bill films, but let’s not pretend for a second that they are more than a reasonably solid homage to B movies and Hong Kong action flicks. Death Proof sucked balls, and Inglourious Basterds was distinctly bland and wildly over-rated. When your best two movies were your first two – and both of them are over 15 years old – how long can you remain ‘on top’?)

Sorry. Back to Pulp Fiction. You could easily argue this into the Top 3 films of the decade or even All Time, and I wouldn’t protest much. So let’s ignore the remainder of his career so far and simply say that at the very least Tarantino managed one of the best films of modern times.

Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2


Can I get on my high horse and say I am not a bandwagoner and have been there from the beginning? As a 20 year old me and a few mates – All single guys. No women or kids – paid hard earned cash to buy a ticket to see a cartoon on the big screen. All agreed afterwards it was well worth it.

Since that evening in 1995 I have stumped up cash to see every Pixar movie in the cinema and as long as I am kicking will continue to do so, only now I can take my own kid along too.

Toy Story 2 is another case of the sequel taking the reins from an excellent original flick and somehow building on it. The scope of TS 2 is vast compared to the first film, the action more audacious and the laughs effortless and well earned. It is in every way superior to the original Toy Story from 1995.

The fact that I would include Toy Story in the Top 20 films of the 90s without hesitation shows just how big a claim that is. 

Leon: The Professional

 

Leon: The Professional

Right I have been tardy in writing this flick up, it’s actually the only film on this list I haven’t had the courage to take on yet.

Another film I remember exceptionally vividly from my first viewing in the cinema. The tale of a lone assassin named Leon (Jean Reno) being unwillingly tasked with caring for a pre-teen girl named Mathilda (Natalie Portman) is now well known, especially the allusions to this girl actually being trained as a 90s ‘Hit-Girl’ (which were more fully addressed in the superior European release – the one America couldn’t handle!)

Gary Oldman gets much of the kudos for his insanely intense and over the top portrayal of a pill (and civilian) popping ‘straight like a twistie’ dodgy cop on the hunt for Mathilda, but Jean Reno is amazing as the understated lone gunman, and Portman is as good as a child actor can be, especially given some of the subject matter (and while on the topic of Portman let me just say I like her – she’s hot, spunky and likable – but don’t try to see me Black Swan. My prediction: in 5 years Black Swan will be a laughing stock and everyone will refer to its success as a monumental fuck-up. You heard it here first.)

Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes, The Professional is the one film on this list that I totally nerd up on in an unbelievable ‘too precious’ way.

I look upon this film so fondly that I will defend it to death, even when the person I am speaking to isn’t bashing it.

I somehow think this film has mystical powers.

I think that every decision that it makes is perfect, even when it probably isn’t.

I think that anyone saying anything less than unequivocal glowing praise *UGH* ‘Just doesn’t get it’… and I fucking hate it when morons say that.

Here I believe it though.

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense

M. Night Shyamalan had a pretty sweet ride.

First time out he managed to coax a brilliant performance from a kid who (let’s face it) has done exactly nothing of worth since.

He once again resurrected the career of Bruce Willis, this time redefining him as a serious actor.

He single-handedly – for better or worse – introduced the twist ending as a necessity in blockbusters. (I vote ‘for worse’, for every good twist you can name there are 37 other unnecessary and shitty ones.)

He made ‘horror’ – admittedly not very scary horror but horror nonetheless – big business. Have a two minute squiz at what dominates the box-office today, well over a third of films nowadays are from the genre.

Then it all went to shit after Unbreakable, and now he is the deserved punchline of a thousand cheap jokes – many of them from me.

The Sixth Sense is an incredible film though, even if it turns out to be a One Hit Wonder.

 

True Lies (Not really… closest I could find.)

 

True Lies

When I dragged out my old DVD recently to catch up on the adventures of superspy Harry Tasker (Arnie) and his blissfully ignorant and bored wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) I had forgotten how awesome it all was. Action packed and filled with incredibly well designed setpieces, witty and genuinely funny dialogue and a plotline that turned out to be unfortunately prescient, True Lies all looks and feels so effortless and easy to watch as it runs by.

But then you wonder if it is all so easy why haven’t there been 20 similar films of equal entertainment value made in the decade and a half since, instead of increasingly bland and derivative films that rely on CG and lazy jokes to validate their existence?

The answer is actually simple: James Cameron. Sure Arnie is a great action hero but he made 20 odd non-Cameron films – one of them even titled ‘The Last Action Hero’ – that ranged in quality from mediocre to ‘meh’, only Predator and Total Recall were better than merely OK. Let’s now consider his resume alongside Mr Cameron:

  1. –         The Terminator
  2. –         Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  3. –         True Lies

Your Honour the defense rests…

True Lies is sneaky good. Watch it again and remember how good action used to be.

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day

Being the action decade there weren’t too many exceptional comedies in the 90s. Groundhog Day being the notable standout. Bill Murray’s performance as an obnoxious weatherman doomed to relive the same day in a sleepy middle American town for eternity manages to finally give Mr Murray material worthy of his talents. The result is the funniest and most charming film of his career.

I’ve read articles and seen chatboard discussions over just how long he remained trapped and how many times he died over the course of the film but while I too am a film geek that to me is really overthinking things.

Where possible I like to keep things pretty simple: Bill Murray and Steve Martin are the funniest guys alive in my opinion. Martin has a more consistent resume overall and probably has more ‘very good’ films, but with Groundhog Day Murray has the greatest career highpoint.

(It even made Chris Elliot and Andie MacDowall funny – no mean feat.)

Se7en

Se7en

Never has the mainstream been so subversive. Se7en is filled with bizarre and unsettling imagery, and the less I think about the strap-on apparatus the easier I get to sleep. David Fincher’s masterpiece about a detective duo with a young hothead (Brad Pitt) and the grizzled and jade vet (Morgan Freeman) on the trail of a homicidal genius hell bent on pulling off the most notorious series of murders in history is a towering work.

Intricately plotted and brilliantly directed, Se7en is an incredible feat, managing to hold doggedly onto the dark undertones and show a side of civilisation that is rarely discussed or dealt with in such realism.

You would be hard pressed to find a sane person who admires the killer John Doe for his twisted logic and disgusting acts of violence, but you can’t argue against his creativity.

Serial Killer films have come and gone since with monotonous regularity. None of them can hold a candle to Se7en.

Well that’s another list down. As always we welcome any disagreements and nominations.

Tune in soon for the Noughties, the Dubbos, whatever…

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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