Join us in our decade-based film retrospective, as we delve backwards all the way from 2009 to 1910. Most decade-based best movie lists grant you a whooping 50-100 entries, which makes perfect sense given all the years you have to take into consideration. But what if you were defining a decade in just ten films? Which movies would you recommend to somebody who might only watch a handful from a given decade? This week, join us as we look back at the Nineties.
The further we seem to move away from the Nineties, the better it seems to appear as a decade for filmmaking. And as you delve deeply into its rich canon, you begin to realise that this is a ten-year period that has truly defined the stylistic tendencies still clinging to cinema today. Here, after all, was where cinematic post-modernism began to make a name for itself, where irony and genre deconstruction thrived, and where audiences were treated to narrative innovation and sequences of sexual and violent realism like they’d never seen before.
The Nineties changed the scene. This is where some of today’s best directors like Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson moved in to take the reigns from masters like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Is this cinema’s coolest decade? That’s arguable, though many might reserve such a tag for the Seventies. But for its hipness, its willingness to experiment, to tackle narrative in new and interest ways, and with CGI finally coming full circle in ways we might’ve never dreamed, the Nineties is a period to be treasured: Here’s our pick of its ten best films.Next
10. Toy Story (1995) (Dir. John Lasseter)
Toy Story was the first full-length feature animated film ever made, an achievement that by itself would have been admirable. But Pixar didn’t sell us out on the story side of things, which concerns an old-fashioned cowboy doll who finds his existence threatened when a new-age space toy arrives on the scene. There are so many emotions running through Toy Story‘s veins, emotions which would continue to be developed in its equally brilliant sequels. The set-pieces are crafted perfectly and the visuals are obviously impressive, but ultimately it’s the characterization that makes this movie so worthwhile: each character is gifted with a personality that seems vibrant, idiosyncratic and… well, human.Previous Next
9. The Matrix (1999) (Dir. Lana & Andy Wachowski)
In a fashion that would come to define 90s cinema, the Wachowski siblings brought in a whole array of personal influences when it came to crafting their visually groundbreaking masterpiece - everything from Japanese anime, cyberpunk novels and martial arts made its way into their melting pot. The result is something both intellectually sound and superbly entertaining, a sci-fi film that hit the zeitgeist at just the right time. Most will remember The Matrix now as a source ripe for parody (what with its slow-mo bullet time sequences and unsubtle soundtrack cues), but it’s important to remember that The Matrix is also one of the most plainly enjoyable films in the entire sci-fi movie canon.Previous Next
8. Schindler’s List (1993) (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
There are some who criticise Spielberg’s Schindler’s List as if it were not dealing with its material justly enough, and yet the director ensures that such events are not inappropriately trivialized by choosing to tell the story of Jews who survived the ordeal. Liam Neeson was the perfect choice for Oskar Schindler, his calm, stoic performance absolutely essential to the success of the picture (and playing a role that many great actors would not have been able to pull off). Michael Haneke and Jean Luc Godard did not approve of Spielberg’s apparent “sugarcoating” of history, but upon seeing the film, Billy Wilder exclaimed: “They couldn’t have gotten a better man. This movie is absolutely perfection.” He was not wrong.Previous Next
7. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) (Dir. Frank Darabont)
Shamelessly ignored upon its first release, The Shawshank Redemption has suddenly found itself poised as the everyman’s movie of choice. Not surprising, given that it remains one of cinema’s best tellings on the subjects of hope and perseverance. Frank Darabont’s directoral style is unashamedly workmanlike and humble, but it only serves to make Stephen King’s story of redemption and courage all the more likeable. After being imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, Andy Dufresne, played without ego by Tim Robbins, finds solace in prison mate Ellis Boy “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman). The two bond over the course of many years, granting Shawshank the epic stature that assures it as a bonafide classic.Previous Next
6. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) (Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
Stanley Kubrick’s least popular film begs to be reconsidered now that more than a decade has passed since it first hit theatres. As a bizarre, otherworldly film that seems separated somehow from all time and place, Eyes Wide Shut is nowhere near as accessible as the director’s previous works. But this twisted sexual odyssey driven by a fully committed (and very underrated) Tom Cruise performance makes for haunting viewing. Kubrick’s obsessive attention to detail reigns over the picture as usual, and the piece embodies a spooky, uncomfortable atmosphere that ultimately serves to enrich it greatly. It may be long and tough, but there is so much more to Eyes Wide Shut than all those naked Nicole Kidman scenes.Previous Next
5. L.A. Confidential (1997) (Dir. Curtis Hanson)
Even James Ellroy, novelist of L.A. Confidential, has admitted to the greatness of Curtis Hanson’s marvel of an adaptation. Tight, beautifully shot, twisty and perfectly encapsulating the time period of its setting, L.A. Confidential is jammed packed with great performances from Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey and a noir-inclined storyline that will baffle you brain until you can piece it all together. The script is dynamite, the shoot-out sequences are bloody and expertly shot, and the film never falls off its horse in its attempts to tell a complicated and somewhat windy story. Assured and gorgeous, Curtis Hanson has never made a better film.Previous Next
4. Se7en (1995) (Dir. David Fincher)
Look closely at Se7en and you’ll see a story you’ve glimpsed a dozen times before: An optimistic rookie and his older, wiser and much more cynical partner attempt to solve a seemingly impossible police investigation. David Fincher, however, makes it all seem fresh again through a combination of expert direction, a dark, clinical shooting style and his preference for the nihilistic. Both Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt offer sensational performances, but it’s Andrew Kevin Walker’s script that really bites: the final twenty minutes will fix you to your seat, and by the time the film reveals its dark heart in the form of a truly sick twist, you’ll be left feeling shocked and utterly drained.Previous Next
3. Goodfellas (1990) (Dir. Martin Scorsese)
For Goodfellas, American auteur Martin Scorsese brings together an entire career’s worth of technique, innovation and personal touch to create a perfectly-rendered tapestry chronicling one man’s life in the Mob. Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) narrates his own rise and fall with just the right amount of smug charisma. With effortless grace, the picture moves forwards without ever seeming to slow down or hit a bump in the road, combining music, performance, camerawork and story into one fluid whole. Many young filmmakers have attempted to imitate Scorsese’s natural flair for moving his camera about the scene, but nobody has ever managed what its director makes look so easy in Goodfellas.Previous Next
2. Pulp Fiction (1994) (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Almost twenty years later and Pulp Fiction is still the coolest film ever made. From the moment we first meet two of his fast-talking, caution-to-the-wind characters looking to hold up a diner, we’re completely absorbed in the world laid out before us. This is the one that made pop cultural references into high art, after all, and nobody (not even Tarantino himself) has since pulled off a brilliantly intricate platter of connected stories in quite the way he achieved here.
Taking its roots from classic “pulp” stories, the memorable scenes rack up one after another, evoking the works of Scorsese, Godard and an endless array of exploitation flicks that Tarantino so adores. Given that no scene in this movie isn’t worth discussing in some way, shape or form, its cultural legacy has proven righty huge. “Garçon means boy,” deadpans a waitress, correcting Tim Roth’s translative mistake during the opening. Yep: even Tarantino’s bit-parts get cool lines.Previous Next
1. Fargo (1995) (Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
For all its willing to be idiosyncratic, quirky and utterly Coen, Fargo remains the two-headed director’s most plainly appealing motion picture, a towering achievement in both creative writing, direction, acting and compostion. A crime escapade in its most simple description, Fargo tells the story of a loser-ish car salesman who hires two dumb thugs to kidnap his wife so that her rich father will pay a ransom (and they can each split the dough). Things don’t go as planned, of course, and the Coens render their story as a police investigation overseen by one pregnant Marge Gunderson, impeccably played with charm and gusto by Frances McDormand.
Fargo is strange and odd, brilliantly-acted, drenched in atmosphere, engrossing and baffling: in other words, it’s everything a great film should be. The twists keep on coming as the deceivingly simple story diverts into avenues you never saw approaching. For all its irony and bleakness, there is love here too, as Marge sadly addresses a criminal as the film draws to a close, and in the scenes she shares with husband Norm. When the film does end, you feel as if you’ve actually visited Fargo and spent quality time with some of its inhabitants – surely the best compliment one could possibly pay to a movie that truly opens itself up and invites you into its world.
Last time: We looked at The Noughties (the 2000′s), and you can read our Best Films of the Noughties list here.
Next time: The Eighties get our top ten film treatment, stay tuned.
Do you agree with our choices for the ten best films of the 90′s? Let us know in the comments below.Previous