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Member Lists

My favorite movies of the 90's
List creator: JCirelli
Created on: January 4, 2008 - 12:08 PM PST
Description: The 40 movies from the 90's that I think are truly great, presented alphabetically. I like to think they're not all obvious choices, so maybe you'll find something to rent.

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Barton Fink (1991)
  First alphabetically, and also first if I were to attempt the impossible task of ordering them preferentially. This is one of the greatest puzzles in cinema history, one that I find new ways of approaching every single time I watch it. At the risk of making a hyperbolic statement, this is one of my be-all, end-all top 10 favorite movies ever.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991)
  The first great movie that Disney produced after Walt's death, and excluding the Pixar movies, probably the only truly great one they've done since. This is a tremendous accomplishment not only in animation, but in filmmaking as a storytelling medium in general. It belongs on a pedestal with the Disney classics of old, like "Snow White" and "Pinocchio."
Before Sunrise (1995)
  A romance for people who, like me, don't normally like romances. Few characters are as fully realized as the two leads in this movie, and almost no movie has ever presented as realistic a romance. This is "Roman Holiday" as played out in real life.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
  An existential comedy that, in case you aren't already familiar with it, features one of the most insanely original premises in recent memory. It may even be too off the wall for some, but for those who can appreciate something off the beaten path, this is a movie to cherish.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
  In some ways, it's just a silly stoner comedy, but give it to the most consistently excellent filmmakers of the 90's and you get this: a hilarious trip that can become something of an obsession if you're in the right frame of mind.
Boogie Nights (1997)
  Paul Thomas Anderson's amazing breakthrough does for the porn industry what Robert Altman did for the country music industry with "Nashville." The characters in this movie are complicated, involving personalities that, despite their obvious shortcomings, are surprisingly easy to become invested in. Disturbing, funny, frantic, and unforgettable.
Boyz N the Hood (1991)
  A heartbreaking story of black urban life. It has been tagged by some as a modern gangster movie, though it feels more like a horror movie. It's far too easy to like these characters, and that's why it's far too hard to watch what happens to them.
Dark City (1998)
  One of the great sci-fi movies in history, and one that only a few people saw. If marketed correctly, this movie could have been as big as "The Matrix." The visuals are extraordinary, and the thought-provoking story leads to one of the few genuinely surprising conclusions of recent times.
Dead Man Walking (1995)
  A devastating movie, no matter which side you take on the movie's main issue of capital punishment. The performances of Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon are what really make this movie special. I know I'll never get over the phone conversation Penn's character has with his mother towards the movie's end.
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
  Woody Allen's most self-analytical movie with the possible exception of "Stardust Memories," this movie features a great cast working with a very intriguing screenplay. There is a scene in which Woody Allen's character goes to Hell, and it is truly one of the decade's most memorable comedic moments.
Ed Wood (1994)
  Tim Burton's most mature movie to date, featuring Johnny Depp's best performance to date. Even better is Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, who justly won an Oscar. The friendship between Lugosi and Ed Wood is the heart of the movie, and it's what elevates the movie from the level of a great comedy to simply a great movie.
Edward Scissorhands (10th Anniversary Edition) (1990)
  Another Tim Burton movie, and another one in which the main character is named Edward (coincidentally, my 3rd-favorite Burton movie, "Big Fish," also features a protagonist named Edward). This is a fantasy for the ages, on a level with "E.T." It takes a dark turn near the end, but I still think this is a movie to be enjoyed and remembered by all ages.
Fargo (Special Edition) (1996)
  The third Coen brothers movie on my list is the one many consider to be their masterpiece. This is a brilliant piece of Americana, and it only gets better with repeated viewings. The acting is pitch-perfect, and I'd be hard-pressed to name many screenplays as perfect as this one.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
  This is one of screen's greatest romances, however unconventional it may be. Nic Cage plays an alcoholic drinking himself to death to Elisabeth Shue's troubled prostitute. It's a raw, emotional movie that manages to find a deep connection between two lost souls. The result is immeasurably moving.
Glengarry GlenRoss (1992)
  If ever the cliche adjective "electrifying" were to ever be rightfully applied to a movie, I can't think of one more deserving than this one. It's not that there is any action at all--the movie is nearly all dialogue--but dialogue by David Mamet is more exciting than action by nearly anyone. The cast is outstanding, especially Jack Lemmon.
Goodfellas (1990)
  The best crime movie since "The Godfather," without a doubt. This movie is single-handedly responsible for the style that nearly every gen-X filmmaker to debut in the past 10 or 15 years has adopted, although none have been able to quite match the effortless virtuosity that Scorsese displays here. This is a movie you truly live inside while watching.
Groundhog Day (1993)
  I guess it's fitting given the movie's premise that every time I watch the movie, I like it just as much as (if not more than) the last time. It's a comedy first and foremost, but there are some deep philosophical issues here that reveal themselves upon closer inspection. What other mainstream American comedy is based around Eastern philosophy?
In the Company of Men (1997)
  A dissection of masculinity in the 90's that is simultaneously (not alternately) hilarious and disturbing. Aaron Eckhart played the asshole character to perfection long before "Thank You for Smoking." The final shot in this movie is utterly haunting.
JFK (Special Edtion) (1991)
  Even if Oliver Stone's facts aren't all straight (and they aren't), this movie makes the JFK assassination become an obsession for the viewer. It's riveting for its entire running length, which is saying something considering it's over 3 hours long. Gary Oldman gives the performance of a lifetime as Lee Harvey Oswald (and it's not even his best!).
Jurassic Park (1993)
  Hardly any of the restraint Spielberg showed with "Jaws" is utilized here, but who cares when it's this fun? The special effects are still a sight to behold years later, and looking back on it now, it's amazing how much more exciting this movie is than nearly every summer blockbuster that's followed.
Malcolm X (1992)
  A textbook example of how to do a good biopic, Spike Lee's epic study of the life of one of the century's most vital figures is mesmerizing. And that doesn't even begin to describe Denzel Washington's performance.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
  As inventive a family movie as you'll find, this has justly become something of a classic years after its rather disappointing initial release. The stop-motion animation is spectacular, but what really makes the movie is the soundtrack provided by Danny Elfman (who also does the singing voice of Jack).
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
  Few, if any, movies have made me feel like telling everyone else about it as much as this one did. This is a movie you NEED to see. That the case at hand still hasn't been properly solved is one of the biggest stains on the American judicial system in modern history.
The Player (1992)
  Robert Altman's "comeback" movie is a dense comedic thriller mystery. Forget that it was a return to form for Altman; watching it today feels like nothing less than a revitalization of movies, period. The very first shot, in particular, is one of the most clever shots ever produced.
Pleasantville (1998)
  A terrific satirical fantasy that takes apart the "traditional" values that are associated with 1950's America, and takes a stand for the true American values of truth, liberty, and freedom. It can be read many ways, but mostly it's just tremendously entertaining to watch.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
  Hayao Miyazaki is widely regarded as the master of animation, and to me, this is his masterpiece. It works on many levels, not the least of which is as a fantasy adventure on par with any live-action one you care to name. This visuals, obviously, are jaw-dropping.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
  The single most influential movie of the 90's. I defy you to find me a young aspiring filmmaker who doesn't cite "Pulp Fiction" as an influence. And aside from completely changing the rules of movies, it's also compulsively entertaining, and I doubt you'll be able to resist quoting it.
Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
  I can't think of a movie that juxtaposes beauty and horror to such an effect as this one. The images of this movie have stayed in my mind long after I saw it. I suppose you could say this is a pretty depressing movie, but that would be unfair to such a transcendent experience as this.
Schindler's List (1993)
  Spielberg had dabbled in serious dramas before, but as admirable as those efforts were, they didn't even hint that he was capable of accomplishing a work of art the stature of "Schindler's List." It works because it is not simply depressing like most Holocaust movies tend to be, but because it is moving in incomprehensible ways. A true must-see.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  By now, this movie has grown so much in reputation that it is regarded by even casual movie watchers as a classic. And why not? It's a timeless and inspiring movie that drives home the universal theme of hope. It's the kind of movie that people look back on and say "They don't make 'em like that anymore."
Short Cuts (Criterion Collection) (1993)
  A mosaic of everyday life that comes as close to reality as any movie has ever come. It plays like a great piece of music, and doesn't feel half its length. Since the time I first watched it, I've been forced to think about it in my own everyday life, and the more I do, the more it means to me.
A Simple Plan (1998)
  One of my favorite themes is the dire lengths people will go to for money, and this is one of the best examples of that theme exlpored in movies. It's been compared to "Fargo," which I suppose is understandable, but it's really a great movie of its own, and deserves to be seen.
Sling Blade (1996)
  A touching story with a southern gothic feel, this movie has affected me in a way that few have. It's a devastating story worthy of Cormac McCarthy.
Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
  Either I'm letting my inner Woody Allen devotee get the best of me, or this is just about the most underrated movie of the 90's. The usual Woody Allen homages are there--jazz, Fellini, the Marx brothers--but it's far from being a second-rate work from the director as most people seem to deem it. It's a bittersweet story of a love that could have been.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day - The Ultimate Edition DVD (1991)
  A strong contender for the title of "best popcorn movie ever made," this is non-stop thrilling from the first frame to the last. It's a vast imrpovement over the already very good original, and is one of the few action/chase movies to wear a heart on its sleeve.
Toy Story (1995)
  At the time of its release, this movie was of course a huge innovation, being the first fully computer-animated movie and all. Personally, I think its greatest accomplishment is simply how good it is. This is one of those movies that will still be part of pop culture 50 years from now, and its groundbreaking animation will hardly be the reason why.
Toy Story 2 (1999)
  A lot of people think it's even better than the original. I don't, but it's close enough behind to earn a spot on my favorites list. It's another hilarious and wholly entertaining movie that can be enjoyed by all ages. And I don't mean because it has cutesy-pie stuff for kids and crude in-jokes for adults like most subsequent movies of its type.
The Truman Show (1998)
  Several movies on this list have dealt with existential themes in very original and entertaining ways, and this is another of them. This one is probably even more thought-provoking than the others, though, since it takes some moral and cosmic issues head-on towards its end. This was Jim Carrey's big breakout as a serious actor, and the hype is earned.
Unforgiven (Special Edition) (1992)
  Some have said that the western is the only American genre, and even if you don't buy that, it's undoubtedly the quintessential American genre. Here, Clint Eastwood takes apart the western and reconstructs it in a bold, brutal way while still maintaining its inherent themes. It says a lot about violence, women, and America.

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