100 Best Films of the 90s – Part 1 (#100-#91)

The 90s was one of my favorite decades for film, with the emergence of Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, John Singleton, Paul Thomas Anderson and other less famous artists. It was a Renaissance for crime dramas as well, all seeming to stem from the success of GoodFellas and Pulp Fiction, and veteran blockbuster filmmaker Steven Spielberg proved to be one of the best directors of not just action, but high drama with his incredible work on Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.

This was also a great decade for raw, in-your-fucking-face documentaries with the sad but hopeful Hoop Dreams and the absolutely devastating Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, not to mention Jennie Livingston‘s thrilling, hilarious and extremely emotional look at NYC drag queen balls, Paris is Burning.

I’ve seen roughly 800 films from this decade, but here are my top 100, starting with #100-#91. These will be weekly installments every Wednesday throughout the summer.

SPECIAL MENTION:

SHOWGIRLS

1995 / United States / dir. Paul Verhoeven / 131 minutes

I couldn’t in good conscience add this to the top 100, but it is perhaps the most fascinating motion picture event of the entire decade. Somewhere between brilliantly calibrated camp and creepy exploitive garbage, Showgirls starts at an 11/10 on the loudness scale and gradually makes its way up to a million. The fact this insane mishmash of ideas is from the celebrated director of Robocop, Starship Troopers and Total Recall is all the more fascinating. (Streaming on Cinemax)

100. Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

1997 / United States / dir. David Mirkin / 92 minutes

One of my absolute favorite movies as a child still holds up for me as an adult. Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion is about two hilarious single women (Mira Sorvino, Lisa Kudrow) in their late 20s, living in L.A., who were branded as outcasts in high school and are still outcasts all these years later. When a chain-smoking Janeane Garofalo alerts them of their high school reunion in Tucson, they decide to road trip it back home and lie about their accomplishments to impress people who used to bully them. Laughs and some surprisingly effective heartwarming moments ensue, with Kudrow delivering one of those rare, perfect comedic performances. ($3.99 rental on Amazon)

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99. Jurassic Park

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

1993 / United States / dir. Steven Spielberg / 127 minutes

It’s a classic and I got to play Newman in the puppet version of the show. There’s nothing else to say, this is an indisputably great action blockbuster that celluloid wizard Steven Spielberg managed to create the same year as Schindler’s List. ($3.99 rental on Amazon)

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98. Batman Returns

1992 / United States / dir. Tim Burton / 126 minutes

Really more of a movie about Catwoman (a fantastic Michelle Pfeiffer) and The Penguin (a perfectly cast Danny DeVito), than a movie about Batman (the dependable Michael Keaton). No complaints here though, Tim Burton manages to outdo his first effort and take a series in such a bold, sexual and definitely not kid-friendly direction, that he got fired. I don’t think the scenic and costume design has ever been more imaginative in the series and speaking of imaginative, I think Christopher Walken essentially playing Donald Trump is a brilliant choice and has absolutely held up over time. (Streaming on HBOMAX)

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97. Strange Days

1995 / United States / dir. Kathryn Bigelow / 145 minutes

An incredibly intelligent and fascinating science-fiction thriller that has maybe not completely held up today in 2021, in terms of its technology, but it still deserves to be seen. Therein lies the problem, you can’t stream, rent or buy Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days anywhere. Ralph Fiennes plays a disgraced former cop turned bootleg VR experience peddler, mostly selling VR sexual experiences. When he comes across a VR tape of a real life cop (Vincent D’Onofrio) murdering a witness (THAT’s held up), he realizes it must be exposed to the public at all costs. Good thing a super bad ass Angela Basset is there to help him. (Not Available Anywhere – Write Your Congressman)

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96. Scream

1996 / United States / dir. Wes Craven / 112 minutes

Another favorite from my childhood, Scream has remained one of the most celebrated American horror films ever since its release 25 years ago. It manages the impossible feat of being both humorously deprecating and genuinely terrifying at the same time, and has probably the best cast a dead teenager movie has ever had. Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Rose McGowan and Drew Barrymore are all fantastic, but its Matthew Lillard‘s bizarrely captivating performance as Stu that really sticks out. What a home run for Wes Craven. (Streaming on HBOMAX)

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95. To Sleep with Anger

1990 / United States / dir. Charles Burnett / 101 minutes

Movies like this are the reason the Criterion Collection exists – really well made, a touch off-beat and somehow completely forgotten about. Danny Glover plays an ol’ snake in the grass, son-of-a-bitch, two-bit huckster who assimilates himself into a family going through problems and aggravates them at every turn in the hope of personal gain. It’s humorous, mostly dramatic and an always authentic view into the traditional American family dynamic and also the sad power of loneliness. Charles Burnett directed another lost classic, Killer of Sheep, from the 1970s, allegedly one of the finest films of that decade. (Streaming on HBOMAX)

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94. My Cousin Vinny

1992 / United States / dir. Jonathan Lynn / 120 minutes

When in doubt, go with the breakfast option, but try not to fixate on what the fuck a grit is. Has there ever been a funnier courtroom movie? Stop giving Marissa Tomei shit about winning an Oscar, she holds this whole fucking thing together. (Streaming on Cinemax)

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93. Hard Eight

1996 / United States / dir. Paul Thomas Anderson / 96 minutes

Before Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson gave us his first feature about an old card shark (Philip Baker Hall – never better) taking a dumb country boy (a really young John C. Reilly) under his wing to survive in Vegas. It’s nowhere near as grandiose as any of Anderson’s later films but it gives you an amuse-bouche of his talents. Also features Samuel L. Jackson as Reilly‘s shifty friend, Gwyneth Paltrow as Reilly‘s cocktail waitress girlfriend and a supremely obnoxious Philip Seymour Hoffman as a verbally abusive gambler. (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

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92. The Sandlot

THE SANDLOT

1993 / United States / dir. David M. Evans / 101 minutes

Superior to Goonies in almost every way, The Sandlot is a classic amongst millennials for a reason. Featuring a bundle of well-developed, likeable characters played by solid child actors, well-paced plot progression and all the warm coming-of-age feels you could ever want. Oh, and also James Earl Jones. Some of the gender politics hasn’t held up at all, but it was 1993…(Streaming on HULU)

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91. Con Air

1997 / United States / dir. Simon West / 116 minutes

Has there ever been a better cocaine movie? No, there’s not any actual cocaine in the movie, but if there was a single movie that personified, in cinematic language, the essence of cocaine, it would be this. Most likely because between producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, so much cocaine went into the making of this movie. Con Air is a wildly over-the-top, offensive, insanely violent, blatantly racist, blatantly homophobic, problematic in every fucking way actually, tasteless, Malkovichian, compulsively watchable, loud-ass assault on the senses and I find myself physically incapable of looking away. It’s like they accidentally made a movie about Hollywood. Put the fucking bunny back in the box. ($3.99 rental on Amazon)

See you next Wednesday, with #90-#81…

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