100 Best Films of the 90s – Part 2 (#90-#81)

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, continuing with #90-#81. These will be weekly installments every Wednesday throughout the summer.

90. Home Alone

1990 / USA / dir. Chris Columbus / 103 minutes

(From my Home Alone Franchise with Me Article from December 2020…)

I can’t even remember the first time I saw Home Alone because I was so young. Probably around Christmas 1991 or when it first came out on VHS. It quickly became a classic in my household, as me and pretty much every other kid that watched it saw themselves as Kevin MacAllister, a scrappy, smart little shit everyone in the family underestimates but when push comes to shove, is able to save the day. I remember laughing hysterically at all the booby traps, tricks and especially Uncle Frank, a larger than life character even a two year old could appreciate.

The original Home Alone succeeds where the sequels most often fail for three major reasons. First, we don’t have concept fatigue yet as this is all still relatively fresh. Second, the adult actors Hughes and Columbus fill the movie with all do incredible character work in different ways — on one hand you have John Candy and Gary Bamman (Uncle Frank) playing their ridiculous characters to the hilt and, on the other hand, you have Catherine O’Hara and John Heard really reigning in the reality of the situation with their nuanced but still humorous portrayals. O’Hara especially, who you really believe is, in fact, desperate to get home to her son. Third, and most importantly, you have a ridiculously capable child actor (Macaulay Culkin) anchoring the film, never taking us out of the reality it establishes.

At 1 hour and 43 minutes, it’s very well paced and while it does feature some schmaltzy but obligatory heart to heart dialogue scenes, they resolve themselves quickly. Under all the violence and vigilante wish fulfillment is a simple and beautiful message, no one deserves to be alone for the holidays. With Covid-19 this past year, that was a reality for a lot of us. Catherine O’Hara didn’t rush to our house to comfort and hold us, we just sadly remained home alone, watching Home Alone. (Streaming on Disney+)

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89. Wild at Heart

1990 / USA / dir. David Lynch / 124 minutes

The closest thing David Lynch ever made to a comedy is this violent, sexual and absolutely ridiculous road trip romance with a dependably insane Nicolas Cage and a then 23-year-old Laura Dern. It more or less declares itself a modern Wizard of Oz but I’d argue it has the broader shell of like a 60s Elvis movie, colored in with transgressive details and a Sid Vicious-type punk rock attitude. It’s silly, it’s weird, it’s ironically funny, but it is also extremely brutal, uncomfortable and even quite frightening. Willem Dafoe, Harry Dean Stanton, J.E. Freeman, Grace Zabriskie, Isabella Rossellini and Diane Ladd in an Oscar nominated turn as Dern‘s evil Southern Belle mama. She’s also Laura Dern’s mom in real life. (Only available on DVD and Blu Ray)

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88. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

1994 / Australia / dir. Stephan Elliot / 104 minutes

If you can get past the casting of three straight male actors playing two drag queens and a trans woman that occurred almost 30 years ago, then I think you’ll absolutely fall in love with Priscilla. Stephan Elliot‘s hilarious, heartwarming and wonderfully humane comedy about two drag queens, Tick and Adam (Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce) and a trans woman, Bernadette (Terence Stamp) on a drag tour across Australia. There are a few problematic spots like Bernadette’s treatment by Adam for being trans and Bill’s mail order Malaysian wife, but overall this is a very warm movie. (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

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87. Mrs. Doubtfire

1993 / USA / dir. Chris Columbus / 125 minutes

It’s amazing to think a premise this bonkers actually worked, but it’s less amazing when you realize the most likeable and talented comedic actor of the time (Robin Williams) was headlining. It’s hard for me to detect flaws in this one since I first saw it at such an early age and it meant so much to me. Pierce Brosnan still reads as an asshole but Sally Field is an infinitely more sympathetic character than I originally saw her as. And Uncle Fierstein and Aunt Jack?….Still brilliant. ($3.99 rental on Amazon)

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86. Man Bites Dog

1992 / Belgium / dir. Benoit Poelvoorde, Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel / 96 minutes

A Belgian mockumentary about an inexperienced camera crew following around a charming but sociopathic serial killer. He kills mostly for little opportunities (money from some lady’s purse) or for personal reasons (he brutally and quite suddenly murders a houseguest during an awkward family dinner.) This is a very funny but incredibly graphic satire that instead of delving into the philosophical or scientific reasons of why we kill, dives into the specific psyche of our deranged protagonist. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and the climax is so horrifying our laughs catch in our throat, but this little indie gem has a shitload of personality and doesn’t at all feel like edge-lord territory like its countless successors and imitators. (Streaming on HBOMAX)

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85. Total Recall

1990 / USA / dir. Paul Verhoeven / 113 minutes

There’s so much more to love about this funky sci-fi thriller than a lady with three boobs or bulging Ahhhnuld eyyye balllls. First off, because it’s from master of action satire, Paul Verhoeven, who just three years prior hit a home run with Robocop, there’s so much comedy and spot-on social critiques weaved into the fabric of the movie that never seem too muggy or cheesy. Second of all, the movie features some incredibly well executed action sequences that still hold up today. Third, the whole movie was probably all just one big one VR simulation. If that’s the case, maybe Sharon Stone should file divorce papers for her own safety. (Streaming on Netflix)

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84. Metropolitan

1990 / USA / dir. Whit Stillman / 98 minutes

Speaking of cuttingly funny, Whit Stillman‘s masterfully written Metropolitan is one of the funniest critiques of the 1% I’ve seen. However, instead of focusing on the adult 1%, Stillman focuses on their sheltered and delusional teenagers, completely enveloped in the debutante ball scene. It’s 98 minutes of getting wrapped up in who likes who and who’s dad bought what, seen through the eyes of a kid attending their school on financial aid. It’s filled with several solid performances from (at the time) young actors, but the stand-out is clearly Chris Eigman as Nick, who some of you might remember as Malcolm’s asshole Krelboyne teacher in Malcolm in the Middle. (Streaming on HBOMAX)

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83. Out of Sight

1998 / USA / dir. Steven Soderbergh / 123 minutes

Adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel just one year after Jackie Brown, this is one of the best films in Sodebergh‘s wildly uneven oeurve. Funny, clever and unpredictable, Out of Sight is less character-focused than Jackie Brown, but much more plot-mechanics focused. Clooney and Lopez deliver some of their finest work basically playing versions of themselves, with Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames, Albert Brooks, Luis Guzman, Steve Zahn and more filling out a diverse and great supporting cast. Michael Keaton even makes a brief appearance as his character from Jackie Brown. Have you noticed I’ve mentioned Jackie Brown more times in this write up than Out of Sight? It’s on this top 100 list but way further down. (Streaming on STARZ)

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82. The Fugitive

1993 / USA / dir. Andrew Davis / 130 minutes

Probably the most, front-to-back, entertaining chase movie I’ve ever seen. The Fugitive doesn’t invent the wheel in any way, shape or form, but it does what it knows exceptionally well, making us really care about two uncommonly well developed action movie characters. Harrison Ford delivers maybe his best performance as a rich ass Chicago doctor whose ass is framed for murdering his wife. Tommy Lee Jones is even better, in an Oscar-winning role, as the just as smart but far more stoic U.S. Marshall tasked with catching a runaway Ford. I don’t know what else to say about this movie that hasn’t been said over 100 times before, but, Jane Lynch is in it, you ever notice that? ($3.99 rental on Amazon)

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81. Heavyweights

1995 / USA / dir. Steven Brill / 100 minutes

Much like Mrs. Doubtfire, I saw this for the first time as a little fat kid, so it’s difficult to separate my own personal feelings from how it objectively functions as a piece of entertainment and/or art. To me, this is one of the funniest fucking movies about kids I’ve ever seen with a career best performance by Ben Stiller as an absolutely deranged skinny wiener. For a comedy about children being morbidly obese, Heavyweights is the antithesis of mean-spirited, championing its chubby buddies into bonafide XXL heroes. Who knew Kenny Daily was a camp counselor before running KACL? (Streaming on Disney+)

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The List So Far…

100. Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (1997)

99. Jurassic Park (1993)

98. Batman Returns (1992)

97. Strange Days (1995)

96. Scream (1996)

95. To Sleep with Anger (1990)

94. My Cousin Vinny (1992)

93. Hard Eight (1996)

92. The Sandlot (1993)

91. Con Air (1997)

90. Home Alone (1990)

89. Wild at Heart (1990)

88. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

87. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

86. Man Bites Dog (1992)

85. Total Recall (1990)

84. Metropolitan (1990)

83. Out of Sight (1998)

82. The Fugitive (1993)

81. Heavyweights (1995)

#80 – #71 coming next Wednesday!

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