100 Best Films of the 90s – Part 5 (#60-#51)

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 #60-#51. These will be weekly installments every Wednesday throughout the summer.

60. The Lion King

1994 / USA / dir. Roger Allers, Ron Minkoff / 89 minutes

The only animated Disney movie to make this list for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve never really connected with Beauty and the Beast and while I certainly appreciate it, I’d almost rather watch any other Disney movie. Second, Pocahontas is racist AF despite having some great Menken tunes. Third, I’ve never seen Mulan and I’ve seen Hercules so long ago I barely remember anything besides James Woods. Fourth, Toy Story 1 and 2 are not Disney. And finally, fifth, The Lion King is a really smart and ballsy adaptation of Hamlet. Eat that Mr. Branagh. (Streaming on Disney+)


59. The Ice Storm

1997 / USA / dir. Ang Lee / 112 minutes

Ang Lee’s fascinating but crushingly sad, The Ice Storm, uses eastern music and Asian visual flair to tell a story about trouble in white suburbia almost like an old Buddhist morality play. Set over Thanksgiving weekend in 1973 Connecticut, the story follows a seemingly healthy (but anything but) family. There’s the lecherous adulterer father (Kevin Kline) having an affair with a frigid and cruel housewife (Sigourney Weaver), the wound-too-tight mom (Joan Allen), the angsty, Nixon-hating 14-year-old daughter (Christina Ricci) and the 16-year-old nerdy son (Tobey Maguire) returning home from boarding school. Rounding out the cast is a very young Elijah Wood and Allison Janney. It’s extremely powerful and rewarding stuff. ($3.99 rental on Amazon)


58. Election

1999 / USA / dir. Alexander Payne / 99 minutes

Probably the greatest movie ever made about voter fraud, Alexander Payne‘s acidicly dark comedy Election revolves around the petty grudge of a sad sack high school teacher (Matthew Broderick) involving an obnoxiously overachieving senior (a never better Reese Witherspoon) and her quest to become school president. After 21 years, the film holds up incredibly well. (Streaming on Amazon Prime)


57. Peppermint Candy

1999 / South Korea / dir. Lee Chang-dong / 130 minutes

Before Memento did it, South Korean auteur Lee Chang-dong told a tragic story of loss and self-identity completely backwards. Peppermint Candy opens up with a tormented schlub, interrupting a company picnic like a fucking asshole and then jumping in front of a train, brutally ending his life. The camera then follows the train and each stop transitions into a moment in his past, going backwards. We see his life just a couple weeks prior to the suicide, of being on the streets and visiting an old lover dying of cancer. We see his life three years before the event as a tech start up asshole, hiring a P.I. to spy on his cheating wife and then viciously beating her lover and her. We see five years before that when he was a dirty cop, torturing suspects and looking for the easy way to do everything. We see close to a decade before that, of him being traumatized in the army. But is that really the reason he’s an asshole or did that just accelerate his asshole-ish tendencies? This is a brilliantly calibrated film that will make you think and may even piss you off. Lee Chang-dong wisely never asks us to sympathize with this man, just to take the time consider how a nation’s violent past and shifting political trends can shape an asshole out of a human being. (Not Available Anywhere – Write Your Congresswoman)


56. Office Space

1999 / USA / dir. Mike Judge / 89 minutes

I remember hating Mike Judge‘s workplace comedy back when I saw it in 1999. I was 10 years old and had absolutely no frame of reference for what any kind of office environment was like or the simultaneously crushing and numbing fear of moving or not moving up through the corporate ranks. When you understand all of those things, you realize how much Office Space hits the nail on the head. Featuring wonderful performances from leads Ron Livingston and Jennifer Aniston (whose character shows us the food service industry side of corporate hell) but the real standouts are character actor Stephen Root as the beat down, pathetic corporate door mat, Milton and a never better Gary Cole as the culmination of everyone’s passive-aggressive, company middle man supervisor. Yeahhhhh, he’s gonna need you to come in Saturday cause he doesn’t give a fuck about you. (Streaming on STARZ)


55. Princess Mononoke

1997 / Japan / dir. Hiyao Miyazaki / 134 minutes

Perhaps too violent for the youngest of children, Hiyao Miyazaki’s animated action epic packs a wonderful green message about protecting the environment. Princess Mononoke manages to not only be ferociously creative in its visuals, but emotionally compelling in its narrative. Two and a quarter hours just fly by. (Streaming on HBOMAX)


54. Quiz Show

1994 / USA / dir. Robert Redford / 133 minutes

Robert Redford‘s uncomfortable but fascinating TV game show epic about how fake reality television really is. When Jewish-American reigning champion Herbie Stempel (a fantastic John Turturro) is deemed too unlikeable (but really, too Jewish) to keep winning, producers (David Paymer, Hank Azaria) bring in ringer Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) to get the show back on the white track. Based on an absolutely true story and the resulting criminal investigation and grand jury case that followed. ($3.99 rental on Amazon)


53. Life is Sweet

1990 / UK / dir. Mike Leigh / 103 minutes

Mike Leigh‘s wonderfully humane and really quite funny examination of a financially struggling North London family who buy an old, worn-down food truck one summer, in hopes of sprucing it up and generating some income. The dad is a chef (Jim Broadbent), the mom is a dance teacher for kids (Alison Steadman) and then there’s two twin daughters, one a nice tomboy (Claire Skinner), the other kind of a bitch (Jane Horrocks). Stephen Rea and a young David Thewlis also star, but the real stand-out is a comically over-the-top Timothy Spall as their weird-o neighbor that dreams of opening up a French restaurant features bizarre food combinations like shrimp and pancakes. This is one of Leigh‘s best slice-of-life pictures, the first of three featured in this list. (Streaming on Criterion Channel)


52. American Movie

1999 / USA / dir. Chris Smith / 107 minutes

Funny but mostly cringe-worthy documentary about a really sad unemployed, divorced and alcoholic man and his dumb friend trying to make a low-budget horror movie in Wisconsin. However, the movie isn’t overly cruel, which makes it watchable. It’s really about the passion we all have for movies but follows a man much less equipped than most of us both in the talent and resources department. You oddly grow to like this weird-o despite drunken arguments with nasty relatives and his constant mispronunciation of the word “coven”. ($2.99 rental on Amazon)


51. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

1991 / USA / dir. Eleanor Coppola, Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper / 96 minutes

It’s more or less common knowledge that Francis Ford Coppola went completely insane during the intense filming process of Apocalypse Now, and luckily for us all his wife Eleanor was there to document it all. Arguably better than the movie itself, this tight 90 minute look at Frank‘s rapidly declining mental health in the tropical climate of Vietnam is a must for anyone interested in the filmmaking process. ($3.99 rental on Amazon)


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. Point Break (1991)

79. The Birdcage (1996)

78. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

77. Misery (1990)

76. Speed (1994)

75. Dumb & Dumber (1994)

74. Big Night (1996)

73. Face/Off (1997)

72. La Haine (1995)

71. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

70. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

69. Dead Alive (1992)

68. The Truman Show (1998)

67. Trainspotting (1996)

66. One False Move (1992)

65. Nixon (1995)

64. The Usual Suspects (1995)

63. Hamlet (1996)

62. Fallen Angels (1995)

61. The Piano (1993)

60. The Lion King (1994)

59. The Ice Storm (1997)

58. Election (1999)

57. Peppermint Candy (1999)

56. Office Space (1999)

55. Princess Mononoke (1997)

54. Quiz Show (1994)

53. Life Is Sweet (1990)

52. American Movie (1999)

51. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)

See You Next Wednesday with #50-#41

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