100 Best Films of the 90s – Part 7 (#40-#31)

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.

40. Boyz N the Hood

1991 / USA / dir. John Singleton / 112 minutes

Although characters tend to act as a mouth piece for writer/director John Singleton (R.I.P.) and not actually say/react as their character would in that given time, Boyz N the Hood delivers a particularly sobering message that is unfortunately still relevant today. Following a basically good kid (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) living in the hood with his father (a brilliant, never better Laurence Fishburne) who gets mixed up in some bullshit with Ice Cube and some very violent people. This is an anything but subtle movie but that surprisingly doesn’t take away anything from its raw power or importance to film history and the history of Black cinema. ($3.99 rental on Amazon)

39. The People vs Larry Flynt

1996 / USA / dir. Milos Forman / 130 minutes

The story of an unlikely civil rights hero that fought for our right to jerk off, told to fascinating and riveting life by Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest helmer Milos Forman (also RIP). Woody Harrelson is mesmerizing as loud, vulgar and pathologically persistent Hustler magazine founder and CEO Larry Flynt, who found himself in severe legal trouble in the Bible belt for violating obscenity laws. He eventually finds himself in front of the supreme court with his lawyer (a very young Edward Norton) to which a historic verdict was handed down. Featuring an excellent screenplay by The People vs OJ Simpson writers Scott and Larry Alexander and a fascinating real life story, maybe the best part of this whole thing is Courtney Love‘s electric but carefully measured, and ultimately heartbreaking performance as Althea, Larry Flynt’s heroin-addled, tortured wife. (Streaming on HBOMAX)

38. Toy Story 2

1999 / USA / dir. John Lasseter / 92 minutes

Originally intended as a direct to VHS sequel, Toy Story 2 is arguably better than the groundbreaking first entry. I actually prefer the first one (more on that later), but I’d say out of the four Toy Stories, this one is front-to-back the funniest. Featuring the characters and voice talent you loved from the original with the addition Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammar and a hilariously stupid Wayne “Newman” Knight as some fucking toy nerd, Toy Story 2 marks the first sequel in a series of sequels that are all excellent. I don’t think there’s ever been a more consistent film series than this one. Although Randy Newman wrote two new songs for this entry, you don’t get to hear his lovely voice on any of them. Instead we get Sarah McLachlan. (Streaming on Disney+)

37. The Player

1992 / USA / dir. Robert Altman / 124 minutes

Robert Altman‘s pure hatred for the Hollywood studio system pulses in every frame of The Player, perhaps the best satire ever made about this god forsaken industry. Tim Robbins plays a giant piece of shit, phony-baloney movie producer that is being stalked and threatened by a mysterious disgruntled screenwriter. Is it someone he blew off, upset or screwed out of a deal in the past? Good luck narrowing that list, pal. The Player features several scenes of pure cringe humor and an incredible ensemble cast including Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Dean Stockwell, Richard E. Grant, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Jeff Goldblum, John Cusack, Harry Belafonte, Peter Gallagher and more. (Streaming on HBOMAX)

36. Hard Boiled

1992 / Hong Kong / dir. John Woo / 126 minutes

Some of the most pulse-pounding action you’ll ever see is from Hong Kong director John Woo‘s shoot ’em up masterpiece, Hard Boiled. Basically all you need to know is that Chow Yun-Fat plays a cop and he’s shooting several guns at people with even more guns. And then another cop helps him played by Wong Kar Wai favorite Tony Leung Chiu-wai. A lot of explosions, screaming and both doves and human bodies flying through the air ensue. Woo‘s ridiculously over-the-top action style is undoubtedly what inspired the John Wick series and other American gun-fu action flicks, but for my money Woo does it better than anyone. Hard Boiled has this pure surreal energy to it that just can’t be matched. (Not Available Anywhere – Write Your Local Congresswoman)

35. JFK

1991 / USA / dir. Oliver Stone / 189 minutes (Director’s Cut – 206 minutes)

I was lucky enough to catch the director’s cut of this in theaters for 4th of July weekend and I’m glad I did. Oliver Stone‘s extremely controversial, definitely not entirely factual account of the twists and turns surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy is three and half hours of non-stop red pilling, though I imagine Q-Anon would probably hate JFK and believe the film itself is a conspiracy theory. There’s so many inherent flaws to this movie like the fact it drags in the middle or Kevin Costner‘s weak performance that is all the more noticeable being surrounded by brilliant performances by Gary Oldman, Jack Lemmon, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon, John Candy, Joe Pesci and the list goes on and on. However, this is about as brazen as filmmaking gets and its pure chutzpah launches it above other less flawed films. You even get a wild sex orgy with Pesci, Jones and Bacon (giffed above). If you have a choice between the theatrical or director’s cut, go with the director’s cut. For some bizarre reason they cut out the best scene in the entire film (the Donald Sutherland Washington scene) in the theatrical cut. (Streaming on HBOMAX)

34. Happy Together

1997 / Hong Kong / dir. Wong Kar-wai / 96 minutes

Everyone can’t get enough of Chungking Express, and while I really do like that movie, Happy Together is Wong Kar-wai’s finest achievement. A technically impressive and emotionally crushing story about two lovers who move from Hong Kong to Argentina, break up on the way, spend time apart, get back together, rinse and repeat. Tony Leung Chiu-wai is absolutely riveting and anyone who has seen Happy Together will remember that beautiful voice recorder moment. (Streaming on HBOMAX)

33. Dazed & Confused

1993 / USA / dir. Richard Linklater / 102 minutes

Maybe the ultimate hang out movie but definitely the ultimate high school movie, Richard Linklater‘s carefully observed but never prissy mosaic of fucking losers follows the graduating class of 1976 in Austin, Texas. There’s the geeks (Anthony Rapp, Adam Goldberg, Marissa Ribisi), the jocks (Jason London, Cole Hauser, Sasha Jensen), the stoners (Milla Jovovich, Rory Cochrane), the cheerleaders (Parker Posey, Joey Lauren Adams), an asshole (Ben Affleck), a creeper (Matthew McConaughey) and the freshman (Wiley Wiggins in what is maybe the single worst mainstream movie performance of all time.) It’s fast-paced, funny and sometimes even a bit profound. And that fucking soundtrack, maybe the best movie soundtrack of the 90s besides GoodFellas. (Streaming on AMC+)

32. The Matrix

1999 / USA / dir. The Wachowski Starship / 136 minutes

The last great action epic of the 90s, sorry Brendan Fraser. Perfectly timed to be released amongst the height of the Y2K mania about how if we found out our lives were all just one big computer simulation because robots conquered us many years ago. Keanu Reeves is great here in a role that plays to his strengths, an emotionally subdued computer hacker who delivers a “what’s going on?” face every five minutes, brought into the fold by a badass Laurence Fishburne and even more badass Carrie Anne-Moss. Yes, it’s all basically a giant Christ metaphor but at least it’s not a Mel Gibson Christ metaphor or literal interpretation and for that we can be thankful. ($3.99 rental on Amazon)

31. Happiness

1998 / USA / dir. Todd Solondz / 138 minutes

Extremely disturbing but often hilarious indie ensemble piece about something none of our characters can ever hope to achieve. Happiness? Not for these sad sacks. Frasier‘s Jane Adams is the ironically named Joy, a shy, failing musician who works a shitty telemarketing job. Her sister Trish (Cynthia Stevenson) tries to set Joy up with a fun guy but a creeper phone sex pranker, Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) swoops in. Trish is dealing with her own problems like being married to a pedophile psychiatrist (Dylan Baker – in a revolting but Oscar calibre performance) and dealing with a 12-year-old Billy (Rufus Read), navigating his own sexual development. Lara Flynn Boyle is Helen, the middle sister, a pretentious, self-absorbed novelist that writes stories with titles like Rape at 11, Rape at 14, Rape at 9, ect. “I wish I had been raped, that would give me some actual perspective” earnestly states Helen. The sisters’ parents (Ben Gazarra and Louise Lasser) are also going through a divorce, the least of anyone’s problems. This all may seem just shocking to be shocking, but I don’t think it is. I found too much genuine and relatable sadness stocked away behind these characters’ eyes. They are depressing, flawed, arrogant, sometimes reprehensible far beyond the point of redemption, human beings but they’re totally, unnervingly us. (Not Available Anywhere – Write Your Local Congressman)

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)

50. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

49. Paris Is Burning (1990)

48. Miller’s Crossing (1990)

47. Rushmore (1998)

46. Groundhog Day (1993)

45. Crumb (1994)

44. Perfect Blue (1997)

43. Unforgiven (1992)

42. The Age of Innocence (1993)

41. The Celebration (1998)

40. Boyz N the Hood (1991)

39. The People vs Larry Flynt (1996)

38. Toy Story 2 (1999)

37. The Player (1992)

36. Hard Boiled (1992)

35. JFK (1991)

34. Happy Together (1997)

33. Dazed & Confused (1993)

32. The Matrix (1999)

31. Happiness (1998)

See You Next Week for #30-#21!

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