Friday, January 29, 2010

Top 100 movies of the '90s: 20-11

20. Trainspotting, 1996
Dir: Danny Boyle
Cast: Ewan Mcgregor

Trainspotting is the type of movie that is so highly-stylized and edgy that when you watch you wish you could be as cool as what you are watching. This movie is the epitome of cool. And yet, it's about drugs. Very much so, in fact. This is actually a fairly dark film about drugs, but it's presented in such a soundly stylized way that you can't help but watch it. That, in fact, is the genius of Trainspotting. The main characters are Scottish and oftentimes it may difficult to understand them, but you still feel like you know these characters... even if you wish you didn't. No, these are certainly not characters you aspire to be, far from it. The comic/frank depiction of drug addiction in this movie is a refreshing change of pace from ultra-serious anti-drug movies such as Requiem for a Dream. As funny as it can be sometimes, there are scenes here that are just as hard-hitting as any movie depicting drug addiction.

19. Unforgiven, 1992
Dir: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman

Over the last few years, Clint Eastwood has been churning out films like nobody's business. Pretty much every film he's made since Mystic River has gotten serious attention from the Academy. But, no matter how many films he makes from herein, he'll never top Unforgiven. Which, by all accounts should be considered his magnum opus as a director and actor. This is the last Western film he ever made and boy does he go out in style. This very straight-forward revenge tale is so tight and focused, there is hardly any room for mistakes.

18. Secrets & Lies, 1996
Dir: Mike Leigh
Cast: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn

There's a long scene near the end of Secrets & Lies where all the main characters are sitting outside on a patio, having a barbecue for a family gathering. Cynthia asked her brother if she can bring a "friend from work" Hortense to the gathering and he agrees to it. So here's the family and Cynthia's friend... having lunch together and celebrating Cynthia's daughter's birthday. Little do they all know that Hortense is a lot more closer to the family than they could ever know. What unfolds during this scene is so seamless, so natural, so un-rehearsed... or so it feels. It really looks like a family sitting down and having lunch. They all really seem like family... except with Hortense. Perhaps I'm rambling, but my description here is just a microcosm of what the film is like. This really is one very engrossing drama. A film that sucks you into the lives of these people and doesn't let go til the closing credits. It's a film that depicts a family that is slowly being torn about by its secrets and lies. Secrets and lies that ultimately leads to a very emotional, heart-breaking climax. Mike Leigh has never done better than he has with this film.

I should also mention Brenda Blethyn's performance is this movie is just magnificent. She cries in nearly half the scenes in this movie, it's such an emotionally draining performance that I don't know how she could've recovered from it, either way it's one of the finest performances by an actress that I've ever seen.

17. Boogie Nights, 1997
Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds

Hard Eight proved Paul Thomas Anderson's promise as a filmmaker, but I'm sure at the time, nobody expected a film like this as his next feature. On a path to confirm his status as America's youngest, most original filmmaker of the 21st century, PT Anderson started with this 2-and-a-half hour epic. Boogie Nights is heavily-inspired, borrowing a lot of elements from Scorsese and Robert Altman... in movies such as Goodfellas and Nashville. The constantly moving camera, quick editing, and rise-and-fall story is very reminiscent of Goodfellas whereas the big ensemble cast and their inter-mingled stories is very Altman-esque. It's fascinating to see these two influences being blended together. Of course, Boogie Nights is very much a Paul Thomas Anderson film. The story is fresh, creative, and original; Julianne Moore, Mark Wahlberg, Heather Graham... all give great performances, but the real star of this show is Burt Reynolds. Say what you will about Burt Reynolds, but he is completely on his game in this movie. The movie may have faltered severely if Jack Horner was played by someone less experienced to handle the role. But, Reynolds is a natural as a porn producer.

That brings me to another point that I would like to bring up before I move on. Yes, I first watched this movie because I heard there were a lot of nude and sex scenes in the film... I was 13 at the time, what do you expect? But the movie pleasantly surprised me by just how good it is. Back then, I did not know much about movies; now that I have seen the movie a few more times and have grown up, I can still say for a fact that this movie is brilliant. And people who dismiss this movie as being a porn film are completely nuts and if they've actually seen this movie and still dismiss it as such, then I can't help but lose a little respect for them.

16. The Insider, 1999
Dir: Michael Mann
Cast: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino

The Insider is a powerful drama film with great performances from Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. I'm not a huge Russell Crowe fan but I was impressed by his very restrained performance in this film; it's a performance that's 100% convincing and needed to carry the film. On the other side, Al Pacino gives very solid performance as a producer for 60 minutes. He is someone that will stop at nothing to get the true story out there and wants Russell Crowe's character to come out with the truth for justice's sake. But at what cost? This film explores the stranglehold that cigarette companies has on its employees both incoming and outgoing. Michael Mann is great (usually) at handling big stories and this film is no exception.

15. Toy Story, 1995
Dir: John Lasseter
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen

What this film did for the animation industry is astounding. Yes, this is the film that started it all, it started the unbelievable run of great films that Pixar has produced since 1995. Pixar's emphasis on great, imaginative storytelling with memorable characters is inspiring. The way they are able to gather both child and adult audiences and entertain them both is amazing. The first Pixar film might just be the best of all the Pixar movies. Toy Story just might be the most perfect 80 minutes of animation that I've ever seen.

14. LA Confidential, 1997
Dir: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe

A masterfully crafted police drama/noir ensemble with a great cast. It's beautiful, it's twisted, it's seductive... it's everything a film noir should be and more. This also might be one of the last great thoroughly studio films ever made. One last great reminder of what can happen when a studio brings some of its greatest stars together with a very capable writer/director and producer to make an absolute masterpiece. Now it's a completely different story in Hollywood and most of the movies that wind up winning all the critics' and guild awards are by films that are distributed by major studios but not produced by them. Nevertheless, it's a shame this movie soon got overshadowed by Titanic which wound up taking home all the important awards. But 13 years later, this movie stands out more to me. An excellent film.

13. Being John Malkovich, 1999
Dir: Spike Jonze
Cast: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz

That film that introduced the world to Charlie Kaufman and his twisted mind, Being John Malkovich is one of the most original American movies ever made. Seriously, how does one come up with a story about a guy discovering a portal inside the mind of a great character actor. An actor who causes people to ask "Who the fuck is John Malkovich?" John Cusack stars as a sad, longing individual who once he discovers this portal, he finds everything he could want in getting to be someone else. This is easily the funniest film written by Charlie Kaufman. The first half of the movie is filled with great lines, especially the short video that was made by the employer the John Cusack works for that explains why the building created a "7 1/2" floor.

12. Short Cuts, 1993
Dir: Robert Altman
Cast: Tim Robbins, Robert Downey Jr.

Everytime you watch Short Cuts, you get a new glimpse of how masterful Robert Altman is with the camera. His trademark zooms, which prevalent in a lot of his movies are just as prevalent here. His overlapping dialogue, his ensemble cast... it's all here and it's all set to a relaxing jazzy backdrop that allows you to just sit back and watch the master take control. After experiencing a bit of a renaissance with The Player after a long period of disappointments, Robert Altman proved that was not a fluke. Short Cuts is just a brilliant film in the way it follows its characters in a series of different circumstances. The centerpiece of this great film is a great performance by Jack Lemmon who has this wonderfully long monologue as he talks to his son in the hospital. Seriously, if you want to know what it means to be a great actor, you just have to watch that clip. Better yet, watch the whole film.

11. Pulp Fiction, 1994
Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson

Well, we've just about reached the top 10 of the 1990s, but before we do so we should talk about Pulp Fiction. Yes, Pulp Fiction is my 11th favorite movie of the 1990s. If I would've made this list five years ago, it'd probably be in my top ten, but here it is. That's not to say it's not a great film... obviously, it's number eleven. In fact, considering all the hype and praise it has gotten over the years, you can say that it successfully has lived up to the hype... everytime that I watch it. The movie is the zenith of creativity with an amalgamation of dramatic, comedic, and tense scenes. Not to mention how nearly every character in this movie is instantly memorable and almost every line is quotable. This film has everything you could ask for, but it can be topped. Tarantino topped it last year with Inglourious Basterds. This is a great film, a masterpiece of sorts, but it simply does not hit me emotionally as much as the top ten does and that's why it just misses it. I'd go into this movie further, but this movie has been talked to death over the years that I don't think I can add anything new or interesting to say about it. It's just brilliant, that's all that needs to be said.

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