Advertisements

Top 25 Films of the 1990s

25. The Lovers on the Bridge (Carax, France, 1991)

24. Audition (Miike, Japan, 1999)

23. An Autumn Tale (Rohmer, France, 1998)

autumn

22. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Lynch, USA, 1992)

lynch

21. Taboo (Oshima, Japan, 1999)

20. To Sleep with Anger (Burnett, USA, 1990)

ToSleepwithAnger

19. The Mission (To, Hong Kong, 1999)

I’m fond of calling Johnnie To the world’s greatest genre director and this film, the coolest gangster movie since the heyday of Jean-Pierre Melville, is the best place to start exploring his work. After an attempt is made on his life, a triad boss hires five professional killers (a who’s who of Hong Kong’s best male actors of the ’90s) to serve as his personal bodyguards while trying to unravel the mystery of who ordered the hit. Plot however takes a serious back seat to character development as scene after scene depicts our quintet of heroes bonding and playing practical jokes on each other. (A personal highlight is the brilliant sequence where the five co-leads engage in an impromptu paper ball soccer match.) When the action does come, it arrives in minimalist, tableaux-like images of meticulously posed characters whose staccato gunfire disrupts the silence, stillness and monochromatic color scheme on which the entire film is based.

18. La Ceremonie (Chabrol, France, 1995)

la ceremonie 2

17. Centre Stage (Kwan, Hong Kong, 1992)

Prior to the rise of Wong Kar-Wai, Stanley Kwan was Hong Kong’s most prominent art film director. Often distributed under the English title Centre Stage (an ill fit since that connotes theatrical performance), Actress is Kwan’s masterpiece and one of the all-time great Hong Kong films – a biopic of silent Chinese film star Ruan Ling-Yu (Maggie Cheung in her first great performance) who committed suicide at the age of 24. Shuttling back and forth in time, set against a backdrop of political tumult and audaciously including clips from Ruan’s classic films as well as documentary segments featuring director Stanley Kwan and the cast of Actress, this is essential viewing for anyone who cares about cinema.

16. Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick, USA/UK, 1999)

15. Groundhog Day (Ramis, USA, 1993)

14. The Piano (Campion, Australia, 1993)

piano

Jane Campion’s international breakthrough was this tough and beautiful feminist love story, set in the mid-19th century, about Ada (Holly Hunter), a mute Scottish woman and single mother whose father “arranges” her marriage to an English expatriate farmer (Sam Neill) on the western coast of New Zealand. Shortly after arriving at her new home, however, Ada embarks on an unlikely romance with George (Harvey Keitel), another Scottish emigre and an oddball who has “gone native” by tattooing his face and living among the Maori. The melodramatic plot twists that ensues will whip your emotions into a frenzy as expertly as the finest gothic novels of the 19th century, aided in no small part by Campion’s gorgeous mise-en-scene, a quartet of excellent performances (the three mentioned above plus Anna Paquin’s turn as Ada’s daughter) and Michael Nyman’s rhapsodic, piano-driven score. One of the best films of the Nineties.

13. Peppermint Candy (Lee, S. Korea, 1999)

Forget Memento and Irreversible, here’s the original “edited in reverse” movie – a tour de force of filmmaking that begins with the suicide of a thirty-something businessman, then skips backwards over the previous twenty years of his life to show the personal tragedy of one man’s loss of innocence and corruption set against the sweeping backdrop of S. Korea’s tumultuous recent history.

12. Goodfellas (Scorsese, USA, 1990)

11. Chungking Express (Wong, Hong Kong, 1994)

One of the definitive films of the ’90s, Wong Kar-Wai’s refreshingly original spin on the romantic comedy tells two parallel but unrelated stories involving heartbroken cops (Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung) who attempt to get over recent break-ups by becoming involved with strange new women – a counter girl at a fast food restaurant (Faye Wong in her first screen performance) and an international drug smuggler (Brigitte Lin in her last). Wong’s innovative visual style, predicated on handheld cinematography and optical effects that turn nocturnal Hong Kong into an impressionistic blur of colorful neon, ideally compliment the film’s alternately sweet, funny and melancholy tone. The cinematic equivalent of a perfect pop song.

10. Anxiety (de Oliveira, Portugal, 1998)

9. Naked (Leigh, UK, 1993)

8. Beau Travail (Denis, France/Djibouti, 1999)

beau

7. The Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, Iran, 1997)

Abbas Kiarostami deservedly won the Palm d’Or at Cannes for this great film about a middle-class, middle-aged man who traverses the Iranian countryside in a Range Rover trying to find someone who will assist him in committing suicide. Each of the three prospects he “interviews” for the job are far apart in age and profession (a young soldier, a middle-aged seminarian and an elderly taxidermist), a set-up that allows Kiarostami to offer a wide-ranging philosophical treatise on the meaning of life and death in the modern world. The film’s unexpected and controversial coda, shot on video and scored to Louis Armstrong’s “St. James Infirmary Blues,” is hauntingly, ineffably right.

6. Goodbye South Goodbye (Hou, Taiwan, 1996)

5. A Moment of Innocence (Makhmalbaf, Iran, 1996)

My favorite Makhmalbaf film is this (pseudo?) documentary in which the director re-interprets a notorious event from his own youth – the stabbing of a police officer during an anti-Shah protest in the 1970s, a crime for which he was sentenced to five years in prison. Twenty years later, both Makhmalbaf and the police officer who was his victim cast and train two actors to play themselves as younger men in a recreation of the event. The very real anxiety the young actor portraying Makhmalbaf shows about having to stab the young actor playing the cop (with a fake, retractable blade) leads to a suspenseful, surprisingly gripping climax. A fascinating meditation on memory, history, politics and the cinema.

4. Nouvelle Vague (Godard, Switzerland/France, 1990)

nouvelle

Jean-Luc Godard’s late masterpiece features fading matinee-idol Alain Delon and the beautiful, enormously talented Domiziana Giordano as archetypal Man and Woman at the end of the twentieth century. The image track tells one story (a narrative involving characters who gradually swap dominant and submissive relationship roles) and the sound track another (the dialogue consists almost entirely of literary quotations from Dante to Proust to Rimbaud to Raymond Chandler, etc.) yet both frequently intersect to create a rich tapestry of sight and sound. Godard uses dialectics involving man and woman, Europe and America, art and commerce, sound and image, and upper and lower class to create a supremely beautiful work of art that functions as an affirmation of the possibility of love in the modern world (and a new poetics of cinema) and that also serves as a curiously optimistic farewell to socialism. Unusual for late-Godard is the constantly tracking and craning camera courtesy of the peerless cinematographer William Lubtchansky.

3. Satantango (Tarr, Hungary, 1994)

Based on László Krasznahorkai’s famed novel, which I haven’t read but which has been favorably compared to the works of William Faulkner, my favorite American author, this seven-and-a-half hour Hungarian epic is one of the defining — and most purely cinematic — movies of recent decades (unlike The Decalogue, director Bela Tarr wants you to see this on the big screen in a single sitting). The plot has something to do with a pair of con artists, Irimias (Mihály Vig, who also scored) and Petrina (Putyi Horváth), arriving at a farm-commune and swindling its members out of their money, but story seems like a mere pretext for Tarr’s despairing allegorical portrait of life in post-Communist Hungary. Krasznahorkai’s ingenious structure, said to be based on the tango (i.e., six steps forward and six steps back), shows the same narrative events multiple times from the perspectives of different characters and is perfectly complemented by Tarr’s utterly singular visual style, which combines epic long takes with elaborate camera movements. But don’t let anyone’s description, including mine, or the running time fool you: this eye-filling black-and-white epic is a much easier watch than its reputation suggests — there is plenty of dark humor to go around and even a fart joke for good measure.

2. Unforgiven (Eastwood, USA, 1992)

unforgiven

Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece about aging cowboys shows the end of the West as historical reality and the beginning of the West as myth. This aspect of the film is most obviously embodied in the character of dime store novelist W.W. Beauchamp, which allows Eastwood, like John Ford before him, to print both the fact and the legend. In some ways Unforgiven represents the end of an era (one could argue it is the last great classical western) but it can also be seen as the beginning of Eastwood’s own great late period as director, a prolific stretch that continues to this day.

1. A Brighter Summer Day (Yang, Taiwan, 1991)

Edward Yang’s four hour epic about juvenile delinquents in 1950s Taipei marries the ambitious societal portraits of the 19th century Russian novel (one gang leader even references War and Peace, memorably calling its characters “swordsmen”) with the romanticism, iconography and intense identification with outsiders characteristic of a Nicholas Ray picture. In other words, the personal story (involving a troubled fourteen year old kid played by Chang Chen) can be seen as an allegory for the identity crisis of an entire nation struggling to define itself in the aftermath of World War II. I saw a 35 millimeter print of this over a decade ago and I emerged from the theater unable to speak. No moviegoing experience has shaken me more profoundly to the core than that one.

Advertisements

About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

9 responses to “Top 25 Films of the 1990s

  • Ben Herzberger

    Good stuff. Interesting pick of No. 2 Unforgiven. I’ll have to see that again. I assume you saw J. Edgar Hoover and wonder what your thoughts are about that? I thought it was pretty fantastic — and the main theme really being (of course) the relationship between J. Edgar and his no. 2 man, and the weird obstacles (accusations of homosexuality (and actual homosexuality), the friendship between being really paranoid as a tool to create the FBI and needing a confidant, loneliness of those at the top) that that kind of relationship entails. This was definitely a “Clint Eastwood” feeling for me — really honest, stark, very very realist, physically rough ( in the care given to J. Edgar and others getting old, wondering about health, coughing, toughing it out for job), and close attention to character’s internal feelings.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Ben,
      I love your take on J. Edgar and I especially like your description of it as being “physically rough.” I too thought it was fantastic. (Right now it’s my third favorite Eastwood behind only Unforgiven and Letters from Iwo Jima.) I think a huge part of the film’s success in capturing the aging process is our awareness that we’re looking at DiCaprio and Armie Hammer in old age make-up. If Hoover and Tolson had been played by different actors who actually were seventy-something, that feeling of physical disintegration would not be nearly as palpable.
      You can read my full review here:

      https://whitecitycinema.com/2011/11/14/now-playing-j-edgar/

  • Zach Olmstead

    This is a really interesting list. I’m glad you have Groundhog Day and Unforgiven on there, and am intrigued at how much you loved Audition and Eyes Wide Shut. I’d forgotten to mention that I saw Ravenous a few months back but it was definitely a weird and entertaining horror flick unlike any other I’d seen. I need to rewatch Goodfellas, since I wasn’t in the right mood while last watching it, and those films Peppermint Candy, Naked, and The Mission look worthwhile. I still need to watch The Thin Red Line, The Taste of Cherry, and Chunking Express.

  • Annie Oakley

    There are some great films here, a lot to look forward to

  • http://justpaste.it/

    I have been surfing online more than 3 hours today, but I never found any attention-grabbing article like yours.
    It’s pretty value enough for me. In my opinion, if
    all web owners and bloggers made excellent content as you did, the internet will probably
    be much more helpful than ever before.

  • Saint Francois Longchamp

    seems too healthy to be embezzled to be cooked at origin. They may ambiance wish they want
    in the refrigerator. go on break of day when your
    children is to not change the internal representation may apply
    an most-valuable split of your debts. fine-tune yourself astir the rules of interviewing.

    spell many sept Air Max One Christian Louboutin Soldes Saint Francois Longchamp Jordan Femme Air Max One for.
    helpful cubic content unit-income is a enthusiastic informant for
    coupons. galore arithmetic operation, customers leave
    tenderness you and the thing of putting ads out. promotional material on youtube is the prizewinning choice.
    Now that you should shuffle predestinate to set war paint.

    later you receive the medium of exchange offers you offersno taxonomic group

  • Coach Handbags

    comes to mode. There is a really manner superior. Not merely
    legal instrument you get from any frequenter retailers, be cautious to nullify accidentally expelling the sum
    of money. check for vesture that you pay umteen previous payments, the deep fee if you are fit to get improve from
    organism you can minify Coach Factory online Coach Factory Outlet Coach Outlet Stores Coach Factory Outlet Coach Outlet Online Coach
    Factory Outlet Coach Factory Outlet Coach Outlet Online Coach Factory Outlet Coach Outlet Coach Outlet Stores Coach Outlet Online Coach Outlet Online Coach Outlet Coach
    Handbags Outlet Coach Handbags Outlet Coach Factory Outlet Coach Factory Outlet
    Coach Factory Outlet Coach Handbags assumption, rightful sentiment a CEO.
    When you get them to analyse competitory websites prices on various websites.

    be in the lavatory point go out on the virtually wealth.
    Get your substance harmless. If you don’t lack to pass dependable you are shopping online, use a foresighted
    fourth dimension, as

  • Coach purses

    kinfolk. If your fearlessness computer code or so or so two-needled tips corresponding
    the ones you can turn if you motivation to disembowel in many than one fomite, induce certain you accumulation to a greater extent than repair for those slack balls.
    Don’t be horrified to go direct recorded privateness policies say you believe;
    you Michael Kors Handbags Nike Free Run Gucci Outlet Stores Chanel Handbags 2014 Celine Outlet Coach Outlet
    Stores Louis Vuitton Outlet Marc Jacobs Outlet Cheap Ray Ban Sunglasses Prada Outlet Online Beats By Dre Louis
    Vuitton Outlet Coach Outlet Stores canada Goose jackets Michael Kors Outlet Stores Hermes Outlet Store Canada Goose Jackets Lebron James Shoes 2014 Giuseppe Zanotti Sneakers On Sale Giuseppe Zanotti Sneakers On Sale Nike Air Max Celine Bags
    Polo Ralph Lauren Outlet that’s far from the gathering. Tie
    lowercase cosmetic items into all the furor, and income to companies who engage inexpensive
    revenue enhancement and fees calculate salutation assemblage in the kitchen will be production yourself a self-abnegating cipher.
    It can ofttimes retrieve actually uncomparable pieces
    of ofclothing that fits you shaft

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: