I know that you are thinking I am breaking with my pattern after only one article, and you’re right. I titled my series on movies “35 for 35″ because I’m 35, and I was tired. The trouble is, the 90s were just an exemplary time for films, and I absolutely had to include 15 more than what I did for the 80s. You’re also probably pissed because I said to watch out for the 70s list, and now its been skipped. “I’m your older brother 90s, and I was passed over!”, the decade is likely saying. But don’t worry, that one, and the aughts are coming right up.
The 90s were my formative time, as I was 13 when the decade started, ending it in semi-honorable manhood. In the 10 years, so many amazing films were made that this list could have been much more gargantuan than it is right now. It is currently my most long-winded post, but I guess that’s gonna be my thing here at Gigapunch. Happy reading:
50. Bad Influence: Curtis Hanson has made films that linger with you, and the ones he is most famous for have been rightly lauded. This little-seen male stalker yarn remains a favorite, and one of his most expertly-crafted. Micheal, (James Spader), is a systems analyst whose life carries all the trappings of the careful yuppie. One afternoon at a bar, he is rescued from the clutches of a phony tough guy by “Alex”, a “drifter.” I use quotes on this last word because the word drifter does not properly describe this pretty fellow played with remarkable wit by Rob Lowe. Soon, Michael and Alex begin to spend more time together, and Michael’s world of both luxury and obligation morphs into a hedonistic nightlife of neon Los Angeles speakeasys, and criminal behavior he didn’t know was in him. Its all very seductive, and undeniably entertaining. As the story begins to darken, the two principal actors show why they both should be getting better and more serious work than they’ve gotten over the years.
49. Pleasantville: When I originally saw the trailer for Gary Ross’ fable/racism allegory, I didn’t know what to make of it. “So everything starts turning colors, so what?” This is the film’s great strength; not to say that the subject matter is overly deep, but rather deceptively so. Tobey Mcguire and Reese Witherspoon play David and Jennifer, modern suburban teenagers who are magically thrust into a 50s black and white sitcom by TV repairman Don Knotts. In the world of the sitcom, they are now the stars Bud and Mary Sue, two sockhops who must find a way to fit into their new surroundings while not upsetting the herd. Bud/David sees the world of Pleasantville begin to alter slightly, as SEX! makes its first appearance in the town. This is Mary Sue/Jennifer’s fault of course, as she is a live wire, and no argyle sweater can contain her insatiability, even when she is in black and white. All of the changes in Pleasantville take flight based on the awakenings of its individual citizens, and each person’s transformation is fleshed out in truly unexpected ways, based mostly on their loss of inhibition, whether sexual, artistic, or just plain showing human emotion. It’s one of those movies that makes you feel good about your haughty taste because of its ambition and craft, but then it feeds the other childlike side of you that just likes movies.
48. Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Francis Ford Coppola has dropped out of sight in the last couple of decades, taking paychecks to make movies that one would have thought beneath him years ago. The last great one he put together was also on spec, but even though it was only a cash-grab, he managed to author a film that is moody and atmospheric; featuring stunning visuals, haunting music, and cheeky acting mostly in on the joke. Based on the original Stoker novel, Coppola’s film stars Gary Oldman as the title character. Dracula begins the story as Vlad, a Romanian Knight in the Order of the Dragon whom after leading his army to victory against the Turks in 1462, returns home to find his wife Elisabetha has leaped to her death after being told falsely that Vlad was killed in battle. Vlad then makes a determination to renounce Christ and make himself Satan’s man on Earth, fighting for evil in every possible way. From there, it’s a fairly straight-forward re-telling of the novel, complete with musings from Jonathan Harker’s diary in voiceover narration. Both Oldman and Winona Ryder are brilliant in this film, as well as Tom Waits playing the deranged Renfield, and Richard E. Grant as Jack Seward. Try your damnedest not to be swayed by those who will tell you the movie is overwrought and cartoony, because while this is the case in certain passages, its also part of the fun. This is artificial movie-making done without CG that simply isn’t attempted any longer, and it makes people like me wistful.
47. The Big Lebowski: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is generally regarded as the ultimate cult film, one that will transcend generations, and 40 years from now, will still be playing at Midnight with raucous audience participation. But the Coen Brothers’ L.A.-based comedy noir may play on a double-bill alongside it for its entire run through the next 4 decades. Jeff Bridges is The Dude, a former roadie and 60s revolutionary who now lives only to bowl with his friends, preferably under the influence of mild inebriators. Walter Sobchak, (John Goodman), is one of those friends, and while he also bowls with passion, his life is much more thrill-heavy, as he is a personal security expert and handgun enthusiast. After a pornographer’s hired goons mistake The Dude for a millionaire with the same legal name, The Dude and Walter find themselves in an increasingly labyrinthine rabbit-hole where trophy wives are kidnapped, severed toes are sent through the mail, briefcases full of money are mislaid, German nihilists extort, avant-garde artists seek impregnation, and who the fuck are the Knutsens? One needs to see this film over and over again to truly appreciate it, because being a fan of it puts you in a posh club of Dude adherents who know the truth about how to live a meaningful life. Mind if I do a J?
46. Waiting for Guffman: With “This is Spinal Tap”, Christopher Guest and his colleagues invented a genre that he would eventually make himself the definitive practitioner of. “Guffman” is a mockumentary that follows the life of Corky, a New York musical theatre lifer who has re-located to the fictional Blaine, Missouri; and has resurrected its community theatre with lavish productions. All of Guest’s personal cadre of improvisational players are on hand, including Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, and Catherine O’Hara. The staging of their most monumental musical, which will run as the centerpiece of the town’s sesquicentennial, is the main subject of the film, and its hilarity comes from countless places. Do not listen to those who feel this film mocks small-town life, because at no time does it ridicule normal people. Instead, it celebrates normalcy in a way that Right-Wing propaganda never could.
45. Starship Troopers: In our Giga Punch Podcasts, the guys have lauded Paul Verhoeven as an evil genius. The dirty-minded saboteur behind some of the sleaziest films of all time has always been highly thought of in the film world, because while he seemingly is obsessed with the salacious, no one can deny his talent, or his rapier’s wit. As far as I can tell, he is the only major science fiction satirist currently working, and because he is so adept at it, no one else tries to match him. “Troopers”, based on Robert Heinlein’s novel, takes place in the future, as Buenos Aires teenagers grow up wanting only to fight for “The Federation”. Humans in this time have become space cowboys and they fight throughout the galaxy conquering planets. Their main rivals in this Dutch-East Tattoine situation are “The Bugs”, a super intelligent race of violent, giant cockroaches whose mission is to conquer planets with their own scorched-earth brand of imperialism. Does this sound entertaning? It bloody well is. Verhoeven’s troupe of toothsome actors play the material completely straight, and as you follow the story, it isn’t difficult to see how this vision of the future might be more spot-on that anything that came before it. Well, maybe “Robocop”, also by Verhoeven.
44. The Celluloid Closet: In 1981, the late Vito Russo wrote one of my favorite books. For the first time, someone sat down to analyze the presence of homosexuality in films, going all the way back to the silent era. His death from AIDS in 1990 prevented his participation in the film-version of his work, but in 1995, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, two Oscar-winning documentarians and friends of Vito, managed to finally bring his book to the big screen. It is composed like any documentary about the subject of film, with talking-head interviews mixed with clips, but it is uniquely heroic because most of the clips were donated to the project by the rare generosity of the studios which held their rights. The anti-establishment tone of the book is then juxtaposed by the progressive attitude of modern times, where a figure like Vito could actually feel much freer to speak his mind and bring attention to a subject that had long been concealed. The movie is indeed great, but it also doubles as one of the truly stellar single-disc DVDs, with over an hour of excised interview footage that is just as incisive as what made the final cut, as well as a filmmaker’s commentary track. Its greatest extra however, is a 2nd commentary, which isn’t a commentary at all. Epstein and Friedman have included a live 90-minute Vito Russo lecture on the subject of gays in cinema that was given at San Francisco’s Roxy Theatre right before his death, and it makes any fan of the original book again sorry that they never got to know the man.
43. The Road to Wellville: The greatest forgotten comedy of the decade was an expensive epic set in 1870s Battle Creek, Michigan. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, (Anthony Hopkins), is a physician and inventor, the face of “biological living.” From the movie’s message, it would seem that 130 years ago, there were wealthy granolas who traveled to Kellogg’s sanitarium from all over the developed world to take his expensive cure, which included copius helping of his corn flakes invention, naps in his electric blanket, vegetarian-7th Day Adventist lectures and practices, and twice daily enemas. Sex, alcohol, smoking, and everything else that was great in life was out of the question, because Kellogg’s contention was that the loss of bodily fluids was fatal. Will and Eleanor Lightbody, (Matthew Broderick and Bridget Fonda), are visitors to the sanitarium, and while Eleanor is a devoted follower of the good doctor’s teachings, Will is both suspect and hilariously rebellious. Meanwhile, an entrepreneur named Charles Ossining, (John Cusack), moves to Battle Creek to capitalize on the new health preoccupation, by plagiarizing the work of Kellogg, and while doing so, he runs afoul of the great man. This movie is dirty-minded and childish throughout. Its nudity and scatological references are many, and the make-up they have Hopkins under renders his appearance like that of a silent movie villain. But no one can watch this film and come away not having had a cracking time.
42. The Straight Story: David Lynch is most well-known for macabre and dread-fueled journeys into the worst fears of his characters. When you watch his movies, you just know that at least once, he is going to show you something you cannot un-see. Not so here. The title of this G-rated masterpiece describes both the title character, and Lynch’s effort itself. At last, he tells a story that involves no head games, and employs no nightmare images to terrify his viewers. Richard Farnsworth, a guy who made his bones as a stuntman in old Westerns, plays Alvin Straight; an aged WWII vet living in rural Iowa who wants desperately to see his estranged brother Lyle, who may die soon after suffering a debilitating stroke. The problem is that Alvin has no driver’s license because his eyes and legs are shot. So he sets out on a used John Deere tractor to make the journey to Wisconsin, and along the way relies on the kindness of strangers, and helps others when he can. Farnsworth lost the Best Actor Oscar to Kevin Spacey in 1999, one of the bigger heists the Academy would do well to keep their eyes to the floor about. Just so you know going in: this elegiac, painterly-shot film is guaranteed to make you weep uncontrollably at least 5 times, so tread lightly.
41. The People vs Larry Flynt: Milos Forman loves telling the life story of people many regard as scumbags. When examining the life of such people, he does not make an ode to their better side, nor does he ask you to identify with their destructive nature, but like a fictional documentarian, he shows you pieces of the subject’s life, and asks that you “give him a minute” to show you that maybe there is some value in a truly disgusting person. In this film, Larry Flynt is that disgusting person, and Woody Harrelson plays him without a whiff of sentimentality. Flynt’s smutty entrepreneural existence began in extreme Appalachia running moonshine with his brother Jimmy, (played as an adult by Harrelson’s real-life brother Brett), and culminated in a porn-publishing empire boasting a Beverly Hills high-rise that cannot be ignored by passing motorists. Along the way, he was incarcerated several times on obscenity charges, left a paraplegic by an as yet un-convicted sniper, ran afoul of powerful Washington figures and religious leaders like Jerry Falwell, and somehow emerged as a hero of free speech thanks to his own dogged pluck, and the legal help of people like Alan Isaacman, (Edward Norton). You will not come out of this movie finding Larry Flynt a cuddly figure, but you may be able to appreciate what his propensity for filth represents for all of our freedom.