If it wasn’t already clear, it’s certainly is now that we’re right in the midst of a full fledged 1990s revival. A Clinton is running for President, there’s a movie about David Foster Wallace in theaters, you can’t go on Facebook without someone linking to a “Which Character In ‘Empire Records’ Are You?” quiz, and a new season of “Coach” is about to start. Hell, they’re even remaking “Jumanji.”
How you feel about the 1990s might depend on how old you were. Generation X were in their heyday, millennials were in progress, and present-day adolescents have no idea what anything in the previous paragraph is about. Cinematically, it divisive as well: to some, the decade saw the most exciting time in American independent film in history; to others, it was a tasteless wasteland of ropey blockbusters and John Grisham movies.
Over the years, we’ve taken a year-by-year look at the 2000s, and now as the start of an occasional series, we’re looking back at the best movies of the 1990s, beginning, since that it’s twenty years on from the year in question, the midpoint of the ’90s. It should be said that it was not the greatest year for international cinema in history, but American movies had a banner year, from groundbreaking animated blockbusters to crime epics.
After much deliberation, below you’ll find what the Playlist team have deemed to be the best 30 movies of 1995 (per American release dates: that means that movies like “Underground,” “La Haine,” “Welcome To The Dollhouse,” “The White Balloon” and “Fallen Angels,” which premiered at festivals in 1995 but only hit U.S. theaters over the next few years, weren’t eligible). Take a look below, and let us know your own favorites in the comments.
A film about loneliness and the importance of glancing interactions as a means of connecting to the wider world, Wayne Wang‘s “Smoke” is a gentle examination of the lives of various Brooklyn locals as they intersect at a corner tobacco store run by Harvey Keitel. The film rambles, but is built around a sweet core of compassion and community that can melt even a hard heart. Scripted by Paul Auster, the film is also peculiarly of its time, which gives one of its central conceits (Keitel’s tobacconist taking a photo of the same street corner every day) an edge of nostalgia now, in the age of selfies and Instagram. Far superior to “Blue in the Face,” the shot-in-6-days “sequel” that came out a few months later, “Smoke” is a heartfelt snapshot of a vanished past, that, like those photos, no one thought would ever really change. Until it did.
29. “Get Shorty”
Perfectly capitalized to surf the wave of John Travolta’s post-“Pulp Fiction” revival, Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Get Shorty” is a killer crime tale/Hollywood satire with a deep bench of great actors, a whipsmart script by Scott Frank, and a ineffably cool vibe. Travolta stars as Chilli Palmer, a Miami loan shark who pursues a debt to Las Vegas, which leads to him getting involved in the movie business by way of B-movie producer Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), actress Karen (Rene Russo) and the titular diminutive megastar (Danny De Vito). Deviously plotted, acerbically funny and featuring everyone from Dennis Farina and James Gandolfini to Delroy Lindo and, uh, Bette Midler, the film easily joins “Jackie Brown” and “Out Of Sight” in the top tier of big-screen adaptations of novels by the great Elmore Leonard. But stay far away from the film’s belated sequel, “Be Cool.”
28. “Through the Olive Trees”
It’s now widely regarded as one of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami‘s more minor works, but which proves the base he is working off, as “Through the Olive Trees” is a lovely if very slow-moving romantic drama with a playful metatextual edge. Blurring the fiction/non-fiction lines as Kiarostami has done before and since, the film becomes a kind of Iranian “Day for Night” as a director (Mohamed Ali Keshavarz, who announces he’s the only pro actor in the film in the first scene) assembles a cast to shoot a film (which would appear to be Kiarostami’s previous film “Life and Nothing More“). But his leading lady and replacement leading man have a fraught history, and the director gradually changes the script to help the young man put his case to her again, all of which culminates finally in a mischievous but gorgeous miles-away long shot —a perfectly lovely conclusion.
Was “Braveheart” the best movie of 1995, as members of the Academy would decree the following March? Certainly not. Is it a rousing, bloody, technical marvel and hugely impressive tale that works like gangbusters as pure story? Absolutely. Mel Gibson’s second directorial feature might not be historically accurate (not remotely) and it might not be subtle, but it’s remarkably accomplished filmmaking for someone still getting to grips with being behind the camera, with a positively Lean-ish epic sweep and battle sequences that Kurosawa would be proud of. For a filmmaker who hasn’t worked in the English language since, he also knows how to stock his movie with great actors, with Patrick McGoohan, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Cox and Peter Mullan all cropping up and doing solid work, while Gibson shows that few can deliver a soaring speech like he can. It’s easy to pick holes in “Braveheart,” but one only has to look at the same year’s “Rob Roy” to see how much Gibson did right.
26. “Leaving Las Vegas”
Considering the extraordinarily broad range of performances delivered by Nicolas Cage over the years, from tamped-down, understated decency to explosive, eat-the-screen grandstanding, it’s a little deflating to know that he won his only Oscar so far for what is really the most conventionally Oscar-y film and performance on his resume. But that’s not to say he isn’t very good in Mike Figgis‘ morose alcoholism drama —he most certainly is, as is Elisabeth Shue, who manages to give her character much depth and humanity, despite being almost a standard-issue “abused hooker with a heart.” The occasionally swirly filmmaking, evocative of the muddy, messy escape of drunkenness and the chemistry between these committed actors are the main attractions, but the film is also laudably un-preachy, if unavoidably depressiing: it is, after all, a movie about a man committing a deliberate suicide through alcohol.
25. “Apollo 13”
It’s easy to pick on Ron Howard, Hollywood’s prince of the middlebrow, but very occasionally he proves to be a perfect fit for the material. And the main instance of that is “Apollo 13.” Realistic, detailed and entirely gripping, it tells the almost unbelievable story of what was intended to be the third manned mission to the Moon in April 1970, when astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert were stranded in space after an accident, only to miraculously make it back home alive. Movingly and forcefully played by Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris and Kathleen Quinlan, among others, and melding immaculate period detail with state-of-the-art effects, the film works partly because of the way that William Broyles Jr. & Al Reinert’s screenplay convincingly conveys the science involved, but mostly because Howard smartly stays away from sentimental manipulation. It’s his best film by miles.
24. “Clean, Shaven”
Lodge Kerrigan doesn’t have the privilege of making films that often, but when the filmmaker does put something together, it’s generally pretty striking. And his most arresting and well-known picture is probably “Clean, Shaven,” a jagged paranoid schizophrenic character study of fractured madness that’s been co-signed by The Criterion Collection and Steven Soderbergh, a big admirer of the movie’s abstract and elliptical rhythms. It has an unlikely lead in Peter Greene, who usually plays a thuggish heavy in mostly forgettable films like “The Mask” (though he had a small role in “Pulp Fiction” as well), but it’s really his only lead role and thus his best performance. Greene plays a mentally disintegrating schizophrenic and sociopath potentially killing children in pursuit of connecting with his adopted daughter, and Robert Albert plays the detective on his trail. But the narratively ambiguous portrait of insanity —it’s not clear if Green is actually responsible for these deaths— is far less invested in plot and much more absorbed with the torturous sensory experience of the mental noise that drives us crazy. One could argue it’s heavily influenced by Scorsese’s short “The Big Shave” and it’s certainly fascinated with the nature of the close-up shot as uncomfortable device.
23. “Little Odessa”
He’s still underrated two decades on, but the passing of time has at least allowed James Gray’s middlingly-received directorial debut, made when he was just 25, to be reevaluated. Melding Arthur Miller-ish melodrama with the crime genre, it focuses on a Russian-Jewish family in Brighton Beach (Maximilian Schell, Vanessa Redgrave and Edward Furlong) thrown into turmoil when their estranged son (Tim Roth), a hitman for the Mob, returns to hide out. Focused principally on the relationship between Roth and Furlong (both are as good as they’ve ever been), it’s as classical and sombre as anything Gray’s made since, which his fans know is a very good thing. Though it brushes against cliche, it’s so finely honed and so tightly wrought that it grips anyway (even if better was yet to come).
22. “Ghost In The Shell”
Sitting with “Akira” and the work of Satoshi Kon at the very top of the anime tree (assuming we’re not counting Ghibli stuff, obviously), “Ghost In The Shell” is still a hugely impressive sci-fi picture. Based on the 1989 manga and one of the better examples of the cyberpunk craze that was attempting to break onto the big screen (see also “Strange Days” and, less successfully, “Johnny Mnemonic”), the film sees badass female cop Motoko Kusanagi out to track down a hacker in a world where humans can possess cybernetic bodies, or ‘shells.’ Filled with stunning action and impressive “Blade Runner”-ish cityscapes, it’s been hugely influential since, not just in terms of spectacle but on the depiction of the fluidity of gender and sexuality in the genre: virtually everything the Wachowskis have ever made has its roots somewhere here. Scarlett Johansson will star in a remake in 2017, but it’ll have a tough task living up to the original.
Somewhat underrated among Spike Lee’s canon, the director’s adaptation of Richard Price’s killer crime novel (produced by Martin Scorsese) is a low-key crime tale about the murder of a drug dealer, facilitated by big-time pusher Rodney (Delroy Lindo), possibly by the young Strike (an excellent Mekhi Phifer), or possibly by his brother (Isaiah Washington), and investigated by cops Harvey Keitel and John Turturro. It’s less a murder-mystery than an investigation as to the hows-and-whys, and is a detailed look at street life, cop life, responsibility, justice, injustice and everything in between. Lee tackles it with his trademark flair (Scorsese’s influence is more notable than usual too), the cast do quietly phenomenal, nicely ambivalent work, and it now comes across as nothing less than an early precursor to another great crime drama that Price was involved in and that straddled both sides of the law: “The Wire.”
If his recent films have had us scratching our heads and wonder what the hell happened to Canadian director Atom Egoyan, it’s down to the morose, seedy, heartbroken greatness of his “Exotica” that he’s failed to live up to. A complex story that only knits fully together in its final moments, the film stars Elias Koteas, Bruce Greenwood, Mia Kirchner, Victor Garber and, in a small early role, Sarah Polley, and revolves largely around the titular nightclub/lapdance show. It’s a place of retreat for a grieving father, a tax inspector investigating an exotic-bird-smuggling scam, and the place of work for his favorite “schoolgirl” stripper (best-ever use of “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen) and her DJ ex-boyfriend. Relating sexual obsession and fetishism to grief and death could easily turn grossly sleazy, but Egoyan’s tight script, clever direction and the uniformly excellent, understated performances deliver insightful melancholy instead.
19. “Living In Oblivion”
With a handful of exceptions (“Day For Night” 4eva!), movies about movies tend to be drab, in-jokey affairs that are surely good therapy for the people that made them, but not much fun for anyone else. “Living In Oblivion” is one of those exceptions. Writer/director Tom DiCillo’s clearly working out some frustrations over his debut four years earlier, “Johnny Suede” (James LeGros’ egotistical big-shot movie-star is widely thought to be modelled on ‘Johnny’ star Brad Pitt), but his story of a harassed director (Steve Buscemi) trying to shoot a low-budget movie does so in as entertaining way as possible. The cast (including Peter Dinklage in his first role, complaining in a dream sequence “I don’t even have dreams with dwarves in them”) are superb, the writing is witty but never indulgent, and it’s relatable not just for anyone who’s been on any kind of film set, but for anyone who’s had a job.
18. “Devil In A Blue Dress”
Since 1995, we’ve had twelve Marvel movies, seven X-Men movies and eight Bonds. In an alternate reality, we’d have had just as many movies starring Easy Rawlin, the hero of a series of novels by Walter Mosley and brought to life in Carl Franklin’s terrific, deeply underrated noir picture “Devil In A Blue Dress.” An African-American private eye in post-war L.A. played by Denzel Washington, Rawlins takes a job looking for a missing woman (Jennifer Beals) linked to a former mayoral candidate, and Franklin moves the complex but well-told story along nicely while evoking a palpable atmosphere, and giving the story more substance than most detective pictures. Washington was born to play Rawlins, but Don Cheadle, as his psychotic sidekick Mouse, might be even better. Sadly, the movie underperformed and sequels never arrived, but at least we got one of the better neo-noirs of the 1990s.
17. “The City Of Lost Children”
Their follow-up to the equally visually striking “Delicatessen,” Jean Pierre-Jeunet & Marc Caro’s “The City Of Lost Children” revolves around mad scientist Krank (Daniel Emilfork), who kidnaps children and takes them to an oil rig in order to steal their dreams and prevent himself from aging. When his adopted brother is taken, circus strongman One (Ron Perlman) teams up with an orphan thief for a rescue mission. Undoubtedly indebted to Terry Gilliam, Jeunet and Caro’s vision isn’t totally original, but is so confidently and stylishly executed that you stop drawing comparisons and slowly become absorbed in as complete and compelling a world as had been seen on screen in some time. Some might dismiss the film as style over substance, and there’s undeniable plenty of style here, with Jeunet and Caro displaying bravura filmmaking that makes it a shame that this film was their last collaboration. But there’s also a soulful emotional core that makes it closer to, say, “The Wizard Of Oz” than some empty present-day blockbuster.
One of the more unlikely Best Picture nominees of modern times —an Australian-made adaptation of an English book by Dick King-Smith, set in the U.S, produced by George Miller and mostly featuring a cast of animals. That few people quibbled about its nomination gives a taste of the esteem in which it has been held. Chris Noonan’s film tells the story of the orphaned piglet of the title (Christine Cavanagh), who spares himself from being eaten by his new owners (James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski) by learning to become a sheepdog, taking advantage of a still-impressive mix of Jim Henson animatronics and digital effects. But the visuals take a backseat to the story: like the best family films, this isn’t one that shirks from questions of life and death, but embraces them, leading to some “Bambi”-like tearjerking moments, but also an incredibly uplifting, good-natured ending. That’ll do pig. That’ll do.
Destined to be forever overshadowed by “Goodfellas” (like the earlier film, it’s based on a non-fiction book by Nicholas Pileggi), Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” is as remarkably involving a crime picture as you’d expect from this team (and a cast led by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci). With an epic three-hour running time, it tells the story of Ace Rothstein (De Niro), a Jewish-American brought to Vegas in the 1970s to run a casino for the Chicago mob, the threat posed by his former pal Nicky (Pesci) and his tumultous romance with the drug-addicted Ginger (a rightfully Oscar-nominated Sharon Stone). Sprawling and novelistic (these days, it’d be an HBO series), “Casino” as much a history of the place as the person (Ace is a very thinly-veiled stand-in for the real-life Frank Rosenthal), which might make it less immediate and thrilling than “Goodfellas,” but it’s arguably a richer work.
14. “Crimson Tide”
Their work together were generally action-packed and bombastic, but perhaps the best collaboration between director Tony Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer (with apologies to the underrated “Enemy Of The State”) is “Crimson Tide.” It’s a razor wire-taut submarine thriller that sees captain Gene Hackman and his new second-in-command Denzel Washington head out on a nuclear sub to help defuse a threat from a Russian nationalist, only for an ambiguous, half-received order that could end the world to cause Washington to instigate mutiny. The script (famously punched up by Quentin Tarantino) is occasionally blustery but is mostly gripping by focusing on the personality clash between the fierce charisma of its two leads, bolstered to no end by a crew of excellent character actors like Viggo Mortensen and James Gandolfini, leading to tension you could cut with a knife. Better submarine movies have been made —“Das Boot,” for one— but not all that many.
13. “Sense & Sensibility”
Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee might not have been the obvious choice for a big-screen adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s best-loved novels, but “The Wedding Banquet” helmer proved to be the perfect choice. Written by star Emma Thompson and hitting just as Austen-mania took off thanks to a BBC miniseries of “Pride & Prejudice,” it’s a perfectly honed and often very funny take on the impoverished Dashwood children (Thompson, Kate Winslet and Emilie François), and the resulting amorous and financial travails. The performances (from a terrific cast also including Alan Rickman, Hughs Grant and Laurie and Gemma Jones) are note-perfect, and Thompson’s script couldn’t capture Austen more effectively, but it might be Lee who’s the MVP here: he never treats this film like a fusty period piece, and period garb aside, it feels entirely relatable and deeply, deeply romantic. Quite rightly, it picked up seven Oscar nominations.
12. “Strange Days”
Little-loved at the time, Kathryn Bigelow’s near-future cyberpunk noir has had its reputation restored over time, in part thanks to its director’s more recent Oscar-winning status, and deservedly so. It’s an odd film, starring Ralph Fiennes (who is surprisingly great against type) as a dealer in memory-playback devices at the turn of the millennium who stumbles onto a conspiracy, and is provocative and sometimes difficult to watch. But Bigelow’s technical execution is as always extraordinary, the world depicted (aided by co-screenwriter James Cameron) is compelling even as it’s dated, and the “Chinatown”-ish plot is totally gripping. As much as anything, though, it’s the performances that stand out —it’s the first real indicator that Bigelow was as great with actors as with action. Fiennes is both sleazy and charming, Angela Bassett is iconic as his best pal, and Tom Sizemore’s at his grim best as the villain.
“Kids” turned 20 this year. That’s kind of crazy, right? Because really, there is nothing, nothing quite like “Kids” the first time you watch it. Whether or not the film is realistic or ethically responsible is a debate we’re no closer to solving now then we were when “Kids” was first released. But the sheer visceral impact of Larry Clark’s exploration of damaged, drug-ravaged teens in the NYC skater subculture is something that cannot be denied or disputed. Written by Harmony Korine, who was probably very much living the life on display in the film at the time, “Kids” displayed youth on the prowl like feral animals ready to devour anything in their path. Clark’s movie was a launching pad for some very serious and talented performers, including but not limited to Rosario Dawson, Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloe Sevigny and the late Justin Pearce, who plays the film’s most disturbing and memorable character. The final words of the picture are “Jesus Christ, what happened?” and we’re still asking ourselves that very same question twenty years later.
The so-called Golden Age of documentary in which we presently live may have been far off in 1995, but that year delivered this non-fiction masterpiece from Terry Zwigoff, which is simply one of the most brilliant documentaries ever made, especially for occupying the often dull category of the biographical doc. Telling us everything we could ever have wanted to know and a very great deal we somewhat wish we didn’t about its subject, controversial “Fritz the Cat” cartoonist Robert Crumb, the film is an absolutely jaw-dropping walk on the wild side of a very fucked-up, yet somehow triumphantly creative, psyche. Also encompassing pen portraits of Crumb’s more or less deranged family, the film takes an unflinching, curious, but also mordantly black-comic look at the nature of sexual “deviance,” mental illness, fetishism and familial relationships. But it then relates all that to the creative act, elevating the grubby and often grotesque details of Crumb’s life to the status of grand commentary on the art of self-expression.
9. “To Die For”
At this point in the ’90s, no one had any way of knowing that Gus Van Sant was going to make hopping between personal arthouse films and more anonymous studio products his stock in trade. At this point, all he’d really done previously were the loose-limbed, indulgently independent and often gritty likes of “My Own Private Idaho,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and “Drugstore Cowboy.” So “To Die For” came as a surprise: it’s a razor-sharp satire with a knife-edge Nicole Kidman performance and deliciously poisonous black bile flowing through its veins. She plays a ruthlessly ambitious small-town TV weathergirl who becomes the fixation of Joaquin Phoenix‘s lust-filled teenager, and who manipulates him and his equally start-struck cohorts (Alison Foland and Casey Affleck) into plotting to kill her devoted but dead-weight husband (Matt Dillon, playing brilliantly against type). Like Kidman’s character, it looks great while eventually revealing a heart of pure malice.
8. “12 Monkeys”
We hope that Amazon finally greenlighting “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” means that “12 Monkeys” won’t stand as Terry Gilliam’s last great film, but for now, it certainly does: along with “The Fisher King,” this fascinating sci-fi picture stands as the eccentric American Python’s best attempt at melding his distinctive sensibilities with something more accessible. Bruce Willis plays a convict in a post-apocalyptic future who is sent back in time to find the people responsible for unleashing a virus that devastated humanity, some of whom may have included mental patient Brad Pitt. Penned by “Blade Runner” writer David Peoples and his wife Janet and based on Chris Marker’s “La jetée,” it’s a rich and twisty tale that moves like a thriller but couldn’t have been made by anyone but Gilliam, while Willis, an Oscar-nominated Pitt and Madeleine Stowe all deliver some of their very best work.
7. “Toy Story”
The film that changed the animation medium forever (not necessarily for the better, as fans of hand-drawn animation would attest), “Toy Story” launched both a trilogy and a studio, Pixar, but the first wide-released CGI animation wouldn’t have done so if it was a pure technical novelty. Taking up the obvious what-if of the secret life of toys but focusing on rather grown-up feelings of jealousy, redundancy, delusion and nothing less than your purpose in life, the picture took a brilliant screenplay (with writers including Joss Whedon), a string of instantly iconic characters, and executed it nearly faultlessly, particularly down to the great vocal performances by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. Funny, sad, and still ingenious now, it might have been superseded by some subsequent Pixars, but not by much, and films like “Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E” and “Inside Out” simply wouldn’t exist without it.
Proving that Jane Austen’s stories would appeal to the teens of 1995 as much as to their parents, Amy Heckerling’s endlessly quotable teen tale has cemented its place at the top of the teen movie canon in 2015. Transposing Austen’s “Emma” to a California high school, it sees Cher (Alicia Silverstone, who instantly became a huge star and almost as instantly disappeared again) trying to play matchmaker and giving the new girl (Brittany Murphy) a makeover while ignoring her own attraction to her ex-stepbrother (Paul Rudd, looking exactly the same as he does now). Somehow melding real satirical bite with genuine warmth and feeling, it’s the right blend of “Heathers” and John Hughes, and at least temporarily helped capture and even influence a certain kind of Valley Girl slang, from Baldwins to Monets. Bar the occasional “Mean Girls” or “10 Things I Hate About You,” “Clueless” has rarely been matched since.
5. “Before Sunrise”
Jesse and Celine, walking and talking: about parenthood, about feminism, about God and the possibility of falling in love, about any subject that crosses their minds, really. That very simple formula has provided the platform for Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, a series of films that have varied in quality but maintained a very steady and specific set of interests. Many of Linklater’s pet themes and obsessions are front and center in these pictures, and the first film of the three —that would be the enchanting, talky travelogue “Before Sunrise”— might just be the best of the bunch. Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Celine first meet on a train bound for Austria. They strike up a conversation immediately, and that’s mostly what they do for the remainder of the film: talk. But when the chatter is this revealing, this funny and this rich with insight and wonder, who are we to complain? “Before Sunrise” remains one of Linklater’s ultimate movies: warm, full of homespun philosophy and melancholy digressions and ultimately, deeper and more rewarding than it initially appears.
4. “The Usual Suspects”
For twenty years, the question and answer of “who is Keyser Soze?” has dominated the narrative of “The Usual Suspects,” which sent the careers of director Bryan Singer, writer Christopher McQuarrie, and actors Kevin Spacey and Benicio Del Toro skyrocketing. It’s fair —the coffee-cup-cracking conclusion is one of cinema’s great twist endings. But it also means that, you know, the actual film gets forgotten about, which is less fair, because Singer and McQuarrie cooked up a cracking pulp thriller, one that stood apart from the swathe of Tarantino imitators that were beginning to emerge. Well directed without being obnoxiously showy, wittily scripted and with a cast that all bring their A-game, this film summons up the spirit of the best crime fiction without being beholden to a single author, entered the pop-culture lexicon almost immediately, and even won a couple of Oscars. Oh, and you will never see the ending coming…
Todd Haynes had been around for a few years, as director of transgressive curios like “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” a film starring Barbie Dolls, and foundational New Queer Cinema movie “Poison.” But the first indication that his ambitions were to move from the fringe (or more precisely, to bring the fringe with him) was the brilliant, chilling and troubling “Safe.” Starring Julianne Moore, who would work with the director again in sumptuous Douglas Sirk homage “Far From Heaven,” the film follows the story of an affluent suburban housewife as she begins to develop multiple allergies, finds she must remove herself to a more controlled environment, and eventually comes under the sway of a New Agey, possibly fraudulent guru. It’s a brilliant film —a fascinatingly rich allegory for the disaffection and soullessness of modern society, with an atypical performance from Moore as the colorless, timid, querulous Carol, a woman made of fears collected round a core that’s empty as a drum.
A filmmaker remaking his own TV movie sounds like the worst kind of pointlessness, but then that’s exactly what Michael Mann’s “Heat,” a solid-gold crime classic and one of best filmmakers’ of recent times’ best films, is —a loose redo of Mann’s earlier, mostly forgotten “L.A. Takedown.” But then, so much about “Heat” shouldn’t have worked: its you-and-me-are-just-alike cop vs. criminal plot, its vast scope and its miniseries-worthy cast of characters. And yet, it’s completely gripping and entirely substantial, giving almost every one of its players an interior life and moment in the sun (even the subplot with Pacino’s family works for the most part), while never letting its focus drift entirely from the mano-a-mano showcase at its center. And what manos: the long-awaited on-screen pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino was much-hyped, but that coffee shop scene (and the more tragic conclusion) lived up to it entirely.
Three years on from the disastrous “Alien 3,” David Fincher found redemption (though few others did, including the film’s characters) with this darker-than-dark serial killer tale, which proved to be far, far more than yet another “Silence Of The Lambs” knock-off. In an unnamed, almost comic-book-ish city, a veteran cop (Morgan Freeman) and his new young partner (Brad Pitt) are tasked with tracking down a killer who’s knocking off victims in the style of the seven deadly sins. So far, so rote (especially after two decades of TV shows stealing from it), but Andrew Kevin Walker’s screenplay is witty, unpredictable and genuinely shocking, and Fincher gives an atmosphere unlike anything else before or since. Twenty years on, its gruesome crime scenes (which are left more to the imagination than you remember) and stunning plot twists retain enormous power, even, or especially, if you’ve already seen it.
Honorable Mentions: What else could we have included? Well, single writers were fans of “Billy Madison,” “Goldeneye,” “Il Postino,” “Palookaville,” “Kicking & Screaming,” “Desperado,” “Die Hard With A Vengeance,” “Ulysses’ Gaze,” “Dead Man Walking,” “Mighty Aphrodite,” “Once Were Warriors,” “The Prophecy,” “The Brothers McMullen,” “While You Were Sleeping” and Best Foreign Language Oscar-winner “Antonia’s Line,” but consensus saw them fall off the list.
Also wroth noting from that year were “The Bridges Of Madison County,” “The American President,” “The Brady Bunch Movie,” “Dolores Claiborne,” “The Last Supper,” “The Basketball Diaries,” Tran Anh Hung’s “Cyclo,” Almodovar’s “The Flower Of My Secret,” “The Addiction,” “The Crossing Guard,” “Nixon,” “The Quick & The Dead,” “A Little Princess,” “Dead Presidents,” “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead.”
There was plenty of dire stuff too: Let’s not forget (actually, let’s try to) “Cutthroat Island,” “Showgirls,” “Village Of The Damned,” “An Awfully Big Adventure,” “Johnny Mnemonic,” “Congo,” “Judge Dredd,” “Batman Forever,” “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” “Under Siege 2,” “Nine Months,” “The Net,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Powder,” “Fair Game,” “A Vampire In Brooklyn,” “Money Train,” “Nick Of Time” and ‘Dracula: Dead And Lovin’ It.” Anything else? You can shout them out in the comments below.
—Oli Lyttleton, Jessica Kiang, Rodrigo Perez