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The 50 Best Films of the ’90s, From ‘Pulp Fiction’ to ‘Groundhog Day’

The best films of the 1990s came from filmmakers who not only had unique visions but who opened new doors to the endless possibilities of cinematic storytelling.

45. “JFK” (1991)

JFK

“JFK”

Warner Bros.

Accepting conspiracy as fact, “JFK” is made with the conviction that with each frame it is uncovering an enormous, stop-the-presses, revelatory truth. No matter what you believe about the JFK assassination, or Oliver Stone himself, the film’s urgency is matched by Stone practically reinventing film language – mixing many different formats, some designed to be accepted as newsreel documentary, into one of the best-edited films ever made. Rooted in the illogical inconsistencies of the Warren Report and the fact that we still don’t know what exactly happened in Dallas, the film envelopes us in its cocaine-fueled paranoia of the dark, unseen forces pulling the strings of our society. –CO

44. “Speed” (1994)

Speed Keanu Reeves

“Speed”

20th Century Fox

A brilliantly simple premise, perfectly executed by cinematographer turned action director Jan De Bont. In a film that literally never takes its foot off the gas, “Speed” finds a perfect dramatic balance rotating between the dangers posed by the road ahead, the passengers on the bus and the mad man (Dennis Hopper) on the phone. As with “Die Hard,” don’t sleep on the greatness of the script (a massive and unjustly uncredited rewrite by a young Joss Whedon) as each new plot twist doesn’t simply set up the next action scene, but builds upon the previous to create an edge-of-your-seat-drama. —CO

43. “All About My Mother” (1999)

All About My Mother

“All About My Mother”

Sony Pictures Classics

Right before the turn of the century, Pedro Almodóvar delivered one of his best films with “All About My Mother.” Inspired by a subplot in his 1995 film “The Flower of My Secret,” “All About My Mother” stars Cecilia Roth as Manuela, an Argentine nurse who loses her 17-year-old son after he’s killed in a car crash. She travels to Barcelona to find the boy’s father, a transvestite named Lola, and ends up forming relationships with a transexual prostitute, a drug-addict and an HIV-positive nun. Almodóvar, widely beloved for his bold visual style, crafts his most emotional and socially relevant work here — but refuses to abandon his flare for vibrant and flashy sets, creating a film i which style and substance clash with provocative results. His previous hits like “Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown” and “Kika” had soapy, melodramatic plot lines bolstered by his exuberant eye for color and set design, but “All About My Mother” is the direct opposite. It represents Almodóvar at his most challenging and self-reflective. He commits to his sensational visuals to keep your eyes glued to the events on screen, but those events are more heartbreaking and grounded in emotional turmoil than the visuals lead you to believe. It’s a balancing act not even Almodóvar has tried again, and that alone makes “All About My Mother” one of the master filmmaker’s definitive films. –ZS

42. “Election” (1999)

Election

“Election”

Paramount Pictures

Alexander Payne’s satirical look at a high school election centers on teenage overachiever Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) and her complicated relationship with her teacher, Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick). McAllister is one of the only people aware that his friend and former colleague was fired for having an affair with Flick, who received no punishment. The irony of this hilarious but cringe-worthy film is that just as McAllister is teaching his students about ethics and morality, he reaches a breaking point and takes the student government results in his own hands. More lapses of judgment ensue in this darkly humorous story about ambition, love and deception. -GW

41. “Ratcatcher” (1999)

Ratcatcher

“Ratcatcher”

First Look International

Lynne Ramsay’s feature debut accomplishes anything and everything a filmmaker would want from their first entree to the wider cinematic world: it establishes a tone and style, it telegraphs her tremendous talent, and it sets out a path for the filmic obsessions that haunt each and every one of her projects. Ramsay’s “Ratcatcher” is as unsentimental as the filmmaker gets, perhaps her greatest strength when it comes to telling honest, often wrenching stories that other filmmakers would inevitably try to fluff up with unearned emotion. Ramsay’s work is compelled by grief and guilt, and the fallout from the circumstances that can — typically horribly, irrevocably — lead to both, bolstered by some of the finest child acting to hit the big screen in years. “Ratcatcher” thrills, even as it terrifies, and finds space for beauty even in the midst of unstoppable tragedy that chugs along until the last, heartbreaking scene. –Kate Erbland

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