If the ‘90s were a boom time for DIY iconoclasts, Hollywood mavericks, and emerging national cinemas, none of the decade’s narrative films would be so fondly remembered today if not for the actors who brought them to life. Even the era’s best documentary or documentary-like features — such as Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “After Life” and Abbas Kiarostami’s “Close-Up,” both of which placed in the top 10 on IndieWire’s list of the decade’s best films — boast unscripted performances that resonate with the same raw power as anything that Meryl Streep or Robert De Niro were doing at the time.
If the impulse to honor the decade’s most indelible performances is easy to understand, the task of choosing among them proved virtually impossible. What started as a fool’s errand soon found us tilting at windmills as we decided to limit our list to just 25 choices, thus guaranteeing that the ultimate tally would only represent a small fraction of the work that continues to stick to our bones several decades after it was captured on camera (read: despite how things might appear, we promise we love Emily Watson in “Breaking the Waves” just as much as you do). We couldn’t bear to rank our final choices, and so the list below is presented in chronological order.
Selected from a decade full of more incredible performances than anyone could ever hope to count, here are the 25 that we just couldn’t seem to live without.
Jude Dry, Susannah Gruder, Ryan Lattanzio, and Esther Zuckerman also contributed to this article.