Neal Damiano takes a look at 10 great 1990s films that helped define the decade. Hollywood embraced independent voices (in Boogie Nights and Clerks) while continuing its love of the blockbuster (Independence Day) as well as embracing emerging technology to push the boundaries of computer animation (in live action 1990s films like Jurassic Park and fully animated films like Toy Story).
10. Toy Story (Lasseter, 1995)
Toy Story was not only technologically groundbreaking but very entertaining in its own right. This first Pixar feature is funny and heart-warming. It features lively voice performances from Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. Toy Story is one of those films that’s impossible to watch without a smile on the face.
9. The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999)
A searingly iconic film for its inventive fashion, sonic soundtrack and astonishing special effects. The Matrix was a game changer in every aspect from the storyline to the cinematography. But besides all the amazing visuals it also makes you think about life: what is real and what is illusion.
8. Fargo (The Coen Brothers, 1996)
The Coen Brothers are not for everyone, their quirky humor is an acquired taste. However, in 1996 they struck a nerve with American audiences with Fargo. The Coens created unforgettable characters – inspiring Frances McDormand to one of her finest performances – many of whom do some pretty grotesque things. Steve Buscemi is brilliant in an over-the-top performance as Carl, a low down criminal who’s a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. It’s a kidnapping-gone-terribly-wrong film and none of the people aside from McDormand’s well-meaning Marge Gunderson have redeeming qualities. Fargo shows a very particular way of life in the Midwest.
7. Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993)
One of the better big Hollywood production films of the 1990s, Steven Spielberg’s has a grand scale but an intimate quality built around characters we care about. The CGI effects are astonshing for the time. Never before had dinosaurs enjoyed such realism. It started a very successful franchise.
6. Boogie Nights (Anderson, 1997)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s film was a huge hit for the breakout director in the 1990s. Set in the midst of the porn industry in the 1970s, we get a vivid look into the seedy underbelly of the business. What really makes Boogie Nights outstanding is the acting: there are flawless performances from just about every actor in the film. Porn was becoming acceptable pop culture by the time the 1990s came around but never before have we got such a candid look into the industry from a mainstream perspective quite like Boogie Nights.
5. Home Alone (Columbus, 1990)
I believe Home Alone was not intended to be a holiday film but it became a Christmas classic. Not only was it hilarious and heartwarming but it made child star Macauley Culkin a household name. A witty story of a clever kid who gets left at home at Christmas and has to fend off criminals. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are incredibly entertaining as madcap criminals. Home Alone appeals to all ages which is why it managed to gross $285 million at the box office.
4. Clueless (Heckerling, 1995)
A typical story of a rich girl dealing with everyday tribulations of high school, Clueless is nevertheless distinguishable in how it delivers its story with such wit and hilarity, bringing John Hughes style teen comedy sensibilities to a 1990s audience. Alicia Silverstone’s charisma radiates in this film and made her quite a star commodity through the decade. Clueless influenced so many films in the 1990s. I can easily say we wouldn’t have Mean Girls or Jawbreaker without it. The film is definitely noteworthy for clique comedies that came later.
3. Independence Day (Emmerich, 1996)
In the decade of the Indie film boom Independence Day was a blockbuster hit and such an enthralling film. aliens are coming and their main goal is to destroy earth. It is quite a spectacle with massive spaceships shooting fire down on cities, the total annihilation of the human race their goal. Who do we call on for our saviour – Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum of course. I’m not the biggest Smith fan but he is very commanding here uniting the survivors for one last attack against the intruders.
2. Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994)
Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film defined how crime-drama was going to be in American cinema for the rest of the decade, the film often imitated but rarely matched. It’s also noteworthy for reinventing John Travolta’s career and underlining the talents of Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson. With Tarantino’s fascination for pulp crime novels of the 1950s he created a masterpiece that had a lingo and style all its own.
1. Clerks (Smith, 1994)
Clerks is the ultimate salute to Generation X. Two slackers discuss meaningless pop culture banter inside a convenience store. Some critics describe it as David Mamet with d*ck jokes but I find this hilariously short-sighted. Yes, Smith’s heavy use of dialogue is what makes the film so funny. The dichotomy of pessimistic Dante verses apathetic Randal is so darn entertaining. It’s a simple concept from which Kevin Smith utilizes his limited resources and writes about what he knows, creating one of the funniest independent films of the 1990s. The film went on to Sundance Film Festival in 1994 and ended up being bought by Miramax. The movie is still revered by many today and now considered a cult classic.
Written and compiled by Neal Damiano
Your turn: what are your fave 1990s films that defined the decade?