Greatest Films of the 1990s
Greatest Films of the 1990s

Greatest Films of the 1990s
1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999


Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

Barton Fink (1991), 116 minutes, D: Joel Coen

Beauty and the Beast (1991), 84 minutes, D: Kirk Wise
Arguably the most successful Disney animated film of all time, this film was the first animated feature film to ever receive a Best Picture Academy Award nomination, before a separate category was created for Animated Films. It was based on the classic 1756 fairy tale (written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont) and the importance of inner beauty. There were almost a dozen previous film incarnations, the most notable being the silent 1922 version and Jean Cocteau's French film La Belle et La Bête (1946). Beauty and the Beast returned the Disney animation studios to their former glory. The story told about a French peasant girl (Paige O'Hara) who was treated kindly by a monstrous Prince-turned-Beast captor (Robby Benson) and fell in love with him. The beautiful artwork and colors were supplemented by a well-written song score, from the Oscar-winning title song to the jaunty "Belle" and "Be Our Guest," all written by Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman. It was also the second Disney film to combine its famous hand-drawn animation with computer graphics (The Rescuers Down Under (1990) was the first), as well as the first Disney animated movie to use a fully-developed script prior to animation. After this, Disney would release more huge traditionally animated hits in the summer, both commercial and critical, such as Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Mulan (1998) and The Emperor's New Groove (2000), before deciding to close their hand-drawn animation wing in 2003.

La Belle Noiseuse (1991, Fr./Switz.) (aka The Beautiful Troublemaker), 240 minutes, D: Jacques Rivette

Boyz 'N The Hood (1991), 107 minutes, D: John Singleton

Bugsy (1991), 136/149 minutes, D: Barry Levinson

City Slickers (1991), 112 minutes, D: Ron Underwood

Delicatessen (1991, Fr.), 95 minutes, D: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet

The Double Life of Veronique (1991, Fr./Pol./Norw.) (aka La Double Vie De Veronique), 98 minutes, D: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Enchanted April (1991, UK), 95 minutes, D: Mike Newell

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), 130/137 minutes, D: Jon Avnet

JFK (1991), 189 minutes, D: Oliver Stone
A controversial, speculatively revisionistic, historical epic surrounding onetime New Orleans DA Jim Garrison's (Kevin Costner) investigation of the John F. Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963. Director/co-writer Oliver Stone based his intriguing interpretation in this docu-film thriller on the well-publicized and alleged conspiracy theories of the obsessed attorney about the mystery of the death, based upon the testimony of a number of unreliable witnesses. This complex, provocative courtroom film features a cavalcade of stars, with cameos and supporting roles by such actors as Tommy Lee Jones (in an Oscar-nominated role as Clay Shaw, the CIA agent whom Garrison charges with the murder of Kennedy), Joe Pesci, Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland (as the mysterious "X"), Laurie Metcalf, Walter Matthau, John Candy, Vincent D'Onofio, Sally Kirkland, Ed Asner, Kevin Bacon, Wayne Knight, Michael Rooker, Gary Oldman (as accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald), and Garrison himself as Justice Earl Warren. Stone employs innovative, masterful and impressive film editing (with quick cuts and use of various film stocks) through the work of Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia (who won Oscars), and he creates, through gripping cinematography, a tense, kinetic atmosphere that mirrors the whirlwind of memories, incidents and scenarios that play out in Garrison's mind. The trial scene in the last half of the film features three very memorable segments: an analysis of the famous Zapruder film, the scornful rejection of the Magic Bullet theory, and Garrison's impassioned closing argument, finishing with him staring directly into the camera, and saying: "It's up to you." The movie also features stirring music by John Williams that accentuates the emotional themes.

Mediterraneo (1991, It.), 96 minutes, D: Gabriele Salvatores

My Own Private Idaho (1991), 102 minutes, D: Gus Van Sant

Point Break (1991), 117 minutes, D: Kathryn Bigelow

Raise the Red Lantern (1991, China/HK/Taiwan) (aka Da Hong Deng Long Gao Gao Gua), 125 minutes, D: Yimou Zhang

Rambling Rose (1991), 112 minutes, D: Martha Coolidge

The Rapture (1991), 100 minutes, D: Michael Tolkin

The Silence of the Lambs (1991), 118 minutes, D: Jonathan Demme
Ted Tally's screenplay was based on Thomas Harris' 1988 best-selling novel of the same name (an earlier thriller, Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986), was based on another Harris novel - titled Red Dragon). A genuinely-frightening, violent, psychological thriller about the intimate exchanges between a deranged, hypnotic serial killer and a raw, vulnerable FBI trainee. Novice agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is sent by senior agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) to conduct an interview with an insane, psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), housed in a claustrophobic, underground prison cell. In exchange for her haunting, deepest secrets and memories about her childhood and the slaughter of lambs, she is supplied with clues about the identity and methods of another serial killer Jame Gumb, dubbed Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), who skins his victims and is currently holding victim Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith) - the daughter of a US Senator. It was the first horror film to win the Academy Award Oscar for Best Picture.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), 137 minutes, D: James Cameron
Cameron's well-executed, action-packed sequel to the earlier film of the same name, with a huge $100 million budget. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator (cyborg) character of the first film, The Terminator (1984) told everyone: "I'll be back" - and proved it with this film. The film takes place 11 years after the events of the first movie, in the year 1995. Sarah Connor (Hamilton) is now in a mental institution after attempting to blow up Cyberdyne Systems, and for acting delusional and insane over thoughts of an apocalypse. Her son John (Furlong) has become a rebellious foster child. This time, two cyborg terminators are sent from future Earth -- a T-800 model (Schwarzenegger) similar to the one from the first film, and the other, a prototype T-1000 (Patrick), who has the ability to 'morph' his body into any solid shape, impersonate other persons and even camouflage himself with the background. One is sent to protect the future leader John, the other to kill the boy who will lead humans to victory over the cyborgs. The film explores issues of fate, responsibility, loyalty, and the essences of humanity. The sequel was made possible by Cameron's hugely successful blockbuster Aliens (1986) and The Abyss (1989). Unlike The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day would gross half its budget in its opening weekend, despite a running time of over two and a half hours, and end up making back twice its budget in the United States alone. The chief selling point, aside from the computer-generated special effects and dazzling, non-stop action sequences, were the two major stars, Schwarzenegger and Hamilton, who starred in the original. It would be followed by a mildly successful sequel, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), in which only Schwarzenegger returned and faced off against a female "Terminatrix." This science-fiction blockbuster won four technical Academy Awards.

Thelma & Louise (1991), 128 minutes, D: Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott's film from first-timer Callie Khouri's screenplay is a pseudo-feminist, female-buddy and road movie that examines the themes of liberation, free will, revenge, female empowerment from oppression, self-discovery, and the nature of criminality. Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis), a naive Arkansas housewife starved for adventure, is unhappily married to a cheating, verbally-abusive and arrogant salesman named Darryl (Christopher McDonald). She sets out to have a weekend trip with her worldly-wise best friend, a coffee-shop waitress named Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon). At a truck-stop en route, Thelma loosens up after a few drinks and becomes flirtatious. One of the customers, would-be rapist Harlan Puckett (Timothy Carhart), threatens Thelma in the parking lot - and she is questionably saved by Louise who kills the man before the rape occurs. In their flight from the law, the federal authorities, and the police, they begin driving to Mexico in a red 1966 Thunderbird convertible, and commit further serious crimes. Brad Pitt has a bit but memorable, pure beefcake role as sweet-talking J.D., a cocky, hitch-hiking cowboy (and thieving con-artist) who steals from Thelma in a motel after seducing her. The pair's flight as fugitives becomes one of liberation, as they not only cast off their daily shackles, but discover their inner desires and personas and become defiant outlaws, while being pursued by a sympathetically-protective detective named Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel). The box-office hit, similar to other couple-on-the-run films such as You Only Live Once (1937), They Live By Night (1949), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Badlands (1973), Thieves Like Us (1974), and The Sugarland Express (1974), is stirring to watch, especially in its final scenes, which include an encounter with an offensively-lewd truck driver, the awe-inspiring aerial shot of their T-bird being chased by a legion of blaring police cars in the American Southwest, and the famous freeze frame ending depicting their ultimate freedom as they ascend - and descend - into the Grand Canyon.

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