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

The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (1994, Australia/UK), 104 minutes, D: Stephan Elliott

Blue Sky (1994), 101 minutes, D: Tony Richardson

Bullets Over Broadway (1994), 98 minutes, D: Woody Allen

Burnt By the Sun (1994, Russia/Fr.) (aka Utomlyonnye solntsem, or Утомлённые солнцем), 135 minutes, D: Nikita Mikhalkov

Chungking Express (1994, HK) (aka Chung Hing sam lam), 98/102 minutes, D: Kar Wai Wong

Clerks. (1994), 90 minutes, D: Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith's, amateurishly-acted, slapped together low-budget (about $30,000) comedy went into general release after its successes at film festivals, and became one of the most popular and successful comedy independent films of all time. The grainy, B/W film was a foul-mouthed, gloomy, Gen-X comedy with some outrageous laughs about two ambition-less, minimum-wage clerks in two Asbury Park, NJ stores next to each other: disgruntled convenience store clerk Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran) and his grungy, anti-social video-store clerk friend Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson). It included hilarious dialogue about Dante's girlfriends (especially with his present one Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) about her active sex life), and Randal's memorable interactions with indecisive, confused, and irate customers (including his oblivious phone order of X-rated video titles while a Mom and young child stood close by waiting for the title "Happy Scrappy Hero Pup"). Both workers engaged in constant, profanity-laced idle chatter and diverse discussions (especially memorable were their rambling debates on the Star Wars movies and the "personal politics" of contractors working on the second Death Star following Return of the Jedi).

Crumb (1994), 119 minutes, D: Terry Zwigoff
Terry Zwigoff's intriguing R-rated biopic-documentary provided a bizarre yet fascinating portrait of the counter-cultural, sex-obsessed, underground comic book artist/writer Robert Crumb. It sympathetically portrayed the skinny, bespectacled, geeky cartoonist, a misanthrope (and ex-acidhead) best known for creating 1960s-era underground comic books. He rose to fame with the characters of Mr. Natural and nerdy Flakey Foont (often having sex with Amazonian women), the phrase: "Keep on Truckin'," Fritz the Cat drawings, and the cover art for rock queen Janis Joplin's best-selling LP record Cheap Thrills. Interviews with Crumb and dysfunctional members of his Catholic family, and other acquaintances and critics brought out diverse opinions about Crumb - was he just another pornographic fetishist, misogynist, and racist releasing his own repressed inner demons through art, or was he a brilliant and incisive critic who used satire to show contempt for pop culture, or both?

Dumb & Dumber (1994), 107/113 minutes, D: Peter Farrelly

Ed Wood (1994), 124 minutes, D: Tim Burton

Exotica (1994), 103 minutes, D: Atom Egoyan

Forrest Gump (1994), 142 minutes, D: Robert Zemeckis
The winner of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and three more major Oscars. A sentimental tale of a slow-witted, low-IQ title character (Oscar-winning Tom Hanks) from the South who lived a full live surveyed from the 1950's through the 1980's. Remarkably, Gump witnessed the civil rights movement, the two 1960s assassinations of JFK and RFK, the moon landing, the Vietnam War, the hippie flower-children and anti-war protest, the Watergate scandal, the thawing of US/China relations, the beginning of the AIDs era, and more. In many cases, he was inserted into the historical footage - establishing a famous shrimping business (Bubba Gump's), meeting Presidents, playing ping-pong with Chinese team competitors, inventing the smiley logo, fighting in the war, and creating the jogging craze, etc. without realizing their significance. He fathered a son with childhood sweetheart Jenny (Robin Wright) and married her, but soon after, she died of a virus (HIV?).

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994, UK), 117 minutes, D: Mike Newell

Heavenly Creatures (1994, UK/Germ./NZ), 99 minutes, D: Peter Jackson

Hoop Dreams (1994), 171 minutes, D: Steve James
Steve James' exceptional high-school sports film was the most critically-acclaimed documentary of the 1990s, and also the all-time top-grossing documentary film (until Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine (2002)). Conflict arose when it was not Oscar-nominated by AMPAS for Best Documentary Feature - causing changes to be made to the nominating procedure in future years. The inspirational, videotaped three-hour film detailed the six-year dramatic, uphill story of two hopeful teenaged, inner-city African-American basketball players (William Gates and Arthur Agee) in a suburb of Chicago, who had partial athletic scholarships at St. Joseph's HS - a predominantly white, Catholic school. They faced a constant struggle in their aspirations to be professional superstars in the NBA.

It Could Happen to You (1994), 101 minutes, D: Andrew Bergman
This contrived, dramatic Capra-esque romance was about "A cop. A waitress. A lottery ticket." - the film's tagline. Officer Charlie Lang (Nicolas Cage), a compassionate, generous, and virtuous New York City (Queens) cop, bought a lottery ticket (at the urging of his obnoxious, shrewish and shrill wife Muriel (Rosie Perez)), choosing the number 26 (instead of Muriel's suggestion of 27). During his lunch break at a coffee-shop/cafe with partner Bo Williams (William Pierce), Charlie realized that he didn't have cash to tip the friendly, hard-working, down-on-her-luck blonde waitress, Yvonne Biasi (Bridget Fonda). On a whim, he impetuously offered her 1/2 of his lottery winnings the next day - if he won. As luck would have it, Charlie won the lottery jackpot of $4 million. The next day at the restaurant, Charlie presented Yvonne with a voluntary choice between a double-tip or 1/2 the value of his ticket. She chose the ticket value (and he exclaimed: "A promise is a promise"), assuring herself of his gift of $2 million. The media publicized the lottery results at a press conference - announcing the bargain between Charlie, his reluctant wife, and the waitress. Yvonne was being harrassed by her estranged, sleazy, blackmailing, spend-thrift husband Eddie (Stanley Tucci) who suddenly appeared. Optimistic Charlie had told Muriel, "We should do the right thing," and that he was confident that they would still become rich and famous due to publicity and commercial endorsements. However, there were romantic and legal complications when the materialistic and greedy Muriel suspected Charlie of an affair with Yvonne, and threatened divorce. Muriel was represented by Harvey Hale (Richard Jenkins), while Charlie was defended by Walter Zakuto (Red Buttons). During the courtroom trial, Muriel's attorney demanded that the entire $4 million belonged to his client. Charlie would not agree to giving up Yvonne's share. Charlie testified that he and Yvonne were now in love, but had never met before the lottery ticket incident. The jury awarded Muriel the entire amount. Saddened by the verdict, Charlie and Yvonne visited the diner (which Yvonne had bought, but would now lose). Their hard-luck story and generosity, even in the face of disaster, was published by a undercover reporter/photographer named Angel Dupree (Isaac Hayes) (the film's narrator) who was posing as a hungry homeless man and was given food by the couple. In response, the generosity of New Yorkers brought in over $600K to help pay their debts, and they would soon marry. On the other hand, Muriel was swindled out of her money by her new husband, nouveau riche con man Jack Gross (Seymour Cassel).

The Last Seduction (1994), 110 minutes, D. Robert Dahl

The Lion King (1994), 87 minutes, D: Disney Studio

Little Women (1994, US/Can.), 115 minutes, D: Gillian Armstrong

The Madness of King George (1994, UK), 107 minutes, D: Nicholas Hytner

Natural Born Killers (1994), 120 minutes, D: Oliver Stone

Il Postino: The Postman (1994, It./Fr./Belg.), 108 minutes, D: Michael Radford

The Professional (1994, Fr.) (aka Leon), 109 minutes, D: Luc Besson

Pulp Fiction (1994), 153 minutes, D: Quentin Tarantino
A stylish, immensely-popular, violent, off-beat, modern B-movie cult classic from writer/director Tarantino - his second feature, about corruption and temptation. An interwoven series of three vignettes about low-life criminals, thugs, drug-dealers, hitmen, a washed-up crooked boxer, and restaurant-robbing lovers in the sleazy underworld of Los Angeles. Small-time hold-up artists - "Pumpkin" (Roth) and "Honey Bunny" (Plummer) - plotted a robbery in a restaurant. Meanwhile, philosophically-talkative hit men Jules Winfield (Jackson) and Vincent Vega (Travolta) carried out a hit for their vengeful, underworld boss Marsellus Wallace (Rhames) against double-crossing college-aged kids. Vincent entertained Marsellus' irresponsible wife Mia (Thurman) one evening - and then she overdosed on heroin. By not taking a dive, boxer Butch (Willis) scammed Marcellus during his last bout and planned to skip town. The two hitmen called on gangland cleanup specialist The Wolf (Keitel) when their jobs got messy.

Quiz Show (1994), 130 minutes, D: Robert Redford

The Shawshank Redemption (1994), 142 minutes, D: Frank Darabont
This impressive and engrossing piece of film-making was the first feature film of director/screenwriter Frank Darabont, who had adapted King's 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (first published in Different Seasons). [Note: It was the first of three feature film adaptations of King's work by Darabont.] An uplifting, engrossing, life-affirming drama/prison tale about camaraderie was also a richly-detailed character study about the relationship between two jailed prisoners. Wrongly imprisoned for life in the Shawshank State Prison in the mid 1940s for murdering his adulterous wife and her lover, innocent banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) met another dignified lifer, kindly black Red (Morgan Freeman) known as a retriever who could procure contraband. The film was told from wise old Red's perspective (in ubiquitous calm voice-over, Freeman's quintessential narration). The evil, Bible-pounding Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) used Andy's financial background to cover his nefarious activities, and Red obtained a geological rock hammer and pinup of screen siren Rita Hayworth at Andy's request. The passage of time over two decades was conveyed by the pin-ups on Andy's cell wall, which changed from Hayworth to Marilyn Monroe, and then to Raquel Welch. Serving as an inspiration to the other convicts, Andy yearned for freedom and patiently planned for it. Red recollected about how he thought he had provided Andy with a harmless request - a rock hammer for his hobby. It proved to be their tool for emancipation, redemption, and ultimate salvation. Red internalized Andy's words by the film's closing: "Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'. That's god-damn right."

Speed (1994), 115 minutes, D: Jan De Bont

Trial By Jury (1994), 107 minutes, D: Heywood Gould
In this dramatic crime thriller about jury tampering, the tagline described one female juror's motivation to obey the convicted crime boss on trial: "To protect her child from the Mob, she did what any mother would have done. Lie. Deceive. Manipulate." Divorced single mother and small-business owner Valerie Alston (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) was summoned for jury duty and considered it her civic duty to accept. The case involved ruthless mob boss Rusty Pirone (Armand Assante), being prosecuted for murder by DA Daniel Graham (Gabriel Byrne), and defended by Attorney Leo Greco (Richard Portnow). To ensure a court victory, members of the mobster gang, including corrupt, low-life, disgraced ex-cop Tommy Vesey (William Hurt), forced Alston into a van at her 7-year old son's (Bryan Shilowich) soccer game practice, and threatened to kill her (and her son) if she didn't vote Pirone innocent. While out on bail, Pirone unlawfully entered Pirone's apartment, threatened her with violence if she didn't cooperate, and raped her. During the trial, prosecutor Graham's solid strategy was to offer leniency to some of the witnesses (convicts in prison) if they testified against Pirone. Pirone's uncle was persuaded to cooperate when threatened with photographs of himself conducting homosexual acts in prison. However, the intimidated Alston remained steadfastly firm in voting 'not guilty' in the jury room, where she contended that Pirone was set up and that his constitutional rights were violated. Eventually, she convinced three other jurors to vote with her, and Judge Feld (Robert Breuler) declared a mis-trial. To learn how he lost the case, Graham began a personal investigation into the jurors, and zeroed in on Alston. A search of her apartment revealed an incriminating photograph. The mobsters suspected collusion between Graham and Alston, and attempted to murder her (Pirone's hard-bitten, jealous hooker/contract killer Wanda (Kathleen Quinlan) participated in the murder attempt), but didn't succeed when Vesey, who had unexpectedly fallen in love with Alston, saved her, but lost his own life. In the striking conclusion, Alston attempted to seduce Pirone in his country home as a ploy. As he tried to smother her, she knifed him to death - an act of vengeful vigilantism. She told Graham: "You live your life, believing in things like justice and the law. Then someone grabs you off the street in broad daylight. Walks right past the police and tells you that he'll reach out from beyond the grave and kill your son. You don't think about right or wrong, you only think about survival. You do what you have to do."

Trois Couleurs: Blanc (1994, Fr./Pol./Switz.) (aka Three Colors: White), 91 minutes, D: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Trois Couleurs: Red (1994, Fr/Pol./Switz.) (aka Three Colors: Red), 99 minutes, D: Krzysztof Kieslowski

True Lies (1994), 141 minutes, D: James Cameron

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