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

Apollo 13 (1995), 140 minutes, D: Ron Howard

Babe (1995, Australia/US), 91 minutes, D: Chris Noonan
A charming, delightful and intelligent fairy tale, a comic allegory, was based on a kid's book by British author Dick King-Smith, from first-time director Chris Noonan. This Australian-made "sleeper" was a critical and financial success - a rare family film to earn an Academy Award Best Picture nomination (from a total of an amazing seven Oscar nominations), utilizing realistic, Oscar-winning computer effects (animatronics, puppets and CGI) to portray talking animals. Despite being aimed at mostly young audiences, this film consistently remained intelligent but sometimes quite dark for a children's film. The tale was told in storybook fashion (with chapters introduced by a trio of singing mice) - about how young pink piglet Babe, raised by sheepdogs and daring to be different (and challenging his "proper place" in life), learned to herd sheep to avoid being killed for human food.
James Cromwell played goodhearted farmer Arthur Hoggett who had the best-known line of the film: "That'll do, pig. That'll do" - after Babe succeeded as a championship-winning 'sheepdog.' Followed by a darker, but respectable sequel, Babe: Pig in the City (1998).

Before Sunrise (1995), 101 minutes, D: Richard Linklater

Braveheart (1995), 177 minutes, D: Mel Gibson

The Bridges of Madison County (1995), 135 minutes, D: Clint Eastwood

Casino (1995), 182 minutes, D: Martin Scorsese

Clueless (1995), 97 minutes, D: Amy Heckerling

Dead Man Walking (1995), 120 minutes, D: Tim Robbins

GoldenEye (1995), 130 minutes, D: Martin Campbell

Heat (1995), 172 minutes, D: Michael Mann

Kids (1995), 90 minutes, D: Larry Clark

Leaving Las Vegas (1995), 112 minutes, D: Mike Figgis

Losing Isaiah (1995), 111 minutes, D: Stephen Gyllenhaal
Along the lines of Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), this melodrama was about a vicious custody battle for a boy, and inter-racial adoption. Infant Isaiah was found abandoned in a garbage trash bin in an alley, deposited there by his African-American drug-addicted mother Khaila Richards (Halle Berry). Margaret Lewin (Jessica Lange), one of the white social workers at the medical hospital where Isaiah was treated, adopted the young boy into her family, including her husband Charles (David Strathairn) and sullen, pre-teen 11 year-old daughter Hannah (Daisy Eagan). The child, due to being a crack baby, had developmental issues, including hyperactivity, educational challenges, and emotional problems. However, three to four years later, once reformed birth mother Khaila had been released from prison (for shoplifting) and had freed herself from her cocaine-addiction through rehab, she wanted her son back. She was defended by zealous legal aid attorney Kadar Lewis (Samuel L. Jackson) on a pro bono basis. To defend themselves, the Lewins hired black lawyer Caroline Jones (La Tanya Richardson). The lengthy custody hearing-case, held in a Chicago courtroom with Judge Silbowitz (Jacqueline Brookes), was summarized in the tagline: "Who decides what makes a mother?" Mother Khaila testified that she was now qualified to mother Isaiah properly. Cross-examination revealed that she had been a prostitute, but had turned a new leaf - she had taken a job as a nanny and housekeeper for an affluent white couple. A social worker also claimed that Isaiah would be better served with a black parent, while another contradicted that claim, affirming that it would be detrimental if Isaiah left his adoptive parents to whom he was now tightly bonded. Kadar argued that "Black babies belong with black mothers." After further questioning, Margaret was forced to admit she hadn't introduced Isaiah to any black heritage, culture or black friends, and Charles admitted to a damaging secret of being unfaithful. The judge decided in favor of the simple-minded Khaila who didn't consider the consequences of the return of Isaiah. The transition was difficult for Isaiah, and he fought readjusting to a new parent. In the conclusion, Khaila contacted Margaret to have the child returned for the time being, for the best interests of the child.

Murder in the First (1995), 122 minutes, D: Marc Rocco
This dramatic thriller, an indictment of the American penal system, its prisons and the miscarriage of justice, was very loosely based upon (or inspired by) the true case of an Alcatraz prisoner named Henri Young in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Orphaned and destitute teenaged Henri Young (Kevin Bacon) was unjustly imprisoned after stealing $5 from a hardware store/post office (this was the film's biggest fabrication - Young was actually a seasoned bank robber-criminal), and soon sent to San Francisco's infamous island, maximum-security prison Alcatraz. In 1938, Young and fellow inmate Rufus "Ray" McCain (David Michael Sterling) failed in an escape attempt (when fellow escapee Ray ratted), and Young was punished with solitary confinement in a rat-infested, icy dungeon for 3 years after being slashed with a straight razor by the sadistic and vicious associate prison warden Milton Glenn (Gary Oldman). Inhumanely treated and almost crazy, he received only a half an hour of daylight per year. Almost immediately after his release in 1941, Young stabbed and killed Rufus with an eating utensil in the neck. He was prosecuted for first-degree murder and destined for the gas chamber. He was defended by boyish-looking, idealistic, recent Harvard Law School grad James Stamphill (Christian Slater), a newbie public defender who had no experience in trial cases. Here's where the film's tagline began to make sense: "One was condemned. The other was determined. Two men whose friendship gave them the will to take on the system." Young was mostly incommunicative and catatonic at first with his crusading legal representative. Crusty and stern Judge Clawson (R. Lee Ermey) allowed Stamphill's ambitious attempt to put Alcatraz on trial for its inhumane treatment of prisoners. It was challenging to convince guards or prisoners to testify against the brutal conditions at Alcatraz. When Glenn was called to the stand, he couldn't explain why so many prisoners became mentally insane during his time as warden. Young took the stand and would not agree to plead guilty to the charges. He feared returning to Alcatraz and further punishment. The jury's verdict was 'involuntary manslaughter' (unintentional murder) - and they further called for a full investigation into Alcatraz. Warden Glenn was forbidden to work in the US penal system. When Young returned to Alcatraz, he was again placed in solitary confinement, and found dead about 7 months later in his cell.

Nixon (1995), 190 minutes, D: Oliver Stone

Pocahontas (1995), 81/84 minutes, D: Disney Studio

Safe (1995), 121 minutes, D: Todd Haynes
Julianne Moore's collaborations with director Todd Haynes started with her first feature-film lead role in his chilling, disturbing and provocative tale of a modern-day, environmentally-induced descent into madness. She effectively portrayed Carol White, a sexually-unfulfilled, affluent, zombie-like, routinely-bored San Fernando Valley housewife who became afflicted with a psycho-somatic, debilitating allergy. The film continually pondered the main ambiguous issue - was she psychologically impaired or physically ill, or both? To be toxic-free in a 'safe' personal oasis, the vulnerable, anxious, fragile and self-effacing Carol chose to protect herself by retreating from life and finding liberation in an expensive, New Age, residential treatment center in New Mexico. In the film's final image within her own sterile, egg-like, hermetically-sealed igloo 'home,' she addressed her mirror image: "I love you... I really love you...".

Sense and Sensibility (1995, UK/US), 135 minutes, D: Ang Lee

Se7en (1995), 127 minutes, D: David Fincher
Even before the opening credits, this grisly David Fincher crime thriller introduced the meticulous character of soon-to-retire, weary veteran Det. Lt. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) after 32 years, who was going about his orderly and precise morning routine in his furnished bachelor apartment. The wise, perceptive and methodical homicide investigator was set in contrast to his headstrong replacement partner, young reckless rookie David Mills (Brad Pitt), in their pursuit of a diabolical serial killer named John Doe (Kevin Spacey) who had staged murders based on the 'seven deadly sins.' The film's best acted sequence was a diner scene between Somerset and Mills' unhappy relocated wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) who had just moved to the city from upstate. She confided in him about her unrevealed pregnancy - he advised her that the city was no place for a family, and that if she aborted, she shouldn't ever tell her husband that she was pregnant. If she went ahead, however, he said: "You spoil that kid every chance you get."

Strange Days (1995), 145 minutes, D: Kathryn Bigelow

Toy Story (1995), 80 minutes, D: John Lasseter
Toy Story (1995) was the first feature length film to be completely animated by computers, by pioneering CGI animation studio Pixar Studios, which had already experimented with quite a few short subject films, most noticeably the Oscar-nominated short Luxo Jr. (1986) (whose characters became the basis for their logo) and Oscar-winning short Tin Toy (1988). The film's amazing computer effects were surpassed only by the intelligent, thoughtful script that had adult themes that both parents and their kids could relate to. Toy Story is a fantasy in which toys are animated, living beings when humans aren't around. Cowboy Woody (voice by Tom Hanks) is the highest ranked bedroom toy (there's also Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, Wallace Shawn as Rex, a meek dinosaur, Jim Varney as Slinky Dog, John Ratzenburger as Hamm the Pig, and Annie Potts as Woody's sweetheart, Bo Peep), because he's the favorite of master Andy. When Andy unwraps a birthday present and a new hi-tech space and action-toy Buzz Lightyear (voice by Tim Allen) appears, Woody fears his top place has been usurped by the new rival. The deluded Buzz believes he's on a mission to save the planet, until the two become trapped in the house of Sid, a sadistic bully in the neighborhood, and they are forced to overcome their differences.

The Usual Suspects (1995), 105 minutes, D: Bryan Singer
A convoluted, darkly comedic film noir, Bryan Singer's intriguing film (his second feature film) is set in a police interrogation room with slow-witted, chatty con-man Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey in a breakthrough role) who has been offered immunity, if he talks and provides testimony. He attempts to convince his captor, tough U.S. Customs Special Agent federal investigator Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) about the enigmatic existence of Keyser Soze, a semi-mythical "devil", and almost supernatural Hungarian crime lord and mastermind. (Legend has it, according to Kint, that Soze was so willfully cold-blooded that when his family was threatened with rape and held hostage by Hungarian rivals, he killed his own family and then their captors and the rest of the mob - and "nobody's ever seen him since.") According to Kint (told in flashback), a group of tough and savvy criminals (the ones on all the film's posters, in an NYPD line-up hauled in after a Queens, NY truck hijacking), including crooked ex-cop Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), explosives specialist Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak), entry man and sniper Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Latino Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), and Kint himself, pulled off a $3 million robbery of emeralds. Soze had also coerced the five thieves to go on a suicide mission to San Pedro harbor to commit a huge $91 million cocaine heist --an act of sabotage against one of Keyser's own competitors in the drug trade. Verbal insists that he and his gang dealt with Soze only through his legal representative, Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite), who pressured them by threatening to kill Keaton's lawyer girlfriend Edie Finneran (Suzy Amis) and castrate McManus' young nephew. The weaselly, limping, club-footed Kint, a survivor of the explosion at the harbor, confesses truths, half-truths, double-crosses, and lies. His recounting, aided by the contents of a bulletin board in the interrogation office, forces the viewer to deduce what is real and what is fictional in the stories he tells, and who Soze really is. The non-linear, puzzling film is sometimes a bit too self-consciously twisted, clever, and predictable, but still a great crime thriller.

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