The Era of Mainstream Films and "Indie" Cinema, the Rise of Computer-Generated Imagery, the Decade of Re-makes, Re-releases, and More Sequels
Film History of the 1990s
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
Film History by Decade
Index | Pre-1920s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s
1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s
Solid, Significant Films and Directors of the Decade:
Some of the most established Hollywood filmmakers continued to make solid films during the decade - Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Robert Altman, Anthony Minghella, Oliver Stone, James Brooks, Brian De Palma, Robert Zemeckis, Barry Levinson, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and others.
For instance, Martin Scorsese directed the following in the decade before the turn of the century:
Screenwriter/producer and director Michael Mann's superb crime thriller Heat (1995) brought together DeNiro and Pacino (for the first time) on opposite sides of the law. His next widely-acclaimed film (with seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture) was The Insider (1999), the dramatic true-to-life story of a tobacco company scientist (Russell Crowe) who exposed the corrupt industry for veteran 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) and the show's producer (Al Pacino). At the turn of the century, Mann also directed the biographical sports drama Ali (2001), with Best Actor-nominated Will Smith portraying the legendary boxing great Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali during a ten year period (1964-1974).
Maverick director Robert Altman made two satirical studies in the 1990s of modern day Los Angeles society, both with huge starring casts - one of his trademarks:
Lesser Altman works followed: Pret-A-Porter (1994), Kansas City (1996), The Gingerbread Man (1998), and Dr. T & the Women (2000).
Anthony Minghella wrote the screenplays and directed two major films in the 90s:
After the screen biography The Doors (1991) about lead singer Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) and his West Coast rock group (famous for 'Come on baby, light my fire'), Oliver Stone directed the three-hour political thriller JFK (1991) to re-examine the 1963 Kennedy assassination and to attempt to speculate and prove a conspiracy theory and cover-up. In the film, he 'deconstructed' the Lee Harvey Oswald one-gunman theory denounced by the government-sanctioned Warren Commission with a counter-theory involving higher-ups angered by Kennedy's liberalism. Kevin Costner starred as DA Jim Garrison ("Back, and to the left... back, and to the left... back, and to the left") and Gary Oldman as assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Picture Association (MPA) questioned the premise of Stone's highly stylized film.
Stone's next effort, Heaven and Earth (1993) concluded his "Vietnam trilogy" of Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989).
Quentin Tarantino wrote the story for Oliver Stone's controversial study of mass murder - Natural Born Killers (1994) - an over-the-top, visceral satire on the desire of the violence-obsessed, exploitative media in America to maximize profits, with stars Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as Mickey and Mallory - two image-conscious serial killers on a psycho road trip as they are pursued by a sleazy TV reporter (Robert Downey, Jr.). The energetic film precipitated at least eight 'copycat' murders and violent incidents by self-professed 'natural born killers,' including two Oklahoma teens who watched the film repeatedly and then went on a similar shooting spree. A subsequent multi-million dollar lawsuit in 1995 against director Stone (and then Time Warner Entertainment), brought by a victim in Louisiana, was finally dismissed in 2001. The film was originally banned from theatrical distribution in Ireland. A 2000 Director's Cut version brought back more than 150 shots removed from the theatrical version prior to release - severely edited in order to get a R rating instead of an unrated or NC-17 rating. [A year earlier, Juliette Lewis had also appeared in Kalifornia (1993), an updated, disturbing 90s version of Malick's youth road movie Badlands (1973).]
James Brooks and Other Notable Directors and Award-Winners
James Brooks' Best Picture generation-gap romance As Good As It Gets (1997) entertained and won acting Oscars for Jack Nicholson (as an obnoxious bigot) and Helen Hunt (as a waitress with a heart of gold) from its seven nominations. Writer/director Mike Figgis' Leaving Las Vegas (1995) won the Best Actor Oscar for Nicolas Cage as a down-and-out ex-writer and boozer in love with a sympathetic prostitute (Elisabeth Shue).
John Madden's Shakespearean romance Shakespeare in Love (1998) won top accolades including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth) and Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow as the Bard's cross-dressing lover Viola). Earlier, Kathy Bates won the Best Actress Oscar for her bat-swinging/psychopathic fan role in director Rob Reiner's blackish thriller Misery (1990), another Stephen King adaptation (by William Goldman). Tom Cruise was the lead in the sports-related romantic comedy/drama Jerry Maguire (1996) - a sports agent ("Show me the money") who partnered with football player pariah Rod Tidwell (Best Supporting Actor-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and single mother Renee Zellweger ("You had me at hello"). Francis Ford Coppola continued to make hits, such as his final segment of the trilogy The Godfather, Part III (1990), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), and The Rainmaker (1997).
Brian De Palma
Brian De Palma, known for his various genres of thrillers (borrowing techniques from the great master Hitchcock), produced more hits in the 90s (except for The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)), including the following:
After directing the last in the trilogy, Back to the Future 3 (1990), the black comedy Death Becomes Her (1992) with Oscar-winning makeup effects, and Best Picture-winning Forrest Gump (1994) with Tom Hanks' Best Actor performance, Robert Zemeckis directed Contact (1997), an emotional sci-fi drama based on a novel by Carl Sagan, about the serious quest for intelligent life in outer space by a young scientist (Jodie Foster). Then he directed two films released in the same year:
Rain Man's (1988) director Barry Levinson was responsible for a number of minor films in the 90s, including Avalon (1990), Bugsy (1991), Toys (1992), Disclosure (1994), Jimmy Hollywood (1994), Sleepers (1996), Sphere (1998), and Liberty Heights (1999). The gangster film Bugsy (1991) starred leading man Warren Beatty as the larger-than-life visionary mobster Ben 'Bugsy' Siegel, who opened the first casino hotel in the desert-surrounded town of Las Vegas - The Flamingo, named after his Hollywood mistress Virginia "Flamingo" Hill (Annette Bening who soon became his real-life wife).
Coincidentally, Levinson's political satire Wag the Dog (1997), filmed in only a month and starring Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman, emerged at the time of President Clinton's sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky - with a similar plotline of official misconduct, and the invention of a war in Eastern Europe to distract attention. Here was another example of Hollywood art presaging real-life.
Spielberg contributed a number of major films in this decade, already discussed: the pair of dinosaur blockbusters Jurassic Park (1993) and The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), and award-winning 'holocaust' epic Schindler's List (1993). He also directed the historical drama Amistad (1996) about a mutiny aboard a slave ship, based on a true story from the 19th century. Producer/director Steven Spielberg finished the decade with his second WWII epic Saving Private Ryan (1998) that won five of its eleven Academy Award nominations. It opened with incredibly brutal, recreated footage of the Omaha Beach bloodbath and mass slaughter of GIs on June 6, 1944, and told the story of Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) who was on special assignment to find a fourth brother in a family where three brothers had already died. Among others, it received Oscars for Best Director (Spielberg's second) - but not Best Picture, Best Film Editing, and Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski) for its remarkable hand-held camera work.
And cerebral writer/director Steven Soderbergh solidified his career, following his Cannes Film Festival's Palm d'Or winner sex, lies and videotape (1989) with a series of uneven films in this decade:
Soderbergh would reach the pinnacle of prominence with three films early in the next decade:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6