Mike’s Top Ten of 1993
A lot of people would call 1993 the strongest year of the 90s, and it’s hard to argue that fact. There are a lot of amazing movies that came out this year, along with what is probably one of the consensus “best” and most important movies of the decade. And Schindler’s List came out too.
Groundhog Day, was what I was referring to.
Anyway, I don’t have a whole lot to add about this year. It’s the first year we start to run three tiers deep on a consistent basis, and a lot of that is gonna be stuff I grew up with, because I turned 5 this year and there’s a bunch of stuff that catered to me as a young child that I still hold very dearly.
And also Groundhog Day.
Mike’s Top Ten of 1993
Dazed and Confused
Searching for Bobby Fischer
11-20: The Age of Innocence, A Bronx Tale, The Firm, Hocus Pocus, In the Name of the Father, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Philadelphia, The Remains of the Day, Tombstone, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
Tier two: Carlito’s Way, Cliffhanger, Coneheads, Dave, Deadfall, Fearless, In the Line of Fire, Last Action Hero, Matinee, Menace II Society, My Life, A Perfect World, The Piano, Red Rock West, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Rookie of the Year, Rudy, Short Cuts, Sleepless in Seattle, Super Mario Bros.
Tier three: Addams Family Values, Airborne, Another Stakeout, The Ballad of Little Jo, Blood In Blood Out, Cool Runnings, Demolition Man, Dennis the Menace, Free Willy, Gettysburg, Grumpy Old Men, Heaven & Earth, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, Hot Shots! Part Deux, The Program, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Six Degrees of Separation, Wayne’s World 2, We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, What’s Love Got to Do With It
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1. Jurassic Park
“All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!”
“Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”
Few movies have had as much of an impact on my life as this one has had. Granted, #2 for this year I could say exactly the same for, but this movie I feel like needs to be #1. The two are both interchangeable, but really, let’s face it… dinosaurs (he said in a Mr. DNA voice).
This is such a groundbreaking movie on so many levels. When you look at what CGI was in 1993 and how realistic everything looks in this movie even today — go back and watch this versus The Phantom Menace, which came out six years after this. It’s a world of difference, and not in a good way.
This movie is…and I do not regret this pun for a second… part of my DNA. This, to me, is everything about what a blockbuster movie should be and is just something that will be with me for the entirety of my life. And I feel like it needs to be #1 for this year for me because of that.
2. The Sandlot
“Remember kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die.”
All things being equal, I’ve watched this movie way more than I’ve watched Jurassic Park. And they’re basically a 1 and a 1a for me. And I’m slightly sad that this isn’t #1 for 1993. But on the other hand, the numbers don’t really matter and just being on the list is the recognition.
Either way, this movie also is a huge part of my DNA and is something I reference or think about on a weekly, if not daily, basis. It’s perfect. This is a movie that feels like it’s getting better with age. Everyone seems to have one “childhood reminiscence” movie that they hold dear. For the people slightly older than me it seems to be Stand By Me. This is mine. But regardless, everyone has one they love. It’s almost a fact of life for anyone who loves movies.
This movie also features the single greatest character epilogue in the history of cinema: “Bertrand got really into the 60s. And no one ever saw him again.”
3. Schindler’s List
“This list… is an absolute good. The list is life.”
It’s Schindler’s List. Does anyone need to be told why this is in a top ten list for this year?
It’s the most important movie of the year and possibly… well, top three most important of the decade. I could think of at least two others that are just as important, if not more so, than this, historically. Still, this is a masterpiece. Steven Spielberg made other masterpieces, but this is one that nobody would argue.
It’s a stunning achievement from a filmmaker who had a few stunning achievements to this point (and several after it). This was the movie that finally got Spielberg fully recognized by the Academy after years of being shunned and dismissed as a sort of “pop” filmmaker and not a true master. It’s so good not even the people who hated him could ignore it.
This is a movie that everyone who loves movies (and even if they don’t) need to see. It’s just incredible on every level. It would have been my automatic #1 if it weren’t for two of the most important movies of my lives being from this year. This is the kind of movie that has to be #1 (or as high as possible) even if it’s not the movie you watch the most just because of what an achievement it is.
4. Mrs. Doubtfire
“Could you make me a woman?”
“Honey, I’m so happy!”
“I knew you’d understand.”
Another movie that is part of the fabric of my being. I’ve seen this movie so much. It’s a perfect movie. It’s also one of those premises that really only works as well as it does because of its star and the exact moment in time in which it was made (like we’ll see next year with Jim Carrey). It’s only because it’s Robin Williams in the early 90s that this premise became such a classic movie.
Williams plays a man whose wife (Sally Field) thinks he’s irresponsible and divorces him, threatening to take sole custody of their three children. He can’t have that, so he devises a plan to see his kids by answering an add submitted by his wife for a housekeeper. So he shows up as an older Scottish woman and becomes his children’s nanny.
It’s so good. A movie like this fits perfectly in 1993 because they play all of it with the right tone. Anything made later than this would have the complete wrong tone and it would be about the actor being in drag and they’d make it stupid. But like Dustin Hoffman did in Tootsie, Williams makes it work by making you understand why this guy is doing this and having it be for all the right reasons. And rather than do hokey stuff while in the character, he plays it pretty straight. Which makes everything so much better.
Also, even if you’re like me and have seen this movie a hundred times — go back and pay attention to the third act of this movie. It is truly a thing of screwball comedy beauty. It’s incredible how well-written and directed that restaurant sequence is.
5. The Fugitive
“I didn’t kill my wife!”
“I don’t care!”
This movie is so good they nominated it for Best Picture. This is an action thriller. But it’s amazing.
Premise is — Harrison Ford is a doctor who comes home to find his wife murdered by the hands of a one-armed man. When police show up and he tells them… they don’t really believe him. And pretty soon he gets convicted of the murder, since all evidence suggests he did it. But, he manages to escape custody and goes on the run in the hopes of clearing his name.
It’s based on a TV show from the 60s, and it’s great. Tommy Lee Jones actually won an Oscar for his performance here as the U.S. Marshal tracking Ford down. It’s impossible not to like this movie. It’s so entertaining. Anyone could watch this, even if movies like this aren’t your cup of tea. It’s so good and became so immediately iconic that they literally made a parody movie of it within five years (Wrongfully Accused with Leslie Nielson, which I am proud to say I saw in theaters).
6. Groundhog Day
“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”
“That about sums it up for me.”
One of the greatest comedy scripts ever written. This is a masterpiece and still holds up and is going to continue to hold up.
Everyone knows this movie, but on the off chance you actually did just emerge from under a rock — Bill Murray is a weatherman covering a Groundhog Day event but somehow ends up in a time loop whereby it is February 2nd every single day, over and over and over.
This concept is so genius they’ve stolen it dozens over times over the years. Netflix has released at minimum three movies that have stolen this concept within the past few years. It is a perfect movie and no matter how you slice it, remains one of Bill Murray’s best movies, if not his best movie.
7. True Romance
So while making Reservoir Dogs (or I guess, in order to make Reservoir Dogs), Quentin Tarantino sold two other scripts he wrote that were turned into features (really good features, at that) by other directors. The first is this, by Tony Scott.
This is one of the Quentin movies where the references feel really on its sleeve, rather than just sort of being embedded within the fabric of the movie. Still, it’s so good. The cast is amazing and it’s just so entertaining.
Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette star as a couple on the run after Slater murders her pimp (played by Gary Oldman in an incredible performance that lasts only like, four minutes and is unrecognizable if you didn’t know it was him). The cast here is nuts — Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Val Kilmer, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Michael Rappaport and Saul Rubinek (who is so good here and steals all his scenes).
This is one of the first movies that people see when they get into movies (because they go from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction to this), so I’m sure most of you know how good this is.
8. Falling Down
“I am not economically viable.”
I don’t know when or how it was that I discovered this movie, but it was like someone slapped me in the face (or, maybe, shot a rocket launcher on a busy LA street). Especially since I discovered it, as I felt, late. I feel like I knew about it before I went into college, but relative to when I got into movies and when I discovered this movie, it felt like I ought to have known about it sooner. And I also feel like this is a movie that all too many people still don’t know about.
The opening of this movie has Michael Douglas sitting in his car in dead-stop LA traffic on an incredibly hot day. And there’s loud noises, children screaming and just all sorts of annoying stuff. If you’ve had a terrible day in bad traffic you know exactly what this is like. And he just snaps. He gets out of his car and walks away. And one thing leads to another, and pretty soon he’s on this crazy rampage all through LA. He starts in East LA and is going to either Santa Monica or Venice… basically east to the beach, and it just gets nuts.
I don’t want to spoil the specifics, because it’s great. Douglas gives a tremendous performance and Joel Schumacher directs the hell out of it. It’s also got a really good Robert Duvall performance, as he segued into his “savvy veteran” years.
I will say one last thing about this — this is, I believe, the first movie that features the “person has a meltdown because McDonalds stopped serving breakfast six minutes ago.” Only here, it’s Michael Douglas, and he has a gun. Which makes it infinitely better.
9. Dazed and Confused
“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”
Alright, alright, alright.
Richard Linklater is one of those filmmakers who just makes eminently watchable movies. A lot of the time, you can’t explain what his movies are about, and if you try, you just sort of stop yourself for fear of making someone not want to see it and go, “Look, just watch it. Trust me that you’re going to love it.” The man has like, one so-so movie on his resume and the rest are either good or great.
This movie is basically just high school in the 70s. And it’s just people hanging out. There are stories that weave in and out, but mostly you’re just hanging out with these people. And it’s great. Kinda the way, in American Graffiti, where you were hanging out with all those characters for a night, this is that. It’s just a joy to watch. One of those movies that you can truly just put on and sit with, which, to me, is one of the highest compliments you can pay something.
10. Searching for Bobby Fischer
“Can we go to the dealerships now?”
“But the game’s not over, yet.”
“Yes, it is.”
For a long time, this wasn’t #10. This was gonna be the one I would say, in the 11-20, “If there were a #11, this is it.” But honestly, I found myself constantly thinking about this movie and certain moments from it and finally admitted to myself, “Yeah, this is just #10. Why am I denying it?”
This movie is lovely. This is a sports movie. It’s really about a kid and his family, but he’s a chess prodigy, and ultimately this is a sports movie in a lot of ways. It’s directed by Steve Zaillian, who is best known as a writer (he actually won for writing Schindler’s List this year. And he’s also written A Civil Action, Gangs of New York, American Gangster, the first draft of Moneyball, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake and The Night Of), and stars Joe Mantegna as the boy’s father (an amazing performance that too often gets overlooked), Jaan Allen as his mother, Ben Kingsley as his chess teacher and Laurence Fishburne as his street hustler mentor. Fishburne in particular is incredible.
It’s just a wonderful movie about a boy who happens to be great at chess and how his parents try to hone his skills while also letting him be who he is. The title refers to how all American chess players looked up to Bobby Fischer after his meteoric rise, while also to the downfalls of doing that, as Fischer ended up having severe emotional problems and retreating from the limelight and living ultimately a very sad and isolated life because of his skills.
I consider this one of the great hidden gems of the 90s, or at the very least, one of the great underappreciated movies of the 90s. Because I can’t imagine someone would see this movie and not love it. It’s just that kind of movie.
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The Age of Innocence — This is Martin Scorsese doing period costume drama. Edith Wharton. People always forget Scorsese directed this movie. It’s a big departure for him in terms of material, and as such it tends to be one of his more overlooked movies. Stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a lawyer who is engaged to Winona Ryder. Only he’s really in love with Michelle Pfeiffer, her cousin. You know what it is — romance in the era of manners, the type reserved for Merchant-Ivory movies. It’s really good. The first of two fantastic Daniel Day-Lewis performances this year and one of those movies that few people would rank among their favorite Scorsese films, but another one of those that’s just great. The man never made anything below a very good movie.
A Bronx Tale — I adore this movie. Robert De Niro directs from Chazz Palminteri’s play about his childhood. It’s about a boy who befriends a local gangster, much to the consternation of his working class father. Palminteri plays the gangster and De Niro plays the father. And it’s wonderful. This is in the vein of the movies like Goodfellas and Carlito’s Way. If you like those movies, you like this one. It’s pretty simple. Honestly the only thing keeping this out of my top ten is a lack of space.
The Firm — This is the first of the John Grisham adaptations, and still the best. They got Sydney Pollack to direct, and the cast includes Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Hal Holbrook, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Holly Hunter, Wilford Brimley, Ed Harris, David Strathairn and Gary Busey. Tom Cruise plays a man just out of law school with the ability to go to just about any firm he wants. He decides to go to this one firm, which doesn’t necessarily have a great track record so much as they have the money. So he takes the money and doesn’t ask questions about how they have so much of it. Only, he starts to uncover some uncomfortable truths about his firm and it gets him into a lot of trouble. It’s… really good. It’s a fun thriller with a great cast that moves and is just a good time at the movies.
Hocus Pocus — One of the most essential movies of my childhood. I’ve seen this movie a bunch. It’s also a huge cult classic for people my age. The cast is crazy good, and it’s just a fun time. It’s about three witches who were hanged in Salem who get resurrected in modern times. So now a kid, his sister and his crush have to evade them and stop them from, you know, murdering children and stuff. But hey, that’s the 90s. There were real stakes in kids movies. But yeah, this movie rules, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.
In the Name of the Father — This is the second Daniel Day-Lewis performance of the year. Which is a lot, considering how few films he’s made. This one’s directed by Jim Sheridan, so it’s the two of them reuniting after My Left Foot. He plays Gerry Conlan, a real guy who was thrown in prison along with his father for being a suspected IRA bomber. So the film is him and his father in prison wrongfully for years. At first they think it’s a mistake, but pretty soon they become accustomed to prison life and it becomes a story about them trying to survive in there. And then eventually after he starts to get used to prison, Emma Thompson shows up as a crusading lawyer determined to get all the wrongfully accused prisoners freed. It’s great. It’s really great. One of those where, if the year weren’t so strong, it would be in the top ten. Love this movie.
The Nightmare Before Christmas — Funny how people always attribute this to Tim Burton. And somewhat with reason. But it’s a Henry Selick movie. Amazing story, too. It’s become totally iconic, and the crazy thing is that it’s only 75 minutes long. That’s what classic Disney used to do. If you can pull off a movie that short, you know you got the goods. Anyway, it’s about Jack Skellington, king of Halloweentown, who decides he’s gonna kidnap Santa Claus so he and his town can enjoy the merriment Christmastown gets to experience all the time. It’s so good. Everyone needs to have seen this movie. But fortunately, pretty much everyone always has, so it’s never a problem. This is just one of the all time great movies. Not even just animated movies. Great movies.
Philadelphia — This is the movie that made everyone realize what a dramatic powerhouse Tom Hanks was as an actor. He’d gotten notice in the years prior to this, but it was always mixed with comedy. A League of Their Own, Big… that stuff. Here, he plays a top flight lawyer who is suddenly diagnosed with AIDS. And then he ends up getting fired from his firm because of it, and he brings suit against them for discrimination. He is defended by Denzel Washington, a staunchly homophobic lawyer, who of course is gonna learn a new way, and yada yada yada… it’s a fantastic movie. Jonathan Demme directs, his first film after Silence of the Lambs. He makes it not feel as hokey as it could have been under another director. Hanks is terrific, as is Denzel. It’s just a really terrific film.
The Remains of the Day — This is my favorite of the Merchant Ivory movies. Most of them I either don’t like or am just okay with. This one I really like. And partly that’s because I love the novel it’s based on (by Ishiguro). Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are perfectly cast here. It’s about a proper butler who was born into a family of butlers. So all he knows is being a proper English butler, dedicating his life to the house and its order. However, times change, and pretty soon what he does is something he no longer really needs to, and enter Emma Thompson, a vivacious maid who at first clashes with Hopkins, but begins to become a friend to him and teaches him to lighten up a bit. It… the novel is so much better, but if you’re just gonna watch the movie, it’ll be well worth it. It’s so good. It’s a really terrific piece of work.
Tombstone — One of the great post-western westerns. That is… the western genre ended with The Outlaw Josey Wales. That was the official end of the western. After that, almost every other western (unless it was directed by Clint Eastwood) is… it’s like neo noirs. It can’t be a “proper” western, but it’s more referencing the genre. It’s like when a modern day cover band covers a classic song. That’s what something like this is. This is a retelling of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral… My Darling Clementine… it’s been remade a bunch, and this is just the fun 90s retelling of it. Kurt Russell stars as Earp, Val Kilmer is Doc Holliday, it’s got Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton as Earp’s brothers. It’s got Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Charlton Heston, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Billy Zane, Michael Rooker and Billy Bob Thornton. It’s awesome. It’s such a great movie. Everyone needs to have seen this.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? — Is also what they said before a dinosaur attack in Jurassic Park. But also it’s a fantastic drama with Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Juliette Lewis. Depp plays a guy who has to become the head of the family after his father dies. His mother is obese and cannot leave the house and his younger brother (played brilliantly by DiCaprio) is mentally-disabled. And the film is about him trying to do right by his family despite all of that keeping him from realizing his full potential. It’s so good. DiCaprio is amazing, and Depp gives a quietly fantastic performance. This is one of the great movies of the 90s.
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- Carlito’s Way
- In the Line of Fire
- Last Action Hero
- Menace II Society
- My Life
- A Perfect World
- The Piano
- Red Rock West
- Robin Hood: Men in Tights
- Rookie of the Year
- Short Cuts
- Sleepless in Seattle
- Super Mario Bros.
Deadfall is the single greatest Nicolas Cage performance that you’ve probably never seen. Maybe you’ve seen clips of this on the internet in montages of him going ape shit. Or maybe you know me, in which case you know all about this, because I am wont to bring this up to absolutely everyone. But chances are, you have no idea what this is. And trust me, this belongs in the pantheon of his greatest performances. Because it’s transcendent. Let me start by saying — the movie doesn’t matter. The plot doesn’t matter, nothing about this movie matters outside of Nicolas Cage. And he probably knew that going in. He shows up about ten minutes in and dies about 60 minutes in. You need to know this, because from the moment he dies, the movie completely loses steam and you completely lose interest in it. And you need to be prepared for that. But as a consolation prize, you get James Coburn, Peter Fonda, Nicolas Cage and Talia Shire. Now — the reason his performance is so insane is because the writer and director of this movie is his brother. Which means he had absolutely no restrictions whatsoever and was left to do whatever he wanted. That said — it’s magical what he does on screen. If you like Nicolas Cage going batshit crazy, this is a movie for you. As a tease, here’s eight seconds from the film:
Red Rock West, while we’re on the subject of Nicolas Cage, is a really solid neo noir that few people know about. Directed by John Dahl, who also made The Last Seduction, Rounders and Joy Ride. Cage is a drifter who comes into town and is mistaken by a guy (J.T. Walsh, who is always great to see) as a hitman who was hired to kill the guy’s wife. And he’s like, “Sure,” and takes the money. Problem is, the real hitman, Dennis Hopper, then shows up, and the shit starts to hit the fan. Lara Flynn Boyle plays the wife. It’s a really solid movie. Almost weird to see it in color and not made back in the 40s. Definitely worth your time. One of the true hidden gems of the 90s.
Aside from Cage, this list is also gonna be littered with movies I watched as a child and loved. Starting with Rookie of the Year. The amount of times I’ve seen this movie… I probably haven’t seen it in a decade, and yet… could probably remember the entire movie start to finish if it was put on. Love it. General premise: boy breaks its arm and it heals so tightly that he can pitch like a major league baseball player. So, he gets signed. That’s all you need. Great movie. Fantastic cast of familiar faces, and just an all around terrific family movie. Next, we have Super Mario Bros. I probably should have led with this, but this movie is so infamous, everyone knows about it. And I’m very open about my love for this movie. Never in claiming that it’s a good movie, but that I love it because it was a staple of my childhood. It’s nuts on every level, but it’s my kinda nuts.
My Life is one of those movies I saw at way too young an age. I watched it a bunch probably when I was like 7 or 8, probably because my parents were watching it, and it stuck in my memory. Then I saw it later when I was old enough to appreciate it, and it just destroyed me. And I’ve kept it in my mind ever since. I love the premise. I’m not sure the movie is perfect, but the premise is fantastic. Michael Keaton is happily married to Nicole Kidman and is about to have his first child… when he’s suddenly diagnosed with a terminal illness and may not even live long enough to see his child be born. So, what he does, is start making videos, designed to show his kid who he is, and imparting all the knowledge a dad is meant to teach their kid. I don’t know, I love this movie. Bruce Joel Rubin directed it, having hit it big writing Ghost. I feel like this is the kind of movie that might have been hindered by a first time director and may have become a classic had it had one of those “name” directors behind it. Still, it’s always been one that I go back to.
Carlito’s Way is Brian De Palma. One of those movies that people, when they start getting into movies, find and love. I didn’t get that far with it, but I like it very, very much. Al Pacino plays an ex con trying to go straight, even though it seems like everyone around him is trying to prevent it. Fantastic film, loaded with great performances. Sean Penn, John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman. One of those movies that everyone getting into film needs to see.
Cliffhanger is just amazing. One of those movies I never saw for years, yet knew by reference because of the opening of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. It’s kind of a throwback movie, yet probably could only exist as-is in the 90s. A bunch of people are all looking to get a bunch of money that crashed in the Rockies. And Sly Stallone is a master climber. Because fuck yeah, he is. Renny Harlin directed (back when he made fun action movies), too. People forget he made some fun shit back in the day.
Coneheads is one of those movies of my childhood. Probably haven’t seen it in 15+ years, but I must have seen it a couple dozen times in my life. Also, in the realm of SNL films… one of the better ones. Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World are still tops. But this has gotta be top five, because what else is there? Night at the Roxbury is a personal favorite. Superstar? MacGruber? It’s a short list of even decent ones. But this one’s always been one I’ve liked. General premise — aliens with conical heads land on earth and decide to stay and try to blend in. That’s really all you need to know. Maybe it’s not something most people can even watch anymore, but it’s essential to my development as a person in some way, so I’m a fan.
Dave is a fantastic movie, written by Gary Ross, who has three perfect “concept” movies in his career (four if you count Mr. Baseball). First is Big, second is this, and then Pleasantville is the third. This one revolves around the president going into a coma while having an affair with a staffer. So they hire a man who looks just like him to double for him while he recovers. Amazing concept. Kevin Kline plays both the president and the lookalike, Sigourney Weaver is the First Lady, and you also have Frank Langella, Ving Rhames, Ben Kingsley, Charles Grodin, Kevin Dunn, Laura Linney and Bonnie Hunt. Also directed by Ivan Reitman, and arguably his last really good movie. It’s one of the best comedies of the 90s.
Fearless is a really solid drama directed by Peter Weir. Jeff Bridges plays a man who survives a plane crash. Only, as the plane was going down, he made peace with death. So after he survives, he becomes transformed. He becomes a completely different person (personality wise), which concerns those around him. It’s a solid movie. Really strong supporting performance by Rosie Perez as one of the other survivors who lost her son.
In the Line of Fire is a great thriller. Wolfgang Petersen directs. Clint Eastwood plays a Secret Service man haunted by his inability to save JFK. So now, when a psycho starts making open threats about the current president, Eastwood has to overcome his demons in order to stop him. Great, Oscar-nominated performance by John Malkovich as the assassin. You don’t even see him on screen for the first half of the movie. You just hear his voice, as he talks to Eastwood. This is one of the great thrillers out there. Don’t sleep on this one.
Last Action Hero is a Shane Black script, and one of the most batshit premises out there. Yet, amazing movie. Shane Black movies, I feel, age very well. Because he writes them in such an entertaining way, even if people savaged them when they came out, they always end up more entertaining than other movies. Basic premise — young boy gets a magical movie ticket that puts him in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. And the boy helps Schwarzenegger through the movie by understanding movie tropes, while Schwarzenegger takes care of all the action stuff. It’s pretty awesome.
Matinee is one of those movies that I somehow missed growing up, yet had I seen it, I probably would have had an affinity toward it the way I love stuff like The Sandlot. Because it’s just of that ilk. It takes place in the early 60s, as all these early 90s “reminiscence of youth” films do, and is about a movie screening in a small town. John Goodman plays essentially William Castle, and he’s about to release his newest schlocky horror movie, complete with theater gimmick, and it’s about both him setting up this show as well as all the little sub stories of the small town. It’s one of the real hidden gems of the 90s. If I made up a list (and I probably will one day) of the greatest, most unknown, underrated movies of each year, this would be on that list.
Menace II Society is the other seminal “growing up in the hood” movie, with Boyz N the Hood. Oft copied and referenced (and the main point of parody for Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood), it’s the simplest story in the world: guy tries to overcome his surroundings and not get tempted into a life of crime. It’s terrific. It’ll feel like it’s been done to people seeing it for the first time now, but you have to realize… this helped start all these tropes. (Well, the gangster movies of the 40s started the tropes, but you know what I mean.)
A Perfect World is a Clint Eastwood movie that feels like it’s unfairly under the radar. Eastwood was the king of really solid movies before he became a critical darling after Mystic River. Kevin Costner is an escaped convict who kidnaps a boy. So he travels with the boy while being chased by Eastwood, a veteran Texas Ranger. But the thing is… Costner’s a decent guy, he’s good toward the boy, and he and the boy bond. It’s one of those movies, kinda like Lonely Are the Brave… where the guy on the run from the law is a good guy, and you just know things won’t end well even though he should get a break. I really like this one. Definitely a top ten Eastwood film. And that’s high praise, when you look at the man’s filmography.
The Piano. Pure 90s Miramax Oscar movie. The kind of movie that just should not work, should not be interesting, yet… really solid and a shit ton of Oscar nominations. Here’s the premise: Holly Hunter is a mute woman who travels to New Zealand with her young daughter (Anna Paquin) to live with her new husband, Sam Neill. Her daughter is the only one who understands her and can communicate with her, meanwhile she communicates through her piano. At one point, she meets Harvey Keitel, a white man living as a Maori. And of course, they have an affair, and Sam Neill finds out… it’s a drama. Straight drama. Hunter and Paquin both won Oscars, Jane Campion directs the hell out of it. It’s a movie that, if it came out any other decade wouldn’t be good. But it came out here, and it’s really solid.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights is Mel Brooks. You pretty much get the deal by this point. Straight style parody of Robin Hood, and absolutely hilarious. It pokes fun at Errol Flynn as much as it does the Costner version. This was just before my time. I feel like most people gravitate to the Mel Brooks movie they grew up with before getting into Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein and The Producers. For me, that was Dracula: Dead and Loving It. For most people, it’s Spaceballs. For a lot of people, it’s this movie. It’s hilarious. Mel Brooks is a comedic genius. Sure, those other three I mentioned are the best and biggest three, but he consistently made funny movies throughout his career and this is no different. This one also contains one of the funniest lines I’d ever heard when I was a kid. Dom DeLuise plays basically Marlon Brando in The Godfather, and I forget what he’s saying, but he’s basically saying he wants Robin Hood dead. And the other person goes, “You put it so succinctly.” And he just goes, “Suck what?” I almost peed my pants when I was 10 and saw that for the first time. Dumbest joke in the world… hilarious to this day.
Rudy is the iconic sports movie. Guy really wants to go to Notre Dame and plays football. Only he’s told he’s too small for football. But his determination wins out and he goes from basically being the janitor to suiting up and getting his one magical moment on the field. It’s the kind of movie where the real story is not that interesting, but the movie is incredible. It’s so uplifting and it’s one of those sports movies that can’t help but make you cheer. Also early supporting performances by both Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn.
Short Cuts is a Robert Altman ensemble movie. People love this movie. It’s one of those pure ensemble movies, where all the stories end up related in some way. Crash, Magnolia, that sort of thing. It’s Altman, too, so there’s no big theme here. It’s just people living their lives in LA. And it’s really fascinating. The cast is also incredible Includes: Andie MacDowall, Jack Lemmon, Bruce Davison, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Lili Taylor, Robert Downey Jr., Madeline Stowe, Chris Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Frances McDormand, Peter Gallagher, Lyle Lovett, Buck Henry… and Huey Lewis. That’s right. It’s an essential film for Altman lovers and probably an essential film for film buffs too.
Sleepless in Seattle is the classic romantic comedy. One of the essential films of the genre and one of those movies that most people just need to see because it’s such a known movie. Tom Hanks is a widower whose son calls in to a radio talk show in order to find him a new wife. Meg Ryan ends up writing to him, and through the contrivances of the genre, the boy ends up playing matchmaker for the two of them. It’s a sweet movie. Really terrific. Written and directed by Nora Ephron, and really her finest hour as a director. Plus it gave her both this and When Harry Met Sally on her resume, which basically puts her on the Mount Rushmore of the rom com genre.
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- Addams Family Values
- Another Stakeout
- The Ballad of Little Jo
- Blood In, Blood Out
- Cool Runnings
- Demolition Man
- Dennis the Menace
- Free Willy
- Grumpy Old Men
- Heaven & Earth
- Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
- Hot Shots! Part Deux
- The Program
- Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit
- Six Degrees of Separation
- Wayne’s World 2
- We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story
- What’s Love Got to Do With It
Let’s get all the sequels out of the way. Addams Family Values is just as fun as the first one, if not as good a film overall. But it’s a sequel, so you knew that going in. This one’s mostly about Uncle Fester and his gold digging new wife. It’s fun. I wish they had made more of these, though I guess I also get why they didn’t. (Though, now…) Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit contains what might be the single greatest pun subtitle of all time, and no matter what you say, this movie is amazing simply because of it. This sequel is exactly how a sequel to a movie like this would have went down in the 40s. Think The Bells of St. Mary’s to Going My Way… what was the plot? School is gonna be shut down, and we need to sing and have faith in order to save it. It’s great. Both Sister Act movies are great. And this one has Lauryn Hill. Wayne’s World 2 is nowhere near as good as the first one, but still great if you need more Wayne and Garth in your life (and who doesn’t?). This one’s about them making a concert called Waynestock, all while Christopher Walken is trying to fuck Wayne’s girlfriend. What more do you need? Another Stakeout is more Richard Dreyfuss/Emilio Estevez. Though this time, Rosie O’Donnell is involved! More comedy, guys! And then Hot Shots! Part Deux is more of the same. This one’s mostly a Rambo parody. It’s dumb fun.
Airborne is a teen rollerblading movie that I watched a fuck ton of in the 90s. I had literally no interest in the plot of this movie and still couldn’t tell you what it was (though if I had to guess I’d assume it’s basically Breaking Away with rollerblades), but the rollerblading sequence at the end is dope. I must have watched that sequence like thirty times growing up.
The Ballad of Little Jo is a western about a female cowboy. Well… kinda. She’s pretending to be a man just so she can live with the freedom of being a man. It’s a very interesting movie. It’s more intellectually interesting to me than it is a good movie, but I do like it as a nice piece of a genre that largely ignored women’s stories.
Blood In, Blood Out is a pretty awesome movie. It’s three-hours long, but totally worth it. Taylor Hackford directed, and it’s about Mexican brothers growing up in East L.A. So it’s all about gangs, and there’s extended prison sequences. One of the brothers becomes a cop. I really like this one. Definitely one of the gems of the 90s that no one really remembers anymore.
Cool Runnings is the iconic film about the Jamaican bobsledding team. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what this is. And don’t be the person who hasn’t seen it. It’s utterly joyous, and you’re gonna get sideways looks if you’re the person who hasn’t seen it at the party.
Demolition Man is a perfect 90s action movie. The kind of movie that could only exist in this decade. The plot is so insane, and yet it completely somehow works because of its era. Sylvester Stallone is a cop and Wesley Snipes is his terrorist nemesis. Both are put in suspended animation after one of their run-ins, and wake up in a futuristic society where there is no violence. So pretty much Snipes gets to run wild and Stallone is the only one who can properly capture him, despite neither knowing anything about modern day society. It’s so much fun. Like a video game version of Time After Time. And the people in it — Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Nigel Hawthorne, Bob Gunton, Denis Leary, Bill Cobbs.
Dennis the Menace is one of those movies I remember so well from my childhood. Annoying little kid pesters his next-door neighbor. Pure comic strip mentality and humor. Walter Matthau plays Mr. Wilson and Joan Plowright plays Mrs. Wilson. I, for some reason, always remembered the sequence where Christopher Lloyd, a bandit, kidnaps Dennis, only for it to basically turn into the Ransom of Red Chief. I feel like that sequence was always on whenever I turned on the channel to that movie.
Free Willy is one of those movies that’s self-explanatory, right? Or maybe just to a certain generation of people? It’s entirely possible that this is something that people under the age of 20 haven’t even heard of. In my day, we had this. Now, Blackfish exists. But it’s about a boy who befriends a captive orca and works to try to get it free. Huge piece of my childhood, especially the theme song Michael Jackson made for it.
Gettysburg — if you like four-and-a-half hour Civil War epics, this one’s for you. I love this movie. I love movies that go deep into specific battles. Great cast, too — Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, Martin Sheen, Sam Elliott, Stephen Lang, and a lot of other familiar faces. It’s long, but worth it.
Grumpy Old Men. I only need four words to explain why this needs to be seen: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau. It’s The Odd Couple if they hated each other. They play neighbors who are constantly at war with one another. And things get complicated when Ann-Margret shows up on the block and they both wanna fuck her. Comedy ensues. But you should have been sold at Lemmon and Matthau.
Heaven & Earth is Oliver Stone. Part of his Vietnam, though not as well known as Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. This one’s about a Vietnamese woman and her struggle to survive during the war. It’s a really solid movie. Clearly not as great as the other two in the trilogy, but it’s kinda like Godfather III… if you take it on its own terms and don’t compare it to the other two, it’s a perfectly good movie.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is perhaps the greatest of the “lost animals have to find their way home” genre. Another huge piece of my childhood. This is like the Adventures of Milo and Otis without the animal cruelty. Plus you have Michael J. Fox, Sally Field and Don Ameche voicing the dogs, which is pretty cool.
The Program is one of those really good football movies. This is the one everyone liked until Remember the Titans came out. It’s like Blue Chips in that it’s about the dark underside of college football (steroids, paying players, etc). Stars James Caan as the coach, Omar Epps, Halle Berry. David S. Ward (of The Sting and Major League fame) wrote and directed it. It’s really solid. (Though I will also use this as a plug for Necessary Roughness, the great underrated sports comedy o the 90s. Since there’s a decent chance you might know this movie. There’s almost no chance you know that one.)
Six Degrees of Separation is an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play and the first major film role of Will Smith. Stars Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland as upper class New Yorkers who get taken in by Smith, a con artist who pretends to be a classmate of their son and also the son of Sidney Poitier. Pretty soon they’ve got him living with them and are giving him money, the whole thing. It’s solid. Great cast. Ian McKellen, Mary Beth Hurt, Heather Graham, Bruce Davison and Anthony Michael Hall are all in it. And the title is what made popular the famous notion that is now basically a parlor game about Kevin Bacon.
We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story is one of those crazy animated movies that could only have come out when I was 5. A few dinosaurs survived because they were on an alien spaceship and then show in the present, where they’re given cereal that makes them smart and non-lethal. Because of course. So they run around New York, enjoying the city, meanwhile an evil carnival barker wants to make them part of the act. The plot is absolutely insane, but this was a big part of my childhood, and I love it.
What’s Love Got to Do With It is a Tina Turner biopic. Angela Bassett plays Tina and Laurence Fishburne plays Ike. Both are fantastic here and it’s one of the better musical biopics out there.
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