Mike’s Top Ten of 1995

1995 feels like the year where the decade in film starts to shift gears and become something else. There’s a weird sort of half-decade thing going on with the 90s. The early 90s feels like it’s half-getting over the 80s and half-burgeoning independent cinema. Then the last half feels sort of like they took independent cinema and made it part of the mainstream so it sort of… it’s like how the 70s was a whole decade of auteur directors making all these great movies. And then Hollywood took them in and the 80s happened. (The 80s is much more than that, but you know what I mean.) It feels like that happened mid-decade and then the late 90s is just all just kind of a big mess of whatever the byproduct of that is.

But in terms of this particular year… it feels like one of the weaker ones of the decade. There’s stuff I really like here, but not a whole lot I love. Aside from the first handful of movies, everything else would be #8 or lower most other years this decade. Which happens. Not every year can have your favorite movies of all time. Even the lower tiers feel kind of ho hum as compared to what some of the other years have.

Though, just glancing at what’s to come, this year is responsible for a few of cinema’s most iconic and recognizable moments. So there’s that.

Mike’s Top Ten of 1995

Apollo 13



Die Hard with a Vengeance





Toy Story

The Usual Suspects

11-20: 12 Monkeys, The American President, Desperado, Get Shorty, Leaving Las Vegas, Mallrats, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Murder in the First, Nick of Time, Nixon

Tier two: Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Babe, Bad Boys, Balto, Batman Forever, Before Sunrise, Clueless, Crimson Tide, Dead Man Walking, Friday, A Goofy Movie, Jumanji, A Little Princess, Mighty Aphrodite, Outbreak, The Quick and the Dead, Sabrina, To Die For, Tommy Boy, Waterworld

Tier three: Billy Madison, The Bridges of Madison County, Casper, Cutthroat Island, Dangerous Minds, Don Juan DeMarco, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Empire Records, Forget Paris, Four Rooms, Home for the Holidays, The Indian in the Cupboard, It Takes Two, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie, A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, Roommates, Sense and Sensibility, Showgirls, Smoke, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead

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1. The Usual Suspects

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

I always wonder what this movie is like for people growing up now. Does it have the same impact? Is it possible to see this without having it ruined for you by someone else who’s seen it or by just seeing all the stuff that’s been influenced by it? I hope people getting into movies now can see this fresh, because the first watch of this movie is something special.

This truly is also one of the greatest scripts ever written. It’s a perfect movie. And it all started with the idea of that shot right up there. A bunch of random criminals in a lineup. And it all spiraled out from there and turned into this movie. Which is just so fucking good. Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for this movie. As did Chris McQuarrie for writing it. And how good is Benicio in this movie? My god.

You can tell when a movie is great because stuff happens when they make it that was no intended when it was written or planned and it just makes it better. That lineup scene was written very straightforward and very serious, but in the final film, they’re all laughing. And they’re not taking it seriously. Which makes it so much better. Because now they’re finding a camaraderie that will help them bond in the next scene when they’re all in lockup and it shows how often it happens for these guys, that they wind up in this situation, and how absurd the whole thing is. But also — why are they not taking it seriously? Because on set, as they’re filming it, Benicio couldn’t stop farting. And everyone kept losing their shit. That’s how you end up with a great movie.

2. Toy Story

“To infinity and beyond!”

It’s Toy Story. This movie changed cinema. It’s subtler than others, but it’s there. This ushered in a whole era of CG animation and created Pixar.

The beauty of this movie is that they’ve gone a million times past the animation in this movie, to the point where this almost feels quaint. And yet, the story is so pure, and so perfect, that it still holds up. Even now, if anyone thinks to rank the best Pixar movies… it’s almost like you can’t rank this one. It almost sort of becomes a de facto #1 because it’s the one that started it all, and everything else begins below it. This started everything. And it’s still a movie that holds up. And you know how you know that? Go try to watch A Bug’s Life again. That one doesn’t hold up. Not because it’s not a good movie. But because the lack of animation and the lack of perfection in the story shows. This movie — you don’t even notice that it doesn’t look nearly as technologically advanced as the other Toy Story movies. It just works on its own.

It’s also the perfect movie for someone under 5 to start watching. Because the animation feels perfect for that age. And then you can grow with the movies and see them get better as you go along. I mean, I was going on 7 when this came out, so I was almost there. But you still feel it. There’s something still very magical about this movie.

3. Se7en

“This isn’t going to have a happy ending.”

This feels like one of those movies that, when it came out, people went, “Where did this come from?” And, like all good movies, had a lot of luck and good fortune along the way to make it what it is.

Andrew Kevin Walker writes the script, and he’s a complete unknown at the time. And the studio says it’s too dark and wants to change the ending. But David Fincher, a man who’s made a career out of doing whatever the fuck he wants, gets a hold of the script without the changed ending, and says he wants to make it. So they end up making it as-is. And it’s perfect. How many movies as dark as this are as consistently good as this and hold up as well as this?

This is a movie that is true to what the story is, and even though it goes against all instincts for what studios think audiences want, audiences went. It made a bunch of money and still is one of those movies everyone can’t wait to show their friends once they discover it. It’s still one of the more influential movies of all time, whether people realize it or not. There are things in this movie that stay with you forever. Not just the ending. Little things. This movie seeps into your brain and stays there. Which is what makes it so amazing.

4. Casino

“In Vegas, everybody’s gotta watch everybody else. Since the players are looking to beat the casino, the dealers are watching the players. The box men are watching the dealers. The floor men are watching the box men. The pit bosses are watching the floor men. The shift bosses are watching the pit bosses. The casino manager is watching the shift bosses. I’m watching the casino manager. And the eye-in-the-sky is watching us all.”

Okay, so admittedly, this is Martin Scorsese doing Goodfellas again. Nicholas Pileggi wrote the book and script and Scorsese put De Niro and Pesci back in it, and he’s basically doing all the Goodfellas stylistic tricks again, only this time tacking on an extra half hour for good measure. It’s almost like remade Goodfellas and just put more. It feels so indulgent. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. It just feels… actually, you know what the comparison is? I’ve made this one a lot on this site… David Lean.

For David Lean, I’ve always said that Bridge on the River Kwai is a film that approaches perfection and gets really close but doesn’t fully get there. Then he followed it up with Lawrence of Arabia, which is a perfect movie. Then he made Doctor Zhivago, which I always say his perfection and then goes too far over the other side to just feeling like too much. It feels a bit too long, a bit too indulgent. But it’s still close to perfection, it just kind of tips the scales into too heavy instead of not quite. That’s how I feel about this movie. Goodfellas is perfect, and this is just a bit too heavy, while also being really good.

And we should focus on how good it is. Because it’s really good. Some people don’t like it very much, but to me, I can watch this all the way through and love it. I don’t see an issue. Sure, I’d prefer Goodfellas, but it’s not like if I have to watch this I’m gonna hate it. It’s… it’s Doctor Zhivago to Lawrence of Arabia.

And it has Don Rickles in it, which is pretty awesome.

5. Die Hard with a Vengeance

“I can appreciate your feelings for McClane. But believe me, the jerk isn’t worth it. He’s stepped on so many toes in this department, by this time next month he’s gonna be a security guard. His own wife wants nothing to do with him, and he’s about two steps shy of becoming a full-blown alcoholic.”
“One step, ONE step.”

The first Die Hard is a perfect movie. It’s not even part of the franchise. It’s just its own thing. And then all these other sequels are the franchise. I don’t know if that makes total sense, but it does to me. Anyway, of the Die Hard sequels, this is the best. Die Hard II is underrated and a pretty awesome movie on its own, but this is the best of them. (Live Free or Die Hard is whatever, and we just pretend A Good Day to Die Hard never happened, kind of like how we pretend Rocky V never happened until we have to acknowledge it.)

This has McClane in New York, for the first time in the franchise. And he’s picked up “from a perfectly good hangover,” as he says, because a man has been setting off bombs and demanding that McClane be put on the case. So it’s McClane running around New York on a goose chase by this mysterious “Simon,” picking up Samuel L. Jackson along the way (making it a fantastic buddy movie) and trying not to get people killed while also figuring out who this dude is and what his plan is.

It’s awesome. If there’s one minor gripe I have about this movie, it’s that the ending feels tacked on and anticlimactic, but everything up to that is so good. It’s nearly a perfect movie. It’s not the first Die Hard, but as far as a sequel to a beloved action movie goes, this is one of the best there is out there. And it’s the third one!

6. GoldenEye

“For England, James.”

That video game, though.

I figured I’d get that out of the way early so I could focus solely on the movie without thinking about how much I wanted to talk about how perfect that video game is.

So the Bond franchise was amazing with Connery, they had that Lazenby detour (which is quietly one of the best movies of the entire franchise), they brought Connery back for one more, and then they went to Roger Moore. And Moore… while his movies aren’t the same as Connery’s, he was James Bond for a good 15 years. Then Timothy Dalton had it for two, and those were fine. And then, I forget the specifics, but I think there were legal issues that delayed them for a few years, and by that time, Dalton had moved on and they just kind of soft-rebooted it. And by then, their original choice to take over for Moore, Pierce Brosnan, became available (at the time he was Remington Steele and couldn’t do it), and they went with him. And in a lot of ways, he’s a perfect example of James Bond. He really fit the role. Too bad his tenure ended after the single worst Bond movie, but he had a solid run.

This is the best of his movies. He started off with a bang, and this remains one of the best all-time Bond movies. I feel like, for most Bond purists, the list of the best movies in the franchise are largely Connery or Craig efforts, with three others interspersed in there: The Spy Who Loved Me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and this. It just feels like one of the perfect articles when it comes to James Bond. It also introduced us to Judi Dench as M. And she was a relative unknown at the time. She didn’t become “Judi Dench” until after she had this part. And it’s a really good pull by them. She had an amazing 17 year run as M.

But yeah, this movie is so good. It’s one of the top ten Bond movies of all time. I’m not gonna get into ranking all those here, but it’s everything you want a Bond movie to be and it’s one of the best examples you could give someone if you wanted to show them what the franchise is all about.

7. Heat

“Why’d I get mixed up with that bitch?”
“Cause she’s got a GREAT ASS… and you got your head all the way up it!”

I spent like ten minutes trying to figure out what the perfect shot for this movie was. Slowly looking through the entire bank robbery/shootout sequence and searching for that one perfect shot I could use to encapsulate this movie. And then, I said to myself, “Deep down, you really know what it should be, don’t you?” And here we are.

There’s a lot you could say about this movie. Because, it is, in its way, a pretty perfect movie. Michael Mann’s action sequences are stunning, and it features the first cinematic sharing of the screen of Pacino and De Niro. Which — before you say anything, I looked at pulling a shot from that scene (which was apparently added late because they realized the two never actually shared a scene until the very end), but the whole thing is done in singles and there’s not a single two shot with both of them in it. Go figure.

But yeah, this movie is amazing. And while we all know how great it is as an action movie and a thriller, it’s underrated for how insane Pacino’s performance is in this. He’s at an 11 and no one else gets above like, 6. It’s almost like that post, “I got my Oscar and now I’m just gonna enjoy being me,” going overboard in big movies phase. Which is totally fine. I think it works. I also like going back and recognizing, “Holy fuck, this dude is insane in this movie.” And I think that’s one of the more underrated aspects of this movie.

8. Pocahontas

“Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned? 
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain? 
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind? 
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?”

This, to me, marks the end of the Disney Renaissance. I think, technically it does count as the end as well, because there were some company/corporate restructures that made it not the same team that worked on all the others that also mark it as the end. But also it feels like the end. Everything after this (save a bit of Hunchback… that also feels a bit like it may count, but more like in the way that Let It Be came out after the Beatles broke up) is sort of post-Renaissance. Which, I mean, a lot of that is good too. Hecules, Mulan, Tarzan… all that’s really good as well. They don’t really bottom out until they get to Chicken Little in 2005.

But yeah, Pocahontas. This movie is dope. It features one of the greatest Disney songs of all time in “Colors of the Wind,” and it’s one of their most gorgeous looking movies. Sadly, this also feels like one of their movies that gets overlooked in favor of all the other ones. Granted, the others are Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Lion King, but still… feels like people sleep on this one as another one of their masterpieces.

9. Apollo 13

“Houston, we have a problem.”

This movie is so great. Ron Howard made a thriller about the Apollo 13 mission, and I feel like they made it as this big summer movie and yet it came within an inch of winning a bunch of Oscars including Best Picture. (It did win 2, so there’s that.) And it’s weird, because when you watch it, you can tell it wasn’t made for that purpose. Some movies you see and you go, “Of course this is gonna be all over the Oscars.” This one doesn’t seem like it was. And yet it was. Because it’s that good.

Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon and Ed Harris star, and it’s just one of those eminently rewatchable movies. These space movies typically are, but this is the one that really sort of made it a “genre.” Most of these movies now, when you see them, you can feel the Apollo 13 influence in them. Which speaks to both the writing and Ron Howard’s direction.

This is one of those movies where, whenever the title comes up in conversation, I will automatically go, “I love that movie.” There’s always a reaction to most movies. “Oh, that movie’s awesome,” or, “It’s really great.” This is an “I love that movie.” And that’s not something I say all that often.

10. Braveheart

Every man dies, not every man really lives.”

So misconception — that famous moment of him with the face paint and giving the “Freedom” speech… actually happens like midway through the movie and not at the climactic battle or remotely near the end. Just one of those things I feel like people forget about because it’s emerged as one of those iconic movie moments.

Anyway, this is Mel Gibson’s biopic of William Wallace and Scottish Independence. And I feel like it took most people by surprise. Where they went, “Holy shit, he’s this good a director?” Kind of how Dances with Wolves was for Costner.

It’s a really dope movie. Over the years I sort of forget how good it is and then go back and watch it and fall in love with it all over again.

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12 Monkeys — Terry Gilliam. Bruce Willis. Brad Pitt. Remake of La Jetée. Bruce Willis plays a convict in a dystopian future who is sent back in time to find the cure of the virus that wiped out most of humanity. It’s great. Pitt got nominated for an Oscar for this, and it’s one of Gilliam’s best movies. Just a fantastic time travel movie that really sticks the landing.

The American President — Aaron Sorkin wrote this movie, and that’s why this still holds up and is still great. Also Rob Reiner directed this. Which was him getting his footing after the colossal failure of North. But he never really got it again after this. Premise is — Michael Douglas is the president whose wife recently passed away. And suddenly, he finds himself falling in love with Annette Bening, a lobbyist. Which of course makes it open season for all of his political rivals, who try to take him down in the tabloids. Think of this as a forbearer to The West Wing. It feels like something Sorkin would have dealt with on that show. It’s really good, though. Amazing cast, just one of those movies that I think everyone would enjoy.

Desperado — Robert Rodriguez made El Mariachi for $7,000. Here, he basically remakes it for $7 million. It’s not a remake so much as it’s a sequel, but it feels kind like something in the Man with No Name trilogy. More of a cousin… though here it’s Antonio Banderas as the mariachi instead of Carlos Gallardo. It’s so much fun. Everyone who gets into the Pulp Fictions and From Dusk Till Dawns will very quickly get to this. So I don’t need to sell it that hard. But it is great.

Get Shorty — One of the best of the Elmore Leonard adaptations (all came within a three-year span… this, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight). This also helped cement John Travolta’s comeback in the 90s. He plays a Miami loan shark who comes out to Hollywood and realizes… “Hey, the movies are just like what I do.” So he gets involved in the movies. It’s so good. Gene Hackman plays a sleazy producer, Rene Russo is his wife, Danny DeVito is a movie star. It’s fantastic.

Leaving Las Vegas — The movie Nicolas Cage won an Oscar for. It’s still one of, if not his best performance. He plays a guy who goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. That’s it. That’s all he’s gonna do. Elisabeth Shue plays a prostitute who forms a connection with him. The agreement being, “Don’t ask me to stop being a prostitute / don’t ask me to stop drinking.” It’s a beautiful film. I almost wish (and maybe it’s because of the version I always saw, or maybe it’s just because it’s an indie movie) the production value were slightly better, because I feel like this would be properly regarded as much more of a classic if it were.

Mallrats — Kevin Smith’s ode to hanging out at the mall. It’s not as overall good as, say, Clerks or Chasing Amy or Dogma, but it’s fun as hell. I guess all these movies are the kind of thing where if you saw them at a certain age at a certain time, they become staples of your film life. That’s what they are for me. I must have seen this movie a couple dozen times. It’s just one of those movies of my youth. And hey, Marvel referenced it, so it can’t be all bad.

Mr. Holland’s Opus — I adored this movie as a child. I still adore it. Richard Dreyfuss plays a composer who is starting to get somewhere. Only, in order to have the stability to compose and spend time with his wife, he takes what he thinks is a side job of teaching high school. Of course, one thing leads to another, and before he knows it, teaching becomes his life’s work. And we follow him over the years, through the ups and downs. It’s a beautiful film. Might be seen as too sentimental by some, but I don’t care. I love this. Between all the rainy days and assemblies where they just put this movie on in elementary school and middle school, this is a comfort movie for me and I love it.

Murder in the First — Amazing trial movie that’s been forgotten over the years. Kevin Bacon plays basically a Jean Valjean… a guy thrown in prison for a minor offense and given a crazy sentence. While in prison (at Alcatraz), he tries to escape. But his cellmate gives him up and he is thrown in solitary for three years. Once he gets out, he snaps and kills the cellmate in front of everyone. Now, he’s on trial. And Christian Slater is the young lawyer given the case. He’s going to prove inhumane conditions, and naturally, the prison doesn’t want him to do that. It’s a great movie. Gary Oldman plays the sadistic warden and both he and Bacon give tremendous performances. This is one of the great hidden gems of the 90s that everyone needs to see.

Nick of Time — Another amazing hidden gem of the 90s. This is a movie I grew up watching on cable all the time (I feel like USA always had it on too), so I’m fortunate to have had time to appreciate this one. Johnny Depp plays a widower traveling with his daughter. At the train station, two mysterious people (one of whom is Christopher Walken) kidnap his daughter and tell him if he wants to get his daughter back, he’s got to kill this woman… who happens to be a U.S. Senator. The movie takes place almost in real time as Depp has to (while being watched) do what the kidnappers say while also figuring out how to not do it and get his daughter back. It’s awesome. Highly recommend this one.

Nixon — Oliver Stone’s biopic of Nixon. Starring Anthony Hopkins. Who isn’t exactly the best choice to play Nixon in the looks department. But in terms of acting ability… you forget pretty quickly. The movie’s also three hours long, so you have time to settle in. It’s really good though. A bit indulgent, but it covers a lot of ground and, while not JFK, it’s a really solid movie with great performances across the board.

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Tier two:

  • Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls
  • Babe
  • Bad Boys
  • Balto
  • Batman Forever
  • Before Sunrise
  • Clueless
  • Crimson Tide
  • Dead Man Walking
  • Friday
  • A Goofy Movie
  • Jumanji
  • A Little Princess
  • Mighty Aphrodite
  • Outbreak
  • The Quick and the Dead
  • Sabrina
  • To Die For
  • Tommy Boy
  • Waterworld

We’ll start with the greatest movie of all time, A Goofy Movie. I’m pretty sure I saw this movie in theaters. And I’ve loved this movie since I saw it. It’s not a masterpiece (but it also is). It’s about Goofy trying to relate to his son Max by taking him on a fishing trip. Only all Max wants to do is go to a concert and see the biggest pop star on the planet, Powerline. Really what holds up from this movie over time are the amazing musical numbers. These are on constant rotation for me:

These songs are bangers, and it’s the kind of thing where, if you don’t respect them, we cannot be friends.

Next, Balto. Which is just an amazing movie. Animated feature about the actual sled dog who helped carry a sled full of diphtheria medication to save sick children. Oh, and the dog is voiced by Kevin Bacon. And Bob Hoskins voices a Russian snow goose. There’s literally nothing to not like about this movie. Jumanji is one of those movies everyone my age loves because we grew up with it and because it’s just fun as hell. Fortunately when they remade it/rebooted it/made a sequel to it, that was also very good, which I like. Both of them totally work and stand on their own and reflect the times in which they were made. But yeah, Jumanji is awesome. Everyone needs to have seen that. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, is something I vividly remember seeing in theaters. And I also remember not at all knowing that the opening scene was based on Cliffhanger at the time. But man, do I remember so much about that movie. Ace Ventura in Africa looking for a sacred bat. Still, I can remember so much of this movie. “Shikaka,” “White Devil,” the rhino birthing scene? This movie is a classic, in its own way. Also, what’s most nuts about it — Jim Carrey made Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Batman Forever and this in the span of two years. 1994 and 1995. How insane is that? Also worth noting that the rest of his 90s output was (without omission): The Cable Guy, Liar Liar, The Truman Show, Simon Birch (which is more a cameo than anything. He narrates and shows up at the end) and Man on the Moon. Fucking crazy run.

And while we’re here — Batman Forever. The first of the Joel Schumacher films. It’s colorful. It’s like if you took the Tim Burton movies and made them Pop Art. It’s very comic book-y. But it worked for me as a kid. Clearly not as dark as the Burton ones, and meant to be more fun. They’re slighter than the Burton and Nolan films, but that doesn’t make them any worse. For me, growing up, I enjoyed them just fine. And you have Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey as Two-Face and The Riddler. And knowing that Tommy Lee Jones hated Jim Carrey makes watching it even more amusing after the fact. Then there’s Friday. And while I grew up more with Next Friday, the original is also a pretty great film I remember from growing up. Ice Cube and Chris Tucker. What a great comedy. Outbreak also is another one of those movies I watched a bunch of while growing up. One of those big Hollywood 90s action movies that is just completely — I’m gonna paraphrase what one of my professors once said about a different movie, but it applies — watching Outbreak for immunology accuracy is kinda like watching Godzilla for the biology. It’s ridiculous. It’s a disaster movie about Ebola. But the cast is amazing and it’s fun as shit. I’ve always had a soft spot for that movie. It’s so good.

Babe is such a lovely movie. A pig who decides he wants to be a sheepdog. Revolutionary special effects using animatronic animals and just a lovely, lovely movie. Even without seeing the movie everyone remembers the famous line “That’ll do, Pig.” Clueless is a movie that I did not see until very recently. If there was one major blindspot I had, it was 90s/early 2000s romantic comedies. Something I made sure to fill in when I could. But this is the kind of movie that I just never got exposed to, probably because I was a 7 year old boy when it came out. And when I got into movies, it’s not like I would have went back to this. So I saw it as an adult. And it’s really good. I get why people love this movie. I don’t have the soft spot for it that others do because I didn’t have 20 years to live with it before writing this article. But it definitely works and it’s a very good movie. Sabrina is a remake of the 1954 movie. Harrison Ford instead of Bogart, Julia Ormond instead of Audrey Hepburn and Greg Kinnear instead of William Holden. Now, downgrade on those levels, but also a totally worthy remake. It was 40 years after the fact, and the movie works. Sydney Pollack directs, and it’s a totally worthy alternative and updated version. Some movies are fine to be remade, and this was one of them.

Waterworld is one of those movies — I always knew it as a a disaster. But it did make money. I think it’s just this hugely expensive movie that ran wildly over budget and was just so unique it was an oddity. I think that’s more what it is. It starts in a post-apocalyptic world… I mean, it’s Mad Max on the water. That’s what it is. And it opens with Kevin Costner sterilizing his urine so he can drink it. Which is probably not how you want your blockbuster to start. But it’s fun. It’s still a weird movie, but I enjoy it. Bad Boys is Michael Bay’s first movie, and the movie that made Will Smith a mega star. Hell, they’re making a third one now, this franchise is still so fondly remembered. It’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as Miami cops. And it’s fun as hell. Pure 90s Bruckheimer fun. Crimson Tide is also pure 90s Bruckheimer fun, though with Tony Scott directing instead of Bay. Great submarine stuff, with an awesome cast — Denzel, Gene Hackman, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini… and Jason Robards! They really don’t make action movies like they did in the 90s. And then, not totally action movie, but also fun: The Quick and the Dead. Sam Raimi western about a giant gunfight contest where it’s literally March Madness but for gunfighters. So all these people are in there to test their mettle and you follow most of them along the way. Though the main storyline is Sharon Stone entering to get revenge for her father’s death at the hands of Gene Hackman. Then there’s also Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pat Hingle, Keith David, Tobin Bell, Gary Sinise, and WOODY STRODE! This movie is so much fun.

Before Sunrise is the first in the glorious Richard Linklater trilogy that continues to get better with age (very much looking forward to the next one in about 4-7 years). Basic premise: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy meet on the train to Paris and start a conversation. And that sparks a romance that lasts the rest of the day, with both knowing it will probably be the only day they ever spend together. It’s so amazing. Everyone owes it to themselves to see all the movies in this series. Mighty Aphrodite is Woody Allen, and one of the ones I really enjoy. Mainly because of Mira Sorvino, who won an Oscar for her performance as the actual hooker with a heart of gold. The film is about Allen as a sportswriter who has an adopted son and sets out to find his mother, who turns out to be Sorvino, a prostitute who isn’t very bright. He becomes fascinated with her and tries to help her by setting her up on dates and getting her out of that life. It’s very funny. And there’s this interesting motif where a Greek chorus jumps in throughout the movie as well, which you don’t really ever see in movies. This is one of the few Woody Allen movies I am a big fan of. A Little Princess is Alfonso Cuaron’s first major film, and it’s just a wonderful fantasy film. A girl is put in a strict boarding school and it’s about her rebelling and maintaining her imagination despite attempts to keep her in line. It’s beautiful.

Dead Man Walking is the movie that won Susan Sarandon her Oscar and made Sean Penn a proper “actor.” He’d been known for his comedies and had been doing more serious roles, but this is the one where people stopped referring to him as Spicolli and really went, “Holy shit.” He plays a killer on death row who sends for a nun to campaign for him to not be put to death. Only he did it, and he says he did it and has no remorse. And then it becomes about the relationship between the two of them as they have these Hannibal Lector/Clarice type conversations over the course of the movie. It’s very good. Directed by Tim Robbins, too. To Die For is Gus Van Sant, and the movie that I think really made Nicole Kidman’s career. It’s very much a dark comedy noir. Fargo would do it much better a year after this, but this is in that vein. Kidman plays a very ambitious woman who wants to be a national news anchor who does a story about violent teens, but decides to use one of them (Joaquin Phoenix) to murder her husband. It’s really good. Still one of the best performances of Kidman’s career. Oh, and Tommy Boy. Chris Farley. What an amazing talent. It’s him and David Spade, and one of those comedies that I grew up with a bunch. This and Black Sheep. More so the latter, but they’re both great. It’s him as a man-child who has to take over his father’s business once he dies. So it’s “save the family business” but clearly he’s a fuck up. It’s very funny. Farley and Spade together are comedy gold.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tier three:

  • Billy Madison
  • The Bridges of Madison County
  • Casper
  • Cutthroat Island
  • Dangerous Minds
  • Don Juan DeMarco
  • Dracula: Dead and Loving It
  • Empire Records
  • Forget Paris
  • Four Rooms
  • Home for the Holidays
  • The Indian in the Cupboard
  • It Takes Two
  • Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie
  • A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies
  • Roommates
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Showgirls
  • Smoke
  • Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead

We have to start with one movie and only one movie: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (The Movie). The Power Rangers are the definitive show of my childhood. I spent 0-5 watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but once Power Rangers hit in 1993, that was it. Power Rangers was my thing for the next five years (until professional wrestling became the thing from about 1997-2001, and then it became movies and sports). And this movie was such a huge thing for me. I saw it in theaters. I can still basically tell you all the songs on the soundtrack. This was my shit. And it’s not a great movie. The special effects today are laughably bad. And half the cast isn’t even in it because of contract disputes. So there’s a new Black Ranger, Yellow Ranger and Red Ranger. And they managed to race correct two of those by swapping who played them. But yeah. It’s a weird one because it’s just a product of the era that you only really care about if you grew up during it. Though it still contains one of the single greatest lines in the history of cinema:

Okay, now for the rest of the movies of my childhood. Starting with Dracula: Dead and Loving It. This was my first exposure to Mel Brooks. I had no idea who he was before this. Admittedly, I was 7, but I still had no idea. So I saw this and it was funny. Leslie Nielsen as Dracula, and the kind of comedy that made me laugh. Of course, now, having seen all the other Mel Brooks movies, this is one of the weakest, but it’s a great introduction to the comedy genius that is him. I’m forever grateful to this movie. Then there’s Casper. Which I was slightly too old for, but I was also 7, so it worked. I remember seeing this in theaters and thinking it was decent enough. I always remember it fondly just because it’s one of those movies I remember seeing in theaters with my family and having on VHS and watching a bunch after that. It’s not the greatest, but I smile when I think about it. The Indian in the Cupboard is another one of those, to a lesser extent. That’s one I remember seeing a lot on cable. I’ve seen it so many times just from TV. And also it was the kind of movie they played a lot at assembly for us in school. You know, that time when they’d gather you all together on rain days or when staff was out and just put on a VHS. I watched this movie a bunch because of that. I’m sure it’s terrible, but the 7 year old in me remembers it fondly.

Billy Madison is the first of the Adam Sandler movies. I don’t remember this one as well or as fondly as I do Happy Gilmore or The Waterboy or Big Daddy, but it’s still part of that early run we all like. Another man child movie similar to Tommy Boy, but it’s got stuff I still go back and quote occasionally and represents a time when Adam Sandler movies were actually quite decent. Something the youth of today doesn’t know much about. It Takes Two is, to me, the best of the Olsen Twins movies. I say that because it’s really the only one I’ve seen. It’s the one from my era. They did that witch one before this, but this was the first one I saw, and then grew out of watching their movies. But this one was amusing. It’s basically The Parent Trap, but with Steve Guttenberg. And actual twins. But it’s fun. And another movie I saw a bunch in elementary school when they’d pop on VHS movies.

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies is a film buff’s dream. Most people, when getting into film, get very into Scorsese’s filmography, and generally they start getting into the classics. Here’s a guy who is most people from age 17-22’s god, talking about the most essential movies that all film lovers should see. I feel like that’s a no-brainer for most people. It’s basically a film class on tape. Almost four hours of lessons with so much more than that laid out before you in terms of homework. Every true film fan owes it to themselves to either see this or see the films discussed here-in. And while we’re on the subject of films every true film fan owes it to themselves to see… Showgirls. It’s a camp classic. It’s just so insane that you can’t understand how they thought this was a good idea. I mean, sure, it’s Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas, and the last time they worked together, Basic Instinct happened. But my god… Showgirls is one of those movies that needs to be seen to be believed. Definitely on the list of all-time “so bad it’s actually good” movies. Forget Paris is, I think, one of the forgotten rom coms of the 90s. Billy Crystal stars as an NBA ref who has to travel to Paris to bury his father. There, he meets Debra Winger, an airline stewardess, and they fall in love. The film’s also told in an interesting way. In different flashbacks as their friends wait for them to arrive for a birthday dinner. I really liked this and I’m surprised it took me so long to see it.

Then there’s Cutthroat Island, a movie that I never saw for years but was well aware of because it was one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. Renny Harlin, coming off Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, makes a blockbuster pirate adventure movie starring his then-wife Geena Davis and Matthew Modine. And… it’s fun. But it’s not that good, and you watch it going, “Where did all the money go?” It’s literally a hidden treasure pirate adventure. But the stink of the failure that was on this prevented any kind of pirate movie from getting made until Pirates of the Caribbean came out. (And it’s funny, since the last major pirate movie before this one was Roman Polanski’s Pirates, with Walter Matthau, which pretty much prevented any pirate movie from getting made until this came out.) But I enjoy this. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s fun. Home for the Holidays is a Jodie Foster-directed movie about a woman who is forced to spend Thanksgiving with her family. It’s one of those “being around kooky relatives” movies. It’s fun. Holly Hunter stars, with Robert Downey Jr, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Steve Guttenberg, David Strathairn… great cast, movie’s a lot of fun. Roommates is interesting — movie with Peter Falk as a kid’s grandfather who basically raised him, and now he’s living with him as an adult. Really nice movie that’s not quite comedy and not quite drama, but also again proves that Peter Falk is one our the greatest actors we’ve ever had.

Four Rooms is an anthology film centered around the bellhop at a hotel. Tim Roth stars as the bellhop and the film is segmented into four crazy encounters he has over the course of a night. The four segments are directed by Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. The Anders one has Roth stumbling on a coven of witches led by Madonna. The Rockwell one has Roth being accused of having slept with another man’s wife and being held hostage by him. The Rodriguez one has Roth in the care of two children as their parents go out to a party. Of course the children cause mayhem. Then there’s the Quentin one, which Quentin stars in along with Bruce Willis. Roth stumbles upon them playing a fucked up game where one guy bets he can light his lighter ten times in a row. And if he can’t, he’ll get a finger chopped off. It’s… heightened. It’s a fun anthology movie, and these are the kind of films that no one really makes anymore, but they’re amusing in their own diverting way. Sense and Sensibility is the famous one. Ang Lee directs, Emma Thompson stars and writes. Also has Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman. It’s solid.

Smoke is an interesting ensemble film. Harvey Keitel owns a smoke shop in Brooklyn, and we follow all these different subplots as they weave in and out of the shop over the course of the movie. It’s also got William Hurt, Forest Whitaker, Stockard Channing, Jared Harris and Ashley Judd in it, and it’s just a nice little forgotten 90s movie. The Bridges of Madison County is Clint Eastwood doing melodrama. Or, at the very least, romance. Which is a nice diversion for him. This is only three years after Unforgiven. It stars Clint as a famous photographer who comes into town on assignment and meets housewife Meryl Streep. And they have a nice little romance that lasts for a few days, with both knowing it won’t last. It’s a really sweet little film. Dangerous Minds is another entry into the “teacher works with inner city students” genre. This one has Michelle Pfeiffer starring, and it’s just one of those movies I grew up with. Probably most famous, of anything, for giving us this:

Don Juan DeMarco is a very strange movie. But it’s amusing just because… why did they make this? Also, it stars Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway. Depp plays a mental patient who is convinced he is Don Juan. And Brando is a psychiatrist about to retire who has to cure him of this delusion. Of course, he begins to get swept away in Depp’s conviction that he is Don Juan, and it reinvigorates Brando’s passion for life, and his marriage to Dunaway. It’s… I mean, how did we get this movie, with these stars? It’s worth it just for that alone. Empire Records is basically Clerks in a music store. One of those movies friends of mine knew well from growing up that I somehow didn’t come across until very recently. But it’s good. I really like it. It’s got young Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Ethan Embry, Tobin Tunney, Rory Cochrane, Debi Mazar, Anthony LaPaglia. This feels like one of those essential teen comedies of the 90s. Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead is one of the 90s Quentin ripoffs that started happening after Pulp Fiction came out. And of those, this is one of the best. It’s got Andy Garcia, Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Bill Nun, Treat Williams, Jack Warden, Steve Buscemi, Fairuza Balk, Gabrielle Anwar, Don Cheadle and Christopher Walken. It’s about criminals who fuck up a job and are basically doomed to be killed. It’s good.

– – – – – – – – – –


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