Mike’s Top Ten of 1990-1999

The 90s is a very specific decade to me, because it’s the one I grew up in. All of my formative years were in this decade. All the important movies of my childhood came in these years. So I figured this might be the decade where my tastes skew a bit toward what the most important movies were for me growing up. And, to an extent, you can see that here. But by and large, what I’ve picked out as my absolute favorites of the decade feels largely comprised of stuff we all agree is pretty great. And then there’s that extra layer of stuff that’s specific to me, which I wouldn’t want any list of mine to be without.

I also have no sense of the 90s as a decade of film. It’s weird. I can see the others and what they represent to me, but the 90s is just kind of… I can see the independent movement as a big piece, but then there’s that other piece that’s just all stuff I grew up with. And then everything else I just kind of consider “the rest of the 90s stuff.” There’s no real overarching theme or genre to it for me.

In terms of picking this list, it surprisingly wasn’t that difficult. 13 of these are in my top 100 favorite movies of all time. And the others felt like no-brainers. I really didn’t have a whole lot of trouble eliminating the fat off of this one. Sometimes I have to make a tough decision and cut off one or two films I really love. Here, I feel pretty solid about my choices.

For methodology purposes, the way I compile these Top Tens of the Decade lists: I take my top ten for each year of the decade, throw them all together, and simply whittle it down until I find what I feel are my ten favorites from that decade. Not the best, my favorite. That’s really all it is. I feel like if I can figure out what my favorite films of all time are, then I can figure it out by specific decades.

Mike’s Top Ten of 1990-1999

The Fifth Element (1997)

Forrest Gump (1994)

Goodfellas (1990)

Jurassic Park (1993)

A League of Their Own (1992)

The Matrix (1999)

My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Eight of these films are in my top 50. There was no question to me that they were gonna get on. Complete no-brainers on every level. And the other two that weren’t in the top 50 are in the top 100, and those are Jurassic Park and The Matrix. Which… yeah. Looking at this list, I’d suspect that if you gave the majority of people a top ten list for the 90s, a good half of these are going to appear on most of them. And the other half will likely be well-represented in my 11-20. To me, the only two that are very particular to me as a person are The Fifth Element (which I maintain is a complete masterpiece) and My Cousin Vinny, which like The Fifth Element, I’ve seen hundreds of times throughout my life.

The years that aren’t represented on this top ten list are 1991, 1995 and 1996. Which, I’d have expected ’95 and ’96 to not necessarily make it on here, but 1991 surprises me. That’s a really strong year. But hey, here we are. That’s what’s so interesting about looking at these lists after I make them. Also, the reason it didn’t make it is because 1994 is represented three times, which is generally pretty rare for a year on an all-decades list.

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  1. Barton Fink (1991)
  2. Fargo (1996)
  3. A Few Good Men (1992)
  4. Fight Club (1999)
  5. Jerry Maguire (1996)
  6. The Lion King (1994)
  7. The Sandlot (1993)
  8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  9. Unforgiven (1992)
  10. The Usual Suspects (1995)

Sandlot, Barton Fink and Silence of the Lambs are all in my top 100. So those three were automatic for this section, having just missed out on the top ten for lack of space. The rest came down to just looking at my lists and figuring out which ones I liked the most from what didn’t already make it. Almost all of them are complete no-brainers. Weirdly, the only one that gave me a second’s pause before putting it on was Fight Club. I don’t know why. When I consider how huge that movie was for me and how important it was in my development as a film fan and how much I do love that movie, I’m not sure why it stood out to me. It made me go back and look to see what else I’d have put on in its place, but there’s really nothing. I could have put Schindler’s List, but that would have only been because I felt I had to. L.A. Confidential made a strong play (and is really the only one I feel slightly bad leaving off), but in the end, Fight Club is just something I’ve loved more throughout my life. So I’m left with what I consider my 20 favorite movies of the decade, pretty definitively.

And I’d also point out that with this 11-20, every year from the decade is represented at least once. And a handful of them (1990, 1995, 1997 and 1998) are only represented once, but that’s mainly because both 1992 and 1994 have four films apiece from them. And then 1991, 1994, 1996 and 1999 all have two films each. But yeah, this does feel like a decade that has a lot of really strong stuff in it that is bolstered by stuff I grew up with and have a special affinity for, rather than stuff that might end up as a potential compromise choice to fill out spots. This is certainly one of my favorite of the all-decades lists I’ve done.

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