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Best 100 Films of the 1990s Part 1

100-81   80-61   60-41   40-21   20-1

100. Ratcatcher (1999) Dir. Lynne Ramsay, 94 mins.

Set during Scotland’s national garbage strike of the mid-1970s, Ratcatcher explores the experiences of a poor 12 year old boy as he struggles to reconcile his dreams and his guilt with the abjection that surrounds him.

99. Kikujiro (1999) Dir. Takeshi Kitano, 121 mins.

Kikujiro tells the story of a young boy searching for his mother during his summer vacation.

98. The Usual Suspects (1995) Dir. Bryan Singer, 106 mins.

The plot follows the interrogation of Roger “Verbal” Kint, a small-time con man who is one of only two survivors of a massacre and fire on a ship docked at the Port of Los Angeles. He tells an interrogator a convoluted story about events that led him and his partners in crime to the boat, and about a mysterious mob boss known as Keyser Söze who commissioned their work.

97. American History X (1998) Dir. Tony Kaye, 119 mins.

The film tells the story of two brothers from Venice, Los Angeles who become involved in the neo-Nazi movement. The older brother (Edward Norton) serves three years in prison for voluntary manslaughter, changes his beliefs and tries to prevent his younger brother (Edward Furlong) from going down the same path. A flawed film maybe, but one that has plenty of power and a stunning Academy Award nominated performance from Norton.

96. The Player (1992) Dir. Robert Altman, 124 mins.

The film stars Tim Robbins as a Hollywood film studio executive who murders an aspiring screenwriter he believes is sending him death threats.

95. Malcolm X (1992) Dir. Spike Lee, 201 mins.

The film dramatizes key events in Malcolm X’s life: his criminal career, his incarceration, his conversion to Islam, his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam and his later falling out with the organization, his marriage to Betty X, his pilgrimage to Mecca and reevaluation of his views concerning whites, and his assassination on February 21, 1965. Defining childhood incidents, including his father’s death, his mother’s mental illness, and his experiences with racism are dramatized in flashbacks.

94. The Long Day Closes (1992) Dir. Terence Davies, 85 mins.

Bud is a lonely and quiet child whose moments of solace occur when he sits in rapture at the local cinema, watching towering and iconic figures on the movie screen. The movies give Bud the strength to get through another day as he deals with his oppressive school environment and his burgeoning homosexuality.

93. An Angel at My Table (1990) Dir. Jane Campion, 158 mins.

An account of the dramatic childhood and early adulthood of New Zealand writer Janet Frame.

92. Carlito’s Way (1993) Dir. Brian De Palma, 141 mins.

The film stars Al Pacino as Carlito Brigante, a fictional Puerto Rican drug dealer, who after spending five years in prison (released early due to a technicality), vows to go straight and to retire to the Caribbean with his girlfriend. However, his criminal past proves difficult to escape, and he unwittingly ends up being dragged into the same activities that got him imprisoned in the first place. Masterful direction by De Palma and a fine performance by Pacino that is matched by Sean Penn as Carlito’s sleazy lawyer.

91. Ju Dou (1990) Dir. Fengliang Yang, Yimou Zhang, 95 mins.

Notable as the first Chinese production nominated for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards (although it was made with Japanese funding), this visually splendid tragedy focuses on a beautiful young woman (dynamically played by Gong Li) who has been sold as a wife to Jinshan (Li Wei), an old cloth dyer sometime in the 1920s. With assured direction and a superb use of colour it’s not hard to see why Zhang’s tale of illicit passion is considered by many to be his masterpiece.

90. The Straight Story (1999) Dir. David Lynch, 112 mins.

The film is based on the true story of Alvin Straight’s 1994 journey across Iowa and Wisconsin on a lawn mower to visit his estranged brother Lyle, who has suffered a stroke, and hopefully make amends before he dies. The slow pace may well bore younger viewers but The Straight Story is a lyrically profound work that features a perfect performance by Richard Farnsworth.

89. Beauty and the Beast (1991) Dir. Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 84 mins.

With music and songs by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Beauty and the Beast focuses on the relationship between the Beast (voiced by Robby Benson), a prince who is magically transformed into a monster (while his servants are turned into household objects) as punishment for his arrogance, and Belle (voiced by Paige O’Hara), a young woman whom he imprisons in his castle. To become a prince again, Beast must learn to love Belle and earn her love in return before the last petal from the enchanted rose that the enchantress who cursed the Beast had offered falls, or else the Beast will remain a monster forever. Beautifully crafted animation fairy-tale that was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.

88. Central Station (1998) Dir. Walter Salles, 113 mins.

It tells the story of a nine year old orphan boy, Josue (Vinicius de Oliveira) and his friendship with a jaded middle-aged former school teacher, Dora (an Oscar nominated performance by Fernanda Montenegro). Salles delivers a beautiful haunting tale that never slips into cheap sentimentality and offers real insight into the human condition.

87. Van Gogh (1991) Dir. Maurice Pialat, 158 mins.

Set in 1890, the film follows the last 67 days of Van Gogh’s life and explores his relationships with his brother Theo, his physician Paul Gachet (most famous as the subject of Van Gogh’s painting Portrait of Dr. Gachet), and the women in his life, including Gachet’s daughter, Marguerite.

86. Edward Scissorhands (1990) Dir. Tim Burton, 105 mins.

Burton’s modern fairy tale stars Johnny Depp (in their first collaboration) as an artificial young man named Edward who is built, but unfinished, by an eccentric inventor (Vincent Price). When his maker dies, Edward is left with scissor blades instead of hands, but is eventually taken in by a suburban family and falls in love with their teenage daughter Kim (Winona Ryder). A delightfully quirky and charming film that is also a visual treat.

85. Vive L’Amour (1994) Dir. Tsai Ming-liang, 118  mins.

The film is about three people who unknowingly share an apartment in Taipei.

84. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) Dir. James Foley, 100 mins.

It depicts two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen and how they become desperate when the corporate office sends a trainer to “motivate” them by announcing that, in one week, all except the top two salesmen will be fired.

83. Days of Being Wild (1990) Dir. Wong Kar-Wai, 94 mins.

Although a box office flop domestically, Wong Kar-Wai’s second feature maintained his reputation as one of the best up and coming art house directors on the international scene. Set in 1960, the stylish drama centres on the young, boyishly handsome rebel, Yuddy (Leslie Cheung), who learns from the drunken ex-prostitute who raised him that she is not his real mother. Deciding to trace the Filipino who gave birth to him, he leaves behind, with heartless disregard, two woman (Maggie Cheung and Carina Lau) who have fallen for him. With an intricately structured narrative and striking cinematography by Christopher Doyle, Days of Being Wild is probably Wong’s most underrated film.

82. Saving Private Ryan (1998) Dir. Steven Spielberg, 170 mins.

It follows United States Army Rangers Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and his squad as they search for a paratrooper, Private First Class James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), who is the last-surviving brother of four servicemen.

81. Dreams (1990) Dir. Akira Kurosawa, 119 mins.

Inspired by actual dreams that Kurosawa claimed to have had repeatedly, Dreams is a magical realist film of eight vignettes addressing themes such as childhood, spirituality, art, death, and mistakes and transgressions made by humans against nature.


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