I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today, so here is my list of the best movies of the 90s. By “best,” I don’t mean Oscar-worthy or even necessarily cinematically significant. Schindler’s List, Shakespeare in Love and The English Patient won’t be on this list. I’m talking about movies that represent the decade for me personally. This is a list of the movies that spoke to me and my friends as we were coming of age and constructing our identities in relation to the world around us.
10. Sliding Doors
I know this is an odd choice as representing the 90s, but for me it will always remind me of a particular time and place. I vividly remember going to see this movie when it came out. I remember thinking that Gwenyth Paltrow looked stunning with her haircut that everyone wanted when this movie came out. I think this movie represents the more optimistic side of the decade, too. I’m sure all of us have looked back at points in our lives where some sort of decision had to be made, for better or for worse. I’m sure all of have asked “what if?,” wondering what would have happened had we chosen the road not taken. This movie allows us to see two distinct paths that vary based on something as seemingly insignificant as missing or catching a train. To me, this movie is a smart, clever, and visual representation of that trite saying that “everything happens for a reason.”
9. Interview with the Vampire
I know this is another odd choice for the decade since it’s based on a book that was published years before, but who are we kidding? Vampires were HUGE in the 90s! I know I couldn’t get enough of them. And this movie was a sexy representation of what is actually a pretty fascinating concept. Louis gives new meaning to “Sympathy for the Devil.” Angst ridden teenagers related to his torment as an anguished and reluctant bloodsucker. At least I did.
8. Benny and Joon
I love the premise of this film. Two misfits find each other and explore the world together. It’s an appealing thought. Plus, it’s such a quotable movie! June explaining why she hates raisins, for example: “They used to be fat and juicy and now they’re twisted. They had their lives stolen. Well, they taste sweet, but really they’re just humiliated grapes. I can’t say I am a big supporter of the raisin council.”
This movie actually sucked my will to live. I had plans to go out after I saw it, but I couldn’t do anything but sit and reflect. Magnolia is one of those long, sweeping movies about how we’re all interconnected. Anderson makes bold and unexpected choices with this film, the most memorable perhaps being a scene involving “Wise Up” by Aimee Mann. That scene is why this movie represents the 90s for me. Music takes me back, and Aimee Mann takes me back college radio, and college radio takes me back to the 90s.
6. Before Sunrise
Here are a few quotations from Before Sunrise that should explain why this movie represents the 90s. I’ll just let the movie speak for itself:
–“Everybody’s parents fucked them up. Rich kids parents gave them too much. Poor kids, not enough. You know, too much attention, not enough attention.
–“You know what’s the worst thing about somebody breaking up with you? Is when you remember how little you thought about the people you broke up with and you realize that is how little they’re thinking of you. You know, you’d like to think you’re both in all this pain but they’re just like ‘Hey, I’m glad you’re gone’.””
–“OK, well this was my thought: 50,000 years ago, there are not even a million people on the planet. 10,000 years ago, there’s, like, two million people on the planet. Now there’s between five and six billion people on the planet, right? Now, if we all have our own, like, individual, unique soul, right, where do they all come from? You know, are modern souls only a fraction of the original souls? ‘Cause if they are, that represents a 5,000 to 1 split of each soul in the last 50,000 years, which is, like, a blip in the Earth’s time. You know, so at best we’re like these tiny fractions of people, you know, walking… I mean, is that why we’re so scattered? You know, is that why we’re all so specialized?”
I actually kind of hated this movie when it first came out, but I have grown to love it. I can also recognize its importance in our culture. This movie changed the way we spoke as a generation. The wardrobe is iconic. It’s also just a really funny movie. Period. Besides, there’s no denying the 90s here!
Critics hated this movie when it came out, but it’s my favorite of the Kevin Smith movies. It was a hilariously funny and often vulgar look at consumer culture in the 90s. We were (are?) so driven by consumerism that we hung out in malls, getting our essential vitamins and nutrients from the pretzel or cookie stand in the food court and a 44 ounce Big Gulp (more on that later). Though Kevin Smith would like us to believe his films are just a series of “dick and fart” jokes, they’re smarter than that, and he knows it. They’re also sweeter than that, which is probably what draws me to them. Also, this movie introduced us all to Jason Lee! That alone makes it a classic.
3. Beautiful Girls:
Despite its title, this movie is largely about male relationships and men coming to terms with growing up and being men in the 90s. Perhaps it’s Timothy Hutton’s character’s reluctance to grow up that drives his unlikely friendship with his father’s 13-year-old neighbor (beautifully played by Natalie Portman). Reality and life can paralyze this man… and his friends… and all of us, really… into a state of perpetual adolescence. Growing up really is hard. How else do we explain Michael Rapaport’s character, with his supermodels on the wall and his dog named Elle McPhereson? How else do we explain Matt Dillon’s character, with his reluctance to let go of the high school “popular” identity, not to mention his (married) high school sweetheart, and dedicate himself fully to his new life and his new (gorgeous) girlfriend? Adulthood sneaks up on us sometimes. I’ve heard it said that this movie basically teaches us that we can all fall in love with an ideal, but in the end, we can only really love each other… real people. I think the basic conflict of the film could be encapsulated in the conversation between Willie (Timothy Hutton) and Mo after a night of drinking:
Willie: I just want something beautiful.
Mo: Shit, Willy, we all want something beautiful.
On a side note, there’s this great scene in a convenience store where Rosie O’Donnell’s character gives a great speech that some of us should really commit to memory.
2. Reality Bites
This movie IS the 90s. From the thrift-store chic wardrobe, to the chain smoking and coffee drinking, to the AMAZING soundtrack, to the pop culture references. This movie speaks to a generation that has no real role models. A generation that is learning to define itself. A generation that is simultaneously humanitarian and self-centered, hopeful and pessimistic. Yeah, there’s a love story mixed in there too, but the movie is so much more than that. It’s a 90s right of passage. It covers everything we thought about and obsessed over. And are there two prettier people in the world than Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawk? Ben Stiller’s character didn’t stand a chance.
Lelaina: I just don’t understand why things just can’t go back to normal at the end of the half hour like on the Brady Bunch or something.
Troy: Well, ’cause Mr. Brady died of AIDS. Things don’t turn out like that.
Many people would have put Reality Bites over Singles because Reality Bites was the more successful of the two. Singles did come first, though. In fact, when Reality Bites came out, it was criticized for being a watered-down combination of Singles and The Real World. For me, I like Singles better. Eddie Vedder has a lot to do with that. Who can forget him sitting in the cafe telling Matt Dillon’s character “A compliment for us is a compliment for you?” But Cameron Crowe’s ability to authentically capture a moment in time is also what makes this movie the best of the 90’s. The beauty is in the details. Campbell Scott wearing a Sub Pop t-shirt when they find out the results of his girlfriend’s pregnancy test. The fact that Mother Love Bone is written in giant letters on the wall behind Linda as she cries over her cheating, lying boyfriend. The cameos by Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Layne Staley, and Jerry Cantrell. This movie is nothing if not authentic. It’s been said that New York City is the fifth lady on Sex and the City. Well, Seattle is very much an important and thriving character in Singles. It also has the best, if not the most definitive, soundtrack of any movie in the 90s. And that is ultimately Cameron Crowe’s greatest gift as a film maker, in my humble opinion. When he combines music and images on film, he gives rock songs an almost religious solemnity. In another time and place, this movie would have been just another romantic comedy about twenty-somethings who can’t get their lives together. But in Seattle in 1992 with this cast and this director, it became something so much more meaningful.