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The 100 Greatest Movies of the Nineties

From serial killers to slackers, ‘Fight Club’ to ‘Pulp Fiction’ – the best comedies, dramas, thrillers and killer horror flicks of the 1990s

Ah, the 1990s – the decade that brought you indie-cinema breakouts and bullet-time blockbusters, fight clubs and foul-mouthed clerks, charismatic cannibal serial killers and “Choose Life!” sloganeering, Rushmore Academy overachievers and Royales with Cheese. Looking back on the movies that made the Nineties such a surprisingly fertile period for filmmakers and film lovers, you can see how so much of the foundation for the past few decades was laid so early on, from the rise of documentaries as a mainstream phenomenon to the meta touches that would turn so many mix-and-match movies into wax museums with pulses. Sundance was to independent auteurs as Seattle was to grunge rockers. We would hang with slackers and Scottish junkies, smooth-talking criminals and abiding dudes. We would get cyberpunk as fuck. We would know kung fu – whoa!

So we’ve assembled a crack team of film fanatics, culture vultures, pop-culture pundits and various critics to weigh in on the 100 greatest movies of the Nineties. From Oscar-winners to obscure-but-wonderful gems, nonfiction social-issue sagas to a seven-hour Hungarian masterpiece, Titanic to Tarantino, these are the films we still argue over, quote endlessly and return to again and again. Crank up your dial-up connection, crack open a Zima and let the arguments begin.

100 Best Movies of 1990s

Courteney Cox, Jamie Kennedy, Neve Campbell

Rex

58

‘Scream’ (1996)

“What’s your favorite scary movie?” This meta-horror hit turned a simple question into an almost existential quandary, thanks to A Nightmare on Elm Street mastermind Wes Craven and a self-aware script that toyed with horror clichés (e.g., “if you have sex, you’ll probably die”) by future Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson. Neve Campbell and a cadre of no-goodnik teens attempt to unmask the chatty, horror-movie–obsessed serial killer who’s been offing them, with little help from the nosy newscaster (Courtney Cox) and fumbling cop (David Arquette). It inspired three sequels, a MTV series and the successful Scary Movie parody franchise, and its snarky sense of irony inspired countless stylistic rip-offs that paled when compared to the original and its Ghostface killer. KG

100 Best Movies of 1990s

Rory Cochrane, Matthew McConaughey

Everett Collection

57

‘Dazed and Confused’ (1993)

Director Richard Linklater considers this follow-up to Slacker an exorcism of painful high school memories – the scores of stoners and nostalgists who have worn out VHS and/or DVD copies of this teen-movie gem, however, clearly feel otherwise. The rituals and keggers of the last day of school circa 1976 are so vividly recreated that the film almost doubles as a time machine, immersing you in the
fashion, music and pot-fueled meanderings of another era. But the perfect evocation of the confusion and freedom of youth, however, feels timeless. It’s also a prescient casting call for the next generation of stars, including Parker Posey as an alpha mean girl, Ben Affleck as a hilariously apoplectic fifth-year senior and Matthew McConaughey as a skeevy twentysomething with an interest in high school girls. Alright, alright, alright. ST

100 Best Movies of 1990s

Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt

Rex

56

‘Seven’ (1995)

In this heir apparent to The Silence of the Lambs, David Fincher masterfully recalibrates the noir genre for a nihilistic tale of Biblical vengeance. The sun literally never shines on Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman’s odd-couple detectives as they hunt down a grimly imaginative serial killer (an unnerving Kevin Spacey). This tense, unrelenting and expertly paced thriller was an early indication of the director’s massive talent, and add “being the first to discover the violent poetry of Gwyneth Paltrow’s head” to the list of Fincher’s many accomplishments (see also: Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion). What’s in the box indeed. PR

100 Best Movies of 1990s

Rex

55

‘Babe: Pig in the City’ (1998)

The original Babe remains a staple of anthropomorphic-animals kid’s cinema, but the tale of a pig who finds love and acceptance among sheepdogs took a much weirder, stranger turn in this sequel, directed by, of all people, Mad Max mastermind George Miller. This follow-up transports the titular piglet to a hotel full of beasties in a fantastical, Dickensian metropolis; a pit bull nearly drowns in a hallucinatory, Lynch-esque scene and an elderly Mickey Rooney plays a sinister clown. Pig in the City didn’t just build upon its predecessor; it reinvented it, and wasn’t afraid to wrap its sweetness in a darkly stylish wrapper. JS

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54

‘Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills’ (1996)

The story of three teenagers’ convictions and subsequent legal battles over the murders of three children in West Memphis, Arkansas led to one of the decade’s most engrossing and enraging crime documentaries. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Some Kind of Monster) give all sides – the overzealous prosecutor, the bewildered defendants, the thirst-for-blood community – a platform to vent their opinions on the controversial case. But as the film progresses and doubt about the teenagers’ guilt builds up, the duo peels the layers back on a small town desperate for a villain. Thanks to the movie and it subsequent follow-ups, the case would become a pop culture rallying cry, with Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp and Metallica, among many others, championing the trio’s release. You couldn’t ask for a better example of deep-dive docu-journalism. JN

100 Best Movies of 1990s

Laura Dern, Nicolas Cage

Rex

53

‘Wild at Heart’ (1990)

Somehow in the midst of creating one of the most influential TV series ever, David Lynch banged out this transcendent romance – a Wizard of Oz-influenced take on Barry Gifford’s novel about two sexed-up lovers and the weird-Americana, nightmarish world of trouble that their relationship unleashes. Nicolas Cage’s magnetic, Elvis-obsessed Sailor and Lynch mainstay Laura Dern make the journey hotter than Georgia asphalt, as this warped, wild road movie propels the couple towards a macabre, brutal but (for Lynch, anyway) uncharacteristically optimistic fate. TGi

100 Best Movies of 1990s

Chris Eigeman (left), Edward Clements (center of frame), Allison Parisi (back right

Everett Collection

52

‘Metropolitan’ (1990)

Indie writer-director Whit Stillman may be the movies’ most eloquent (and low-key hilarious) bard of the vagaries of the American upper classes. He came out martini glass swinging with his first film, about a middle-class Princeton kid (Edward Clements) who stumbles his way into a circle of wealthy young Manhattanites during debutante ball season. With enough witty bon mots to fill a Noël Coward play, Metropolitan is both a cutting takedown of the 1-percent and a loving ode to its quirks. Bridging the divide between the Eighties and Nineties, this was probably also one of the last movies where you’ll find a pack of teenagers unironically rocking tuxes and ball gowns for a night on the town. JS

100 Best Movies of 1990s

Rex

51

‘South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut’ (1999)

Think back to when a big screen version of the low-rent animated cable comedy series sounded misguided. Also, it was going to be a musical. And then you sat in a multiplex and watched Saddam Hussein get buggered by Satan (a behooved, emotionally well-adjusted Beelzebub at that). Trey Parker and Matt Stone not only took their small-screen hit to the big screen without embarrassing themselves, they created a goofy, giddy portrait of a war-crazed America that you could tap your toes to. Every crazy profane idea suddenly seemingly permissible – so were decidedly non-anarchic endeavors like
songcraft and sincerity. The duo pissed on our heads and called it art. And it was. EH

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