The 90s was a great period for cinema. The decade is filled with an abundance of classics and influential films, and it was an era where a number of significant directors made their name, such as Quentin Tarantino and David Fincher. This period was noticeably important as it saw the rise of independent cinema. It was also the decade in which Computer Animation and CGI technology became an increasing force, popularised in films such as Jurassic Park (1993). The top ten films I have selected are what I believe to be the best of the decade. Of course this is subjective, so my selections are based on my own personal favourites and enjoyment of the respective films.
10. American History X (Tony Kaye, 1998)
An astonishingly powerful film, which tells the story of two neo-nazi brothers, Derek (Edward Norton) and Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong). When Derek serves a prison sentence, his experience behind bars changes him. Upon his release, he rejects his former racist and violent lifestyle, attempting reform. He tries to educate his brother and prevent him from going down the same path. American History X may be shocking and disturbing, but it is a profoundly important film that exposes the continuous cycle of hate and violence. Edward Norton is also brilliant in such a challenging and controversial role.
9. The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999)
The Wachowskis’ sci-fi thriller, The Matrix was a revolutionary film at the time of its release. Its special effects were just as ambitious as its complex narrative, which depicts the story of Neo (Keanu Reaves), as he discovers that the world he knows is nothing more than a virtual reality. In the film’s mythology, Earth is dominated by the machines who rebelled against humanity sometime in the 21st century. As a source of energy, the machines grow humans in pods, whilst keeping their minds connected to a stimulated reality, which resembles the world as it was around the turn of the century. Neo is just one of the many people who were trapped in The Matrix, and the film is about him “waking up”, as well as being prophesied as “The One” to save humanity. The Matrix is a fantastic, joyously entertaining film with some deep philosophical ideas.
8. American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)
Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham in American Beauty, a man who leads a dull, stagnant life. When he meets his teenage daughter’s friend, he becomes besotted with her, which provides the catalyst for Lester’s personal transformation. The film is a somewhat satirical outlook on suburban American life, and the result is a comical, cynical and tragic tale, expressing the different forms of beauty. The film has a marvellous storyline with such memorable and poignant characters. American Beauty is a wonderfully compelling film that is sure to stay on your mind after its end.
7. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992) – Read full review here
In Reservoir Dogs, a group of criminals come together to pull off a diamond heist. However, things do not go to plan as there appears to be a rat in the group. What follows is an action-packed showdown, which results in bloody consequences. Only Tarantino’s second feature film, but it is easily one of his best.
6. The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)
Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, follows Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), as he is interrogated by the police. He is one of the only survivors after a gunfight on a docked ship, and he tells the complex story of the events that led him and his partners to the crime aboard the boat, and also about the mysterious, criminal mastermind known as Keyser Soze. The film’s narrative is very complex and probably requires a second viewing, but The Usual Suspects is a brilliant film regardless, and has one of the best endings I have ever seen.
5. Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant, 1998)
One of the more simpler films on this list, Good Will Hunting stars a young Matt Damon in the titular role. The film is about twenty-year-old, Will Hunting, who is a mathematical genius but works merely as a janitor. After getting arrested, as a part of a deferred prosecution agreement, he studies mathematics with a renowned professor, whilst receiving therapy from Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). The film was written by Damon and Ben Affleck, in which it won an academy award for Best Original Screenplay. Good Will Hunting is an emotionally uplifting film, with some highly memorable scenes.
4. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) – Read full review here
Set in Scotland, Trainspotting follows a group of friends and their struggles with heroin addiction. The main character is Mark Renton (Ewen McGreggor) and the film depicts his various attempts at sobriety, and having to deal with his unstable friend, Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who seems to have a lust for violence. Such an entertaining, hilarious and compelling film, which does not glorify drugs, but exposes youth at their very worst, and following a character’s attempt at escaping his detrimental lifestyle. Often regarded as one of the greatest British films of all time, it is an enticing exploration of youth culture.
3. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
It is hard to believe that The Shawshank Redemption floundered at the box office upon its original release. How can anyone not love the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins)? A man prosecuted for a crime he did not commit, the film is a heartfelt journey of Defresne’s life in prison, which is set over the course of a number of years. It is a film about integrity, self-worth and the pursuit of freedom. This film is a must-watch.
2. Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999) – Read Full Review
Based on the novel of the same name, Fincher’s Fight Club is one of those rare occasions where the film is actually better than the book. Although very faithful to its source material, the film takes the story further. The film considerably expands the trials and tribulations of the unnamed narrator (Edward Norton), a man suffering with insomnia who meets the mysterious soap salesman, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). In order to escape the reality of their mundane lives, the two men create an underground Fight Club. Whilst an incredibly engaging, funny and enthralling film, Fight Club projects some important messages about consumerist culture and its shaping of male identity. Whilst often thought of as a ‘cult’ film, I believe Fight Club is a truly great film and particularly underrated.
1. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
Pulp Fiction is the ultimate ’90s film and I believe to this day, it is still Tarantino’s best. Many of his other films have come close, but there is something special about Pulp Fiction. The film has everything. It relishes in its quirky dialogue, unforgettable characters, multiple plot-lines, action-packed thrills and humour. Pulp Fiction interconnects the story-lines of various criminals, including two of the most enjoyable characters to have graced our screens, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson). The film’s unconventional and self-referential nature is its genius, and the whole film is simply marvellous to watch from start to finish. There is no doubt that Pulp Fiction is a classic, and will be watched and appreciated for years to come.
The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
Boyz n the Hood (John Singleton, 1991)
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)