I referred to the 80s as the VHS era, but technically that designation extends into the 90s as well. I started seeing DVD players towards the end of the decade, but outside of the laser discs I watched with Klum, 100% of my home movie viewing was still on VCR throughout the 1990s.
Slight format change this time around. "Fool Me Once" refers to those films I liked at the time but less so after subsequent viewings. This is not to dis these films - oh, I'll make it clear when I'm dissing something - just to account for changed tastes, etc. That process is fun to observe as I go through these. For the three directors whose work I enjoyed consistently at the time (Abel Ferrera, Hal Hartley, and Quentin Tarantino) but no longer, here's the disclaimer up front, to avoid repetition or making a big stink of anything. "Fool me Twice" refers to those films I soured on and then rediscovered and now like again.
Also, I left off documentaries just to keep each entry a little shorter. Here they are up front: Pandora's Box (1992), Hoop Dreams (1994), Lessons of Darkness ("Has life without fire become unbearable to them?"), Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie - crank that if you click it; the soundtrack is kind of quiet but essential to the experience (both 1995), Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), Fast Cheap and Out of Control (1997), American Movie ("This whole thing is turning out to be a theatrical mockery. You understand that, Mike?" "No." "Well... you will."), My Best Fiend, and Buena Vista Social Club (all 1999).
Now let's set our way back machines for:
I'm more amazed at the films I didn't see when I look at this list: Air America, Class of 1999 (a sequel to something I keep meaning to cover here at the DSO, Class of 1984? With Pam Grier and Stacy Keach? How did no one let me know this existed?), Days of Thunder, Ghost, Gremlins 2, I Come in Peace ("but you go in pieces"), Postcards from the Edge, or The Two Jakes (how is it possible not to see a sequel to one of my favorites, Chinatown? I guess that goes for Texasville vis-a-vis The Last Picture Show as well.)
Of the ones I did see, the best is likely Goodfellas, naturally. Here I'm in agreement with most sensible people. (For once.) My honorable mentions would include Tremors, Quick Change (imagine how much that cast would cost nowadays! Well, you could probably get Randy Quaid at a discount. Jason Robards, too. Aww. RIP, Jason Robards, sorry for the easy joke.) The Hunt for Red October ("I would like to have seen Montana"), Jacob's Ladder, and Wild at Heart.
When it comes to favorite, though, I have to go with:
Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Written by Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, and Gary Goldman.
I enjoyed this film when I saw it originally, but it took until a fateful night two-fisting scotch and red wine with my buddy Klum on a porch in Oakwood, OH in the middle of the night, 1995, waking up the neighborhood yelling "GAAAA!" for hours, for it to truly take off in my head. Out of this came one band (Boat Chips - gaaa!) and thousands of personal jokes, laughs, and fond memories. The movie itself is high octane lunacy with considerable genre trope satisfaction. ("See you at the party, Richter!") I don't know if you can call Arnold's performance as Quaid/ Richter one of the greatest acting jobs of all time, strictly speaking, but as with Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2 or William Shatner in TOS, if your list of Good-Lord-How-Did-We-Get-This-Lucky-Marriage-of-Actor-to-Role doesn't include this, I question your sincerity, criteria, and patriotism.
Anyway, that's my favorite. If you asked me what the greatest film ever made that came out in 1990 was/is, obviously the answer is:
|Die Hard 2|
Directed by Renny Harlin. Written by Stephen E. DeSouza and Doug Richardson.
On my personal list of greatest profanity movies, it comes in behind Midnight Run.
Fool Me Once: Back to the Future 3 (I saw this 3 times in the theater! As an adult, I concede only the first film needed to be made), Predator 2, Young Guns 2, Awakenings, and like almost everyone else who saw this in high school and was inspired to write angry "This From Jacques!" letters to the student newspaper, or diary entries, Pump Up the Volume.
Fool Me Twice: Misery, Kindergarten Cop, Dances with Wolves. Loved them all originally, then convinced myself they were deficient for various reasons. Came back around to loving each of them with reservations/ once I learned more about life, adaptations, genre tropes, brain tumors, kidnapped writers, etc. Oh, and Graveyard Shift.
Fool Me Until I Read Up on the P2 Scandal and Then Said "Oh, Okay, That Was an Interesting Thing to Explore, I Guess, Even If It Was Kinda Boring:" The Godfather 3.
The best film of this year is probably JFK. Even if you're one of those curious Americans more annoyed by Stone's fantasies than by the Warren Commission's, Stone's film is just such an entertaining piece of cinema. It takes its genre obligations seriously, with an enjoyable large cast of supporting actors and cameos acting drawing the viewer further and further down the rabbit hole, and it's a beauty of cinematography and sound and art design. Plus one of Gary Oldman's greatest performances. My favorite film, however, of the year is
|Europa (aka Zentropa)|
Directed by Lars Von Trier. Written by Lars Von Trier and Niels Vørsel.
I never tire of this film. Love the opening, love the build-up, love the look and feel and sound of it, love the underlying message, love the ending, love everything. If you've never seen it, you're in for a treat when you get there. Other honorable mentions: Naked Lunch, The Rapture, The Doors, The Man in the Moon (which is a really sweet movie - this sort of thing is often attempted, seldom realized correctly) and Johnny Stecchino. ("Allo zoo!" Sorry no subtitles, but you get the idea.)
Can You Believe I've Still Never Seen...? Barton Fink, Bugsy, Fried Green Tomatoes, and The Rocketeer. White Fang, too.
Fool Me Once: Plenty, but here are my top 5:
- The Silence of the Lambs (Look I like it as much as anyone. It's just overdone. I can cite at least ten different sequences. But this isn't that kind of list.)
- Cape Fear (Ditto. DeNiro's accent distracts here. Should've just went the The Duellists route.)
- Boyz in the Hood (These 90s urban drama movies seemed dated only months after they came out. A good example is New Jack City, but even things like Menace II Society and this, which was held up as an example of "finally getting it right" seemed a little stuff only a few years later.)
- Doc Hollywood (I was still catching new Michael J. Fox movies in the theater in 1991. This and The Hard Way aren't bad movies, but they haven't aged well.)
- Hook (Ditto, I guess. I really championed this at the time, but I find it mostly unwatchable now. Unwatchable for Spielberg is, of course, still perfectly watchable, just there's nothing really to this one. Opinions vary.)
Fool Me Twice: L.A. Story, Dead Again, Point Break. The former two I loved and made my way back round to once I got over whatever my objections to them were (I can't even recall), but I was way too cool for Point Break at the time. I think it was just Swayze's presence that kept me away - ditto for Roadhouse. Once I got over that, holy crap - such awesomely fun movies, but particularly Point Break.
The best flick of the year is probably:
|Glengarry Glen Ross|
Directed by James Foley. Written by David Mamet.
Is it my favorite? Sometimes. Other times it's Unforgiven. Other times it's The Player, or Fire Walk with Me, Army of Darkness, or even Basic Instinct, which has a camp/ entertainment value far beyond its weight class. Four foreign flicks, though, might take the cake:
- Braindead (released in the US as Dead Alive.) What put Peter Jackson on my radar. I learned more about Freud from this film than anything I ever read or was taught after. ("I kick ASS for the LORD!")
- Full Contact (Ringo Lam's prototypical Hong Kong Chow Yun-Fat action thriller)
- Police Story III: Supercop (released in the US as just Supercop.) So much more than a sum of its stuntwork, although that is, as always, very impressive. This is the film License to Kill should've been. Well, kind of.
- Swordsman 2. Listed at that link as 1991 but it was 1992. At least according to everyone else. Maybe YouTube knows something we don't.
Still Haven't Seen: Bob Roberts, The Bodyguard, The Crying Game, A League of Their Own, or Single White Female. (I saw 2011's The Roommate, though, so it's all good.)
Fool Me Once: Wayne's World (man did I love this back in the day though), Singles, A Few Good Men, Hard-Boiled, (John Woo was a potent force in my cinematic life for a few years, but, like everyone else, one too many slow motion doppelganger gun battles amidst swirling pigeons soured me on his particular aesthetic), Malcolm X. (Someone will get it right one of these days - no fault to Denzel's performance, this one was just a bit out of reach for Spike, at this point in his career, anyway. It's still a very interesting film - how couldn't it be, given the biographical subject?)
Fool Me Twice: My Cousin Vinny, Leap of Faith, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. I reconnected with Vinny while waiting for the docs to prep my wife for my younger daughter's c-section birth. There was a delay so I was stuck in the waiting area longer than anticipated. The two movies on hand: My Cousin Vinny and 10 Years with Channing Tatum and a host of other pretty young somethings. It was pretentious and awful and made me appreciate Vinny's unsophisticated reliability. I'm sure the emotional vulnerability of all waiting-room-Dads had something to do with it, too.
As for The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, I loved it in the theater, discarded it along the way as a Lifetime Movie Escaped from Cable or something, then realized sometime after that that the Lifetime Movie Escaped from Cable was a damn entertaining genre and Cradle a trailblazer.
Third Time's the Charm: Bram Stoker's Dracula. Hated it in the theater, came to appreciate it on home video, got downgraded to "ultimately a lot of smoke no fire situation" over the years.
The best film of the year? Maybe Blue by Kieslowksi? Super classy flick. Schlinder's List, too, obviously. I have multiple favorites, though: Groundhog Day, Dazed and Confused, The Remains of the Day, Tombstone, and especially:
Directed by Tony Scott. Written by Quentin Tarantino.
Honorable Mentions: Naked, and Clean, Shaven. Both kinda bleak and gritty (this was the 90s, after all) but very well done flicks with great performances from David Thewlis and Peter Greene, respectively. Also: Once Upon a Time in China 3, and Fong Sai Yuk 1 and 2. Kind of confused production schedule over there; all three of these are Jet Li movies where he plays early 20th century Chinese legend Fong Sai Yuk, and all three are more or less kind of the same movie. I didn't know any of that at the time. In fact, I didn't know they existed at the time; I only discovered these in my Hong Kong cinema craze of 1997-1998.
Fool Me Once: The Bride with White Hair, Falling Down, The Age of Innocence, The Piano. Still like them all, just the usual: they fell apart under prolonged questioning. Falling Down fell apart the hardest - that film's kind of horrible. It did inspire an Iron Maiden song, though, so that's something.
Fool Me Twice: Jurassic Park, Carlito's Way. How I ever convinced myself either of these movies wasn't as good as when I first saw them I'll never know. I'm back from the brink, though.
That Tedious Side of 90s Filmmaking in One Convenient Trailer: Bodies, Rest and Motion. Good God. Never saw it, maybe it's fine. Here's another one, even though it's from 1995. This whole genre of trailer-making was a very 90s thing.
"I WANT TO SEE THE TOUGH GUY!!" - Excessive Force.
Obviously the best film of '94 is:
Written and directed by Frank Darabont.
It might even be my favorite of the year, though all accolades should be given to Forrest Gump, Natural Born Killers, Bullets Over Broadway, Cemetery Man, and the other two chapters of Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy (Red and White). But besides all of those, my favorites are Chungking Express and Drunken Master 2.
|Two very different films, but equally awesome.|
Can You Believe I Still Haven't Seen... Heavenly Creatures, The Hudsucker Proxy, Ed Wood, or Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla? I know! Me neither.
Fool me Once: Star Trek Generations, (don't get me started) Leon: the Professional, Legends of the Fall. (This is still great, though.)
Fool me Twice: Killing Zoe, Interview with the Vampire. (Both are flawed, but both are better than I led myself to believe until revisiting each over the past 5 or 6 years.)
Thomas! Ian! Griffith!: Crackerjack.
The best is what, Casino? Nixon? Quality/ epic wise I mean? Overseas it was probably Underground. (What a movie). Or maybe this unique take on Les Miserables from Canada. My favorite, though:
|Before Sunrise |
Directed by Richard Linklater. Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke.
Honorable Mentions: Clockers (one of the rare urban-crime movies that doesn't feel dated at all), Dead Man, 12 Monkeys. And Stealing Beauty, which is kind of a pretentious-90s-flick but I also saw it in the right window of time and over the years it's come to represent that ephemeral immortality and self-absorption of late adolescence. Oh, and Puddle Cruiser - a flawed flick but FWIW this was almost exactly my experience at URI in the early-to-mid-90s. Not that particular scene just the movie in general. (Which probably explains why I ended up graduating years later from an entirely different school, RIC.)
You Probably Noticed: The Usual Suspects and Dead Man Walking are missing. I found these a lot heavier-handed than everyone else at the time. They were okay, just when's the last time you watched them, especially the latter?
Can You Believe I Still Haven't Seen... Clueless, Babe, Toy Story, or I Know What You Did Last Summer? Goes for any/all sequels, too. Outrageous.
My bad, I Know What You Did Last Summer was 1997. Does it matter enough to change, or will this edit be enough? I say leave it.
Fool Me Once: Dead Presidents, Strange Days. The former's okay, just not as great as I thought originally. The latter is dogshit. I would have skipped The Hurt Locker completely on account of how badly I feel the ideas in Strange Days are botched, but thankfully (since I enjoy The Hurt Locker) some friends got me to watch it.
Fool Me Twice: Tommy Boy, Mallrats, Empire Records, Showgirls, and Seven. The first four I didn't like at first, then reconnected with later. Showgirls in particular is, like so many Verhoeven movies, criminally misunderstood, though it's by no means a masterpiece. Seven probably is a masterpiece; for some reason I was just initially very resistant to its (grisly) charms.
OH AY OY! The Internet Is Gonna Getcha!: The Net.
I have no problem naming Fargo as the best film of '96, but my favorite is:
|Bottle Rocket |
Directed by Wes Anderson. Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson.
When I want to remember what it felt like to be a romantic young man in the 1990s - or at least how it felt for me to feel like a romantic young man in the 90s, with all the wish-fulfillment and narcissism and growing-up-left-to-do - all I have to do is throw this in. Or just listen to the soundtrack, which still hits my ears as basically the happiest music going. "Here's to being free / Here's to flying high / la la la la la / Zorro's Back...!"
Honorable Mentions: Happy Gilmore, That Thing You Do, Mars Attacks, Schizopolis, and Trainspotting, which I saw at a late-night world premiere in New York City with what felt like a thousand other people. Definitely one of those wow-this-is-the-big-city moments for me. (And speaking of soundtracks, if there's a better one than Bottle Rocket's in 1996, it's Trainspotting's.)
Fool me Once: The Cable Guy, Crash, Irma Vep. They each have their moments, but overall, meh.
Can You Believe I Still Haven't Seen... Sling Blade, Jerry Maguire, The Rock, Shine, or Space Jam?
WTF, You Assholes?: Escape from LA, Jingle All the Way, The English Patient, Female Perversions, Mission Impossible. Technically, M:I doesn't belong on this list, as it is not the cuckatoo-poo these other films are. But it's basically the corporate raider version of a reboot: it grabbed the theme song and the title and fired without severance every other aspect of the original show. Let me put it another way: if instead of making The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams elected to make a film that had "Star Wars" in the title and all the iconic music but in the first five minutes you found out everyone from the original trilogy was a villain and then killed and then it was all about Tom Cruise in huge set piece stunts, none of which have any precedent to the original source material, what do you think the reaction would've been? "A bold new direction" or "Hey, go make your own goddamn franchise?"
|The funny thing is: it was my Dad who was the big M:I fan, not me, and he couldn't care less, but I get offended on his behalf.|
The Larry Mullen and Adam Clayon remix of the song, of course, is still awesome. Imagine that song paired with a movie that honored the original franchise! Might've been something special. (And yes I still harbor a stubborn grudge over this, which is why I've yet to see any but the first sequel, despite everyone telling me they're awesome. And I'm sure they are. Just yeah.)
Some of my never-saws this year (Amistad, The Apostle - which everyone raved about at the time but I've heard literally no one mention again since -, Big Night, Men in Black) are often touted as the year's best. The best of the domestic ones I did see were probably Lost Highway or Deconstructing Harry (if it takes a sex scandal to bring this kind of movie out of Woody, I vote for more of them), with the original Funny Games taking the overseas honors. My favorite:
|Grosse Pointe Blank |
Directed by George Armitage. Written by John Cusack, Tom Jankiewicz, Steve Pink, and D.V. DeVincentis.
A perfect blend of a 90s film and a John Cusack 1980s film - that is to say, unconventionally romantic, stoic-cool, dark humor, strong emphasis on relationship fantasy, martial arts, etc. Just a great script, complex emotional dynamics, and a successful and unexpected exploration of the familiar you-can't-go-home-again story.
Honorable Mentions: The Game, The Edge (possibly the best movie ever made), and Starship Troopers (ditto. Seriously, for awhile there, I thought 911 was going to make owning that movie a crime. Would you like to know more?)
A genre of one: The Postman, The Wiggles Movie.
Fool me Once: L.A. Confidential. Everyone was so nuts over this at the time. I liked it, too, but there are tons of problems with the script. The ending most glaringly so.
Fool Me Twice: U-Turn, Boogie Nights, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Love Jones. All of these revealed new things to me on subsequent rewatches. Romy and Michele I just skipped altogether when it came out, but that was my mistake: a delightful movie.
Well, any year that sees the release of The Big Lebowski is going to be overshadowed by it - what a classic. One of my favorite scripts, ever - only Big Trouble in Little China or Heathers is more quotable. Plus it just has so many layers and jokes-within-jokes. Can't praise it enough. Probably my favorite and the movie of the year. Beyond it, though - it's a tie between Rushmore and Disturbing Behavior, which is still a largely overlooked film. Like Grosse Pointe Blank, I think it perfectly blends the sensibilities of the 80s and 90s, which was intentional: it came out in that spate of 80s-horror-films re-released with 90s packaging.
"Do great things, lunchboy... Hey! Teacher!
LEAVE THOSE KIDS ALONE!"
LEAVE THOSE KIDS ALONE!"
Rushmore, too - in the same way Bottle Rocket reminds me of being a twentysomething, Rushmore reminds me of being 15. My life does not/ did not resemble Max Fischer's or Anthony Adams' overtly, but man do those films capture exactly how it felt, and how it feels, still, in rearview. Beautiful stuff, regardless. (And led to this, back when MTV still did fun things from time to time.)
Overseas, you had Festen aka The Celebration (harrowing stuff), The Idiots (ditto), Ringu (the best of all the Ring movies, foreign or domestic), and Run Lola Run, which is still my personal epitome of techno-90s cool.
Honorable Mentions: Can't Hardly Wait, The Wedding Singer, and Snake Eyes.
|DePalma showing off in exactly-why-I-overlook-other-awkward-elements-of-DePalma. Also: Nic Cage's craziest performance in a career built on crazy performances.|
Fool Me Once: American History X, There's Something About Mary.
Fool Me Every Time I See it: The Thin Red Line. Is it genius? Is it overdone? The perennial Malick question. I seem to think one or the other on every viewing. I think I'll come down on the "genius" side, but ask me again the next time I watch it.
Meester Son of Beech!: Rounders.
WTF, You Assholes: The Avengers, Psycho, The X-Files.
What is the best film of 1999? At the time audiences thought American Beauty. I think it's a seriously flawed film, actually, though I have friends who think it's really fantastic. I'll table that one until I can watch it again for the final judgment. Eyes Wide Shut? All Kubrick movies are genius, and this one particularly so. The Ninth Gate? Absolutely great. The Straight Story? I tear up just thinking of that damn movie. Cruel Intentions? Arguably the best movie ever made. Being John Malkovich? Ditto. What is my favorite?
Directed by Robert Meyer Burnett. Written by Robert Meyer Burnett and Mark A. Altman.
A story about a) turning thirty after growing up on all the pop culture of the previous decades, particularly Trek and featuring William Shatner as himself (sort of: himself as an aloof maniac obsessed with bringing Julius Caesar - with himself playing all the parts - to the screen), b) not hitting the success you started out your 20s seeking, c) Kirk rapping Shakespeare, and d) a perfectly in-the-spirit-of-the-times boy-loses-girl/must-grow-up side story... I mean, how could I not love this? It's imperfect, but, like Puddle Cruiser up there, captures something of the times/ my own life that otherwise would never have been preserved or even revealed to me.
And Eric McCormack's Kirk impersonation (throughout the film, really, but especially during the restaurant "Risk is our business" scene) is really fantastic, as is that one guy at the end. Kudos for the Bradykiller pitch at the beginning, as well. An unfortunate dearth of these links at YouTube, but man.
Timing is everything with this movie. The celebrity-playing-himself-as-exaggeration, with rap, and the endless callbacks to other pop phenomenen wasn't quite the Big Bang Theory mainstream deal it is now, although The Simpsons had been doing it for years on the small screen.
Another personal fave: Asterix and Obelix vs. Caesar. Not a great movie, but I grew up reading the comic and was happy to see a well-cast big-budget adaptation.
WTF, You Assholes: Breakfast of Champions (not my favorite Vonnegut book, but it soooooo deserves a proper adaptation, not this dreck), Holy Smoke! and Dogma (good freaking God), Instinct (I was a fan of the novel this is based on, not so much anymore, but at the time I was highly offended by the shoddiness of this adaptation), Wild Wild West, The Virgin Suicides, and Mystery Alaska (minus that fantastic opening).
Fool Me Once: Fight Club, Summer of Sam, The Phantom Menace, Three Kings. I like aspects of each, but they don't hold up under questioning. I seem to be the only one who thinks this about Fight Club, but the book is better. Its nihilist Freudian catacomb comes across more reasonably in print.