For me, this decade had a bit of everything, from costume dramas and historical-based epics to successful reboots of classic TV series to grim and violent stories of mass murderers. In this decade I began to notice more Oscar nominated films that I hadn’t seen, or that I didn’t care to see. In the 90’s, I would turn 40 and my worldview and tastes changed. Film genres I used to enjoy, I no longer did, and my taste for the reality of violence turned sour, as computer generated imagery made killing more graphically visual and very unpleasant. It is no coincidence that Grumpy Old Men became a hit during the early 1990s, at last, a film I could appreciate! The film stars of my youth became geriatric and disappeared from the A List as a new generation of actors and filmmakers stepped up to fill the gap. Again, this is not a Best List, just some of the most influential of the decade.
Office Space. From the guy who created Beavis and Butthead. This is a wonderful and biting satire on the world of work. Very quotable, I have used references from this film for years in my own work. If you have not seen this film, you should. I’ve met many management consultants like Bob and Bob, and a few executives like Lumbergh. Yeah. And don’t forget your TPS reports.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The reboot of the franchise, appearing 16 years after the last Star Wars related film. It went on to gross almost a billion dollars on it’s initial release. How’s the for influential?
American Beauty / Leaving Las Vegas. Two films I’ve never seen to completion. American Beauty was a commercial and critical success and won many of the top Oscars including best picture, actor, director and screenplay. Leaving Las Vegas is a complete mystery to me. Downbeat and with characters with who I can find no empathy, the film was a moderate hit and won Nicolas Cage a Best Actor Oscar. These are both finely made films and feature great talent. It is probably unfair to link them but to me are acquired tastes.
Shakespeare in Love / Sense and Sensibility. Art films found a niche audience. Merchant/Ivory films in particular were critical and commercial hits. Shakespeare In Love was a surprise mainstream hit, won seven Oscars, and helped Gwyneth Paltrow become a star. Sense and Sensibility was adapted from the Jane Austen novel by actress Emma Thompson who would win an Oscar for her script work.
Saving Private Ryan. I am not sure if this film deserves to be on the list although it was very entertaining and well-made. The opening D-Day sequence is without comparison, although The Longest Day comes very close. Spielberg’s POV on the beach is incredible to experience.
Men in Black. Based on the comic book, this film had a long development history, and yes, Steven Spielberg has a production credit. Hugely successful, it spawned two sequels although the third film took many more years to reach the screen. A very successful film of the decade and helped Will Smith appeal to a wide audience.
Titanic. Winner of 11 Oscars, the first film to reach $1B in earnings and the most successful moneymaker until Avatar (also made by James Cameron). What else is there to say?
Lone Star. I believe this is director John Sayles best film. Starring Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson and Matthew McConaughey, the film is told through flashbacks in trying to solve an old murder and uncovering some family secrets. Heavy in style and Texas charm, if you haven’t seen it, you should.
Waterworld / The Bonfire of the Vanities / The Godfather III. Three high concept films that were huge disappointments at the box office. Waterworld was the most expensive film made at the time and it contributed to a career lull for Kevin Costner. The film took place on the water, which caused massive production problems and budget overruns. The Bonfire of the Vanities was a hugely successful book by Tom Wolfe about greed during the 1980s in New York City. A book (The Devil’s Candy) was actually written about the disaster of the film, there was that much to write about including questionable casting, production problems, and lackluster direction. People who loved Wolfe’s book hated the film and initial audience word of mouth was deadly. The Godfather III had been rumored for years and various scripts written but took 15 years to finally materialize. The film failed to ignite the interest of the two previous films and while doing reasonable business and nominated for several Oscars, the film was viewed by many as a big disappointment. Coppola’s casting of his daughter in a main role was a huge mistake and was often mentioned as a major weakness. When talking about the Godfather films, the third installment is rarely mentioned.
The Lion King / Aladdin / Beauty and the Beast. The resurgence of the animated film. There was a time when hand drawn animation was hugely popular, and then it wasn’t. Very few animated films were produced for a couple of decades, but with the help of computers, animation became more commercially viable and the images more life-like. Today’s animation is not your grandfather’s animation. Each of these films also had highly successful soundtracks, a must in today’s cross-marketing business strategy.
Forrest Gump / Fried Green Tomatoes. These films are not related but they contain several style and thematic elements. Southern location, told in shifting timeframe, heavily nostalgic, told against historical backdrops and bittersweet in tone. Both films were based on successful books. Forrest Gump was responsible for many cultural references including that damn box of chocolate thing. Gary Sinise, who played Lt. Dan, later formed his own band called the Lt. Dan Band where he played bass and staged many benefit concerts for service men and wounded veterans.
Pulp Fiction / Natural Born Killers / Reservoir Dogs. I saw all three of these films on their initial releases, relying on critical acclaim and the track records of the filmmakers. Flawlessly made but I hated all three. I grew up on Clint Eastwood and realism but these films are an orgy of violence. While many people have become desensitized by movie violence, I have gone the other direction. Sam Peckinpah was effective in making the point about violence without drowning in the process. The Wild Bunch is graphic and the slow motion dying turned a lot of people off. These three films turned me off.
Jurassic Park / Schindler’s List. Could these two films be any more different, both are difficult to watch yet you cannot take your eyes off the screen. Jurassic Park has to be the most powerful fantasy/horror film ever made. As with any of his films, Spielberg’s CGI of the prehistoric creatures and camera work to integrate them seamlessly into the action is simply amazing. While the sequels have been very successful, I have seen no reason to watch them. I had my fill with the original. After seeing Schindler’s List I remarked that it might be the best film ever made. Certainly the most powerful in theme, historical significance and visual impact. As close to the horrific ground zero of the Holocaust you can get without experiencing it yourself. Up till this film, I had been a critic of Spielberg’s focus on science fiction and fantasy, almost never focusing on anything real or of substance. I stand corrected.
The Silence of the Lambs. A bit sensationalized although Jonathon Demme effectively kept the gloss factor under control and let the story be the focus. A very effective thriller although a turnoff for many because of the subject matter. Top performances and stellar direction. The Hannibal Lecter films that followed are pale imitations in style and strength of story. Fun fact: originally, Gene Hackman was partnered with the studio to direct and star in the film. Along the way he withdrew and the studio went another direction. The film won the big five Oscars: picture, director, actor, actress and script, only a handful of films ever to do so.
The Addams Family. One of the few successful attempts to cash in on classic TV series. Great casting, direction and fun story. Most efforts failed miserably but that didn’t stop studios from trying to capture the magic. I am lucky enough to have experienced the original shows. For me, no updating is necessary, leave them alone.
Ghost. Next to Road House, this might be the most popular film on cable. After-death experiences have long been popular film themes. Here Comes Mr. Jordan and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir are two examples. Weaving in a mystery and love story, along with a tasty soundtrack, this film was a box office mega hit. Ghost inspired similar films and was a favorite for parodies of the pottery wheel scene.
Home Alone. John Hughes made youth films which were embraced by a very wide audience. He didn’t invent the genre but he owned the market. He made more adult fare but he is mainly remembered for his youth films. Macaulay Culkin had made a few other films prior to this but this one changed his career. For me, the sequel is the better film but this is still very enjoyable even though it spawned some incredibly lame films.
Pretty Woman. The film that catapulted Julia Roberts into stardom and made Garry Marshall a top director. The film was written as a dark and gritty view of the sex industry but in Hollywood it was glossed up and turned into a romantic comedy. If Hogan’s Heroes can be popular as a comedy about POW camps, the world of prostitution can be dressed up as family fare. Personally, I never found the film to be enjoyable or worthy of being called a Cinderella story.