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The 10 Best Films of the 1990s

The 1990s marked a renaissance of American cinema that brought dozens of insanely great movies, far more than in the 1980s. Here’s one critic’s top ten best list. Don't miss the previous choices for the 1960s1970s, and 1980s.

by
Kyle Smith

Bio

June 27, 2014 - 7:00 am

10. The Lion King (1994).

The importance of The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991) in reviving Broadway musical-style animation shouldn’t be underestimated, and Pixar’s entry into filmmaking with Toy Story (1995) was revolutionary, but it’s the African saga based on Hamlet that gave animated storytelling a depth, seriousness and resonance it hadn’t had since Pinocchio. Now that we’re used to seeing one or two great animated films a year, it’s hard to remember how special it was for a movie to carry so much appeal to both adults and kids.

9. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

A flop when it was released, this tale of a prisoner who escapes from lockup and rebuilds his soul was both a rousing yarn and a soul-nourishing inspiration that featured a classic performance of immense humanity by Morgan Freeman.

8. True Romance (1993)

Even more than Quentin Tarantino’s rough-edged Reservoir Dogs the year before, this Tony Scott-directed adaptation of Q.T.’s would presage the master writer’s later obsessions with the intersection of crime, comedy and pop culture as a small-time hood (Christian Slater) with a bag of money takes to the road while consulting with the ghost of Elvis. The disturbingly brilliant Sicilian Scene starring Dennis Hopper as Slater’s father and Christopher Walken as the mobster who wants to find the boy is one of the finest confrontations ever put on film.

7. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

The classic example of a film that only gets better the more you see it, this scorching and much-quoted dissection of manly competition features caustic work by Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin as shady dealmakers whose firm sells highly questionable property to suckers plucked off the streets.

6. True Lies (1994)

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fantastically entertaining 1990s films include Total Recall (1990) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), but this mashup of a sitcom with a James Bond story was better than either, a slick, fast-moving vehicle full of outrageous stunts such as a horse chase through the streets of D.C. and up an elevator. The movie is almost impossible to turn off.

5. Carlito’s Way (1993)

Improving on his previous best work The Untouchables, wild-eyed director Brian De Palma tamed his more extravagant impulses and stuck to a lean and polished story of a criminal (Al Pacino) trying to go straight but undone in part by his sleazy lawyer (Sean Penn). The film’s recreation of disco-era New York grime is even more evocative than the Pacino film that was actually made there in the mid-70s, Dog Day Afternoon.

4. Groundhog Day (1993)

A very funny tale of a curmudgeonly weather man (Bill Murray) who finds himself reliving the same day again and again turns unexpectedly mesmerizing as he slowly discovers that a seemingly hellish situation can, with acceptance, become an opportunity for personal growth. The film’s lightly worn religious and philosophical implications are a textbook example of how to impart a cute Hollywood comedy with real meaning.

3. Goodfellas (1990)

The Godfather, as great as it was, was also essentially and undeniably wrong: Mafia hoods are not noble, tragic heroes. As seen in Martin Scorsese’s gloriously honest, fact-based story of the rise of mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), they’re scrambling, often hilariously self-defeating little creatures driven by cynicism, laziness and stupidity.

2. Trainspotting (1996)

Fast, mean, tough-minded and unsentimental, Danny Boyle’s exploration of the lives of low-life heroin-addicted Scottish scum was a sucker punch to countercultural types who think outcasts are heroes. A frenzied rave of a movie, it nevertheless makes clear how savage, despicable and depleted are the lives of drug addicts.

1. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Crime movies would never be the same after Quentin Tarantino fully realized his vision in only the second film he directed. Replacing banal tough-guy chat with  hilariously discursive cultural commentary, filling up the background with intensely interesting weirdos (each of whom, like the Gimp, deserved a movie of his own) and devising the smartest and most tantalizing plot of the decade made Pulp Fiction a landmark event in American cinema, often imitated but never equalled.

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And also check out the previous choices for the 1960s1970s, and 1980s.

Kyle Smith is a film critic for the the New York Post. His website is at www.kylesmithonline.com.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Haven't y'all figured it out yet?
These lists are clickbait.
And don't tell me it doesn't work.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm sorry, but I don't see what was so great about Pulp Fiction.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wow, these lists just keep getting worse and worse. Like watching a slow-developing trainwreck.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (61)
All Comments   (61)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
I would have put Pi in the top 10; would have dropped True Lies.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Glengarry Glen Ross"

That's a film everyone's supposed to like, but is really dull.

It's the David Bowie of film.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
I caught True Lies on cable a couple of days ago and I forgot what a well made movie that was. Arguably one of Cameron's best films.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Haven't been to a movie in 20+ yrs. Could care less what's
playing at the movies or on TV. Why any conservative would is beyond me. You're just funding he enemy.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
The mediocre films of the 1930s and '40s were better than the "best" of the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Casino
Memento

20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Would somebody post a list of the top ten reasons for reading top ten lists?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Because the criteria for selection is not discussed and agreed on, and neither for that matter are the number of films to list and which years constitute a decade, we will never come close to an agreement on the top films of a decade. I guess this is an interesting thread, however, because a lot of us keep coming to gawk the gawk and talk the talk.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Mask with Jim Carrey.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
My question is, what are the standards or criteria that are used to include or exclude movies from these lists? Why is it that The Shawshank Redemption will be included but The Last of the Mohicans will not?

The author identifies himself as a "critic," but does not include any sort of rationale for the inclusion and rankings of these films.

Where is the criticism? Is there any "intellectual foundation" for the creation of these lists? If there is no philosophy or methodology undergirding the selection of films for a "10 Greatest List," then any one list is as good as any other list.

If that's the case, then P J Media slips into the type of relativism that several of its writers frequently decry.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fair points. I'll ask Kyle to plan on doing a list at some point along the lines of "the 10 most important qualities a great film needs to have" so he can go into more depth about his approach.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, I'd say that once you get past the first part - a really good film - Shawshank is more innovative. Generally speaking, people look at quality, - how well the film works - and then how much a film was also a gamechanger. That's not to say Last wasn't innovative in its own way. I really like that movie. Shawshank has a little bit more.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
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