Recap: Reaction to S.T. Wonderhorse's series on Best Picture Oscar
winners. These are my favorite movies since the year of my birth.
Just my opinion. On to the 90's.
In politics, we had Clinton; in music, grunge; and in movies we had
the Indie film movement. It's been reported ad infinitum how these
three things completely changed the rules for their respective fields,
destroying all that came before and starting the world fresh and new.
When it comes down too it, this is a crock. Yes, great things
happened, but Bill, Kurt and Quentin did not expel the money-changers
from the temple. They only showed the money-changers to be the clowns
they were. Many faded substantially (Demi, Sylvester) but they didn't
go away. They are still with us today, long after the game changers
lost their relevance. They still made movies in the 90's and a lot of
them still sucked.
The thing that was really the game changer was not the change to
Hollywood, but rather to art films. The peaceful sanctuary for
thoughtful folks who enjoyed the art of film found their doors kicked
in by a team of kids. And the kid in the middle was holding a gun, a
razor and a can of gasoline. Art movies found they could mix their
blood with Hollywood excess, so movies grew balls and discovered their
The big change was that when someone got shot, it stopped being
abstract and bloodless as in the films of the 80's. It meant that a
character was dying, and dying in a bad way.
1990- Miller's Crossing. When I saw this as a senior in high school,
I didn't know what was happening to me, but I knew I could never go
back. This was the beginning of the end of my film youth. Gabriel
Byrne plays a thinking man hero caught in the middle of a prohibition
era gang war, and he has to use his big brain to bring back the peace.
Sounds pretty basic, but the Rube Goldberg mechanism of this movie is
a monster of hidden motivations, funny/poetic dialogue, brutal/funny
violence, amber lit rooms, swirling leaves, a bunch of hats, and one
of the great acting ensembles. Every scene in this movie is a mini
work of art, but the central point when Tom and Bernie have to go to
the eponymous crossroads is maybe the best thing I've ever seen on
film. Endlessly watchable, endlessly quotable. My favorite Coen
Brothers movie, my favorite 1990 movie, my favorite movie. (see also-
of course, Goodfellas, Cyrano de Bergerac)
1991- My Own Private Idaho- For around the first half-hour of this
movie, we swirl around a group of street hustlers in Portland, Oregon,
before slowly settling on two of them. One is River Phoenix, whose
narcolepcy only heightens how lost he is. The other is Keanu Reeves,
a slumming rich kid who is enjoying his freedom until the inevitable
death of his father, when he will rise up to greatness. Van Zandt
blatantly riffs on "Henry IV" to the point of having characters
traipse into neo-Shakespearean dialogue. I used to be think Keanu was
a blot on this impeccable picture, particularly next to the
other-worldly Phoenix. Having seen it again recently, he's actually
pretty good. The heart and heartbreak of the movie, though, is
River's desperate, half-awake, heart-broken lost boy trying to find
something in his life that will stay. (see also- Barton Fink)
1992- Glengarry Glen Ross- Pacino, Lemmon, Arkin, Harris, Baldwin, and some other guy who turned out to be Spacey. Words by Mamet. Game on.
Everyone wins by playing a bunch of losers. When this was finally
released on video, all my theater buddies got together and we smoked
cigars for one of the best acting lessons ever. [see also- Reservoir
Dogs, the Player]
Side bar: I'm sorry this is so testosterone ridden. But, look at
these movies. How can I resist? Hey: I loved Citizen Ruth. One of
the most important movies of the decade. And Sense and Sensibility.
And the Piano. Aw, God, I just said that last one because it seems
like I'm supposed to, damn it! And Keitel's in it. I'm sorry. I'm
not all about guns, I swear. Let's move on:
1993- Schindler's List- Hook was an insult to God's creation.
Jurassic Park was vastly overated bit of schlock. I heard that
Spielberg's next project was a three hour black and white movie about
the holocaust. "Well," I thought, "This will be the last we hear of
this washed-up joker." So I was wrong. '93 was like '39, a year of
astounding films were overshadowed by the immeasurable Gone With the
Wind. Here are some of the movies that Schindler's List is better
than: Short Cuts, In the Name of the Father, Groundhog's Day,
Searching for Bobby Fischer, 6 Degrees of Separation, Much Ado About
Nothing, The Fugitive, In the Line of Fire, True Romance, The Wrong
Trousers. That's how good Schindler's List is.
1994- Pulp Fiction- Easy to follow non-linear story line, Travolta
resurgence, Samuel L's ascension, Willis's credibility, the different
dancing styles of the coked-up and the heroin-addled, redemption, the
Wolf, "this uncomfortable hunk of metal", the discovery of 4 pawn-shop
weapons, Pumpkin and Honeybun, the huge titles scrolling up the scene,
"Mis-er-lou," one huge hypodermic needle, Marvin's popping head,
meta-physical bullets. That's just the first things that come to
mind. But, what shoots this beyond a film geek's wildest dreams is
Jules's speech to Pumpkin at the end of the movie. A blood-and-brains
fest closes with a man explaining to a stranger his weary epiphany.
How dare Tarentino even attempt such a thing? How dare he succeed?
[see also Ed Wood, The Madness of King George, Vanya on 42nd Street]
1996- Dead Man- Johnny Depp is an accountant named William Blake who goes into the wild west, gets shot, and is led by an Indian named
Nobody into death. Evil is chasing him. It's almost impossible to
tell when and if William Blake dies, but you do get to see him start
living. Director Jim Jarmusch has always been a master of the
intimate. When he takes on an epic, he does it with his rules, at his
languid pace. He tugs at the door of the western and brings the
entire genre to rubble. And Mitchum's in it! [see also- Citizen Ruth,
Bottle Rocket, Sling Blade, The Sweet Hereafter, Trainspotting]
1997- [tie] LA Confidential/Boogie Nights- Two LA stories set in two
separate periods. One's a hyper-complex film noir, of corrupt cops
working together to stop some really corrupt cops. The other is about
a nice happy bunch of 70's porn makers turned into sad 80's porn
makers- maybe one of the best family dramas ever. They both make us
rethink how we view the people of their respective professions, while
making us realize what we've always thought about LA is probably true.
1998- Another tie: I was going to just pick Shakespeare in Love, but
then I found out that my original choice for '99 came out in '98. So,
first Shakespeare. A friend of mine said that was great about the
first two Shamayalan movies was that they both end at a new beginning.
The heroes of those movies spend the movie learning about their
powers, and we are left with them starting a life of using their
powers for good. The same thing happens in Shakespeare in love.
Shakespeare does not know how brilliant he is until the end of the
movie. The scene in which Will and Viola see each other for the last
time is heart breaking as he denounces writing, and you see Western
Literature crumbling in his eyes, and she convinces him to go on. In
their push and pull they form a story for themselves with a happy
ending (basically story-lining '12th Night'), and with that
Shakespeare finds a new beginning. Hey, I'm a sucker for romances,
and I was a theater major. That movie was my reward for a decade
spent studying Shakespeare and falling in love. It was as if it was
written for me.
This whole thing has gone on too long, so I'll start my next one with
the movie that tied Shakespeare.
- Madison, Wisconsin, USA
- August 20
- Craig Johnson is an actor and sometime writer for the internet series "Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager." He dreams of someday writing Nantucket related trivia to be printed on Nantucket Nectar juice caps.
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