Monday, February 1, 2010

20 Years Ago: My Favorite Movies of 1990

I have already done my top ten of 2000 (10 years ago!) So If you are feeling like a completist then you can immediately go there and finish up. Maybe I will go back further next time even, 50-70 years ago. Man, if I hadn't been thinking of Psycho when I first started this maybe I would have started there. Ah well, maybe later. (Most likely later). I need to see some new movies, while I am at it!

But first, the beginning of the nineties. The nineties were weird, it seems. Particularly the earlier part of the decade. They really gain steam as the decade comes to the close. Either I haven't seen certain movies or the beginning of the nineties there wasn't much happening.

Oh, there were good movies, though.
Anyway, here we go:

10) Jacob's Ladder

I remember being in high school and siting this as one of my favorite movies. I am quite sure, at the time, I was either trying to shock people somehow, or in my high school mind I found this movie deeper than it actually is. What is is is somewhat incomprehensible, with an ending that all but negates what came before it. That being said though, even though in the end it might not add up to much, it is pretty scary with some super creepy visuals.

9) Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Not only is it better than the original, but it also has to be one of the nuttiest wide releases that has ever snuck onto major screens. Joe Dante just about throws everything at the wall to see what sticks, and creates not only one of the craziest sequels but also craziest old school Universal monster movie/somewhat riff on Die Hard/Looney Tune homage/weird commentary on the fast pace of technology-it really must be seen to be believed. And even then you might not believe what you are actually watching. Also, extra points for having Christopher Lee in there as a mad scientist of sorts.

8) Tremors

While less anarchic than Gremlins 2, this is a really great homage/riff on old school monster movies/"Nature Gone Wild" Jaws rip off (although this one isn't MUCH of a rip off-but I think the filmmakers wouldn't mind the comparison check out themovie poster.) A small town in the middle of the desert is set upon by mysterious "sand worms". Thats basically it. The people in the town, led by two goofs, played by Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, have to try and escape from them...somehow. Sure it sounds pretty standard, and being an exercise in genre tropes, it is, but the action sequences and the characters that make up the band of people are what elevates this. Its just awesome and fun, they really do a lot with the familiar. Even Reba McEntire as a survivalist is good here.

7) Metropolitan

Whatever happened to Whit Stillman? Or Chris Eigeman for that matter? This is just really well written. Which is saying something for me since usually a bunch of upper class, young Manhattanites hang out every night would usually be a recipe to drive me nuts. But Stillman's dialogue is so good, and his introduction of an outsider "infiltrating" the group, as anyone knows an outsider can destroy any group's dynamic. But an outsider with a different history than the rest of the wealthy Manhattanites can really ruffle feathers. Its such an interesting movie, with such great writing, one really hopes that Stillman might come back at some point with something else. To me this is still his highlight.

6) King Of New York

Ah, Christopher Walken as Frank White. He does not get as many mentions as Tony Montana in the world of hip hop, but enough of the best have mentioned him that he is somewhat of an icon. In general, I think he deserves to be more of an icon. A great crime story, about a twisted criminal mastermind who considers himself somewhat of a modern day Robin Hood/New York City's savior. This is the story of how he systematically takes over in New York City, and his subsequent downfall. Not only is the story interesting, but Christopher Walken's portrayal of Frank White is amazing. Just as his usual off-kilter self, he's not just winning and charismatic but with also a more than a hint of psychosis behind his eyes.

5) Mo Better Blues

Give credit to Tina for introducing me to this. Do The Right Thing is obviously Lee's masterpiece, and will continue to be. But, I think his work in the the nineties tends to get overlooked. Particularly this and Jungle Fever. The story of Bleek's (Denzel Washington) and Shadow's (Wesley Snipes) friendly rivalry on stage which spills into their professional relationship and threatens to tear apart the The Bleek Gilliam Quarter. This movie oozes Spike Lee's love of, and complicated relationship to jazz and showbiz. Much of which he got from his dad, Bill Lee, a jazz musician who also scored this movie.

4) Misery

From about 1984 to 1992, Rob Reiner had a really good run of seven movies. This is one of the last two really good ones he would make and then fall off by a lot. Misery is even one of two really good Stephen King adaptations that he would do. It can probably argued whether or not it was a good idea to tone down the violence from King's novel. But I think it works well in this context. Kathy Bates and James Caan are great here. A fairly creepy look at obsession gone completely off the rails.

3) The Grifters

This comes from a novel by Jim Thompson, the same pulp writer that wrote The Killer Inside Me. I am a sucker for a good con man story, and this a super dark, twisty movie with three con "people" all playing their own angles. It reminds me that when John Cusack chooses well, he chooses really good movies to be in.

2) Miller's Crossing

Speaking of twisty, Miller's Crossing is it. It definitely takes (well, it did for me) more than one viewing to truly understand what is going on in this movie. Even now, I can still get confused. The Coens' tough guy/noirish, sometimes impenetrable dialogue, can be tough to sort through. But just the ride in getting there is amazing. It looks amazing, the dialogue is amazing...just great stuff all around.

1) Goodfellas

I know I am cheating here, but from my previous look at Goodfellas:
"Next to "Casino," this is probably Scorsese's most popular movie. And one that also got robbed at the Oscars. "Dances With Wolves" my ass.

Anyhow, it was an innovative look at crime throughout the 70's and 80's that offers more narrative than "Oh hey, everyone's doing coke!"

Again, love his use of music in the "Sunshine of Your Love" scene as De Niro contemplates the murder of Morrie. There is a reason why that scene is so popular; it's yet another example of how many imitators were spawned."


  1. I watched Jacob's Ladder on a date with a much older guy when I was 16 or 17. I LOVED it!!! Then we watched A Dream for An Insomniac. I never saw the guy again, but I'll always remember that night because of the strange mix of movies that totally wowed me. I just found out Mike has never seen Jacob's Ladder, another one going in the net flix que!!

  2. oh and Misery... awesome movie and I think Rob Reiner did an awesome job adapting it to the big screen. I love me some Stephen King, but usually his movies flop (outside of a few truly great ones).

  3. Stephen King adaptations are a pretty weird thing. When they are good they are super good, but when they are bad they are really bad. There's no real middle ground.