The Top 10 Films of the 90s

The 1990s was a strange time for cinema. Gone were the flashy excesses of the 1980s (for the most part), and suddenly the independent filmmaker was at the forefront. Technology changed the medium at an alarming rate and “jump” scares were often replaced by thoughtful more suspense driven fare.

These 10 films are those that represent the majority of my favorites of the decade.

Number 10
L.A. Confidential
Year: 1997
Director: Curtis Hanson
Academy Award Nominations: 9
Academy Award Wins: 2
Why:L.A. Confidential is the Chinatown of the 90s. It is a hauntingly effective crime thriller set in the 1950s, that shines a light on police corruption, police brutality, the media and Hollywood. The powerhouse cast (Guy Pearce, Russel Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger) are all spot on as the pawns in a gangland power struggle that creates a murdered cop, a police frame-up and an intense final shoot out that would make a classic western jealous. Overlooked by the general public, L.A. Confidential found the majority of its critical and award time glory go to the year’s big smash, Titanic, but as time wears on it is this film that will be remembered as best of the year.

Number 9
Toy Story 2
Year: 1999
Director: John Lasseter
Academy Award Nominations: 1
Academy Award Wins: 0
Why: As little as three months ago I would have had the first Pixar outing, Toy Story, occupying this position, but after this year’s theatrical re-release of both films, I find my position reversed. Toy Story 2 may be the best sequel ever made. While the film is obviously technically superior to the first, it is also emotionally superior. The film’s themes death with abandonment and finding your place in life in such a touching and heartfelt way that it is difficult to not be moved by the films key sequences. Pixar has always had a way with characters and humor that remains practically unrivaled in all of cinema, and Toy Story 2 is a shining example of why.

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Number 8
Pulp Fiction
Year: 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Academy Award Nominations: 7
Academy Award Wins: 1
Why: Often imitated, but not quite duplicated, Pulp Fiction is lightning in a bottle. Quentin Tarantino’s snappy dialog and jigsaw puzzle time line created their own little cult. Set in modern day (at the time), Pulp Fictionprefers the unpredictable sensibilities of the 1970s. Each segment of the film is a winner, each with their own highlights.

Number 7
The Lion King
Year: 1994
Director: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Academy Award Nominations: 4
Academy Award Wins: 2
Why: The last truly great Disney 2D animated film, The Lion King may be the greatest animated film of all time. An animated retooling of Hamlet, The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a lion cub who grows to maturity in exile from his kingdom. The film features amazing songs and gorgeous animation. The voice performances are all stellar, and this is a film that just stays with you long after it is over.

Number 6
Fight Club
Year: 1999
Director: David Fincher
Academy Award Nominations: 1
Academy Award Wins: 0
Why: Fight Club introduced a section of middle America to a little slice of anarchy that few had ever seen before. Tyler Durden’s (Brad Pitt) philosophy of life functioned to give the audience a new outlook on life. Along with spectacular twist ending the gritty realism of the film captures the listlessness of a generation.

Number 5
Year: 1995
Director: Mel Gibson
Academy Award Nominations: 10
Academy Award Wins: 5
Why: Mel Gibson’s bloody, sweeping emotional epic is film making on a grand scale. The brutal realism, accompanied by memorable characters, coupled with the fairly historically accurate story are incredibly engaging. The sweeping shots and beautiful hills are also a co-star. Mel Gibson proved that he is just as capable a director as a star with this large scale epic masterpiece.

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Number 4
Forrest Gump
Year: 1994
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Academy Award Nominations: 13
Academy Award Wins: 6
Why: Melodramatic? Sure. Amazing? Yes. Tom Hanks is phenomenal in the story of a simple man living in extraordinary times. Each vignette is strikingly poignant. The use of music throughout the movie is spectacular. There are just so many little touches in the movie that make it amazing.

Number 3
Saving Private Ryan
Year: 1998
Director: Steven Spielberg
Academy Award Nominations: 11
Academy Award Wins: 5
Why: Probably the most intense war movie ever caught on film, Saving Private Ryan is as much of an experience as it is a film. The chaos on a realism of the battle sequences have bee rightly praised since the release of the films, but the quiet more character driven aspects are just as spectacular. The movie also features some of the best sound work ever committed to film, because when a tank drives by, it can shake your whole house.

Number 2
The Shawshank Redemption
Year: 1994
Director: Frank Darabont
Academy Award Nominations: 7
Academy Award Wins: 0
A film lost in the spectacular success of several other film’s that year, The Shawshank Redemption is the one that proves to be the enduring classic. A story of hope during hopelessness, this is a film that seems to get better every time I see it. Sitting proudly as the #1 ranked film on, Shawshank is one of the most popular movies in the world (it was the most rented film in the year 1995), despite being a box office flop upon release.

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Number 1
Year: 1990
Director: Martin Scorcese
Academy Award Nominations: 6
Academy Award Wins: 1
Why: This is a film that will be studied for years to come. Even Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont said that he studied the film’s use of narration and passage of time to use as a model in his film. For me, this is the definitive gangster movie. Every performance is solid, and there is not a moment of wasted frame, but never does it feel a moment over, or even close, to its two and a half hour run time.