The 1990s remain my least-explored decade, partly due to so many life issues happening at the time (graduate school, getting married, finding a job, etc.). Also I’ll be perfectly honest: something happened in the 90s that caused movies to suck. But my honesty goes both ways: I haven’t really seen enough 90s films to be able to put my finger on exactly what it was that happened. But I still want to explore that decade’s films more than I have.
I do know that most of the 90s films I’ve enjoyed most have come from countries other than the U.S., some of which you’ll see in the list below. And since I’m so soured on the 90s, I welcome your suggestions.
One False Move (1992)
You may be stunned to discover that film critic Gene Siskel named a film noir crime thriller as his favorite movie of 1992. Or maybe not. One False Move has no false moves. It’s a superb film that goes far beyond a story about violent criminals to one that makes us care about each character we meet, mostly because they’re written as real people and not tired stereotypes. The film (expertly directed by Carl Franklin, who would also direct the wonderful Devil in a Blue Dress) stars Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Cynda Williams.There’s no need for me to tell you the plot, just trust me on this one and see it.
The Match Factory Girl (1990)
A plain, unremarkable girl named Iris (Kati Outinen) works in a mind-numbing job at a Finnish factory that, as the title indicates, produces matches. Iris’s home life is just as mind-numbing, as she does most of the work while her mother and step-father do almost nothing, other than charging Iris rent. Out of desperation, Iris winds up at a club where she meets a man who mistakes Iris for a hooker. It’s impossible not to watch what happens next and equally impossible not to become mesmerized by who Iris is and what she does. Once you get beyond the seeming passivity of The Match Factory Girl, you realize you’ve actually been hypnotized by a film of unrelenting power. With a short running time of only 69 minutes, The Match Factory Girl is a stunner.
Howards End (1992)
I’m embarrassed to admit that I owned this Criterion Blu-ray for years before ever putting it in my player, except to make sure that it wasn’t one of the defective copies Criterion recalled a few years ago; it was. (Criterion sent me a replacement, even though it was out of print.) I’ll also admit that I have to get myself worked up (or down?) for watching a Merchant Ivory film, sort of an anti-pep rally. Wealthy businessman Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins) marries Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), his second wife, but their problems all stem from the fact that down deep they have very different values, reflected in their ideas of wealth, family, property, and more. Can they even effectively communicate with one another? (Can any two people?) There’s far more to the film than this and it goes without saying that the production values of a Merchant Ivory film will be extraordinary, but its actors go well beyond the realm of the extraordinary.
Before Sunrise (1995)
My friend Audy Christianos and I discussed this film on an episode of the podcast Film Don’t Lie. I absolutely loved the film, chronicling a chance encounter between American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), a Parisian student. My favorite moment involves pretend telephone conversations between the two characters, but the film is loaded with wonderful moments. I hope to see it again soon, as well as the sequels Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013).
Three Colors Trilogy: Blue (1993), White (1994), Red (1994)
It would be difficult for me to choose a favorite non-American director, but Krzysztof Kieślowski would certainly be in my Top 10, maybe even my Top 3. The films, representing the colors of the French flag, standing for liberty, equality, and fraternity, have been considered by many an anti-tragedy, an anti-comedy, and an anti-romance, respectively. To cover each film would require more space than I have here, if not a dissertation (and I’m not about to write another one of those). Each of these three films explores three different situational relationships between men and women, relationships that we don’t see from their beginnings, but rather at a crucial point or near their end. I recommend that you don’t read too much about the films, but only that you watch them, and in the order presented here.
The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)
I mentioned earlier that Krzysztof Kieślowski might be in my Top 3 list of non-American directors. If that’s true, he’d be joined by Abbas Kiarostami. I’ve only seen four of Kiarostami’s films, but all of them are brilliant. His 1999 The Wind Will Carry Us is described by some as a comic masterpiece, and others as “minor” Kiraostami. If the latter’s the case, I’m not sure I am emotionally capable of handling “major” Kiarostami. I will discuss this movie again soon, so keep an eye out, but if you are a Kanopy subscriber, I hope you’ll view it soon.
Before FilmStruck ended, Eddie Muller tweeted several films he recommended for film noir fans, including Sonatine, a film about Japanese gangster Murakawa (Takeshi Kitano, who also wrote and directed the film) as he’s assigned to settle a dispute in a yakuza gang war. The film is all at once exciting, humorous, and haunting.
The Last Seduction (1994)
I was delighted to finally see this for Noirvember earlier this year.
Next time: the 2000s
Photos: Told by Design, Roger Ebert, Movies Paradise, SFMOMA, BAMPFA, Critics Round Up, Curzon Artificial Eye