Monday, August 17, 2009


I can't believe I am old enough to make a list of films that I have loved since 1989. It's been 20 friggin' years and yes, this means I am officially getting old.

This list in NOT IN ORDER. These are all my favorite films of the last 20 years and my criteria are the following:

a) Mainstream and critical entertainment value: does it hold up with the intellectual film establishment AND with the bottom-feeding masses that don't know a good movie from a hole in the wall?

b) Influence/Impact on the art form or the business: has the film in question either pushed the art form forward or changed the way that Hollywood does business?

c) Longevity: has the film maintained its narrative and visual strength upon repeated viewings over the last 20 years?

Mind you, this is just my opinion, but I am cooler than most people so you should listen to me.

#1) BATMAN (1989): If you were old enough to wait in line for hours to see this movie, then you remember the marketing onslaught for the film that created the modern Hollywood "event" movie. Before this, movies were a big deal, but never had there been a scientifically-constructed marketing formula to maximize ancillary income from a film franchise on this level. Add in the fact that you had a goth-filmmaker like Tim Burton, wildly inspired casting for the Joker in Jack Nicholson and the oddball casting of Michael Keaton as Batman and you had something that EVERYBODY just had to see.

#2) HEAT (1995): Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Jon Voigt and a bunch of other badass male actors frame a compelling and endlessly cool film directed by Miami Vice creator Michael Mann. This film had it all: great action scenes, tons of tough guy dialogue, a very hot young Ashley Judd and a story that doesn't waste a second of screen time. Hollywood has been trying to re-create this movie since the late 1990s and they haven't been able to come close. This movie never gets boring to watch.

#3) GOODFELLAS (1990): Hollywood's last great gangster film. This is Martin Scorsese's magnum opus. Incredible filmmaking techniques (just look at that one-take shot through the back of the nightclub in the clip below), incredible acting from Pesci, DeNiro, Liotta and Bracco, kick ass screenplay, perfect use of musical cues and editing, almost flawless economical storytelling framed with a moral at the end. More fluid than the GODFATHER series, more intelligent and emotionally accessible than the SOPRANOS and can be used as both an example of supreme entertainment and a guidebook to classic Hollywood filmmaking, I can not think of another recent gangster movie that reaches the creative pinnacle of this one. My hat is off to you Scorsese.

#4) MOULIN ROUGE (2001): Although many people think I am crazy for loving this film so much, director Baz Luhrmann created a wonderfully schizophrenic musical adventure based on the opera La Traviata. This version of Moulin Rouge is relentless and fearless. Luhrmann decides to throw away the trappings of traditional narrative and Hollywood editing style to explore the endless possibilities of the film medium (that is the synthesis of all arts and so few working directors seem to remember this). Gorgeous set design, visually appealing costumes and the BEST Nicole Kidman has ever looked in her career. Lots of fun.

#5) FIGHT CLUB (1999): Throughout this list, the year 1999 will pop up again because for some reason or another, a lot of truly inventive and interesting films made it through the Hollywood system in the pre-Millenial year. Fight Club is one of the most creative and unexpected movies ever made by a major studio. Ed Norton and Brad Pitt were picture perfect in their roles as id and ego. Director David Fincher showed his talent by pulling the unsuspecting audience towards one of the biggest twist endings in movie history. The rumor goes that the executives at Fox thought they were buying an action movie and wound up getting the greatest anti-establishment film of the last 50 years.

#6) JFK (1991): Director Oliver Stone's look at the possible conspiracy involving the Kennedy assassination. Re-introduced the Kennedy mythos to an entire generation that was unborn during the turbulent 60s. Revolutionary in its use of various film stocks to create a documentary-like recreation of fabricated events, lending to it a sense of scholarly authenticity. Despite some conspiracy-minded foolishness, goes a long way in establishing the foolishness of Warren Commission's findings of a lone gunman. Another perfect amalgamation of propaganda and pop art.

#7) CLERKS (1994): Kevin Smith's debut film accurately captures the pathos and soul numbing repetition of retail work from the perspective of 20-something slackers too enraptured with the irresponsibility of their adolescent years. Smith dug deeeeeeep into the heart of 1980s kids by playing with our pointless infatuation with the 1980s and how it keeps many from taking their lives to the next level. Spotty at times, but has a kind of gritty realism that helps you to identify with their plight even if you find them responsible for their lot in life. Beneath all the fun is an undercurrent of unavoidable sadness.

#8) GATTACA (1997): A prophetic movie that explores what happens when society allows genetic manipulation in unborn children to remove any potential maladies or defects. An underclass of normal born people struggle to survive in a "perfect" world where discrimination is the rule and upward advancement is a mirage. This screenplay is strong and depicts a future world that feels familiar and possible.

#9) SWINGERS (1996): The only romantic comedy made by men FOR men. This is an all-too familiar tale of the "regular" guy not blessed with gorgeous looks nor the ability to deliver snappy pick-up lines in the vicious world of the Los Angeles singles scene. Fantastic music and great performances from Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Ron Livingston make this movie accessible and pleasant. Nothing groundbreaking, but definitely a more intelligent look at dating from the perspective of single men with everything and nothing to lose.

#10) LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING: While Return of the King won the Oscars for best picture and all the other important awards, FOTR (as we geeks call it) was the strongest entry in my opinion. Director Peter Jackson had the unenviable task of introducing a largely illiterate society to a grand work of literature in cinematic form. Not only did he pull it off, but he took the novel to a new level by simplifying the pointless linguistic excess of Tolkein's world. LOTR was everything the other two movies weren't: focused, unfettered, exciting, poetic, unpretentious. Even the extended version moves along faster than the theatrical cuts of the sequels.

#11) THE MATRIX (1999): I don't know what else can be said about this modern masterpiece but I will say this, it was one of the few films I have ever seen that I had no idea what was going to happen next. If you know me, then you know this never happens to me, EVER. I can usually figure out a film about 20 minutes into it, but with the Matrix, I was guessing and second-guessing pretty much until the last second of screen time. This screenplay was thoughtful, imaginative, exciting and hard-hitting. While everybody and their mother has been ripping off the visual style of the Matrix for the last decade, the original is still the best. This movie is what BLADE RUNNER would have been had it been made at the end of the 20th century.