Here we go with another By The Decade post to help broaden my cinematic horizons and welcome your recommendations from a specific era – the last two weeks especially have thrown out some really great suggestions, and I think this one will be great too.
Following the previous 3 From The 30s, 4 From The 40s, 5 From The 50s, 6 From The 60s, 7 From The 70s and 8 From The 80s posts, we’ve had brilliant suggestions from readers for their favourite films from the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s.
I’ll be honest, the choices I’ve made this week are not my favourite films from that decade, they’re certainly not the best films of the decade, and I’m well aware they’re incredibly mainstream and obvious.
I guess that’s a disclaimer of sorts, but this isn’t a judgemental place, so feel free to shout up with some of your top films from the 1990s, whether you feel they’re respected or not!
Before Doug Liman directed an amnesiac spy thriller and a timeloop action sci-fi, he helmed Swingers – a look at a bunch of male friends trying to get work, get over exes and get girls in LA.
It’s not exactly an unfiltered examination of toxic masculinity, but you’ve got lovesick, angry and confused young men, desperate for attention, drinking and partying and all knowing they should probably behave a little better, with four strong lead characters.
This is a film I watched a lot at a point in my life where I’d identify more closely with a different character each time I saw it (back and forth between the confident Trent, awkward sadsack Mike, the angry boy named Sue, and Rob who just goes along with things), and while I haven’t watched it in a while, I’m curious to look back at it away from the dated and overused dialogue and view it almost as an outsider. Cracking soundtrack too.
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Oh man, just thinking about this one puts a smile on my face.
John Cusack as a cool but neurotic hitman, Minnie Driver as a sassy small-town DJ, Dan Akroyd as a pill-popping bad guy – what’s not to love?
It’s got whipsmart dialogue, great fights and shootouts and another superb soundtrack (though a disappointing number of gifs, apparently), and the best use of a pen in a fight until Jason Bourne stuck a biro into an assassin’s fist.
I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a John Cusack performance more (though I’m usually happy to give his films a go), and it would’ve been great to have had another Martin Blank film.
That being said, there’s no way it would’ve captured the ennui that this film managed to find between all the exciting bits.
Army Of Darkness (1992)
I’m on the record as a fan of Bruce Campbell, but this was the first film I saw him in and probably still my favourite.
Yes, it’s silly, but it embraces the daftness of its premise. But it’s also got some truly brilliant elements too – watch the Harryhausen-esque skeleton army attack and tell me that’s not thrilling and funny. Watch Ash battle little versions of himself and tell me it’s not a physically comedic performance worthy of the silent greats.
I had the VHS (bought cheap from Woolworths), which had the alternative ending tacked on after the closing credits – this was probably the first time I’d heard of such a thing, and ignited a curiosity about films and filmmaking that has stuck with me ever since. I still don’t know which version I prefer, to be honest, probably best watch it again to decide.
Oh, and if you’re a fan of podcasts, have a listen to the episode of the terrific 90 Minutes Or Less Film Fest featuring Nick Helm where he describes what’s brilliant about this film better than I can – seriously, it’s weird how much I identified with his experience of it, but then he went and met Campbell in person, so he obviously wins.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
As always, this list isn’t about what I think are the best films of the decade, but films from the decade that mean something to me.
To be clear, it’s not that I like or dislike this film – I’m ambivalent towards it at best.
However, it was the first film I saw in a cinema that I shouldn’t have been allowed in to see – the BBFC rated it 15 on release (though that’s since been dropped to a 12, I believe), so I was just a couple of years shy, but I can still remember the thrill of handing over my fiver at the Odeon in Leeds (now a sports shop), receiving change(!), and getting my ticket torn before heading in.
Weirdly, I remember more about how it felt to get in than I do about the film itself. I can’t say I’ve really been tempted to revisit it, but maybe one day.
The Matrix (1999)
Yeah, it’s an obvious one, but The Matrix did things that hadn’t been seen in cinemas before.
I remember reading a piece in Empire a while before it came out and not really understanding even the concept of the film, and I don’t think I even watched a trailer for it before seeing the film.
Yes, it’s a patchwork of ideas with the cracks glossed over by effects work (which is, incidentally, far superior to the effects shown in the sequels), but aside from the philosophical aspects of the film, it’s a film that’s so visually striking it’s hard to look away.
Reloaded and Revolutions soured the taste of the original slightly, but also improved its standing massively in my opinion, and while I’m not exactly in a rush to see the upcoming fourth entry, I’m curious to see if lessons have been learned from the sequels.
Wayne’s World (1992)
This was another VHS I wore out through watching it on lazy weekends. Watching it in the nineties, I was probably about the right age for the broader gags and catchphrases, but less so for some of the more cynical nods and pop-culture references which I came to appreciate later.
Mike Myers and Dana Carvey are great in this, Tia Carrere was an absolute revelation to my young self, and it’s fun to look back and see just how many ‘hey, it’s that guy from that thing’ appearances there are.
I seem to remember 15 minute Wayne’s World episodes being shown midweek evenings on BBC2 around the time the films were being released in the UK, and them looking weird and alien amongst the regular schedule simply by being American and filmed with a different look or style – does anyone remember that, or have I imagined it? Be sure to let me know, but it’s a weird thing to make up.
Oh, and there’s another cracking soundtrack on this one, which introduced me to Jimi Hendrix as well as some of the cheesier hair rock.
Dated? Sure. But also fun.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Look, I’m a bit of a Star Wars geek, but I was a much bigger Star Wars geek back in the mid-nineties, so when word got out there was going to be a new entry in the franchise, my tiny little mind was blown.
I’d just about fixed my mind when the trailer dropped too, but as John Williams’ Duel Of The Fates kicked in and we saw Darth Maul’s fancypants lightsabre, it went and blew all over again.
I remember being in the queue for this one outside the same Odeon in the Headrow in Leeds too, but don’t remember my initial reaction to it other than excitement at seeing a new Star Wars film.
Looking back, I’m happy to admit it’s really not a great film, but I’d argue that it has great moments. Admittedly, they’re few and far between, but they’re there, right?
There’s been a game doing the rounds on Twitter this week asking for peoples’ favourite Bond film, the Bond film released nearest to their birth year, and the first Bond film they saw. Well, I haven’t taken part in that game, but Goldeneye was the first Bond film I saw in the cinema.
After enjoying the soup of (mainly) Roger Moore Bonds over Bank Holidays for years, my attitude to the franchise changed enormously as soon as the pre-credits sequence started. I’d seen a behind-the-scenes clip of the filming of the dam bungee, but seeing that sequence on the big screen was just incredible, and I remember the silence of the audience during that opening jump as if we were all holding our breath as we watched.
Again, this is another one that’s dated in places (the score is… well, it’s something else), but the introduction of Judi Dench as M and Pierce Brosnan as Bond was done beautifully, while Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan is one of the better bad guys from the whole franchise and that fight on the satellite dish at the end stands up 26 years on, in my opinion.
This is another one of those films that if I see it on ITV4 while channel surfing before bed (it’s always ITV4), I’ll end up watching an hour of it before I’ve even blinked. Martin Campbell did great work with this and Casino Royale, and I’d be genuinely curious to see if he’s asked back to direct the introduction for whoever the new Bond ends up being.
LA Confidential (1997)
This title cropped up a lot in one of the earliest Quick Reads on Late Reviewer, asking for films which improved on the book, and I’m completely on board with that.
I hadn’t read the novel or any of the LA Quartet prior to seeing this one, but I found LA Confidential to be completely absorbing and an incredible introduction to the period and style of Ellroy’s writing and characters.
Crowe, Pierce, Cromwell, DeVito, Basinger and Spacey are all brilliantly cast and playing at the top of their games while the script by Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland works wonders with the incredibly dense source material to streamline it without losing its sense of story, style and danger.
The fact I still hum fragments of songs that appear fleetingly in the film to myself might not be the most important thing about this film, but it shows that every element of it sticks in the mind long, long after the first viewing.
This is another one where I can be flicking through the channels late at night and decide to pour myself another large glass of something and watch it for a couple of hours no matter how tired I am.
So… What Else?
I thought the last couple of By The Decades had been hard but this week was really tough.
Part of the problem was deciding whether to separate out films I enjoyed in the nineties and films from the nineties that I enjoyed later, so in the end I settled on a mix.
A few people last week said it was too difficult to choose 8 From The 80s, and I think that’ll happen again this week, but however it ends up, I’m looking forward to seeing what you good people come up with!
UPDATE: You can read the full list of reader recommendations from the 1990s here!