By Ari Dassa
I still think of the 1990’s in film as contemporary even though it’s not anymore.
I definitely spend more time with 90s movies than I do with stuff from the last 10 or 15 years. There’s been a ton of great work, but it’s never really reached the same level or had the same influence or effect on me.
I always like recommending films from this era to people.
So here’s some film clips that I feel are defining moments of the 1990’s in film for me.
The Thin Red Line
Directed by Terrence Malick
First up is this piece from Terrence Malick’s groundbreaking WWII stunner The Thin Red Line. This 9 minutes is pretty much a masterclass in filmmaking, especially from an editing standpoint. The way it builds, the perspective it gives on each side, the moments of quick-cut brutality and the lingering shots of the malnourished Japanese soldiers.
This is one of the few WWII films that refuses to have “bad guys”. The Japanese soldiers are portrayed as human, just as the Americans are, and this sequence shows the absurdity, confusion and ugliness of war in such a visceral, emotional way.
It’s also, for me, Hans Zimmer’s greatest moment as film composer. T
he voice-over throughout the film is poignant and powerful, like this ensemble internal monologue from all the characters. Scorsese said it best when discussing the film. “They are not many voices, they are one voice”. “The Thin Red Line” (1998) dir: Terrence Malick.
Directed by Spike Lee
This is Spike Lee’s mastery all summed up in one scene.
Relevant commentary, personal storytelling, and brilliant cinematic technique to express it.
So so good.
Not sure why this film gets left out when discussing Spike’s best work.
It’s easily one of his best.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
A beast of a movie. A BEAST.
One could say it’s the 3rd installment of Martin Scorsese’s thematic gangster trilogy of Mean Streets, Goodfellas and this. And it’s as epic a conclusion as it gets. It often gets overlooked because Goodfellas came first and has a similar style, but make no mistake, it’s just as masterful and ambitious, not to mention bigger and darker.
It’s hard to choose one moment from this film. There’s the introduction to the Tangiers and how it operates, there’s the “Cheater’s Justice” scene, there’s the infamous “vice” scene that serves as the extreme of all extremes in showing the ugly violence of the mafia lifestyle….but I’m choosing this exchange between Pesci and De Niro because I love the back and forth dialogue and how vicious and funny it is (the film is darkly comic all the way through).
Pesci is a monster in this film and gives a monster performance.
Scorsese just has to make these awful people so damn likable though. Not because he’s glorifying them, but because he insists on portraying them as people with the same ups and downs as everyone else, but with a different moral outlook.
Also great in this scene – the music from Contempt, and that shot of the car reflected in the sunglasses. Scorsese, man.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
One of the most original films of the decade.
Forest Whitaker plays the title character, a quiet assassin who lives by the code of the Samurai. The East Coast vibe mixed with RZA’s soundtrack and use of rap music makes this a unique entry in the gangster film genre.
It’s written and directed by the always fascinating Jim Jarmusch. Nothing is ordinary in his films.
This film is extraordinary.
Directed by Mike Leigh
LISTEN to this movie a couple times to fully get it because there are so many ideas unleashed from beginning to end that it’s kinda overwhelming on the first viewing.
David Thewlis gives a performance here that goes down as one of my all time favorites. And it’s weird, because if a more famous actor did this role I’m pretty sure EVERYONE would recognize it as being a monumental moment in screen acting. His character doesn’t shut up, constantly spewing out thoughts and reflections about himself and the world in sometimes bleak, sometimes comical, often times incendiary fashion.
The film is darkly brilliant and impossible to shake. You have to watch it if you haven’t seen it. And just listen to it.
That’s it for now. Check back for more 90’s defining moments in a future post. Till then maybe check out one of these films and let us know what you think in the comments or our Facebook page.