An Appreciation of 1990’s films – Part Two

By Ari Dassa

In this series of articles, PassMeThePopcorn.com contributor Ari Dassa is looking back at some of his favorite cinematic moments from the 1990’s. For part one of the series check it out here.

 

The Matrix

 
Directed by Lana & Andy Wachowski
 
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This movie is my comfort food.
 
I’ve said this before…there is no other movie that mixes together my favorite escapist genres and ideas the way this one does. One has to have a twisted sci-fi premise, The film has martial arts sequences, It has the cyber-punk influence, the anime influence, the philosophical element that allows one to sit and think about it, the use of mythological references, AND the single best CGI action-effect ever.
 
It’s just awesome.
 
What’s original about the film is the way the blend of ideas turned out. All this stuff has been done before, but not like this. The Wachowskis call the film “fusion art”, and that’s probably the most accurate way to describe it.
 
It’s also the best action film of the ’90s, and still, to this day, has not been topped.
 
Fury Road gets close, but there’s still nothing quite as jaw-dropping as the first time we got a look at this sequence. Basically everything from the lobby shootout to when Neo saves Trinity in the helicopter crash is on another level of action spectacle and VFX.
 
Also worth pointing out…this film won an Oscar for Best Film Editing. And it is so so well earned. Because seriously….this:
 

 

 

 

The Player

 
Directed by Robert Altman

 

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Can we talk about something other than Hollywood for a change? We’re educated people.

 

I’m posting the trailer for the film since there aren’t a lot of individual scenes in high quality on youtube. But this is one of the best dark comedies there is, and one of my favorite Altman films. It’s so sharp, funny, dark, well acted. The cast is enormous, but Tim Robbins really shines in the lead role as a Hollywood executive who kills a writer he thinks is threatening him, but of course it’s the wrong guy.
 
As far as Hollywood satires go, this is one of the best. There are a ton of fun cameos, but it’s not a gimmicky movie. Altman was such a smart filmmaker.
 
I’m trying to think if we have someone like him today…hmmm…coming up with…nope, no one.
 

 

 

 

 

Magnolia

 
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
 
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This sequence gets a lot of attention because of how out there it is, and even though it’s not my favorite moment in the film, it’s still a defining moment, a memorable one, a sequence you never forget from one of the most ambitious films of the ’90s.
 
What I still love about Magnolia is the energy of PTA’s writing and direction. We know it’s the work of a young film prodigy (he was 29, I believe, when he made this) and it bursts with creativity, emotion, amazing camerawork and a genuine love of the medium. The performances are excellent, the characters are people you identify with, the music is used so effectively. This is when PTA was still at that stage of mixing together his influences of Altman and Scorsese (and various others from the 70s), and interestingly enough, I feel like it’s because of this film that he went in a completely different direction with the rest of his career.
 
It’s like he got it out of his system with this film.
 
People debate whether they prefer young PTA vs who he is today. I just love his progression and how he continues to evolve. For me he became a complete original with his next film, Punch Drunk Love (2002), and then took his level to insane heights with his masterpiece, There Will Be Blood. The Master is also uniquely his own (though not my favorite), and Inherent Vice is a terrific blend of his and Pynchon’s sensibilities.
 
But back to “Magnolia”…this scene is kinda his version of the Earthquake scene in Altman’s Short Cuts, it’s just weirder.
 
Cause…frogs. There are frogs falling from the sky.
 
But it’s still wonderfully cinematic. Some directors like to announce their presence in every scene of their work as opposed to just letting the story unfold and being invisible to the audience. PTA’s name is stamped in BOLD in every scene of this film. But that’s what I like about it. In many ways it’s the culminating point of that group of 20-something filmmakers who emerged in the ’90s.
 

 

 

 

 

Saving Private Ryan

 
Directed by Steven Spielberg

 

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As a standalone sequence, the opening 21 minutes is a masterpiece of filmmaking.
 
It’s probably the most intense depiction of WWII brutality as ever staged on film. It’s just a scary sequence. It’s hard for our generation to comprehend how horrifying it must have been to be a part of this war.
 
I can’t even imagine.
 
Spielberg doesn’t glorify or polish the violence. It’s just ugly. The rest of the film is very good, and it’s directed with amazing skill, but I can’t say it’s the best script he’s ever had. His direction is masterful though. Compared to The Thin Red Line, which was unfairly overshadowed in ’98 by the success of this film, it’s not as psychologically or philosophically deep as that film, but it’s definitely more of a visceral, nerve-shaking experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Eyes Wide Shut

 
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
 
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This is THE scene from this strange and mesmerizing final masterpiece by Stanley Kubrick. It’s funny how the hype for this movie was about how sexy it would be because it’s got Tom Cruise! Nicole Kidman! There’s an orgy!
 
And then when you finally get to the orgy scene it’s actually one of the spookiest, craziest, WTF moments in film history. The theatricality of it is incredible.
 
The entire sequence feels like something out of a gothic opera, especially when Cruise is finally confronted and forced to remove his mask. It’s just eerie.
 
Eyes Wide Shut is my #1 film of the ’90s, and I’ve often told people it’s quite possibly my favorite movie of all time.
 
I’ve watched it more times than any other movie, and it’s not because it has my favorite plot or favorite characters. It’s not because of the dialogue or writing, although it is superb. It’s not even because of the acting, which is also masterful by everyone involved. It’s just the way the movie is made. The FEEL of it, the pace, the visual storytelling.
 
It’s one of, if the not the most atmospheric movie I’ve ever seen. It’s dreamy, it’s nightmarish, it’s surreal, it’s operatic, it’s noir-ish, it’s just…ORIGINAL. It’s so damn original.
 
This is why Kubrick is Kubrick.
 
There’s no other film like this one. Nobody else in their right mind would EVER approach the subject matter of this story or shoot this script the way Kubrick did. I love the use of color. I love the framing. I love the zoom shots. The detail and level of control and mastery of filmmaking is from another planet. The viewer can watch this film on mute and it’s going to still be a captivating cinematic experience.
 
And also, something that isn’t talked about enough with EWS. It’s hilarious.
 
I’ve never agreed with the “cold” label he gets. This film certainly isn’t cold at all. There’s a devilish sense of humor that runs through the entire film right down to the final line. Cruise and Kidman are extraordinary here. The film is simply as cinematic as cinema gets.
 
NOTE: Lots of nudity in the clip. This is only the first half of the scene though.
 

 

 

 
We would love to hear what you think or if you want to share some of your own favorite cinematic moments from the 1990’s leave a comment. Or let us know on our Facebook page.

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