An Appreciation of 1990’s films – Part Two

By Ari Dassa

In this series of articles, 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
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




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.






Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
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




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

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.

Jane Got A Gun Official Movie Trailer



Everyone knows I love a good western.
So it’s pretty exciting to discover that this morning brought to me the first trailer for the Natalie Portman star vehicle Jane Got A Gun.
To be blunt the movie has been plagued with production problems. Several lead actors had committed than eventually dropped out due to various issues. Actors such as Jude Law, Michael Fassbender, and Bradley Cooper, were all at one time attached to the film. Even original director Lynne Ramsay dropped out. The film overcame these issues due to the persistence of Natalie Portman who was obviously excited about the material.
The film eventually settled with Noah Emmerich, Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor in the male lead roles with Natalie Portman in the title role with Gavin O’Connor taking the director’s chair.
My first impressions of the trailer are mixed. Definitely digging the production design and the atmosphere of the film. Not sure what is going on with Ewan McGregor’s look in the film though. Also some of the gun training of Natalie Portman’s character is painfully cliche.
Still I’m looking forward to the film. Definitely want to check it out when it is released in February 2016.

Official Synopsis:

Jane Got a Gun centers on Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman), who has built a new life with her husband Bill “Ham” Hammond (Noah Emmerich) after being tormented by the ultra-violent Bishop Boys outlaw gang. She finds herself in the gang’s cross-hairs once again when Ham stumbles home riddled with bullets after dueling with the Boys and their relentless mastermind Colin (Ewan McGregor).
With the vengeful crew hot on Ham’s trail, Jane has nowhere to turn but to her former fiancé Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) for help in defending her family against certain destruction. Haunted by old memories, Jane’s past meets the present in a heart-stopping battle for survival.


Official Trailer:


An Appreciation of 1990’s films – Part One

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.
It’s incredible.
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.