By Jody Moylan
It’s that time of year (the end of) where every self-respecting culture vulture with a pen will be compiling a list of his or her Top Tens. I’ve decided to stick to what I’m good at: looking back through rose tinted glasses to a decade that probably wasn’t half as good as I think it was. So, being a bit of a film buff, here are my Top Ten films of the 1990s.
10. Leon: French director Luc Besson’s Manhattan-set film balances the feel of a hard-hitting American thriller with the slow pace of a European character drama. Jean Reno combines vulnerable immaturity with a ruthless killer instinct in the lead role, while Natalie Portman plays his young protégée in a brilliantly written part. It is the performance of Gary Oldman though, as the warped and drug-addled DEA agent Stansfield, that truly stands out. A minor masterpiece.
9. The Field: It tells us a good deal about the Irish mentality that this film, by Jim Sheridan, remains popular. Occasional humour, mostly coming from John Hurt’s inimitable ‘Bird’ Flanagan, balances a dark film overall. As much the story of Ireland’s colonial past as it is a tale of rural tragedy, with the casting of Richard Harris as Bull McCabe, and the score of Elmar Bernstein elevating it to something Shakespearean.
8. Terminator 2:Judgement Day: A gritty, standout science fiction action film by Titanic director James Cameron. Its four Oscars in 1991 (none, granted, for acting) is testament to the fact that it was ahead of its time in the early part of the decade. On a re-watch,it still stands up and, as much as any special effects, T2 is a gripping story from start to finish, full of heart, humour, brilliant set pieces, and high drama. Have popcorn at the ready.
7. Trainspotting: The term ‘capturing the zeitgeist’ must have been invented for Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel, and,while ‘edgy’ Britpop melodies have often been lauded for their post-Thatcher optimism,they are used correctly here; the soundtrack for doomed youth attempting to claw their way out of a working-class trudge, with the help of humour, alcohol and (lots of) drugs. A sick and beautiful film.
6. Fight Club: The last great film of the 1990s was truly of its time; a story of materialist obsession, hero-worship, sex, isolation, boredom and violence. While Brad Pitt plays the cool cat Tyler Durden, it is Edward Norton who gives the acting masterclass as a lonely yuppie who believes he’d be better off dead. A witty and brilliant vision of hell.
5. The Big Lebowski: For TBL,the Coen brothers gathered a cast of acting heavyweights, led by Jeff Bridges in his defining role. Like the detail in a great painting — only fully appreciated on repeated viewings — ‘Lebowski is full of glorious black humour, and minor characters that should have had their own spin-offs. The Jesus, Walter, and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s stooge are wonderful depictions of hilariously awful men. A cult classic.
4. Magnolia: The great Paul Thomas Anderson uses Robert Altman’s device of bringing disparate lives together but with his own stamp; using elements of the supernatural and song to powerful effect. Music is as much a character as the actors, but a happy musical itain’t. Though bit-parts in agiant ensemble cast, both Tom Cruise and Philip Seymour Hoffman have rarely, if ever, been better. A unique epic.
3. Festen: This unnerving Danish drama revolves around a family of adult siblings called together to celebrate their father’s 60thbirthday, and was one of the first films produced according to the Dogme 95 manifesto of simple production values, strong acting, and high calibre storytelling. A dark family secret lies at the heart of a pitch-perfect farce of manners. Powerful.
2. Heat: With this 1995 knockout from Michael Mann,the comic book cliché of cops and robbers was at once transformed into a tale of very human foes playing a game of criminal cat-and-mouse. Heat saw the high watermark in thecareer’s of Tom Sizemore, Val Kilmer and, in my opinion, Robert De Niro. Visually stunning, with a pitch-perfect score, it is the story, ultimately, that stands out. A masterpiece.
1. Three Colours Red: Definitely in the ‘European film’ bracket, the ‘red’ of the title signifies the French theme of fraternity, but Kieslowski’s final act of a trilogy is really a film about life’s predetermined patterns of fate and destiny. Full of odd reoccurring motifs it is a film that makes you think, long after the credits have ended. One for the film student, with one of the greatest finale’s in cinema history. It’s my favourite and number one film of the 1990s.
Until next time, January 2020, have a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year!