The 50 Best Movies of the 1990s

45. Rushmore (1998)

Before Wes Anderson’s style of filmmaking was one of contemporary American cinema’s most recognizable, there was Rushmore, his sophomore feature, where the conventions that we know so well today were merely teased, revealing themselves scarcely but to great effect. Rushmore had two breakout performances: one from Jason Schwartzman, a newcomer holding his own against a seasoned veteran; and the veteran himself, Bill Murray, in a role that would help launch a new era of his career. Here we see the misery and mistrials of adolescence put gloriously to the screen, with precocious private school kid Max Fischer (Schwartzman) perfectly embodying Anderson’s brand of deadpanned pompousness: “I saved Latin. What did you ever do?” The smirk-inducing humor and narrative fixation on an unlikely companionship — that of Max and his classmates’ father, Herman Blume (Murray) — makes Rushmore both an essential piece of Anderson’s oeuvre and a sweet spot of ‘90s film. (Jenna Benchetrit)


44. Defending Your Life (1991)

The brilliant Albert Brooks has written/directed seven films across his career, and the first four are pretty much masterpieces in their own way. From the satirical Real Life (1979) to the smartly crafted Modern Romance (1981) to the utter perfection that is Lost in America (1985), Brooks’ observational neuroses make for fantastic entertainment. For my money, though, it’s Defending Your Life that sees him deliver brilliance that’s as funny as it is smart. Dead after an accident, Daniel Miller (Brooks) is forced to defend his life choices in order to get into heaven, and even with the genius Rip Torn by his side as his attorney, it’s far from an easy task. Add in Meryl Streep at her most casually amazing, a sweet romance, a great score, and plenty of memorable gags and jokes about the afterlife and you have one of the best films of the ‘90s. Which is why it’s on this list. (Rob Hunter)


43. Dazed and Confused (1993)

Richard Linkletter’s ode to the last day of school frequently tops lists of best film soundtracks, but like most of his work, it’s the many pieces together that make the film so indelible and memorable even 30 years on. From the cast, most of them first-timers, to the world they inhabit, to the film’s ability to make us feel nostalgic about something we probably hated, Dazed And Confused is a time capsule that feels timeless. (MG McIntire)


42. Before Sunrise (1995)

Before Sunrise takes place on a dreamy summer evening in Vienna, but the most beautiful parts of it lie in the smaller gestures: see Ethan Hawke awkwardly pulling his hand away when it gets super close to Julie Delpy’s hair, or the stolen looks between the two in a cramped record store’s listening booth. These lead actors are so in tune with their characters and with one another that a single conversation between them can span not only this film, but two sequels as well, and save for any physical aging, it never gets old. Follow-ups aside, though, it’s in Sunrise that director Richard Linklater and his collaborators lay the groundwork of Jesse and Celine’s connection, creating a window into the uncertainty of life in your twenties and the heady drama of finding your first love. The result is nothing short of breathtaking. (Christina Smith)


41. Crash (1996)

David Cronenberg’s approach to human relationships has always been a bit outside the mainstream — putting it lightly, I know — but while his best-known work often leans heavy into a recognizable genre, one of his best films sits alone at its own table. An adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel, Crash sees a troubled marriage find promise in a subculture of car crash enthusiasts who get off on the carnage and mayhem of vehicular “accidents.” Of course one of the highlights is James Spader fucking a leg wound, that goes without saying, but what doesn’t get enough love is the film’s final line. It’s among the best final lines in cinema history within the context of the film, and like the movie itself, it blends absurdity, love, and the blackest of humor into perfection. (Rob Hunter)


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