The 50 Best Movies of the 1990s

30. Election (1999)

At the time of its release, the big talking point around Alexander Payne’s brilliant and bitingly satirical Election was the presence of Matthew Broderick in something of a bookend role to his Ferris Bueller’s Day Off from 13 years prior. In that film, he portrays the human embodiment of youth, ambition, and no fucks given, but in Election, he’s a sad-sack of a high school teacher representing the opposite of all three. It’s genius casting and a fantastic lead performance built on disillusionment, bitterness, and pathos, and it’s just one strength among many. The film is mean-spirited throughout but endlessly funny, the dialogue is highly quotable, and the story at its heart feels like a microcosm of the world at large. There’s real humanity at the center of it all — it just happens to be the grimmer, crueler, and more ridiculous aspects of our species rather than the joyously positive ones. But did I mention it’s laugh out loud hilarious, too? (Rob Hunter)


29. Breaking the Waves (1996)

Long before they were finally reunited for HBO’s Chernobyl, Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard broke out alongside Lars von Trier for his depressing but divine English-language debut. Watson is Bess, a childishly innocent woman from a very religious and misogynistically oppressive community in Scotland, and as the movie begins she’s marrying atheist outsider oil-rig worker Jan (Skarsgard). Life is good, God is great, but then Jan is nearly killed on the job, and he sends Bess out to sleep with other men for his virtual pleasure. It’s a von Trier movie, so his leading lady doesn’t fare any better as the film goes on, but all of it plays out magnificently, from the handheld and jump-cut Dogme95-adjacent filmmaking to the lengthy narrative breaks showcasing sublime cinematography and soundtrack pairings. Sorry, Frances McDormand, but Watson deserved the Oscar that year by a longshot. (Christopher Campbell)


28. Starship Troopers (1997)

The novel this movie is based on is widely interpreted as a work of militaristic fiction that condones fascism. Paul Verhoeven wasn’t having any of that nonsense, though. Instead, he made an adaptation that satirizes these ideas in the form of a splatastic action yarn that scours everything from propaganda movies to action hero archetypes. The beauty of Verhoeven satire is its lack of subtlety, which means Starship Troopers doesn’t hold back when it comes to excessive gore to hammer his message into our brains. The film provides all the thrills and chaos we want from a movie featuring soldiers and giant bugs, but it’s a helluva lot smarter than some people give it credit for. (Kieran Fisher)


27. The Iron Giant (1999)

As Sputnik orbits our planet, a gargantuan mechanical man enters our atmosphere. The Iron Giant’s purpose is that of a gun; to obliterate the human threat before it can spread its disease across the galaxy. He then meets a young boy obsessed with sci-fi and Superman comic books. The 9-year-old teaches the invading beast that he’s more than his wiring, and in protecting him from a paranoid military, the child redeems humanity. The film failed to capture much attention in 1999, but as director Brad Bird’s status rose as the director of The Incredibles and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, an audience hungry for intelligent children’s entertainment finally appeared. The Iron Giant lives as a beacon of positivity; a film I often turn towards when the nightly news puts me in a dark and low mood. Fear is the enemy. We combat it with empathy and communication. (Brad Gullickson)


26. All About My Mother (1999)

Sitting here trying to summarize Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother is giving me flashbacks. You see, in college, I had to make a 90-second video essay summary of the film and it was such a hot mess the professor ended up changing the nature of the assignment afterward. But I digress. Almodovar is one of the greatest working storytellers when it comes to melodrama, and All About My Mother is some of his finest work to date. People don’t usually use the term “melodrama” in a complementary way, but in this instance I am. For a film not even two hours long, All About My Mother has as many twists and turns and shocking reveals as an entire soap opera season — and it’s visually stunning to boot. On paper, the film sounds a little ridiculous. Hammy to the point of parody, bloated and scrambled. But somehow, with the meticulous sleight of hand and panache of a top-tier stage magician, it works. It really works. So if you haven’t seen it, don’t play yourself by trying to scope it out first. Just go in blind and enjoy the ride. (Ciara Wardlow)


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