The 50 Best Movies of the 1990s

25. Heavenly Creatures (1994)

The intersection between the biographical drama and true crime genres is delicate, to say the least. There is always a danger of overt moralization when it comes to translating blatantly heinous situations to the big screen. Peter Jackson ambitiously tilts a curious lens towards the Parker-Hulme murder case in Heavenly Creatures. Rather than pose as a basic recount of what happened back in 1954, the film presents a fantastical deep-dive into themes of delusion, obsession, and arrogance. Hysteria is displayed and deconstructed in each passing tragic, inevitable minute of Heavenly Creatures, creating a nuanced portrait of relationships that’s difficult to grasp but undeniably fascinating and haunting. (Sheryl Oh)


24. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

I’m not saying Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is the saddest movie ever made, but it is the saddest movie I’ve ever seen. The prequel recounts the mysterious and sinister events that culminated with the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee, delivering an absolutely monumental performance). While the TV series Twin Peaks was localized around the investigation, with only flashbacks able to provide a glimpse at Laura’s time on earth, Fire Walk With Me captures the harrowing events of her life with profound empathy. The film wasn’t exactly well regarded upon its release, but over time audiences have become more attuned to David Lynch’s mastery of tone. Lynch’s dreamscape structure is utilized to illustrate Laura’s complete dislocation from the world around her; an instability caused and compounded by her ongoing trauma. Almost unbearably bleak, the film comes face to face with the fact of evil’s existence and mirrors Laura’s experience by offering us little respite from its depictions of cruelty. The viewing experience of Fire Walk With Me is both astonishing and grueling. At least at the end, we can leave it. If only Laura could, too. (Anna Swanson)


23. Beau Travail (1999)

More than any other living filmmaker, Claire Denis understands and is able to capture the incredible, singular, and evocative capabilities of cinema. Beau Travail, her loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, centers on Galoup (the extraordinary Denis Lavant), a sergeant in the French Foreign Legion who develops a fixation on a soldier under his command like a moth to a flame. Mostly eschewing narrative as the driving force of her film, Denis, as she is wont to do, instead crafts Beau Travail around rhythm and mood. This is a film where a well-placed cut, a music cue, or an especially rousing image (captured by patron saint of cinematography and Denis’s longtime collaborator Agnès Godard) can stir emotions from depths so often assumed to be inaccessible. This is what filmmaking can be at its best. Beau Travail feels like an epiphany captured on film — something so rare and affecting that it shouldn’t exist at all. Thank god it does. (Anna Swanson)


22. Clueless (1995)

Amy Heckerling’s bubbly, irreverent retelling of Jane Austen’s “Emma” is only ditzy on the surface. There is a reason that the movie’s heroine – the affluent and seemingly perfect Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) – remains a benchmark for onscreen feminism even decades later. Beyond merely portraying the “downfall” of an It Girl, Clueless treats us to an uproarious and charismatic character deconstruction. Cher’s spunky story is that of sobering personal redemption as she navigates high school life, given that she must learn the consequences of uncompassionate privilege. So, yes, Clueless is an aesthetically quintessential addition to ‘90s culture, full of hilarious quotable lines and truly iconic fashion statements. But the film is also a timeless celebration of girlhood that lovingly repudiates stereotype. (Sheryl Oh)


21. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Sometimes, there’s a movie. I won’t say it’s perfect, ’cause what’s perfection? But sometimes, there’s a movie. And I’m talking about The Big Lebowski here. Sometimes, there’s a movie, well, it’s the movie for its time and place. It fits right in there. And that’s The Big Lebowski in ‘90s stoner culture. I’m not sure what exactly made the decade of my birth such a mecca for stoner flicks, but whatever was in the water, it deserves our sincerest gratitude for setting the stage for one of the most delightful romps in movie history. A film about bowling, nihilism, and the difficulties of finding a good rug, watching The Big Lebowski is like getting serotonin injected right into your eyeballs. It’s basically an antidepressant in movie form, available without a prescription and, as an added bonus, partaking does not involve supporting Big Pharma. It’s got some of the most quotable dialogue to ever hit the silver screen, and every character, from his Dudeness himself (national treasure Jeff Bridges) to one-scene wonders —John Turturro’s bowling ball-licking “the Jesus,” David Thewlis’ hyena laugh — is wonderfully wacky and utterly memorable. Ethan and Joel Coen have plenty of incredible films under their belt, but this is the one I come back to more than any other because it’s a warm hug in movie form. When a respite from reality is needed, there’s a strong case to be made for pouring yourself a White Russian, putting on your comfiest bathrobe, and spending a few hours with the Dude, takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners. (Ciara Wardlow)


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