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The 50 Best Movies of the 1990s

’90s Week on FSR continues with a countdown of our team’s list of the best movies of the 1990s.
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By  · Published on August 17th, 2019

20. Paris is Burning (1990)

Paris Is Burning

PSA: all the slang you sling like it was made for you came from the drag queens of Paris is Burning. Before Pose and RuPaul’s Drag Race, there was the real-life underground ballroom drag scene, a New York City haven to all kinds of queer people regardless of age, race, income, or gender identity. Paris is Burning is the vivid, unapologetic celebration of this subculture. Under the spotlight and on the stage floor, everything from homelessness to hate crimes to AIDS fell away for a moment as queens created a world that was all their own, complete with the language, style, dance moves, and ranking system to match. The documentary overflows with big personalities and endearing figures, and when it’s not showing you how to vogue or demonstrate “realness,” its subjects are thoughtfully engaging with the issues that impact their lives. By allowing these folks — many of whom have since died tragically young — to tell their own stories, director Jennie Livingston made a glittering visual scrapbook that future queer kids can learn from, love, and live by. (Valerie Ettenhofer)

19. Fargo (1996)


Based on a true story, but when the Coen Brothers say “true” they really mean “not really,” and by “not really,” they mean it’s “total B.S.,” and by “total B.S.,” they mean “absolutely 100% emotionally true.” Whether they’re dragging the whole notion of true crime as a genre or they’re having a little fun with a gullible audience, Fargo remains an astonishing exploration of human nature. On one side you have the pathetic desperation of William H. Macy’s car salesman, and on the other side, you have the absolute depravity of the kidnappers he hires to pull him out of a financial jam. What can go wrong does go wrong. Stuck in the middle is Frances McDormand’s hopeful police chief on the verge of bringing new life into our global hive of scum and villainy. She and we are left to make sense of evil in all its forms. (Brad Gullickson)

18. Delicatessen (1992)


Jean-Pierre Jeunet may be best remembered for directing the whimsical Amelie, but when you have a resume filled to the brim with bangers, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly which piece in his gallery of work best summarizes who Jeunet is as an artist. For me, everything begins and ends with Delicatessen. More personal and contained than The City of Lost Children, this debut film, about a clown shacking up in a post-apocalyptic apartment building that’s harboring a cannibalistic secret, introduces us to all the elements in Jeunet’s toolbox. From the dreamy visuals and saccharine romance to his musicality and sudden shocks of violence, Delicatessen has the building blocks that Jeunet will use to shape and stylize his career. The film also introduced us to Jeunet’s resident company of actors, none more understanding of his work than Dominique Pinon, who fills the screen as the clown Louison with his highly theatrical, elastic movements. Delicatessen, like all of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films, is like an extravagant circus, enlivening its audience with wonder, magic, and more than a healthy sense of danger. (Jacob Trussell)

17. The Player (1992)

The Player

Robert Altman’s The Player is famous for its opening scene, an almost eight-minute uninterrupted long-take that sweeps around the Hollywood lot where Tim Robbins’ Griffin Mill works as a studio executive. The camera hops from conversation to conversation, shooting characters through windows and as they run around with their briefcases, never making it clear which conversation we should be focusing our attention on. They’re busy listening to pitches, gossiping about who might get the boot, and debating whether or not that girl could be Rebecca De Mornay. While in any other director’s hands, this scene would play out much differently (I can picture Scorsese’s version: witty one-liners, a couple of whip-zooms, and an unforgettable needle drop), here Altman showcases what he does best: assembling a huge group of actors and making it look as if he’s simply directed them to walk around and start acting, and that he’ll film them when the mood strikes him.

The Player is a classic of the movies about making movies subgenre, and the film balances perfectly on the edge of genuinely moody neo-noir (Griffin is being threatened with death by a screenwriter whose pitch he rejected) and biting Hollywood satire (this part cannot be blurbed; you simply must bear witness to the several glorious scenes where Richard E. Grant’s character pitches a godawful screenplay with such charisma that it will make you want to option the death-row drama from your couch at home). But the real testament to this masterpiece is the sheer magnitude and quality of the 65 celebrity cameos Altman was able to secure for the film. To name a few: Jeff Goldblum! Scott Glenn! Lily Tomlin! Burt Reynolds! Cher! and, of course, Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis! One of the great pleasures of this film is seeing familiar faces appear on screen and having a couple of seconds to guess whether they’re playing themselves or a character in the story. As the slogan of the studio Griffin works for goes, “Movies: now more than ever!” (Madison Brek)

16. Point Break (1991)

Point Break

Before Kathryn Bigelow shot to belated but well-deserved acclaim with The Hurt Locker, she paired up Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey to go after Patrick Swayze and his band of bank-robbing surfers, which for some reason included Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chilli Peppers. If that sounds insane, buckle up, hotshot. Swayze was doing his own stunts a decade before Tom Cruise, including all of the surfing in the film and a beautiful skydiving shot at the end, much to the chagrin of the film’s insurers. And Reeves’ first swing at action stardom gave us a taste of the vulnerability and softness that would later pop up in everything from The Matrix to John Wick. (MG McIntire)

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