by Gabriel Storment (@SeaStorm24)
I turned fifteen in the spring of 1991, so the years of 1991 to 1995 were formative. It was a good time to go to the movies, because a confluence of some of the greatest actors and filmmakers of their generation were churning out some of the best work of their careers. Just look at some of these titles: Silence of the Lambs, Unforgiven, Schindler’s List, Pulp Fiction, Braveheart. And those were just the Best Picture winners!*
*Let’s just agree Pulp Fiction was the best picture of 1994. The Academy missed the boat bigtime, if only for denying us what surely would have been one hell of an entertaining acceptance speech from ’94 Tarantino.
But these weren’t just the popular movies of the time. Some were groundbreaking. Others were the signature projects of the best writers and directors in their respective fields. Some landed in theaters without much impact only to gain a wide, ardent fan-base in the years to follow. And all are imminently rewatchable — an underrated criterion.
I’ve been thinking about this for some time, so I finally decided to go back and do the research. So here it is: My case for why 1991-1995 is THE GREATEST MOVIE ERA OF ALL TIME.
Honorable Mention: Boyz N the Hood, Backdraft, The Fisher King, Cape Fear
- Silence of the Lambs destroyed me. It ranks up there with The Exorcist as a movie so sinister that it stayed with me long after I saw it. I still can’t help but think Buffalo Bill might be lurking with a night vision scope whenever I walk down into a dank cellar or dark basement.
- 1991 also gave us “Peak Schwarzenegger.” Before he became a submarine captain, James Cameron used to make fantastic action movies including The Terminator, Aliens, T2, and True Lies. T2 is probably his best movie and one of the best action movies of the 90s.
- JFK is riveting, frenetic filmmaking. It’s a 3+ hour visit to the intersection of Paranoia and Nostalgia, and it works. Most of the conspiracy theories presented in the movie have been debunked, but I think Oliver Stone’s larger message was that people need to do what they can to keep their government honest by asking hard questions.
- Like Susan Sarandon, Thelma and Louise continues to improve with age. Most often in getaway movies, the primary obstacle between the protagonist(s) and his/her goal is the police, the villain, or a combination of the two. For T&L, they must also overcome a pig-headed husband, a serial rapist, and a womanizing drifter/thief. The idiot truck driver whose big rig they destroy simply had the misfortune of crossing their path after they’d completed their character arcs.
Best Scene: Youtube: Silence of the Lambs Clip: Closer!
Honorable Mention: Scent of a Woman, Malcolm X
- Will Munny vs. Little Bill at the end of Unforgiven is one of the best showdowns of any western. I love watching Beauchamp, the tuft-hunting pulp writer go from English Bob and Little Bill, who welcome the opportunity to brag about their exploits, to Will Munny who clearly does not abide frontier paparazzi.
- Last of the Mohicans has to be the most visually stunning movie on the list. Michael Mann’s movies all have a distinctive visual style, but the three he made in the 90’s (LotM, Heat, and The Insider) particularly stand out. Dante Spinotti was the cinematographer for all three. I usually have no idea who the cinematographer is, but I had to look him up. That’s how cool these movies look.
- I honestly didn’t know what to think of Reservoir Dogs the first time I saw it. I wasn’t familiar with Tarantino and the movie took a while to grow on me. I guess I have to admit I wasn’t immediately a Tarantino fan even though his movies are in the “Advance Purchase” category now. If that makes me a bandwagon Tarantino fan, so be it.
- Also in 1992: Peak Al Pacino! With Lt. Colonel Frank Slade, Pacino found the template that would invigorate and propel his career for another 20 years. His Vincent Hanna in Heat is just Colonel Slade with eyesight. Not that that’s a bad thing.
- 1993 was definitely Peak Spielberg. Seriously, hitting it out of the park with two movies on opposite ends of the spectrum? One of the best fantasy adventures in years AND an epic historical drama IN THE SAME YEAR? Incredible. If I had one gripe about Spielberg movies, it’s that maybe they’re a little too straightforward. The man obviously knows what he’s doing and he has the hardware to prove it. It’s just that, when you go see one of his movies, you kind of know what you’re going to get. He’s like Salieri to Tarantino’s Mozart. That being said, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List were both exactly what he wanted them to be, and they were both amazing. The fact that they were both released in the same year is mind-boggling.
- True Romance is a rare gem: the story and dialogue of Tarantino with the look and feel of Tony Scott’s direction. This kind of collaboration should happen more often. Wouldn’t you like to see Ridley Scott direct a PT Anderson script? Or have Tarantino direct a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin? We need to demand all-star matchups like this. It could be like a lottery after the Oscars, where the nominated directors are randomly matched up with the nominated writers. True Romance also has the best fight scene from any movie in this list. Patricia Arquette vs. James Gandolfini. Have you ever seen a more brutal and savage fight in a movie that was also somehow touching? Even tender?
Best Scene: Youtube: True Romance Clip: You’re a cantaloupe!
Honorable Mention: Speed, True Lies, Quiz Show
- Remember when Shawshank was on TNT 7,000 times that one February? That was great. Sarcasm aside, if I was flipping channels and it was on, I’d watch it. If only Quiz Show had that kind of post-theatrical distribution, a few people may have seen it.
- I had never seen anything like Pulp Fiction when it came out. It’s a special kind of screenwriter/director who can make you laugh out loud after one of the main characters accidentally shoots someone in the face. The fact that it’s a non-linear story means the writing has to be stellar throughout. Typically a conventional storyline may have some weak points that can be forgiven because they advance the story along. That’s a luxury that doesn’t necessarily exist for a movie like Pulp Fiction, but it doesn’t matter because every scene is fantastic.
- I can’t imagine the reaction from producers if someone were to pitch The Professional today. It would end up starring Jason Statham and Selena Gomez. Also, Gary Oldman is just the best. The guy’s got more characters than the Chinese alphabet.
Best Scene: Youtube: Pulp Fiction Clip: A Shot of Adrenaline
- 1995 was Kevin Spacey’s coming out party with supporting roles in Seven and The Usual Suspects (he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Suspects). He’s one of the most charismatic actors of the last twenty years, and I’m a huge fan. I like to imagine what it would be like if Verbal Kint or John Doe were to break the fourth wall and speak directly into the camera like Frank Underwood.
- Heat starred Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, was directed by Michael Mann, and was released in December in the heart of awards season. You’d think a movie with those credentials would collect its fair share of baubles. Not only did it not win any awards, it wasn’t nominated for a single Oscar. How is this possible? It’s an epic crime drama/character study about cops and robbers with two of the most renowned actors of their generation playing opposite each other! Can someone explain this to me?
- As an eighteen year old, Braveheart was the coolest damn thing I had ever seen. Sweeping, bloody battle scenes with ancient, blunt-faced weapons? Of course I saw it three times in the theater. It might not hold up quite as well as other titles in this list, but that’s partly because so many other movies have borrowed from it. It’s not hard to see Braveheart’s influence in Gladiator, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, 300, and several others.
Best Scene: Youtube: Heat Clip: Face to Face
The films that came out between 1991 – 1995 shaped my understanding and appreciation of what makes movies special. They’re the movies that continue to influence me whenever I’m writing a new scene, either consciously or subconsciously. I might be listening to the score from Last of the Mohicans when describing a scene. There could be a scene from JFK or Pulp Fiction fresh in my memory as I’m trying to hammer out believable dialogue that’s also entertaining. Stories that resonate with you and make a lasting impact are the reason we started writing in the first place. Right? I mean, I hope it wasn’t for the money.
What about you? What era do you consider the best? What were the movies that influenced you?