I like many movies from the 90s. Choosing my top 10 was a lot harder than I thought it would be, so this list kind of feels like "here are 10 movies that I just feel like mentioning at this moment." Accordingly, they won't be ranked in any particular order. Making these lists hurts so good.
L.A. Confidential (1997)
This flick is as neo-noir as you can get. The feel and look of the movie is great - it doesn't force the setting. Everything is so dark.....almost in a comic book way, but straight-faced. There is a vaguely hefty length, but it doesn't drag at all - for me at least. I enjoy all the performances (even Kim Basinger). Two cops, vastly different in personality and interpretation of the law and how to apply it, become disenchanted with their own egos and realize that they may need to rely on another person for help. Pearce and Crowe do great work painting layers onto what could be merely stereotypes. Like a good noir, there is a backdrop narrative following a mystery that doesn't drag the audience along but guides it. I say backdrop because the main characters are clearly in the foreground whenever I watch it. While the movie ends with a positive tone, it is still a somewhat cynical ending.
Speaking of cynical, next is Fargo. I LOVE this movie. It's definitely my favorite Coen bros. movie. You need an oxygen tank to not choke on the dark humor in this film - perfect. The long, dark snowy roads - perfect. Dialogue ("He's kinda funny lookin'") - perfect. Casting of many unfamiliar faces for the locals - perfect. William H. Macy and Frances McDormand - double perfect. What do you do when you need money? Have your wife kidnapped so her rich father can pay the ransom, which you get part of - how hair-brained.....and perfect. Ok, so maybe the movie isn't perfect. But I can't think of anything I don't like about it off-hand. McDormand is the heart of the movie, clearly. In a the whirlwind of cynicism and awful things that happen around her...she's just Marge. Life goes on. Good people are just good people. Others are....well....just kinda funny lookin'.
Breaking the Waves (1996)
My buddy Lars Von Trier busted into the mainstream with this movie about an emotionally frail woman named Bess. She constantly talks with God...literally. Well, not exactly literally. She voices God's responses to herself, and usually in a negative tone. Bess does all she can to live piously amidst a harshly Reformed and oppressive Scottish setting. She falls in love with and marries a man names Jan. He gets into a awful accident which may or may not have caused psychological damage and physical paralysis. Jan tells Bess that because they cannot make love, she should have sex with other men and then describe the experiences back to him. Bess feels somehow to blame for the accident, so feels it is her Godly duty to follow through with her husband's request. Like I said, emotionally frail. This is one of the more emotionally intense movies of the decade. Actually, in my experiences, all of Von Trier's movies are emotionally taxing, but I find in a good way. This is his most spiritual movie that I've seen. I think it is also his most hopeful. Oh, and Emily Watson is so very great as Bess.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Get a load of this cast: Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, and Jack Lemmon. How do you make a movie about real estate salesmen interesting? Step one: get those guys to be in it. Step two: have David Mammet write the movie. Mammet also wrote the play that this film was based on. The movie is not very happy (notice a trend?). It's about men trying to sell land to people who don't want it. From our perspective, it's about the men on the phone calling to offer us things we never signed up for. As annoying as it is to get those calls, it's just as sad to be the ones making the calls and needing to rely on tricks of rhetoric to make money. Jack Lemmon shines as Shelley "the Machine" Levine - an aged salesman, once greatly successful but now on hard luck and in need of money to support a family and sick daughter. While each character here is unique, they also seem very similar. It's almost like each character represents a different stage on the timeline of success and failure that a salesmen can experience. Should you feel sorry for these people? Is it a job like any other? Do they ask for the troubles they encounter? Watch and decide.
The Straight Story (1999)
Even though I just watched this movie, I'll include it if for no other reason than to have a positive flick on this list. It's about an elderly man in Iowa who, nearing his own death, decides he needs to go visit and make amends with his brother in Wisconsin who has recently had a stroke. However, unable to drive a car and unwilling to have someone drive him, he sets out on the long trek riding a lawnmower. Here is the perennial man from my grandpa's generation - I could easily have seen him doing such a thing. Simple (but not really), stubborn as the dickens, and tough as all get-out. Richard Farnsworth does a fantastic job playing Alvin. It doesn't quite seem like acting. The wisdom behind Farnsworth's eyes is deep. Even as he was making the movie, he was dying of bone cancer. Poignancy is not a good enough word. Alvin could not have made his journey without the help of numerous strangers along the way. Actually, the movie almost plays like a series of vignettes. The kindness of the various strangers might be a tough pill for many to swallow, but having had the fortune to experience small town Iowa and Wisconsin, I'll vouch that genuine kindness does exist in this country. One of the high points is Alvin recounting a WWII experience with another elderly man at a bar. David Lynch can do normal almost as well as he can do weird, and that's saying something.