The 100 most overlooked films of the 1990s

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One of the constants in film writing is various types of ‘best of’ lists produced – various publications and organisations. Often, I find these boring with predictable choices and a dull basis for the lists themselves.

But one such list that I found particularly entertaining and interesting was when the Online Film Critics Society published their list of the most overlooked films of the 1990s. It seems to have disappeared off their site but can be found at this link.

I liked this list for several reasons. Underrated (or overrated) lists I usually find more interesting than usual as it forces the people choosing to put more thought into it than usual and go for some well thought out and compelling choices. As well the 1990s seems to be rarely chosen as a basis for film lists, perhaps because it isn’t considered a standout decade for film. Above all else, this seems to be a well-chosen list of films with non-English language and non-USA films well represented.

After the jump there is the full list of films (which you can see at the link I showed earlier anyway) with brief comments on the films I have seen. Above all else, it just highlights there’s a lot of good quality film that I need to get out and see some day!


1.Miller’s Crossing – Ethan Coen
2.Safe – Todd Haynes
A very unusual film (a woman seems to become allergic to the modern environment) is done with great intelligence and perception, and doesn’t give easy answers to satisfy the audience. Deserving of its spot here.
3.The Sweet Hereafter – Atom Egoyan
4.Lone Star – John Sayles
5.Heavenly Creatures – Peter Jackson
6.Waiting for Guffman – Christopher Guest
7. The Hudsucker Proxy – Ethan Coen
8.Babe – Chris Noonan
9.Dead Man -Jim Jarmusch
10.Fearless – Peter Weir
Been years since I saw this, but found it quite memorable. Very stylishly and tastefully directed – Peter Weir, it’s a classy effort throughout. Jeff Bridges’ character is often exasperating but it worth sitting through, particularly a memorable finale.
11.Bound – Andy Wachowski
12.Chungking Express – Kar Wai Wong
13.The Straight Story – David Lynch
14.Searching for Bob- Fischer – Steven Zaillian
15.Ghost Dog – The Way of the Samurai Jim Jarmusch
16.That Thing You Do! – Tom Hanks
17.Dead Again – Kenneth Branagh
18.Sneakers -Phil Alden Robinson
For the most part this is a very slick and enjoyable caper film, with even in the early 1990s Robert Redford still able to pull off the leading man role. But it does let itself down with a very silly finale, undermining much of the good work before it.
19.Zero Effect – Jake Kasdan
20.The Butcher Boy – Neil Jordan
21.Truly Madly Deeply – Anthony Minghella
22.In the Company of Men – Neil LaBute
23.Devil in A Blue Dress -Carl Franklin
24.Red Violin – Francois Girard
25.Cemetery Man – Michele Soavi
26.Hamlet – Kenneth Branagh
27.Breakdown – Jonathan Mostow
28.Welcome to the Dollhouse – Todd Solodnz
I’ve commented about this previously here when I reviewed it a few years back. Admirable in certain aspects but I found it a bit disappointing and flat. If anything (considering it did get some critical acclaim) I think it should be in an overrated list of the 1990s

29.The Apostle – Robert Duvall
30.Eve’s Bayou – Kasi Lemmons
31.Hard Eight – Paul Thomas Anderson
32.Defending Your Life – Albert Brooks
Like Dollhouse, I actually think this belongs in an overrated 1990s list. When I first saw it 20 years ago I liked it quite a bit but when I had a look at it again a few years back, I found it largely a missed opportunity and a couple of steps below Albert Brooks’ previous effort ‘Lost In America’
33. A Little Princess – Alfonso Cuarón
34. Bringing Out the Dead – Martin Scorsese
35. Fireworks (Hana-Bi) – Takeshi Kitano
36. Jacob’s Ladder – Adrian Lyne
37. The Spanish Prisoner – David Mamet
38. Pump up the Volume – Alan Moyle
39. Beautiful Girls – Ted Demme
40. The Double Life of Veronique – Krzysztof Kieslowski
41. Very Bad Things – Peter Berg
42. Richard III – Richard Loncraine
43. October Sky – Joe Johnston
44. Strange Days – Kathryn Bigelow
A flop at the time of release, it’s easy to see why it didn’t catch on with the public. It’s futuristic setting is grim and unappealing and the story is quite nasty and downbeat. But for all that it’s a very well made movie and deserves its spot on this list.
45. My Neighbor Totoro – Hayao Miyazaki
46. L.A. Story – Mick Jackson
Haven’t seen this in a long time but enjoyed it a great deal. Very funny and inventive, backed – stylish direction. It peters out a bit towards the end but it stands out like a beacon of class compared to most of the stuff Steve Martin was associated with in the 2000s.
47. Twin Peaks – Fire Walk with Me – David Lynch
48. A Bronx Tale – Robert De Niro
49. The Limey – Steven Soderbergh
50. A Perfect World – Clint Eastwood
51. Before Sunrise – Richard Linklater
Considered a classic – some, I wouldn’t go that far. But it is very well done and genuinely romantic, something very hard to capture in film.
52. Bob Roberts – Tim Robbins
53. Dick – Andrew Fleming
This Watergate-inspired comedy never worked for me despite a very good cast. Too strained and overwrought to get laughs. Director Andrew Fleming’s earlier film ‘The Craft’ is probably a better choice for this list.
54. Raise the Red Lantern – Yimou Zhang
55. One False Move – Carl Franklin
56. The Ref – Ted Demme
Good choice for this list. It isn’t as tightly directed as it should be (too many unnecessary subplots) and has a too upbeat ending, but for the most part it is great fun with Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis making a great combative duo.
57. Exotica – Atom Egoyan
58. Sonatine – Takeshi Kitano
59. Joe Versus the Volcano – John Patrick Shanley
I probably wasn’t the target audience for this, but this whimsical comedy never really worked for me.
60.Matinee – Joe Dante
61.The Ice Storm – Ang Lee
I saw this critically acclaimed 1970s-set domestic drama at the cinema upon its release. It was impressively and intelligently done although not as emotionally compelling as it should’ve been.
62. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – Stephen Elliott
63. Croupier – Mike Hodges
64. The Winslow Boy – David Mamet
65. Girl on the Bridge – Patrice Leconte
66.Bullet in the Head – John Woo
67. Darkman – Sam Raimi
68. Cannibal! The Musical – Trey Parker
69. Fast, Cheap and Out of Control – Errol Morris
70. Smoke – Paul Aster
71. The Last Days of Disco – Whit Stillman
72.Fresh – Boaz Yakin
73. Eye of God – Tim Blake Nelson
74. Flirting With Disaster – David O. Russell
75. Bottle Rocket – Wes Anderson
76. Ashes of Time – Kar Wai Wong
77. Fallen Angels – Kar Wai Wong
78. Great Expectations (1998) – Alfons Cuaron
79. Kundun- Martin Scorsese
80. A Midnight Clear – Keith Gordon
81. Deep Cover – Bill Duke
82. Ravenous – Antonia Bird
83.Twin Falls Idaho – Michael Polish
84.The People vs. Larry Flynt- Milos Forman
A very well done argument for the belief of how important it is that obnoxious and dubious people like Larry Flynt deserve the same rights as ‘normal citizens’. One of the bunch of films that Ed Norton impressed in the late 1990s that looked as if he was going to the breakout star of the 2000s that never really happened.
85. Quick Change – Bill Murray
I’m a big fan of Murray’s work so from what I recall of this film (been a long time since I’ve seen it) I was disappointed that despite a great start I didn’t find it funnier than I did. It’s concept of the characters being stuck in a city they’re desperate to get out of is often more exasperating than entertaining.
86. The Secret of Roan Inish – John Sayles
87. Beloved – Jonathan Demme
88. Big Night – Stanley Tucci
89. Topsy-Turvy – Mike Leigh
90. Living in Oblivion – Tom DiCillo
91. Jesus’ Son – Alison MacLean
92. Glengarry Glen Ross – James Foley
Memorable version of the David Mamet play with a knockout all male cast giving great performances; Alec Baldwin’s cameo the highlight of that.
93. Chaplin – Richard Attenborough
Despite a top central performance from Robert Downey Jr., what should’ve been a great film is fairly ho-hum, thanks to Richard Attenborough’s pedestrian direction. The montage of clips from Chaplin movies at the end of the film is far better than anything that proceeds it.
94. Dead Alive – Peter Jackson
95. Jude – Michael Winterbottom
96. Cradle Will Rock – Tim Robbins
97. Proof – Jocelyn Moorhouse
98. The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl – Ray Müller
99. Titus – Julie Taymor
100.Mystery Men – Kinka Usher

13 responses »

  1. Lone Star is number 4!
    YESYESYESYES!
    …….that makes me immeasurably happy. So, so deserved.

  2. I never quite know what people mean by “underrated” (or in this case, “overlooked”) One man’s underrated is another man’s pile of junk. Does it mean it didn’t get good reviews, but should have? Or didn’t get Oscars, or box office? I find these lists kind of arbitrary, as if it’s just a random list of movies. And Mystery Men sucked.

  3. Wow, this is like the list I would make if someone said ‘what should I watch’? Really?
    Hard Eight, That Thing You Do, Cradle Will Rock.
    Thank you, Marco…thank you.

  4. …and there goes my buzz.

    How is ‘best of’ not arbitrary when you look at it closely? I enjoyed Die Hard far more and have seen it far more than Citizen Kane. I’m NOT saying it’s a better film. But on MY best of it ranks higher. That’s an arbitrary scale compared to how you would rate things.

  5. Deciding what is best is not arbitrary, it’s exactly the opposite. These kind of lists strike me as writers griping about movies they liked that aren’t as acclaimed as they like.

    Enjoy this list all you want, I’m just sayin’ I don’t put any stock in them.

  6. But how isn’t it arbitrary if you think Citizen Kane is number one and I think Die Hard is? Just to use examples.
    I didn’t make it through Vertigo. That was number one on the latest poll. So how is that not arbitrary? I think Mohicans is stronger than Vertigo. By a FAR margin. Not Kane……..but Vertigo. How is it not arbitrary? Simply because the critics said it?

  7. Deciding what is best is not arbitrary, it’s exactly the opposite.

    Of course it’s arbitrary, what else could it be? There’s no objecctive measurement, no set criteria, not even a consensus understanding of the definition of ‘best’ (as filmman points out).

    Furthermore, any ‘best of’ list is going to be limited by arbitrary qualities such as the movies the listmaker has seen, what’s available to him or her to see in the first place (what’s on DVD, which movies were picked up for distribution, etc.) and his or her own personal tastes.

    There’s really nothing un-arbitrary about it.

  8. No, it’s not arbitrary. Arbitrary means not giving anything any thought, and just choosing randomly. When I make a list of best, or favorite films, I have a set of criteria, and put some though into it. It’s subjective criteria, but it’s my criteria–this film is better than that film. A list of overlooked or underrated films is….well, overlooked compared to what? It’s meaningless. Of course, one could say that all best lists are meaningless, but at least best-of lists are easy to understand.

    Just because, Filmman, you don’t agree with a best-of-list doesn’t make it an arbitrary choice by the person(s) who made the list.

    Subjective and arbitrary are not the same thing.

  9. Subjective and arbitrary are not the same thing.

    Not exactly, but there’s a lot of overlap. How are subjective criteria decided on in the first place, if not arbitrarily? You like this actor and not that actor, this genre and not that genre, etc. Subjective, yes, but how is that not arbitrary?

    Even given those criteria, how you feel about a film is pretty arbitrary, depending on your mood that day, your life experiences, etc. You can watch a movie one day and not be moved, then watch the same movie again a decade or year or even day later and think differently of it. How many films do you think you’ve seen that would be much improved the second time, but you don’t give it the chance? There’s no way to know, but it’s going to affect a list.

    And like I said, any list is limited by other factors. I go and see Film A, but blow off Film B for no real reason except that I’m feeling lazy that day. Or because it has actors I don’t like, or because the trailer looks stupid, or whatever. There’s no real rhyme or reason for it, it’s just the way things shook out.

    Or, a film I would really love if I saw it is German and doesn’t get US distribution. Or it’s only shown in NY and gets buried on video (happens all the time). Or it’s released in the US 3 years later, so it’s on my list that year, bumping something else off (and giving a slot to another movie on the list 3 years prior).

    A top ten list is completely arbitrary, regardless of how much thought you put into it.

  10. Anyway, as for the list in question, I wish I had more to say about it. I’ve seen most of the films, and most of them are pretty good. Some of them I thought were already well-known enough to preclude them from a list like this (Waiting for Guffman, Glengarry Glen Ross, Bound, Babe). And a couple were very much discussed at the time but have not unjustly faded (In the Company of Men, Beloved). Some are just bad (Very Bad Things, Mystery Men).

    But most of them are pretty good, and worth watching. Some of them have, I think, been unfairly neglected in the DVD era. The Apostle, for example, only got a crummy DVD in the early days of the format and has mostly disappeared since then. Ditto Cradle Will Rock, and Safe, and Kundun.

  11. I agree with those you listed as though they were well-known enough. Most people who haven’t even seen it know a LOT about Babe.

    And most recently I had this experience with The 400 Blows. Didn’t like at all and then watched it with a different eye and understood. But still not in top 25.

  12. I will now spout titles like I’m repeating quotes from a YouTube video in its own comments section…

    Ghost Dog!
    Totoro!
    October Sky!
    Chaplin!
    That Thing You Do!…!

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