A Decade in Film: 1990

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After a hiatus, I thought it might be fun to restart our Decade in Film series by running through the 1990’s. We’ll kick off (obviously) with 1990 and end things with what’s wildly considered to be one the best years in film history.

A chronological list of releases can be found here.

This is the format I’m going to follow:

1) Best of 1990 or top five?
2) Most disappointing of 1990 (or bottom five if you want to go that route)?
3) Most underrated or underseen? (Example: “reviews weren’t great, but it’s genius because) OR (“No one saw it, but this is why they should…”)
4) Favorite performance(s) of the year?
5) Favorite scene/sequence of the year?
6) Most memorable (good or bad) theatergoing experience of the year?
7) Most influential film/performance/style/director?

Obviously feel free to answer only the questions you’re interested in or to write/respond to something else entirely. The lists themselves are just a starting point to foster discussion.

27 responses »

  1. My favorite film of 1990 was Last Exit to Brooklyn, and I’m confident that I’m the only person on Earth who thinks so. It was a great year for Jennifer Jason Leigh–she was also great in Miami Blues.

  2. Best: The Witches, Misery, Ghost, Back To The Future 3, Edward Scissorhands, Total Recall

    Worst: Robocop 2 (crushingly disappointing after the great original), Predator (at least wasn’t as bad as the Robocop sequel)

    Underrated: The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (could’ve been better but had great concept and worth watching), Gremlins 2 (more fun than the original imo)

    Overrated: Goodfellas

    Least influential film: Clint Eastwood’s ‘The Rookie’ looked as if it was made in 1975. Career looked to be petering out at this time, but the opposite was about to happen.

    Most memorable film-related experience: not about going to see a film, but the hype surrounding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The cartoon series was huge at school that year, surpassed by the movie (trading cards were everywhere at lunch). I didn’t see it at the cinema but did go to the video store to borrow it and there were roughly 4 rows of it available! As it turned out, the film was lousy and forgettable.

  3. Great movie gods, Marco-where do I even begin to address the masterpieces you managed to slag-off in just a couple paragraphs? (Though you are so, so, so right about Robocop 2. Thanks, Frank Miller).
    And 2-Predator…..2. You forgot the 2. Very important. So very important.

  4. 1. In a year that had the action masterpieces Total Recall, Days of Thunder (any late-’80s early ’90s Tony Scott was manna to an action fan) and Die Hard 2 (only a very slight disappointment over 1, soothed when the greatest New York movie ever made was released as the third installment), and if ’89 is my all-time favorite movie year, 1990 is close to second best, it also happened to have The Hunt for Red October, not only the best of ’90 but one of the three best American action movies ever made. McTiernan can hold his head high no matter what’s happening now. So very high. What a time to be a movie lover and be young.

    That being said, I can’t stress enough the import Miller’s Crossing had on me, especially the scenes at the desk with Jon Polito and the ‘Scotch Tommy Gun’ scene and in any other year, this masterpiece would be paramount, and that’s not even touching Goodfellas, a movie just as brilliant and important.

    What a year for movies!

    2. In a year that had Gremlins 2 and Robocop 2, there is no way to choose between those two-if even just for the ‘dancing Gremlin scene’ and all of Robocop 2.

    3. King of New York.

    4. Favorite performance: Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan. But man, did Gibson’s Hamlet speak to me.

    5. Favorite sequence was, again, the ‘Tommy Gun Scotch sequence (forget the song that was playing) in Miller’s Crossing, and this was a year that included pretty much all of Goodfellas and the opening shot of Bonfire of the Vanities.

    6. Robocop 2. It was as if a black hole had opened in the seat below me in the theater as that abomination unspooled. I had been getting into R-rated movies for a while thanks to a cousin who would take us to the movies during the annual Lancaster family vacation (and my grandparents never seemed to mind) starting with Predator but I believe this was the first R-rated I went to by myself.

    7. John McTiernan. He remains and will always be the template for action movie directors that all others will follow. The Once and Future King.

  5. 1) Top Six:
    Goodfellas (my overall #1), Quick Change, Reversal of Fortune, Miller’s Crossing, Darkman, Miami Blues, Total Recall

    2) Most disappointing:
    I’ll echo Marco and Filmman here with Robocop 2. I will say that Badass Digest had a good dissection of the film a couple of months back that made me want to re-watch it.

    Predator 2 isn’t great, but I thought Hopkins did a good job of thrusting audiences into hellish urban warfare in those opening scenes.

    3) Most underrated or underseen? (Example: “reviews weren’t great, but it’s genius because) OR (“No one saw it, but this is why they should…”)
    There are several this year:
    Quick Change – Just as funny today as it was 24 years ago (I just bought it on VUDU last week)
    House Party – Excellent indie teen comedy whose charms have been forgotten thanks to a series of lousy, sitcom-level follow-ups.
    A Shock to the System – Solid Michael Caine-as-yuppie-serial-killer picture. Kind of a precursor to American Psycho.

    4) Favorite performance(s) of the year?
    Laurence Fishburne in King of New York (incidentally: that remains Fishburne’s career favorite)
    Liotta and Pesci in Goodfellas
    Alec Baldwin in Miami Blues
    Keith David in Men at Work
    It’s not a good film by any stretch, but I’ve always enjoyed David Cronenberg’s on-camera turn as the antagonist in Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.

    5) Favorite scene/sequence of the year?
    I could go with any number of scenes in Goodfellas, but it’s hard to beat the first five minutes of Miami Blues.

    6) Most memorable (good or bad) theatergoing experience of the year?
    Went to see Darkman with my dad in a not-great neighborhood in the Boston suburbs. Came out of the theater to find his driver’s side door open, the car ransacked and ignition ripped out.

    7) Most influential film/performance/style/director?
    Home Alone’s success launched a franchise, Culkin’s ill-fated career and a million terrible rip-offs. It also destroyed John Hughes’ ambition.

  6. Underrated: The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (could’ve been better but had great concept and worth watching), Gremlins 2 (more fun than the original imo)

    Agreed on both of these. I re-watched Ford Fairlane for the first time in at least a decade last year and found myself enjoying it, dated as it is.

    I always thought Clay had a lot of potential as an actor, but he needed to drop that embarrassing “Dice” alter ego. It should be interesting to see if he can turn his heat from Blue Jasmine into a second act.

    Most memorable film-related experience: not about going to see a film, but the hype surrounding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The cartoon series was huge at school that year, surpassed by the movie (trading cards were everywhere at lunch). I didn’t see it at the cinema but did go to the video store to borrow it and there were roughly 4 rows of it available! As it turned out, the film was lousy and forgettable.

    My 6 year old has really been into the TMNT characters lately so we tried watching the 1990 feature. I vaguely remembered enjoying it upon release, but we didn’t make it 15 minutes. Just a terribly made film.

  7. Dice Clay already started his second act by getting Jasmine after being awesome in Entourage.

  8. Dear James and Marco: respectfully go to hell about TMNT. It’s a masterpiece of a kid’s film masquerading as an adult movie with characters dressed in turtle outfits. It’s one of the 5 best specifically kid’s films and it has one of the best soundtracks ever.

    And to think Turtles is bad but Gremlins 2 is anywhere near the first is madness. That movie is so bad it’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 bad.

  9. Predator 2 isn’t great by any stretch, but what a great concept, ‘urban jungle’, to keep Predator fresh in a sequel, too bad it was bungled pretty poorly, even if Glover was kind of a brilliant choice.

  10. The “I’m funny how” scene of Goodfellas was the year’s best, and the best acting of the year (by Pesci).

    I remember that TMNT was released the same weekend (I think it was Thanksgiving) that Dances with Wolves was. I was seeing the latter (with almost no one–the film hadn’t built any heat yet) and there was an army of kids in line for the former. I overheard the theater manager talking to the ticket-takers: “Every little kid has to have a ticket.”

    Agree with you on Quick Change, James.

  11. One other vivid memory from 1990s films – back in the late 1990s at a university film class I was taking, we were about to watch as an example of mainstream Hollywood filmmaking, ‘Pretty Woman’. Just before the film began the lecturer asked who’d seen it before and everyone in the class put their hand up… except me!

    Home Alone’s success launched a franchise, Culkin’s ill-fated career and a million terrible rip-offs. It also destroyed John Hughes’ ambition.

    Yeah, Hughes was at the peak of his powers (and critical rep as well) but the 1990s were an almost complete washout for him and his career was over years before his early death.

    I should add that virtually all of these films from this year I haven’t seen since the 1990s (‘Pacific Heights’ being a rare exception). So my view on them might’ve changed if I rewatched them now.

    I remember Darkman getting pretty good notices when released and being intrigued to see it but I never got around to it. 24 years later, I still haven’t!

  12. I didn’t like ‘Quick Change’ as much as others did here but I think it was significant as a turning point in Murray’s career. Up until this point I’d never liked him much in his films as he’d always come across as tediously smug. But from roughly this time he became a vastly better comic actor (and non-comic for that matter) and has never looked back.

  13. And fantastic idea James to get this started again. I think we could even take this through the 1980s as well (where will “Can’t Stop The Music” be on people’s lists?)

  14. Maybe say something a couple weeks in advance of the post, though, maybe do it by half years so people can revisit a few of their favorites from the time period just to brush up again?

  15. I was going to say the ‘Preparation for Dinner’ scene from Pretty Woman (the scene that launched a thousand relationships for me) would be one of my favorite scenes: “You’re late” “You’re stunning” “You’re forgiven”-but I figure Slim has enough ammunition against me.

  16. Another of my favorite movie-going experiences was going to the long-defunct cinemas on Times Square that became a Virgin megastore (that I believe is a Toys ‘R Us now, maybe not, but I took my niece and nephew to see Godzilla. It was packed. Had to wait in line in ’90’s Times Square, before it was completely an open-air mall and watching their faces in the lights of Times Square and it was the first time I had been tasked to ‘watch’ kids and it was just a magical movie-going moment, even if the movie wasn’t so great, but it was great with them.

    Another unforgettable ’90’s moviegoing experience was being home from school at that time (I believe I was in my internship) and hearing of the latest John Sayles movie Lone Star, and then hearing of a new cinema I had never heard of before called the Pocono Community Theater and Coffee Shop and I remember thinking “Coffee shop?” and I wondered aloud to someone if it would be some ‘hippie dive’ and I went and it was a community theater and it was one of the greatest movies I’d ever seen and I wrote a letter to John Sayles outlining what his latest movie meant to me (I never sent it), namely that he made me believe independent film is more than just ‘dick and fart jokes’ and ‘violent mariachis and Tarantino villains’ and I’ll never forget standing under the marquee after walking out and wanting to make movies more than at any other moment of my life.

    In 1999, I remember the first time I ever went to a movie in a foreign country when I went to see The Sixth Sense at a theater in Chiba, Japan, on the outskirts of Gyotoku, where I got ice cream with my future first ex-wife and we had our first kiss standing in front of the poster for the movie, Bruce Willis and the kid watching us closely. (I also stole the poster from that same place a little bit later when we watched the first X-Men there. There was no way I could leave without that poster. (I still have it).

    But perhaps the greatest memory was my first semester at Mansfield, driving 2 hours to the closest movie theater (that wasn’t a tiny, crappy local theater) to see Last of the Mohicans in Towanda, I think it was, the greatest movie of all time with my girlfriend of the time Nicole Keller (who later died in a rollover crash) and I remember even then sitting in the theater and falling in love with the true artistry of Mann and Spinotti. Those were great times to be a movie lover.

  17. Another of my favorite movie-going experiences was going to the long-defunct cinemas on Times Square that became a Virgin megastore (that I believe is a Toys ‘R Us now, maybe not, but I took my niece and nephew to see Godzilla. It was packed. Had to wait in line in ’90′s Times Square, before it was completely an open-air mall and watching their faces in the lights of Times Square and it was the first time I had been tasked to ‘watch’ kids and it was just a magical movie-going moment, even if the movie wasn’t so great, but it was great with them.

    Dude, it’s so funny that you mentioned that theater because I almost chose a memory of seeing Dances with Wolves there above. What was the name of it?

    The upstairs auditorium was insanely huge. Not sure if it’s just my memory, but it seemed like the largest auditorium (in terms of seats) I’ve been in.

  18. And fantastic idea James to get this started again. I think we could even take this through the 1980s as well (where will “Can’t Stop The Music” be on people’s lists?)

    That’s the plan, definitely.

  19. That was the Criterion. I saw a lot of films back there, and it was like a rabbit’s warren, but when you got to the top there was this huge auditorium. I saw Greystoke there. I also saw Chariots of Fire there, but in a smaller, closet-like theater.

  20. Yeah, I saw a lot of movies there back in the early 90’s when my dad had a place in Manhattan and then towards the middle part of the decade with my now-wife. I think the last thing we saw there was Waterworld, where we were interviewed by an Entertainment Tonight crew upon exiting. Never mind, that was down the street at another theater that I believe is also gone. It would be Die Hard with a Vengeance.

    And here’s The Criterion…in 1990!

  21. took my niece and nephew to see Godzilla. It was packed. Had to wait in line in ’90′s Times Square, before it was completely an open-air mall and watching their faces in the lights of Times Square and it was the first time I had been tasked to ‘watch’ kids and it was just a magical movie-going moment, even if the movie wasn’t so great, but it was great with them.

    Do you see yourself?

    http://photos.cinematreasures.org/production/photos/57240/1349028185/large.jpg?1349028185

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