1992: Aladdin

Overall this was a very weak year in movies but if you ask my mom she’ll tell you I watched Aladdin repeatedly until the VHS started wearing out so Aladdin takes the win here. Robin Williams gives an iconic performance as the Genie and the video game for SNES was something I poured way too many hours of my life into. I also love “A Whole New World” but let’s keep that between you and me.

Runner(s) up:

Mighty Ducks: a movie that I also watched repeatedly as a child but this one and its sequels kind of blur together in my mind so the edge goes to Aladdin. How bout that Paul Kariya though? This Franchise made him and Teemu Selanne two of my favorite non-Canucks hockey players.

Reservoir Dogs: it’s good but Tarantino is very raw here. Elements of his now signature style are there and the opening diner scene is just excellent Tarantino dialogue but Reservoir Dogs sits well behind his other films. 

Alien 3: Alien 3 gets a bad rep simply because it fails to follow up the two excellent Alien movies that came prior to it. Famously disowned by David Fincher, It really isn’t that bad especially in comparison to the spinoffs and the current sequel / not sequel that Ridley Scott has done recently (Prometheus and Alien: Covenant)

1993: Groundhog Day

It pains me that I can’t pick more than one here because I love Jurassic Park and True Romance as well. Groundhog Day wins for me though because it takes a fun concept and the infinite charisma of Bill Murray to turn in one of the best rom coms ever made. This is one of those movies that whenever I see it on, I will watch it through to the end, it’s a film with so much heart and feeling to it as well. I particularly enjoy this underrated scene (see below) from Bill Murray where he quietly delivers a great speech that isn’t as memorable as Cruise in Jerry Macguire (” You Complete Me / You Had me at Hello”) or Crystal in When Harry Met Sally (“It Had To Be You”) but I would argue equally as powerful. Look, call me soft for choosing this over big hits in this year but this movie literally established Bill Murray as God. Are you going to argue with God?

Runner(s) up:

Jurassic Park: Spielberg continues his masterful run as the Blockbuster hit maker firmly establishing himself as the most well-known director in the world (if he wasn’t there already). Jurassic Park is miles ahead of its time, the special effects still hold up today 20+ years after its release, John Williams composes one of the most iconic scores of all time but this list is favorite movie not best (though one could argue Spielberg’s other film from this year Schindler’s List would win that race as well) so, unfortunately, Jurassic Park must sit in a close second place.

Sleepless in Seattle: I am going to get crucified by the internet for omitting both Schindler’s List and The Fugitive from this year but it was a deep year and I have a soft spot for Tom Hanks / Meg Ryan. It doesn’t win though because Groundhog Day is just the superior rom-com and the duo of Hanks and Ryan have collaborated on better films. 

True Romance: Quentin Tarantino wrote True Romance and in my opinion, it is better than any of the films he’s directed. That’s not to take anything away from Tarantino who is among the best of his generation but this film is just a step above the rest.  The Sicilian Scene with Walken and Hopper is one of my favorite scenes in film history

1994: Pulp Fiction

Tarantino has already been a runner-up twice on this list (He wrote True Romance) and he finally takes one with Pulp Fiction. Arguably its a greater achievement to do it in this year as deep as it is. Any of the movies listed behind Pulp Fiction could have easily won and I wouldn’t be mad especially Chungking Express.

However, Pulp Fiction is just all of the things that make Tarantino great packaged in a fantastic intertwined story. It is still his most notable work and in my opinion still his best to date (as a director). The cultural impact of this movie is so large that in many conversations I have with film studies students or casual cinephiles looking to dive deeper into cinema, this is often cited as their gateway into film, not just simply as a tool of mindless entertainment but as an art form.

Runner(s) up:

Chungking Express: Wong Kar-Wai is up there with Kurosawa, Kubrick and Bergman in my Mount Rushmore of film directors and this was my entry point into his filmography. A gorgeous movie that touches on the feeling of limerence and desire between two separate stories (each occupying roughly half of its run time), Kar-Wai ties these together in just theme alone but it is weaved in such a way that I find myself flipping my opinion on which half I like more with each subsequent rewatch.

Forrest Gump: The winner of Best Picture that year, this is arguably Tom Hanks’ most recognizable role (quite a feat considering his legendary career). However, I don’t think it’s Hanks’ best role.  Nonetheless, Forrest Gump is a great movie that is essential viewing at least once in your life if for whatever reason you missed this heartwarming tale.

Shawshank Redemption:  A big part of favorite movies is re-watch ability which is what hurts Shawshank on this list. The best movie of 1994, it should’ve won Best Picture but it’s just not a film that I find myself actively looking to watch again and again.

Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?

1995: Before Sunrise

 

Before Sunrise is the Richard Linklater’s masterpiece. The beginning of one of the best trilogies ever made, we are introduced to Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a newly single man traveling through Europe when he happens upon Celine (Julie Delphy), a beautiful french woman also making her way through Europe. Together, they spend the day exploring the city whilst engaging in conversation. It’s a surreal experience because of the way it is structured, avoiding cliches that are commonplace in the drama, it is literally just two people gradually falling in love with each other, no drama, no bullshit. By doing so, Linklater mimics a real-life relationship better than any other on-screen relationship has, it is purity not in its grandiose nature but in its simplicity.  There is no better film that captures the thrill of romantic expression and quite possibility no trilogy that encapsulates the art of love.

Runner(s) up:

Toy Story: Another all time trilogy got its start in 95. Toy Story is a childhood favorite that got the industry giant known as Pixar on the map. Despite the studio’s excellent output over the years, I’d still rank Toy Story right up there among the best they’ve ever done.

Se7en:  David Fincher gets free reign and creates one of the most stylistically impressive movies of the decade. Brad Pitt cements himself as a legitimate star in a year that also saw him do 12 Monkeys and the world is given an infinite number of “what’s in the box?” impressions by that one guy you know who also thinks he can do a good Walken and Borat.  

The Usual Suspects:  This one falls on the list a little because the identity of Keyzer Soze has become one of the most publicly known twists in movie history since its release. For those watching it for the first time, this knowledge puts a buzzkill on a movie that is still really well done. Like The Sixth Sense though, I wish I had the luxury of going into this one blind though.

1996: Space Jam

Had I been 10 years older at the time of release, I think this would rank significantly lower. Everyone knows that Fargo is the best movie from this year but there is no bigger nostalgia pick on here than Space Jam. From the opening sequence that features the musical stylings of R Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” to Bill Murray (once again) saving the world, to Michael Jordan’s universe saving stretch dunk, This movie is pure 90s and its fucking awesome.

There is almost no way a Lebron James remake could remotely match the original simply on era alone. Space Jam was made for the 90s aesthetic one that was more relaxed, less cynical and open to weird (hence it also being Tim Burton’s peak years). In the 00s -10s Space Jam just doesn’t work, no amount of “Mike’s Secret Stuff” can replace this film that was released at the perfect time (even if Lebron James is 100x the actor Jordan ever was).

 

Runner(s) up:

Fargo:  Like I said, easily the best movie of the year. The Coens have developed a dedicated following for their films because they have a knack for telling engaging stories while mixing in subtle comedy. I think Fargo is arguably the most accessible of their filmography to a wide audience (hence it winning a few Oscars, though the weakness of the year might come into play here). Frances McDormand is fantastic in this film but she is probably to blame for stereotyping the Minnesotian accent.

Jerry McGuire: Renee Zellweger is perfect casting here as the love interest to Tom Cruise’s titular character. With just enough “gorgeous but doesn’t quite know it” appeal, she doesn’t overshadow Cruise but softens him as a likable lead you can cheer for (which wasn’t always the case coming off playing more cynical characters in Rain Man and Risky Business). Cameron Crowe continues to sell “movie love” to the masses (a trend he began in Say Anything) and creates more marquee quotable material that guys can use to win their girlfriends back.

Primal Fear Edward Norton is unrecognized as one of the better talents of his generation (right up there with the Pitts, DiCaprios and Damons). Primal Fear is a prime (snickers) example of his talent. Richard Gere also puts in a great performance that is largely forgotten in the wake of his more well-known roles in Pretty Woman and Hach.i

1997: Boogie Nights

First off Titanic is super overrated. This year is deep (and I didn’t even mention Grosse Pointe Blank), no room for it here. Now back to Boogie Nights… 

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the finest directors of our era for many reasons exemplified in Boogie Nights. That opening scene is just incredible setting the stage for what’s to come (reminiscent of Scorcese’s iconic tracking shot in Goodfellas). Plus PTA made Mark Wahlberg look like a competent actor which as we know based on the years that have followed is a hard (no pun intended) task that few have can do (ie Scorcese did it in The Departed) but that’s pretty much it.

Quick Shoutout to Hercules for quietly having one of the best soundtracks of the Disney films.

 

Runner(s) up:

Good Will Hunting:  How do you like them apples? Robin Williams turns in a standout performance opposite Matt Damon, the legendary comedian shows off his dramatic side, something I wish we got to see more of during his career as it yields fantastic results (see One Hour Photo for another example). Damon to his credit is also solid here but no one is outshining Williams in this movie.

Jackie Brown: Samuel L Jackson has called this his favorite Tarantino film and for him specifically it’s easy to see why. Yes, he has more memorable lines in Pulp Fiction but Jackie Brown is where Tarantino lets Jackson loose. Also starring Robert De Niro in a memorable supporting role, Tarantino’s talent for writing dialogue and expert plotting have never been in question but his most underrated talent might be casting and subsequently resurrecting careers (Travolta post-Grease / Saturday Night Fever with Pulp Fiction, and Pam Grier here)

The Fifth Element My favorite story to come out of this film is how director Luc Besson intentionally kept Bruce Willis angry with excessive takes in order to keep him in character throughout filming. Largely passed over in its initial release, The Fifth Element has become a cult classic thanks to Besson’s unorthodox methods, clever writing, and genre-defying approach.

1998: Rushmore

Quick note on this year: Both Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line are great. The genre though is so overdone and I had to leave room for films that made more of an impact on myself.

Hollywood’s other Anderson, The enigmatic Wes Anderson directs this film. Occupying a space that still features many of the director’s trademarks but isn’t yet the OCD, strange Wes Anderson that has polarized the auteur in recent years. Rushmore is Anderson revitalizing Bill Murray’s career by letting him demonstrate his dramatic acting range and marks his first collaboration with Jason Schwartzman who plays a student that unwittingly falls for his teacher.  The soundtrack here is impeccable giving the film a sort of timeless appeal and Bill Murray is stellar.

A regular struggle of mine is deciding which one of Anderson’s movies I like the best. I think that The Royal Tenenbaums is perfectly in between quirky Wes and more reserved Wes but for those who might stray from Anderson’s genius believing him to be purely arthouse, I highly encourage viewing Rushmore before casting him off.

 

 

Related: A Dissection of Wes Anderson's Eccentric Style.

Runner(s) up:

Rounders:  The quintessential poker movieRounders is the reason I love poker. Even the idea that there could be a possibility of an Average Joe bluffing a legend like Johnny Chan off a hand is reason enough. This movie gave me that small sliver of hope, one day, just maybe.

Mulan:  During a teacher’s strike in 2001, I watched this movie 3 times a day for two weeks and it was glorious. Of all the Disney princesses, Mulan is by far the best. She saves an entire country, kicks ass and doesn’t give a fuck about your army rules. Can Elsa do that? I didn’t think so. There’s one shot of the Hun army stampeding down the mountain side that is stunning, not to mention Eddie Murphy’s performance as Mushu which set the stage for him to play Donkey in Shrek years later (though I’d argue Mushu over Donkey any day of the week).  It’s a shame the legendary Szechuan McDonald’s sauce never made it to Canada (to my knowledge)  but rest assured I’ll Make A Man Out Of You is forever engrained in my brain.

Truman Show Jim Carrey is more than just a caricature and this performance as the titular Truman stuck inside a reality show is Carrey turning the nozzle down from 15 (AKA unhinged Carrey) to a more manageable 6-7, he still a moments where he is wacky but the best moments of this movie are when he is allowed to feel. Snubbed at the Oscars the following year inexplicably for Nick Nolte in Affliction, Carrey got robbed plain and simple.

1999: Office Space

This was the year I remember first going to the theater. Of course, this was to see such gems as Stuart Little, Inspector Gadget and Tarzan. I wanna thank my dad for taking me to these even though they were mostly terrible and I’m pretty sure he used them as a way to get in a quick two-hour nap.

Going against the grain once more though, I chose Office Space because of the way it finds comedy in the most mundane parts of our day to day lives. It is at times satirical and often laugh out loud funny particularly the Michael Bolton scene as well as the copier scene. A satire comedy from Mike Judge (King of The Hill, HBO’s Silicon Valley), Office Space still holds up today because the themes of corporate dissatisfaction are  (unfortunately) still as relevant in 2017 as it was in 1999. We need to talk about Jennifer Aniston’s flair though.

 

Runner(s) up:

The Matrix: A movie that should be cited more often on how to do action scenes in the modern era. The effects were revolutionary and are still imitated to this day. The Wachowskis have never been able to replicate anything close to the Matrix (even in its sequels) and Keanu Reeves presents his audition tape for John Wick which would follow a decade or so later.

Magnolia: Tom Cruise is chilling here as T.J Mackey. Ambitious in the face of the developing blockbuster culture of movies. Magnolia is Paul Thomas Anderson again, stretching his genius telling three intertwining plots in expert fashion. Despite its length, Magnolia is (as with all of PTA’s work) a must watch for its sheer scope and the risks that Anderson takes.

The Iron Giant:  Proving that Vin Diesel should only be given roles where he utters 1 or two words repeatedly (if that wasn’t already clear by Guardians of the Galaxy), The Iron Giant is a fantastic animated feature that often gets lost amidst the Disney Renaissance films and the rise of 3D animation. Brad Bird ( The Incredibles, Ratatouille) directs with class and attention to subtlety, it’s a shame this did not garner a wider audience but at least we know how to test for cyborgs in the future because if you don’t tear up at that ending, I’m convinced you’re not human.

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