20. Boogie Nights (1997) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a high school dropout who lives with his parents and works at a nightclub. One night he is discovered by Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) a porn director who auditions Eddie. Eddie is berated by his parents about his lifestyle and he leaves to go stay with Jack, and agrees to make porn films. He chooses the name Dirk Diggler for himself, because of his large penis.
He becomes so successful that he is able to buy a house and the sports car he has always wanted. He also sees the downside of the industry as the assistant director kill his wife and then himself. Dirk becomes a drug addict and tries to go straight but his friend is killed by a drug dealer as they try to scam him out of money to record music. Dirk, seeing the error of his ways, returns to Jack and goes back to the porn industry.
The film received very good reviews, with critics raving over Mark Wahlberg and especially Burt Reynolds, who many critics said it was his best role in years. The film was successful at the box office, and was nominated for three Academy awards, namely Best Supporting Actor for Reynolds, Best Supporting Actor for Julianne Moore, and best Original screenplay. There was speculation that the subject was too graphic for conservative voters and it did not receive a Best Picture Nomination.
19. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) dir. James Foley
The film takes place in a real estate office over two days. The office manager (Kevin Spacey) gives leads to the four salesmen. The salesmen are forced to use all their charm and talent to try to sell these parcels. Blake (Alec Baldwin) is sent by the owners to motivate the salesmen.
Blake is very abusive and advises the salesmen that the top two will get good Glengarry leads, while the other two will be fired. The next day, the manager and the salesmen discover that the office has been burglarized and the Glengarry leads are gone. Who stole the leads and who will win the contest?
The reviews were tremendous, Entertainment Weekly gave it an A. and many critics were amazed at Lemmon’s performance, many critics said it was his best performance ever. Spacey, Baldwin, and Pacino also got great reviews.
The film did not make its cost back in the US. Al Pacino received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, the same year he won Best Actor for “Scent of a Woman”. Since the film did not make its cost back, it was considered a cult film, and that probably worked against the film being nominated for Best Picture.
18. Ed Wood (1994) dir. Tim Burton
Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) was trying to become a director in 1952. He meets with a producer who is trying to make a film based a sex change patient. Ed is trying to convince the producer that he is perfect to direct, as he is a transvestite. He convinces the producer that he can direct because he can provide a star at a low price. He changes the title of the film to Glen or Glenda and makes it about a transvestite.
The completed film fails at the box office and is derided by critics. He is unable to get another job, but raises the money himself. He finds a backer who agrees as long as the film has an explosion. Bride of the Monster but at the premier, Ed is literally chased out of the theater. He starts dating Kathy O’Hara, who accepts his transvestism. He starts filming his next film but Bela dies before the film is completed. Using a stand in and with financing from a church, he completes Plan 9 From Outer Space.
The critic reception was excellent, with some critics saying it was Burton and Depp’s best collaboration. Depp received great reviews with people proclaiming him a star at last. Most critics agreed with Burton’s decision to film this as straight as possible and not show Ed and Bela as over the top.
Despite the good reviews, the film failed at the box office, taking in only a third of its cost. Despite this, it did win two Academy Awards, one for Martin Landau for Best Supporting Actor, and Rick Baker for Best Makeup. It was not nominated for Best Picture. Possibly because of its box office failure.
17. The Straight Story (1999) dir. David Lynch
Alvin Straight discovers his estranged brother, Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton), has suffered a stroke. He hatches a plan to hook a small camper to his riding lawnmower and ride it to visit his brother. He keeps going but is running low on money, when his brakes fail and he has transmission issues.
Borrowing a phone, he calls his daughter and tells her to send his Social Security check. He gets the mower fixed successfully negotiates a price and continues on his way. He makes it to Lyle’s house and using two canes walks to the door. It takes a few minutes but Lyle comes to the door using a walker. The make amends and sit on the porch watching the stars.
The film received very good reviews, with many critics expressing delight over David Lynch’s direction as this was so different than his other films. It became his first G-rated film, and was released by Walt Disney, both firsts with Lynch. Despite the reviews it did not make back its costs. It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, but being seen as an art house type film, it did not receive a Best Picture nomination.
16. Being John Malkovich (1999) dir. Spike Jonze
Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is an unemployed puppeteer who’s marriage to Lotte (Cameron Diaz) is drifting. Unable to get work in his chosen field, he accepts a job with Dr. Lester (Orson Bean) as a file clerk, of LesterCorp. On the 7 ½ floor of an office in New York. He becomes infatuated with co-worker Maxine, but she seems not to care.
Craig discovers a small door behind the file cabinet, and when he opens it and enters, he finds himself inside the brain of John Malkovich. Will he be able to use this to his advantage?
The reviews were excellent, especially from Roger Ebert, who named it best film of the year. The film received praise for the original script and the direction of Spike Jonze. The film was successful at the box office and received three Academy Award nominations, namely Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. The older and more conservative Best Picture voters bypassed the film for a nomination, probably because of the bizarre elements of the story.
15. The Usual Suspects (1995) dir. Bryan Singer
There are only two survivors to a gunfight and a fire aboard a ship in San Pedro Bay. Arkos Kovaz and Roger “Verbal” Kint. Kovaz was sent to the hospital with severe burns and Verbal is taken for questioning. FBI Agent Jack Baer and Customs agent Dave Kujan arrive to question Verbal. They had heard that Turkish gangster Keyser Soze was involved and they want a description and to find out where he is.
Verbal tells them there were four other men involved: Dan Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), a corrupt former cop, Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), a professional thief, Fred Fenster (Benecio del Toro), McManus’ partner, and Ted Hockney (Kevin Pollack), a high jacker.
The men have been held in a lineup and McManus suggests getting revenge by apprehending another criminal escorted by police and stealing his stash. They find out it was cocaine. Redfoot says it was set up by Kobayashi, a lawyer. The lawyer says he works for Soze, and says if they destroy $91 million in a cocaine deal going down, he will consider the debt paid. Otherwise he will kill their families. Will they make the heist?
The reviews were mostly positive. Those that liked it praised the script and the actors especially Kevin Spacey who many predicted was the front runner at the Academy Awards. Those critics that did not like the film blamed the script and said the plot was too difficult to follow and was boring.
Nevertheless, it was a box office hit and did $23 Million in the US on a budget of Six million dollars. The critics were right about Kevin Spacey, at that year’s Academy Awards, it won two Oscars, one for Kevin Spacey as Best Supporting Actor and one more for Best Original Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie. It was not nominated for Best Picture.
14. American History X (1998) dir. Tony Kaye
Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong) writes an on Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” after being assigned an on human rights by his Jewish teacher. The teacher wants to expel him, but the principle, who is black, takes over his history education and tells Danny to write an on his brother Derek (Edward Norton) who was just released from prison after serving 3 years for voluntary manslaughter, saying if he doesn’t turn in the paper tomorrow he will be expelled.
We then see Danny and Derek in flashback (in black and white) to see what happened to make them the way they were. Derek created a white supremacist group called DOC. He then killed two blacks who tried to steal his truck after losing at basketball to him. He received three years in prison. His attitude changed in prison due to his cellmate, who was black and the school principal. He came out of prison changed and tried to change his brother. It leads to an ending of sadness and remorse.
The critical reviews for the most part were good, especially for Edward Norton whom many critics felt had become a new star with this role. The director tried to disavow the film as it was reedited twice after his cut and Tony felt that it ruined his vision of the film. It was rumored that Norton had reedited the film to lengthen his part.
While most critics praised the acting, they felt the script was weak and the narrative disjointed. It broke even at the box office. The Academy Awards nominated Norton for Best Actor, but not in any other category. Edward Norton lost to Roberto Benigni in what was considered a big upset.
13. Trainspotting (1996) dir. Danny Boyle
The film starts out by showing us a group of friends, who are mostly heroin addicts. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), Daniel “Spud” Murphy, Simon “Sick boy” Williamson, Tommy MacKenzie, who is an athlete and not a user, and Francis “Franco” Begbie. Renton decides to kick his addiction. When he recovers, he finds his sex drive has returned and picks up Diane in a pub. They go back to her place.
The next morning he discovers that Diane is 15 and her flat mates are her parents. Diane starts blackmailing Renton.
Renton and Spud are caught stealing in a bookshop, but Renton avoids jail by entering a rehab program. His parents lock him in his room to withdrawal. He has horrible visions during that time.
When he is clean, his parents tell him to get tested to be sure he doesn’t have HIV. He is negative and moves to London to work as a real estate agent. Begbie and Spud move in on him, to his displeasure. They have to go back home as Tommy has died of HIV. Spud proposes that they do a drug transaction, but needs half the money from Renton. They make 16,000 pounds. Tre takes the money and goes back to London.
The film received great reviews. It was likened to a roller coaster thrill ride. The cast was given kudos, as was the director, Danny Boyle. John Hodges got good reviews for the script. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, but lost to Billy Bob Thornton. The film was not nominated for Best Picture.
12. Reservoir Dogs (1992) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Eight men are eating breakfast in a diner. Mostly they don’t know each other. Six of them are only known by color nicknames, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink, and Mr. White. There is also Boss Joe Cabot, and his son, Eddie “Nice Guy” Cabot. The next scene is after the jewel heist, in a car, Mr. White is holding Mr. Orange who has been shot in the stomach and is bleeding. They make it to an abandoned warehouse. Mr. Pink says it had to be a setup because the cops were right there.
Mr. White tells him Mr. Brown is dead, and Mr. Blonde killed several bystanders. The other men call him a psychopath. He also took a cop hostage and the men beat him up. Mr. Pink says he has the diamonds and put them in a safe place. Eddie shows and goes off with Mr. Pink and Mr. White to get the diamonds. Will they discover who the informant is? And what will they do when they find out?
The reviews were very good. Empire magazine called it “The greatest independent film ever made” Many critics enjoyed the cast and the acting, the script less so, one critic said it left him wanting more, but everyone was enthusiastic about the direction, saying Tarantino knew just how to set up the film.
Many critics also favorite the nonlinear approach to the film. It was made on a shoestring, so despite an extremely limited release, it doubled its investment in the US, but made almost ten times more in the U.K. Probably because of its limited release, it was not nominated for any Academy Awards.
11. Breaking the Waves (1996) dir. Lars von Trier
Bess McNeil (Emily Watson) a young woman with psychological issues, marries atheist Jan (Stellen Skarsgard) even though her church disapproves. Bess is pure, but childlike and believes God talks directly to her. When Jan is at his job, which is working on an offshore oil rig, he calls Bess as often as he can and they talk about their love.
She misses him so badly that she prays for his return. He is injured in an accident that day and is airlifted back home. Bess believes the accident was her fault. Jan is paralyzed and can no longer have sex, he begs Bess to make love to other men and tell him about it, saying it will make him feel better. Will she do as he asks, or will she listen to her church?
The reviews were very good with both critic Roger Ebert and director Martin Scorsese, naming it one of the ten best films of the 1990s. It did not make its investment back at the box office, doing only four million at the US box office. It was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards as everyone was bowled over by the performance by Emily Watson, but probably because it was a foreign film and seen as an art house film, it was not nominated for Best Picture.