10. subUrbia (Richard Linklater, 1997)
A group of five alternative slackers in their twenties spend much of their time hanging out in the parking lot of a convenience store in “Burnfield”, a suburb in Austin, Texas. Jeff (Giovanni Ribisi) is uncertain about his future, his ambitious girlfriend and their directionless posse.
An old friend who has become a successful rock star comes back home to catch up with them, but is resented and ridiculed by the silently envious bunch. Over the course of one night, a synchronicity of events and emotions will determine whether their lives will change for the better or progressively get worse.
Based on a play written by Eric Bogosian (“Sex, Drugs, Rock And Roll”), director Richard Linklater (“Dazed And Confused”) captures the bleak and wasteful ways of Generation X in the late 1990s. While the characters aren’t necessarily enjoyable, the film works under a train-wreck-watching-fascination and provides moments of realistic despair and naive optimism.
A subtle soundtrack with likes of Ministry, Butthole Surfers, Skinny Puppy, Sonic Youth and other related groups build the emotional intensity not expressed within dialogue.
A Tale Of Two Suburbias: The comparison between these two different films is the realistic depiction of troubled young people. The “Suburbia” of 1983 deals with teenagers who had to make do with limited resources without the support of their families and fend off a society that reject them for being individuals. Whereas the “subUrbia’ of 1997 focuses on young adults who come from good homes and could improve their quality of life as they enter the Real World, but choose to let it pass them by.
11. Wild Life (Art Linson, 1984)
Bill (Eric Stoltz) is a responsible high school graduate with a full time job and has just got his first apartment,. He finds himself having to deal with the problems of his loved ones, from his delinquent younger brother to his best friend and party animal roommate (Chris Penn). To make matters more complicated, his unrequited crush (Lea Thompson) is having an affair with an older man.
“Wild Life” is considered the sequel to “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”. Both screenplays were written by Cameron Crowe, yet contain a different cast and directors. It’s an amusing coming of age comedy-drama, which many feel its superior to its predecessor. The music score was by Eddie Van Halen, which subsequently turned up on his band’s later albums when much of the material wasn’t on the soundtrack.
12. Permanent Record (Marisa Silver, 1988)
David, a popular and talented high school student is discovered dead at an ocean beach party. It is perceived as an accident until the teenager’s suicide note arrives to his best friend, Chris (Keanu Reeves). He along with David’s girlfriend attempt to hold a memorial, but the school’s administration is against the idea.
When “Permanent Record” was released, the teenage suicide rate was at its highest. Though met with mixed reviews, its subject matter is still a relevant social problem. The performances are vastly emotional and equally convincing, including Keanu Reeves, in a early leading role. Former member of the Clash, Joe Strummer, contributed to the musical score and Lou Reed has a cameo in a recording studio.
13. Tapeheads (Bill Fishman, 1988)
Two bumbling security guards, Ivan (John Cusack) and Josh (Tim Robbins) get canned. They finally move out of their parents’ houses and start a video production company. Josh as the talent and Ivan as the manager, they set up a studio in a trust fund artist’s loft and start looking for gigs. They encounter a variety of projects and a few music videos for little or no pay.
Luck shines upon them when a disastrous video shoot launches their new enterprise. While hanging out in dive bar, the pair run into their music idols the Swanky Modes (R&B Legends, Sam Moore and Junior Walker) and attempt to restart their career.
“Tapeheads” features a bevy of cameos from musicians and other personalities from Soul Train’s Don Cornelius, to Connie Stevens to original video jockey Martha Quinn, along with a film score from Fishbone (also making appearance). Even under the production of Mike Nesmith (from the Monkees) and NBC Studios, it received a limited release and tanked in theatres.
14. Johnny Suede (Tom DiCillo, 1991)
Struggling musician and frustrated dreamer, Johnny Suede (Brad Pitt in his first leading role) aspires to be like his hero Ricky Nelson, but feels like a social outcast. One odd night, he acquires a new pair of black suede shoes and his sense of identity is complete.
He forms a band with his best friend, Deke (Calvin Levels), and meets Darlette, whose mother runs a record label. However, his career doesn’t take off and the girl leaves him. Swallowing his pride, Johnny takes a job as a house painter, but fantasizes committing a robbery. Eventually, better luck shines upon when he meets a schoolteacher, Yvonne (Catherine Keener), who helps him understand that substantial interests win over the superficial ones.
A darkly, surrealistic romantic comedy with wonderful music, “Johnny Suede” was a bomb in the theatres. It avoids generic specific trappings and new details come to light with each viewing. Another stand out performance is by Nick Cave as the dodgy musician Freak Storm, with cameos also by Tina Louise (“Gillian’s Island) and Samuel L. Jackson.
Through the video and cable, the film became a cult classic amongst music lovers and the blueprint for 1990s Indie Films. Link Wray was a contributor to the music score and the unreleased soundtrack.
15. Complex World (Jim Wolpaw, 1992)
Since his brother committed suicide at the age of ten, Morris Brock, has lived under a shadow. The working class folk singer along and his small tribe of international terrorists devise a plan to blow up the Heartbreak Hotel, a New Jersey dive bar during a concert.
The club owner’s father is a corrupt senator is hoping gain the sympathy vote during his run as a presidential candidate. At the same time, the mayor has hired a rowdy biker gang to terrorize the club’s patrons, staff and bands, all of which are oblivious or apathetic to any impending doom.
“Complex World” is one of those rare comedies that isn’t the brightest bulbs, but screwed in every once in awhile will brighten any dingy room. Though released on DVD in 2010, followed by a reunion of the Young Adults, the film is still a rarity. There are many great inside jokes about the music industry, the Cold War and a street preacher’s twisted version of Noah’s Ark are guaranteed to raise a some laughs.
16. Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me (Joel Hershman, 1992)
During a shotgun wedding, cat burglar Eli (Max Parrish), leaves a bullet in his rich, but mentally unstable fiancee, Twinkle (Sean Young) at the altar, running off with a sack of money they stole from her parents. In a panic about returning to jail, Eli calls a friend for help, trades his car for a Harley and heads to a bar. He lays eyes on a stripper, Sabra (adult film star, April Rayne) and gives a fake name.
Drunk, he follows the nymphomaniac dancer back to her trailer park abode for kinky sex. He wakes up the next morning, screaming and handcuffed to her bed, until the younger and virginal sister, Dannie (Adrienne Shelly) sets him free. At a deserted drive-in theatre, Eli has a meeting with Mr. Jones (Timothy Leary) who is going help him assume a new identity and leave the country, but insists that he lays low for awhile.
If only most Romantic Comedies were as genuine as “Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me”, then the genre might not be so tiresome. The performances by a lead of relatively unknown cast comes across warmly, with a campy sense of humor and design. It pays homage to the likes of Russ Meyer and John Waters.
Plus, it contains one of best (and unavailable) soundtracks of the 1990s, with songs by the Cramps, Violent Femmes, the Pixies and a few others. Although the film received positive reviews on the festival circuit, the movie fell off the radar.
17. Nowhere (Gregg Araki, 1997)
An alienated, bisexual teenager named Dark (James Duval) is convinced that the end of the world is near and is afraid of being alone. His poly-amorous girlfriend and their friends in a Los Angeles high school are obsessed with sex and drugs. Over the course of one night, a series of bizarre incidents occur, ranging from the appearances of aliens to suicides and a variety of violence.
“Nowhere” is the third installment of Gregg Araki’s Apocalypse Trilogy, which includes “Totally Fucked Up” and “The Doom Generation”, centered within the goth and alternative subcultures. The cast consists of many B-movie (Traci Lords, or television show favorites, like Christina Applegate, John Ritter and two Original Brady Kids.
Fans of the Bret Easton Ellis books and their film adaptations (“Less Than Zero” and “The Rules Of Attraction”) will appreciate this along with a kickass soundtrack, which is out of print.
18. Trigger Effect (David Koepp, 1996)
In a typical Southern California suburb, a sane society is on the decline. An unhappily married couple Matthew (Kyle Maclachlan) and Annie (Elizabeth Shue) struggle with their relationship and their sick infant daughter. One weekend, a mysterious power outage occurs with no certain knowledge of how long it will last. All through out the state, riots and lootings are happening. The couple hole up in their home with an old friend Joe (Dermot Mulroney) and rivalry amongst the men become tense.
One night they catch a prowler, but one of their neighbors kills him and they conspire to cover up the fact that he was unarmed. Realizing they aren’t safe in their own neighborhood, Matthew, Annie, Joe and the baby head out to Arizona, but don’t have enough gas or money to make the full trip and understand that it has now become a game of survival of the fittest.
Pre-Y2K hysteria films like “Trigger Effect” may seem dated, yet the likelihood of a civilization collapsing when the resources like food, liquids, medicine, electricity and other essentials are suddenly cut off, a downfall would be eminent. The feature was inspired by “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” and “A Stop At Willoughby” (Twilight Zone) and “Trigger Effect” (Connections) episodes. Upon its release, it did well with critics, but audiences weren’t so responsive to any potential wake up calls.
Author Bio: James Leon is a screenwriter/director currently residing in the Bay Area of California. His first feature length film, “Dropping Like Flies”, is gearing up for a release in September of 2015. He loves cats, coffee & collage art.