20. Bringing Out The Dead (1999)
Director Martin Scorsese’s and writer Paul Schrader’s most forgotten collaboration is actually one of their finest and most introspective films to date.
Following a tired and mentally strained ambulance paramedic (played with boldness and sensitivity by Nicolas Cage before he was backlashed for being Nicolas Cage) in New York City, Bringing Out The Dead is a charged, entertaining film that shows us madness and suffering are often chosen states of mind. Ving Rhames, John Goodman, and Tom Sizemore all shine in supporting roles as Cage’s increasingly insane and unstable paramedic partners.
19. The Minus Man (1999)
Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher’s directorial debut is a daring, lyrical film about a very subtle, very charming, and strangely innocent serial killer.
That character is portrayed with surprising depth and skill by a then-up-and-coming Owen Wilson, who, like Vince Vaughn, once had far more artistic promise in his career than his current resume of primarily generic Hollywood moneymakers suggests. Unique, haunting, and beautiful, The Minus Man begs more contemplation and attention than it has yet to receive.
18. Hurlyburly (1998)
The film adaptation of David Rabe’s “men behaving badly” theatrical masterwork, Hurlyburly, is one of the best play to film adaptions because it never forgets its roots. Almost a play/film hybrid, Hurlyburly as a movie miraculously (and through the skill of its cast including Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, and Chazz Palminteri) delivers Rabe’s hyper-real, hyper-stylized verbosity in an organic, believable, and thoroughly intense (and moderately insane) fashion.
17. Romeo Is Bleeding (1993)
Lena Olin plays one of the most terrifying villainesses ever put on film in Peter Medak’s hyper-noir thriller. Starring a wonderfully sleazy (but strangely sympathetic) Gary Oldman as a crooked cop who gets sucked in to a very dangerous plot involving Olin’s Russian hitwoman, Romeo Is Bleeding was one of the best and most unique thrillers of the nineties. Largely overlooked and unknown, it is a must see for noir lovers.
16. Crooklyn (1994)
Another overlooked Spike Lee gem from the nineties. Set in 1970’s Brooklyn, Crooklyn is a character-driven period piece that examines a large African American family with an unreliable jazz musician father and a strict school teacher mother at the head. Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo shine as the parents in both their up and down moments, and Zelda Harris gives an outstanding performance as Troy, the central child of the story.
Crooklyn is very moving, very simple, and somewhat out of character for the hard-edged director. By far, the filmmaker’s most personal and sensitive work to date.
15. Kalifornia (1993)
Featuring early work of Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, David Duchovny and Michele Forbes (which screams the nineties right there), Kalifornia is a very intense and multi-layered thriller. Lewis gives a hauntingly innocent performance as the girlfriend to Brad Pitt’s terrifying psychotic redneck serial killer.
Not quite sensationalistic enough to cause a stir, and not quite typical enough to gain popularity, Kalifornia was a quiet failure in the early nineties whose time of appreciation has yet to come. Hopefully, the cast will recover one day…
14. State of Grace (1990)
Sean Penn stars as an undercover cop and Gary Oldman and Ed Harris costar as Hell’s Kitchen mobsters. Three of the greatest yellers in cinematic history are brought together to scream and shoot at each other for two hours in State of Grace. A lot.
A young Robin Wright plays the woman caught between them all (and gets to scream a little bit herself). It’s every bit as intense and awesome as it sounds, but also a very thoughtful film about loyalty, friendship, and the demons found in everyone’s past. Director Phil Joanou expertly handles the reigns of the film, and it’s too bad he has yet to get his hands on such good material or such a great cast since.
13. The People Vs Larry Flynt (1996)
Perhaps the best known most well-received film on this list, The People Versus Larry Flynt got quite a bit of attention (and controversy) upon its initial release. Woody Harrelson’s endearing and entertaining portrayal of the real-life freedom-fighting porn king of the film’s title rightfully earned him an Oscar nomination.
The film’s legacy, however, has not particularly held on strong, and it seems today’s audiences have forgotten about director Milos Forman’s brilliant take on freedom of speech and attitudes towards American sexuality. This is definitely a film that deserves another look and round of discussions.
12. A Simple Plan (1998)
Director Sam Raimi’s most accomplished and character-driven film. Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thorton star as brothers who find a bag full cash in a crashed plane, then decide to keep it for themselves.
What appeared to be a blessing turns into a curse, however, as human distrust and greed take over and everyone involved starts turning on each other. Thorton gives a painfully vulnerable performance that is one of many highlights in his fantastic acting career.
11. Revenge (1990)
Right next to True Romance and Man On Fire, this is one of the best titles in the late Tony Scott’s fascinating but uneven career.
Exceedingly dark and uncompromising, Revenge stars Kevin Costner and Madeline Stowe as a couple of people who just can’t keep their hands off each other, in spite of the fact that she’s married to Costner’s best friend, who also happens to be a very powerful and corrupt Mexican businessman (played by a ruthless Anthony Quinn).
Needless to say, things go very badly, and the film’s title becomes the focus of the story. Mature, gritty, and extraordinarily powerful, Revenge deserves more eyes and ears on it. The director’s cut on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is actually twenty minutes shorter than the theatrical cut, is the superior version to check out.