In the last 15 years, the 80s have been a common and welcome reference in different areas of art and entertainment. The indie rock revival of the early 2000s was heavily influenced by pop bands of the 80s, while many films of this decade have been re-discovered or were blessed with late homages.
As the 21st century progresses, and as time passes, it is time to rediscover the cinema of the 1990s. There have been a lot of lists published lately, and many films that were ignored when they were released got late appreciation.
We are still at the start of the confrontation with this interesting decade of filmmaking, and yet there is much left to be (re-)discover.
This list of 10 film gems, 10 highly recommendable pieces of film art, 10 forgotten films and films that remained underappreciated, wants to give a first insight in the immense cinematic quality of the 1990s.
10. Awakenings (Penny Marshall, 1990)
If you look at the cast, the accolades, and the premise of the story, one must wonder why Penny Marshall´s “Awakenings” somehow got completely lost in the cinematic conscience. It is based on a book by British neurologist and anthropologist Oliver Sachs, and focuses on an extraordinary case of mental illness. Leonard Lowe (Robert De Niro) suddenly stops talking – at all. No one really knows why or what happened to him, until Dr. Malcolm Sayer (Robin Williams), an innovative and sensitive doctor, finds a way to successfully treat his illness – with empathy and patience.
“Awakenings” is a quite unusual film about the “miracles of life” and the value of humanism, all based on a true event. Williams, in one of his “serious” roles, gives a very strong and convincing performance, while De Niro shines in a typical De Niro-esque role as an outsider. “Awakenings”, however, can easily be qualified as one of the sadly forgotten films of the 1990s.
9. Green Card (Peter Weir, 1990)
Weir had his “hit” in the late 80s (“Dead Poets Society” with the memorable performance from Robin Williams), while his 90s effort “The Truman Show”, the powerful media satire, is best remembered. However, “Green Card”, a wonderful, beautifully crafted and convincingly told story about two unusual lovers “by accident”, seems to have gotten lost somewhere.
In this romantic comedy-drama, Gerard Depardieu, is his first American film, plays a French immigrant who marries an American woman, Bronté (Andie MacDowell), just to get a green card and be allowed to stay in the states. But surprisingly, the two, as they get to know each other, they get along better and better, and each one of them has to give up their (proven wrong) prejudices about the other. It all leads to a surprising and dramatic ending.
In addition to the good storytelling and skillful directing, a powerful and very unusual soundtrack by Hans Zimmer makes “Green Card” even more watchable. If you are looking for an unusual, clever and entertaining film about the unintelligible meanders of love, “Green Card” is your right choice.
8. Small Soldiers (Joe Dante, 1998)
Dante, the director of classics like “Gremlins”, is known for his interesting mainstream films that are often impressive through their creative use of special effects. “Small Soldiers” is an highly entertaining teen-flick that’s also recommended for grown-ups, with a clever plot: It’s about toys that are able to talk, walk, and start wars with each other, and against mankind.
The most impressive thing about “Small Soldiers” is the way it brings the toys “to life,” gives them feelings, personalities, and morals. At times, the films gets really serious and “dark” and takes the direction of an anti-war-film. These toys are not better or worse than humans – because they have been programmed by humans. So they employ the same prejudices, emotions and weaknesses as their creators – but are also able to develop the same positive “human” qualities.
“Small Soldiers” is a highly entertaining, visually impressive satire and critique of human nature, based on a plot surrounding “human” toys with emotions. Very creative.
7. Man on the Moon (Milos Forman, 1999)
Director Milos Forman is an expert on portraying “outsiders” and characters who don’t “fit in” anywhere. In this unusual film, he succeeds in telling the story of comedian Andy Kaufman, who, in the 70s and 80s, revolutionized the “funny arts” in the United States.
Even more stunning than the story of this extraordinary man is Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Andy Kaufman: He does not merely PLAY Kaufman – he IS Kaufman, an intelligent and lovable weirdo who enjoyed playing with his audience, the media, the truth – and even his closest friends.
“Man on the Moon” also stars Courtney Love as Kaufman’s girlfriend; Jerry “The King” Lawler, a wrestler with whom the real Andy Kaufman had a (staged) feud in the 80’s; and its soundtrack contains the wonderful title song “Man on the Moon” by R.E.M.
This films is definitely not recommended for everyone, but if you like, for instance, the films by Charlie Kaufman, you will definitely enjoy this one.
6. Absolute Power (Clint Eastwood, 1997)
Clint Eastwood’s highlight in the 90s was undoubtedly his classic “Unforgiven”, which was something of the “last word” on the classic western genre. But aside from that, he also produced some other very good films, one of which is “Absolute Power”.
Starring Eastwood himself, Ed Harris, and Gene Hackman as an American president, “Absolute Power” tells the story of a burglary and a thief (Eastwood) who accidentally witnesses a crime that involves high a rank politician. He gets caught up in a dangerous conspiracy while he tries to “do the right thing” – reveal the truth about the event and bring it to the public, risking his own life in doing so.
In addition to solid acting, “Absolute Power” proves to be a strong and convincing tale about power and abuse of power. Considering the current political state of several countries, including the US, this is clearly (and sadly) a topic that never loses its actuality.