5. Much Ado About Nothing
One of the better Shakespeare adaptations ever made, and certainly one of the best comedies, Much Ado About Nothing is an uproarious adaptation of the classic prose that captures all the physical and situational comedy, sexual tension, and engaging melodrama of the classic text. Kenneth Bragnah crafts a gorgeous Tuscan setting for the story of the bickering Benedick (Bragnah himself) and Beatrice (Emma Thompson), the lovesick Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) and Hero (Kate Beckinsale), and the noble Don Pedro (Denzel Washington) and his villainous brother Don John (Keanu Reeves).
The performances are wonderfully campy, with each actor leaning into the eccentricities of the part in a successful combination of cinematic starpower and formal stage acting. In particular, Brangah and Thompson capture all the repressed emotions of Benedick and Beatrice with a gleeful energy, and Michael Keaton delivers a scene stealing performance as the incompetent cop Dogberry. The film remains light and playful throughout, but never loses the richness of the text.
4. The Doors
The Doors is somewhat of an outlier within Oliver Stone’s filmography, as like his other films it is based on a true story, but it isn’t centered around conspiracies and politics, but rather counterculturalism and the rock and roll movement of the 1960s. Val Kilmer gives the performance of his career as Jim Morrison, and the film explores the early formation of The Doors and their rise to prominence. It is by no means a standard biopic, as the film utilizes hallucinogenic imagery to depict Morrison’s addictions and inner struggle.
It’s one of Stone’s more philosophical films, as Morrison becomes fascinated by the nature of death in the moments leading up to his tragic passing at the age of 27. Kilmer is impossible to look away from, as he captures all facets of Morrison’s lifestyle, from his sexual appetite to his philosophical poetry to his raw musical genius to his abrasive showmanship. The 141 minute running time never feels indulgent, yet still manages to land an emotional ending that honors Morrison’s legacy.
Dave is among the best of the high concept, incredibly sincere satires of the 90s that simply couldn’t be made today. Taking a classic story of mistaken identities and putting it on a higher scale, the film follows Kevin Kline as two identical men: small time employment agency worker Dave Kovic and President Bill Mitchell. When the President suffers a stroke and falls into a coma, Dave is called in to impersonate the leader of the free world, and sparks an untraditional romance with the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver).
Kline is utterly charming in the role, capturing the poignant perspective of an everyman swept up in circumstances beyond his control. There’s also a great selection of wonderful supporting performances, including Ben Kingsley as the morally sound Vice President Gary Nance and Frank Langella as the sinister Chief of Staff Bob Alexander. While the film certainly has some commentary about the nature of politics in the 90s, it never distracts from the earnestness of the story at hand.
2. Primal Fear
A thrilling court procedural that turns into a gripping series of twists and turns, Primal Fear is best known as the film that launched the career of a young Edward Norton. Norton’s breakout role was that of Roy Stampler, an altar boy accused of murdering a priest. When Defense Attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) takes on the boy as a client, he begins to realize that both the case and the boy are not what they seem.
What’s impressive about Primal Fear is that it’s a mystery film that doesn’t con the audience; while the film goes to unexpected places, the answers to the mysteries are set up well in advance and are plausible in the context of the story. Norton is able to be both reprehensible and sympathetic all at once, and each new revelation causes the audience to see the character in a different light. It remains one of the strongest courtroom dramas of the 90s.
1. The Commitments
One of the greatest Irish movies ever made, The Commitments does a fantastic job at examining what draws people to music in trying times and the difficulty it takes to “make it.” The film stars Robert Arkins as Jimmy Rabbitte, a music fanatic who assembles a group of working class people to join a soul group he calls “The Commitments,” and while the clashing personalities can often derail performances, they succeed in creating a unique voice in the Irish music scene.
It’s a terrific ensemble, and each actor adds a different interpretation of what good music is, and in turn adds a different level of humor. While the film is able to undercut nearly every scene with a clever one-liner or a physical gag, the characters are never taken for granted, and the film doesn’t shy away from exploring the ways in which the group drifts apart and the economic crisis that caused them to unite. It’s a surprisingly tender story filled with rather adolescent characters, and deserves to be well regarded among fans of music films.