10. The Truman Show (1998) dir. Peter Weir
Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is the star of a reality show, but he is not aware of it. As an unwanted child he was adopted by a corporation at birth and has had his life filmed ever since. Christof (Ed Harris) is the creator and producer. The town where Truman lives has actually been created on a soundstage in Los Angeles.
Truman’s family and friends are all played by actors who have something to gain in certain interactions, for example Truman’s “wife” gets a ten thousand dollar bonus whenever she sleeps with Truman, as Christof wants Truman to have a child to keep him tied to the show. After 30 years doing the show, Truman is starting to notice little details that don’t quite fit in. Will Truman figure out the show, or will Christof keep him in line?
The reviews for the film were wonderful, with many critics impressed with Carrey’s performance. Ed Harris also received his own glowing reviews. Words like funny and tender were used in reviews. It made more than double its budget at the box office, and its reputation has only grown. It received three Academy Award nominations, for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Harris. It was not nominated for Best Picture, maybe because of the cast, or because of the humor.
9. Barton Fink (1991) dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
In 1941, Barton Fink (John Tuturro) has just received acclaim for his first Broadway play. His agent calls and says that he has received an offer from Capitol Films to write screenplays ay a thousand dollars a week. He accepts, but when he moves to Los Angeles, he checks into the cheap Hotel Earle. He meets with the studio head, who assures him that all he cares about what’s on the page.
Back at his hotel room, he suffers from writer’s block and the room next door is incredibly noisy. His neighbor, Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) comes to apologize and shares his flask. Barton goes to meet with the producer as he still has writer’s block. He meets with writer Bill Mayhew and his secretary Audrey. Barton begs for Audrey’s help once she admits to writing all Bill’s scripts. They go back to the hotel, and make love.
The next morning, Barton hears a mosquito, he sees it on Audrey’s back and slaps it. He discovers Audrey has been murdered. Charlie helps him clean up the mess and tells him to stay away from the cops. Charlie goes to New York, Leaving a box with Barton.
The reviews were extremely good, with several critics saying it was the Coen Brother’s best film so far. The Rotten Tomatoes site gave it a 91 out of 100. Some critics sniped about the strange plot and the rather inexplicable ending, but overall the critic were rapturous. In spite of great reviews, the film did not earn back its costs.
It was nominated for three Academy Awards, Best Supporting Actor for Michael Lemer as the studio head, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. It was not nominated for Best Picture, probably because the voters, who are older and conservative, did not understand the film.
8. Magnolia (1999) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
A narrator starts the film by revealing some coincidences and realizing that some things are more than fate. A disparate group of people all have their own problems, and within each family unit work to solve their problems. Everyone’s story comes to its logical conclusion at the end.
The reviews were mostly good. Many of the major critics praised the work of Tom Cruise as Frank, saying it was his chance to break out of the repressed character he played in “Eyes Wide Shut”. He played the opposite here as a misogynist who runs seminars on how to get women. The script was praised too as Paul Thomas Anderson added much of his personal life to the script.
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, Best Supporting Actor for Cruise, Best Original Screenplay for Anderson, and Best Original Song “Save Me” by Aimee Mann. It was not nominated for Best Picture, probably due to the rambling nature of the film.
7. The Matrix (1999) dir. The Wachowskis
Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a computer programmer by day and a hacker named “Neo” at night. He discovers through Trinity and Morpheus that he is existing in the Matrix, a program that shows the world as it was in 1999. Morpheus shuts off the program and shows Neo the reality.
There was a war between the sentient computers and humans and when the humans shut down solar energy, the computers used the human bioelectricity for their power. Neo discovers he is hooked to machines and was rescued by Morpheus whose mission is to save humans and recruit them to fight the computers. Neo discovers he can do things the computers do in their guise as agents. They manage to get the upper hand at first, but with Trinity’s help Neo will fight another day.
The reviews were mainly positive, with some critic saying it was the best Sci-Fi film of all time. Some critics said it was tough to follow, and some critic, while loving the first two thirds of the film, did not like the last third as they felt it was too heavy on action and there was not enough substance. Some astute critics talk about the metaphors about different types of religious thought scattered through the film.
The film was very successful at the box office taking in $463 million on a budget of $63 million. It went on to win four Academy Awards for: Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects. Because it was seen as a Sci-Fi film, it was not nominated for Best Picture.
6. Fight Club (1999) dir. David Fincher
The film follows an unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) as he travels for his job. He suffers from insomnia, but his doctor refuses to prescribe anything, telling him to go to a support group for people who have worse problems. It works, but he becomes addicted to these support groups. He meets a young woman, Marla Singer with the same addiction. They agree not to go to the same group at the same time.
He gets home from a trip and finds that his apartment has been destroyed by an explosion. He calls Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) a soap salesman he knows. Tyler invites him to stay at his place. Tyler suggests they set up a fight club. Marla overdoses on and Tyler saves her. They become lovers. Tyler tells the narrator never to talk to Marla about him. Then he disappears. The narrator finds out Tyler plans to blow up offices to destroy credit card receipt, which leads to a startling twist ending about Tyler’s identity.
The studio did not like the film and did not know how to market it. Fincher provided a marketing campaign that in hindsight was correct but the studio used a $20 million campaign that just highlighted the fight scenes, but Fincher protested, saying that the young audience would try to imitate the violence. The critical reviews were mixed, some critics loved it, and some hated it. Some critics worried it would cause copycat behavior.
Some critics saw it as a thoughtful film about male behavior in the 1990s. It did not do well at the box office taking in only half its budget, but it enjoyed a new life on DVD, becoming a huge cult hit. To this day it is one of the most popular films on IMDB. It was nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects Editing which it lost to the Matrix. Due to the controversy over the reviews, it was not nominated for Best Picture.
5. Leon: The Professional (1994) dir. Luc Besson
Leon Montana (Jean Reno) is a hit man or “cleaner” as he calls himself, who works for mafia boss Tony (Danny Aiello) in New York. One day, he sees a 12 year old neighbor, Matilda (Natalie Portman, in her film debut), who is smoking and has a black eve. The father has been storing cocaine for the DEA when they find out he has been cutting it to keep some for himself.
The DEA storm the apartment led by addict Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). They kill the family except for Matilda who was out shopping. When she comes back and sees what has happened, she goes to Leon’s door and knocks and begs him to take her in. He reluctantly takes her in.
She discovers that he is a hit man and wants to learn from him. She wants to avenge her brother’s death, whom she loves. When he teaches her how to shoot she collects some guns and goes after Stansfield. He catches her and goes after Leon as he has killed three of his agents. Matilda escapes with Leon, he shows her how to get away,
The reviews were favorable both towards Besson’s directing, and Natalie Portman’s performance, which several critics call astonishing. The script was mostly praised, but some critics rejected the idea of a 12 year old being in the center of the action. It did very well at the box office, taking in $45 million on a $16 million budget.
There is also an extended version with 25 more minutes that basically deepens the relationship between Leon and Matilda. Because it was seen as a foreign film (while it takes place in New York and is in English, it is a French film) it did not receive any Academy Award nominations.
4. The Big Lebowski (1998) dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
In Los Angeles Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, is beaten up by two thugs. Everyone realizes that the thugs have the wrong guy. The Dude meets up with his bowling buddies, the quiet, shy Donny (Steve Buscemi), and the Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak (John Goodman). The Dude goes to see Jeff “The Big” Lebowski (David Huddleston), who he believes is a rich, crippled man in a wheelchair. He also meets Bunny, Lebowski’s trophy wife.
Days later, Lebowski calls the Dude, saying Bunny has been kidnapped. He wants the Dude to deliver the ransom and see if he can identify the guys. Later, two different thugs show up. The Dude gets a call from Maude, she basically kidnapped herself. Walter suggests switching the ransom case for a case of dirty clothes When the Dude leaves he see Bunny in her car intact. Lebowski stole the money from the family business and gave the Dude an empty suitcase.
The reviews were ok. Most critics did not like the script, especially compared to the previous year’s Fargo, which had nowhere near the profanity of this script. Many critics praised Bridges, saying it was the role that suited him best.
The film barely broke even at the US box office but has since gone on to become a cult classic. It was added to Roger Ebert’s “The Great Films” in 2010. Possibly because it was seen as a comedy, which the Academy has never favored, it was not nominated for any Academy Awards.
3. Heat (1995) dir. Michael Mann
Professional thief Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) and his gang, Shiherlis, Cheritto, and Trejo plus new member Waingro, rob an armored car. Waingro carelessly kills one of the guards, so they have to kill the other two. They get 1.6 million in bonds, which they are going to try to sell back to the owner, Roger Van Zant. McCauley has been followed by Police Lieutenant Hanna. They respect each other. But know this chase will end in tragedy.
The reviews were very good. Roger Ebert said it was different from the average crime thriller as there was more depth of character development than in many films. The scenes between De Niro and Pacino were seen as gripping yet compassionate. Other critic agreed, saying Michael Mann was becoming the go-to director for this kind of film. It did very well at the box office, taking a worldwide total of over $187 million dollars. Despite all this, it did not receive any Academy Award nominations.
2. Se7en (1995) dir. David Fincher
Two detectives, young David Mills (Brad Pitt), and about to retire William R. Somerset (Morgan Freeman) are investigate murders. The first is an obese man who was forced to eat himself to death, and a rich lawyer who was drained of his blood. Somerset realizes they are chasing a serial killer who is working based on the seven deadly sins. Mills wife comes to see Somerset, who becomes her confidant.
She tells him she hates living in the city and reveals she is pregnant but hasn’t told her husband. Somerset says the city is no place to raise a child. They find four other murders and discover the killer is John Doe (Kevin Spacey) who has checked out books on the seven deadly sins. He turns up at the police station and makes a deal. If they go with him to a certain location he will plead guilty, otherwise he will plead insanity. They follow him to the location to find a grisly ending.
The film was very well received by critics, who said good things about Freeman and Pitt, but especially Freeman, who was seen as the calm center of the hurricane going on about him. David Fincher came in for much praise as well, with critics calling it his darkest film yet. It did great box office being the 7th highest grossing film of 1995. It was nominated for Best Film editing at the Academy Awards but received no other nominations, especially not for Best Picture as horror usually does not do well.
1. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) Dir. Stanley Kubrick
Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman) go to a Christmas party hosted by Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), where two women try to hit on Bill, while Alice is talking to a gentleman who is trying to seduce her. Bill meets up with an old friend, Nick who is now a pianist. He tells bill of a party he has to play at and invites Nick to come also.
Remembering the party, he goes to rent a costume from an oriental man with two daughters. At the party, he gives the password, and enters to view an orgy taking place. He goes home to find his wife laughing in her sleep. Awakening, she tells of sleeping with many other men in the dream and laughing at Bill. Bill tells her of his escapades and they realize they are meant to stay together.
The reviews were respectable, though many critics complained about the censorship issues that Warner’s used after Kubrick’s death where they obscure the orgy with cutouts of other people. It did respectable business in the United Stated, but much better in Europe and Asia where they were able to view the unedited version of the film. Probably due to the censorship issues, the film was not nominated for any Academy Awards, though the films popularity and reputation continue to grow until the present day.
Author Bio: Michael Giffey lives in Denver, Colorado. His family and friends say he is full of “useless information”. you can follow him at @giffeymichael on Twitter or on Facebook.