6. Sling Blade (1996)
In 1996, a little independent movie starring an unknown actor with an unusual name came to fruition. Billy Bob Thornton writes, directs and stars in this story about an intellectually challenged man who befriends a young boy. Thornton recruited fellow actors J.T. Walsh, Robert Duvall and John Ritter to be in the cast. Known for comedy, John Ritter is unrecognizable and gives a very serious performance.
Based on a short film that Thornton wrote and starred in two years earlier called Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade, the film was financed by a production company called The Shooting Gallery. They financed the film for one million dollars. Miramax who was thriving then, bought the film for $10 million which set a record for independent film at that time. It went on to receive two Academy Award nominations. One for Billy Bob Thornton for Best Actor. The other for Thornton’s screenplay which ultimately won. The film came at a time when independent films were popular among audiences because they got to see unusual stories with quirky characters. Sling Blade is among those films that stand out in a decade of great independent movies.
7. Living In Oblivion (1995)
It’s hard to understand what goes on while a movie is being shot and this film portrays it accurately. It stars a few actors who went on to breakthrough to Hollywood in years to come. Steve Buscemi plays a fiery indie filmmaker who wants to make it big. At this time, Buscemi was becoming recognizable to audiences with his work in the films of Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction) and the Coen Brothers (Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy).
Catherine Keener appears in one of her earlier roles as an actress in the film Buscemi’s character is directing. Dermot Mulroney also appears in an early film role as a pretentious cinematographer. This marks the first film for Peter Dinklage who previously worked in theater. He famously went on to have a prolific career in film and television. To get an up-close view of filmmaking behind the scenes as well as a great movie, check out this one.
8. Waiting For Guffman (1996)
There have been many small-town productions in the world, but the one produced in Blaine, Missouri is worth mentioning. It’s a musical about their town’s history in this mockumentary comedic film. The cast of characters are some very quirky individuals including the unconventional director Corky St. Clair played brilliantly by the multifaceted Christopher Guest. He directs and co-writes with the one and only Eugene Levy who also stars alongside the amazingly funny cast that includes Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Michael Hitchcock and Larry Miller.
This group of marvelously comedic actors would go on to work with Guest in his follow-up films Best In Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration. Guest is a master at the mockumentary which all started with This Is Spinal Tap which he co-wrote and starred in. Rob Reiner was the director of that film and it set a precedent for any mockumentary that would be made in the future.
9. Quiz Show (1994)
Game shows have always been a popular form of entertainment on television, but they obviously don’t work in film. The exception is Quiz Show which is about the scandals of the popular show Twenty-One in the 1950s. Robert Redford steps away from the camera and sits back in the director’s chair for this one. Redford was that rare star who could be featured in major films and then go on to direct a big movie. His first film behind the camera in 1980 – Ordinary People – won him an Oscar for directing. Ironically, he never won an Oscar for acting.
Following his Academy Award nominated performance in Schindler’s List, Ralph Fiennes plays a college instructor who gets on the game show with some excruciating circumstances. John Turturro stands out as a game show contestant who is pressured into ending his successful winning streak when Fiennes shows up. David Paymer and Hank Azaria play producers for the quiz show who swoop up Fiennes’ character when he auditions for another game show. The film features a few directors making on-screen appearances – Barry Levinson and Martin Scorsese. Also keep an eye out for a very brief cameo from a young Ethan Hawke.
10. Blue Chips (1994)
Movies about basketball have been made over the years, but few of them are deemed classics. Only a few can be put on a pedestal like the 1986 film Hoosiers about an underdog high school team. But right up there is a film about the politics of college basketball and that’s Blue Chips.
The director of The French Connection and The Exorcist, William Friedkin, takes on the controversial subject of sought after players being illegally paid by schools. With the incomparable Nick Nolte as a highly pressured coach, this is his most underrated performance that includes one of the great speeches in sports films. He is always compelling whenever he’s on the screen, but in some scenes he’s on fire and you can’t take your eyes off him.
Writer/Director Ron Shelton wrote the screenplay. He has made many sport films in his career which include Bull Durham and another basketball movie that belongs on the pedestal – White Men Can’t Jump. To give authenticity to the basketball world, some cameos from well-known figures appear including Larry Bird, Boby Knight and Dick Vitale. The multitude of talent behind this film is apparent when you watch how well everything goes together.