Seven months ago we started our journey with 100 movies that defined the decade of the 1990’s. And while trilogies (Toy Story, Austin Powers, Scream) & Christmas films (Home Alone, The Santa Clause, The Ref) weren’t included, we still ended up with a rather eclectic & competitive field representing a decade that is difficult to pigeonhole.
It is tempting to define the 90’s with grunge, flannel, boy bands, hacky sack, baggy jeans, gangsta rap, & the rise of The Internet, which wouldn’t necessarily be inaccurate. However, when it comes to movies I don’t think any of that translated well…atleast to anything noteworthy. When thinking about the 1990’s on film it seems as though there were solid contributions across all genres, with the defining characteristic being a general lack of defining characteristics. Whereas 80’s kids look back with fondness at some of the flicks we enjoyed growing up partly because of their singular music, kitschy style, & overall cheesiness, I don’t feel like 90’s films have that kind of unique vibe. Society seemingly turned down a dark & more violent path in the 90’s, which is certainly reflected in movies as much as anything else, but since I don’t tend to gravitate toward such morose entertainment it isn’t a big thing for me. I suppose it is fair to say technology played an increased role in 90’s movies, especially with improvements in special effects & animation. It is kind of fun & interesting to watch some 90’s films and chuckle at their depiction of The Internet, marvel at the size of cell phones, & realize how much social media would have altered the plot, but it’s not really a dominating theme.
The good thing about this lack distinction is that, instead of stories defined by their style, we were offered plenty of enjoyable movies with enough substance to give them staying power, and y’all know that’s a big deal to me. Do you realize that films made in the 90’s are now as old as films produced in the 1960’s would have been in the 90’s?? When considered thru that prism the sheer number of impactful movies made in the 1990’s that are still being viewed with some regularity three decades later is quite remarkable. Whether you prefer comedy or drama, are into horror or action, hold a special place in your heart for animation or holiday classics…the 1990’s had plenty of solid choices.
As far as this competition goes, just like 80’s Movie Mania I have tried to be fair in my analysis & conclusions, but obviously personal bias can’t be completely eliminated. I’m fine with that though, because at the end of the day favorite movies are always a matter of individual taste. We can cite box office numbers, award nominations & victories, and critical reviews ‘til the cows come home. All of those things are valid criteria for scrutiny, but the truth is that sometimes they matter and sometimes they don’t. Having said all that, my hope is that most won’t have too much of an issue with my conclusions. Enjoy.
Of the Final Four contestants Mrs. Doubtfire is probably the one that most represents a 90’s vibe, with a story centered around divorce & child custody. It’s a tough gig to turn such topics into comedy, but with Robin Williams anything was possible. He stars as Daniel Hillard, a fun-loving voice actor whose charm has worn thin with his career-driven wife Miranda, played by Sally Field. When the final straw breaks the camel’s back of their marriage Daniel is inspired to interview for the nanny position that Miranda has advertised, but obviously can’t do it as himself. The solution?? Don heavy make-up, a wig, panty hose, & a dress and transform into Euphegenia Doubtfire, an elderly British lady any mother would want to babysit their children. Adding to the hijinks is Miranda’s flirtation with a former beau, fueling Daniel’s envy. It’s not so much that he wants to rekindle the marital flame as much as he doesn’t like another man so smoothly stepping into a paternal role. At any rate, the premise allows Williams to dip into his arsenal of comedic tricks, and the result is a super family friendly dramedy that doesn’t sidestep real life issues or give into the temptation for an idealistic & sentimental ending, but mostly focuses on humor.
A good friend opined a long time ago that time travel is cool, which is why almost any book, movie, or TV show containing it is enjoyable. But what about a time warp in which a man lives the same day over & over & over & over…(well, you get the point)?? Bill Murray stars as Phil Connors, a grumpy Pittsburgh meteorologist who makes the 90 minute trek up to Punxsutawney on February 2 to cover the annual festivities. Travelling with him are smartass cameraman Larry (portrayed by 80’s funnyman Chris Elliott) & lovely producer Rita (Andi MacDowell, at the apex of her career…a few years after Sex, Lies, & Videotape and a year before Four Weddings & A Funeral). Phil is a malcontent who hates reporting on Groundhog Day and doesn’t seem too happy about anything else. When a snowstorm forces Phil, Rita, & Larry to spend the night in Punxsutawney the weatherman isn’t pleased, and that mood doesn’t improve when he wakes up the next morning to find its Groundhog Day again!! You may recall learning about the five stages of grief at some point in school…denial, anger, bargaining, depression, & acceptance. Phil goes thru similar stages while stuck in the endless loop. At first he is confused. Then he uses his circumstance (and the idea that there are no consequences for his actions) to engage in drunken debauchery. He then becomes depressed and commits suicide multiple times to no avail. After killing himself and the infamous groundhog but still waking up in the time loop Phil decides to use his situation to better himself, learning things like ice sculpting, piano, & French poetry. He then begins being generous & helpful to others and also falls in love with Rita, utilizing the time loop to learn everything about her and become the kind of man she wants in her life. It is her love that ultimately seems to end Phil’s nightmare, although it is never explained what caused the time loop in the first place, how long it lasts, or exactly why it stops. The entire film is an existential enigma disguised as an ordinary comedy.
Accepted at face value Forrest Gump is simply the life story of “a local idiot” who has some improbable adventures and always gravitates back toward the girl he’s loved since childhood…but is that all it is?? Tom Hanks won his second consecutive Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Gump, a low IQ child in 1950’s Alabama who grows up to win the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam, become an All-American football player for Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide, & make millions of dollars as a shrimping magnate. His childhood friend Jenny takes a different path. Abused as a young girl by her father, she becomes a promiscuous hippie, does drugs, & ends up as a single mother ill with “some kind of virus” (likely AIDS or hepatitis). Along the way Forrest & Jenny drift in & out of each other’s lives, ultimately ending up married & raising their young son together before Jenny dies. Forrest Gump is mostly a drama, but I love the fact that there are moments of levity. And what a soundtrack!! You’ve got music from Elvis Presley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Aretha Franklin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Three Dog Night, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Mamas & the Papas, The Doobie Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Seger…anyone who enjoys classic rock will dig the tunes in Forrest Gump. As far as deep analysis goes, there are some that look at the film as an allegory of two Americas, with Forrest representing small town conservatism and Jenny embodying the anti-war, free love, drug-induced counterculture that rose to prominence in the 60’s. There is plenty of symbolism, philosophical ponderings about fate & destiny, and maybe even some religious or atleast spiritual subtext. If one would rather just enjoy the pleasure of Forrest Gump as a great story, that’ll work and you won’t be disappointed, but the underlying themes are there and serve as food for thought.
I don’t remember exactly when I became fascinated by the infamous Titanic disaster, but I know it was long before 1997. There had been other books, movies, & documentaries about the tragedy, but this film took the public’s level of interest to a whole new stratosphere and created an entire cottage industry out of a voyage that lasted less than a week a century ago. Kate Winslet & Leonardo DiCaprio earned lifelong fame portraying Rose & Jack, a pair of star crossed lovers whose brief romance is cut short by an iceberg. Rose Dewitt Bewkater is a high society debutante being forced into marriage with arrogant steel tycoon Cal Hockley, while Jack Dawson is third class steerage passenger who won his ticket in a poker game. Think of it as a slightly modernized twist on Romeo & Juliet. The first part of the movie introduces us to the pair, whose initial encounter takes place when Jack talks Rose out of jumping into the ocean…ironic when one considers what is to come. Of course we know that Titanic was a real ship that actually sank, so eventually those events take center stage, the situation having been personalized by our affection for Jack & Rose. There is also a framing device, as the beginning of the film presents a modern day expedition to the bottom of the sea, with a treasure hunter seeking The Heart of the Ocean, a huge heart-shaped diamond given to Rose by Cal. The treasure hunter is contacted by a still living Rose, who is over 100 years old, and she relays the events of her memory to him & his team. Real life Titanic passengers & crew like “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, ship builder Thomas Andrews, White Star managing director J. Bruce Ismay, Captain Edward Smith, business moguls John Jacob Astor IV & Benjamin Guggenheim, and elderly couple Isidor & Ida Strauss, are depicted, and one of the few complaints that I’ve heard about Titanic over the years is the fact that the stories of such historical figures take a back seat to the fictional love story of Jack & Rose, but personally I don’t have an issue with the creative choices of the filmmakers…it is a movie, not a documentary, and since it set records at the box office & during awards season I assume very few others saw a problem.
Robin Williams was a legend, and Mrs. Doubtfire is undoubtedly one of his best movies, but at the end of the day it is just a solid comedy elevated by the performance of its star. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but at this point I have to pick nits and I cannot in good conscience promote it as an elite film.
Surprise!! You assumed it was going to win, didn’t you?? To be honest I might have had the same notion not that long ago. Critically acclaimed, record setting, award winning…Titanic is the total package. However, as I was pondering these final four films something hit me like a ton of bricks. Historical dramas, as these kinds of movies are known, are a double-edged sword. The notoriety of the event itself is obviously what leads to a film being made, and certainly it helps get curious moviegoers into the theater. But on the flip side the movie will always be compared to the actual situation, and in this case I think the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic is such a fascinating story that Titanic feels merely satisfactory, perhaps even unnecessary. In retrospect the significance of the movie is that it renewed interest in the historic event.
The Runner Up
This breaks my heart. I adore Groundhog Day. Like a fine wine it has grown more deliciously elegant with age. To be honest I didn’t even watch it until years after its initial release. In February 1993 I was in the second semester of my junior year of college, spending most of my time drinking beer, hanging out with my fraternity brothers, and occasionally studying. I am actually glad that I didn’t see Groundhog Day back then, as I undoubtedly would have shrugged it off as the average comedy film that so many believe it to be instead of the metaphysical mediation of life that it actually is. Thru the prism of adulthood I am able to truly appreciate all that the movie has to offer. Though it isn’t winning this competition Groundhog Day is like the 12th seed during March Madness that goes on a run and finds itself head-to-head with the bluebloods, or an NFL team that has finished 8-8 for so many years that no one has any expectations then suddenly becomes a Super Bowl contender.
90’s Film Frenzy Champion
Tom Hanks starred in about a dozen significant films during the 1990’s, so I suppose it comes as no surprise that one of his works would win this competition. Something that I have consistently stated in our many discussions about movies in this space over the years is that a key benchmark for me is repeat viewings, and the idea of whether or not I am happy/excited when channel surfing and see that a particular movie is on TV. It is one thing to head to the local cineplex and be entertained for a couple of hours by the latest action flick, rom-com, slasher film, Christmas movie, sports drama, murder mystery, biopic, superhero adventure, sci-fi fantasy, or gross-out comedy, but it is entirely different when you are glad to watch the same story for the hundredth time decades later while vegging out at home. Not only does Forrest Gump check all the requisite boxes…made a ton of money, won a bunch of awards, killer soundtrack, received great reviews, eminently quotable…but I am still delighted to watch it whenever it is on, which is surprisingly often for a movie that hit theaters 25 years ago. My father shares my love of Forrest Gump, which is a source of amusement for me since Dad & I rarely have a similar pop culture palate. I understand that there are a fair number of cynics who despise the movie for one reason or another, but I believe those folks are either overanalyzing or simply disagree with its perspective. To each their own. My adoration has endured for over two decades and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.