I was three years old in ’95, which means I did most of my movie watching at home. I do remember having seen Pocahontas and Toy Story, and The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Movie in the theater. A revision of the year was in order. People don’t talk about ’95 as a great year for film, but I found it to be stronger than the two previous years in this project, especially when it comes to American film. There seems to have been something in the air, as the last days of Generation X cynicism mixed with a younger, more optimistic generation. Some of the very best movies of the nineties came out this year, and they’re represented in the following list…
Top Ten Best Movies of 1995
(dir. Todd Haynes / 119 min. / USA)
A masterpiece. One of the few movies I would call perfect. There is hardly an element of the production I couldn’t rave about. Be it the tight focused script, the rigorous cinematography by Alex Nepomniaschy, the measured editing, the eerie score, the outstanding lead performance by Julianne Moore, or the thing that holds all of them together: the masterful direction by Todd Haynes. This is a tight character study on the darkest scariest aspects of contemporary life. The true horrors that are so mundane you don’t realize how sickening they are until you look closer. Haynes provides the perfect metaphor. He gets us as close to his lead character as he possibly can.
2. Toy Story
(dir. John Lasseter / 81 min. / USA)
A game-changing movie if there’s ever been one. A new technical medium came to the mainstream, and even though the asinine imitators could bring anyone to pronounce themselves against the medium, one can’t argue against the brilliance of this original. The key, as with all the best Pixar, is in the story, which takes one of the most essential questions of childhood: “are my toys secretly alive?”, and takes it to the animation stratosphere. Two existential sequels followed. They’re both great, and they owe that greatness to this more than sturdy foundation.
3. Dead Man
(dir. Jim Jarmusch / 121 min. / USA)
What does this darkly hilarious anti-western about a Cleveland accountant’s westward march toward death have to say about America? It’s hard to tell, but there is no question that the beautiful black and white photography, the quirky cavalcade of supporting characters, and the poetic allusions to religious and Romantic literature are all meant to paint a portrait of a land where manifest destiny is always moving, where settling down is a mistake, and where all roads lead to a grave.
4. The White Balloon
(dir. Jafar Panahi / 85 min. / Iran)
Panahi’s debut feature -written by cinematic master Abbas Kiarostami- is the story of a little girl who wants to buy a goldfish. The perspective is fixated on the girl as the movie unfolds like a children’s picture book that episodically introduces us to the fixtures of her Tehran neighborhood. The title is a question until the end, after the movie has revealed an intricate and humane society, and uses its final shot to ask the answer one last essential question. A triumph of simplicity, a little story that says more with a whisper than most movies do with a howl.
(dir. Chris Noonan / 91 min. / Australia)
A staple of my childhood. The pacing is more frenetic and the direction not quite as attuned as I remembered, but the magic is still there. There are a few key reasons why this is one of the best family movies ever made. For the children, it’s the fact that the movie traffics in some of the most primal fears and essential questions of discovering the world around you (which in this case, is a whimsical farm beautifully designed by Roger Ford). For the adults, it’s the bittersweet and touching relationship between a stern farmer (James Cromwell) and an unusual little pig.
(dir. David Fincher / 127 min. / USA)
Notable as the first time Fincher got to marry his iconic style to a movie that shares his own dark philosophy. I don’t always love Fincher, but his technical prowess and innate talent for filmmaking is undeniable. His movies are always well-made, it is up to the richness of the script and the marriage between director and material whether or not they’ll be great. This is the first great movie Fincher ever made. A handsomely crafted thriller worthy of the talent behind it and the clearest omen for the masterpieces that were yet to come.
7. Before Sunrise
(dir. Richard Linklater / 105 min. / USA)
One of the best trilogies in film history gets off to a pretty great start. It’s true that the movie retroactively gains a lot of power from its sequels, but that doesn’t mean that there is no power here. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are as charming as ever as two young lovers who meet on a Vienna-bound train, as the true magic of this movie is in the way Linklater and his cast manage to capture a magic moment while remaining truthful to a generation, human nature, and most importantly, two beautiful characters.
8. Kicking and Screaming
(dir. Noah Baumbach / 96 min. / USA)
Ignored during its initial release, Baumbach’s first feature is much stronger than people gave it credit for, and better than most of the arrested development twentysomething comedies it was compared to. Unlike the weaker entries in that genre, Baumbach’s film knows how to delve into the unsympathetic aspects of its characters while still being funny. Like the director’s best, a mix of empathy and nastiness turns this into a truthful and worthy movie.
9. Sense and Sensibility
(dir. Ang Lee / 131 min. / UK)
1995 was the year of the Jane Austen renaissance, and with good reason. This collaboration between the amazing Emma Thompson’s freshly modern screenplay and Ang Lee’s modest and meticulous direction results in the best entry in the long list of nineties prestige literary adaptations. The secret? This is not a movie about literature, costumes, or the past. It’s a story about people, passions, and the present. The impeccable work by a game ensemble makes this as immediate a story as the loudest and edgiest contemporary story ’95 could have produced.
(dir. Amy Heckerling / 97 min. / USA)
Like I said above, this was the year of Jane Austen, and Amy Heckerling’s retelling of Emma takes the cake for being as much a tribute to the author as it is one of the decade’s most defining movies. Cultural relevance and greatness don’t always go hand in hand, but they are one and the same when it comes to Clueless, one of the most winning and optimistic movies ever made. A love-letter to friendliness, and the idea that the politically-minded cynicism of Generation X and the sunny optimism of the Millennial are not only capable of coexisting, but of becoming a love story.
Honorable Mentions: A Close Shave, A Little Princess, Apollo 13, Fallen Angels, and Showgirls. I limited the honorable mentions to five, but I could’ve gone on and on listing worthy movies from this year. Even the most average movies seem to have had one or more extraordinary elements to offer.
That’s the list! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned. The next year I’ll be revisiting is 2000.