The 90 Best Movies of the 1990s

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70. The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1999)
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For anyone who discovers M. Night Shyamalan’s body of work from the tail-end—The Happening, Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, etc.—I am sorry. I truly am. But please, for a moment forget the convoluted plots, the often absurd dialogue and the obnoxiously strident instrumental cues, and give the The Sixth Sense a try. Sure, it’s the reason Shyamalan was given the opportunity to keep making films (not all of which are horrible), but in some ways, The Sixth Sense excuses all. Taut, spare, riveting and with a twist that has become in many ways an albatross around the neck of its writer/director, The Sixth Sense rests squarely on the shoulders of Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment and the imagination of the viewer. Neither actors nor human psychology disappoints.—Michael Burgin

69. The Game (David Fincher, 1997)
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One of my more fortunate movie-going experiences was seeing The Game for the first time and not knowing a damn thing about it. I can’t even remember why I saw it; I really didn’t like Seven, felt indifferent to Michael Douglas, thought David Fincher was a cold-hearted megalomaniacal automaton (I still cling to that when it suits). In hindsight, I was in the perfect frame of mind to see it. My low expectations yielded wondrous surprise. And I got the perverse joy of watching mega-yuppie Michael Douglas get the mother of all come-uppances. All this presented in an icy noir-ish Fincher sheen that achieved the rather impressive feat of satirizing conspiracy theories on a purely visual level alone. But what puts this over-the-top for me is the sheer rewatchability of the thing. Sure, it’s a contraption movie, so you always want to see what you might have missed the first time round; but it goes beyond that. I’m convinced now that I want to play The Game. I wish I had a loony left-wing Sean Penn brother who wanted to mess with me. I want that love! I want to feel the ultimate middle-aged epiphany! (And I want to be able to afford it!) Well I want lots of things I can’t have, so I guess I’ll just watch The Game again. Hell, even that ridiculous ending doesn’t seem so bad now.—Harold Brodie

68. Princess Mononoke (Hiyao Miyazaki, 1997)
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If Pixar and its computer animation brought the “wow” once associated with Disney to audiences in the ’90s, Studio Ghibli and Hiyao Miyazaki showed audiences that you could still knock it out of the park without computer rendering. Princess Mononoke is a lot of things—a classic fable of the struggle between nature and the human technology that consumes it, a quest for survival for its protagonist, Ashitaka, and an impressive drawn world filled with both wonder and horror. It’s also, like most Miyazaki films, a case study in swift, immersive involvement of audience and story. Whether one sees Princess Mononoke dubbed or not is a matter of personal preference, but if for anyone who considers him or herself a fan of animation, fantasy or just superb filmmaking, Miyazaki is a must-see.—Michael Burgin

67. American History X (Tony Kaye, 1998)
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It’s upsetting that director Tony Kaye was so unhappy with the final cut of American History X that he tried to have his name removed from the credits. How much better can a debut feature realistically get, and why discredit one of the greatest films ever made about race relations by attributing it to Humpty Dumpty? Although the driving force of the film is Edward Norton’s visceral performance, Kaye makes him the centerpiece of so many now-iconic black-and-white compositions. The dinner scene that erupts into an argument about Rodney King is so arresting due to Derek Vinyard’s palpable anger. But when Vinyard throws his mother’s new boyfriend out of the house and he turns back, briefly, to see the American flag blowing in the wind, just before he leaves? That’s Tony Kaye knowing how to create an indelible image.—Allie Conti

66. After Life (Hirokazu Koreeda, 1998)
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On a one-week pitstop en route to the eternal hereafter, the newly departed arrive in a no-frills complex and, over the course of a week, choose the single memory that they will experience through all eternity. In After Life, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda explores a simple premise in a deceptively simple way. He quietly observes his characters as they discuss their lives and their happiest moments, and which of those moments they’d like to live in forever. Hirokazu drifts through to a rush of emotions as he follows both the newly dead and their counselors, who live in the complex and prepare everyone for the next step. This is a quiet yet powerful study of what makes us happy in life, and what memories we most want to hold onto.—Jeremy Mathews

65. The Iron Giant (Brad Bird, 1999)
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Brad Bird’s feature debut was traditional 2-D animation when computer animation was the craze, released by studio folk who didn’t realize just how special a film they had on their hands. Luckily, The Iron Giant received its due recognition on home video. Set in the 1950s and drawing off the nuclear fears of the time, it incorporates the hallmark of the era’s science-fiction—a giant metal robot—into a touching coming-of-age story. Bird effortlessly moves between riotous comedy (such as young Hogarth’s efforts to hide his enormous new robot friend from his mother), high-spun action and poignant moments of fear and friendship.—Jeremy Mathews

64. Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
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A combination of comedy, romance and high-school spunk, Clueless is a story with true ’90s flair. Alicia Silverstone stars as the pretty and popular Cher, a privileged valley girl with a penchant for matchmaking. While she cruises potential boyfriends for her girlfriends, she struggles to figure out her relationships. The film is a charming, modern take on Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma, and with performances by a youthful Paul Rudd and Brittany Murphy, it’s anything but an airhead. Could we love this film anymore? As if!—Megan Farokhmanesh

63. Election (Alexander Payne, 1999)
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A high-school election for student body president turns into a darkly comic satire on politics and sexuality in one of Alexander Payne’s uproarious takedowns of Midwestern values. The election turns into a struggle of wills between Matthew Broderick’s wormy high-school teacher and Reese Witherspoon’s overbearing know-it-all Tracy Flick, but resentful mediocrity doesn’t stand a chance against relentless ambition. With a hyper-capable schoolkid surrounded by hilariously flawed characters, Election could be Rushmore’s cynical classmate.—Curt Holman

62. Beauty and The Beast (Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise, 1991)
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Simply put, this is one of the films that put Disney animation back on the map after a long period of decline. No new-fangled computer animation here, this film is old school in more ways than one—like one of the several wonderful songs says, it’s “a tale as old as time” full of spectacular set pieces and a great cast of characters. You can debate the whole “Is Belle a good role model?” issue all you want, but, if that is all that jumps out about this film, you’re missing something.—David J. Greenberg

61. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (James Cameron, 1991)
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That rare sequel that trumps its predecessor, James Cameron and co-writer William Wisher Jr. crafted a near-perfect action-movie script that flipped the original on its head and let Ahnold be a good guy. But it’s Linda Hamilton’s transformation from damsel-in-distress to bad-ass hero that makes the film so notable. Why should the guys get all the good action scenes?—Josh Jackson

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