The 90 Best Movies of the 1990s

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50. Casino (Martin Scorsese, 1995)
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Martin Scorsese’s second adaptation of a Nicholas Pileggi book, Casino is often overlooked as a lesser iteration of the first, 1990’s Goodfellas. The two are similar enough—pretty much all that’s missing behind or in front of the camera is Ray Liotta—but while this 1995 film may not rise to the level of Goodfellas, a movie that falls short of one of the best films of the decade can still reach pretty high. Casino marks the eighth and most recent collaboration between two of the best of their generation (Scorsese and Robert De Niro), but the film is more than just bookend material for some sophomore film studies class. In addition to De Niro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci turn in performances that make this look beneath the facade and underbelly of Las Vegas in the 1970s and early 1980s a fascinating journey for all.—Michael Burgin

49. Miller’s Crossing (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1990)
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Like O Brother Where Art Thou a decade later, Miller’s Crossing is a terrible choice for those who prefer their Coen films a little less Coen-ish. It’s highly stylized, confusing and often ridiculous. But the parts that do work are glorious—Gabriel Byrne’s casual indolence, Albert Finney’s blustering menace, and most of all, John Turturro’s masterful painting of the spectacularly weaselly Bernie Bernbaum. “Look in your heart!”—Michael Dunaway

48. Metropolitan (Whit Stillman, 1990)
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There have been nearly as many “next Woody Allens” in film as there have been “next Michael Jordans” in basketball or “next Bob Dylans” in music, but sometimes the moniker fits. In Whit Stillman’s debut, he staked his claim as the Woody of the upper-class WASPy NYC set and won a whole army of loyal followers. For good reason, too—seldom has any director, regardless of experience, so deftly juggled dialogue that could so easily have delved into too-clever-by-half-isms, or trained such a sympathetic eye on a sometimes questionable nostalgia for the end of an age. Most of all, though, seeing Metropolitan just makes you feel smart and witty and somehow elevated. Not bad for the price of a movie ticket.—Michael Dunaway

47. Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
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The diner scene alone, where heavyweights Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro face off (for the first time in cinema history) would be enough to put Heat on the list, but the whole heist and cat-and-mouse story holds up all the way through. It’s dark, human and wholly engaging.—Josh Jackson

46. Three Kings (David O. Russell, 1999)
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Armed with invention, flare and an unflinching point of view, indie filmmaker David O. Russell charged into Hollywood and made an absolutely stunning war film—honest and unapologetic in its depiction of the Gulf War. George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze play American soldiers who witness the collateral damage of the war as they attempt to smuggle some of Saddam Hussein’s gold out of Iraq. The film mixes political commentary, wartime character studies and madcap surrealism, emphasized by Newton Thomas Sigel’s gritty, vibrant experimental cinematography. The audience must follow the characters on their journey and witness their discoveries, their failures and their desperation. The film also helped establish Clooney as a leading man willing to take on thoughtful, difficult content.—Jeremy Mathews

45. The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997)
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Remember when it looked like Ang Lee was going to walk in and devastate Hollywood? It’s been about a decade since he ran off course, Brokeback Mountain aside. But watching The Ice Storm will remind you of why he raised such high hopes in the first place. It’s a devastating (there’s really no other word) critique of the mores of the ’70s, the most selfish decade on record. The kids’ lives are spinning out of control, but so are their parents’ lives, and often for the same reasons. The Suburban Boho ’70s have seldom been so perfectly captured.—Michael Dunaway

44. Se7en (David Fincher, 1997)
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It’s hard to think of a movie that did more short-term damage to the length of your fingernails in the ’90s than David Fincher’s Se7en. The film follows Detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and almost-retired William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) on the trail of John Doe, a murderer who plans his kills around the seven deadly sins. We see Somerset teach a still-naive Mills valuable life lessons around the case, which has morally charged outcomes aimed at victims that include a gluttonous man and a greedy attorney. But with all the disturbing crime scenes considered, Se7en’s never as unpredictable or emotionally draining as when Mills and Somerset make the final discovery of “what’s in the box” after capturing their man.—Tyler Kane

43. The Player (Robert Altman, 1992)
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Robert Altman’s films are all epic in the interplay between characters, but he’s adept enough at the small moments to make you care about every little twist and turn. Gosford Park and Short Cuts are as suspenseful and engaging as The Player, but neither of his other great films are also this funny. Gleefully biting the hand that fed him, he satirized the movie business in a way that even the slickest agent would enjoy.—Josh Jackson

42. Bringing Out The Dead (Martin Scorsese, 1999)
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People forget that Martin Scorsese is, at heart, a deeply religious filmmaker. It’s why the former seminarian’s more abstract character studies on overtly spiritual themes—The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun and Bringing Out the Dead—are so underappreciated. In Bringing Out the Dead, Nicolas Cage is a New York paramedic haunted by the lives he hasn’t been able to save. It’s episodic, moody and impressionistic. But it leaves a mark.—Michael Dunaway

41. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)
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This sumptuous adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel never visits Roman Polanski’s preferred corner of Los Angeles, but it rivals Chinatown in both quality of filmmaking and cynicism of spirit. This film not only announced Hanson as a filmmaker well beyond his previous work (Hand That Rocks the Cradle?), but endeared Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce to American audiences by giving them their first signature roles. This tabloid version of the City of Angels celebrates all the sex, corruption and other seedy circumstances the superficial city can provide. It provides a string of unforgettable sequences from Bud White’s Yuletide raid to Exley’s interrogations to the final shootout where the film’s utterly Ellroy perspective on police morality is (quite literally) executed with masterful precision. At the time of its release L.A. Confidential was praised as a throwback, a smeared portrait of the 1950s embracing the spirit of crime noirs (and even westerns) of the 1970s. That was over a decade ago. Here’s hoping some young punk or frustrated journeyman is ready to dust off these storytelling tropes again to produce something this timeless.—Bennett Webber

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