The 90 Best Movies of the 1990s

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30. Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)
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Few films can capture the true essence of childhood without featuring a kid as the main character, but that’s just what Pixar did in 1995 with Toy Story. The film’s hilarious (and heartwarming) competition between longtime toy-favorite Woody and flashy newcomer Buzz Lightyear wasn’t only entertaining—it explored themes of friendship, family and ultimately growing up. The film gave us our first peek into the legacy that Pixar solidified with classics like Up and Wall-E.—Tyler Kane

29. The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, 1997)
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Canadian director Atom Egoyan explores the devastating aftermath of a school-bus crash that kills a dozen children in wintry British Columbia. Ian Holm plays a lawyer who attempts to file a class-action lawsuit, partly to compensate for his own failures as a parent, while teenage Sarah Polley sees her injuries in the accident as an opportunity to punish her parents. Egoyan’s chronologically scrambled adaptation of Russell Banks’ novel avoids the emotional enigmas of his other films, to devastating effect.—Curt Holman

28. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)
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Beautiful is a strange adjective to describe a war film. Maybe brutally honest, violently heart-wrenching, but beauty in war is hard to capture. In Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, there are scenes of immense brutality and psychological damage, but juxtaposed against an idyllic, tribal society, it prompts the eternal question, “why?” With scenes of emotional bliss that demarcate classic war films, such as Saving Private Ryan and Full Metal Jacket, The Thin Red Line delivers war with the finesse that only Malick can provide.—Darren Orf

27. Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998)
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Saving Private Ryan was one of the first war movies I saw as a child. For someone who’d only read about military conquest in history textbooks, Steven Spielberg’s World War II painted the missing horrors and chaos of war with his opening D-Day sequence on the beaches of Normandy. From that stark introduction, Saving Private Ryan invites us into a mission to save one man at the cost of several, opening our eyes to complex realities of World War II in a way few other movies ever have or ever will.—Max Blau

26. Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)
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Every generation needs its art-house romance, and who better to deliver it to Gen-X than “Slacker” director Richard Linklater? Scruffy Ethan Hawke and luminous Julie Delpy are perfect as the not-fully-adult-but-already-weary Jesse and Celine on an all-night stroll through Vienna. Every generation also needs movies like this to give them faith that there really can be good movies about people just standing around and talking—look no further than the 2004 sequel and start holding your breath for a third installment that is reportedly due in 2013.—David Greenberg

25. Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control (Errol Morris, 1997)
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Master documentarian Errol Morris takes on four different subjects in Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control and holds them up for the viewer to decide their interconnectedness. There’s a lion tamer (an actual lion tamer), a master topiary gardner, a robotics expert, and a scientist who studies mole rats. Each is fascinating in his own way, eccentric and utterly devoted to the tiny niche of human knowledge he has devoted his life to. But most fascinating of all is the character of Morris himself, who justaposes images and quotes, the four characters overlapping with each other and with old archival footage that only occasionally seems to have a direct relationship with what’s being talked about. It’s like a living, moving abstract painting, made of human lives.—Michael Dunaway

24. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
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  Reservoir Dogs ’ debut at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival launched not only the career of one Quentin Tarantino but an American indie genre unto itself characterized by extreme violence, profane dialogue, nonlinear storytelling and a curated soundtrack. Many have tried, but none of his imitators has achieved the visual and aural poetry at work in Tarantino’s oeuvre, particularly his magnum opus Pulp Fiction, upon whose release in 1994 newly minted fans went back to discover the aftermath of Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink and Mr. White’s botched diamond heist (but not the heist itself). This is where it all began.—Annlee Ellingson

23. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)
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In predicting a dark-horse winner for one of the decade’s best films, one could not have gone darker than director Clint Eastwood’s fresh take on the semi-classic-but-growing-stale Western tale in Unforgiven. An aged ex-gunfighter (Eastwood) is convinced to leave his sodbuster home to accompany a green, wannabe gunman along with another old accomplice (Morgan Freeman) to avenge the disfiguring of a woman they don’t know by a sheriff (Gene Hackman) they never heard of. Improbably, astonishingly, the story works. Eastwood returns to his cinematic roots and revives the spirit of what made the Western one of the most revered genres in television and film history. But in this version, whether they’re evil, altruistic, violent or benevolent, the hypocrisies of the characters are laid bare to an almost uncomfortable level.—Tim Basham

22. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1994)
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Loneliness and the search for connection. Fabrication and the search for authenticity. Despair and the search for meaning. It’s almost as if we’re in 1920s Paris. Instead we’re in 1990’s Hong Kong, though Wong Kar-Wai is less an existential master than a Hemingway or Gertrude Stein. He largely abandons traditional narrative here in service to a more impressionistic study of four characters. We keep expecting for things to happen, waiting for the story to begin, and it never does. It’s as if we as viewers are drawn into the same dilemma as Valdimir and Estragon – or of Wong’s characters.—Michael Dunaway

21. Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson, 1996)
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Bottle Rocket introduced us both to the singular world of Wes Anderson and the unique charm of the Wilson brothers. All of his films have their critics, but we’ll go ahead and say that the director not only gave us a new kind of humor, but a new kind of joy in the stylistic quirks that have little changed seven movies later. Most adults who’ve forgotten to grow up are either repulsive in their adolescent behavior or the butt of the joke, but Dignan retains that boyish likability for all his crazy scheming.—Josh Jackson

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