Goodfellas (directed by Martin Scorsese)
No film came out in 1990 that comes anywhere close to Scorsese’s mobster masterpiece. The scope of the movie is epic, covering every post-War decade in America up to the point the picture was released. Scorsese has a lot to say about the American Dream and the disgusting, reprehensible acts that must be committed for people to lock-in their own. There’s also pulsing energy to this film that would go on to inform the rest of the decade, the director sets us off on this roller coaster. Characters are manic and insane, always in macho posturing with each other, never willing to budge an inch lest they are perceived as weak within their community. Goodfellas is the anti-Irishman, while that film is muted and contemplative, Goodfellas is the story of a man in his prime, drunk on power and money, not yet to that point of self-reflection while reality comes slamming down on top of him.
Miller’s Crossing (directed by Ethan & Joel Coen)
From my review: 1990 was a year of gangsters between Miller’s Crossing, Goodfellas, and Dick Tracy, each film with a very different take and aesthetic when it came to examining the lives of people who place themselves into dire situations with dangerous people. Miller’s Crossing is a movie about a quiet man amid loud, arrogant people who, while lying to them all, appears to be working for at least one party for a positive outcome. The answer to Tom’s true intentions is left up in the air for the audience to ponder. Did Tom genuinely care about helping Leo? Was he always out to save his own skin? Like a good noir film, the solution to those questions doesn’t come easy.
Wild At Heart (directed by David Lynch)
You have to know that if David Lynch tells a love story, it is going to be unlike anything else out there. Then you team Lynch with Nicolas Cage, and the movie will be unhinged in all the best ways. Lula (Laura Dern) is over the moon to see her lover Sailor (Cage) released from prison. Her mother, Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd), wants her daughter to go nowhere near Sailor. Wild at Heart is a road movie that has Sailor and Lula meeting up with characters that challenge their own eccentricities. This film was released right amid Twin Peaks’ success, which brought a lot of people out to see it, but it is not the same as that series. The core theme of the picture is, as Lynch said, “Finding love in Hell” and boy are some of these antagonists hellish. Everyone remembers the ghoulish Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), but I have always been deeply unnerved by Juana Durango (Grace Zabriskie) and the bizarre Haitian voodoo scene she has going on in New Orleans.
Close-Up (directed by Abbas Kiarostami)
From my review: The film revolves around the case of Ali Sabzian, a man posing as Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and receiving the goodwill and shelter of the family in Tehran as a result. The film opens with an obviously staged scene, the reporter, who first published the story that brought it Kiraostami’s attention, is traveling with police via taxi to the family’s home to witness the arrest of Sabzian. From there, the film becomes a patchwork of the actual video footage of Sabzian’s trial and re-enactments of the events. The re-enactments actually feature the real people involved, including Sabzian. The reason this could happen is that Sabzian never stole from the family he stayed with, and the crime was non-violent. By the end of the film, we learn what Sabzian’s motivation was and see the family show great sympathy for him in court.
Misery (directed by Rob Reiner)
Reiner somehow makes this story both a dark comedy and a genuinely terrifying nightmare come to life. Bates is pitch-perfect as Wilkes, the role that would win her an Oscar and make her a household name. James Caan as Sheldon is good, but I think even he knew this movie was Bates’ show to steal. The brutality visited upon the author is so visceral, filmed in a way that allows tension to organically build to a breaking point. It’s still tough to watch when Annie realizes that Sheldon is healing up a little too fast for her taste, and she needs to do something about that.
Joe Versus the Volcano (directed by John Patrick Shanley)
I just reviewed John Patrick Shanley’s only other feature film Doubt last month. Joe Versus the Volcano was his debut, and it didn’t quite meet the expectations of the audience. The film centers on Joe Banks (Tom Hanks), a man working a job he hates and feeling chronically ill. Joe is told he has a “brain cloud,” a symptomless condition that will kill him in five to six months. This is the impetus Joe needs to set off on an adventure to the Pacific island of Waponi Woo. A wealthy industrialist wants a mineral contract with the people, but the natives need a human sacrifice, so there goes Joe. The sense of humor is very subtle and odd in this movie, and it makes sense that mainstream audiences were turned off. They saw Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan on the poster and had some preconceived notions about what it would be. I believe this is a film that deserves a second chance and had actually aged into the audience that can appreciate it.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (directed by Joe Dante)
This is one of my favorite sequels ever made because it immediately shows you how silly it was to create a sequel. Joe Dante didn’t want to make a follow up to 1984’s Gremlins, and so Warner Brothers went on without him. Eventually, they came back around to Joe, and he got total creative freedom to make the picture as he wished. The result is a hilariously meta take on the nature of sequels that even points out the absurdity of things that were played as severe in the original. Phoebe Cates’s brief speech about seeing a man die on President’s Day is a very funny callback. When Billy explains the rules around mogwai and gremlins, he gets the very questions viewers from the first film had, pointing out the contradictions and lack of logic. I will go as far as to say that Gremlins 2 is a better movie than the original.
Darkman (directed by Sam Raimi)
From my review: Darkman is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. I never saw the uncut version, having been relegated to the edited for television presentation recorded onto a blank VHS when I was a kid. I loved that movie then, and I love it even more now for how unabashedly over the top the whole affair becomes. Raimi did not pull back any of his sensibilities moving from low budget indie pictures to this studio affair. It feels like a Raimi movie in the sudden shock of melodrama and the wild camera angles.
Total Recall (directed by Paul Verhoeven)
From my review: I can’t think of many films as relevant today as Total Recall. It’s a message to the privileged classes to wake up done in only a way Verhoeven could, chock full of humor and action. He’s such a damn good director he becomes too clever in sneaking these messages into his work. Quaid becomes a white savior, in the end, mocking the liberal sensibilities of the middle class. However, as revealed in the third act, Quaid’s former personality of Hauser set all this up, infused Quaid with a sense of heroism so that he could help the Martian government find the core of the rebellion and kill its leaders. The desire of the privileged to step in and take over movements, rather than listen to the marginalized and oppressed, has led to the squashing of political revolution over the years. The professional-managerial class and technocrats often believe they have solutions and don’t need to listen to those oppressed communities.