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The List, Part 3

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

JANUARY 25, 1999:  The final installment of my 10 favorite movies of the 1990s (excluding, of course, 1999). The list so far: Babe, Cyclo, Dead Man, Unforgiven, Fallen Angels, and Farewell, My Concubine.

Pulp Fiction (1994, R) and Trainspotting (1996, R): It's true that neither of these films is "a masterpiece" in the way that important movies are supposed to be: artistic vision, formal innovation, yadda yadda yadda. But Quentin Tarantino's mash note to junk culture and Danny Boyle's frenetic heroin fable pulse with the hooked-on-pop adrenaline and reflexive irony that practically defined the 1990s. Pulp Fiction is more a collection of great moments than a great movie, but what amazing moments: Uma Thurman slinking to "Son of a Preacher Man"; the John Travolta-Samuel Jackson Socratic dialogues; Christopher Walken's P.O.W. story. Tarantino's movies—even the overlong Jackie Brown—crackle with such sheer cinematic joy that they pretty much steamroll any objections about relevancy or moral vacancy.

The Scottish import Trainspotting was by far the best of the many films that followed Tarantino's lead. Funny and desperate and disgusting all at once, it somehow located real characters in the midst of its over-the-top drug antics. Most notably, it helped make a star of the infectiously charismatic Ewan McGregor, whose opening and closing monologues would qualify the film as a classic on their own.

My Twentieth Century (1990): This lightfooted, mysterious Hungarian film from director Idiko Enyedi already counts as a lost treasure because almost nobody saw it on its release. Part fairy tale, part socio-political treatise on our fading century, it follows the lives of twin sisters in the early 1900s. The girls, whose paths cross in various ways, can represent any 20th century dichotomy you want: individualism vs. totalitarianism, technology vs. tradition, communism vs. capitalism, probably all of the above. But the movie makes its points in oblique and often funny ways, rendered in impressionistic black and white photography. It's that rare thing, an arty European film that's as much fun as it is intellectually adventurous.

Ruby in Paradise (1993, R): Victor Nunez's deceptively low-key indie drama isn't about much—a young woman moves to Florida, finds a job in a gift shop, thinks about life. But in its appreciation of the mundane, the film achieves something close to poetry. It's helped immensely by Ashley Judd in the lead, who conveys Ruby's modest ambitions and uncertainties with effortless grace. A few scenes—like one set in an industrial laundromat—say more about working life in America than a dozen Michael Moore diatribes.

So there's the list. See you in another 10 years!


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