Back four months ago, I wrote an article about my picks for the Best Original Writing in Movies. This list was centered on the classics, so it spanned from early cinema to 1989. Over the next couple of months, I thought it would be fun to continue writing towards this.
In the grand tradition of the modern era, I’m going to document it as a Top Ten List. Unless, of course, I can’t come up with ten, and then it’ll just be a Best Of list. Nevertheless, the format will be simple. Each week I’ll focus on a different categories in pop culture. Movies, TV, and Video Games will be the main ones. Secondly, I can only write what I know, so the lists may have glaring omissions, since I haven’t watched or played them myself.
Today’s article is the Nineties Edition. 🙂
From 1990 to 2000, I feel like storytelling really took off in Hollywood. It’s hard to dispute the quality of writing. I just wish I had more than 10 spots to fill.
10. Being John Malkovich
Surprisingly, this is one of the few comedies on the list today (I don’t generally love comedy as a genre). The 90s were filled with black comedies like Election, Adaptation, and Drop Dead Gorgeous, and almost all of them worked in their own way. But Being John Malkovich was even stranger than any of these and stands out above them all. It deserves to be on the list simply for its originality.
It is a movie that has stuck with me since I first watched it, and though it is the images that I remember most, I also recall how well it handled its material. From the concept of a half floor to a portal into the mind of John Malkovich, it deals heavily on themes of celebrity and the puppetry of their lives, both metaphorically and literally. Most of all, it wins for just one of the strangest and funniest scenes ever. Nothing prepares you for the moment John Malkovich enters his own mind and is met with a room of John Malkoviches (thanks to this movie, that is a real word… sorta… not really). I’m laughing even thinking about it.
9. Boogie Nights
PT Anderson has made some amazing films, with great ensemble casts. The first that I recall watching, though, was Boogie Nights, and while Magnolia is a great concept, it is not quite as cohesive a story as this film. The movie deals with themes of celebrity, as well, but on the opposite spectrum with the porn industry. It’s a great snapshot of the 70s in America, and an industry that still goes strong to this day. It’s incredibly well-written, with only a few hiccups along the way. And I’ll have to admit that I slightly love it for the performances of Julianne Moore and William H Macy.
8. Good Will Hunting
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were not household names when this movie came out, and htough they had been in the industry for almost a decade, this is the movie that put them on the map. Justifiably so, too. It could be said that the main reason for doing so well was because of the amazing casting decision of Robin Williams, and there would be some merit to that if the script wasn’t so bloody good! Robin Williams had great material to work with, and because of that, it will forever be remembered as the movie with those guys that later became big actors.
I remember sitting down at the theater to watch this when it came out. I remember the feeling i had when the credits rolled, and you had this broad shot of the countryside, and I remember thinking about the movie for days after I watched it. I was 14 when it came out, and I thought, at the time, it was the best thriller I had ever seen. To this day, I believe it is one of the most polished of its genre. The story and pacing were among the best, and the acting was top-notch. It was a proper thriller. I even read Dante’s Inferno after watching it, because I was that drawn to the subject matter.
(btw! So not a deliberate thing that it turned out to be number 7 on my list. Just a happy coincidence. hehe)
In the late 90s, my absolute favourite movie was Shine. Geoffrey Rush was amazing, the story was amazing, and the music was on a completely different level. In terms of writing, it is pretty great, but it’s not the best ever. The subject of it being an “original screenplay” is a little odd to me, since it was roughly based on the life of a real man in David Helfgott. The movie spends part of its time showing the life of a young Helfgott (played brilliantly by Noah Taylor) before he has a quasi- psychotic meltdown. The remaining portion of the movie shows the older, utterly tragic side of Helfgott (played by Rush). It is this bridge between past and present that is just relaly well done. You feel sorry for the man, and you are in awe of his enormous talent. But it’s not overly tragic and leaves it up to the audience to interpret what happened.
5. The Usual Suspects
When Usual Suspects came out, Roger Ebert wrote a terrible review of it that did not reflect the thoughts and feelings of just about everyone else, including the Academy. Out of all the years he reviewed, this was one of the only movies that I disagreed with him on. The characters could be called one-dimensional, and the big surprise at the end was probably seen from a mile away. But I believe that was the point. The story is told from the point of view of one man, so it’s natural to see only the most basic of personality traits from the supporting characters. I think, in that, the writing is perfect. The big reveal at the end isn’t so much of a reveal if you’re paying close attention, but that’s the thing. The first time you watch it, you aren’t paying that close attention, because of the type of movie it is. It ripens with every view after, though, and deserves a place on my list.
4. American Beauty
It just occurred to me that Kevin Spacey was in three of the movies on this list. American Beauty was his best, though, and he was blessed to get such a great role. It was so well written, but it also required the right balance of delivery and emotion to make it work. Everyone in the cast did that, and to this day, it is the best movie that deals with subjects of mid-life crises, homosexuality, and lost passion. Also, it’s really a beautiful film in more ways that one.
3. Pulp Fiction
Tarantino has made some great movies! That goes without saying, since his repertoire really speaks for itself. Before Pulp Fiction, he made Reservoir Dogs, which is yet another great film. But Pulp Fiction is still the best of his 90s work. The episodic story, not necessarily told in chronological order, has great one-liners that people still quote to this day. He doesn’t brow-beat the plot, either, and in multiple parts just leaves it to the viewers to pick up the pieces. Also the fan theories around parts consume an entire section of the interwebz. A true cult-following.
We’re getting down to the business end of the list, and suddenly a movie that is effectively the last great western made graces the list. Unforgiven is actually one of the best westerns ever made, and deserves a place beside Once Upon a Time in the West, The Good the Bad and The Ugly, and The Searchers. It takes the characters from each of these movies and places them into an older, grittier stage. It helps that greats like Eastwood and Hackman are given such freedom to do what it is they do best. The tone of the movie is dark and tragic, and the prevailing feeling of a hero’s last stand is throughout. But Eastwood is no saint, either, and the idea of him being a reformed criminal with a farm and a family is ultimately what makes the movie that much more gut-wrenching. It’s truly a great movie and one of the best written westerns ever.
Before we get on to Numbero Uno, It’s time to bore you with the honourable mentions: Heavenly Creatures, As Good As It Gets, Toy Story, Magnolia, The Truman Show and Life is Beautiful nearly made it on the list. They just had to be bumped out for the 10 count.
This dark comedy made the top of the list, and how couldn’t it have? It’s incredibly funny, well paced, dialogue that is rich and true to its setting, and lets the setting take a spot as a character. It may not be as quotable as Pulp Fiction or tragic as Unforgiven, but it is perhaps the best black comedy of the 90s, and maybe even all time. The TV series that acts as a spiritual successor is as much an homage as it is its own art form. Aside from one very good character, most everyone else is despicable. Somehow the movie makes it hilarious, rather than making you hate them, though, but you also never once feel guilty for them either. It’s a dark, twisted movie, and I don’t reckon I could ever get tired of it.