Being a child of the mid-eighties, I did most of my growing up in the nineties and – of course – the nineties is the decade that really introduced me to the world of films. As you might guess, trying to push an entire decade into just six films is bloody hard, so I have picked the six films that left the biggest mark.
Interestingly, even though I saw all of these films around the time they were released, I only saw two of the six films actually at the Cinema, with two films being bought when they were released on video, and the last two being watched on the encouragement of one of my brothers.
It will be of no surprise that all of these films were released during the later years of the nineties, but whilst in Secondary School (1995-2000) is when I became a lot more aware of films and the stories being told, the acting skills of the cast and the overall message behind what they had to offer. In effect, that period was probably the most influential when it comes to my love of all things film, which is ultimately why I was so keen to share this list.
I’m not going to lie, but putting these in any kind of order has been the most challenging because they’re all so completely different.
Six. Toy Story
Year: 1995 Director: John Lasseter Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, John Ratzenburger
Toy Story was actually the first film that I saw, at the Cinema, without a member of my own family. For that reason alone, it deserves its place on this list. However, I have a secret – I have never liked this film. So, why is it in my list? Because even though I’m not a huge fan of the film, I can appreciate everything that it represented – and still does.
Pixar created Toy Story on the realisation that making shorts wasn’t making them any money. They were already quite well-known for their lamp shorts, that were used on cult classic Sesame Street, but Toy Story was new territory, not only for them, but for Cinema itself. Never before had there ever been a full-length animated feature that used 3D computer animation throughout. Even better, quality-wise the film looked fantastic, and actually it still does.
Toy Story is the type of film that ages well, mainly because the story is always going to be relevant. Every day kids get toys that push out their old toys, and I doubt that that will ever change.
Five. Cruel Intentions
Year: 1999 Director: Roger Kumble Starring: Ryan Phillipe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair
Cruel Intentions is a film that I missed, by quite a few years and actually picked it up when I was at University in around 2003. Chris recently summed this film up perfectly, when he described as being a film that you expect to be “just another teen film”, that the late nineties were absolutely rife with. He’d expected it to be flowery and cliché. What you actually get, he acknowledges, is a film with a great deal of depth and is just as twisted as the story that it is based upon.
The casting of Sarah Michelle Gellar into a role that conflicted so beautifully against her pop culture heroine of the time: Buffy the Vampire Slayer was superb, and Ryan Phillipe gave an incredible performance himself, alongside supporting roles for Reese Witherspoon and Selma Blair. That, for me, is the key to this films success, because the roles were all so perfectly cast that they made this film so believably dark and cynical.
Throw in the mind-blowing soundtrack of the late nineties, with bands like The Verve and Placebo, and you have the ultimate antithesis of a typical teen drama. Indeed, it was actually listening to the soundtrack for this film, that inspired me to write this Top Six.
Four. Romeo and Juliet
Year: 1996 Director: Baz Luhrmann Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo, Pete Postlethwaite
In the mid nineties, I got hooked on a gritty US drama that aired on Channel 4, called My So Called Life. It ran for just one season, co-starred the awesome Jared Leto before he took the world by storm, and was completely unlike anything that I had ever seen on TV before, purely because it was darker. Unfortunately, I was never a fan of its leading lady Claire Danes. I can’t explain it, but I didn’t like her.
So, when I saw her starring in Romeo and Juliet, she was enough reason for me to want to avoid it. However, following our Year Nine SATs in which included studying Romeo and Juliet, and being encouraged not to watch the Baz Luhrmann version, we were called into a big Year Nine Assembly that included watching this version, and I was hooked.
In the late nineties, teen films were often irritating affairs, but as with Cruel Intentions, Romeo and Juliet isn’t like that at all. Of course, the lead characters are teenagers, but there is a lot more depth to it than that.
It was a lot more violent than I’d expected, and I’m not generally a fan of overly violent films, but I think that that is what the film needed, because for me, it made the film more realistic.
Needless to say, Romeo and Juliet was a film that very much took me by surprise.
Three. The Truman Show
Year: 1998 Director: Peter Weir Starring: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone
I was introduced to this film by my brother, The Truman Show is a film that was a little ahead of its time, and in a way, created at the perfect time because it pre-empted our obsession with reality TV. I honestly think that if this film had been released, even a year later, it would never have had the same impact on the audience as it did.
Reality TV hadn’t yet taken off, in the UK at least, as Big Brother was still a little while away, so the idea of being watched 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was incredibly creepy and unnerving as well as being completely crazy. It was hard to imagine how that would work, or even how people could become so obsessed with watching Truman quite literally 24/7. And yet, only a few years later, Channel 4 and E4 would be showing Big Brother literally 24/7, proving how easy it is to become addicted to watching people do…actually, not do anything!
I grew up watching Jim Carrey in a variety of comedic roles, such as Dumb and Dumber, Liar Liar etc so to see him in a much straighter role was quite refreshing and it was just evidence of what an incredible talent he is. Personally, whilst I appreciate his comedy roles, I always feel that his serious ones are the ones where we see Carrey at his absolute best and this is pure evidence of that. Of course, he gets a bit silly at times, but he makes Truman warm and we feel a great deal of empathy for him as he sets out on a very big road of discovery.
Year: 1995 Director: Amy Heckerling Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy, Donald Faison
I remember seeing posters for Clueless, but not being able to go see it since it was a twelve, and I was only eleven. Plus, at that age I was still only going to the Cinema with my brothers, and can you really imagine thirteen-year-old and twenty-year-old males going to see something like Clueless?? Yeah, me neither! But, I ended up saving up and buying it with my pocket money months after it came out of video, and I think that it’s fair to say that this was a girl cult classic for my generation.
The world of Cher and Dionne was so far away from my own, that looking back, it amazes me how much I loved this film, but then I have to remember everything that it had to offer me:
Paul Rudd – Where would the world of funny be without Paul Rudd? Who would Phoebe have married in Friends? Okay, so not long after he was also brought to us in Romeo & Juliet, but c’mon that was really all about Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t it?
Marky Mark – And so began my dislike for the man, at the that time, known as Marky Mark. When Cher mentioned him, I had no idea who he was and in a way, I wish that I could forget or that he could have stayed as a Calvin Klein model, rather than bombarding my life with his mundane acting abilities.
Feather Pens – I don’t know any girls my age who didn’t, at some point, own at least one feather pen. Mine was purple and the coolest thing ever!!
Sporadically – It wasn’t just Brittany Murphy that had a lot to learn from Alicia Silverstone. When Cher taught Tai the word “sporadically”, she was teaching it to me too and I remember thinking, at the time, who on earth would use that word. Now I’m older, it’s amazing how much I do find myself using the slightly pretentious word, and I have Cher to thank – or blame, you choose - for that!!
Murray – Okay, so Murray would change his name to Turk and Dionne would become Carla, but there is no doubting – probably only in my head – that Murray and Turk are ultimately the same person (Donald Faison), not only because they are of course the same actor, but also because they are very similar. As JD’s “chocolate bear”, Turk brought many laughs, and as Dionne’s fast-talking other half he just managed to completely baffle my brain with his what now talk.
Mobile Phones - Clueless was the first film that saw teenagers that had an obsession with using mobile phones, which is interesting since it's five years before I got my first phone and now everyone is obsessed with them!!
One. The Sixth Sense
Year: 1999 Director: M. Night Shyamalan Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams
I saw this for my sixteenth birthday, and for me, The Sixth Sense was the first film that really appealed to me, as a writer. It’s a film with an incredibly clever twist that takes you by surprise and you walk out of the cinema trying desperately to piece things together. For that reason, it’s no surprise that it took the world by storm, and I am very glad that I saw it without any spoilers, in a generation when we weren’t overwhelmed with the excess of internet “sharing”. I think that if I had known about the twist, I would never have been able to enjoy the film in the way that I did.
The way it was written was very intelligent, because it had to be perfect for it to work, and it really did, because it forced the reader not only to question what they had just seen, but also it forced them to watch it for a second time, whether you liked what you had just seen or not. I don’t think many films have the power to do that.
Story aside, the acting was also top-notch. I’ve been a fan of Bruce Willis for a very long time, but I think it’s very fair to say that The Sixth Sense really cemented that opinion for me, because he did a fantastic job. He was of course fighting off strong competition from the other leading man, in the form of child actor Haley Joel Osment who played the freaky kid perfectly. Toni Collette also did a perfect job playing Osment’s mother.
Despite all that, the stand-out role in this film, is most definitely Donnie Wahlberg as one of Bruce Willis’ past patients. It was years before I found out it was him, and even now I can barely tell, but what I can tell is that his acting skills are perfect in the Sixth Sense, and just proves that Donnie far outshines his brother!
Plus, it’s always fun to see a very young pre-The OC Mischa Barton!!
Even to this day, “I see dead people” must be one of the most quoted, paraphrased and spoofed film quotes ever!