Greatest Films of the 1990s
Greatest Films of the 1990s

Greatest Films of the 1990s
1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999


Academy Awards for 1990 Films
Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

Avalon (1990), 128 minutes, D: Barry Levinson

Awakenings (1990), 121 minutes, D: Penny Marshall

Blood Oath (1990, Australia/UK) (aka Prisoners of the Sun), 108 minutes, D: Stephen Wallace
During World War II, Ambon Island in Indonesia (known as the Dutch East Indies), a small island just north of Australia, was the location of the Japanese Tan Tai POW camp holding about 1,100 Australian prisoners (known as 'prisoners of the sun'). By 1945, the numbers had dropped to about 300, due to cruel and abusive treatment by Japanese captors. Then, a mass grave was discovered with the bodies of many missing Australian POWs, who were massacred (bayoneted and beheaded). An Australian War Crimes Tribunal was scheduled, to try 91 Japanese officers and soldiers, including sly Vice Admiral Baron Takahashi (George Takei), the main commanding officer (Oxford-educated), and the savage head of the prison camp Captain Ikeuchi (Tetsu Watanabe). The determined Australian military prosecutor was Captain Robert Cooper (Bryan Brown), assisted by Lt. Corbett (Russell Crowe in his film debut). The defense counsel was Shinji Matsugae (Sokyu Fujita). It was a difficult case, because there were no surviving POWs who could testify (not even a 4-man crew on an unarmed reconnaissance plane that was shot down), the camp records had disappeared, and the defendants uniformly denied the charges. Takahashi was returned to the island in the custody of an American officer and military observer Maj. Beckett (Terry O'Quinn), who didn't want to convict Takahashi, who had already been promised a post-war job in Tokyo. In the first of three separate trials, Takahashi declared ignorance of the atrocities, and blamed the camp's treatment of POWs on Ikeuchi. He was acquitted and flown back to Japan. Then, Ikeuchi testified that he had no recollection of the mass killings ("I know nothing of any executions!"). Then, a break came when the grave site of the four beheaded airmen was discovered. Eyewitness evidence of Ikeuchi's involvement came when Private Jimmy Fenton (John Polson), an ailing POW about to die, testified about the brutal tortures and executions. Communications officer Lt. Tanaka (Toshi Shioya) took the stand. As a witness against Ikeuchi, he also testified that he had been ordered by Takahashi to kill one of the airman - he had been misled about an alleged court-martial of the prisoner. Another officer Lt. Shimada (Yuichiro Senga) claimed that both Takahashi and Ikeuchi participated in (or knew about) the mass executions. Tanaka was declared guilty and sentenced to death (by firing squad) by the tribunal. Ikeuchi suicidally and ritualistically committed hari-kari before his execution, while Takahashi escaped punishment.

Cyrano de Bergerac (1990, Fr.), 137 minutes, D: Jean-Paul Rappeneau

Dances With Wolves (1990), 181 minutes, D: Kevin Costner

Edward Scissorhands (1990), 100 minutes, D: Tim Burton
Tim Burton's original modern-day fairy tale (and part tearjerker and dark suburban comedy) opened with an old lady telling a bedtime story to her grand-daughter about where snow came from. Mild-mannered Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp) was the unfinished artificial creation of a deceased mad inventor (Vincent Price), outfitted with razor sharp shears for hands. A critique of garish 50's suburban life was made when fish-out-of-water Edward was adopted to live in the pastel-colored home of Peg (Dianne Wiest), an Avon representative. His artistic abilities included sculpting ice angels, tossing salads, giving haircuts, and clipping poodles and hedges. In this Beauty and the Beast allegory, his love for pretty blonde teenager Kim (Winona Ryder) wasn't reciprocated until she realized his unique beauty. And in the somber climax, she saved him from a hostile Frankenstein-like mob, to return and live as an outcast in the Munsters-like mansion on the hill - and to create the town's snow.

Ghost (1990), 122 minutes, D: Jerry Zucker

The Godfather, Part III (1990), 161 minutes, D: Francis Ford Coppola
See Godfather series.

GoodFellas (1990), 146 minutes, D: Martin Scorsese
Based on Nicholas Pileggi's non-fiction book Wiseguys - a definitive and stylish, violent gangster film, with a soundtrack that chronicles the passage of time through three decades of crime (the 50s to the 70s) in the life of a mid-level, aspiring mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). Raised on the streets of a Brooklyn neighborhood, he marries Karen (Lorraine Bracco) and slowly advances up and climbs the Mafioso ladder. With superb performances by Joe Pesci as meanly psychotic wiseguy Tommy DeVito, and Robert DeNiro as paranoid James Conway. In the end as his life unravels, after dealing narcotics and becoming hooked, Hill protects himself and his wife by testifying and becoming part of the federal witness protection program - and being left in anonymous, suburbanized exile.

The Grifters (1990), 114 minutes, D: Stephen Frears

Home Alone (1990), 98 minutes, D: Chris Columbus

The Hunt for Red October (1990), 134 minutes, D: John McTiernan
See series of Jack Ryan films.

Jacob's Ladder (1990), 115 minutes, D: Adrian Lyne
Director Adrian Lyne's psycho-horror thriller opened with scenes of haunted Vietnam vet Jacob Singer's (Tim Robbins) many blurry, drug-related visions after being seriously wounded in combat. Believing he survived, he experienced hallucinatory, disturbing visions of demons, horns and a faceless Evil Doctor. He required therapeutic counseling and reassurance from guardian angel chiropractor Louis (Danny Aiello). In the film's plot twist conclusion, he calmly ascended a staircase into golden light to reunite with his dead 6 year-old son Gabriel (uncredited Macauley Caulkin) after peacefully accepting his own death and freeing his soul.

Journey of Hope (1990, Switz./Turkey/UK) (aka Reise der Hoffnung, or Umuda yolculuk), 110 minutes, D: Xavier Koller

Ju Dou (1990, China/Jp.), 95 minutes, D: Yimou Zhang

King of New York (1990, US/It.), 103 minutes, D: Abel Ferrara

Miller's Crossing (1990), 115 minutes, D: Joel Coen

Misery (1990), 107 minutes, D: Rob Reiner

Presumed Innocent (1990), 127 minutes, D: Alan J. Pakula
This crime mystery thriller began with the news of the brutal rape and murder of Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi) in her apartment - she was the pretty colleague-assistant of chief deputy DA Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford). Sabich was chosen to lead the investigation - an awkward position since Polhemus had recently been his ex-lover, but had dumped him for Sabich's boss, prosecuting DA Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy). Sabich had since reconciled with his wife Barbara (Bonnie Bedalia) who knew about the affair and his mistress. And then Sabich was charged with the murder. There was overwhelming evidence, discovered by detectives, that Sabich had committed the crime. The case was prosecuted by recently-elected, inept County Prosecuting Attorney Nicco della Guardia (Tom Mardirosian) and a new deputy named Tommy Molto (Joe Grifasi), the head of homicide. Top defense attorney Alejandro "Sandy" Stern (Raul Julia) agreed to defend Sabich, while the presiding judge was Judge Larren Lyttle (Paul Winfield). The prosecution noted Sabich's fingerprints at the crime scene on a beer glass (that went missing), numerous phone calls between Sabich and Polhemus, Sabich's semen inside the victim, and a matching blood type. Sabich's home revealed Polhemus' blood-stained clothing, and rug fibers. False testimony by Horgan about how Rusty had insisted on handling the investigation hurt the prosecution, with the defense claiming a frame-up and cover-up (in an unrelated bribery scandal involving many of the trial's participants). During the testimony, pathologist/coroner Dr. "Painless" Kumagai (Sab Shimono) reported that the semen sample was strangely mixed with a spermicidal contraceptive, but Polhemus was not using a diaphragm (in fact, she had a tubal ligation). Therefore, the semen must have come from someone else's body, not from Polhemus. These findings caused the case against Sabich to be dismissed by Judge Lyttle. Afterwards, there were numerous plot surprises and twists, including: (1) the unexpected discovery of the beer glass, (2) Sabich's discovery of one of his claw hammers (the murder weapon) covered in dried blood and blonde hair in his toolbox, (3) Barbara's delivery of a shocking revelation to her husband - she confessed that she had killed his assistant, due to jealousy regarding their clandestine affair, and then framed him. Barbara admitted her guilt to her husband when he asked her about it, with a lengthy rationale: "A woman's depressed with herself, with life, with her husband who made life possible for her 'til he was bewitched by another woman. A destroyer. Abandoned, like someone left for dead, she plans her suicide. Until the dream begins. In the dream, the destroyer is destroyed. That's a dream worth living for..." (4) Barbara had committed the murder to make it look like a rape by a "sex-crazed man." She had planted the beer glass with his fingerprints in the apartment, and injected her husband's semen into Polhemus' vagina. Rusty's voice-over ended the film: "The murder of Carolyn Polhemus remains unsolved. It is a practical impossibility to try two people for the same crime. Even if it wasn't, I couldn't take his mother from my son. I am a prosecutor. I have spent my life in the assignment of blame. With all deliberation and intent, I reached for Carolyn. I cannot pretend it was an accident. I reached for Carolyn, and set off that insane mix of rage and lunacy that led one human being to kill another. There was a crime. There was a victim. And there is punishment."

Pretty Woman (1990), 119 minutes, D: Garry Marshall

Reversal of Fortune (1990, US/Jp./UK), 120 minutes, D: Barbet Schroeder
"The Case of Claus Von Bulow. An American Saga of Money and Mystery" was the perfect tagline for this biographical mystery-drama about a murder case involving a rich couple in the late 70s and early 1980s, who lived in Newport, Rhode Island. The film was narrated by the deceased, disembodied female protagonist in her hospital bed, and based upon a 1985 book written by the defense attorney. Claus Von Bulow (Jeremy Irons) lived in luxury with wealthy American heiress Martha "Sunny" Von Bulow (Glenn Close), who had become abusively addicted to drugs and alcohol. Because of their icy cold, loveless relationship and near-divorced status, Von Bulow had taken a mistress, Alexandra Isles (Julie Hagerty). At Christmastime in 1979 and also about a year later, the self-destructive, hypoglycemic Sunny was found comatose in her bathroom (with an overdose of insulin). In the second instance, she did not regain consciousness, and under the suspicious circumstances (noted by Maria (Uta Hagen), Sunny's personal maid), Claus was investigated. Sunny's two eldest children (from her first marriage), Alexander von Auersberg (Jad Mager) and Ala von Auersberg (Sarah Fearon), hired an attorney to privately look into the matter. After finding questionable medications (insulin with a syringe) in a black bag in his closet, Von Bulow was charged with two counts of assault to commit murder (injecting her with an overdose of insulin). He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison in 1982. The case was appealed, when brilliant, driven Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz (Alan Silver), a liberal Jew, and a contingent of law students (recruited from his classes) agreed to try to convince the Rhode Island Supreme Court to "reverse the fortune" of the imperious, unsympathetic European Von Bulow who had an attempted murder conviction. The defendant was out on $1 million dollars bail provided by his ex-employer, billionaire J. Paul Getty. The public and most people thought it was obvious that the haughty, aristocratic Von Bulow was guilty, because he stood to gain $14 million from his wife's death. Dershowitz uncovered irregularities, weak physical evidence from sloppy investigative work, faulty logic, and unreliable witnesses (especially star witness maid Maria). And Sunny herself was considered psychologically and physically unstable and may have attempted suicide. The conviction was reversed, and after a new trial, Von Bulow was acquitted. But the tantalizing film (with some black humor from Von Bulow himself) remained very ambiguous regarding his guilt or innocence. Victim Sunny remained in a coma for almost three decades.

Total Recall (1990), 113 minutes, D: Paul Verhoeven
Dutch director Paul Verhoeven's adrenalized, escapist, mind-bending version of Phillip K. Dick's VR allegory starred Arnold as Douglas Quaid, a futuristic construction worker dissatisfied with his ordinary life, and experiencing recurring dreams of living on Mars with a pretty brunette. He hired the Rekall travel agency to take a fantasy 'virtual' vacation (with memory implants) to the red planet. He was then faced with an existential identity crisis when he discovered forgotten memories - Was his alter-ego a double agent on Mars named Hauser or not? Was his whole life "just a dream"? The hyperactive action (on both Earth and the red planet of Mars) was non-stop and excessively-violent with a high body count, as Hauser/Quaid searched for the reason why he was being hunted. After learning that his beautiful but treacherous blonde wife Lori (Sharon Stone) was aligned with the enemy (led by the villainous Mars colony governor Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox)), he delivered a crowd-pleasing "Consider that a divorce" as he mercilessly shot her in the head. The spectacular special F/X included a giant alien artifact machine, a deformed terrorist Resistance revolutionary named Kuato, and a 3-breasted mutant bar prostitute.

Wild at Heart (1990), 126 minutes, D: David Lynch

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