The Best Movies of the 1990s Part 2
My Subjective List of the Best Films of 1991
1991 saw a massive artistic shift in pop culture. It was the year that grunge rock found commercial success due to releases such as Nirvana’s landmark album Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, and Stone Temple Pilots’ Core. The success of these bands boosted the popularity of alternative rock and made grunge the most popular form of rock music at the time while sending fashion into a tailspin. Roseanne finally overtook Cheers as the number one sitcom on television and the long-running prime time soap opera Dallas came to an end after fourteen seasons. 1991 also marked the start of the 16-bit era when Nintendo released the Super NES, and SEGA released Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis. It was a time when kids lined up at arcades to play Street Fighter II and the year the first web site was made as the World Wide Web became a publicly available service. Adam Sandler became a featured player on Saturday Night Live; Johnny Carson announced he would retire from the Tonight Show; Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won their second NBA championship, and Magic Johnson retired after revealing that he had tested positive for HIV.
1991 was also a great year for movies. James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day topped the box office and it was the first time a horror film (Silence of the Lambs) swept the Oscars. Joel and Ethan Coen jumped into the scene winning the Palme d’Or for Barton Fink and Todd Haynes won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for his feature directorial debut, Poison— a movie which is now regarded as a seminal work of New Queer Cinema.
1991 was the year that John Singleton took us deep into the dangerous streets of the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles, while over on the east coast, Mario Van Peebles showed us how two unorthodox police officers brought down a drug gang at the height of New York City’s crack cocaine epidemic. Meanwhile, Keanu Reeves starred in his first action film, David Cronenberg had audiences scratching their heads over The Naked Lunch, and plenty of international filmmakers such as Lars Von Trier and Edward Yang began finding success stateside.
1991 was indeed a great year for cinema and after careful consideration, I’ve whipped up a list of the 30 best movies released that year.
A few quick notes before moving ahead:
As with all lists, the choices here are obviously subjective.
Normally, in the past, I would write one capsule review for each film but since I plan on releasing a list for every other year in the decade, I’ve instead decided to simply include one screenshot along with the official plot synopsis courtesy of IMDB.com. Sorry guys, but these lists are time-consuming, and I’ve quickly come to learn that most people don’t bother reading every capsule review either way— so why bother?
That out of the way, here are the 30 best movies of 1991, each represented by one perfect screenshot. You can find my list of the best films of 1990 here.
30 Perfect Screenshots from the Best Movies of 1991
30. Straight Out of Brooklyn
Director: Matty Rich
A young man living in poverty makes a plan to rob a drug dealer and change the life of his family.
29. The People Under the Stairs
Director: Wes Craven
In every neighborhood there is one house that adults whisper about and children cross the street to avoid.
Two adults and a juvenile break into a house occupied by a brother and sister and their stolen children. There, they must fight for their lives.
28. New Jack City
Director: Mario Van Peebles
It was a time that there was a new gangster in………
A crime lord ascends to power and becomes megalomaniacal while a maverick police detective vows to stop him.
27. Thelma & Louise
Director: Ridley Scott
Somebody said get a life… so they did.
Two best friends set out on an adventure, but it soon turns around to a terrifying escape from being hunted by the police, as these two girls escape for the crimes they committed.
26. Cape Fear
Director: Martin Scorsese
There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there in the light. Except fear.
A convicted rapist, released from prison after serving a fourteen-year sentence, stalks the family of the lawyer who originally defended him.
25. The Rapture
Director: Michael Tolkin
One of the strangest little films of 1991.
A telephone operator living an empty, amoral life finds God and loses him again.
24. Riki-Oh: The story of Ricky
Director: Ngai Choi Lam
The Greatest Hong Kong Martial Arts Action Revenge Gore-Soaked Prison Breakout Love Story
A young man with superhuman strength is incarcerated at a prison run by corrupt officials and seeks to use his martial arts to clean up the system.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
To solve a mystery he will enter a nightmare.
Kafka works during the day at an insurance company, where events lead him to discover a mysterious underground society with strange suppressive goals.
22. Shadows and Fog
Director: Woody Allen
With a serial strangler on the loose, a bookkeeper wanders around town searching for the vigilante group intent on catching the killer.
21. Once Upon a Time in China
Director: Hark Tsui
Never was a Hero needed more…
Late 1800s Foshan, Guangdong: Wong Fei Hung/Jet Li trains men in martial arts to help defend against foreign powers already holding Hong Kong and Macau. He looks after cute 13th Aunt, who’s just returned from England. Lots of fight scenes.
20. Once A Thief
Director: John Woo
They only stop to reload.
A romantic and action packed story of three best friends, a group of high end art thieves, who come into trouble when a love-triangle forms between them.
19. Van Gogh
Director: Maurice Pialat
The final sixty-seven days of Van Gogh’s life are examined.
18. The Lovers on the Bridge
Director: Leos Carax
Romance… In a most unlikely place.
Alex, who’s homeless and addicted to alcohol, and Michèle, who’s losing her sight, form a relationship while sleeping rough on Paris’s Pont-Neuf bridge.
17. Jungle Fever
Director: Spike Lee
Friends and family of a married black architect react in different ways to his affair with an Italian secretary.
16. The Commitments
Director: Alan Parker
They Had Absolutely Nothing. But They Were Willing To Risk It All.
When Jimmy Rabbitte wants to start a band, he has open auditions at his house.
15. Beauty and the Beast
Directors: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
The most beautiful love story ever told.
A prince cursed to spend his days as a hideous monster sets out to regain his humanity by earning a young woman’s love.
14. Point Break
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
27 banks in three years. Anything to catch the perfect wave!
An F.B.I. Agent goes undercover to catch a gang of surfers who may be bank robbers.
13. Center Stage
Director: Stanley Kwan
Biopic of 1930’s Chinese actress Ruan Ling Yu.
12. The Fisher King
Director: Terry Gilliam
A good, old-fashioned story of guilt, poverty, love, madness and free video club membership.
A former radio DJ, suicidally despondent because of a terrible mistake he made, finds redemption in helping a deranged homeless man who was an unwitting victim of that mistake
11. La double vie de Véronique
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Two parallel stories about two identical women; one living in Poland, the other in France. They don’t know each other, but their lives are nevertheless profoundly connected.
Director: Oliver Stone
The Story That Won’t Go Away
New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison discovers there’s more to the Kennedy assassination than the official story.
Directors: Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet
A futuristic comic feast
Post-apocalyptic surrealist black comedy about the landlord of an apartment building who occasionally prepares a delicacy for his odd tenants.
8. The Naked Lunch
Director: David Cronenberg
Exterminate all rational thought.
After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally kills his wife, and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in a port town in North Africa.
7. Boyz n the Hood
Director: John Singleton
Once upon a time in South Central L.A. … It ain’t no fairy tale.
Follows the lives of three young males living in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles, dissecting questions of race, relationships, violence, and future prospects.
Director: Lars Von Trier
Just after W.W.II, an American takes a railway job in Germany, but finds his position politically sensitive with various people trying to use him.
5. Barton Fink
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Between Heaven and Hell There’s Always Hollywood!
A renowned New York playwright is enticed to California to write for the movies and discovers the hellish truth of Hollywood.
4. A Brighter Summer Day
Director: Edward Yang
Based on a true story, primarily on a conflict between two youth gangs, a 14-year-old boy’s girlfriend conflicts with the head of one gang for an unclear reason, until finally the conflict comes to a violent climax.
3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Director: James Cameron
Same Make. Same Model. New Mission.
A cyborg, identical to the one who failed to kill Sarah Connor, must now protect her teenage son, John Connor, from a more advanced and powerful cyborg.
2. My Own Private Idaho
Director: Gus Van Sant
Some people take your heart, others take your shoes, and still others take you home.
Two best friends living on the streets of Portland as hustlers embark on a journey of self discovery and find their relationship stumbling along the way.
1. The Silence of the Lambs
Director: Jonathan Demme
To enter the mind of a killer she must challenge the mind of a madman.
A young F.B.I. cadet must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims.
This article is part of an ongoing series. The other entries are coming later this week.