For the past two weeks, we’ve been looking back at the ’90s, with our year-by-year rundown of the decade’s best movies. Right now, we’re hurtling toward the millennium and are up to 1998 (you can check out 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 199419951996 and 1997 at your leisure), the year in which not one but two meteorites threatened to wipe out humanity but obliterated the box office instead (“Armageddon” and “Deep Impact” were the number 1 and number 6 highest-grossing films that year).

Shakespeare In Love” snaffled Best Picture to the eternal chagrin of some of the film world’s sniffier commentators, and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett welcomed their son Jaden into the world in July, which makes him almost certainly the reincarnation of Frank Sinatra, who died two months prior. Yes, 1998 was a spunky time at the movies, which is appropriate for a year when the news was dominated by the stains on Monica Lewinsky’s clothing, and in which the FDA finally approved Viagra. 1998 gave America its boner back — here are the 10 films that most did it for us.

Saving Private Ryan10. “Saving Private Ryan”
Steven Spielberg‘s Best Director-winning film unfolds on such a grand scale that its flaws, such as a slackening of pace after the first act, some rather simplistic characterizations and those semi-infuriating flash-forward bookends, feel similarly magnified. But one’s recall of those disappointments tends to be obliterated by the almost palpable sense-memory of that opening act, in particular the unforgettable first 20 minutes or so in which the landing on Omaha Beach is summoned with electrifying, terrifying immediacy. It’s a single scene that merits the film’s place here all by itself, and as for the throttling down that happens after? Perhaps Spielberg was simply aware that we’d need the entire rest of the film to recover. Also, amid the ensemble, Barry Pepper’s bible-quoting sniper steals most of his scenes, while Tom Hanks gives one of his most memorable turns as the good Captain, broken down and morally exhausted by the exigencies of war. His performance, in fact, is so nuanced in its portrayal of the gradual erosion of certainty and the ethical ambiguity that life on the frontlines dictates, that it almost compensates for the unsubtle flag-waving elsewhere. Ultimately, whatever one’s hesitation, the eminently compelling filmmaking craft on display here shows a great American showman at the height of his powers.

The Truman Show9. “The Truman Show”
There was a time, not so long ago, when Peter Weir‘s terrifically inventive and offbeat film, based on a tight, witty script by Andrew Niccol, felt like science fiction. But like half of Philip K. Dick and a whole host of “Twilight Zone” episodes, its high-concept premise now seems uncomfortably close to the reality of our infinitesimally surveilled lives and our culture’s generalized obsession with celebrity and TV-as-“reality.” So perhaps even more than its topicality, we can now appreciate the film for its high-wire, high-risk balancing act: it walks a delicate tightrope of tone between the satirical and the sweet-natured, the indignant and the goofball, but it never wavers. A cunning mix of “Network” and “It’s A Wonderful Life,” giving us the first glimpse of a Jim Carrey who could be a legitimate leading man and not just a rubber-faced physical comedian, “The Truman Show” is most impressive for never selling out the darker aspects of its allegorical story, while keeping the register buoyant, afloat on whimsical and breezy currents — right until it bumps into the edge of the world and Truman gets to make one of the most heart-stirring and uplifting escapes since “The Shawshank Redemption.”

He Got Game8. “He Got Game”
Spike Lee has a way with Denzel Washington: in each of their four collaborations to date, Lee has got something special from the megastar — perhaps because he has the confidence to cast Washington in the kind of roles he rarely takes elsewhere, and Washington has enough trust in Lee to take them. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in “He Got Game,” which is rarely counted among the top-tier Spike Lee films (which is wrong anyway), and which also features arguably Washington’s most atypical performance, and one of his very best. As the deadbeat dad temporarily released from prison on condition he get his basketball-star son (a convincing turn from NBA player Ray Allen) to sign with the warden’s alma mater, there are no action-movie histrionics or broad, simplistic hero arcs here. Washington, who still exudes that innately likable charisma, doesn’t hold back in mining his character’s darker side: we often see him play men who are at war with their own worse nature, and here that battle rages as he juggles a lifetime of selfishness against the chance to reconnect with his children. This time, however, his worse nature often wins, yielding one of Washington’s most multifaceted and nuanced turns, and one of Lee’s most humane and emotionally honest films.

The Big Lebowski7. “The Big Lebowski”
We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t with the cultural institution that now is the Coen Brothers‘ “The Big Lebowski”: critics of the film’s looseness, its culty unevenness (which hampered its reception on release) will wonder why it’s here at all, while its much more vociferous contingent of diehard fans will find it unforgivable that it’s not higher. So let’s state our case for the record: while not, in fact, our favorite Coens film, “The Big Lebowski” has enough genuinely inspired sequences and homages that even if we weren’t afraid of the the death threats (or at least the rug-napping threats) we’d get if we left it off, we’d include it. Like any film that has spawned a cult so big it can presumably at this stage be termed a religion, it’s endlessly quotable, but above the epithets, this is maybe the most accomplished seven-car genre pile-up of the modern era. The Coens take elements of detective noir, stoner movie, melodrama, western and Busby Berkeley musical, liberally sprinkle some genial profanity (its 292 “fuck”s make it more foulmouthed than “Scarface“) and populate it with an ensemble of the most eccentric and colorful characters in the Coensian pantheon, most importantly Jeff Bridges‘ indelible, cardigan-sporting, White Russian-swilling, ever-abiding Dude.

Out Of Sight6. “Out Of Sight”
Steven Soderbergh, for a good portion of his career, was one of the foremost proponents of the “one for them and one for me” ethos whereby he’d alternate studio commissions with smaller, more personal projects. But what makes him great is just how adept he was at bringing something of the one-for-me passion and eccentricity to the ones-for-them. This is particularly well exemplified by “Out Of Sight,” his Elmore Leonard adaptation, which, sandwiched between “Schizopolis“/a Spalding Gray documentary and 1999’s terrifically lean “The Limey,” and budgeted at a relatively high (for Soderbergh) $50m by Universal, should really have been a paycheck gig. Actually, it’s a sultry, sexy delight, as a pre-megastardom George Clooney and a pre-never-making-another-good-movie Jennifer Lopez spark and fizz off each other through one of Leonard’s labyrinthine plots. Also featuring stellar support from Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Isaiah Washington, Steve Zahn, Catherine Keener, Dennis Farina, Ving Rhames and Luis Guzmán, as well as an uncredited turn by Michael Keaton reprising his “Jackie Brown” role, “Out of Sight” might not have broken the box office when it opened, but it was built to last and all these years later, it’s still a sly, smoldering pleasure.

  • Sergei

    I’m not really a fan of Bennett Miller’s sedated style in his fictional films but it might be because The Cruise is so vivid as a documentary. Where did that Miller go? One of my favorite NYC films. Speed Levitch was definitely worth making a film about.

  • Ben Corber

    Wow, you guys missed the mark with this one. Saving Private Ryan #10 and Thin Red Line #1, should have been reversed. American History X should have been on this list too. What About Dark City? Fear and Loathing although mentioned is not a film on everyone’s list but, should be recognized. Buffalo 66″ and The Celebration do not deserve to be on this list.

    • MarkoP

      You obviously must be new to this site.

      • Ben Corber

        why?

        • Mountain Trails

          It’s not really a mainstream movie site. It peeled off of IndieWire. So Thin Red Line is directed by Terence Malick who has indie cred while Spielberg is probably a bit too mainstream to have the # 1 spot.

          • Ben Corber

            I’m not here to get into a trolling fiasco. But I saw Saving Private Ryan with my grandfather who died the following year. He was a veteran, who served during the Normandy invasion. He was crying throughout the film, saying it was the most realistic film about WW2 he had ever seen. I’m not against Malick, but I feel that Saving Private Ryan is a much more historically/realistic film. And just because the name Spielberg is attached to a film, does not make it any lesser a film. See Schindler’s List, Munich, and Lincoln. Just because a director made some of the biggest blockbusters of our time, does not mean he that he has not made art.

          • Mountain Trails

            Thanks for explaining the experience you had. I’m not saying I agree with Malick over Spielberg, I’m just explaining why that is the case here – as I see it. As you can see from some rather small foreign films make the list rather than those better known films we would normally see.

          • THX11384EB

            ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is pretty great. But ‘The Thin Red Line’ is a masterpiece.

          • my favorite war films
            ———————————–
            1 cross of iron
            2 lebanon
            3 hurt locker
            4 das boot
            5 hacksaw ridge

          • Malick sent Spielberg a japanese flag as a good luck with your war film gift

            popcorn salesman Spielberg sent Malick a crew jacket

  • lostjack

    My faves from ’98:

    AFFLICTION
    A BUG’S LIFE
    BULWORTH
    ENEMY OF THE STATE
    GREAT EXPECTATIONS
    HE GOT GAME
    HIGH ART
    MEET JOE BLACK
    ONE TRUE THING
    OUT OF SIGHT
    PLEASANTVILLE
    PRIMARY COLORS
    RETURN TO PARADISE
    RONIN
    ROUNDERS
    RUSHMORE
    SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
    SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
    A SIMPLE PLAN
    SLAM
    THE SPANISH PRISONER
    THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY
    THE THIN RED LINE
    THE TRUMAN SHOW
    TWO GIRLS AND A GUY
    WITHOUT LIMITS
    YOUR FRIEND AND NEIGHBORS
    YOU’VE GOT MAIL
    ZERO EFFECT

    • when vince vaughan was cast in TD season 2 i said he is a fine dramatic actor.. just look at returnToParadise

  • Dolev Amitai

    Eternity and a Day is a must on such a list. Also Solondz’s Happiness. I like He Got Game, but it could have been dropped.

  • Ben Corber

    Let me Make suggestions for your 1999 picks:
    – Fight Club
    – American Beauty
    – Toy Story 2
    – The Matrix
    – Eyes Wide Shut
    – South Park – Bigger, Longer, Uncut
    – Magnolia
    – Being John Malkovich
    – Summer of Sam
    – Election
    – Maybe the Sixth Sense

  • Thor2013

    1. Pecker (dir. John Waters)
    2. Rushmore (dir. Wes Anderson)
    3. The Last Days of Disco (dir. Whit Stillman)
    4. Love & Pop (dir. Hideaki Anno)
    5. Ringu (dir. Hideo Nakata)
    6. Happiness (dir. Todd Solondz)
    7. The Celebration (dir. Thomas Vinterberg)
    8. April Story (dir. Shunji Iwai)
    9. Killer (dir. Darezhan Omirbayev)
    10. Autumn Tale (dir. Eric Rohmer)

  • jmbrr

    1.Saving Private Ryan
    2.Jackie Chan’s Who Am I?
    3.American History X
    4.The Thin Red Line
    5.The Truman Show
    6.A Bug’s Life
    7.The Negotiator
    8.Enemy of the State
    9.There’s Something About Mary
    10.Dark City

    Honorable mentions would be Pi, Snake Eyes, Blade, Fallen,Deep Impact and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

  • Mountain Trails

    It’s cool to see The Apple make the main list. Few have seen that.

    10 more to consider. A few were really critical favorites at the time.

    The Flowers of Shangai [Hsiao-hsien]
    Central Station [Salles]
    Late August, Early September [Assayas]
    Croupier [Hodges]
    Autumn Tale [Rohmer]
    Earth [Mehta]
    Cabaret Balkan [Paskaljević]
    Elizabeth [Kapur]
    Lovers of the Arctic Circle [Médem]
    The Inheritors [Ruzowitzky]

  • Silga

    1. The Big Lebowski
    2. The Thin Red Line
    3. The Last Days of Disco
    4. Lovers of the Arctic Circle
    5. The Truman Show
    6. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
    7. Belly
    8. Out of Sight
    9. Croupier
    10. Rushmore
    11. The Dinner Game
    12. Thursday
    13. American History X
    14. Fallen
    15. A Civil Action
    16. U.S. Marshals
    17. A Simple Plan
    18. Enemy of the State
    19. Zero Effect
    20. There’s Something About Mary

  • Wes Anderson

    1. Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick)
    2. Rushmore (Wes Anderson)
    3. Celebration (Thomas Vinterberg)
    4. Big Lebowski (Coen Bros)
    5. Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao Hsien)
    6. After Life (Hirokazu Koreeda)
    7. Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer)
    8. Truman Show (Peter Weir)
    9. Gods and Monsters (Bill Condon)
    10. Buffalo ’66 (Vincent Gallo)

  • Joey Lee

    Pleasantville

    • Paul Walker best performances RIP

      1 Hours
      2 Pleasantville
      3 Brick Mansions
      4 The Fast And The Furious
      5 The Skulls

  • David Hillier’s suitcase

    No mention for Dark City?

  • jh

    “But what those spirited defenses tend to gloss over is the value of a dramatic setting or storyline, to give shape and purpose to his more diaphanous tendencies.”

    Excellently put.

  • THX11384EB

    ‘The Thin Red Line’ really is incredible. I’m stunned every time I see it.

  • Alex Withrow

    I’m having a lot of fun reading these ’90s list of yours, but wow, you all nailed it by including He Got Game here. One of my favorite films of all time. Wish it was discussed far more. Thanks for including it.

  • 1 Affliction
    2 He Got Game
    3 Bulworth
    4 Gods And Monsters
    5 A Simple Plan
    6 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
    7 The Odd Couple 2
    8 Twilight
    9 Hard Rain
    10 The Thin Red Line https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bRJ0yyVb_o
    11 insomnia
    12 Snake Eyes
    13 A Perfect Murder
    14 Ronin
    15 Pleasantville
    16 Very Bad Things
    17 Enemy Of The State
    18 Another Day in Paradise
    19 Jack Frost
    20 The Hi-Lo Country