This week sees the release of “Ghost In The Shell,” but you could be forgiven for mistaking it for something that came out twenty years ago. It comes from a British commercials director, has a William Gibson cyberpunk aesthetic, features among its cast Takeshi Kitano and the break-out star of “Three Colors Blue,” Juliette Binoche, and has little-to-no sensitivity towards the debate over cultural appropriation. For god’s sake, it has both Michael Wincott and Tricky in its cast: if we didn’t know better, we’d assume that it had been sitting in a vault for two decades after it was originally scheduled to open opposite “Johnny Mnemonic.”
Of course, the film does have an excuse for being more 90s than “Empire Records” — it’s a remake of a beloved 1995 anime film of the same name. As such, it’s even more 90s-tastic than other recent pics like “Beauty and The Beast” and “Power Rangers,” and the perfect movie to take us into the second week of our marathon appreciation of the best films of each year of the decade. Indeed, we pick up in 1995, the year that the original “Ghost In The Shell” opened.
In terms of blockbusters, the year saw Pixar rise to prominence with Woody & Buzz, threequels from “Die Hard” and “Batman” franchises bring in huge crowds, and 007 return with “GoldenEye,” but you won’t find any of those movies on our list below. Take a look at our ten faves, and argue for your own favorites in the comments section.
Upset? Outraged? Can’t wait for more? You can catch up on 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994 from last week, and can always visit our 2000s series while you wait for more: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
10. “Welcome To The Dollhouse”
It’s perhaps talked about less today than a “Reservoir Dogs” or a “True Romance,” but “Welcome To The Dollhouse” was undoubtedly one of the most influential films of this period. Not just a movie like “Ghost World” or even “Mean Girls,” which drew more direct inspiration, but by birthing “Freaks & Geeks” (greenlit on the promise that it would be a TV version of ‘Dollhouse’), and in turn creating the careers of Judd Apatow, Paul Feig, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini et al. ‘Dollhouse’ and its creator Todd Solondz are obviously a very different proposition: an acerbically, sharply funny piece of teen-movie outsider art, like if John Hughes and Ralph Bakshi had a baby together and then neglected it in favor of its siblings. Dawn (played by Heather Matarazzo) is a genuinely iconic heroine, one who gets to experience a side of pre-teen life closer, let’s face to it, to ours than most high-school movies, and the film’s unsparing wit and honesty means it hasn’t aged a day. Indeed, it might still be Solondz’s finest hour.
9. “12 Monkeys”
Remakes, as we all know, are Bad Things, and the idea of Chris Marker’s wonderful experimental sci-fi short “La Jetee” being turned into a Bruce Willis vehicle for a major studio sounds like a Double Bad Thing. But “12 Monkeys,” that remake in question, is very firmly a Good Thing, taking the heady ideas of Marker’s film, bringing them into a mainstream(ish) thriller and yet holding onto a sense of weirdness and experimentation. Of course, it wasn’t all that surprising: with an in-his-prime Terry Gilliam directing and a script by David Peoples (“Blade Runner”) and his wife Janet, it had some serious sci-fi bona fides to it. Willis, in an atypical and rather wonderful turn, plays a convict in the year 2035 sent back in time in order to try and stop a virus that devastated humanity being unleashed, only to end up in an insane asylum with a doctor (Madeleine Stowe) and a disturbed, fanatical patient (Brad Pitt, who picked up his first Oscar nod for the turn here). It’s a real oddity in many respects, but a wonderful one: Gilliam truly successfully playing within the studio system, a sci-fi thriller without the action sequences that would be forced on it now, a genuinely tragic love story, a plot that, if you didn’t know “La Jetee,” might blow your mind a little bit by the end. Wish that we had more mainstream movies like it today.
8. “La Ceremonie”
Some of the French New Wavers burnt bright and burnt fast, like Truffaut, who died at just 52. But Claude Chabrol, true to his work as the master of slow-burning suspense, turned out terrific work well into the 21st century, and maybe the director’s finest late-period film is this adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s novel “A Judgment Of Stone,” a book that has one of the most famous opening lines in crime fiction: “Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.” Here, the central figure is Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire), an illiterate young woman who takes the job as the maid to a bourgeois family in Brittany (Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Virginie Ledoyen, Valentine Merlet), befriending a similarly antisocial neighbor and rival to the family (Chabrol’s late muse Isabelle Huppert, who shared Best Actress at Venice with Bonnaire) with ultimately murderous consequences. The craft and quizzical distance that exemplifies the best of Chabrol’s work is present and correct here, a fascinating picture of female friendship and class in contemporary France that at once surprises you with its bloody conclusion, and feels like it could never have ended any other way.
7. “The Usual Suspects”
Like “Planet Of The Apes” and “Citizen Kane” before it, “The Usual Suspects” has become crystallized in pop culture — almost immediately was, in fact — by its shock ending, the twist revelation of who Keyser Soze turned out to be, a moment that made Kevin Spacey a movie star (and won him an Oscar), and gave director Bryan Singer a career in blockbusters going forward. And yes, that twist is brilliant (we named it as the best ever earlier this year), but it’s only the cherry on top of the film’s many, many other pleasures. Derived from a funnier-than-you-remember original screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, it follows the aftermath of a massacre on a boat in the San Pedro Bay, and the testimony given by the survivor, cerebral palsy sufferer Verbal Kint (Spacey) to customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri), who’s determined to pin the crime, and the identity of legendary boogeyman Keyser Soze, on his old nemesis Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne). The film was lumped in with Tarantino’s output, but it feels quite different in tone, not quite classic noir, but close to a 70s great like “The Friends Of Eddie Coyle” in some respects, though cleverer and tricksier. Directed with muscularity and flair by Singer, and with the cast doing stellar work to a man, it’s a crime classic beyond that doozy of an ending.
6. “The White Balloon”
It’s somewhat heartbreaking to think about the two filmmakers behind “The White Balloon” today — co-writer Abbas Kiarostami passed away last year, while director Jafar Panahi remains under house arrest and with a 20-year-ban from making movies by the Iranian government (not that it’s stopped him, with three films coming since, including the Golden Bear-winning “Taxi”). It’s odd to think that such a charming, beautiful, subtle film could have come from such a supposed firebrand, but the quality of the work undoubtedly stands as a monument despite the attempted repression of the man behind it. Nodding to neo-realist film (and specifically its near-namesake “The Red Balloon”), it tells the story of young Razieh (Aida Mohammadkhani), who heads out on her first journey through Tehran on her own, in order to buy a goldfish with a 500 toman note that they can’t quite keep hold of. The winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes that year, it’s an adventure in the truest sense of the word, one with a visceral take on a deeply absorbing world that makes you feel like you’ve been there with Razieh for every step of her journey. The freedom it encapsulates just feels doubly heartbreaking now knowing that Panahi’s has been limited for so long.