Best Of The Nineties
Okay, so we're running just a tad late on this one, but I happened to remember the other day that there were two large and interesting Best Films Of The 90’s polls conducted at the end of that decade, one by Cinematheque Ontario and the other by Cinema Scope magazine, and neither is available on the Internet. This might be a way to put some of the poll results out there, within reach of future googlers of the world.
Cinematheque Ontario’s poll was a bit unusual in that the participants weren’t the general filmgoing public, journalists, or academics but instead film programmers, curators, and archivists worldwide. The top 40 films of the decade, in order of votes, were:
Dream Of Light (Erice); And Life Goes On (Kiarostami); Through The Olive Trees (Kiarostami); Drifting Clouds (Kaurismaki); Close-Up (Kiarostami); Breaking The Waves (von Trier); Sátántangó (Tarr); Flowers Of Shanghai (Hou); Taste Of Cherry (Kiarostami); Chungking Express (Wong); Hana-Bi (Kitano); The Thin Red Line (Malick); Histoire(s) Du Cinema (Godard); A Brighter Summer Day (Yang); A Moment Of Innocence (Makhmalbaf); Goodfellas (Scorsese); L’Eau Froide (Assayas); Mother And Son (Sokurov); Vive L’Amour (Tsai); Nouvelle Vague (Godard); Abraham’s Valley (Oliveira); Safe (Haynes); Dead Man (Jarmusch); The Sweet Hereafter (Egoyan); Unforgiven (Eastwood); Exotica (Egoyan); Sonatine (Kitano); Maborosi (Kore-eda); Naked (Leigh); La Vie De Jésus (Dumont); Fargo (Coens); Pulp Fiction (Tarantino); La Belle Noiseuse (Rivette); Van Gogh (Pialat); Three Colours: Red (Kieslowski); The Last Bolshevik (Marker); Dear Diary (Moretti); Crumb (Zwigoff); The Puppetmaster (Hou); Goodbye South Goodbye (Hou); Sicilia! (Straub/Huillet).
The Toronto-based film magazine Cinema Scope, in issue #2 (winter 2000), surveyed mostly journalists and programmers. The top 45 films in that poll were:
Breaking The Waves; Goodfellas; Chungking Express; Safe; Naked; Flowers Of Shanghai; Fargo; Hana-Bi; Pulp Fiction; Unforgiven; A Brighter Summer Day; Close-Up; Dead Man; L’Eau Froide; The Celebration (Vinterberg); The Thin Red Line; Underground (Kusturica); Taste Of Cherry; Three Colours: Red; Crumb; Mother And Son; The Puppetmaster; Through The Olive Trees; The Piano (Campion); Raise The Red Lantern (Yimou); Sátántangó; Dream Of Light; The Sweet Hereafter; Three Colours Trilogy; Crash (Cronenberg); Fallen Angels (Wong); L.A. Confidential (Hanson); Schindler’s List (Spielberg); Sonatine (Kitano); Vive L’Amour (Tsai); And Life Goes On; Hoop Dreams (James); Barton Fink (Coens); Drifting Clouds; Exotica; Goodbye South Goodbye; Groundhog Day (Ramis); Gummo (Korine); The Long Day Closes (Davies); Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino).
Here is a small sample of the poll participants and their top 10 choices:
Paul Arthur: The Age Of Innocence, And Life Goes On, Films of Robert Beavers, JLG/JLG, Lessons Of Darkness, My Own Private Idaho, New York Ghetto Fishmarket, Outer And Inner Space, Sátántangó, To Sleep With Anger.
Nicole Brenez: A Child’s Garden & The Serious Sea; Le Dernier Chaman; Green Snake; Hard Boiled, Ile De Beaute, Le Repas Des Guepes; Ma 6T Va Cracker, Made In Hong Kong, New Rose Hotel, Sombre, Starship Troopers.
Michel Ciment: Abraham’s Valley, Edward Scissorhands, Eyes Wide Shut, Flowers Of Shanghai, Miller’s Crossing, Smoking/No Smoking, Through The Olive Trees, Ulysses’ Gaze, Underground, Van Gogh.
Manohla Dargis: Beau Travail, Fireworks, Flowers Of Shanghai, The Portrait Of A Lady, My Sex Life, or How I Lost An Argument, I Am Cuba, Underground, Chungking Express, Sátántangó, Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf.
Steve Erickson: Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf, Ashes Of Time, Breaking The Waves, A Brighter Summer Day, L’Eau Froide, Exotica, Fast, Cheap & Out Of Control, Safe, Sátántangó, The Second Heimat.
Ed Halter: Austin Powers, Boogie Nights, Crumb, Fame Whore, Films of Martha Colburn, Happiness, Heavenly Creatures, Instrument, Showgirls, Velvet Goldmine.
J. Hoberman: Conspirators Of Pleasure, Crash, D’Est, Lessons Of Darkness, Fallen Angels, The Long Day Closes, The Puppetmaster, Sátántangó, Side/Walk/Shuttle, Tribulation 99.
Mike Hoolboom: 100 Videos, Alpsee, Films of Sadie Benning, Archeology Of Memory, B-Side, The Blood Records, Fate, Local Knowledge, Mother Dao, Sink Or Swim.
Alex Horwath: Crash, Flowers Of Shanghai, Gabbeh, Goodfellas, Fireworks, Idiots, Irma Vep, Jackie Brown, My Own Private Idaho, Nouvelle Vague.
Shelly Kraicer: Actress, Ashes Of Time, A Brighter Summer Day, A Chinese Odyssey I & II, Flowers Of Shanghai, In The Heat Of The Sun, The Puppetmaster, Raise The Red Lantern, Swordsman II, Vive L’Amour.
Andréa Picard: Flowers Of Shanghai, Beau Travail, L’Humanité, Sátántangó, L’Eau Froide, The Last Bolshevik, La Vie De Jésus, Mother And Son, Maborosi, Twilight.
James Quandt: Abraham’s Valley, Dream Of Light, Flowers Of Shanghai, Histoire(s) Du Cinéma, The Last Bolshevik, Nouvelle Vague, Sicilia!, Taste Of Cherry, Van Gogh, Vive L’Amour.
Jonathan Rosenbaum: Actress, A Brighter Summer Day, Dead Man, D’Est, Eyes Wide Shut, Inquietude, The Puppetmaster, Sátántangó, When It Rains (Burnett), The Wind Will Carry Us.
Paolo Cherchi Usai: Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf, Bad Boy Bubby, Breaking The Waves, Exotica, God’s Comedy, Raise The Red Lantern, Seven, Stairs I Geneva, Through The Olive Trees, Lo Zio De Brooklyn.
Now, I’m a bit ambivalent toward canon formation exercises. On the one hand, I eat up these lists like cake. I can spot many if not most of my favorite filmmakers and films of the 90’s here. I think almost all of the above films are well worth seeing; many of them are amazing films.
But the flip side of the creation of a canon is that it also represents one step in the direction of forgetting many worthy films. Often lost in the shuffle are at least three (non-mutually exclusive) kinds of films: (1) Certain genres, considered either ‘lightweight’ or ‘disreputable’; (2) Entire types of cinema, like avant-garde; and (3) ‘Imperfect’ films that are nevertheless well worth seeing.
So I’d like to ask you to chime in, if you like, with suggestions of 90’s films absent from the above lists that may or may not be among the ‘best’ of the 90’s, but are films, however lofty or humble, consecrated or degraded, that are worth seeing, worth not forgetting….
Perhaps I could kick things off by offering ten worthy 90’s teen films I cherish: (in no specific order) U.S. Go Home (Claire Denis); Clueless (Amy Heckerling); Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Martin Arnold); Fucking Åmål (aka Show Me Love, Lukas Moodysson); Dazed And Confused (Richard Linklater); Pump Up The Volume (Allan Moyle); Rushmore (Wes Anderson); The Doom Generation (Gregg Araki); Metropolitan (Whit Stillman); and Election (Alexander Payne).
Pic: Claire Denis's Beau Travail doesn't turn up on the two aggregate poll results above, probably because it was released late in 1999.