The Definitive Movies of 1995

screenshot from To Die For

screenshot from Sense and Sensibility

30. Sense and Sensibility
Directed by: Ang Lee

Ang Lee has gone in about eight different directions in terms of genre. His resume includes “The Ice Storm,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Hulk,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Life of Pi,” and this delightful Jane Austen adaptation, starring Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, and young Kate Winslet. “Sense and Sensibility” took home the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay for the story of the Dashwood family, a mother widowed and left in difficult circumstances after her husband has left his fortune to his first wife, instead of his current one. So Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones) and her daughters Fanny, Marianne, and Elinor (Harriet Walter, Winslet, Thompson) have to find a way to survive in a world ruled by men and the rules that seem to create obstacle after obstacle for them. Unfortunately, given the era, they are viewed as “unmarryable,” since they have no fortune and no prospects. Elinor is practical; Marianne is a hopeless romantic. The two begin to enter into attempted courtships; Elinor becomes attached to wealthy Edward (Grant), while Marianne begins to court a dashing young man named John Willoughby (Greg Wise), while kind Colonel Brandon (Rickman) looks on in hopes that she may some day see him through the same eyes. “Sense and Sensibility” is the definition of delightful. There’s nothing really to hate; it’s one of the best Austen adaptations to date, thanks to Lee’s light touch and the wonderful performances from the stellar cast.

screenshot from Safe

29. Safe
Directed by: Todd Haynes

Julianne Moore has been nominated for five Oscars now, but has never won. Todd Haynes is one of the more interesting filmmakers working today, getting his first attention after making a short film about the life of Karen Carpenter, which acted out in its entirety with dolls. The two came together for the first time in 1995’s “Safe,” a claustrophobic story about a seemingly normal middle class housewife and her sudden descent into health problems. Carol (Moore) has a relatively mundane life made up of aerobics, laundry, and gardening. She’s married with a stepson, but neither relationship is emotionally fulfilling and easy, at best. Unexpectedly, she begins going through strange symptoms which slowly begin to escalate. She becomes overexhausted, she starts to show signs of asthma, she suffers from sudden nose bleeds, vomits, and eventually even begins seizing. When she speaks to medical professionals, they only find a mild lactose intolerance, which she rarely drinks anyway and has never had issues with. Eventually, she determines that her reactions are being caused by common chemicals, like exhaust, cleaning products, and so on. Eventually, she discovers a compound that preaches new age style healing, which she considers relocating to, since it seems her newfound illness has become a burden on her family and friends. Moore is consistently great in anything, and this was the first film that really allowed her to start realizing her potential. She would re-team with Haynes again in 2002 with “Far from Heaven,” earning them both Oscar nominations. But this brilliantly realized “horror of the soul” is just a terrifying look at how psychological pain and sickness is only made worse by emotional sterility.

screenshot from Welcome to the Dollhouse

28. Welcome to the Dollhouse
Directed by: Todd Solondz

I changed schools the summer before 8th grade and I will tell you: middle schoolers/junior high kids are brutal. They are awful, awful human beings. “Welcome to the Dollhouse” tells the story of one such student, a 12-year-old seventh grader names Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo) who is constantly bullied at school. Her older brother Mark (Matthew Faber) is a nerdy high school who plays the clarinet in a garage band. Her younger sister Missy (Daria Kalinina) is pretty and spoiled. He mother (Angela Pietropinto) is overbearing and all but ignores Dawn. And Dawn’s life just gets worse and worse and worse. She is humiliated every day. She is threatened with rape by a school bully named Brandon (Brandon Sexton), and has only her effeminate friend Ralphy (Dimitri DeFresco) to confide in. She falls in love with the new kid in her brother’s band named Steve (Eric Mabius), only to be rejected by him. And the rest is just painful moment after painful moment. Todd Solondz is the modern master of the dark and twisted “un fairy tale.” Almost none of Solondz’s characters are likable. His writing tends to focus on magnified flaws, refusing to allow his characters to easily redeem themselves for any action. “Welcome to the Dollhouse” is an early offering in his career; he would eventually formalize a stronger style and method. But the film’s honest and insightful look at the misery of growing up is one of the least sugar-coated coming-of-age stories ever put on film.

screenshot from Outbreak

27. Outbreak
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen

Diseases are tough. Sixteen years before Steven Soderbergh killed off Gwenyth Paltrow in the first half hour of “Contagion” thanks to a mystery disease, Wolfgang Petersen unleashed the Motaba virus on the world in “Outbreak.” According to the film, the virus began in Zaire in the 1960’s, complete with a 100% mortality rate (it liquefies your organs…pretty cool). 27 years later, the disease pops up again, and a monkey stowaway hops aboard a ship and ends up in Cedar Creek, California, where people become infected. Colonel Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and his ex-wife Robby (Rene Russo) – a member of the Center for Disease Control, head out to California to find the monkey, whom they believe is the key to stopping the disease. In the end, Daniels finds information that could point back to the man who originally was thought to have stopped the virus, General Donald McClintock (Donald Sutherland), who may be concealing secrets from the President. It becomes a game against the clock, as Daniels and his team must find a way to stop McClintock from dropping a firebomb on Cedar Creek the way he did in Zaire 27 years ago. Not all of them were big names at the time, but in addition to Hoffman, Russo, and Sutherland, “Outbreak” also featured Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Patrick Dempsey. Looking back, it’s less than stellar. But within the laundry list of disaster films in the mid-90’s, “Outbreak” was actually one of the better ones.

screenshot from Crimson Tide

26. Crimson Tide
Directed by: Tony Scott

This title has a double meaning. In “Crimson Tide,” we are taken aboard the Alabama (see?), a nuclear sub led by Captain Ramsey (Gene Hackman) and a new executive officer, Commander Hunter (Denzel Washington), who Ramsey has given support to, despite his lack of experience. But, when the two disagree with how things are handled, it becomes a conflict in class, as Ramsey has little respect for Hunter, college-educated man, while he worked his way up from nothing. The sub is sent to the coast of eastern Russia to deal with a rebel force that has taken control of Russian subs. They are given orders to fire on the rebel forces if necessary to prevent them from launching stolen missiles. But, when communications break down, the decision on whether to attack or not leads to infighting, as Ramsey feels they should obey the original order, while Hunter wants to reconnect before making any further decisions. This leads to a possible mutiny aboard the ship, as men begin to gather, planning to overthrow Hunter, while other men plan to overthrow Ramsey. “Crimson Tide” is intense. Doesn’t hurt that you have Washington – a great actor who was building a solid resume up to that point – and Hackman, who is probably one of the greatest actors to ever live. Director Tony Scott has made some pretty good action films, between this one, “Enemy of the State,” and “Top Gun” (not for me, but still worth mentioning). He also managed to direct “True Romance,” which was a little out of genre for him, but it probably his best film, for my money. But of all the high octane, mindless action films of the mid-90’s, “Crimson Tide” stands a step above.

screenshot from The Basketball Diaries

25. The Basketball Diaries
Directed by: Scott Kalvert

Leonardo DiCaprio was a child star most known for a stint on TV’s “Growing Pains.” In 1993, he earned an Oscar nomination for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” further cementing his budding stardom. He began 1995 in Sam Raimi’s “The Quick and the Dead,” which Sony Pictures was skeptical about, resulting in co-star Sharon Stone paying his salary. But it was DiCaprio’s last film of 1995 that began to show the range he was building, even at such a young age. “The Basketball Diaries” is an adaptation of poet Jim Carroll’s memoir about his descent into drug addiction as a young man. Jim grows up as a touted high school basketball star. His world centers around the sport and he sees the world through that activity. But, the world starts to collapse around him slowly, when his friend begins to suffer from Leukemia, a coach begins to take advantage of some of the players, and his need for cocaine and heroin tales him to a point where he starts to prostitute himself just to find money to pa for his habit. Also starring Lorraine Bracco has Mrs. Carroll and Mark Wahlberg as classmate and friend Mickey. The film itself only received tepid reviews, losing some focus at times and not feeling entirely genuine throughout. But, in 1999, it was brought back into the spotlight as it was brought into evidence in the courtroom in multiple school shootings (including Columbine) as a cause of the attacks, citing a fantasy sequence in the film. While the film is nowhere near perfect, it was a springboard for DiCaprio and Wahlberg into the stratosphere of mainstream Hollywood acting.

screenshot from To Die For

24. To Die For
Directed by: Gus Van Sant

My parents have told me that they have only walked out in the middle of two movies: 1999’s “The 13th Warrior” and Gus Van Sant’s “To Die For.” Mind you, this just adds heavy fuel to the fire that I have very different film tastes than my mother, who still holds a grudge against me because I think “A Clockwork Orange” is a masterpiece. Van Sant may have very well pulled out the best performance of Nicole Kidman’s career with his 1995 comedy/drama centering on Kidman’s character, Suzanne Stone, a career-hungry young woman who dreams of becoming a famous news anchor. Her plot begins when she marries Larry (Matt Dillon), who wealthy family provides her security. She begins a program at a local high school called “Teens Speak Out,” where, unhappy with her marriage, she begins to seduce a young man named Jimmy (Joaquin Phoenix) and talks him and his friends (Casey Affleck, Alison Folland) into killing Larry. The film is made in a mockumentary style, which gives it a sort of satirical feel. Based on the book by Joyce Maynard, the film opened to critical acclaim, thanks to Kidman’s portrayal of a woman who displayed hints of antisocial personality disorder. Regardless, “To Die For” has a cameo from David Cronenberg and has a screenplay by Buck Henry, who wrote, among other things, “The Day of the Dolphin,” about a man who unwittingly trained a dolphin to kill the President of the United States.

screenshot from Bad Boys

23. Bad Boys
Directed by: Michael Bay

I haven’t always hated Michael Bay. There was a time that he still blew the bank on special effects, but didn’t seem to take himself too seriously. After years of making music videos and advertisements, Bay’s first foray into motion pictures came in 1995, when he teamed up with comedian Martin Lawrence and the man who was slowly becoming the biggest movie star in the world. “Bad Boys” is a variation on the good cop/bad cop team-up theme, with Lawrence portraying straight-edged Marcus and Smith playing loose cannon Mike. They work for the Miami Police Department, and find themselves as protectors of a murder witness, while simultaneously tracking down heroin stolen from the precinct. The catch: in order to do this, they must pretend to be each other. It’s a Michael Bay film. Plot doesn’t matter so much. But, at least in “Bad Boys,” Bay had yet to lose sight of how much better a movie with special effects could be if you get quality actors and actually put together some semblance of a story. Will Smith was coming off of 1994’s “Independence Day” and “Bad Boys” sealed his place at the top of the action-adventure genre through the rest of the 90’s and into the new millennium.

screenshot from Ghost in the Shell

22. Ghost in the Shell
Directed by: Mamoru Oshii

In the vain of “Akira,” Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell” was one of the high points of the late 80’s/early 90’s Western anime obsession. Taking place in 2029 New Port City, the film follows a female cyborg named Motoko Kusanagi as she tracks and finds her suspect, a ghost hacker named the Puppet Master. After she hunts him down with her team, she finds herself pulled into series of political cover-ups, as she searches for the identity and goals of the Puppet Master, as well as his end game. Based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow, “Ghost in the Shell” deals with numerous themes of technology, but also features themes of gender identity and individuality within that world of technology. The film was followed by a sequel; Oshii also decided to re-release the film in 2008, dubbing it “Ghost in the Shell 2.0,” and featured updated graphics and audio. Still, the film was a landmark for computer animation. America finally got their dirty hands on it, planning to release a live action version of the film in 2017, with Scarlett Johansson as the lead cyborg. Great casting – she looks Japanese.

screenshot from Batman Forever

21. Batman Forever
Directed by: Joel Schumacher

Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “Batman Returns” took the comic book icon in a very different direction than the original Adam West television show and movie (an even further departure than Christopher Nolan’s shift from Burton’s). But, after the second film, Burton walked away to do other projects and left it in the hands of who we all thought would be a capable director. Joel Schumacher made “The Lost Boys.” He made “Flatliners.” He made “Falling Down.” Who could’ve known he’d be the first nail in what looked like the Batman mythology’s coffin. “Batman Forever” took the marginally realistic world of the Burton films and shot it in the face, electing to camp up Gotham City to the point of disillusionment. With Val Kilmer now in the role of Bruce Wayne, Schumacher’s film pours on the stars and the characters. This includes weird bit parts for Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar, bringing Chris O’Donnell on to portray Robin, and doubling down on the villains: Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face and Jim Carrey as The Riddler. Oh, and Nicole Kidman as the love interest, Dr. Chase Meridian. In “Batman Forever,” Gotham City is a veritable fun house of black and neon contrast, sacrificing story for style. It’s nowhere near as bad as “Batman & Robin,” but is still a giant step in the wrong direction. But, “Kiss from a Rose,” man. Almost saves the whole thing.

–Joshua Gaul

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