Monday, March 19, 2012

25 film gems of the 1990s: a guest post by brian saur

I'm so honored to post this list of underrated 90s flicks from the talented Brian Saur of Rupert Pupkin Speaks!

The 90s was a very fertile and formative period for me as far as movie watching goes. I was working in a video store through nearly the whole decade so I was hyper aware of a lot of the mainstream releases as they hit VHS. I also found myself gravitating towards lots of smaller films, many of which don't get nearly the amount of love and attention I think they deserve. Sure, I am a huge fan of Bottle Rocket, Ed Wood, Joe Versus the Volcano, The Fisher King, Slacker and Buffalo '66, but I feel like folks still talk about them and love them a great deal. Even a film like Joe Dante's Matinee seems to get talked about more than I'd expect (and I love that one too). As with any decade though, many films slip through the cracks. The 90s was an odd time because the end of the decade saw the decline of VHS to pretty much nothing. Many films weren't always deemed important enough to find their way to DVD (for a while at least). Below find my top 25 of these under-appreciated movies.

1. Kicking and Screaming (1995, Noah Baumbach)

I remember having to rent this from a competing video store and not the one I worked at. We didn't get it for some reason. Myself and my roommates at the time watched the movie like 4 or 5 times in the short few days I had it rented out. It was just so perfect for me at the time. I was almost finished with college and trying to figure out where to go from there. The film really captures a neat sort of "hanging out" post-college period quite well and I still quote it to this day. Hilarious. My introduction to Noah Baumbach who I was and instant fan of and would follow from that point on with much anticipation for each new film he was a part of.

2. Zero Effect (1998, Jake Kasdan)

I remember seeing one TV spot for this back when it briefly hit theaters and being intrigued by it. Wouldn't get a chance to finally view it until the VHS release, but I adored it right out of the gate. A wonderful, intelligent and humorously observed revisionist detective story. As with Baumbach and Kicking and Screaming, this film put Jake Kasdan on my radar and would lead me to many excellent projects he was involved in, including the singular and glorious "Freaks and Geeks."

3. Rubin and Ed (1991, Trent Harris)

I remember this VHS being in our 'art house' section at the video store where I worked. I was already a Crispin Glover fan so decided to take it home one night. It was the epitome of a "quirky" comedy for me for a long long time. I think it's really become a cult favorite at this point and really needs a proper dvd release. One of the best buddy road movie comedies for me of all time. Glover and Howard Hessman are truly spectacular together and this is another film that I find still runs through my head from time to time. Well worth the seeking out required to see it. Also, Trent Harris is a very odd and interesting filmmaker. One need look no further than his film The Beaver Trilogy to see that. His films can be purchased at his website.

4. Living in Oblivion (1995, Tom DiCillo)

Tom DiCillo's excellent low budget feature about making a low budget feature came at the perfect time for me. I was in the midst of taking film classes and had started making my own films at that point, so it really spoke to me. It was like the big brother film I looked up to and marveled at. Still holds up today, just rewatched recently. Really well done.

5. 12:01 (1993, Jack Sholder)

This one I know I'd never have discovered had I not been employed at a video store and passed by it's cover several times. Reductively, it's really kind of a Groundhog Day played as a thriller' type thing, but I have always been a fan of this sort of time travel film so it stayed with me. Also, so few people knew of it, it was nice to pull out and show to folks to at least get a reaction. Certainly a little clunky, but for me, a lot of fun. Jeremy Piven is great as Jonathan Silverman's sidekick and come on, it's got Ms. Supergirl/Billie Jean herself, Helen Slater. Another that plays similar to this is Retroactive which came out in 1997. Also pretty fun.

6. Career Opportunities (1991, Bryan Gordon)

Scribed by the immortal John Hughes himself, this film feels absolutely like an 80s movie. I think that the presence of Jennifer Connelly and Frank Whaley in early roles probably makes this one a bit more high profile than some of the films on my list. Jim Dodge, to me, is a such an enjoyably deluded character that he stands out as a favorite. An outcast who truly marches to the beat of his own drum as they say. Still a very funny film, if a complete nerd fantasy.

7. Red Rock West (1993, John Dahl)

Neo-Noir with Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper. Snappy, twisty little film. The Coen Brothers' Blood Simple would seem to be an influence.

8. One False Move (1992, Carl Franklin)

Excellent art house thriller with sharp performances from Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton.

9. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997, Errol Morris)

Obviously I'd recommend that folks check out pretty much all of Morris' filmography. He's truly a visionary and I must credit him with sparking my now undying interest in documentary films. I feel like this film doesn't get talked about quite as much as some of his others, but I find it a truly fascinating portrait of 4 very different people.

10. Cool As Ice (1991, David Kellogg)

This is a a true cult favorite for me. You will rarely see a portrait of a man so uncool who thinks he is the coolest thing ever conceived. Vanilla Ice was at the height of his popularity right around the time this came out and I am sure that he felt quite on top of the world. That said, I can't imagine too many people not laughing their asses off at him as a suave sexy James Dean type in this ridiculous(ly entertaining) movie. This one is on Netflix Instant and I recommend you watch it asap.

11. Quick Change (1990, Howard Franklin)

Great cast. Quite a memorable wacky caper comedy.

12. The Winslow Boy (1999, David Mamet)

I never thought I could be so riveted by such a story. Kudos to Mamet.

13. The Reflecting Skin (1990, Philip Ridley)

This film is still pretty creepy. Has a sort of dreamlike David Lynch kind of feel.

14. Coldblooded (1995,Wallace Wollodarsky)

I gained a good deal of respect for Jason Priestly based on this quirky dark comedy. I felt like he could act beyond his 90210 persona and I dug it. I also love the hell out of Peter Riegert and his is good as the hit man who is assigned to train Priestly. Some interesting cameos too.

15. Safe Men (1998, John Hamburg)

Some have called it Bottle Rocket-lite. I can see that. Damned funny stuff. I want more John Hamburg movies in this vein.

16. Trespass (1992, Walter Hill)
17. The Daytrippers (1996, Greg Mottola)
18. Croupier (1998, Mike Hodges)
19. The Adventures of Sebastian Cole (1998, Tod Williams)
20. Dark Angel (aka I Come In Peace) (1990, Craig R. Baxley)
21. Schizopolis (1996, Steven Soderbergh)
22. The Woman Chaser (1999, Robinson Devor)
23. Elvis Meets Nixon (1997, Alan Arkush)
24. Judy Berlin (1999, Eric Mendelsohn)
25. Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996, S.S. Wilson)


  1. I always enjoy looking at lists of, as you put it, "films [that] slip through the cracks". I'm so happy that "The Winslow Boy" made this list. I love the movie and I'm a huge David Mamet fan so it's always good to know I'm not alone in some of my quirkier movie choices! Another extremely enjoyable read.

  2. Thanks for the kind words! Yeah I recall seeing THE WINSLOW BOY in the theater in '99 and being just blown away by it. My friend and I saw it on Mamet alone and it I was so pleased with it.

  3. Is that a pajama top?

    Great list, pal. Looks like I've got some work to do.

  4. NATE-Dude, of course I tie you directly to COLDBLOODED.

  5. thanks Bri, sweet list. Will always have fond memories of Living in Oblivion. Love Zero Effect too.

  6. I think you nailed this assignment. Haven't seen a lot of these, but I recall seeing the video boxes and definitely remember you talking some of these up back in the '90s...damn, that phrase is strange to say, "back in the '90s." TRESPASS is one I didn't catch until later, but I think it's one of Walter Hill's best and definitely most underrated. It sticks out on this list as it's one of the few non-indies / non-youth films on this list. I have fond memories of seeing CROUPIER and THE DAYTRIPPERS theatrically. I really dug ZERO EFFECT when I caught it as a new VHS release...I, too, remember the tv spots. RED ROCK WEST and ONE FALSE MOVE are superior neo-noirs, I agree.

    I think I'd put Soderbergh's THE UNDERNEATH on this list as well, if I had my druthers. Had the good fortune to see the latter in a rep screening a few years after its initial release. It would make a great double bill with THE LIMEY, also, I think, an underrated '90s film. Two of Soderbergh's best.

  7. Rupe - thanks for turning me onto 12:01. What, no American Heart, or Powder?