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September 10, 2008 1:48 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the best independent, foreign, artsy, or unique films that came out during the 90s?

The entire decade was misspent on video games and real fluff (I thought Con Air and Independence Day were ace movies -- gag). Now that I've developed an aesthetic, I've tried to retrace my steps, but my like-aged peers haven't got a clue, either.

I tend to enjoy more esoteric films like Oldboy, Requiem for a Dream, 3-Iron, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. None of that David Lynch or Donnie Darko free-association crap, though.

Some recent 90s finds I've enjoyed include La Cite des Enfants Perdus and Leon.
posted by Christ, what an asshole to Media & Arts (56 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
City of Lost Children

I loved all three, all by the same Director (or was it writer).

Not as intense as some of the ones you named, more on the odd magical realism tip.
posted by Ponderance at 1:57 PM on September 10, 2008

Run Lola Run
posted by o0dano0o at 1:58 PM on September 10, 2008


(and 2nding Run Lola Run)
posted by xotis at 2:02 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed Enlightenement Guaranteed though it was never noticed by anyone in particular. And it's from 2000.

Mostly Martha was remade as 'No Reservation' in the US but I think the original was better (though again, 2001, sorry).

The most popular "foreign" movie I can think of would be Amélie though for the third time, 2001. I must be getting old that I think of these movies of having been so long ago.

Hope those are close enough.
posted by GuyZero at 2:03 PM on September 10, 2008

Schizopolis. "In the event that you find certain sequences or ideas confusing, please bear in mind that this is your fault, not ours. You will need to see the picture again and again until you understand everything."
posted by the matching mole at 2:04 PM on September 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Land and Freedom
Lovers of the Arctic Circle
posted by elmono at 2:05 PM on September 10, 2008

Kicking and Screaming
Before Sunrise

All good '90s movies if you like upper-middle-class, white, 20-somethings who talk a lot.
posted by wsquared at 2:08 PM on September 10, 2008

All About My Mother
posted by nushustu at 2:10 PM on September 10, 2008

Pretty much any movie by Pedro Almodovar. Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown, for example.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 2:10 PM on September 10, 2008

Also, I think that Pulp Fiction was probably the most influential movie to come out in the '90s.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 2:12 PM on September 10, 2008

Dead Man. Or is that "free-association crap?" I dunno.
posted by Quonab at 2:12 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mike Leigh's Naked
Todd Haynes' Safe
posted by porn in the woods at 2:15 PM on September 10, 2008

Dark Days came out in 2000, but it's definitely worth seeing.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 2:16 PM on September 10, 2008

plus David Cronenberg's Crash (1996)
posted by porn in the woods at 2:17 PM on September 10, 2008

Greenaway's 1991 Prospero's Books. Yes, pretentious, yes, visually and conceptually grand.

If you can get your hands on it, Wim Wender's Until the End of the World (German title
Bis ans Ende der Welt), also 1991, works on so many levels -- in any version you can find.

Continuing with the conceptual/visual theme, 1995's Strange Days is pretty over the top.
posted by vers at 2:28 PM on September 10, 2008

Hard to believe that anyone from my generation hasn't seen Being John Malkovich, but if you liked Eternal Sunshine you'll probably like it. Election is a great black comedy. And Last Night is a damn fine movie of the intertwined-but-disparate-characters type.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:39 PM on September 10, 2008

Baraka is one my personal faves.

Others I liked in the 90s that are excellent films but are not independent:
Joy Luck Club
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Usual Suspects
Pulp Fiction
posted by Vindaloo at 2:42 PM on September 10, 2008

Okay maybe 1989 doesnt count, but 'The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover' is a great demented flick in the same generation.

And to 1989 add Parents. And in 1999 add Ravenous in a similar (hehe) vein.
posted by elendil71 at 2:49 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, also "This World, Then the Fireworks", and 'The House of Yes' both about incest (kind of) and The Last Supper.

And the above lists are also awesome. See them all!
posted by elendil71 at 3:13 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Flirting is one of my favorite movies.
posted by El_Marto at 3:33 PM on September 10, 2008

Probably my two most memorable non-mainstreamy films from the 1990s...

Kissed, an utterly beautiful film about a teenage necrophiliac.

Tim Roth's The War Zone is compelling and disturbing and really very good indeed.
posted by the.carol.baxter.experience at 3:39 PM on September 10, 2008

I was a huge, huge Hal Hartley fan back in the day. Unfortunately I think he's lost his way since. But his early films are great: The Unbelievable Truth, Trust, Simple Men. There's also Amateur, from the mid-90's. A very odd and funny take on action/espionage tropes. If you were to pick only one it would be a toss-up between Simple Men and Amateur.
posted by O9scar at 3:40 PM on September 10, 2008

seconding Barcelona and Metropolitan. Also The Last Days of Disco by the same director: GREAT.

Party Girl with Parker Posey is amazing.

ANYTHING WITH PARKER POSEY IS AMAZING!!! eg Waiting for Guffman and Suburbia.
posted by beccyjoe at 3:43 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I came in here only to mention what I believe to be the best movie made in that decade: Mike Leigh's Naked. I am gratified to see that it's already been mentioned by porn in the woods. It is, as the linked review points out, staggering. It's one of two movies that have left me unable to speak for an hour or two. Just, well, here. And that's not even the best bit.
posted by koeselitz at 3:47 PM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if you can consider it independent or any of the others, but Dazed and Confused is good. Sorry if these were mentioned

Night on Earth
Velvet Goldmine
I Shot Andy Warhol
Happy Together
Farewell My Concubine
The Legend of 1900
posted by awesomepenguin at 3:49 PM on September 10, 2008

Seconding Pi, Malkovich, Lola, House of Yes and Buffalo '66.

(My god why doesn't everyone love Buffalo '66?)
posted by rokusan at 3:50 PM on September 10, 2008

Oh jesus Koeselitz, marry me.

Yes, Mike Leigh's Naked might very well indeed be the best film of the 1990's.
posted by rokusan at 3:52 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Close Up (1990)
Europa Europa (1990)
A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
And Life Goes on (1991)
Days of Being Wild (1991)
Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
Hard-Boiled (1992)
La Sentinelle (1992)
Three Colors: Blue (1993)
Three Colors: Red (1994)
Three Colors: White (1994)
Burnt by the Sun (1994)
Lamerica (1994)
Through the Olive Trees (1994)
The Chinese Feast (1995)
Pari (1995)
Capitaine Conan (1996)
Gabbeh (1996)
Leila (1996)
Moment of Innocence [aka Bread and Flower] (1996)
Ridicule (1996)
Happy Together (1997)
Taste of Cherry (1997)
Autumn Tale (1998)
Central Station (1998)
Time Regained (1999)
The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)

I've added links for ones that you probably haven't heard of that are so fucking good I want to make it easy for you to find them. (I went to some trouble to dig up the title of The Chinese Feast, which is a generic and forgettable title for a gloriously unforgettable movie. It's so good I called up my ex-wife and recommended it, and she—a professional chef—said the kitchen scenes were the best representation she'd seen of what a restaurant kitchen is really like. Also it's funny and suspenseful as hell. See it!)
posted by languagehat at 3:55 PM on September 10, 2008 [8 favorites]

Also, I was trying not to mention movies others had named, but Naked is as good as they say it is.
posted by languagehat at 3:56 PM on September 10, 2008

Suture is unique and intense, although there is free association within.
posted by plastic_animals at 3:59 PM on September 10, 2008

Oh, and though it's probably best known for the scenery-chewing Alec Baldwin does in his one small scene, Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) is a pretty impressive small movie full of big names. The performances of Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon are packed with nuance that I re-appreciate every time I see it.
posted by rokusan at 4:18 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just saw that recently, awesome movie. City of God is one of my all time favs, super awesome. I really liked Oldboy too, freaking crazy awesome, more crazy than awesome. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring is another Korean film that's really good, absolutely nothing like Oldboy though. I don't know about Run Lola Run, a lot of people liked it but I thought it kinda sucked. Amorres Perros is pretty cool.
posted by BrnP84 at 4:43 PM on September 10, 2008

Nobody has mentioned Todd Solondz who did both Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness in the 90s.
posted by DanielDManiel at 5:54 PM on September 10, 2008

I thought Europa, Europa was an excellent movie, but I haven't seen it since 1992 or so.
posted by Rumple at 6:08 PM on September 10, 2008

The Celebration (Festen)--Thomas Vinterberg--about a dysfunctional family getting together and all the family secrets they have

The Sweet Hereafter--Atom Egoyan, based on the book by Russell Banks--about an event that devastates a small town, and the aftermath

Exotica--also Atom Egoyan--about the relationships between a group of seemingly random strangers connected to a strip club

and seconding Kissed
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:15 PM on September 10, 2008

Okay, before I talk about what I'm here to talk about let me mention that Woody Allen and John Waters made some great films even if they're overshadowed by the earlier films of both directors. I recommend Sweet and Lowdown, Deconstructing Harry (both Allen), Serial Mom and Pecker (both Waters).

I can't stress too much how disturbing The War Zone is (mentioned by the.carol.baxter.experience above). I have never been traumatized by any other movie (Requiem for a Dream doesn't hold a candle to it). I saw it when it came out with a friend and we were both in shock for days afterwards. It's a good film, even great, but I don't know if I can ever watch it again (the only scenario I can envision would be to watch it with a friend who'd otherwise watch it by him- or herself). Don't just listen to me, let me quote from a review:
At a public screening of this movie during the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival, one viewer was so upset that, in the midst of a crucial scene, he rose to his feet and shouted that he couldn't take any more, then headed for the exit, intending to pull the fire alarm. Roth, who was in attendance, intercepted him at the door, and it took 20 minutes of intense conversation to calm the man down.

The War Zone is a devastating motion picture; it's the kind of movie that stuns an audience so absolutely that they remain paralyzed in their seats through the end credits. It does not deal in euphemisms nor does it hide the physical and emotional brutality of the act from viewers. What Roth has accomplished is nothing short of brilliant, but it is also incredibly daring, because the film has no commercial prospects. No matter how many critics trumpet The War Zone's merits, viewers will not flock to see it; the subject matter is too upsetting and daunting. Yet for sheer force of emotional power, I have not seen the movie's like in years. As I write this review two weeks after seeing The War Zone, every scene remains fresh in my mind, and the overall impact has not lessened.
This isn't hyperbole, it is that overwhelming. I've seen plenty of soul-wrenching cinema but nothing, nothing I've seen holds a candle to The War Zone when it comes to scarring the psyche.
posted by Kattullus at 6:18 PM on September 10, 2008

THE LIMEY - A great revenge/crime film, one of my favorite films of the last twenty years...

GUMMO - might fit your definition of "free association crap" but it is a cultural milestone for a lot of people (at least amongst my friends) and is mostly documentary footage of rural Southerners in their rawest form...

THE SWEET HEREAFTER - incredibly powerful drama set in a Canadian community in shock after a trafic accident.

THE BLADE - best kung-fu film of the last twenty years.

LONE STAR - John Sayles drama set in west Texas.

LIMBO (See this only if you enjoy LONE STAR) John Sayles drama set in Alaska.

DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE - Italian romantic comedy with zombies.


GOODFELLAS If you have not seen this - then you need to watch this film immediately. In my opinion this is the most important film of American cinema in the nineties.
posted by cinemafiend at 6:23 PM on September 10, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, amazing recommendations so far based off of the follow-up reading I've been doing. I'm in store for some real treats, and it probably couldn't have come at a worse time (TV fall season in full swing and NFL/NCAA football). Time to engage into hermit mode.

Thanks for all the effort you guys have been putting into this.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 6:49 PM on September 10, 2008

Came in to cite Burnt by the Sun, but see it's already been recommended.

One of the few films that deserves the epithet stunning.
posted by Sitegeist at 8:38 PM on September 10, 2008

I am going to add Luna Papa. I loved the story!
posted by Country Dick Montana at 9:35 PM on September 10, 2008

Kids is a quintessentially '90's movie. I haven't seen it in a while so I'm not sure how it holds up, but it was really an icon of it's time.
posted by abirae at 9:45 PM on September 10, 2008

Rotten Tomatoes made a list a few years ago that I used to originally populate my netflix queue. I liked all of them. The list is made up of a lot of films I did see and enjoy in the theaters. The list is:

# Miller's Crossing
# Safe
# The Sweet Hereafter
# Lone Star
# Heavenly Creatures
# Waiting for Guffman
# The Hudsucker Proxy
# Babe: Pig in the City
# Dead Man
# Fearless
# Bound
# Chungking Express
# The Straight Story
# Searching for Bobby Fischer
# Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai
# That Thing You Do!
# Dead Again
# Sneakers
# Zero Effect
# The Butcher Boy
# Truly, Madly, Deeply
# In the Company of Men
# Devil in a Blue Dress
# The Red Violin
# Cemetery Man
# Hamlet
# Breakdown
# Welcome to the Dollhouse
# The Apostle
# Eve's Bayou
# Hard Eight
# Defending Your Life
# A Little Princess
# Bringing Out the Dead
# Hana-Bi (Fireworks)
# Jacob's Ladder
# The Spanish Prisoner
# Pump Up the Volume
# Beautiful Girls
# The Double Life of Veronique
# Very Bad Things
# Richard III
# October Sky
# Strange Days
# My Neighbor Totoro
# L.A. Story
# Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
# A Bronx Tale
# The Limey
# A Perfect World
# Before Sunrise
# Bob Roberts
# Dick
# Raise the Red Lantern
# One False Move
# The Ref
# Exotica
# Sonatine
# Joe Versus the Volcano
# Matinee
# The Ice Storm
# The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
# Croupier
# The Winslow Boy
# Girl on the Bridge
# Bullet in the Head
# Darkman
# Cannibal! The Musical
# Fast, Cheap & Out of Control
# Smoke
# The Last Days of Disco
# Fresh
# Eye of God
# Flirting with Disaster
# Bottle Rocket
# Ashes of Time
# Fallen Angels
# Great Expectations
# Kundun
# A Midnight Clear
# Deep Cover
# Ravenous
# Twin Falls, Idaho
# The People vs. Larry Flynt
# Quick Change
# The Secret of Roan Inish
# Beloved
# Big Night
# Topsy-Turvy
# Living in Oblivion
# Jesus' Son
# Glengarry Glen Ross
# Chaplin
# Dead Alive
# Jude
# Cradle Will Rock
# Proof
# The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl
# Titus
# Mystery Men
posted by frecklefaerie at 11:31 PM on September 10, 2008

La Haine, and Audition (this film is pretty graphic). Two of my favorite foreign films from the 90s.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:24 AM on September 11, 2008

Chungking Express. Note: don't watch this if you don't like the song California Dreaming.

Unforgiven is pretty brilliant too.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 5:14 AM on September 11, 2008

Cold Comfort Farm and Stealing Beauty
posted by sulaine at 8:13 AM on September 11, 2008

Richard Linklater: Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise. Waking Life (2001).
posted by lukemeister at 9:18 AM on September 11, 2008

It's pretty much etched in stone that everyone's shortlist of Quintessentially 1990s American Films Of This Nature must include the following:

Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused), PT Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights), the Coen brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski), and Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) -- with an optional side order of Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy).
posted by Sys Rq at 11:24 AM on September 11, 2008

Trois couleurs: Bleu, Blanc, Rouge directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. so worth it. in french, by a polish director and these films are powerful. very powerful. watch them in order!

anything by the Coen brothers (Barton Fink is AMAZING)

Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights)

Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore)

Welcome to the Dollhouse (Solondz)

WOODY ALLEN (Mighty Aphrodite)

and don't write off Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me!

alot of these have been mentioned already but oh well.
posted by slograffiti at 12:30 PM on September 11, 2008

Karakter (1997), won an Oscar in '98. Antonia's Line (1995), won an Oscar in '96. Both Dutch, both absolute favorites.
posted by re.becca at 2:38 PM on September 11, 2008

Il Postino
Run Lola Run
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Children of Heaven
Kiss Me Guido
One Day in September

Why only movies that came out in the 90's? There are loads of great movies made after 2000.
posted by cnc at 11:31 PM on September 11, 2008

Breaking the Waves
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:06 AM on September 15, 2008

Run Lola Run was good... this was pre- Pulp Fiction non-linear time manipulation
posted by 2TheTopMarketing at 10:18 AM on September 15, 2008

Run Lola Run was entertaining.
posted by kingofhappy at 2:51 PM on September 15, 2008

Given the numerous recommendations of Naked, I just want to put in a warning that one needs a rather strong stomach for it.
posted by of strange foe at 7:12 PM on October 14, 2008

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