Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The 100 Project: Top 10 Movies of 1990

By 1990, I thought I was grown. I was in the Army, made it to Hawaii to serve at the only duty station I would ever know, and just started to get into a little bit of trouble. It was nothing major, just a lot of hanging out with a bunch of different people while trying to figure out where I fit in. Despite not having a car and not really finding any movie buffs, I somehow managed to see 8 movies in theaters. Since I did spend a fair number of nights alone in the barracks, not fitting in, there was no slippage in the amount of movies I watched from year to year. Let's see what tickled my fancy in the first year of this new decade.

My Top 10 Movies of 1990

  • According to my Letterboxd account I watched 53 films released during 1990.
  • Of the 8 movies I watched in theaters, 3 made my top 10, 3 others are honorable mentions.
  • I've seen 3 of the 5 Best Picture Nominees. 1 made the top 10, 1 is an honorable mention, the third is The Godfather Part III.
  • 3 of my top 10 are straight up gangster flicks while 2 more feature organized crime in some way, and 2 more have criminals for lead characters.
  • For the second straight year both Spike Lee and Tim Burton have films in my top 10.

10. Marked For Death
Yes, I'm starting the decade off with a Steven Seagal movie. This one is just so nutty I can't help but love it. Our pony-tailed hero gives us his best Aikido, breaks bones like twigs, or slices them off with a sword. Throughout, we get some of the best/worst/cheesiest dialogue and a deliciously bonkers performance by Basil Wallace as the bad guy. It may not be a technically "good" movie, but I can't get enough of it. Ironically, it was his other 1990 movie, Hard to Kill that I saw in theaters.

9. Mo' Better Blues
Spike Lee's follow-up to Do the Right Thing is comparatively light, focusing on a would-be great jazz musician played by Denzel Washington in Lee's first pairing with the actor. It's also the first time I saw Washington in a lead role (he led 1989's The Mighty Quinn, which I did not see until after this). There is still a good deal of social commentary, all propped up by great performances from Washington, John Turturro, and a soon-to-be seen on this list again Wesley Snipes.

8. King of New York
I'm a sucker for a good gangster flick. I'm also a sucker for a good 'hood movie. This one is both. Here's Wesley Snipes again. This time he plays a detective and is but a small part that includes David Caruso in a bigger role. Both are good, but upstaged by the bad guys. Laurence Fishburne is 'hood-tastic as a loose-cannon drug dealer and Christopher Walken steals the show from everybody as the titular king, Frank White. Whenever Walken's name comes up, this is the performance I think of first.

7. Miller's Crossing
Speaking of gangster flicks, here's another. I didn't see this until about 20 years after it came out and I was entranced. The story is great, but it's the 1940s noir-inspired dialogue that really blew me away. Of course, the performances that go with it are amazing. And the cinematography is better than them both.

6. The Grifters
Apparently, 1990 is the year of the crime movie, for me. This one, about a pair of con artists who happen to be mother and son, strikes me different than most of the ones I like, though. It's a dark comedy than ventures into some weird areas. It's also possibly Anjelica Huston and Annette Benning at their best.

5. Edward Scissorhands
Believe it or not, this is another movie I didn't see until pretty recently despite being a fan of Tim Burton's work. It might be the most perfect representation of the director's gothic quirkiness juxtaposed with the world at large. And it's the most heartwarming one, too.

4. Misery
Unlike many of the horror movies adapted from Stephen King, this one sizzles from the start while still being faithful to the novel it's based on. And it's proof that casting matters because Kathy Bates is perfect and terrifying.

3. Total Recall
I grew up on Arnold Schwarzenegger's eighties movies so I had a certain expectations when I sat down in the theater to watch this. Of course, I had seen him do sci-fi before, but this was a different type of sci-fi. It still the type of action Arnie excels at, but it's also quite a bit more cerebral than those previous efforts. And there are just so many iconic shots in this movie, it's still a visual treat to this day.

2. House Party
We all have those movies that speak directly to us. This is one of those movies. Like the main character, Kid of rap group Kid-n-Play, I loved writing, loved hip hop, had a strict but loving single parent, and wasn't the smoothest around the ladies. In other words, the movie is relatable to me in every way. I have no choice but to love it.

1. GoodFellas
This is one of the most quotable movies of all-time. As far as I'm concerned, it's Martin Scorsese's magnum opus. It's based on a true story and Scorsese does the impossible with it. He makes it sensational, yet simultaneously grounded. Every character is amazing is imbued with massive personalities, even if you only meet them once for a just a few seconds. I mean, I swear I could have, and maybe have had a whole conversation with Jimmy Two Times because he's gonna go get the papers, get the papers. And you best believe anytime anyone anywhere says that I'm funny, my response is "Funny how?"

Honorable Mentions (alphabetically listed): Back to the Future III, Cry-Baby, Darkman, Dick Tracy, Die Hard 2, Ghost, Predator 2, Robocop 2, Tremors


  1. Based on my own list. We have 3 films in our top 10 but we both are in total agreement on what is the best film of 1990. There is no argument and how the fuck that film lost to Kevin Costner's dull-ass revisionist western just pisses me off at the Oscars. I've seen bits of The Grifters but nothing on King of New York which is one of those films I'm eager to see because of Christopher Walken and Abel Ferrera. Marked for Death is actually one of those few films of Steven Seagal that I liked as I think he peaked with Under Siege.

    1. It still blows me away that GoodFellas didn't win Best Pic. The Grifters and King of New York are both well worth your time.

  2. I know this sounds ridiculous but I've known that gif from Goodfellas for ages as a meme and yet never known where it came from!! I absolutely love that Misery made your list :)

    1. It just sounds like you need to watch GoodFellas. ;)

  3. Your list just tells me how many films i have missed and need to see like anything with Denzel Washington in it. I am not a Steven Seagal fan and I can't stand Goodfellas. I know I am in the minority but I hate this film and have seen it more than once...I want someone to plug Ray Liotta not to mention joe pesci..well, he did get his just desserts. I actually saw very few films in 1990 but this is my list.

    1. Edward Scissorhands-Sad fairytale with great pathos by Johnny Depp.
    2. Truly, Madly, Deeply-Alan Rickman in a romance but he is dead in this movie, miss this actor
    3. Presumed Innocent-love a good mystery and this is a good one
    4. Tremors-People trying to fight off giant worms-dumb but fun
    5. Misery-You are so right and this is scary
    6. Quigley Down Under-Western in Australia with Tom Selleck and my fav, Alan Rickman
    7. Mermaids-Fun film with Cher as a unique mom dealing with her teen daughter
    8. Hunt For Red October-It takes place on a sub and we don't know if the Captain is telling the truth
    9. Dances With Wolves-This gets a lot of bad press now but I do like this film, shoot me
    10. Ghost-I am not a romance kind of gal and i am not a fan of Gimme Moore but Swayze was good and loved Whoopi

    Awakenings and Pretty Woman..meh, just Awakenings gets an honourable mention

    1. Yeah another Truly Madly Deeply fan!! Love both Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman!

    2. Birgit - I figure most people wouldn't be with me on a Seagal flick, but I'm ok with that. I never viewed Henry Hill (Liotta in GoodFellas) as a sympathetic character, or one I'm even supposed to like, and I don't require it of him. The story Scorsese is telling and the way he tells it blows me away.

      Won't argue with anyone having Edward Scissorhands at the top. Very good choice. Tremors is one I meant to put as an HM, so I'll do that after I finish this reply. I still need to see some of your others, mainly The Hunt for Red October and Dances With Wolves. I especially have to see Dances to see the movie that beat out GoodFellas.

      Joel - Yeah, I need to see that one, too.

  4. Quite an action packed list Dell.

    I’m missing two of these- House Party & Mo Better Blues. The first just never appealed to me and the second’s combination of Spike Lee and Denzel Washington kept me away. But of late I’ve watched more of Denzel’s films and while I’ll never be a superfan I don’t find him as humorless as I once did so I’ll have to check out Blues.

    We have three matches this time!! The Grifters is one dark movie but Anjelica Huston is just flat out brilliant. Kathy Bates is great in Misery but Anjelica should have won for this in my opinion. Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton’s best film, a great balance of strangeness, sweetness and quirk. At the time Total Recall just struck me as a good sci-fier but having struggled through the remake I realized how well-crafted it is. Two of your runner-ups also made my main list. I think that’s the most we’ve ever had for corresponding picks!

    Of your others Marked for Death is a big wall to wall goof fest that is quintessential Seagal, not necessarily a wonderful thing but if you’re looking to check your brain for a couple of hours it fits the bill.

    I thought Miller’s Crossing and Misery were decent films but neither are ones that I’ve ever returned to after that first watch. I had high hopes for King of New York but it just didn’t work for me.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hated Goodfellas but I didn’t and don’t like it. Was it well acted? It was. Was it intense? It was. Did I care about the characters? I did not. Plus it has something that for me is a major failing-excessive swearing. I’m sure this is my own thing but if the dialogue is laced with too much profanity I glaze over and the film loses me. I don’t care if that’s how the characters would talk in real life or not, to me it’s a lazy crutch for the screenwriter.

    1. Thanks!

      The Lee/Washington combo is one of my faves, lol. Interesting that you found him humorless. He's certainly no comedian, but many of his roles do have a decent amount of levity to them. That said, I understand the impression depending on what movies of his you saw before the ones you've watched recently. For instance, if Malcolm X, Glory, Man on Fire, and American Gangster are those movies then, yeah, pretty serious dispositions for all those characters.

      Huston is brilliant in The Grifters. I still lean towards Bates, but wouldn't have been upset either way. I'm glad the Total Recall remake was good for something.

      I know, I know, Scorsese doesn't always do it for you. Many of his movies are cuss-fests about unlikable people.

  5. Not a bad year with many films I’m fond of but none that I’m passionate about. Probably one of the only times I’ll have an animated film anywhere close to making the list but I have a soft spot for Rescuers Down Under because of the interplay between Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor.

    My top 10:

    Kindergarten Cop-On the trail of a drug kingpin’s incognito ex-wife and through a series of misadventures gruff LAPD cop John Kimble (Arnold Schwarzenegger) ends up undercover as a kindergarten teacher. For the most part gentle humor ensues until a twist turns things dark.

    The Grifters-Tough as nails shill Lily (a mesmerizing Anjelica Huston) battles for control over her small time grifter son Roy (John Cusack) with Myra (Annette Bening) the hard article equally corrupt swindler he’s hooked up with. Things turn ugly quickly. A snapshot of some thoroughly reprehensible people but brilliantly acted.

    Back to the Future III-Climbing into the time traveling DeLorean again Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) find themselves in the Old West where Doc finds love and Marty trouble. Engaging and breezy.

    Truly Madly Deeply-Nina (Juliet Stevenson) is struggling as she tries to cope with the death of her lover Jamie (Alan Rickman), only to find that his ghost magically appears and moves back into her flat. When she falls in love with another man, she faces a choice between holding onto the past and facing the future.

    Ghost-When he is killed during a robbery finance manager Sam Wheat’s (Patrick Swayze) spirit tries to reach out to his fiancée Molly (Demi Moore) to tell her she’s in danger. Unable to break through he discovers he can communicate with fake spiritualist Oda Mae Brown (an Oscar winning Whoopi Goldberg) and enlists her grudging help.

    Edward Scissorhands-When his scientist creator (Vincent Price) dies before replacing his scissor blades with hands animated human being Edward (Johnny Depp) remains in his creator’s castle not knowing what to do. Kind Avon Lady Peg (Dianne Wiest) discovers Edward and takes him home, where he falls for Peg's teen daughter (Winona Ryder). However, despite his kindness and artistic talent, Edward's hands make him an outcast.

    Total Recall-In the future construction worker Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is troubled by nightmares about life on Mars and goes to an agency for help but during the procedure something malfunctions and he discovers that his nightmares were real and he’s now in grave danger. Action packed, elaborate and lots of fun.

    Men Don’t Leave-Suddenly widowed Beth Macauley (Jessica Lange) must uproot her two sons (Chris O’Donnell & Charlie Korsmo) to Baltimore to restart their lives and deal with their loss.

    Taking Care of Business-After winning tickets to the World Series, Jimmy Dworski (James Belushi) walks out of his minimum security prison and starts hitchhiking to the big game. He discovers a leather datebook belonging to Spencer Barnes (Charles Grodin), a wealthy corporate businessman who's just been dumped by his wife. At first, Jimmy wants to return it for a reward, but, when he realizes it's filled with credit cards, he decides to hold on to it for just a little longer and live big for a while.

    Hidden Agenda-Ireland set drama of American lawyer Ingrid Jessner’s (Frances McDormand) struggle to uncover atrocities committed by the British government against the Northern Irish during the "Troubles." When her partner, Paul Sullivan (Brad Dourif) is assassinated in the streets Ingrid teams with Peter Kerrigan (Brian Cox), a British investigator who feels the government is at fault. At great risk they battle to uncover a web of conspiracies.

    The Narrow Margin, Presumed Innocent, Pretty Woman, The Rescuers Down Under, A Shock to the System, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tune in Tomorrow

    1. Kindergarten Cop is a movie I've purposely missed. I've seen bits and pieces here and there, but it never intrigued me enough to give it a proper watch. As of late, I've been seeing a lot of praise for it so I might give it a go. I need to see Truly, and the last three you have listed there. Your runner-ups floored me because not only do you have an animated film, you've got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Where is my Joel and what have done with him?

    2. Ha! Well I already explained about Rescuers.

      As far as TMNTS goes my gang of buddies at the time, as well as my nephew, were all completely into them and for whatever reason I thought they were silly fun. So when the movie came out we all went together and it was absurd craziness with a decent underlying message about friendship. But it's only the first one I have that strong affection for, though the second one was okay I didn't see the third and have zero interest in the attempted reboot they tried a few years ago. I guess my affection for it is a good illustration of how some movies are so tied to memories of time and place.

    3. Fair enough. I'll buy it.

  6. Nice work, Goodfellas I rewatched not long ago and still holds up very well. Miller's Crossing gets a lot of love but I honestly found it quite boring with dialogue scenes that go on and on. I liked the parts in the woods though. Of the Coens early stuff, I far prefer Raising Arizona and Blood Simple. No honorable mention for Home Alone?

  7. When Burton is good he is sooooo good. I'd have to have Ghost in my top 10. It packs more of a punch and is far funnier than most people remember. I don't know why they tried to remake Total Recall.