Thursday, June 18, 2020

The 100 Project: The Top 10 Movies of 1996

Looking back at the list of films I saw that were released in 1996, I have to say it was not a great cinematic year. Don't get me wrong, there are some really good movies that I return to again and again. Of course, those sit at the top of my list. Even with that, there is a wide gap between my number one and the rest of the list. For me, at least. No, I don't really care what you think. Hey, it's my list. Let's get to it.

My Top 10 Movies of 1996
  • According to my Letterboxd account, I've watched 86 movies that were released in 1996. This is a new personal best, breaking my previous high of 80 from 1995.
  • I went to see 13 movies in theaters. 4 of them make my top 10.
  • I've only seen 2 of the 5 movies nominated for Best Picture. One makes my top ten with the other an honorable menion.
  • 4 of my top 10 have a female protagonist.
  • A documentary has made my list for the second time.

10. Don't be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood
This is one of the last films where the Wayans brothers even tried for quality. It's a hood classic that spoofs the hood movies that were popular throughout the 90s. It borrows heavily from all the films referenced in its ridiculously long title, but does enough of its own thing to make it worthwhile. Put short, it's a comedy that steadily keeps me laughing.

9. Sling Blade
Billy Bob Thornton blows me away. I could stop there because he's that good. I know his name is all over the credits but he disappears so completely within the role it took me years to realize that this guy and Bad Santa are the same person. The film itself is engaging and comes to an uncomfortably satisfying conclusion.

8. Fargo
For the most part, I love films by the Coen brothers. This is definitely one of the ones I love. The colorful characters speaking great dialogue all perfectly fit ths world. Honestly, this would probably rank higher if I'd given it a rewatch. That said, the fact that I haven't watched it in over a decade and still put it here speaks volumes.

7. The Nutty Professor
Eddie Murphy does that thing where he plays everyone and is mesmerizing to watch. Admittedly, there are some narrative shortcomings, but Murphy is so entertaining I can't help but love it. The dinner scene, no matter how crass you might think it is, is one one of my all-time favorite movie moments. Him playing 4 different people in a scene with distinct mannerisms and speaking cadences and doing it in a way that puts a smile on my face is astounding.

6. Kingpin
This is the most underrated gem of 1996. It's Woody Harrelson being the main scumbag in a sea of scumbags with Randy Quaid, of all people, playing the one innocent in the group. Every frame of it works for me. Every person in the cast is hilarious, especially Harrelson, Bill Murray, and horror icon Lin Shaye. Whenever I put this on I laugh from the first minute to the last. And I secretly live in fear of being Munsoned.

5. A Time to Kill
I went to see this in theaters with my soon-to-be wife on one side and my sister on the other. Within the first 5 minutes they're both crying and I'm staring at the screen while trembling with anger. All the way through it was a gut-wrenching experience. At the end of the day, it's a White Savior movie, but it's such a good one I give it a pass. Besides, the phrase "Imagine she's White," is one of the most powerful pieces of dialogue ever said on film.

4. When We Were Kings
Muhammad Ali has been one of my heroes for as long as I can remember. This is a doc about one of his greatest victories, his knockout of George Foreman AKA The Rumble in the Jungle. It details how the fight came to be and the weeks the two fighters, and promoter Don King, spent in Zaire. Of course, there are politics and history involved. We get a look at how the locals viewed these men and how it affected them. It's an amazing story told in an amazing fashion. 

3. Set it Off
This movie provided me with another memorable theater experience, though for a very different reason than A Time to Kill. This time everyone in attendance was just having fun. I could sense people really into it right from the beginning. Throughout the movie, there were oohs, ahhs, gasps, and people talking directly to the characters on the screen. Sobbing was audible during the climactic scenes. In addition to all that, I genuinely thought it was a really good movie. For all of these reasons I keep returning to it. That moment comes rushing make to me as soon as I press play. 

2. The Long Kiss Goodnight
If I put on my critic's hat, I could pick this movie apart and be completely justified in doing so. What I can't deny, however, is no matter how many problems it has, I am flat out, head over heels, in love with this movie. I mean, if Mrs. Dell told me I had to choose between her and this movie, well, I'd choose my wife, but there'd be some serious contemplation before giving up Charly Baltimore and Mitch Henessey. And I can't even promise that I'd keep my promise. It's that much fun.

1. Scream
I love horror, especially slasher flicks. Perhaps that's a product of being raised by Jason, Freddy, and Michael. I also love well done spoofs. That might stem from all the teenage hours I spent watching and rewatching Young Frankenstein, The Naked Gun series, Hot Shots, and Airplane! Here's a movie that takes two genres I love and blends them together perfectly. It makes fun of slasher flicks for justifiable reasons, yet totally works as a slasher flick. It subverts the genre's tropes even while perpetuating them. This movie gets nothing less than my undying devotion. Sorry, Mrs. Dell. This is the one you should never give me an ultimatum on.

Honorable Mentions (alphabetically): 101 Dalmations, Basquiat, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, Bound, The Craft, From Dusk Till Dawn, Get on the Bus, Jerry Maguire, The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Rock, Romeo + Juliet, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Trainspotting, Waiting for Guffman


  1. I've only seen two of your picks (+6 from the Honorable Mentions). Well, I was only two years old in 1996, so that's my excuse 😂. Anyways, you chose some great movies that went straigth to my to-see-list!

    1. Not a bad excuse, lol. Which 2 did you see and what did you think of them?

    2. Scream and Fargo - both are brilliant!

  2. Hi Dell,

    I see you've been posting a bit of late, thought you'd gone dark there for a while.

    Interesting list. I've seen them all with the exception of When We Were Kings which I've seen bits and pieces of but never stuck with because I wanted to see it all the way through.

    The only one I have any real affection for is Fargo, it doesn't make my top ten but it's a fun odd picture with a fantastic Frances McDormand at its head. I enjoyed Scream, The Long Kiss Goodnight and A Time to Kill without holding them in great esteem. Same goes for Sling Blade and Set It Off.

    On your runner-ups it get a bit rougher. I liked Basquiat, The Rock and Romeo & Juliet. Jerry Maguire annoyed me and I flat out loathed Beavis and Trainspotting. I laughed my way through The Craft. Somehow I've yet to see Bound though I've wanted to. I haven't seen the others either but Bound is the first on my list to catch up with followed by Waiting for Guffman.

    1. When this past school year started I changed over to teaching a class that was a 3rd & 4th grade combination class which means I was simultaneously teaching two curriculums. I just had way too much work to post. I did manage to watch a fair amount because that's often what I did while grading paper and doing prep work. When COVID-19 flipped the world upside down, I still had plenty of work because my school just moved everything online so I was still very busy every night. Finally, the school year is over.


      I figured you had no use for Beavis and Butt-Head, lol.

      I think Bound and Waiting for Guffman will be more to your liking.

  3. Here's my 10 and runner-ups

    Primal Fear-Spotlight loving Chicago defense attorney Martin Vail (a never better Richard Gere) takes on the case of altar boy Aaron (Edward Norton in his screen debut) accused of savagely murdering a beloved priest. The truth is very complex. Amazing cast, beside the leads-Laura Linney, Alfre Woodard, Frances McDormand, Andre Braugher and John Mahoney and many others fill out the roles.

    Beautiful Thing-Two young boys in a rough London project find their way to adulthood and love together. Deeply touching without being sentimental, a brilliant performance by Linda Henry as one of the boys mother and a wall to wall expertly deployed Mama Cass soundtrack!

    Emma-Pampered Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow) is certain she is a perfect matchmaker and proceeds to complicate everyone’s life including her own. Handsome adaptation of the Jane Austen novel is the only time I’ve liked Paltrow onscreen (though I’ve always found her repellently entitled off)

    It's My Party-Architect Nick (Eric Roberts giving the performance of his life) is told he’s entering the end stage of his battle with AIDS. Rather than wither away as he’s seen so many of his friends do he chooses to gather all his remaining family and friends together for a big farewell party after which he will end his life on his own terms. Helmed by Grease director Randal Kleiser who wrote the screenplay based on his former lover’s story. A passion project he recruited friends to fill out the cast: Olivia Newton-John, Margaret Cho, Lee Grant (a beautiful performance as Nick’s mother), Bronson Pinchot, George Segal, Marlee Matlin, Roddy McDowall, Nina Foch, Steve Antin, Bruce Davison, Sally Kellerman, Devon Gummersall, Lou Liberatore and Gregory Harrison as Kleiser’s doppelganger.

    Independence Day-A civilization of hostile aliens wants to colonize Earth but don’t fret Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are here to open a can of whoop-ass against them!! Absurd but great fun.

    1. Of this group I've only seen Independence Day. If I made this list years ago, it would have been on it. Subsequent viewings don't quite hold up for me. The biggest issue is that it feels over-long. No denying how great the cast is, though. Not sure if you've seen the sequel, but don't, unless you're just in the mood for something beyond terrible. That movie has unintentional humor by the bucket-load.

    2. I have seen the sequel and ya it was dreadful. I only watched it a couple months ago because I stumbled upon it as it was starting and I figured even though I'd heard terrible word of mouth "Why not, it's free." I overpaid!

      The first certainly wasn't art but it was a kind of thrill ride, it helped that the first time I saw it the theatre had a 70 by 70 ft. screen, and the entire cast pitched their performances to the same rhythm. The decades late followup was lazy, sloppy and inert.

    3. I first saw it in theaters, as well. That definitely helps this particular movie.

  4. Brassed Off-When the coal mine that is the life’s blood of their village is threatened with closure Danny (Pete Postlethwaite), the conductor of the colliery brass band, has trouble keeping up the spirits of his group. When former resident Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) returns she joins the band, becomes involved with young miner Andy (Ewan McGregor) and surreptitiously assesses the mine. As time passes she joins them in their last hurrah at a national competition. Amazing brass soundtrack.

    Hamlet-Lavish four hour full text version of the Shakespearean drama updated to the 19th century with an astonishing cast-Kenneth Branagh (who directed), Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi, Kate Winslet, Robin Williams, Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, Charlton Heston, Rosemary Harris, Billy Crystal, Jack Lemmon and Rufus Sewell among many others.

    The Birdcage-Armand (Robin Williams) is the owner of a gay Miami nightclub with his partner Albert (Nathan Lane) its featured attraction, Starina. When his son Val (Dan Futterman) from a previous relationship comes to visit with the news he is to marry Barbara (Calista Flockhart) daughter of Republican Sen. Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman) and his wife Louise (Dianne Weist) Albert pretends to be straight to please them. It does not go smoothly!

    That Thing You Do!-Tom Hanks directorial debut looks at the rapid rise and even more precipitous fall of a small town band, The Wonders, in the 50’s. Full of appealing music, performances and Day-Glo colors.

    Albino Alligator-In New Orleans when a late night robbery goes wrong the trio of thieves, brothers Dova (Matt Dillon) and Milo (Gary Sinise) and cohort Law (William Fitchner) hole up in a small bar, Dino’s Last Chance taking the denizens-Faye Dunaway, Viggo Mortensen, Skeet Ulrich, John Spencer and M. Emmett Walsh-hostage. When the police lead by Agent Browning (Joe Mantegna) encircle the building the situation becomes volatile since not just the robbers but the hostages all hold secrets of their own.

    Runner-Ups-The Daytrippers, Different for Girls, The Leading Man, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Fargo, Mother, Happy Gilmore, The Mirror Has Two Faces, Unhook the Stars, Flirting with Disaster.

    1. Of your remaining five I've only seen The Birdcage and really enjoyed it. I really need to see That Thing You Do!

      Hamlet is my favorite play of all-time, but I've never sat down to watch this version. Truth told, when it came out I had just recently seen the Mel Gibson version, which I like more than most, I think. I just didn't feel the need to see Branagh's version, at the time. Over the years, I keep saying I'm going to watch it, but never quite got around to it. That was a really long way to say I do want to see it.

      Of your runner-ups I've seen Fargo, of course, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, and Unhook the Stars. I like, but don't love The Truth About Cats and Dogs. I think I have a higher tolerance of Janeane Garofalo than most, however. Unhook the Stars lost me early. I just couldn't get into it. Might need to revisit it since I remember nothing about it. Strangely I haven't seen Happy Gilmore. Another one I've been saying I'm going to watch.

  5. I'm not going to try to put movies in any kind of order here, but I'll mention a few that didn't make your list or runners-up.

    I'll second Joel's mention of Hamlet--and it would make my top 10. Same with The Birdcage, which is one of those rare cases where the remake is far better than the original version. Others would include:

    The Frighteners--comedy for about an hour, then a HARD left turn into horror
    Lone Star--a terribly underknown cop drama
    Secrets & Lies--a woman is confronted by the mixed-race daughter she gave up for adoption years before

    For personal reasons, I also dearly love Twister and Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

    1. Yeah, see my comment to Joel on why I haven't seen Hamlet. The Birdcage is very good. I haven't seen the original of that one, though.

      I've heard a lot about The Frighteners so I do want to see it. I haven't heard of Lone Star or Secrets & Lies, so I'm intrigued.

      Twister is fun. It almost made my HM's. I have't seen MST 3000 yet, but I recently purchased a copy of it so I'll be watching it really soon.

  6. On your top 10 list, I've seen 8 of the 10 as When We Were Kings and Sling Blade (in their entirety are the ones I haven't seen while I've seen everything but some of Get on the Bus in your honorable mentions as my list is more arty with its fair share of mainstream films and some obscurities. It was a great year in cinema in my opinion.

    1. I hope you get to When We Were Kings and Sling Blade. Both are fantastic. Same for Get on the Bus.

  7. Put me down for Fargo and Waiting for Guffman.
    And also When We Were Kings, that one is just so strong.

  8. Oh man, anyone who choose Scream as the best film of 1996 has a key to my heart. I LOVE that choice! The rest of the list is great too. Always enjoy seeing praise for When We Were Kings and Sling Blade. And A Time to Kill... whew, that is a damn bruise of a movie.

    1. Well Scream certainly has the key to my heart. Glad you love the pick. A Time to Kill is brutal, ain't it?