Sunday, May 10, 2020

The 100 Project: The Top 10 Movies of 1995

1995 was a year where my love of  both hood movies and more mainstream fare had a head-on collision. The result is an oddball list with some legitimately great movies sitting just outside my top 10. And I'm perfectly okay with that. Let's see what I mean.

My Top 10 Movies of 1995

  • This is the year I started dating the woman I would marry. Splitting time between her and my guy friends, I spent lots of time at the theater (for me) and paid to see 22 movies on the big screen. Six of them are in my top 10 and some of the others are honorable mentions.
  • According to my Letterboxd account, I've seen 80 movies that were released in 1995, my highest total for a single year, to this point.
  • I only saw one of the movies nominated for Best Picture. It is an honorable mention.
  • 4 films by African-American directors made the list
  • 5 other films directed by people of color and 2 directed by women made honorable mention

10. Waiting to Exhale
This is one of the greatest girl power movies ever made, but doesn't get its just due simply because this is not a conglomerate of white women on screen. I feel confident saying it stands up nicely to comparison with A League of Their Own, Steel Magnolias, and the like. It's some of the best work ever turned in by Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine, with great supporting turns from Whitney Houston and a host of male foils. This one falls squarely into often imitated, never duplicated territory for me. Hell, Tyler Perry built his entire career on ripping it off, along with 1997's Soul Food. That's another rant for another day. Just know that this is a movie to be reckoned with.

9. Clockers
Spike Lee was one of John Singleton's inspirations for making Boyz N the Hood which spawned the 'hood movie genre. Clockers is Lee's stamp on the genre and one of its last big screen hurrahs. Like most of his work, the film is decidedly Brooklyn. It's also as much police procedural as it is the rise and fall of a gangsta. The cast is stacked and gets every ounce out of the material.

8. The Usual Suspects
For most of you, however you feel about this movie is entirely wrapped in what you think about the twist. I watched it and loved it. Then I sought out and read Roger Ebert's review of it because I greatly admire him. He hated it. In his eyes, the big moment is a cheat. I thought about it, figured he had a point, and contemplated it. Then I watched the movie again. And loved it.

7. Kids
This is easily the most disturbing and divisive film on this list. It follows a group of wayward kids ranging in age from about 12 to 17 over the course of a day. The plot involves a girl and her best friend (film debuts for both Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson) desperately trying to find the only boy she's had sex with that she has just tested positive for HIV. He's busy roaming the neighborhood partaking in his favorite pastime, trying to find virgins to deflower. These are broken children. However, what struck me is that the movie isn't interested in how they got that way as much as it is how they behave based on whether or not they understand there are consequences for their actions. You will either love it like I do, or hate it as much I love it.

6. Toy Story
As a single 24 year old with no kids, I was too cool to go see this in theaters. I watched it a couple years later with my nieces and instantly knew that I had just watched a classic. It looked different than anything I had ever seen, but good looks only goes so far. What really sold me was the world-building, character development, and of course, its heart.

5. Dead Presidents
I can't remember why this happened, but this is the first movie I remember going to see in theaters alone. I sat mesmerized all the way through the film. When it ended, I sat for a moment to process what happened. It's part Vietnam war movie, part heist movie, part love story, all encapsulation of the predominant black male experience. I just knew it was going to be, at least, another 'hood classic - one of those movies you have to have seen multiple times and loved or risk getting your black card revoked. It's not that. The problem is the previous film made by its directors. The words "from the directors of Menace II Society" was all over the marketing for Dead Presidents. People wanted another Menace and didn't get it. For shame.

4. Heat
Without question, this is one of the greatest heist movies of all-time. Michael Mann gives us the perspective of both the lawman and the criminal with meticulous planning on both sides. With this comes some of most tense scenes and best shootouts committed to film. Even if none of that stuff worked it still would've been pretty good. Why? Al Pacino squares off with Robert De Niro.

3. Die Hard with a Vengeance
Like just about everyone else, I love Die Hard. I like, but don't love Die Hard 2.  Here's where the controversy is. Depending on what day you ask me, I might say that I love Die Hard with a Vengeance even more than the original. The self-contained Nakatomi Plaza of the original had grown to Washington Dulles Airport for the second film. That was blown up to the island of Manhattan for this installment. The action was bigger and better rendered, here. Jeremy Irons's Simon Gruber is every bit as good a villain as Alan Rickman's Hans from the first. Fight me. Elevating it all is the inarguable fact that the chemistry between Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson is magical.

2. Friday
A couple months after its release, me and a couple buddies went to a second run theater and checked out Friday. It was literally a two dollar cinema. We laughed from the first frame all the way through to the closing credits. We paused for a semi-serious moment during the climax. I was almost another decade before I got serious about collecting movies. When I did, I made sure that this was on my shelf, along with both of its sequels. At the time of this writing, I still have the same DVD and have watched, I don't know how many times. Whatever number that is, multiply it by however many times my three kids (the youngest is now 17) have watched it without me. Someone please release a blu ray, or better yet 4k, version of this entire series. I'm at the point where I say a prayer every time I put it in the player. But yeah, if I polled everyone in my house for this, Friday would be the easy #1. Consider this, Mrs. Dell's birthday is on Valentine's Day. I took her on a weekend getaway. When we got back, I was regaled with the tale of the kids getting a bunch of snacks, watching Friday together and quoting every line of dialogue. My work as a parent is done.

1. Se7en
I haven't watched this movie nearly as often as I have Friday. However, whenever I do watch Se7en I am amazed by how perfect it is. The tone, setting, framing, pacing, acting, and writing all complement each other and culminates in one of the most disturbing , yet satisfying endings in cinematic history. I mean, there's a very good reason "What's in the box?" survives as the part of the pop culture lexicon. Every single time I've ever seen this film, beginning with that first time in the theater, I've been completely absorbed by this movie. I empathize with both of our heroes every step of the way, up to, and including, the Ernest Hemingway quote that closes the movie. This is David Fincher's best movie. Fight me again. (my full review)

Honorable Mentions (alphabetically): 12 Monkeys, Bad Boys, The Basketball Diaries, Braveheart, Casino, Crimson Tide, Desperado, Devil in a Blue Dress, Empire Records, Higher Learning, Leaving Las Vegas, New Jersey Drive, The Quick and the Dead, Rumble in the Bronx, Strange Days, Tank Girl


  1. I've only seen two movies on your list but I absolutely love that you chose that Windows 95 image.

  2. With the exception of Dead Presidents and Clockers (as I don't remember if I've seen them in their entirety), everything else you have on your list is in my list which of course is radically different. In your honorable mention, only New Jersey Drive is the one film I haven't seen while Empire Records is one of those films that I know a lot of people liked but I never did when it first came out and I still don't like it.

    Windows 95... that takes me back.

    1. I hope you get to see those two movies in full. Empire Records is kind of a love it or hate it thing. I need to rewatch it, myself.

  3. I've seen a disturbingly small number of movies in your list. Here are a few that I'd put in mine that you didn't make your list:
    Sense and Sensibility, Copycat, Get Shorty, Babe, Apollo 13, Dead Man, Safe, Before Sunrise

    Apollo 13 would have been my choice for Best Picture from 1995. That said, if you have the chance, track down Safe, a Todd Haynes film that is far too obscure for how great it is. It can only be described as a horror movie that doesn't contain a monster or a horror movie where the entire world is the monster. I cannot recommend it enough (and there's a Critereon version, so you can find it).

    1. I've only seen the first two of your mentions, though I have seen bits and pieces of Get Shorty and Apollo 13. Funny story on Apollo 13, I rented the DVD years back, started it and got about 10 or 15 minutes in & it stopped playing. Returned it & exchanged for a different copy & never got to watch it before I had to return it. Then I just never picked it up again. I need to fix that. Thanks for recommending Safe. That sounds really interesting.

  4. As much as I love Se7en, my number one would be The Usual Suspects. I just can't get enough of that film. I'm with you on the Die Hard movies. Die Hard 2 is good but Die Hard with a Vengeance is a better film. So much more entertaining and fun, and Jackson is amazing.

    1. I definitely won't hate on anyone who loves The Usual Suspects.

  5. Liked-Heat, Se7en (Respected its skill more than liked and I haven’t watched it since I saw it in the theatre.) 12 Monkeys, Bad Boys, Devil in a Blue Dress, Empire Records, The Quick and the Dead

    Okay-Waiting to Exhale (Angela Bassett was excellent the rest eh.) Die Hard with a Vengeance (It’s not as bad as what’s come after but that’s faint praise.) The Basketball Diaries, Crimson Tide, Desperado

    Indifferent-Dead Presidents, Casino, Leaving Las Vegas (great performances but to what purpose?), Strange Days

    Hated-The Usual Suspects (fell asleep twice trying to watch it), Kids, Toy Story (I’ve tried and tried and never made it past the 15 minute mark), Braveheart (vile trash), Tank Girl

    Haven’t seen-Clockers, Friday, Higher Learning, New Jersey Drive, Rumble in the Bronx

    My ten in order and runner-ups:

    Sense and Sensibility
    Apollo 13
    Cold Comfort Farm
    The Grass Harp
    While You Were Sleeping
    A Walk in the Clouds
    12 Monkeys
    Devil in a Blue Dress
    Dolores Claiborne

    Mr. Holland’s Opus, Outbreak, Rough Magic, Victor/Victoria

    1. Pleasantly surprised to see Bad Boys and The Quick and the Dead under "liked." I find the latter a really underappreciated western.

      There's not much worse than the two Die Hard movies after With a Vengeance.

      I just can't get into Jane Austen novels or the movies of those novelizations, so I didn't dig Sense and Sensibility, which I also read in college, I think. We read two or three of her books and they all blend together for me. This is also why I haven't watched the latest version of Little Women, yet.

      See above for my story on why I haven't seen Apollo 13. I need a rewatch of Clueless. For the longest time, I couldn't separate it from Mean Girls in my mind. Over the last few years, my daughters discovered both but have watched Mean Girls several times, so I know that one very well but haven't gone back to Clueless so I don't remember a ton about it. I need to see Dolores Claiborne, While You Were Sleeping, Victor/Victoria, & A Walk in the Clouds.

      Haven't even heard of Cold Comfort Farm or The Grass Harp.

  6. Se7en at number 1 - nice! I think it's interesting that most of the films on your list were not serious awards contenders. My '95 list would look a lot like yours, ignoring a lot of the stuffy Oscar contenders from that year.

    1. At the time, I just wasn't checking for Oscar caliber films. In the years since, I just haven't gone back to see them, so it is what it is. Any correlation between my lists and the list of awards contenders before the last decade is purely by happenstance.