By Brian Saur, co-host of Pure Cinema Podcast
The 1990s represents an interesting time in film for me. I was working in video stores around this period, but it was basically my heyday with them, truth be told. I got my first job of this type when I was about a junior in high school, then worked in this capacity in one way or another for nearly the next ten years.
That being said, my familiarity with '90s cinema is a bit heightened because I was surrounded by these movies every day. I was renting them out to people and re-shelving them constantly. As such, there were definitely some of them that stood out and stayed with me for the next couple decades. Here are a few of them....
From the incredible, escalating, silent film comedy opening and straight on through the rehash and analysis of said sequence by the out-of-work actor characters (Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt) - THE IMPOSTORS is purely magical to me. The chemistry and comradeship between Tucci and Platt is absolutely glorious, and the film consistently makes me laugh with every viewing.
The throwback to Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers kind of vibe is so perfectly in my wheelhouse that I can't help but get swept up in the tribute every time I come back to it. The supporting cast ain't too bad, either (Lily Taylor, Campbell Scott, Alfred Molina, Tony Shaloub, Steve Buscemi, Richard Jenkins, Hope Davis, Allison Janney, and more).
It probably has my favorite opening of the decade and, interestingly, it may also have one of my favorite closings of the decade as well (including the use of one of my very favorite songs - "Skokiaan"). All of this is to say that Stanley Tucci needs to direct more (and I totally need to see FINAL PORTRAIT, his most recent effort).
I always call this one BOTTLE ROCKET-lite and I think it still fits. A case of mistaken identity leads a Jewish mobster (Michael Lerner) to believe that two low-rent lounge singers for hire (Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn) are actually two heavy-duty safe crackers (Mark Ruffalo and John Pais). When the singers are recruited by the mobster's right-hand man, "Veal Chop" (played perfectly by Paul Giamatti), little do they know that they are getting themselves in too deep... as they'll soon be asked to crack a safe for him and they have no clue how.
John Hamburg is great at this kind of "nerd comedy" which has characters arguing with each other about trivial things like shrimp cocktails, sundry goods, and older pop culture. That style of character and writing, combined with this cast, makes for a real gem of a caper farce.
This one kinda floored me when I first saw it. Clive Owen plays a writer working in a casino who gets entangled with some less than aboveboard dealings. This was my first exposure to Owen as an actor, so that helped the first impression it made on me. It is also a return to a gritty noir territory from the director of the original GET CARTER (Mike Hodges).
In all honesty, I wasn’t aware of Hodges either when I saw this film (not even realizing he had directed a childhood favorite of mine - FLASH GORDON). This was the movie that made me go back and watch GET CARTER, and I’ll always be thankful for it on that level as well. Seeing CROUPIER came at just the right time for me, though. Around the time it came out, I was deeply immersed in my obsession with the film noirs of the 1940s and '50s, and it really felt like a story that could have been told back then.
This one features a somewhat ahead-of-its-time performance from Woody Harrelson, who had been relegated mostly to comedies around this time (though he obviously spread his wings a bit in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT a few years prior). Harrelson plays an ex-con who finds himself caught up in a kidnapping plot that involves an incredibly sexy Elisabeth Shue. I was actually a little surprised at just how sexy Shue is in this one as the femme fatale. Having had a full movie crush on her since way back in THE KARATE KID - I've always found her quite adorable, but never before alluring on the level she pulls off with this role.
Anyway, this is a unique film in that it is a rare noir for both the leads (Gina Gershon is here too, but she's done a little noir work in her day) and it was directed by Volker Schölndorff - the director of the late '70s foreign arthouse classic, THE TIN DRUM.
This remarkably underrated little Patrick Swayze action film feels like WHITE LINE FEVER meets THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. On the drive he's forced into making, Swayze is joined by singer Randy Travis, who does a decent job as blue-collar trucker type. Archie Han (who was in PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE as the lead singer of the band “The Juicy Fruits” and was a regular member of Joe Dante’s stock company) and Meat Loaf make good villains, and Charles S. Dutton and Stephen Tobolowsky entertain as FBI & ATF Agents. Tobolowsky gets maybe his only “take a dude out with gunfire" moment in a movie too, which is kinda fun. Directed by Kevin Hooks, the movie also has a decent amount of truck and driving stunts that make it a blast to watch.
Brian Saur is a podcaster and blogger from Los Angeles that specializes in cult and classic films. He is co-host of the Pure Cinema Podcast and also produces and hosts another show called Just the Discs, which focuses on Blu-rays. He has run the Rupert Pupkin Speaks website since its inception in 2009 and continues to highlight obscure cinematic gems there on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter (@bobfreelander, @justthediscspod, @purecinemapod), Facebook, or Instagram for more film recommendations.