48 MPH / The Best Films of the ’90s

With Variety and Guardian Film Critic Guy Lodge

Rounding out our trio of episodes focused on peak ’90s cinema, finally we just come out and talk about it: What are the best films of the decade, period? But let’s put a twist on that conversation, shall we?

This week, 50 MPH welcomes Variety and Guardian film critic Guy Lodge to dig through the ’90s year by year and render a judgment on the greatest films of the era. “Year by year” is the key phrase, though, because for this, Lodge and 50 MPH host Kris Tapley have opted to select the single best film of each year, beginning with 1990 and moving through to the end of the millennium. The exercise makes for two lists as personal as they are critical in their determination, and indeed, Lodge starts the decade with a particular soft spot.

Krzysztof Kieślowski Red
Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Red, one of Guy Lodge’s picks for the best films of the decade (and perhaps THE best).

“I went with Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches, which I still think is one of the greatest children’s films ever made, certainly maybe the most terrifying children’s film ever made,” Lodge says of the 1990 Jim Henson-backed nightmare fuel. “I was a real kind of Roald Dahl head growing up and it was, I think, my first encounter with an adaptation of his work. My eyes popped at how vividly that book had been brought to life and how much of Roald Dahl’s humor had been preserved in it. This was seen at the time as a kind of weird diversion for Nic Roeg to make, because he was such a sort of avant garde filmmaker, and here he is making a kid’s movie. The amount of technique and bravura energy that he’s throwing at the screen right from the very first shot — it’s just pure cinema.”

Moving through the years, Tapley chimes in for Richard Linklater’s sophomore effort Dazed and Confused with his 1993 selection.

“It’s one of my favorite movies of all time,” he says. “We talked about Slacker last week. The DNA of this movie is obviously in Slacker, this sort of sprawling, Altman-esque kind of thing. But it’s so infused with who Linklater is. You just really feel like a filmmaker is in there talking to you. It’s so purely a filmmaker’s voice. And he does something with nostalgia in this movie that I just – I like nostalgia, obviously, given this podcast. I don’t think it’s something to run away from. And I think he just found something really special and true and beautiful and fun to work into this movie. I’ll watch it multiple times a year.”

Speaking of last week’s episode, and of deeply personal choices, Tapley circles back to his top directorial debut of the decade when discussing the best films of 1997: Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca.

“There are few movies that make me feel the way that movie does, and give me goosebumps the way that movie does,” Tapley says. “The final moments of that movie, I am always in tears. When they’re out there swimming and Vincent beats his brother, and he says, ‘How are you doing this?’ And he says, ‘I never saved anything for the swim back.’ I’m almost in tears right now. I mean, thematically, that movie just really works for me. It has something so beautiful to say about doing more than what you were meant to do, and to couch that in this sci-fi noir that really works aesthetically and formally and all of that as well, and to be a debut — I just thought he was such an exciting voice at that time in his career.”

There is but a single point of agreement on the two lists. However, it is an emphatic one, as Lodge and Tapley are of passionate like minds on the best film of 1998.

Gattaca Ethan Hawke
Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca, Kris Tapley’s pick for the best film of 1997

The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick’s World War II film, sort of seemed like a miracle that it happened at all,” Lodge says. “This film could have been a huge folly, and I think it’s, instead, maybe the greatest war film ever made. It’s this perfect fusion of Malick’s spiritual and natural and ecological interests with the war narrative of James Jones’ novel, and that combination kind of puts humanity and earth in dialogue with each other. This was the year of Saving Private Ryan, which pipped The Thin Red Line to all the awards it should have won at the Oscars, aside from Best Picture, which obviously Shakespeare in Love took. And I get why people went nuts for Saving Private Ryan, but the two side by side, I always thought there was no contest. One was just a much vaster, more poetic, kind of richer anti-war statement. I think it’s one of the greatest movies of all time.”

But what about Speed? Is it one of the best films of the decade? You’ll have to listen to find out on this week’s episode of 50 MPH!

Kris Tapley’s List:

  • Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
  • JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991)
  • Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)
  • Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)
  • Speed (Jan de Bont, 1994)
  • Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
  • Fargo (Joel Coen, 1996)
  • Gattaca (Andrew Niccol, 1997)
  • The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)
  • The Insider (Michael Mann, 1999)

Guy Lodge’s List:

  • The Witches (Nicolas Roeg, 1990)
  • Boyz N the Hood (John Singleton, 1991)
  • Howards End (James Ivory, 1992)
  • Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)
  • Three Colors: Red (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994)
  • Safe (Todd Haynes, 1995)
  • Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, 1996)
  • L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)
  • The Thin Red Line (Terence Malick, 1998)
  • Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)


Kris Tapley Your Host:

Kris has covered the entertainment industry for nearly two decades, with bylines at Variety, The New York Times, Empire and Vanity Fair. He now works as a writer and consultant in Los Angeles, where he lives with his loving wife, lively son and lazy cat. He likes Speed.