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The 10 Best Films of 1995

The 10 Best Films of 1995

 

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“By the current timetable of cultural recycling, pop artifacts tend to look their most dated—no longer fresh and new, but also not yet easily filed as products of their time—roughly 15 to 20 years following their initial conception.” So wrote Slant‘s Eric Henderson in his intro to our list of the 100 Best Films of the 1990s. Five years after that list’s publication and we’re feeling, on the 16th anniversary of this site’s inception, a little nostalgic. Which is why, every day for the next two weeks, we’re looking back at one year from the 1990s, to celebrate the films—from the cerebral Iranian puzzle box, to the Hong Kong mixtape, to the American cine-savvy royale, with and without cheese—that inspired many of us to write about film in the first place.

Like we do today with our year-end lists, the year of U.S. theatrical distribution was for the most part used to determine what year a film belonged to. But in cases where a film took more than a year to reach America, the year of its first prominent theatrical engagement, either in its country of origin or beyond, was used. And given the abundance of riches we had to choose from, prior to each Top 10 is a list of 10 honorable mentions—the majority of which were shortlisted for our 100 Best Films of the 1990s back in 2012 but didn’t garner enough support to make the final list. Ed Gonzalez

Honorable Mention: The Addiction, Clean, Shaven, Deseret, Fallen Angels, Guelwaar, I Can’t Sleep, In the Mouth of Madness, Kicking and Screaming, The Neon Bible, Salaam Cinema, Spiritual Voices, Strange Days, and Whisper of the Heart

The 10 Best Films of 1995

10

Crumb

If truth is indeed stranger than fiction, than the story of Robert Crumb is just about the weirdest ever told. Indeed, Crumb, Terry Zwigoff’s 1994 portrait of the infamous cartoonist, is so bracing and unbelievable that it at times borders on the absurd. A misfit father and mother breed three unique and self-destructive sons, each attempting to channel their sexual and psychological impulses through art. At times, these lives feel unsustainable: Max meditates on beds of nails, feeding ribbon through his digestive tract; Charles still lives with his parents, wallowing in failure while contemplating suicide; Robert, it turns out, is the “normal” one, a world-renowned artist who utilizes his art to subsume his perversions, which play out across the frames of his comics in lurid and demented detail. As their warped tale unfolds, one gets the feeling that art is the only thing keeping any of these people alive, that without this particular outlet each would take their misery out on themselves or, worse yet, on another human life. Arguably the greatest of all nonfiction films, Crumb is crushing in its emotional and psychological insight, nearly Shakespearean in its tragedy. Jordan Cronk

The 10 Best Films of 1995

9

Se7en

The mild anticipation leading up to David Fincher’s sophomore effort was stifled by the presence of another serial-killer thriller, the Jon Amiel-directed Copycat. Also recall that Brad Pitt was still fresh from flipping dewdrops from the brim of his hat into the crotches of moviegoers worldwide. It seemed like it was going to be a line drive down the middle, and then we saw the sights (each victim’s demise one-upping the last, peaking, arguably, with sloth), smelled the smells (desperation, sweat, diesel fuel, marinara sauce), and heard the questions (“What’s in the booooox?!”). Beyond its legacy as the movie that resuscitated a debased genre, and following fast on the heels of his botched, meddled-with debut (Alien 3), Se7en, with its incredible sense of craft and rhythm, announced a major auteur whose work continues to surprise with each new release. Its icky tone and Grand Guignol style helped to feed rumors that Fincher, then an unknown quantity in the movie business, was some kind of cross between a hotshot ad man and a pervert. But subsequent features have helped many to see Se7en, in hindsight, as more than a dazzling and depressing one-off. Jaime N. Christley

The 10 Best Films of 1995

8

Before Sunrise

Straddling the thin line between genuine invocation of dorm-room philosophy and wistfully affectionate evocation of the same, Richard Linklater’s talky romance between an American backpacker and a French student takes on the daunting subject of post-teenage angst from both inside and out. Briefly adrift in Vienna, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) spend one long night traipsing around the city, their instant chemistry tempered by the awareness that this will likely be the only moments they share: She’s on her way back to school in Paris, and his flight home leaves the next day. Seizing on the inherent romance of ancient cities and Eurail passes as a positional parallel to the director’s fixation with the confident, naïve ingenuousness of youth, Before Sunrise falls within the upper register of Linklater comedies, meaning the sentiment is earned, the political gabble never reaches the level of distraction, and the ever-flowing conversation is perfectly on pitch. Jesse Cataldo

The 10 Best Films of 1995

7

Exotica

With Exotica, director Atom Egoyan brought melodrama to new heights of insight and affect. This 1994 masterpiece, arguably the best film ever produced in Canada, took the tropes of a bygone art’s grandiloquence and reveled in the power of its own drama and the pain of its precisely fashioned narrative. Tracing the conjoined pasts of a dancer and the man who holds a unique power over her personal and professional life, Exotica examines the repercussions and transformative effects of human contact, as a tax auditor and the owner of a pet shop cross paths with the curious couple, triggering repressed emotions and igniting new passions. Egoyan unfolds this tale of secrecy and sexuality in a brave and intriguing manner, disclosing information through discreet gestures, allowing ambiguities to embolden the drama, turning each character’s every decision into moments of tactile consequence and import. It’s a perilous tightrope Egoyan walks, his best films skirting the line between the palpable and the preposterous. He may have subsequently found a certain transcendence in The Sweet Hereafter, but for the characters of Exotica, the passion of the present is preferable to the futility of a finite future. Cronk

The 10 Best Films of 1995

6

Through the Olive Trees

The concluding title in Abbas Kiarostami’s Koker trilogy, Through the Olive Trees exemplified both the power of the Iranian iconoclast’s ideology and the reach of his meta-cinematic, self-reflexive discourse. At once a tale of faith in the promises of love and a deconstruction of his own creative process, this multi-faceted, disorienting fictionalization of a key interpersonal relationship in Kiarostami’s prior film, Life, and Nothing More, brought a career’s worth of aesthetic advances to a place of both reconciliation and vast new narrative potential. The perseverance of his protagonist in the face of defeat finds its cinematic analogue in Kiarostami’s dismantling of his own methodology, a scene of unacknowledged import revealing a dense subtext and unforeseen consequence in its workshopped application. Casting an actor to play himself, directing a film that itself was a eulogy to the villagers he honored in Where Is the Friend’s House?, all atop a new narrative that culminates in one of cinema’s most heartrending finales, Kiarostami utilized Through the Olive Trees as a very pointed means of self-criticism and closure. Very few films can claim a similar functionality, let alone yield rewards on the viewers behalf of such endless intrigue. Cronk

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