Kino Lorber

The 100 Best Films of the 1990s

Cont’d from Page 8


Goodbye South, Goodbye

Perfectly poised between motion and stasis, Hou Hsiao-hsien's 1996 triumph watches as its small-time gangsters alternate between just hanging around, waiting for something to happen, and traveling (via train, motorcycle, whatever) in lovingly composed compositions that bring both modes indelibly to life. Boredom and desperate economic transaction are the defining features of the film's characters—and arguably of the late-20th (and early-21st) century—and Hou's achievement is to get at this itchy restlessness while giving the viewer ample space to luxuriate and observe. If Hou's distanced, long-take aesthetic was one of the defining modes of 1990s cinema, then it never feels more purposeful than in this film, whose exactly modulated rhythms speak to the experience of not simply a few Taiwanese hustlers, but to a shared sense of global discontent.  Schenker


Vive L’Amour

There's a certain tendency among art-house movies to use long takes of their protagonists crying as an emotional, sometimes even narrative, climax. A strange habit, perhaps, and one that few use to fuller effect than Tsai Ming-liang's Vive L'Amour, a film in which a shared loneliness would unite the characters if any were aware how close they are to others in the same situation. That the three leads all unknowingly live in the same Taipei apartment amplifies this irony, but not in a way that makes us laugh; ditto the title, which similarly underscores just how alone everyone is. From this communal isolation comes a great deal of beauty as well, much of it wordless as people drift past one another like ghosts. Tsai trusts his actors (not to mention his audience) enough to let their gestures and expressions mostly speak for themselves, hence the cathartic importance of the scene alluded to above: In a film so beautifully restrained, such an outwardly emotional act as this speaks volumes.  Nordine


Fight Club

At the risk of violating the first rule of Fight Club, we assert that David Fincher's film has emerged as something of a generational touchstone among that crop of formally and thematically innovative cinematic works unleashed on the cusp of Y2K. Moreover, Fight Club still exhibits its fair share of pre-millennial tensions: As a mindfuck film, it boasts a Godzilla-sized act-three twist that's both thoroughly prepared as well as thematically resonant. As a satirical indictment of a certain cult of machismo, the film nevertheless spawned emulators and copycats. (It also contains the risibly disingenuous scene where flawlessly chiseled Brad Pitt scoffs at media depictions of fashionable masculinity.) As an exemplar of Fincher's pyrotechnical inclinations, Fight Club stands as the director's most successful meshing of style and substance to date, with none of the unwarranted showboating found in, say, Panic Room's CG-enabled zoom into the inner workings of a flashlight. Here, CG effects work to embed characters within a digitally expressionistic background, as in the scene where the nameless narrator (Ed Norton) walks through his apartment, which morphs around him into an itemized, price-tagged IKEA ad.  Wilkins


Paris Is Burning

Some documentaries explore their subjects with the rigor of an anthropological study, inviting audiences to peer into lives or a system like detached impartial observers. Paris Is Burning, by contrast, plunges us into the world of ball culture like it's an inclusive party to which we're welcome to belong. The ever-increasing remoteness of the time and place of its setting lends the film the necessary significance of a historical document, informally ratifying its status as a snapshot of a subculture's golden age before the decline, but its portrait of drag, balls, and voguing (and the legendary practitioners of same) isn't articulated from a remove. This film exists, crucially, well within the borders of the world it celebrates, joyously flaunting its triumphs and touchingly sharing its pain—and though it often brushes up against tragedy, the vision of life it offers is practically utopic.  Marsh


Flowers of Shanghai

Flowers of Shanghai capped off a remarkable decade for Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien, a period over which he would consider a wide-range of historically veiled yet vital instances in China's evolutionary advancement. Marked by a patience and fluidity he'd spent the last 15 years perfecting, the film both refined and predicted the stately demeanor he'd carry into the new millennium. This simultaneous feeling of arrival and transience was reflected in the film itself, a lushly rendered fever dream detailing the changing role of prostitution and companionship in late-1800s, fin de siècle Shanghai. Confined to candle-lit, golden-hued quarters, these courtesans and the masters they serve are reflected upon in meditative visual strokes, Hou's camera gliding amid their mansion's chambers with a gentle sense of the inevitable. A formalist masterwork, Flowers of Shanghai brought Hou's aesthetic to its logical and most sublime plateau up to that point, richly rendering the specificity of his unique serenity, the revelatory texture of his quietly disarming observations.  Cronk



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