A lot of people think that the 1970s was the golden age of American cinema. It’s really hard to fault this thinking because, let’s face it, some of the best movies that film students continue to pore over today with a fine-toothed comb were made in the 1970s.
I am, of course, talking about classics like “The Godfather,” “The Godfather: Part II,” “Chinatown,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Star Wars,” – you name it. It seems that it’s very tempting to conclude that all the best movies have been made a long time ago.
Well, you wouldn’t be absolutely incorrect for assuming that, but you may be accused of being narrow minded. After all, you’re supposed to look at the whole corpus of American cinema starting from the classic “Birth of a Nation” to “Metropolis” to “City Lights” to “The Wizard of Oz” to “Gone with the Wind” and, of course, “Citizen Kane.”
Usually, people who want you to look at the full corpus of America’s cinematic work product have a fairly dismissive view of the 90s. They think that a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done in previous decades.
To put this in practical terms, this mindset assumes that if a movie is to be honored and described as ‘revolutionary’ and ‘ground breaking’ it has to eclipse the works that came before it.
There appears to be a fast rising cumulative ‘critical barrier’ for newer films. If this sounds unfair, you can be it is. You really shouldn’t fault a film for being made at a later date.
If were to use this standard across the board then few films would withstand critical scrutiny since they have to bear the cumulative artistic critical weight of films that went before them.
Please understand that, as easy as it is to dismiss the 1990s as the age of commercial theater and as the final hurrah of old school cinematic releases in light of the upcoming internet revolution, the 90s produced some amazing movies.
Here are just three great movies that came out in the 1990s. I’ll explain why they are worth taking a look at.
“The Shawshank Redemption”
“The Shawshank Redemption,” starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, is easy to overlook. It’s the story of a person who got unjustly sentenced to prison where he witnessed all sorts of inhumanity and brutality.
The interesting thing about “The Shawshank Redemption” is that it speaks to the American need for justice. As the old saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. There was definitely a sense of delay in exposing the innocence of the protagonist in this movie.
Most people who have been unfairly accused of wrongdoing can definitely relate. But anybody who has been misunderstood, marginalized, or otherwise opposed based on some sort of exaggeration of what they thought or did can definitely relate to this issue.
In fact, “The Shawshank Redemption” is so emotionally powerful because it really appeals to most people’s tendency to side with the underdog.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I am going to argue that this tendency is actually universal. Most people, regardless of where they come from, regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, do not like it when a person is oppressed, especially if that person is innocent.
There’s just something about the universal human condition that is triggered when we feel that somehow, some way, some injustice is happening. This is what “The Shawshank Redemption” shines a bright spotlight on.
While it was set in a distant past decade, a lot of the dynamics in play and a lot of the anger and confusion and desperation communicated by the movie still resonates to this very day.
I’m not going to give you a spoiler for the movie, but the way the movie resolves the conflict speaks to both optimism for the human condition as well as pessimism.
The truth is, when a person finds himself against a large, faceless, anonymous organization and power called the government, it’s very easy to lose hope. It’s very easy to think that until and unless you engage in something really weird, your situation is not going to change.
But here’s where the movie’s optimism comes in: never underestimate people’s ingenuity.
“The Usual Suspects”
If you’re looking for a movie that made Kevin Spacey, look no further than this movie. This movie is just amazing in the way it told its story.
What’s so awesome about this movie is that it really highlighted creative timelines. Usually, when people tell a story, they begin with the beginning, and then they proceed to the middle, and then they wind up with the end.
Well, this movie is told from an interesting perspective, and the timeline is jumbled up. Regardless of that, you can still understand the movie. And the tricky and sneaky ending really makes the movie worth seeing.
I’m not going to give away the ending, but believe me, if you haven’t seen this movie before, the ending will definitely make up for it. There’s a lot of weird twists and there’s a lot of suspense, but the ending would really blow your mind.
The 90s seemed to be a golden age of creative timeline storytelling. The awesome thing about “Pulp Fiction” is that not only does it play with the timeline of a typical movie narration and storytelling, but it also tells the story of its protagonists from their own perspective.
It’s kind of like reading the book by Nabokov, Lolita. What’s so awesome about the novel Lolita was that the way the story was told, it was told from an imperfect storytelling.
When you understand how that works, then you would appreciate “Pulp Fiction” because it highlights the fact that when it comes to reality, there are many different people watching, and they have different perspectives. And guess what? The timeline is not as clean and tidy as we would have hoped.
Make no mistake, the 1990s contain some veritable cinematic gems. You would really be at a loss if you did not take the time to watch the recommended movies above.