Nightman’s Favourite Films Of The 1990s

I continue my summary of my favourite films by year and by decade with this, my favourite films of the 1990s. Although I spent seven years in the 1980s, it’s really the 90s that most of my ‘growing up’ took place. It’s when I changed schools, became a teen, and all those important things. In terms of my love of film, it’s the decade that I started realizing that films were actually pieces of work that took years of planning and work to create – from the money men to the writers to the director and everyone else involved, while previously I only recognised a film by who starred in it. My tastes continued to be a love of action and horror and as the decade came to a close I was looking further afield for the sort of kicks that Hollywood could no longer provide. Regardless, this list will likely contain mostly American films, though the explosion of indie talent means that even those won’t necessarily be ‘Hollywood’. This could be a long post too, as many of my all time favourites came out in this decade. Essentially everything outside of the top seven can be in any order. Enough balls, lets do this.

21: The Blair Witch Project (1991)

Lets kick things off with a film that received a lot of hate from the horror community. It still divides horror fans with little middle ground – you either love it, or see it as boring, scare-free, and the main reason we have so many terrible shaky cam movies now. If there is any middle ground, it’s those people who say that the film is 95% walking around a forest, and the last 5% of the movie being genuinely terrifying. Obviously I love it, and a large part of that is due to the last 10 minutes or so – what makes the ending so chilling though is everything that comes before it. The three characters here, while they have their moments, are less annoying and more human than most you’ll find in this type of film and make less dubious decisions. The mythology of the film is interesting too, not least because it has basis in historical fact – I’m talking about the whole Witch Trials and Puritan fear-mongering of previous centuries here. Secondly, witches are a type of supernatural creature sorely underrepresented in movies, even in horror fiction as a whole. There are a few standout movies of course.

Obviously not the first found footage movie, The Blair With Project is nevertheless the most influential – it’s still the poster boy for the sub-genre. I remember the hysteria when this was released and I saw it as soon as I could. I watched the related documentary and I bought a related book detailing the history of the township. I love how the movie built up this little universe all of its own. I was mystified though by the people who actually bought into the advertising, believing the film to be real – I’m still not sure how people were fooled by this. The film has such a simple set up – a trio of students are making a documentary about a small town and the mythology surrounding it. They travel to the town, meet a few locals, and head out into the massive woods where evil is meant to lurk. They go missing and a few years later their video footage is found – the film is that footage. In the footage we see them getting stalked by something unseen – the group believe it could be locals having fun but they quickly become disoriented, paranoid, and fight among themselves. They get lost, they see and hear stranger things, and… well, you either know the rest or should watch yourself. I’ve never been scared of camping, or woods, or isolation, or anything like that – in fact I find such things comforting. I’ve no idea why the film creeps me out so much – I can only assume it’s the idea of a witch, some ancient evil lurking which can control time and space apparently, which gets to me but even that sounds stupid. Whatever it is, it works, and I love it.

20: The Last Boy Scout (1991)

Even after other movies from the same era have achieved cult status, this one still flies mainly under the radar and I’ve still no idea why. Look – it has like 40% on Rotten Tomatoes. Idiots. I mean, its treatment of women is dubious at times as I  believe I covered in my review post, but in terms of pure action and entertainment there are few better.

The film opens with some American Football player going for a touchdown or a home run or some sports shit but rather than some last minute glory win like Teenwolf, he whips out a gun and starts shooting the opposition before killing himself. Nice. Elsewhere, we meet a washed up ex Secret Service Agent who is now the disgruntled father of a bratty daughter, husband of a cheating wife, and a boozy PI. He gets a job to bodyguard a stripper, who just happens to be the boyfriend of an ex NFL star. The stripper is promptly killed and the boyfriend and the bodyguard team up to find out who put out the hit, unraveling a plot of corruption in the world of sports and politics. Directed by Tony Scott and starring Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans, this also features Danielle Harris, Halle Berry, Kim Coates, Taylor Negron. The script by Shane Black, which was sold for a record 1.75 million, is superb – filled with great self-aware 90s humour, Scott directs with his usual visual flair, and the cast are all good – Willis especially delivering one of his most sardonic performances. There are some great action set-pieces while remaining grounded, and yet both Scott and Black have stated that the end product was not what the script deserved. If that’s true then I can’t imagine how good the end product should have been.

19: Starship Troopers (1997)

The middle of the Nineties saw Paul Verhoeven moving away from the violent action movies that had earned him worldwide fame a decade earlier. His previous two films were sex-based thrillers – a massive success in Basic Instinct and a massive failure in Showgirls (I like both). Starship Troopers is a glorious return to the likes of Total Recall and Robocop – big, brash, loud mouth action, ultra violence, and more satirical than a liberal talk show host. Adapted from Heinlein’s classic sci-fi novel, Verhoeven’s take clearly mocks the celebration of war and its associated propaganda machine although it’s easy to see why many completely miss the fascist satire and take it on face value as movie where guys with guns triumph over some faceless drone enemy.

The film follows Johnny Rico – a student in his final year of a very patriotic, militaristic school – and a small group of friends. Earth is attached by an alien race, kicking off an all out intergalactic war. Rico signs up in the hope of revenge, guts, and glory, and his band of friends all get recruited into different sections of the army – pilots, intelligence, grunts etc. Rico is a grunt and goes off for training to be cannon fodder – the scenes of training taking those of Full Metal Jacket to ridiculous new heights. Once training is complete, Rico heads off to war – that’s pretty much it. The special effects were state of the art for the time, and I still enjoy them now. The action is top rate, futuristic gun battles with ugly arachnid and alien creatures, and a cast featuring Dean Norris, Brenda Strong, Marshall Bell, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Neil Patrick Harris, Jake Busey, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, and Casper Van Dien. Like in Robocop, Verhoeven fills this with media interludes – news snippets, adverts, info nuggets, all catered to a bloodthirsty flag-waving audience all to willing to sacrifice body and soul for a worthless cause. The dialogue doesn’t quite reach the heights of Robocop (what does?) but the film reunites the director, screenwriter, and musical composer meaning it’s a close cousin. Balls to the wall violent action movies were on the wane in the late 90s, and this is one of the genre’s finest swansongs.

18: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

I’ve argued before how this is a horror film. I’ve argued how Sheryl Lee deserved and Oscar nomination, if not a win for her performance here. David Lynch has quite a few masterpieces in his resume, but Twin Peaks – the series and the movie – are by far his most beloved work. The movie departs tonally, bravely, from the original series and instead offers a harrowing, terrifying glimpse into the last week of Laura Palmer’s tortured life. There are no characters offering quaint small-town wisdom, there is no offbeat humour, and there is almost no hope or light. This is the darkest quivering heart of The Black Lodge, a place of obsession, madness, and death, and its pulsating ripples envelope and suck in any innocence there may be in the unfortunate surroundings. If you haven’t seen the movie, then I won’t say anymore about it – all I can say is that it certainly helps to know the series before watching the movie, and to not expect the movie to be an extension of the show’s charms. This is your favourite town and everyone in it being burned to the ground, and its horrific and glorious.

17: Tombstone (1993)

True Romance and Heat narrowly missed out on making this best of Nineties list. Those films and Tombstone share the honours of having some of the most amazing casts in single films. There are a few films like this in the Nineties where you look at the cast and already know the film is going to be wonderful – doesn’t matter what the thing is about – it could be a discussion of the correlation between paint drying and algebra, it could be one of those terrible singing talent shows, hell – it could even be a musical and the cast alone would make it unmissable. Luckily Tombstone is none of those shitty things, instead being a stylish version of events from the life of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday with all manner of guns and moustaches.

Look at these names: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Michael Biehn, Sam Elliot, Powers Boothe. That’s a strong enough cast to sell any movie, but then you check out the support – Jason Priestly, Thomas Haden Church, Stephen Lang, Dana Delaney, Paula Malcomson. Fine, some decent names there, hardly stars though. Okay, why don’t we throw in Charlton Heston, Robert Mitchum, Billy Bob Thornton? That’s without even mentioning Billy Zane, Michael Rooker, Terry O’Quinn, John Corbett and many others. That’s like a 70s disaster movie epic, or a Cecil B De Mille cast – in some respects literally.

The story is fairly streamlined and straightforward – A gang of outlaws has been shooting up various towns and they descend upon the town of Tombstone. Noted lawman Wyatt Earp and his brothers have decided to settle down there for a quiet life, meeting up with old friend Doc Holliday. The two groups, and assorted others, clash. There’s more to it than that, a lot of character building and inter-relations stuff, but at its core it’s the story of these groups coming together in a bloody conclusion. I’d spoken in another post about not liking many Westerns when I was young, but this is definitely one of the few which appealed to me and has only grown in my estimation over time.

16: Desperado (1995)

Robert Rodriguez burst onto the scene with this 1995 marvel of low budget film-making, essentially remaking his even lower budget El Mariachi. That previous film gained Rodriguez attention from the likes of Quentin Tarantino (who guest stars here) and whose influence no doubt aided in this getting made. The film also brought Salma Hayak and Danny Trejo into the limelight and launched Antonio Banderas into action hero status. Like Tarantino’s films, Desperado is marked by stylish action, quotable cool dialogue, and a variety unique grindhouse type characters.

Following the events of El Mariachi (no need to see that movie first though), the Mariachi with a guitar case full of guns has become something of a legend or folklore hero. El Mariachi is looking for the man called Bucho who killed his girlfriend and blew a hole in his hand. His travels take him to a small Mexican town where he encounters a new lover, a guitar playing boy, Bucho and his goons, and a variety of assassins and scoundrels looking for bounty. Beyond that, it’s guns guns guns. The principle cast are all gorgeous, cool, and the cameos from the likes of Steve Buscemi, Tarantino, Cheech and others are fun. The action set-pieces are fantastic, more in common with John Woo’s antics than the Hollywood blockbuster. For balls to the wall energy and creativity you won’t get many better.

15: Leon (1994)

Luc Besson had been making films for a while before he struck gold with Leon. His previous feature film Nikita had established him as one of the more interesting and diverse directors of action movies, but it’s Leon where he builds upon many of those ideas – isolation, moral ambiguity, control, and does it with a world-renowned cast and the sure touch of a director and writer on a creative roll. The film follows Jean Reno, a deadly assassin who stays away from all human contact and social interaction, who gets embroiled in saving a young girl’s life and trains her to follow in his footsteps. The film also features Natalie Portman’s star-making turn and Gary Oldman being epic, plenty of stylish action and a rather sweet/disturbing relationship depending on how you view it. The action movie moved away from the muscle bound superstars who owned the genre in the 80s and for a few years it struggled to find a new identity – the reluctant or anti-hero would take the place of Arnie and Sly as symbolized by films such as this.

14: Problem Child (1990)

This one was love at first sight and I still remember explaining the film in detail to my friends and a cousin the following week in school. Scene by scene, quote by quote I must have memorized the whole thing and then reenacted it to my class till they knew it by heart without having seen it. I probably contributed a hefty percentage to the amount of money the film made after making sure everyone else went out and saw it. Back when you rented VHS tapes, we generally kept them for a weekend. In most case we probably only watched them once, but I think Problem Child got a few watches and rewinds before getting returned. We probably rented it again before I eventually bought the tape myself.

It’s the story of a boy, Junior, who has been passed from family to family, adopted and sent back, and who ends up in an orphanage for kids no-one wants – hilarious! No-one wants him because he’s, well, a dick. He breaks stuff, steals, swears, plays pranks, and is probably violent. He’s clearly a future serial killer (his hero is in fact a serial killer), but maybe all he needs is the attention of a loving family. Enter John Ritter and Amy Yasbeck – a couple who insides are not compatible. They’re your perfect white American suburban family – all they’re missing is a kid – and they are coerced into adopting Junior. It’s not long before he begins wreaking havoc with his new family, destroying bullies at a baseball game, at a snooty birthday party, and inviting a certain Bow Tie Killer to rescue him.

You wonder what events conspired to ever see a story like this make it to screen. It’s a film you certainly wouldn’t see getting made in today’s more tame climate. The film was touted as a horror – inviting a child in to your home who happens to be violent or have other dark secrets (Orphan), then as a satire of all of the child-centric family hits of the 80s where grown ups overcome their issues thanks to the innocence of a child, eventually settling on this where the morale appears to be that… everyone deserves a chance, but most people are dicks? See, aside from being really funny – for kids and adults – Problem Child is dark as sin. I’ve always appreciated dark humour and I don’t know if that comes from years of violent slapstick cartoons or elsewhere, but I’m sure this film was a part of influencing my tastes. I’m not sure my wife would allow my kids to watch this if she really knew what it was about, but luckily for them I’ve already let them watch it so the joke’s on…. I actually don’t know who.

13: GoldenEye (1995)

I’ve always been a Bond fan. As a red blooded British bloke, of course I am. As with most successful franchises, sooner or later the money men come in and fuck everything up, and that’s exactly what happened with Bond. For years, various owners and companies and twats fought over the rights to the series and in the meantime the world moved on. By the time 1995 rolled around the Cold War was in the past and The West’s old enemies had been defeated or put into hiding. Luckily, evil and greed never dies, so the new world had a bunch of new outlets for ideas. A new Bond, a new M, new writers, directors, a new style, a new world – but still the same old sexy antics of a globe-trotting super spy who can’t resist dipping his PPK in the moist schemes of the world’s Vs (villains). Like most Bond films, the plot is either over-complex or a maguffin – here there’s stuff about Russians and hackers and satellites and financial ruin, but really it’s about a rogue MI6 agent and old friend of 007 getting up to badness, and Bond having to go kill him. On the way he leaps off a Dam, drives a tank, shoots up a train, kills a Boris, and stays Onatopp of his womanizing ways.

I’ll call it out here for full transparency – I love the N64 game and it’s one of my all time favourites. I played the game before I watched the film, but I don’t think this has had a huge impact on my love for the film Sure, being familiar with the game and then watching those scenes and locations on screen was cool and probably gave me some initial lols and hearts. As time went on though the film never fell out of favour with me – it has some of the best performances of any Bond movie, Brosnan is perfect, Bean is a great bad guy, and both Scorupco and Jansenn rank highly in my list of Bond girls. I love how personal and emotional the story becomes – it’s not just a job for Bond – and it has some of the most memorable action and stunts of the series. You’ll see that my favourite Bond films are those which I find the most emotional or have the most interesting story – that’s why the likes of this, For Your Eyes Only, Casino Royale, Live And Let Die rank higher for me over the more obvious Connery stalwarts – Bond as a flawed human or unique stories over your standard spy malarkey. I even like the music in this one – the one thing all critics point to as a major miss.

12: Jurassic Park (1993)

This was always going to be included on my list of favourite 90s movies – I imagine it would be on most people’s top tens/twenties, especially those who grew up with it. I’m annoyed I never caught this at the cinema when it was released. I’m not sure why, given that I saw some other weird ones on the big screen this year – The Nightmare Before Christmas and Super Mario Bros for example. I’ll assume you know the story – rich guy and a bunch of scientists find a way to create dinosaurs, they decide to breed them in a special zoo, but before opening to the public they invite a bunch of experts to inspect. The dinosaurs escape and everyone freaks out.

Like Jaws is to shark movies, Jurassic Park is the daddy of dinosaur movies. I don’t see it ever being topped even though I would happily watch any number of imitators. It’s the perfect film for the kid in us – for those of us who used to look at dinosaur books and be filled with awe and wonder that such things ever walked the earth. There’s no other director in the world at his peak that you’d want working on this film than Spielberg – you just know he shares that awe and wonder. Add to this Richard Attenborough, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Samuel L Jackson, and non-annoying kids, and a bunch of iconic images, great score, memorable set pieces, and you have an all time classic. All I’d love now is a genuine, genuinely good dinosaur-based horror movie.

11: Hard Boiled (1992)

People forget that John Woo has been involved in movies since the late 1960s. He directed his first film in the early 70s. There has always been something ultra modern about his films – when something like Hard-Boiled or Face-Off came out you’d assume it was made by some alarmingly talented new voice, not someone who had been doing it for three decades already. He had already made your standard Golden Harvest wuxia type film, then movies with Jackie Chan, and didn’t really get to assert his own true vision until Heroes Shed No Tears and (more accurately) the superb A Better Tomorrow. Those films unleashed his personal style and as his films progressed we got more of his traditional ‘heroic bloodshed’ movies – films with a (then) unique look and fell – very stylized, killers in suits and shades, lots of slow motion gun play, slow motion everything really, and uber-cool actors and characters. There was usually a lot of male bonding/conflict. Hard Boiled is his crowning achievement – a film that laughs at how small and tame the action of Die Hard is, and a film which both is the hallmark for Hong Kong action, and revolutionized the genre as a whole. Yet so few people have seen it.

Chow Yun Fat stars as the renegade cop Tequila, a man who plays by his own rules in the typical 80s archetype. After his partner his killed during a raid, Tequila is taken off the case. Elsewhere, an undercover super-cop is trying to infiltrate a ruthless Triad gang. The two team up and play an uneasy game where the violence rapidly escalates until the final stunning shootout in a hospital. The action man…. there was a point in the nineties when action was becoming stale – there were disaster type epics, there were meta movies, but the genre seemed to be moving away from the one man army movies I grew up with. Then I happened upon Hard Boiled and was in love instantly. The action here is ridiculous, set-pieces going on for thirty minutes rather than three. There are crazy shots here that boggle the mind – the amount of preparation which must have gone into them, especially those one-shot scenes, is still mind-blowing and they were done with no digital trickery. The plot does become overblown and there are some sentimental scenes which will seem odd to Western audiences, but in Fat, Leung, Kwok, and Wong we have some good guys and bad guys to rank alongside the Rambos and Hans Grubers of the world. This is one of those films to show people who think foreign movies are boring. Two hours later they’ll be saying Hollywood movies are boring.

10: The Fifth Element (1997)

Milla Jovovich had already appeared in a number of great films, but this was her star-making turn. For my money, she should have received an Oscar nomination here, as the pure and innocent Fifth Element taking human form. If you don’t fall in love with her here, you have no soul. This is a madcap comic book action movie – over the top in all the right ways, and with a unique look thanks to Besson’s vision and Gaultier’s ‘fashions’. Check out the rest of the cast too – Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, with Luke Perry, Brion James, and Lee Evans in smaller roles. It’s the age old story of the destruction of Earth by an unnamed space evil, and the human and alien representatives on the sides of good and evil trying to save/destroy everything. Bruce Willis is back to his wise-cracking, fatigued best as an ex-military, now cabbie who accidentally meets The Fifth Element and must protect her from those who would use her for their wicked purposes. There’s a lot of plot and history here, but in the end it boils down to a simple kill the bad guys synopsis, with ridiculous guns, wacky characters, and some of the best actors in the world having the most fun they’ve ever had. The fun is infectious and the execution of the youthful ideas will keep you guessing and smiling.

9: Bangkok Dangerous (1999)

I’ve talked on the blog before about how I’ve always enjoyed foreign cinema – especially Asian films as they offer their own twists on my favourite genres of action and horror. I can’t recall exactly, but I think this was either the second or third Pang Brothers film I saw – the first being Bangkok Haunted. The first thing I would say about this – and the rule typically applies for any remakes of foreign movies – is see the original first. Nic Cage’s remake is an average thriller which takes some of the loose ideas here, but sucks the emotion out. It also lacks the vibrant style which the Pang Brothers showcases, especially in their early days. The weird thing is – the remake was also directed by the Pang Brothers, so I’m not sure where things went sour. It’s a decent movie, but very straight to DVD, and not a patch on the original.

The film follows Kong, an archetypal sympathetic hitman, bullied as a child for being deaf, but whose disability and bullying makes him a flawless killer. He ends up working for the mob, he is friends with a stripper and her boyfriend, and he falls in love with a pharmacist. That’s… pretty much it. The story is one you’ve seen a million times before – you know that things will go wrong and revenge will be served cold, but it’s done with such flair, and done with such conviction, with emotion, with humour, that it stands tall as one of the finest examples of the sub-genre. Pawalit Mongkolpisit is a great choice as the lead – you can’t help but feel for him and side with him in spite of the terrible work he does, and Premsinee Ratanasopha as Fon is a revelation. It’s a massive pity that these guys haven’t really done any other work – their relationship here feels both cute and honest without being cutesy. I don’t want to say too much else about it – seek it out for yourself, and enjoy one of the finest slices of 90s action you’ll ever see.

8: Things To In Denver When You’re Dead (1995)

In the post Pulp Fiction world, every young director wanted to make their crime masterpiece. We had British efforts from Guy Ritchie and his clones, Eastern attempts, and endless Hollywood versions. I’ve never felt that Things To In Denver When You’re Dead fit this mold – but that’s how it was reviewed and marketed. It’s a shame this never got to stand on its own as it is a unique film, miles apart in tone and style from Tarantino’s work – a much more sombre affair and a film that I would probably choose to watch over Pulp Fiction any day of the week – and I’m a huge fan of Pulp Fiction. 

There are a number of films this decade which have truly unbelievable casts – Tombstone, Heat, Pulp Fiction, Cop Land, True Romance, Glengarry Glen Ross – and this. Lets see – Andy Garcia, Christopher Lloyd, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Gabrielle Anwar, Treat Williams, Fairuza Balk, Jack Warden, Bill Nunn, Don Cheadle, William Forsythe. I realize that not all of those names may be A-Listers or household names, but film fans will recognize and respect them – and that’s not to mention the host of regognizable faces who also pop up, even if you don’t know the names – Jenny McCarthy, Willie Garson, Tiny Lister, Buddy Guy, Bill Cobbs, Marshall Bell, and others. You’ll spend the movie going ‘where do I know that guy from?’

It’s not merely a who’s who guessing game – the characters they play you will want to hang out and have boat drinks with, and the story they find themselves in is tinged with regret, heroism, futility, fatalism, honour… Garcia stars as ex-gangster Jimmy The Saint. He has been legit for a while, with a bizarre business where people (generally the elderly or those with an incurable illness) record a video for their loved ones to be given once they pass – I’m not sure such a business model would survive today, but it works as a nice plot device. Christopher Walken (should have grabbed an Oscar nomination) is his terrifying ex-boss, and he calls a favour from Jimmy to help get his pedophile son and ex-girlfriend back together. For some reason Jimmy recruits his old pals to run an intimidation job on the ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend (rather than just roughing him up one to one), and it all goes badly wrong. Buckwheats for all, as they say.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I love the film so much – it’s undoubtedly cool, having a style that sticks with me for whatever reason, and it features some of my favourite performers in iconic ways. Balk is terrific, Garcia and Lloyd give some of their best, understated work, and Anwar proves again that she should have been a much bigger star. I love the dialogue, I love Steve Buscemi’s Mr Sssh, and I love the inevitability of Mr Sssh’s pursuit and the overall vibe of death and honour – doing what you can with the time you have. This made around half a million bucks at the box office, which is a crime. You owe it to yourself, and to the film itself, to go watch this now – yes you, reading this list, watch it now and then tell your friends.

7: Beauty And The Beast (1991)

What can I say – I’m a sucker for schmaltz, when it’s done right. My favourite Disney movie ever, my favourite animated movie ever, for me nothing else comes close to its majesty. The tale as old as time has never been told better, in such vibrant colours and with such lovable and dastardly characters.  I talked about the film in more detail in my Top Ten Disney films post – TLDR version – awesome heroine, great songs, wonderful heartfelt story acted out by great characters and cast.

6: Scream (1996)

By the time 1996 rolled around (I probably actually saw this first in 97, but who’s counting) I was already a hardcore horror fan, with the Elm Street series being my favourite. I was also already head over heels in love with Neve Campbell, thanks to Party Of Five. When I first heard about Scream – merging Wes Craven with Campbell in a new slasher movie which just happened to be getting rave reviews from everyone – I knew I would love it. What I didn’t know was just how much. I remember renting the VHS and watching two or three times that day. There was something so callous and wicked and ingenious about that opening sequence – not just the dialogue, or the scenario, or the whole ‘killing off our big name actress’ thing but how the killer kills Casey such footsteps away from her parents, stabbing her as she reached out for their help in the safety of her own front lawn. I’m not sure there have been many more brutal or poignant horror movie deaths than that – certainly not many have affected me so much. Although I always had an inkling, it was that moment which cemented my understanding of Craven’s over-arcing theme – that theme which runs through all of his work – that kids are never safe, and that your parents can’t help you. As would be revealed, and much like Nightmare, Hills, and other Craven hits – the sins of the parents will come back ten-fold upon the children.

The film doesn’t hold back on the blood and guts either, being fairly graphic given the target audience. There are your standard stabbings and slicings, but also gun shots and the odd ceiling decapitation/chokehold. What about that dialogue? Williamson and Craven collaborate wonderfully, bringing that meta mid-90s speak to a peak, the characters smart, aware, cool, but still falling into the same traps that they mock fictional characters for falling into. As iconic horror dialogue goes, ‘What’s your favourite scary movie’ is right up there with the best, but it’s the discussion of movies and of tropes that really won the fans over – this was, finally, a horror movie made by and for horror movie fans – one which understood us and the fiction we love.

What’s it all about though? A small town is being ravaged by a number of brutal killings and the ultimate target appears to be one Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell in her star-making performance). Who is the killer – it could be anyone – an absent parent, a school faculty member, a reporter, a boyfriend, a friend – part of the fun is that the film keeps you guessing right up until its final reveal and twist. It wouldn’t be a slasher movie without a twist. We have this gorgeous young cast fighting for their lives all while trying to get on with the mundane stuff like school and sex and movies and parties, we have a kick ass soundtrack, both instrumental and the songs, and it’s all pulled together with a taut nod and wink by Craven – one of the best, at his best. All that said, and I didn’t even mention Ghostface – how iconic is that mask?

5: The Crow (1994)

If the 80s was the decade when the most wacky ideas seemed to get a greenlight, then the 90s saw the darker material rising to the top. What Scream is to the horror genre, The Crow is to the comic book genre. The Crow is, without a doubt, the finest comic book movie ever made. I love Batman, Superman, Nolan’s trilogy – but they all pale in comparison to this. Look at how expansive the world Marvel has created – not just as a whole, but in each individual entry – everything is MASSIVE and yet, they’re all so bland. I’ve yet to see a single drop of anything resembling emotion in a single MCU movie – granted I’ve only seen a handful so far, but it’s their generic, stale, lets blow up another city feel which leaves me cold. They’re popcorn movies for sure, but like popcorn which has been lifted off the ground after a double bill of Fifty Shades and Indecent Behaviour. 

Why am I moaning about Marvel? I feel like The Crow doesn’t get it’s due credit. I want as many people to see it, and to honour it, before another inevitable remake comes along – it is a case of the stars at night aligning and making something so perfect that it couldn’t possibly have been made by anyone else at any other time. Before it, very few comic movies were daring, or felt independent, or seemed unique. The Crow takes chances – it’s dark as Witch’s muff, and it casts the untested son of a martial artist as its lead. It’s a film about a man coming back from the dead to avenge the rape and murder of his fiancee and it’s loosely based on the writer’s own, similar, true story. It has a look unlike most other films – rain drenched, always night, always smokey, with crime and debauchery everywhere. Alex Proyas had this and Dark City in the 90s – what a combo – and then he seemed to lose his mind and make fluff. The talent shown in these two movies, the look and tone, is unparalleled.

Brandon Lee stars as Eric Draven – a man brought back for revenge. Over the course of a night he hunts down the men who killed him and his fiancee, all the while hounded by a cop (Ernie Hudson) and a child he once knew (Rochelle Davis) and under the watchful eye of a mysterious crow. That’s all there is to it, but it’s haunted by sadness both real and fictional – writer James O Barr’s real life tragedy all to plain to feel, and Brandon Lee was accidentally killed during filming, ensuring that he would never see the final product. All that takes the darkness on show to higher levels of tragedy but even without the real life stuff, it’s a film oozing with emotion. There is a dizzying visual flare, some of the finest one-line dialogue of the decade, and another brilliant dual soundtrack – instrumental and songs – I bought both shortly after seeing the movie. Lee should have been up for an Oscar here, and the rest of the cast feature standout performances from Michael Wincott, Tony Todd, and David Patrick Kelly. Even though the movie was a hit, even though it spawned a TV series and many sequels, even though Sting based his most popular persona off it, even though I feel like it has its own cult of fans who hold it dearly – it deserves more recognition.

4: Edward Scissorhands (1990)

A number of films just miss out on my Top Ten Of All Time – a few of which are definitely better films than some which are in my Top Ten – Dawn Of The Dead, The Thing, Battle Royale, and this – Edward Scissorhands being some of those. This movie is perfect – there is literally nothing I would change about it, my only problem with it being that it is so short. It cemented Tim Burton as a God in my world, cemented my adoration for Winona Ryder, and made the world take notice of a young fella called Johnny Depp – how he didn’t get an Oscar nomination here is ridiculous. Depp lost a Golden Globe to Depardieu in Green Card – seriously. Danny Elfman didn’t get nominated, Burton was passed over for Best Director, nothing for him or Thompson in the writing categories. 1990 was actually a good year for The Oscars too, but still.

If you’ve seen the film then you already love it for the same reasons I do – as I’ve said, it’s perfect. All I will add is that it has always appealed to the outsider in me, that sad que cera ceraness of it all striking a personal chord.

3: Ringu (Top Ten Of All Time) (1998)

There are a number of horror films which changed my life and which I never shut up about once I saw them – if I knew you at the time, you can be sure I made you, or tried to make you watch them. They had to be films which either came out around that time – not something from decades earlier, or foreign/one I knew most people wouldn’t have seen. Scream was one, Bodysnatchers was another. Maybe I was most vocal about Ringu – it’s one of those films where seeing and feeling people’s reactions was almost as fun as watching the film itself. As those final scenes begin you can feel the oxygen get sucked out of the room, in fact the room itself seems to grow smaller, walls pressing in and the viewer slowly folds their limbs into a crab-like foetal position. This is the pinnacle of the J-Horror movement and of Asian Horror in general, a slow burning masterpiece of dread and outright shivering terror.

You probably know the story by now – there are whispers of an urban legend about a videotape (such things once existed, kids). When you watch the tape, your phone rings and a voice tells you that you have exactly seven days to live. There is only one way to save yourself from the curse, and that is to make it go viral – make a copy and make someone else watch it and the curse is passed on to them. Bodies begin to pile up and it seems there may be some truth or hysteria attached to the legend. Enter journalist Reiko who wants to write a story about the whole thing – her niece apparently a victim of the curse. Upon investigating, Reiko finds what appears to be the videotape of legend. Naturally, she watches it, but oops – so does her ex-husband and son. They have seven days to try to uncover and prevent the curse, looking into the history of the mysterious Sadako Yamamura.

I love this film so much – to the point that I see many many parallels between it and The Terminator series, thematically, stylistically… but I won’t go into those. If you like both series, you’ll see what I mean. Once again, I love the inevitability of it – basically, if you watch the tape you’re fucked, and you can’t really avoid it. Nanako Matsushima and Hiroyuki Sanada are excellent leads and the story merges old world superstition with new age techno-fears. The whole thing is fundamentally routed in Japanese fear and culture, yet it’s intrinsically universal. I bought the sequels, love them too, and I bought the books – very different beasts from the movies, but genuinely brilliant too. Hell, I even bought Rasen – the other sequel which tries to be more like the book, but without the genius of Nakata at the helm it’s not great. Nakata’s best film, his work here made me seek out all of his other stuff with increasingly diminishing returns.

I love me some gore, and I love a good effective jump-scare, but fear works best for me when it creeps upon me and of course, when I actually care about the story and the characters. The story and characters here suit me perfectly – a mystery based on whispered myths and tragedy, bullying, psychic power, intelligent, strong men and women – and while the scares here are actually quite minimal, it’s the way it builds and builds unrelentingly to that climax – you won’t realize that you’ve pulled out your own nails while watching. I had great fun doing prank calls on people after making them watch the movie. We created memes of certain moments before internet memes were a thing. Just one final word – I despise the remake. It is utter shite. Utter, complete shite. Yet most horror fans, most film fans prefer it. It turns this masterpiece of dread into generic, glossy, noisy jump-scare bollocks and even commits the cardinal sin of cutting away during the climax. Stick with the original.

2: Dumb And Dumber (Top Ten Of All Time) (1994)

The only comedy which I have marathoned – watched many times in a short space of days. Probably the comedy I quote the most, and another film where I went out and bought the soundtrack shortly after seeing it, and got annoyed that half the songs were missing. The Farrelly Brothers have never bettered this, and I wish wish wish they had done a sequel in the same decade instead of waiting until the performers were depressingly old and made me too aware of the ravages of time. No matter which version you see, Dumb And Dumber is a perfect comedy, though I am inclined towards the juvenile – again, as long as I actually care about what’s going on.

The film is all about Harry and Lloyd, two loser, less than intelligent friends who scrape by with dead end jobs. During a chance encounter/intervention during a blackmailing deal, the pair end up with a mysterious maguffin (suitcase) and decide to go on a cross country journey to Assssspenn and deliver it to its rightful owner. Along the way they meet a variety of weird and wonderful characters, have a number of adventures, and learn absolutely nothing. It you’re not laughing at least once every thirty seconds while watching this, I don’t want to know you. Naturally, it’s the little things that most people don’t notice that stick with me the most – the things Lloyd buys after being instructed only to purchase the bare essentials, the force with which Lloyd cane-whacks Harry’s legs with… I could go on. It was always my plan to go to my school Formal (for any US readers, it’s our equivalent of Prom) with one of my friends, dressed in the same suits Harry and Lloyd wear to the fundraiser later in the film, but we chickened out and he ended up not going at all. To make up for this, I got drunk and threw pint and shot glasses from one of the hotel rooms into the car park below. Side note – as I checked Wikipedia for box office returns on a number of these films, I keep seeing them being listed in various magazine’s 500 films of all time – I must do some sort of post covering those 500 films and a few words on what I think of each. You’ll love that.

1: Terminator 2 (Top Ten Of All Time) (1991)

Naturally. Like I said in my 80s run down, it’s this or The Terminator which top my all time list. What is there to say about it? It’s groundbreaking in every sense – everyone involved deserves a statue in their honour, and it’s a film which has influenced me deeply. Some films go beyond just being films – fans hold conventions, fans dress up and have regular screenings, fans make life decisions based on their love of these films. I think the film and me were intertwined before I even saw it – it’s almost like it was made just for me, but clearly it was made for millions of others just like me. I don’t even know what I’m talking about any more but as a boy, seeing this for the first time, a little younger than John Connor is in the story, it was about me. I loved Guns N Roses, I loved Public Enemy, I loved Motorbikes – hell, I even had a friend with a ginger mullet. I may not, as far as I’m aware, be the future saviour of the human race, but if such a burden was thrust upon me I’d suck it up, shine that bitch on and snarl an Hasta La Vista, Baby at the enemy. This film is everything I want in a film from top to bottom – story, cast, characters, director, music, dialogue, action, emotion, scares, laughs, tears, the way it looks… I don’t think any other film will ever speak to me the way this one did and has. In a way that’s a thought tinged with sadness, but in another way I’m glad I had the opportunity to see it and be alive when it was released. Thanks to everyone for making it, it means a lot. My only regret is not being in it myself.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of my list and what your favourite films of the 1990s are!

Nightman’s Top 15 Albums Of The 1990s

Greetings, Glancers. Jeepers, it has been an incredibly long time since I posted one of these  – in fact, my Best Albums of 2000-2010 was one of the first non-movie review posts I ever stuck on this site. I think. Have a gander at that post if you’re looking for some fairly recent ear treats, but today we’re going retro. Which seems like a bizarre thing to say. Yes, the 90s are well and truly considered retro now and I think I only truly started to appreciate this when I watch all those Teens React To 90s Music, or Do Teens Know 90s music Youtube videos. I mean, I don’t feel that I look all that different or much older than the teens in those videos, but most of them weren’t even born in the 90s. Damn, in 1999 I was ringing in the new year by getting drunk in my hometown and waking up in some weird street in Belfast the following millennium. I think. Again, it’s apparently so long ago now that myth and memory are colliding and I can’t keep track of what’s what.

Anyway, what I do remember of the 90s is the music. I was actually a DJ in the 90s. And by DJ I mean I helped my dad when we was doing the music for school discos, putting on CDs and hitting play. It’s a weird thing to say – I’ve no idea why or how my dad was doing this given that he doesn’t really like music and only listens to Irish muck. The 90s were strange, you see. There were the last two great musical movements of any significance in grunge and Britpop. Sure a lot has happened since then, but not to the cultural extent of those two, and certainly not from a sheer quality standpoint. I was a grunge and metal and hard rock kid, as I’m sure you’ve heard me say before. I was too young to traditionally ‘get it’, but I had a lot of older friends, and older siblings of friends – people who were teens in ’94 while I was 10/11. Having said that, I was still getting exposed to a lot of pop, a lot of whatever was on the radio and in the charts – I mostly remember the early 90s for being the start of manufactured boy/girl bands and the increase in popularity of rave/dance music, both of which I despised.

As grunge faded, Britpop emerged. I wasn’t a huge fan of any of the main Britpop bands, but a lot of the British bands I did love were lumped into that category, or into indie because they happened to come out around the same time and were essentially alternative to whatever was popular either in pop or rock. All of this nattering means that my favourite albums of the 90s will feature a variety of genres but won’t include many of the albums which regularly top critical lists. In preparing for my list, I went looking through a bunch of those lists and knew that the same culprits would appear over and over – Dummy, OK Computer, Nevermind, Definitely Maybe, Automatic For The People, Loveless, Odelay. Some of those I like, some of those I don’t. Maybe some will even appear in my list. What I’m getting at is that this is my list – read it, comment, make your own,try not to complain that the usual suspects may not be there. These albums each have a special place in my life, tied up with specific memories. Outside of that, I do believe each is a firmly great album and would highly recommend to any true music fan. As before, I’m only choosing one album per artist – otherwise there would be 2-3 by certain bands; there’s going to be a lot of ‘I could have chosen this but instead I went for this’.

The ordering isn’t too important, it never is, but I suspect by number 1 will always be my number 1. If you’re interested in 90s music, or if you are new to it all, you could do a lot worse by starting out with these bad boys.

15. Dangerous

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Jackson entered his third decade of making music on top of the world. If you were alive in the early nineties then you knew all about the Dangerous Tour. You heard every single one of the singles from the album almost every single day. You sat up waiting to watch the world premiere of his new video. Does that happen anymore? Maybe it does, I’ve no idea, but certainly not to this extent. Families crowded around the TV waiting for Black Or White to come on like people wait for the Superbowl. For my list, it was a toss up between including this or HIStory. Both are albums I love, but both are flawed – neither are as good as Bad or Thriller, but then what is? Both albums have their share of fillers, but it’s the sheer strength of the singles and the hidden treats which ensure they have a spot on any Best Album Of The 90s discussion. Dangerous edges it with the better singles and for pure personal nostalgia value.

Black Or White, Heal The World, Give It To Me, Remember The Time are all flawless pop hits. The you also have Who Is It, Will You Be There, and In The Closet. All underrated pop classics. The rest of the album is a mixture of New Jack noise and genre twisting ballads of varying quality – if trimmed a little or if certain songs were switched out for something else this would surely be held in as high esteem as his earlier offerings but I love it regardless.

14. Californication

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I almost didn’t include this, mostly because I always think it came out in 2000. This felt like the dawning of a new are of music, not because the band had come out of their malaise with massive renewed commercial success, but because it felt like a moment in time – both immediate and new and futuristic. The band found their peak at mixing funk, rock, and pop with Californication, and the hits kept coming – the title track, Road Trippin, Otherside, Scar Tissue were all huge hits and when they weren’t being played on radio stations they were being covered by school bands, in bedrooms, and by buskers. Other songs such as Easily and Parallel Universe ensured the hits were not confined to singles while Purple Stain retained their trademark humour and original sound.

This is an album about transcending – sound, music, and mind, and it felt at the time like a new movement was coming. It didn’t, but it was exciting all the same. The album dropped just in time for summertime, at a time when exams, parties, illegal entry into pubs and clubs and getting on top were high on the agenda of me and everyone I knew, and this felt like a unified blast of sunlight in our dreary surroundings and a statement about hope and potential and love which brought us all together – it was such a hit that the sensation carried through to the following summer. The band would unfortunately copy this template for their next releases with diminishing returns.

13. Ray Of Light

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One year before Californication, another 80s icon proved she still had it. In fact, she proved she was more relevant than ever, reinventing herself in the best way possible and unleashing her best work. Madonna’s Ray Of Light was a winter release and one which grew as the year progressed and it was another album which felt like everyone could enjoy it. I almost managed to have friends, or at least not enemies, in every school group – sports people, smart people, nerds, stoners, whatever, and pretty much everyone appreciated this one. Like essentially every album on my list it has a bunch of smash singles or hits and an equal number of strong album tracks – Frozen, The Power Of Goodbye, Skin, Drowned World, Sky Fits Heaven, are among Madonna’s finest songs. Ironically like some other entries here this can be seen as their last great work, but great is the operative word here.

12. Unreleased Susanna Hoffs Album

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Ah ha! You didn’t see this one coming, did ya? Hoffs released her debut in 1991, but as a whole it’s naff. She released a better follow up in 1996, but still it had problems with consistency. In between these though, she recorded a second album with some of the songs appearing on the 1996 release, albeit in slightly different forms. While the debut was a miscalculated, dated mess, the unreleased one showcases Hoffs’ talents – her songwriting, vocals, guitar playing, and mostly her ear for melody. It moves from mellow to doom laden to shimmering pop to energetic rock, but it is held together by an overall sense of, if not death, then fading away. I’ve felt this for such a long time that I actually have an outline for a story based or inspired by the album – the names of each song essentially write the story for you. If this had become a concept album I wouldn’t have been surprised – Catch The Wind, Without You, Go, Sleep, Ghost, Turning Over – the second half of the album in particular evoking that sense of departure and loss. Every song is terrific and it’s a shame that so many will never get to hear it. Even the reworked songs for what became her 1996 album will go unheard by most – do yourself a favour and find both albums now for the sheer majesty of songs like Darling One, Sunshine, and Right By You. 

11. Grace – Jeff Buckley

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Well, you probably saw this coming. I came to the Jeff Buckley party later than most. Plenty of friends had and played me Grace and his live offerings in the late 90s but it wasn’t until probably 2003 roughly that I bought it myself. There was no looking back. Every positive thing you’ve heard about the album is true, from Jeff’s lyrics and voice to the cauldron of genres he blasts through, often in a single song. There is melancholy, there is anger, there are heavenly odes, but mostly there is grace.

10. The Black Album – Metallica

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Spoiler alert – there won’t be a lot of metal on this list. Many people in the know will agree that the 90s wasn’t the best decade for metal, at least from a commercial standpoint. Most of the big bands from the previous decade fell on hard times. A lot of idiots will blame grunge for this but the fact is that Grunge simply raised the bar for heavy music – forcing it to become more intelligent, raw, and visceral. Gone were the stadium pleasing anthems and performances, gone was the cheese. Gone was the need for a Rock God and a twiddly solo. However, a lot of new acts were coming out of the woodwork, particularly in Europe and the best of the rest learned to adapt quickly. Pantera, Megadeth, Emperor, Sepultura and others brought out their best work in the early to middle of the decade, and every one of them was in some way influenced by the changing musical landscape. Metallica’s Black Album is the pinnacle of these, throwing them into the limelight like no other metal band had been before.

The Black Album saw the band streamlining themselves after their opus And Justice For All. The complexity was replaced with hard-edged hits yet none of the ferocity was lost. The production was noticeably better, and the songs noticeably more radio-friendly. If the band lost fans with their previous album due to accusations of selling out, they lost a lot more with this one. Their reply was to sell over thirty million copies of this, not bad as middle fingers go. With singles such as the eternal Enter Sandman, the plaintive Nothing Else Matters, and hidden delights like My Friend Of Misery it’s the perfect album for introducing people to metal. The riffs are still there, the anger, the melody, but it’s a much smarter album with the lyrics tortured and poetic instead of a series of attempts to rhyme ‘death’, ‘war’, and ‘blood’.

9. Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette

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I’ve harped on about this album in other posts plenty of times, but it all holds true; it’s as fine a slice of the 90s musical landscape as any – hits like Ironic and One Hand In My Pocket as timeless as another US rock song as far back as Born In The USA or Jailhouse Rock. More than anything this album reminds me of early Secondary School days – not school itself of course, but the friends and the fun times we had. It was one of the first albums which felt ‘ours’ as a collective whole – this was my generation and the songs spoke to our experiences and feelings, even if (again) I was a few years younger than those it was truly for. There was a bit of grunge, a bit of the riot gurl, a bit of optimism, and a shot of realism. Where other artists sought to emulate Alanis, or Nirvana, or whoever, Jagged Little Pill was a pinnacle which few have equaled since in terms of sheer quality and cultural impact.

8. Little Earthquakes – Tori Amos

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Long before Jagged Little Pill, Tori Amos came out swinging with a collection of songs which seemed a world away from the distortion and rage spewing out of Seattle. Little Earthquakes is equally as earth-shattering, but coming from a place of pianos, high-heels, and OMG vaginas. It’s a near perfect album (it does feature Happy Phantom which is just silly and Mother which is too long) with songs like Crucify, Winter, and Precious Things as deserving of the praise and airplay it didn’t receive as a thousand songs from the era which did. The aforementioned, bracketed songs? Switch those out for Sugar and her Smells Like Teen Spirit – then you have a perfect album. Tori would never be as consistent and restrained again.

7. Dirt – Alice In Chains

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We finally land on some authentic grunge, with the appropriately named Dirt. Alice In Chains were always closer to the metal side of things, while Nirvana were decidedly punk (Pearl Jam were blues or traditional US rock and Soundgarden did whatever they pleased in case you were wondering). Dirt is both soulful and ugly, a stripping back of the American, human psyche, and set to a swirling storm of shrieks, distortion, and riffs. Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley are one of the most underrated songwriting duets of all time and on Dirt both are at their peak, not to mention Mike Starr and Sean Kinney. We have some of the finest examples of grunge hits in Would?, Angry Chair, and Down In A Hole, along with the introspective Rain When I Die, epic Rooster, and the opening bombast of Them Bones and Dam That River. Staley’s voice wavers between anguish and ecstasy, the riffs offer sludge, speed, and the lyrics are dark and cynical looks at drug use, the impact of war on families and the individual, religion, life and death, and much more – dirt has never been so appealing and easy to wallow in.

6. UYI 1 and II – G’n’R

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If an unreleased album was a cheat inclusion, then I’ll go the extra mile and include two albums in one. Come on – they’re basically one long album and ask most people to name a song from one and they won’t remember which album is which. Not super fans like me of course. There’s the eternal argument that had the band trimmed away the rough stuff from each album then they could have had a single album with the best from both. While that’s true, you’d also end up cutting some greats. And seriously, while both albums are massive and have a few middling songs, the only thing that should be cut is My World. I think a single album would have ended up too bloated – you’d need November Rain, Estranged, Coma, Civil War – all songs over six minutes long, and then you’d need (one version of) Don’t Cry, You Could Be Mine, Back Off Bitch, Get In The Ring and you’re at around 50 minutes long already, and that’s before you add in Knockin On Heaven’s Door and Live And Let Die. There is already a US only release single album, but it adds in some odd choices which most fans would consider the filler. There’s no point arguing about it – these are two albums which act as two parts of the same whole.

These albums have probably been played by me more than 95% of anything else I’ve owned or heard – I had them at release, or near enough, and I listen to elements of them every week. I remember sitting up to watch the UYI tours on TV, trying to play every song when I got my first guitar, and ever since, and hiding My World on any mixtapes I made for friends. There are few albums I know as inside out as these ones, as anyone who has seen me requesting, then air-guitaring and singing along to Breakdown in The Venue can attest to (pro-tip – The Venue was Northern Ireland’s premier (only) rock and metal club for years and where I spent most Saturday nights from 17 onwards).

5. Hey Stoopid – Alice Cooper

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We’re at that point where the ordering doesn’t really matter anymore. Hey Stoopid I got around the same time as UYI and it subsequently became one of, if not my most favourite Alice Cooper albums. Most of the cheese of the 80s has been abandoned, meaning all that is left is pure unfiltered Alice Cooper goodness, albeit with a new, more metal edge. While Alice appeared on G’n’R’s album, Slash appears on this one along with Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Vinnie Moore; it’s a guitar fan’s dream. Ozzy, Nikki Sixx, and Elvira among others also pop up. Ignoring the guest stars we have one of Alice’s biggest hits in Feed My Frankenstein but the genius is in songs like Burning Our Bed, Dangerous Tonight, Die For You, and one of the greatest songs ever in Wind Up Toy. Ballads, blistering rock, Cooper’s madness, ideas, and brilliant lyrics all flow together meaning that even the slight dud Dirty Dreams doesn’t harm the whole. This one needs to be heard by many more people, including the metal and rock fans who should already be familiar with it but likely are not.

4. How To Measure A Planet?

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It could have been Mandylion, but I feel this is still their best. Another album you’re not likely to see on any other critic’s list, yet one which is more deserving of a place than most, How To Measure A Planet? was The Gathering’s first shift away from metal into parts unknown. If there is any album on my list which needs more exposure, it is this one. It’s an epic double album covering space and time and features should-be-classics in Travel, Marooned, Frail, Rescue Me, Great Ocean Road. If you like rock, dance, shoe-gaze, trip-hop, prog, pop, guitars, soundscapes, angelic vocals, ethereal melodies, then you will undoubtedly love this album.

3. In Utero

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It was this or Nevermind. In fact, it was this or Incesticide. Nevermind gets all the credit and acclaim, while Incesticide most reminds me of that time, but In Utero is the best Nirvana album. The best way to follow up the album which defined a generation is to break it all down again in the most brutal, anti-commercial way you can. If Nevermind was an unexpected hit, then this is even moreso – songs with titles and content like Rape Me, Radio-Friendly Unit Shifter, Tourette’s, Heart Shaped Box, Very Ape are not the stuff of radio. And yet they are. They should be. We should listen to music not because it’s popular, or easily packaged, or nice, or sounds like everything else. We should listen to it for our own reasons, to be moved, to be destroyed, to be challenged, to be inspired. In Utero will inspire, move, challenge, and destroy you, Cobain’s lyrics childlike, incisive, insightful, angst-ridden, world-weary, obsessed with the body, corruption, failure, success, and every note he hits powerfully delivered with maximum feeling. Grohl and Novoselic as always are in perfect tune reminding us that the band were the finest cohesive unit since Led Zeppelin, even as Kurt increasingly abandoned structure and played with form. The best grunge album ever isn’t even grunge, but an unholy descent into hell.

2. The Bends

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It’s this or OK Computer. I’d happily argue that Pablo Honey deserves a spot on any 90s list too – that album is highly underrated purely by the fact that the other two came next. But Pablo Honey is to The Bends as Help is to Revolver. While I appreciate what OK Computer was and is and does, The Bends has always been my personal favourite. It tugs at the emotions more, it has more variety, it isn’t so calculated, and it’s obviously the more emotional of the two. You don’t even need me to list the hits do you? Fine – Street Spirit, Just, My Iron Lung, High And Dry, Fake Plastic Trees. Any album which contains a song as good as any of those songs is alright by me, but to have them all and also feature the title track, Nice Dream, Bullet Proof, and my own favourite Black Star means you have an album for the ages and one deserving of being mentioned as one of the best ever. The strange this about it is, I don’t have any specific memories associating the album to the time and to me. It feels like it’s always been there. In fact, it wasn’t until much later that I found people who appreciated the band but by that point Kid A and Amnesiac were being released. If you think Radiohead are overrated, you’re doing it wrong. Doing what? Existing.

Before we get to Number One, lets look at some who could have made it on:

Talk On Corners – The Corrs

Ten- Pearl Jam

Superunknown – Soundgarden

Fear Of A Black Planet – Public Enemy

Suede – Suede

Dummy – Portishead

Rust In Peace – Megadeth

Imaginations From The Other Side – Blind Guardian

Showbiz – Muse

Still Life – Opeth

Oceanborn – Nightwish

Drum rolls please – my number one pick for the Best Album of the 90s is:

20090329_jenny_saville_the_holy_bible

  1. The Holy Bible – Manic Street Preachers

My number 1 spot was always going to be my number 1 spot. Sure you can pick Everything Must Go as a better album, certainly a more palatable option and maybe one more symbolic of the decade, but The Holy Bible is THE ONE. I made some Beatles comparisons above, but what the hell do you compare this to? Sure there were dark albums before and there have been since – the 90s were full of them, but none of them come close to this. This is pain not commercialized, romanticized, or glorified. It’s like unnecessary eye surgery. It’s darker than any metal album, and unquestionably more authentic in its horror. While the 90s were known for certain artists paving new ways with sampling The Holy Bible offered the following soundbite samples:

‘I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit, and then force it too look in the mirror’

‘I knew that someday I was gonna die. And I knew before I died Two things would happen to me – That number one I would regret my entire life. And number two I would want to live my life over again’

‘I wonder who you think you are. You damn well think you’re God or something. God give life, God taketh it away, not you. I think you are the devil itself’ (Mother of one of the victims of Peter Sutcliffe).

‘I eat too much to die and not enough to stay alive. I’m sitting in the middle waiting’ (quote from a documentary about a girl’s struggle with anorexia. She died a few months later).

‘I hate purity. Hate goodness. I don’t want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt’.

‘The court has come. The court of the Nations. And into the courtroom will come the martyrs of Majdanek and Oswiecim. From the ditch of Kerch the dead will rise. They will arise from the graves, they will arise from flames bringing with them the acrid smoke and the deathly odour of scorched and martyred Europe. And the children, they too will come, stern and merciless. The butchers had no pity on them; now the victims will judge the butchers. Today the tear of the child is the judge. The grief of the mother is the prosecutor’ (transcript from the Nuremberg Trials).

Lets not forget the artwork and the liner note quotations. There has rarely, if ever, been a more assured statement of art in music – the band honing their past experiments with design and quotes to a sharpened bullet tip. That’s all well and good, but in the end it is the band themselves who stand out, draped in military garb and spouting rage and vitriol and anyone and everything – this is the Holy Bible for the twentieth century – a catalogue of atrocities counted off with some of the most gut churning vocals, ferocious guitar, ungodly noise, and potent lyrics you’ll ever experience. The Holocaust, self-hate, Imperialism, anorexia (Richey, the band’s lost guitarist and lyricist was 6 stone at the time of recording), murder on an individual and massive scale, religion, banks, politicians, exploitation – the band uncover every ugly truth of the modern man and let us know precisely who’s responsible.

It is possible to separate the songs from the intent and the peripherals. Listening to songs such as Faster, PCP, This Is Yesterday and others – each a perfect song in its own right, whether it be an end of the century/world punk anthem or a mournful ballad to an idealized and lost youth. It is possible, but not easy. You can come as a virgin to the songs, but you’ll inevitably ask what the lyrics are, or what the song is about. You’ll ask why there is such a creepy, soul-darkening drone and wonder what they hell they are so angry about. You’ll get sucked in, sucked down. The opening bass riff to Archives Of Pain will haunt you for ever more. The death shrieks at the end of Mausoleum will set you on edge as if you are being stalked, while the entirety of The Intense Humming Of Evil may very well disturb you to the point of no return. And yet you’ll want to play it again, because the songs are so good, the melodies so incisive and brutal. You’ll find youself screaming along to songs with titles like Of Walking Abortion and yelling out the names of serial killers and dictators in Revol. It’s still a rock album – solos, riffs, headbanging, yells are all checked in, but it’s rock on another level – the sound of the world setting itself alight and both celebrating and screaming in agony with equal measure.

There you have it – my favourite albums of the 1990s. Rather than waiting around to hear what my favourie albums of the 2090s will be, why not share your own thoughts and albums in the comments below. I’ll get around to the 80s and 70s eventually, don’t worry.