Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reviewing the 90's - Introduction


This time last year, I was busy putting together my review of the first decade of the 21st century. My plan was to cover 2000-2010 from a variety of angles, in the hope of compiling something like a definitive take on the decade's cinema. I ended up reviewing the best and worst films, the best male and female performances, the strongest documentaries of the decade, the most memorable musical scores, the finest cinematographers and filmmakers, and even my favourite posters and trailers from the preceding ten years. I was proud of the finished articles and they were very well received, but in the following months I began to have nagging doubts. How clear a picture can we possibly have of a decade that has barely come to a close before we pass judgement on it? If I were to run the same features again, say, ten years from now, how many of those films would have stood the test of time? Would I instead have new favourites, films that have gradually revealed themselves to be masterpieces over the years while others have faded from memory?

All of those questions led me to cast my mind further back, to the 1990's, a decade that ended over ten years ago and perhaps one that we can now evaluate with a greater sense of perspective. These were my formative years as a filmgoer, the decade in which I began to broaden my cinematic horizons, study the work of particular filmmakers and increase my knowledge of film history, so I thought it might be an interesting experiment to view these years again from the position of being older and (hopefully) wiser. This decade was also an exciting one for cinema as an art form, with a number of trends being set and a few of today's most influential filmmakers making their first impact. During the 90's we were introduced to Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky, Todd Solondz, David O. Russell, The Wachowskis and David Fincher, all of whom brought a distinctive personality to their work, and some of whom managed to marry that indie spirit with commercial success. This renaissance in American independent cinema was spearheaded by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, which gave a platform to a number of fresh voices, and the Weinstein brothers, who cracked the formula for turning small budgets and unconventional material into Oscar gold.

It was a decade of sweeping epics (Dances with Wolves, The English Patient, Titanic) and surprising success stories (The Crying Game, Fargo, Leaving Las Vegas). A decade in which we welcomed back Terrence Malick while saying goodbye to Stanley Kubrick. Krzysztof Kieslowski beguiled us with gorgeous tales of fate and love while Oliver Stone dazzled us with astonishing epics of paranoia and anger. British cinema received a shot in the arm from Trainspotting, Abbas Kiarostami led the new wave of Iranian cinema, and filmmakers like Takeshi Kitano, Wong Kar-Wai and Ang Lee started making waves in Asia. In 1995, a group of Danish filmmakers announced a manifesto aimed at stripping cinema down to its basics, while in the same year, a fledgling company name Pixar gave us a glimpse of the future with their debut feature Toy Story. We might have instantly known that John Lasseter's film was something special, but who could have anticipated the impact it would have on feature animation in Hollywood, or could have guessed that Pixar would remain the standard-bearer 15 years on?

That's a great example of the way a film's legacy can only be properly assessed from a distance, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to review the 1990's, and at the end of this year, I'll be doing just that. However, the reason I'm writing about it now is because I have something more ambitious in mind than last year's decade review, as I will also be running Phil on Film's first ever readers' poll. I want you all to send me your top 10 films from the 90's so I can run the readers' final selection alongside my own. Please feel free to add some brief thoughts or commentary alongside your choices if you wish, as I'd like to include an element of that in the final feature, although I'm not sure entirely what form the articles will take yet. Send your lists to me at philipconcannon@gmail.com before December 10th, when the polls will close.

I'm excited and nervous about this project, which is the biggest thing I have attempted since I began Phil on Film, and I believe it has the potential to be a really memorable and fun event, particularly as I'm hoping to receive contributions from a few special guests. Join me again in late December when I'll be revealing both my choices and yours for the best films of a remarkable decade.