Top 10 Movies of 1995

Number 10.  –  Braveheart

I am a huge fan of Mel Gibson as a director more so than him as an actor. Sad to say that he only directed four movies, however this remain one of his best works. Mel Gibson’s monumental masterpiece, of which he is both the leading star and the director, is a sweeping and majestic ode to one of history’s most beloved heroes, William Wallace. Each and every scene a pure cinematic delight, this is a motion picture for the ages, that just gets better and more dazzling with time. Breathtaking scenery, sensational, Oscar-winning action scenes and one of the most beautifully orchestrated music scores ever produced, merits this grand and stunning epic a very special place in my movie-loving heart. Say what you will about Mel Gibson’s sanity and the historical accuracy of the film. For at the end of the day, he knows how to make quality that counts. Though Braveheart is unnecessarily violent and historically incorrect I like to see it as a fantasy epic that predated Lord of the Rings (this is the 1990s version of Lord of the Rings). Mel Gibson is riveting as William Wallace, the medieval Scottish patriot, the action and drama and romance have a decent balance, and the cinematography is absolutely phenomenal.

Number 9.  –  Apollo 13

Now here’s a film that isn’t historically inaccurate, but a historical masterpiece that thrilled us with such history since JFK and Malcolm X. This background in low-budget, rough-around-the-edges movie-making not only taught these directors to work fast and cheaply, but showed them how to tell a dramatically interesting story as entertainingly and efficiently as possible. When this tensions spills over into space, with the arguments over who or what caused the explosion, the film interposes docudrama was old-school sci-fi. In amidst all the procedural dialogue and the individual races against time, we get a number of touching fantasy sequences which use outer space to focus on inner space. In one such sequence, Tom Hanks imagines himself walking on the moon; in a scene reminiscent of The Ninth Configuration, Howard contrasts the silent awe of the moon’s surface with the quiet despair on Lovell’s face from inside the lunar module. Apollo 13 also solves the problem of so many fact-based dramas, namely the integration of stock or archive footage and the dramatic reconstructions. Apollo 13 is one of Ron Howard’s finest achievements and remains a remarkable piece of filmmaking. The sterling work of the cast is beautifully complimented by his direction, which is technically proficient, innovative and deeply involving. There are moments in which the sentimentality doesn’t quite work – the grandmother, for instance, is played too broadly and feels like a screenwriter’s device. But as an overall piece which straddles fact and fiction, it is very hard to dislike and a hard act to follow.

Number 8.  –  Casino

I love the style of Goodfellas where the whole story is been told by the suspects like an investigation report and sadly Martin Scorsese should have made so much more of them. Who gives a damn if it makes him look like a one trick pony, as long as he get better with that style of directing and screenwriting the more fleshed out it will feel. This film is often looked down upon due to the many similarities it shares with Goodfellas. They’ve got the same writers and director, some of the same cast and crew, and similar subject matter, storylines, music, and structure. However, while this film is admittedly basically Goodfellas in Vegas, I still think it’s a wonderful film in its own right. Robert De Niro is pitch perfect as Sam “Ace” Rothstein- a professional gambler and gaming handicapper who is sent by the Midwest Bosses from Back Home to run the Tangiers Casino in Vegas, and bring in the green, making that little town out west their own private ATM. Joining him is his childhood buddy Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) who views Vegas as his own little empire for the taking, no matter what the cost, or how destructive his own temper and ego prove to be. Everyone has their Achilles’s Heel, and for Ace it comes in the form of gorgeous hustler Ginger McKenna, who, despite his best efforts, can’t be tamed or controlled like everything else in his life. Pesci does ape some of his Oscar winning turn a lot, but it’s still a joy to watch. And as Ginger, Sharon Stone proves brilliant, and gives what is easily the best performance of her career. There’s also some fine supporting work from Frank Vincent, Don Rickles, James Woods, and Kevin Pollak. I’ll admit that the broad plot and the general character storylines and character types are all things we’ve seen before, and where some of this film’s weakness lies. It’s all good stuff, but even then, it offers nothing new, no matter how well it’s played out. The real meat here, and the best material this film has to offer are the in-depth docu-drama aspects that chronicle (in great and thorough detail) the day to day operations of the gambling industry, the scams the Mob ran, and the history lesson this film gives about the city of Las Vegas’s entertainment industry. he production values, set design, art direction, and all that are gorgeous, dazzling, and flawless, and there’s some terrific camera work, cinematography, and excellently executed sequences. Yeah, it’s somewhat of a redux, but even then I can’t help but dig the ever loving crap out of it.

Number 7.  –  Before Sunrise

As a big fan of romance, I admit that its a genre that’s a mixed bag filled with cliches. But this one here is all about the dialog, building a relationship, and witnessing how a fast relationship works within a single day. This movie is almost sickeningly sweet and romantic. It’s also pretty honest and realistic. This isn’t some sort of feel-good fantasy, it’s two people who meet, spend a day together in a city just wandering around and talking, then part ways, possibly never to see one another again. Unlike most romantic screen couples, Jessie and Celine have interesting things to talk about, and a lot of this reminded me of my own past relationships. In a way, I feel a lot like Jesse. I try to cover up romanticism with cynicism. I however, do not have the artsy, slacker attitude or looks of Jesse (or Hawke), and am not quite as cynical, but he is a character I feel I am on a similar plane with. Julie Delpy is charmingly cute, but not a sexy bombshell. I’m okay with that. I think she’s a wonderful actress (with talent and looks), and she fits the part perfectly, as does Hawke. She seems too uptight and opinionated, just like how Jesse is perhaps too much of an immature bum. Even though these two aren’t the most likable people, you can’t/don’t hate them because they are too similar to most of the world’s population. I basically loved everything about this film. The dialogue and performances have to carry it, because there’s really nothing else, but that’s fine, because those are done so well. The music and camera work are also nice. Besides just walking and talking the scenery is gorgeous, and the music is just as fun to listen to as the conversations. I think I may actually hate this film because I wish I would have seen it sooner and also because this is the type of thing I’d love to do (cinematically and in real life). I’m mad that this film beat me to it. It’s a film that was so well crafted that it spawned a trilogy making it the best romance trilogy of all time.

Number 6.  –  Die Hard with a Vengeance

This film is the most entertaining action flick of the 1990s, and the last great one of it’s kind since modern action films overuses CGI instead of using actual props and explosions like this very film. I can go far as to say that this film is my favorite entry of the Die Hard franchise. Sure a lot of people are sticking with their guns saying that nothing is better than the first Die Hard, but this film uses every ounce of creativity it has to keep it incredibly thrilling as well as humorous. I actually liked the story of the third film more than others in the franchise, what with the avenging brother as our main villain, Cain and his drinking problems, the twist heist plot turn, the various set pieces that perpetuate the story. Oh, and good ol’ Jackson’s repertoire with Willis! While this is the most underrated of the Die Hard franchise, this is my personal favorite. So many things make this film great. Watching the wonderful chemistry between Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis is an absolute joy to watch. All of the racism lines had me laughing for hours on, while at same time I’m on the edge on my seat with all the action going on. Michael Bay only wishes he could make a film half as decent without outdoing what Die Hard 3 accomplished. It’s wondrous that Sam Jackson really broke into mainstream success after Pulp Fiction and returns in making one of the best movie threequel ever. Part of the film’s strength is that they brought back John McTiernan, from the original Die Hard movie to bring the franchise back on it’s feet for this moment in Hollywood. This is John McClane on a grander scale and his adversaries are just as deadly. It works way better as a true sequel to the first, with Hans Gruber’s evil brother out for blood. A lot of the sequences are just amazing and unlike anything else, John Mctiernan really is a god when it comes to making action movies. There was also a huge return to the original nature of John McClane, he is at the top of his game. Just as witty and tired of crime, full of problems and heart-ache. While some may consider it a far cry from the original, it’s the chemistry between Willis and Jackson as well as Irons’ great villain that elevates “With a Vengeance” to a great end for the “Die Hard” trilogy.

Number 5.  –  Se7en

The most remarkable thing about “Seven” is that, despite its brutally bleak tone, the film never wavers. It never lets up in any aspect, from the serendipitous chemistry between the two leads, to the brutally realistic and horrifying crimes, to the building suspense that comes with such chilling stakes. Add in the most chilling villain I have ever seen (who does little more than simply talk on screen) and Fincher’s amazingly effective directing style (in which what he shows audiences and what he lets them imagine are equally scary), and “Seven” is easily a classic crime thriller that remains uncompromising no matter how many times you watch it. This movie is brilliantly dark and superbly acted. I haven’t seen horror movies that have left me this terrified by the end. The movie sticks with you in your thoughts and it is truly unforgettable. The plot keeps you hooked until the most terrifying, gut-wrenching final moments you will ever see. It is scary because it uses your imagination against you and messes with the viewer on a much, much deeper level. Smart and suspenseful, Seven is a must-see both both audience who loves mystery movies and despises the genre.

Number 4.  –  Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell was supposed to be the film that would make Americans turn their heads and realize just what they had been missing about Japanese animation all these years. Well, at least that was what the films producers and distributors had in mind, to make American audiences (and the rest of the world) discover ‘Japanimation’. Back then, in the mid 90’s Japanimation wasn’t as huge as it is now, it was something left for fans of Manga and comic books, not for mainstream audiences. As I remember it, Ghost in the Shell didn’t exactly set American movie goers ablaze. It did garner some attention, but this was mostly amongst genre and anime fans. Ghost in the Shell came and went from movie theaters pretty quickly. It did manage to impress critics, film buffs and filmmakers, but failed to capture the attention of the masses. It found its audience later, when it was released on VHS, which is where I discovered it as well. I think what Ghost in the Shell did was begin something, it was one of the first Japanese animation films to garner world wide attention, it was the beginning of something that would grow to become what it is today. I remember not falling in love with Ghost in the Shell immediately either. I mean, I loved the animation. There was no doubt that this was a beautifully made film, and as an artist and loved the design that went into the film. The animation was flawless in my book. And of course, I loved the cyberpunk/sci-fi angle. I loved the look of the film and its technical achievements, but what turned me off was that it was low in action and big on scenes upon scenes of characters having long philosophical conversations, most of which simply bounced off my teenage brain. At the time, the film felt overtly complex to me, but as I got older it certainly got better with age. So what we got here ladies and gentlemen is the thinking mans science fiction film. It is deliberately slow paced, so if you cant take a film where characters talk a lot, don’t bother with this one. If on the other hand you’re like philosophy, and enjoy conversations that revolve around existentialism, then this is your film. And to be honest, the film does have its cool action moments! The first 15 minutes are a show stopper of action and will bring to mind many scenes from The Matrix. Plus, the film has that heavy sci-fi angle that instantly makes it a little bit cooler in my book. We get cyborgs hacking into other cyborgs brains, a sentient computer system that has a subversive vibe, cyborgs with abilities to turn invisible, machine guns galore, add all that up and what do you get? A killer sci-fi flick with a heavy dose of intelligence that’s what! It could have used a bit more action, but it wasn’t a big problem for me. A word of warning though: Oshii released a newer version ofGhost in the Shell called “Ghost in the Shell 2.0” which is essentially the same movie, but with “upgraded” computer effects, Im sad to say that this version isnt all that great. It is the same movie, but with new computer graphics in certain scenes.

Number 3.  –  Heat

In what is arguably one of the finest heist movies in history, “Heat” pits two acting heavy-weights in Robert De Niro and Al Pacino against one another which was a huge selling point of the movie. One is a professional thief, so well seasoned that he has avoided the law for as long as he can probably remember. The other is a troubled homicide detective whose third marriage is fizzling out due to his over-riding commitment to his job. Each character ultimately finds he has more in common with his adversary than with his peers, but is hardly your average cops and robbers tale. It’s long, it’s sweeping and is steeped in character moments and conversations. While much of the hype about the film has always revolved around its finale – the bank robbery – it’s the small moments that make the film. Take for instance a scene in the middle of the film where Pacino, too tired and beat down to do anything else, tracks down his suspect (De Niro) and invites him for a cup of coffee where the two talk shop and in spite of mutual respect for one another, both vow not to back down. This moment serves to build the tension that is the big pay-off in the film. You get to know and feel for these very real and very flawed characters, so that when the heat is on, so to speak, you don’t know who to cheer for anymore. Michael Mann’s trademark mood and atmosphere building tools are pitch perfect here, with some of the best and most expressive lighting and camera placement ever seen in a crime drama, or other type of film for that matter. And of course, one of the other main selling points: the superb action scenes. Granted, the movie isn’t wall to wall action, but that’s not the point. In fact, a lot of the film is made up of lengthy, quiet scenes with tons of yakking, and even more scenes with no talking, just letting the mood wash over the viewer and draw them into this hypnotic world. However, when this film delivers the action goods, it really delivers them, with the gunfights being intense, wild, loud, and jarring…like they’re supposed to be. An exciting and methodical piece of work from a highly accomplished cast and director. A near masterpiece of modern cinema.

Number 2.  –  Toy Story

Toy Story is a groundbreaking film in the special effects medium. This is the first computer animated feature length film. What we have here, is a superb film with great effects and a simple story. The crew at Pixar really did something special here, and Toy Story is a terrific film. From a film stand point, and I’m excluding the computerized stuff; Toy Story is a lot of fun to watch, the characters are funny and witty. And they each are amusing in there own way. Pixar struck cinematic gold with Toy Story, and they haven’t made a single bad film since this one. Toy Story is a film for all ages and is a classic, I was ten years old when I first saw this film, and I recently re watched it, and I very much enjoyed this; just like the first time I saw it. A fun film definitely a must see. Toy Story is the perfect film to watch with your family. The film is non stop fun and is very entertaining. This is the film that has put Pixar on the map, and is one of the most groundbreaking films in computer animation. A wonderful accomplishment in cinema, Toy Story is a must see film and one worth watching again and again. The cast are wonderful and are very funny. The characters they portray are all memorable and funny. I enjoyed every minute of it, and Toy Story remains a childhood favorite of mine. Now in my mid twenties, I still enjoy this film and it has stood the test of time. It’s amazing to see that this film sticks out as a film made for everybody and it still upholds as the best of its kind that can be loved for eternity.

Number 1. – GoldenEye

The first and best of Pierce Brosnan’s four Bond pictures. Pierce Brosnan’s debut as James Bond is left in the hands of Martin Campbell, and boy does he get it right. Pierce Brosnan takes over the mantle of 007 in a very strong Bond adventure. After the control module for a Russian space weapon called Goldeneye is stolen it’s up to Bond to find out who has control of system leading him to a Russian computer programmer and a long, lost double o agent. Brosnan had been groomed for this role for about a decade before he even got a check from Eon. Everyone knew he would eventually play Bond and he didn’t disppoint in this film. Goldeneye does harken back to an earlier kind of 007 movie. The rugged darkness is still there, but it hides in the shadows as some of the age old Bondisms from Moore and Connery make a return.  Goldeneye features a great villain in Sean Bean, who could have been a 007 candidate and a story that is more over the top than the Dalton years. World domination is back. For many GoldenEye is one of the greatest chapters in the ever going James Bond film franchise. The series that seems like it will forever hold the title of holding the most installments of any film series. And if not my personal favorite Bond film of them all, than it is certainly a leading contender for the title. As I’ve said before this may very well be my favorite installment of the series, though the jury will probably always remain out on that one. I would even put it as one of my favorite films in general. When most people think Bond, they think of a sort of breezy and easy to watch adventure film that allows them to essentially just relax for a few hours. It’s not the only film in this series to do so, but I think like some others it does a really good job balancing being just that as well as having some legitimate storytelling heft and things to say about the lead character.
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