The 90s, what a decade! Having been born in the 80s, most of my memories of the 90s consist of the myriad of bad fashion choices I made as an akward adolescent, namely: pink velvet tops, yellow copycat Dr Marten boots, upper arm cuffs, nighties worn under a top and over your pants (why???), chokers, glittery frost blue coloured lipstick, brown lipstick (versatility!), multicoloured rubberbands on my braces and an extremely ill-conceived attempt to copy Gwen Stefani by painting a bindi on my forehead.
As with the fashion, I also watched and adored a lot of movies that, with the benefit of hindsight and a more developed brain, I have come to understand might not be as genius as I believed them to be at the time. However, movies from that time have left a mark on me, and however mediocre or bad they may be, they were also part of what set me down this path of loving all things cinematic.
I spent hours in the local video (yes, video!) store and discovered many strange and wonderful things on those shelves. I watched plenty of movies that are still considered great and timeless movies, and I’m grateful to my parents for exposing me to and allowing me to choose movies that were a bit above my pay grade, so to speak. But today I want to focus on the cinematic equivalent of that frost blue coloured lipstick, the films that are sneered at now – and probably even then – but that made this a little cinephile-to-be’s heart beat fast and infused my already overactive imagination.
It’s difficult to discard the things I have learnt since about good and bad taste and to fully embrace these movies as enthusiastically as I did once, but I’ve decided to trust my memories of the first viewings, leave my dignity at the door and just jump head first into a 90s extravaganza.
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991)
In case you don’t know the (ludicrous) plot for this movie, it goes like this: five kids are left with an ageing babysitter when their mom heads off to Australia for a few months with her new boyfriend. The babysitter turns out to be a real pain for the free-spirited kids and when she suddenly dies, as old people are want to do, they decide not to tell anyone and just enjoy their freedom, Home-Alone-style. However, growing kids can’t survive on freedom alone, and the eldest of the kids, Sue Ellen (Christina Applegate), has to pretend to be a college grad in order to bag a job to earn some money for them.
Why do I love this movie so much? Let me count the ways! A movie like this could never be made today. Like Home Alone and a lot of other 90s movies featuring kids, the children lead such free range lives and the parents are often harmlessly hapless and self-involved. Leaving your kids for a hot and heavy holiday with your boyfriend? Listen, the idea was a bit silly then, but it’s completely outrageous now. Yet, the kids love it and just want their lame mom out of their lives for a bit. It really makes me long for a time when there wasn’t such a heavy burden of perfection and constant surveillance on parents’ shoulders and kids were encouraged to make mistakes and learn from them.
Plus, as a child I loved the storyline of Sue Ellen going out in the big world, dressed as an adult and trying to figure things out in the work place. My friends and I would emulate the movie by sitting in my dad’s office, typing gobbledegook on his typewriter (yes, typewriter!) and, uhm, filing stuff. Don’t ask me why but, at that age, working in an office seemed the height of excitement. How things have changed!
The characters are fantastic and memorable and, in the midst of a fairly mediocre script, there are one-liners you’ll never forget, such as “I’m right on top of that, Rose!”. Also, as an impressionable young girl, I definitely noticed that the nice male characters were sensitive and kind, and the not-so-nice ones were slimeballs. I’m sure my highly tuned abilities to spot a douchebag from miles away are partly down to this movie.
Legends of the Fall (1994)
Counterpoint to the above argument, you may be tempted to say that my love of Legends of the Fall proves I cannot spot a douchebag as long as he comes riding into my life on horseback with long, golden hair flowing under his cowboy hat. Man, Tristan really was kind of a douche, amirite?
If you don’t know the story, Legends of the Fall spans several decades in the lives of an American family in the early 1900s. We follow Colonel Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) as he struggles to raise his three sons; the dutiful and somber Alfred (Aidan Quinn), the wild and irresponsible Tristan (Brad Pitt) and the young, naive Samuel (Henry Thomas).
I think this must have been one of my earliest memories of a true epic, and I was completely smitten by the Montana setting, the clothes, the music, the love stories, the characters and the blatant emotional manipulation. I could fill the North Sea with all the salty tears I have cried watching this movie. It starts with that scene (SPOILERS) with Samuel and the teargas and then I pretty much keep going until, eventually, the floodgates completely break and I crumble onto the floor during the final scene when the aged Colonel finally acknowledges Alfred and gives him the fatherly love he has been craving all his life. That scene always, without fail, gets me.
It’s completely melodramatic, and that doesn’t bother me one bit. This is one of the movies from that time period I can watch again and again and it still resonates with me the way it did then.
Now and Then (1995)
Another movie that was a real crowd pleaser amongst my friends and I as we were growing up. It’s a movie that follows a group of four friends, with two timelines running simultaneously, one from their adolescence in the 70s and then as adults when they get together again in their hometown. It had everything that little girls could ask for: friendship, drama and, most importantly, Devon Sawa. It is a universally known fact that Sawa, who also starred in Casper and Little Giants, is solely responsible for a huge portion of the female population in the 90s prematurely hitting puberty, such was the power of those piercing blue eyes and floppy blonde hair.
I’ll be honest here; a few years ago a good friend and I wanted to see if we could relive our childhood and attempted to re-watch Now and Then. About 2 minutes in we decided it was best to leave it as a cherished memory. So, while it doesn’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny, it had real value to girls of a certain age who longed for a coming-of-age story like the many that have been made for boys in the same age bracket. For that, it gets to stay.
Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day, does it really need an introduction? Aliens come to Earth, there’s a lot of BOOM’ing and CRASH’ing, the White House gets blown up, Bill Pullman is the coolest president ever, Will Smith kicks alien butt and Jeff Goldblum is Jeff Goldblum. It’s a ridiculous movie but that didn’t stop it from being my favourite for a couple of years.
I really can’t explain exactly why I loved this movie so much, other than at the time the effects were truly awe-inspiring, it was funny and the whole alien-theme found fertile ground in a mind that had been heavily influenced by X-files and the like in the 90s. Now, there’s a new Independence Day movie in the works, and I can’t say I see a reason for it. But, Jeff Goldblum is in it and that’s as good a reason as any to make a movie I guess.
The Rock (1996)
Clearly, 1996 was the year I came to embrace movies with a lot of BOOM’ing and CRASH’ing. The Rock is maybe the most difficult for me to add to this list, because I am not at all a Michael Bay fan. There isn’t anything that I can say about Bay’s appalling film-making that film critic Mark Kermode hasn’t already said much better. Take, for example, his takedown of Pain & Gain:
In my defence, at 12 years old, I was probably at the exact intellectual level that Michael Bay’s movies are aimed towards. I was swept up in the action and, of course, there was Nicholas Cage who, at the time, was still a cool dude with a lot of box office pull. In fact, the movie is mostly held together by a great cast and some exciting action sequences. It definitely isn’t the plot doing it, as it’s utterly preposterous.
Yes, I do understand that Titanic is at times saccharine and indulgent, that Jack should easily have survived if Rose would just scooch up a bit, and that listening to My Heart Will Go On has become akin to hearing nails on a chalkboard. But I really feel this is a movie that, in the years since its release, has received a far more negative reputation than it deserves. In fact, when looking up the movie on Rotten Tomatoes, I was surprised to see the great reviews it has, as it seems to always be talked about in a condescending tone.
I think we are quick to forget just what an impact – no pun intended – the film had at the time of its release. It was truly a phenomenon, and the kind of endeavour that seemed to deserve the hype it was getting. As opposed to now, where every run-of-the-mill blockbuster’s production gets hyped for months, if not years.
Just a few weeks ago, my kids asked me about the Titanic, which then made us talk about the movie, and I showed them a trailer. Watching the trailer, my heart actually started racing when re-watching the clips of Rose and Jack fighting their way through the icy water rushing in, as well as when they hold on to the ship as it starts going down and people are falling all around them. And it wasn’t just the action scenes that stuck. Titanic had highly memorable characters and touching, human moments. And, yes, I was 13 and absolutely the target market.
I watched Titanic 4 times in the cinema, and I made sure I was ready and waiting to buy the DVD on the day it was released. In many ways, it was around this time that my obsession with movies bloomed into being about more than just entertaining myself for a few hours and I came to love the craft and everything that surrounds it. Thanks, James Cameron!
So there you have it; 6 movies that may not be the classiest but that hold a special place in my heart. I’m a firm believer in not letting ideas of high-brow and low-brow get in the way of you enjoyment of films or literature. Sometimes, the blandest of artistic endeavours becomes a gateway drug to bigger and grander things. And, sometimes, they just let you pass a few hours with a warm and fuzzy feeling at your centre, and that’s okay too.