Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ten (Because) 1990s Cult Films

There are a lot of different ways to define "cult movie," I guess, but I'm going with Pure Cinema's more loose definition that includes movies that either weren't hits at the time of their release or have been forgotten or overshadowed in the years since their release, and have acquired a devoted (though perhaps small) following. So not necessarily "weird" movies. Though some of these certainly fall into that category too.

#10. What Dreams May Come (1998)

This won an Oscar for visual effects, and while it's not the *best* movie in terms of storytelling, it's a really remarkable visual feast. The ideas about the afterlife (greatly simplified from the book on which it is based) are very thought-provoking, especially the notion that it's radically different for everyone. I think everyone who at least has heard of this movie has seen the picture of Robin Williams walking through the painting (see above), but the image that most stuck with me was the vision of hell as an upside down cathedral. The plot here is pretty forgettable, but that's not what you watch this movie for. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#9. The Swan Princess (1994)

I'd only vaguely heard of this movie before its love song "Far Longer Than Forever" was nominated for a Golden Globe, but just a few seconds of that song made me want to see the movie immediately. (Seriously, it's gorgeous.) A loose adaptation of the ballet Swan Lake, the movie itself is nothing groundbreaking, and the animation is barely above television-grade for the time, but it has some great voice acting (including Jack Palance as the villain Rothbart), and the love story is actually rather nice -- a kick in the teeth to the "love at first sight" and "who's the fairest" tropes. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#8. Beautiful Girls (1996)

This movie is responsible for an obsession I had for quite a while in the 90s with Timothy Hutton. He is at the height of scruffy, sideburned, piano-playing sexiness here. The rest of the cast is a who's who of 90s actors -- Matt Dillon, Lauren Holly, Mira Sorvino, Rosie O'Donnell, Noah Emmerich, Michael Rappaport, a young(ish) David Arquette, and a quite young Natalie Portman. Yeah, it's another movie about men who don't want to grow up (most clearly exemplified by the not-as-creepy-as-it-sounds mutual crush between Hutton and Portman), but the cast has great chemistry and the movie has a lot of charm. Plus a GREAT soundtrack which is basically the Big Chill soundtrack of the 90s. It also has this beautiful profanity-laden rant from O'Donnell about beauty standards, which is worth the price of admission all by itself. (Available on Amazon and iTunes; soundtrack available on iTunes)

#7. Innocent Blood (1992)

There was a pretty huge vampire movie that came out in the 90s, but despite its supernatural cred, I'd hardly call Interview with the Vampire a "cult" movie. Innocent Blood -- John Landis's semi-comic take on vampires -- is another matter altogether. Not quite as brilliant as his werewolf movie the decade before, Innocent Blood nonetheless has a lot going for it. It was a cool idea to cross vampirism with mafia culture and equate being made a vampire with being "made" in the mafia sense. Loads of great actors in this -- Anthony LaPaglia, Robert Loggia, Don Rickles, Chazz Palminteri, Luis Guzman, Angela Bassett, plus some cameos from horror icons Tom Savini, Sam Raimi, Dario Argento and, err, Linnea Quigley (hey, if you're a horror fan, you know why she's a legend). (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#6. The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Come for the DiCaprio, stay for the subversion of the western genre. This movie stars Sharon Stone, still riding the post-Basic Instinct wave, but here, refreshingly, she isn't (that) sexualized and instead plays an atypical female for a western -- a vigilante who has arrived in town to seek revenge for her father's murder many years before. LOADS of great actors in this -- Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe before he was a big movie star, the aforementioned DiCaprio, Pat Hingle, Keith David, Lance Henriksen, Tobin Bell, Raynor Scheine, Gary Sinise, and Woody Strode, fer cryin' out loud! I love that this movie never takes itself too seriously, and that it kind of knows how ridiculous it frequently is, but everyone in the movie is playing it totally straight. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#5. Cronos (1993)

The feature film debut of Guillermo del Toro and a brilliant addition to the vampire lore. An old antique dealer finds a device that makes him younger but has the unfortunate side effect of causing him to crave blood. Like so many of del Toro's horror movies, this has a lot of emotion and the real power in the horror elements is that you care so much about these characters and are genuinely horrified to see bad things happen to them. Don't get me wrong, there's also a good deal of artfully rendered blood and gore, but there's a tragic quality to the horror that pushes it past mere gladiator-style entertainment. There's an especially poignant relationship with the man and his granddaughter that I find really compelling to watch. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#4. Tales from the Hood (1995)

I saw this for the first time recently and really loved it. I remember thinking at the time it came out and I was seeing ads for it that it seemed like a dumb horror parody like so many that had come before, but it is definitely not that. Sure, there's a bit of the absurd here, but that's true of most horror in general. No, what this is is some brilliant commentary, specifically from the perspective of black America. There are bits in this that are still pretty danged relevant, starting with the opening tale where a black activist is killed by the police. The pièce de résistance, however, is "KKK Comeuppance," in which a racist southern senator is terrorized by a bunch of creepy dolls that hold the souls of previously tortured slaves. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#3. Cookie's Fortune (1999)

It is a CRIME that this isn't available to buy or rent. Even the Wikipedia page is half-ass. This is an Altman film, with his characteristically massive all-star cast. Let me just lay some of these names on you -- Glenn Close, Julianne Moore, Ned Beatty, Courtney B. Vance, Charles S. Dutton, Patricia Neal, Donald Moffat, Lyle Lovett, Chris O'Donnell, Liv Tyler, and musicians Rufus Thomas and Ruby Wilson. It's set (and was filmed) in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and is legit one of my favorite crime films. The story begins with the titular Cookie (Patricia Neal in her last film, save one), who kills herself because she's bored of being a widow. She's found by her niece (Glenn Close), who sets about trying to make Cookie's death look like a murder -- mainly to spare the family the embarrassment of a suicide but also to set herself up in the family mansion. This is wickedly funny, and is one of those rare films about the south that doesn't feel exploitative or mocking. (Tragically not available, even for sale, except used copies; trailer on YouTube.)

#2. Dead Again (1991)

The closest to "shipping" real people I've ever been was with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. They made several films together and were one of the few real-life couples who actually had insane onscreen chemistry. Nothing tops the spark in Much Ado About Nothing, but Dead Again comes close. This is essentially a crime thriller, but it also has definite noir elements and is a sort of romantic fantasy? Emma Thompson plays a woman with amnesia, and Branagh is a detective who's trying to help her uncover who she is. This movie is a pretty cool example of a "past lives" plot, and through past life regression hypnotherapy, Thompson's and Branagh's characters become embroiled in a decades old love story and murder mystery which we see in black and white flashbacks. Noteworthy supporting players include Derek Jacobi, Robin Williams, Andy Garcia, and Wayne Knight. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#1. The Last Days of Disco (1998)

Boy oh boy do I love this movie. If you liked Love and Friendship, here's Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny directed by Whit Stillman nearly 20 years earlier. Though the story largely revolves around Beckinsale and Sevigny, there is a host of memorable and well-defined characters. Like most of Stillman's films, this is a movie where smart people sit around and talk a lot. There is perhaps no greater film conversation than the characters' discussion of troublesome archetypes in Lady and the Tramp. Maybe not everyone's cup of tea, but I love everything about this movie -- the early 80s fashion, the music, the use of Scrooge McDuck as a come-on, and the final shot of two people unironically shimmying to non-existent disco music on an elevated train. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

No comments:

Post a Comment