One thing we at Place to Be Nation like to celebrate is the subjectivity inherent in entertainment — be it in wrestling, comics, music, television or, indeed, film. With that in mind, ten members of the PTBN staff will be picking the movies of the PTB generation. In this series, panel members will collect their five favorite films of each year, beginning with the year in which the oldest writer was born — 1976. The only rule given to each contributor was to provide his or her own criteria. Some writers may go with the most artistic films, while others might side with the most iconic blockbusters. We welcome your lists on Facebook and Twitter. Each staff member has submitted a list of five movies from 1990 ranked 1 through 5. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place vote worth four points, and so on. Using that point system, we have identified the top 5 movies of 1990.
1990 saw the release of a few of the panel’s childhood favorites, as well as one of the all-time classic mob movies. But before we reveal the top 5, let’s see the movies that received votes, but fell short of making our final list.
Dances With Wolves — 8 points
Edward Scissorhands — 7 points
Back to the Future Part III — 7 points
Die Hard 2: Die Harder — 6 points
Ghost — 6 points
House Party — 5 points
The Hunt for Red October — 5 points
Pretty Woman — 5 points
Pump Up the Volume — 4 points
Dick Tracy — 2 points
Jetsons: The Movie — 2 points
Quick Change — 2 points
Quigley Down Under — 2 points
Jacob’s Ladder — 1 point
Miller’s Crossing — 1 point
Misery — 1 point
And now, let’s see the top 5 movies of 1990, as voted by the Place to Be Nation staff.
5. Total Recall
9 points, ranked by 4 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Glenn Butler at No. 3
Glenn Butler: Philip K. Dick movies really put the “loose” into “loose adaptation.” While Dick tended to write stories exploring twists in metaphysics, with characters trying to nail down the nature of their reality while dealing with authoritarian governments and malevolent corporate entities, these vague descriptors and a couple of plot points are about all that made it into Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger shoot-em-up. (If we’re to be deliberately unfair, that is. But we’re all about celebrating film here.)
This comes during a small run of roles Arnold Schwarzenegger chose in the late 80’s and early 90’s as non-supermen, including this film, Kindergarten Cop, and his co-headlined projects with Danny DeVito. This movie obviously doesn’t weaken The Schwartz or his metafictional role as a narrative force in the grand scheme of things, but he nonetheless spends a significant part of the movie playing Quaid as a fish out of water, a construction worker who doesn’t know what kind of movie he’s in and what being in this sort of movie makes him capable of. In an early fight he snaps several guys’ necks without much apparent effort, which is more surprising to him than it is to us, since the audience has the advantage of knowing how these things go in action films. Indeed, it’s not until after a few fight scenes and a couple of chases that Quaid really accepts his role and sets off for Mars to really get the plot moving.
He needs to go to Mars to stop Cohaagen, the despotic governor of the Mars colony who’s content to overwork people and create mutations with poisonous working conditions, as long as the mines are productive. But past those mines lies an ancient reactor, built by aliens, that could give the entire Red Planet an atmosphere compatible with humans, breaking Cohaagen’s monopoly on breathable air. Ronny Cox’s Cohaagen enlists a stable of villains (Michael Ironside, Sharon Stone, even Marc Alaimo in a small role) to keep the mutants at bay and stop Quaid, resulting in a series of exciting chases & fights, and of course Schwarzenegger’s trademark one-liners: see you at the party, Richter; consider that a divorce; get your ass to Mars.
But does Quaid get his ass to Mars? This is the closest the movie comes to being a spiritual adaptation of Phil Dick, as the movie is impressively ambiguous on this matter. Movie-making techniques fall on both sides: the “it’s a dream” explanation can conveniently paper over all plot holes as well as the nonsense science we typically dismiss through suspension of disbelief (one character in one scene suggests the stupidity of having guns inside a pressurized dome, while otherwise everyone lets loose for the sake of cool shootouts; the way people’s heads turn into balloons when exposed to the native Martian atmosphere is pleasantly kooky; ancient Martians apparently needed the same atmosphere that we do, and their reactor provides it to the planet in thirty seconds flat), but we also see many scenes featuring the villains plotting outside of Quaid’s view, suggesting a “god’s eye view” perspective rather than a lucid dream inside Quaid’s mind. One feature of movie-making might typically be definitive: the dream ending is almost always seen as unsatisfying by audiences who would prefer the expected heroic story, and justifiably so. However, this movie was made by the ever-enigmatic Paul Verhoeven, for whom pleasing the audience isn’t always a top priority. Two hugely important scenes for this debate occur in the Rekall office, when the person arranging memories to implant in Quaid remarks about a blue sky on Mars, predicting the precise ending of the movie, and on Mars itself (maybe), when a doctor appears to Quaid claiming to be an emergency protocol set to bring him back from an implantation gone wrong, and goes on to correctly predict the next plot twist. However, there’s still the initial outburst partway through the Rekall procedure to deal with. It’s just as well that this movie never got a sequel, because then this would’ve had to have been answered definitively.
4. Kindergarten Cop
14 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Greg Phillips at No. 1
Andrew Woltman: Arnold Schwarzenegger has never been a very high caliber actor. I grew up with his films, so I never really made that discovery until my teenage years. What he is, is that he is good at what he does. I know how awkwardly worded that sounds, but I think you understand what I mean. No movie illustrates that point better than Kindergarten Cop.
There’s something less than realist about an undercover cop infiltrating a Kindergarten class, and the fact that he happens to be as subtle as a Panzer tank makes that seem more absurd. But that’s also half the fun. Seeing this hulking spectre of a man trying to fit into a job and pose in a profession for which he has no qualifications adds a sense of complete humor and acceptance of the premise.
There are one-liners galore surrounding the scenes, and enough heart for you to overlook the incandescent flaws. One does not walk into Kindergarten Cop expecting the best, but one walks away with more than what they did.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
17 points, ranked by 4 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Russell Sellers at No. 1
Russell Sellers: What started as a joke between two friends became a world-wide phenomenon that, arguably, culminated with this outstanding live-action adaptation. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles enjoyed quite a meteoric rise to prominence thanks to a very successful cartoon series and some high-profile toy sales. But this was far from a cartoon version.
The original comic book version of the TMNT was fairly dark and violent, so when director Steve Barron and writer Bobby Herbeck put their heads together to adapt Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman’s creation for the big screen, they decided to go with a version that was close to that, but incorporated elements of the cartoon, as well. The results were better than anyone could have hoped for as the Turtles came to life in a great action/adventure film that was fun for kids and adults. Some would argue it was too dark and violent for children, but that didn’t slow the movie down at all, as it was one of the highest grossing films of 1990 and had a sequel ready to go the very next year.
While the action and wit were there, it was the character arcs of the four brothers that made the movie truly work. The growth of Raphael from angst-ridden loner to loving brother and the parallels between Shredder’s “family” and Splinter’s are some of the most well-conceived plot points of any film of the era. Not to mention the funny budding romance between April O’Neil and Casey Jones. Elias Koteas as Jones pretty much steals every scene he’s in.
Mileage varies on the sequels (Secret of the Ooze wasn’t bad, but III might be one of the worst films ever made), but this is one that holds up incredibly well. Even by today’s standards, the action and fight choreography are done well, with a heavy reliance on practical effects that include no stop-motion animation or computer generated images. If only more films of the modern era could be this way.
2. Home Alone
20 points, ranked by 6 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke at No. 1
Aaron George: Films have a way of touching our hearts and making us see the good in potentially any situation. To some families a child being forgotten at home while the family goes on a long ass trip would be a horrendous situation culminating with a visit from child protective services and the child either being taken away or burning in a fiery inferno that said child could not help but create. In Home Alone we instead get a tremendous romp which remains memorable even 24 years after its release.
Macaulay Culkin is effective and adorable as the left behind (not raptured) Kevin McCallister. Watching him back in 1990 you couldn’t help but think he was going to go on to be a huge star. His presence here is undeniable and without him to anchor the film (I know how crazy that sounds) Home Alone may not have been remembered by anyone save perhaps the creepy guy who reviews the Star Wars Prequels. I never understood why his popularity waned after his marriage to Michael Jackson. A true shame.
To many families a home invasion can be one of the worst experiences of their lives. Not only are they robbed of their keepsakes and heirlooms but the countless murders of family dogs, cats and badgers are scars that for some will never heal. In Home Alone we get the exact opposite again. I want Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern to try and break into my house! Imagine the fun I’d have giving them concussions and literally setting them on fire. Imagine the hilarity that would ensue as I tried to break every bone in their bodies, those screams of pain would create memories that would last a lifetime. Pesci and Stern are awesome at putting a sorely needed smile on the face of burglary.
If this were a documentary about parenting it would fail on pretty much every conceivable level. But it’s not, and that’s why it works. It’s a fun movie where pretty much all of the actors look like they’re having the time of their lives. It’s still funny to this day and has a lot more heart than many of its contemporary comedies. So get your family together, throw it in and promise your son you’ll never, ever forget (leave) him at Toys R Us ever again. I’m sorry.
26 points, ranked by 6 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Aaron George, Andrew Riche and Steve Wille at No. 1
Andrew Riche: There are a multitude of memorable gangster films that have been produced all the way back to the dawn of cinema itself with The Great Train Robbery back in 1903. One of the pioneers of the gangster film is Martin Scorcese, and after bouncing back in the 1980’s with efforts like The Color of Money and The King of Comedy, Scorcese went back to the crime genre and directed what may be his greatest film. If the 90’s were a prize fight, then Scorcese’s 1990 film Goodfellas was a first-round knockout, a film so good that despite its universal acclaim back then, its standing on the all-time charts has risen as the years go by. Goodfellas‘ firm place as one of the five best films of the 1990’s (according to the late Roger Ebert, the finest film ever made about organized crime) has only grown its popularity over the years.
It is based on the 1986 book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi and tells the true story of Henry Hill, a young hoodlum who aspires to get in tight with the Italian-American Lucchese crime family, and he passes with flying colors. Robert De Niro is his usually transformational self as veteran wise guy Jimmy the Gent and Joe Pesci is a ball of fire as Tommy DeVito, a character so memorably temperamental that it won Pesci an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Just like Sean Connery in another famous mobster film, 1987’s The Untouchables, that was the film’s only Oscar. Hill becomes immersed in the whirlwind lifestyle of a high-riding gangster in New York but the years of walking that fine line eventually give way as he falls into the drug trade and is caught by the FBI. At the start of the film, Jimmy gives Henry two important pieces of advice to stay in the family: Never rat out your friends, and always keep your mouth shut. By story’s end, Henry has done both of those things as the film closes with a bang, literally.
Goodfellas carries an epic scope in terms of time span as we witness Henry Hill’s rise to the top of the New York crime scene to the sad fall that brings down the Lucchese family and turns Hill back into “an average nobody.” But what really sets it apart is how briskly its 146-minute running time goes by thanks to Scorcese’s brilliant direction. His tracking shot in the Copacabana with Hill on the top of the world is now a perennial lesson in film school while he allowed his actors to improvise a good portion of the dialogue (Pesci’s “Do I amuse you?” line, the most famous one in the movie, was actually an ad lib). The narrator in the movie’s trailer says that “a new generation carries on an old tradition.” In the case of crime movies, Goodfellas may be the greatest generation.
That does it for 1990. To see the full breakdown of all 10 ballots, click here. Check back soon to see the staff’s top 5 movies of 1991!