Dazed and Finked

“I’m gonna torture you ’til you include <i>Titanic</i>.”

“I’m gonna torture you ’til you include Titanic.”

My picks for the best American films each year from 1990 through 1999:

1990: Goodfellas: After every bad Joe Pesci impersonation, every stupid TV parody and The Sopranos, Martin Scorsese’s mafia classic endures.

1991: Barton Fink: Hollywood crassness vs. Odets-ian folksy pretense: “We’re only interested in one thing, Bart. Can you tell a story? Can you make us laugh? Can you make us cry? Can you make us want to break out in joyous song? Is that more than one thing?”

1992: Reservoir Dogs: You know you love a film when every single flaw (Harvey Keitel smokes an unlit cigarette!) seems as indelible and perfect as a wood pattern.

1993: Dazed and Confused: Not as “important” as some other 1993 films, but that’s kind of the point; the way adolescence makes the most insignificant moments into life-defining ones.

1994: Pulp Fiction: The line that always makes me laugh out loud even after 11 viewings: “Big Kahuna Burger. That’s that Hawaiian burger joint. I hear they have some tasty burgers.” Brilliant.

1995: Welcome to the Dollhouse: Junior high school as a hormonally charged, Darwinian pit of hell. Nailed it.

1996: Fargo: The movie everyone hoped the Coens had in them—as funny as Raising Arizona, as violent as Blood Simple, and as existentially charged as Barton Fink, with irreplaceable performances in every role.

1997: Boogie Nights: Paul Thomas Anderson puts more energy, ideas and fun into his outtakes and set diaries than most filmmakers put into their entire careers.

1998: Rushmore: Bill Murray’s last stand; although The Big Lebowski has shown a surprising cultural endurance, I’ll take Wes Anderson’s screwy coming-of-age comedy.

1999: Magnolia: It was released in the last week of December 1999, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s proudly inscrutable masterpiece belongs more to the decade of messed-up soul seekers that followed.