Movies, 1990-1999

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The 1990s are both overrated and underrated when it comes to movies.  The highs may not have been all that high, but the lows weren’t as bad as the eighties and the middles were solid.  It was a workmanlike decade in film, and there’s nothing wrong with that, really.  The one negative thing I would say about a lot of the movies of the era was that even the independent films feel like their corners have been rounded off a bit.  Everything feels really commercial, which is not always bad, but can be a little bit sad.

Just as with my list of favorite songs of the nineties, I feel like I must be forgetting some candidates here.  I also fully admit that there are quite a few critically acclaimed movies from the nineties that I’ve never watched; for instance, I haven’t seen four of the ten Best Picture Academy Award winners from the decade.  For some reason, even though I say over and over that these lists are of my favorites, and not necessarily the best, I still feel the need to qualify everything.  Anyway, let’s get started.  Here they are, my twenty five favorite movies of the 1990s:

25) Romeo + Juliet (1996)

I can’t really sit through this entire movie anymore.  I need someone to edit it down for me and just cut out the 45 or so minutes of meaningful glances and mournful stares.  But I love the concept and the aesthetic of it, and the opening sequence is one of my favorites ever.  Unfortunately I can’t find just that bit on YouTube, so I’m posting this trailer (which actually makes the movie look much worse than it is) instead.

24) Clerks (1994)

Kevin Smith is kind of like the Dave Matthews of directors.  Clerks and Under the Table and Dreaming both came pretty much out of nowhere in 1994, and were met with commercial and critical success.  Both Smith and Matthews were praised initially (and rightly so) for their unique style.  Both kept doing pretty much the same thing, and slowly lost fans, through fatigue and a drop in quality of the product they were producing, and eventually became kind of the epitome of uncool in their respective fields.  Not people that were terrible at what they did, but people of whom it was embarrassing to be a fan.  And yet both maintain, to this day, a core group of hardcore fans that don’t really seem to realize that nobody else cares anymore.

Anyway, I LOVED this movie when I first saw it on VHS.  Not surprisingly, I was around 13 at the time.  I was also a fan of Mallrats, and loved Chasing Amy when it came out.  I thought that Jason Lee was the second coming of Jimmy Stewart.  Have I ever considered buying any of these on DVD?  No.  Let’s leave them locked up in the Nineties Time Capsule.

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Songs, 1990-1999

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This list has been the hardest to compile so far by a wide margin, for several reasons.  When the 1990s began, I was seven years old, and the music I was most familiar with was the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack that my dad was always playing and the Super Mario Bros. theme song.  By the time they ended, I was seventeen, had gone through about ten favorite bands, and was eagerly anticipating the release of the new Radiohead album.  It’s hard to rank songs from a time period when I was so many different people.

Also, I could never really decide if I wanted this to be a list of songs that I loved at the time, or songs that I really love now.  In the end, it’s a little bit of both, and sort of suffers because of that.  There are songs on here that I don’t even have in my music collection anymore, and also songs that I never really listened to until five years ago.

But the real reason this was so difficult is that I’m absolutely sure that I’m forgetting things.  I have a pretty good grasp on music from the 2000s, and didn’t really feel like I was leaving anything major out.  This time I feel like there could possibly be a song out there that I might have put in my top ten that I didn’t even think of.  Let me know if you see any glaring omissions.

So, all that said, here are my ninety favorite songs of the nineties:

90) Kris Kross – “Jump” (1992)

An appropriate song to start things off.  This isn’t the oldest song on this list, but it might be the oldest song here of which I was a huge fan from day one.  I spent about six months of my ninth year listening to my Totally Krossed Out cassette non-stop on my Walkman.

89) Cornershop – “Brimful of Asha” (1997)

This song, and this entire album, really, is such a weird blip on the nineties pop scene.  Making this list made it clear to me that while music was much better in the 2000s, it was quirkier and seemed to take more risks in the 1990s.  I was introduced to the song, and the band, when this video appeared on the short-lived MTV show 12 Angry Viewers.

88) Coolio – “Gangsta’s Paradise (feat L.V.)” (1995)

Johanna said this had to be on the list, and I suppose she’s right.  I loved it at the time, obviously, but don’t have much to say about it now, so instead let me just suggest that all of you go Google the lyrics to another single off of this album “1,2,3,4 (Sumpin’ New).”  Johanna and I had each other in hysterics talking about them.

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Polls, Best of the Decade, 2000-2009

So, now that I’ve figured out how to use polls, I thought it might be fun to post a poll for each of my categories thus far.  To keep them from being too unwieldy, I’ve only included my top ten as choices, but if you think one of my other choices (or something completely different) is the best of the decade, there is a write-in option.  Feel free to finally voice publicly your disagreement with me!


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Characters, 2000-2009

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This is sort of a vague list.  I’m not really sure what the qualifications were.  And it seems wrong that 19 of my 25 favorite characters of the decade are from television shows.  I obviously need to read more.  But, for whatever reason, these are the ones that really stuck with me.  Here are my 25 favorite characters of the decade:

25) Borat Sagdiyev (Da Ali G Show)

Frat guys turned Borat into this decade’s Austin Powers, and no one is really clamoring for Borat II at this point.  But the character is brilliantly conceived and led Sacha Baron Cohen into comedic territory that he never could have reached as Ali G.

24) Brian Griffin (Family Guy)

Even I am sitting here thinking this is a strange, possibly unworthy, choice for this list.  But I can’t stop laughing when they have Brian actually, you know, behave like a dog.  Like when he is afraid of the vacuum cleaner, or uncontrollably wags his tail.  A rare talking animal character that still, albeit rarely, acts like an animal.

23) Coach Eric Taylor (Friday Night Lights)

This character’s appeal is helped quite a bit by his relationship with his wife, but he’s on the list alone because he does just fine in the football scenes without her.  Friday Night Lights seems to have learned from the mistakes of past shows (I’m thinking specifically of The O.C.): when you have a married couple that serves as a solid foundation upon which to build everything else, do not screw with it.

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Video Games, 2000-2009

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By no means am I a big gamer.  There are probably great games from this decade that I’ve never even heard of, let alone played.  And I know for a fact that there are great games out there that I haven’t played; I currently have a stack next to my TV of unopened games that includes the well-reviewed Left 4 Dead 2, Fallout 3, and Assassin’s Creed 2.  I should also include the caveat that I’m not a big sports game person, or a huge first-person shooter fan, as evidenced by the fact that there is no Halo to be found here.  But in the imperfect spirit of my lists, here are my 20 favorite video games of the decade (along with the year of release and the console on which I spent the most time playing them):

20) Crackdown (2007, Xbox 360)

This game seems like an afterthought, and sort of was.  I’m guessing that it’s most remembered for being the game that came with an access code for the Halo 3 beta.  But it’s a game that I find myself coming back to on Saturday afternoons when I’m bored and just feel like throwing cars and jumping over buildings.  Great arcade-y fun, and the orb collecting is completely addictive.

19) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2 (2009, Xbox 360)

I guess, according to this list, this is my favorite first-person shooter of the decade.  The levels in this game are much more varied than most shooters; it sort of reminds me of my favorite FPS of last decade, GoldenEye 007.  That’s also the reason that I picked this over the original Modern Warfare. Even though I don’t really play video games online (probably the main draw of this title), I didn’t mind that the single player story was pretty short.  There are so many great games coming out lately that I don’t have time for all of these 30-hour epics.

18) Wii Sports (2006, Wii)

I don’t really play the Wii that often.  Most people that own them seem to stop using them after a while.  But when I do revisit the system, this is what I want to play.  And everyone who plays this game for the first time wants to go buy a Wii.  The most brilliant system and game bundling since the NES and Super Mario Brothers.

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Songs, 2000-2009

I debated how to best represent the decade in music in list form.  Eventually, I decided on songs over albums; it seemed more fitting in the era of iTunes.

This list shows that my musical tastes, like my politics, are pretty middle-of-the-road. I like the most mainstream and accessible indie rock and I’m a sucker for the occasional pop song.

I should also point out that I think this might be longer than anything I wrote in college.  It’s entirely possible that the length of this will make it completely unreadable.  But whatever, brevity has never been my strong suit.  Here they are, my 150 favorite songs of the decade (music videos when I was able to easily find one that I liked that allowed embedding):

150) Cannibal Ox – “Iron Galaxy” (2001)

This album has such a singular sound that it’s weird hearing Vast Aire rapping over any other production.  I think that’s why I could never really get into Look Mom…No Hands.  The Vast Aire verse at the end of this song is sort of the end of the golden age of underground hip hop for me, a topic that will definitely be more thoroughly discussed if I ever do a list of my favorite songs of the 90s.

149) Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros – “Johnny Appleseed” (2001)

The best part of John from Cincinnati.  Almost makes me want to check out the rest of Joe Strummer’s post-Clash career.

148) Air – “Universal Traveller” (2004)

The only song from Talkie Walkie that holds up for me.  Really the only Air song that I listen to on a regular basis.  Pops up on the occasional Rick Steves podcast, so that’s a plus.

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Movies, 2000-2009

This list was much harder for me than my television list.  Even more than before, this is definitely a list of my favorite movies of the decade, not the best.  There are movies not on this list that I know are qualitatively better than some of the ones on it.  This line of reasoning affects the order of the list as well.  The only real objective sacrifice I made was in leaving Kingdom of Heaven off.  I love that movie.  It was the first movie I bought on Blu-ray.  But I couldn’t bring myself to list it here.  I was also hindered by the fact that there are a lot of movies, some of them likely outstanding, that I just never got around to seeing.  So really, this list is flawed, but it’s the only list I’m qualified to write.  Here goes, my 25 favorite movies of the past decade:

25) Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Those of you who read my television list will probably not be shocked to find this on my movie list; I’ve been a big Jason Segel fan since the Nick Andopolis days.  I also liked Mila Kunis in this, which is surprising, since she annoys me in pretty much everything else she does.  And while I’m concerned that the upcoming spin-off movie Get Him to the Greek will end up being a disappointment, I love Russell Brand as Aldous Snow.  He’s perfect as a narcissistic and selfish rock star who turns out to be both charming and mostly warm-hearted.  Which I guess shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering that seems to be pretty much who he is in real life.

24) 9/11 (2002)

I love documentaries that, through luck, fate, or circumstance, end up becoming far more interesting than the filmmaker probably initially imagined.  Would anyone remember The War Room if Clinton hadn’t ended up winning the election?  One of the movies listed in the honorable mentions below, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, morphs from a movie about the making of a record and the inner workings of a band into a movie about the failures of the record industry when Reprise rejects Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Probably the best example of this, though, is 9/11 by Jules and Gedeon Naudet, who set out to make a documentary about the life of a rookie firefighter on the FDNY, and end up right in the middle of the defining event of the past ten years.  The movie features one of the few existing shots of the first plane hitting Tower 1, and contains fascinating footage of firefighters attempting to coordinate rescue efforts from inside the lobby of the WTC.  Johanna and I seem to get on a kick of watching things about September 11th every three years or so, and when we do, this is the first place we turn.

23) 24 Hour Party People (2002)

I don’t know how I heard about this movie.  I don’t know what motivated me to buy it on DVD.  I hadn’t even heard of half of the bands depicted in it when I first watched it.  It just seemed to appear on my DVD shelf one day, and then quietly, over repeat viewings, become one of my favorite movies.  It’s a fast-paced depiction of the music scene in Manchester in the 1980s and 1990s, and it might have been somewhat forgettable if not for the great performance of Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson.  Like pretty much everything in this movie other than Joy Division and New Order, I hadn’t heard of either Coogan or Wilson before watching it, but I quickly became fans of both.

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Television, 2000-2009

This has been a great decade for television, so much so that the list of my favorite shows of the decade pretty much doubles as the list of my favorite shows of all time.  Other than Seinfeld and the nineties-era Simpsons, I’m struggling to think of a pre-2000 show that would make the cut.  It’s amazing how far television has come as a medium over the past ten years.  Anyway, here they are, not the best, necessarily, but my favorite shows, 2000-2009 (clips when available and appropriate):

30) Sealab 2021 (Adult Swim, 2000-2005)

A bizarre show for a bizarre decade.

(I couldn’t get the embed code from Adult Swim to work for my favorite clip for some reason, so here’s the link. If I can figure it out, I’ll fix it.)

29) Extras (HBO, 2005-2007)

It’s not The Office, obviously, and parts of the series finale were painfully earnest.  But Ricky Gervais (on television, at least) is always worth my time, and about half of the guest stars were hilarious.

28) The “House” Series (Frontier, Colonial, etc.) (PBS, 2000-2006)

It’s almost always entertaining to watch the types of people who sign up for reality television on PBS.  For instance, Michelle Rossi-Vorhees, of Colonial House, is simultaneously attempting to recreate the life of a female pioneer in 1628 while staying true to her 21st-century ideas about feminism and atheism.  In doing so, she basically undoes the premise of the show, but it makes for great drama, and the PBS veneer allows viewers to pretend that it’s not just a higher-class Wife Swap.  Very sad that there hasn’t been a new installment since 2006.

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