Jim Carrey in The Truman Show

As you're no doubt tired of me reminding you, all the movie reviews I've written for the River Cities' Reader since 2000 can be found in our expansive Movie Review Index of more than 3,200 titles, and over the past 11 (thousand?) weeks, I've had a lot of fun providing home-viewing suggestions for beloved yet previously un-reviewed films that came out during my more formative years of 1971 to 1994. Yet what of the relative black hole encompassing works released during my early Reader tenure from 1995 to 1999? Why aren't those flicks getting any love?

The main reason is that even though the critiques published over those five years aren't online, they were written, and I don't want to tempt my inherently lazy nature by merely regurgitating opinions I previously typed out more than two decades ago. But even though that's true, it feels like a lame excuse.

So as a change of pace from recent articles showcasing five similarly-themed offerings that debuted when I was between three and 26, allow me to present a compromise of 77 winners from the period of 1995-99: my official-in-print 10-favorites lists from the ends of those years, and what those lists would now look like after 20-plus years of consideration and reconsideration. They're not reviews so much as snapshots, and they'll hopefully give you a sense of my cinematic leanings without the torture of your having to read my accolades in their original forms. Trust me: As someone who can barely get through one of his mid-to-late-'90s compositions without wincing and/or retching, they're offline for a reason.

Toy Story

1995 Favorites: Then

1) Toy Story

2) The Usual Suspects

3) Before Sunrise

4) Clockers

5) Seven

6) To Die For

7) The Brady Bunch Movie

8) Apollo 13

9) Safe

10) Home for the Holidays

Even if you're not familiar with this entire roster, I think it's pretty clear that, as the Sesame Street tune goes, one of these things is not like the others. In my defense, though, The Brady Bunch Movie is awesome – smarter and much funnier than the many other mid-'90s reboots of old TV shows, and just about perfectly cast. But it's also important to remember, as with all my subsequent 10-favorites lists, that this one is incomplete – not only did I not see everything (who could?), but I didn't catch numerous end-of-the-year titles for the simple fact that they hadn't arrived in our area by the time my article was due. Hence my original inclusions of Betty Thomas' Brady spoof, Ron Howard's effective but kinda bland NASA hit Apollo 13, Todd Haynes' morbidly depressing Safe, and Jodie Foster's Thanksgiving dramedy Home for the Holidays over Tim Robbins' haunting death-row drama Dead Man Walking, Terry Gilliam's trippy 12 Monkeys, Oliver Stone's flawed yet oddly entrancing Nixon, and Ang Lee's and screenwriter/star Emma Thompson's glorious Jane Austen adaptation Sense & Sensibility.

I'm ashamed to admit I don't remember much about Clockers beyond it being an exciting Spike Lee thriller; it's one of several largely forgotten titles that these blasts from the past are encouraging me to revisit. And while it's probably still exceptional, I haven't seen The Usual Suspects in ages, and the involvement of Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey doesn't exactly make me eager to see it now. A quarter-century later, though, I still absolutely adore John Lasseter's Toy Story, Richard Linklater's trilogy-starter Before Sunrise, David Fincher's iconic Seven, and Gus Van Sant's wicked To Die For. However, my current favorite of 1995 – Terry Zwigoff's remarkable underground-art documentary Crumb – didn't appear on my initial list because I didn't see it until home video in 1996. I'm hoping the crazy number of times I've seen Zwigoff's doc since then slightly atones for my tardiness. As for 1995's Best Picture winner Braveheart: Yes, I did see it, and in time to make my original list, to boot. Your point?

1995 Favorites: Now

1) Crumb

2) Before Sunrise

3) Toy Story

4) Seven

5) Sense & Sensibility

6) Dead Man Walking

7) To Die For

8) The Usual Suspects

9) Nixon

10) 12 Monkeys

Frances McDormand in Fargo

1996 Favorites: Then

1) Fargo

2) The English Patient

3) Jerry Maguire

4) Emma

5) The People vs. Larry Flynt

6) A Perfect Candidate

7) Get on the Bus

8) The Birdcage

9) The Nutty Professor

10) William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet

I'd prefer you didn't make fun of me for citing Baz Luhrmann's MTV Shakespeare with DiCaprio and Danes, even if it's not a choice I'd make now. You are totally welcome to rib me for The English Patient, a tragic romance I initially loved and consequently begged friends to join me for. And it was an experience they still haven't forgiven me for, with one of my pals calling it, if memory serves, “the most boring movie I've ever seen in my life.” I'd continue fighting him about it, but considering I tried watching Anthony Minghella's Best Picture winner twice on VHS and fell asleep both times, it's probably better if I just drop the subject.

Right after it ended, I recall 1996 feeling like an overall-cruddy year for movies, partly because I wasn't able to see such exemplary works as Mike Leigh's British family drama Secrets & Lies, Doug Liman's “Vegas, baby!” bro-fest Swingers, and Danny Boyle's career-making Trainspotting. With 24 years of hindsight, though, it really wasn't that bad. The Coen brothers' Fargo is an undisputed masterpiece. Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire remains the sharpest outlet yet for Tom Cruise's narcissistic charisma. Spike Lee has made stronger films than his Million Man March celebration Get on the Bus, but I'm not sure he's made a sweeter or more inspiring one. A Perfect Candidate, R.J. Cutler's and David Van Taylor's documentary on Oliver North's 1994 Senate run, is spectacularly re-watchable. I still like Douglas McGrath's Jane Austen comedy Emma (if not quite as much as the new version we got pre-pandemic); I might like Miloš Forman's First Amendment treatise Larry Flynt if I ever get around to another viewing. But two dozen years have turned like into love regarding Gregory Hoblit's nasty thriller (and sensational Edward Norton debut) Primal Fear, and I'll always have a soft spot for Eddie Murphy's genius in Tom Shadyac's Nutty Professor remake. As for Mike Nichols' The Birdcage, this priceless slapstick would be an easy number-one pick for me now if it weren't battling for that position with Chief Marge Gunderson. Oh, you betcha, ya-a-ah.

1996 Favorites: Now

1) Fargo

2) The Birdcage

3) Jerry Maguire

4) Trainspotting

5) A Perfect Candidate

6) Get on the Bus

7) Swingers

8) The Nutty Professor

9) Primal Fear

10) Secrets & Lies

Pam Grier in Jackie Brown

1997 Favorites: Then

1) L.A. Confidential

2) Donnie Brasco

3) Waiting for Guffman

4) Eve's Bayou

5) Chasing Amy

6) Grosse Pointe Blank

7) Jackie Brown

8) Gattaca

9) The Edge

10) Ulee's Gold

I'm so irrationally proud for publicly recognizing the brilliance of Christopher Guest's now-iconic community-theatre mockumentary Waiting for Guffman that its inclusion almost makes up for my not citing – indeed, being somewhat on-the-fence about – Paul Thomas Anderson's porn-industry classic Boogie Nights. Almost. That's really unforgivable. But I think I'm even more embarrassed that I ranked Jackie Brown so relatively low given that, if you held a gun to my head, I'd now most likely name it my all-time-favorite Tarantino flick. I mean, Kasi Lemmons' Louisiana melodrama Eve's Bayou and Kevin Smith's potty-mouthed romance Chasing Amy are lots of fun. But more fun than Pam Grier teaming with Robert Forster to swindle Samuel L. Jackson out of his dough? Please.

Looking over my original selections, it's kind of surprising how lightweight so many of them are, which can again be chalked up to a bunch of 1997's most satisfying works not hitting area cineplexes or home video until 1998: Gus Van Sant's funny and affecting math-wizard smash Good Will Hunting; Woody Allen's thrillingly mean-spirited Deconstructing Harry; Atom Egoyan's austere, deeply heartbreaking tragedy The Sweet Hereafter. Yet while they wouldn't make my current 10-favorites lineup, I feel no shame for initially including Andrew Niccol's subtle sci-fi thriller Gattaca, Lee Tamahori's and screenwriter David Mamet's nerve-racking men-versus-bear saga The Edge, or George Armitage's Grosse Pointe Blank – though today, I'd replace that latter comedy about a hitman's high-school reunion with the even bubblier joys of David Mirkin's Romy & Michele's High School Reunion. I'd also replace Victor Nuñez's dysfunctional-family drama Ulee's Gold with Ang Lee's really-dysfunctional-family drama The Ice Storm, though I do relish Curtis Hanson's phenomenally twisty noir L.A. Confidential and Mike Newell's aging-gangster thriller Donnie Brasco – with Al Pacino better than he'd been since the 1970s – nearly as much now as I did in my 20s. You may notice one significant 1997 title, however, conspicuously absent from that original list, and absent from the revised version, too. Sorry, fans of the film: I still can't get wholly on-board with Best Picture winner Titanic. Your hearts will go on.

1997 Favorites: Now

1) Jackie Brown

2) Boogie Nights

3) L.A. Confidential

4) Waiting for Guffman

5) Good Will Hunting

6) Deconstructing Harry

7) The Sweet Hereafter

8) Donnie Brasco

9) Romy & Michele's High School Reunion

10) The Ice Storm

Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan

1998 Favorites: Then

1) The Truman Show

2) Antz

3) Saving Private Ryan

4) The Big One

5) The Horse Whisperer

6) Primary Colors

7) The Spanish Prisoner

8) A Bug's Life

9) The Opposite of Sex

10) Return to Paradise

You read that correctly: I ranked Spielberg's World War II epic Saving Private Ryan just below Antz. Not even A Bug's Life. Freakin' Antz. Aside from me and The Office's Michael Scott, does anyone remotely remember that movie? This isn't to put Eric Darnell's and Tim Johnson's animated comedy down, because I'm sure it's still terrific – even if, given years of reflection, John Lasseter's A Bug's Life is almost inarguably better. But declaring Antz my runner-up favorite is tremendously embarrassing … though perhaps not as embarrassing as admitting that, in 2020, I'd actually rank Saving Private Ryan just below Gus Van Sant's “shot-for-shot” remake of Psycho.

Needless to say, at least from my standpoint, 1998 was a weird, not-entirely-memorable year for movies. While collecting titles for this article, it took a moment to recall that The Big One was Michael Moore's offense-fueled comedic documentary about one of his book tours. And even after re-reading my Return to Paradise rave, I'm unable to visualize a single image from Joseph Ruben's dramatic thriller starring Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche – maybe because they're more memorable as Psycho's Norman Bates and Marion Crane. (I'm not joking! That movie is fascinating!) The year looks less nutty, however, if I replace Robert Redford's earnest The Horse Whisperer with Terrence Malick's fiercely pastoral – pastorally fierce? – WWII drama The Thin Red Line, and Don Roos' devilish comedy The Opposite of Sex with John Madden's deserved Best Picture Shakespeare in Love. Mike Nichols' wonderful Bill Clinton lark Primary Colors and David Mamet's delightful con job The Spanish Prisoner are welcome to stay. Philip Seymour Hoffman's two-fer of Todd Solondz's Happiness and the Coens' The Big Lebowski are welcome to join. And my personal 1998 Best Picture, Peter Weir's The Truman Show, makes 1998 look good all by itself. It might also be the perfect film to currently re-visit, given that its isolated real-world characters do nothing but watch a TV show about a guy whose mundane life they'd trade for in a heartbeat. Twenty-two years ago, that idea was vaguely absurd. Nowadays? Makes total sense.

1998 Favorites: Now

1) The Truman Show

2) The Big Lebowski

3) Shakespeare in Love

4) Happiness

5) Primary Colors

6) Psycho

7) Saving Private Ryan

8) A Bug's Life

9) The Spanish Prisoner

10) The Thin Red Line

South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut

1999 Favorites: Then

1) American Beauty

2) Toy Story 2

3) The Blair Witch Project

4) Being John Malkovich

5) Go

6) The Straight Story

7) Eyes Wide Shut

8) South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut

9) Run Lola Run

10) Arlington Road

Just over two decades ago, Entertainment Weekly ran a cover story suggesting 1999 as the greatest year for movies since the legendary Gone with the Wind/Wizard of Oz/Stagecoach year of 1939. Last spring, former EW writer Brian Rafferty turned that hypothesis into the book Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen – a must for film nerds and pop-culture enthusiasts. It's so persuasive and entertaining that you might not even mind that, despite covering 50 of its year's most notable releases, Rafferty never discusses David Lynch's John-Deere-road-trip charmer The Straight Story, or South Park's animated-musical masterpiece, or … . Hold on. That's insane!

What was really insane, of course, was just how overwhelming 1999 was in terms of its cinematic output. So it somehow makes sense that even though I admire all the films originally cited as my 10 favorites, I have no trouble presently replacing a full 60 percent of them. One would be Sam Mendes' Best Picture victor and my published number-one choice  a deletion that has less to do with American Beauty's quality than with star Kevin Spacey and the teen-seduction and gay-Nazi subplots that feel skeevier today than they seemed 21 years ago. But when confronted with options such as Paul Thomas Anderson's ensemble masterwork Magnolia, Anthony Minghella's masterfully suspenseful Mr. Ripley, Alexander Payne's deliriously caustic Election, Mike Leigh's bewitching Gilbert-and-Sullivan bio-pic Topsy-Turvy, Chris Smith's moderate-triumph-of-the-underdog doc American Movie, and Michael Mann's Big Tobacco exposé The Insider, something had to give. So despite them being mentally excised from my year-end rosters, and in addition to John Lasseter's superior sequel Toy Story 2 and Spike Jonze's mind-blowing Malkovich, please also check out Daniel Myrick's and Eduardo Sánchez's “found footage” creep-out Blair Witch, Doug Liman's genre-hopping Go, Stanley Kubrick's obsessive epitaph Eyes Wide Shut, Tom Tykwer's breathless adventure Run Lola Run, and Mark Pellington's sublimely paranoid thriller Arlington Road. Then check out Fight Club, The Sixth Sense, The Matrix, Galaxy Quest, The Virgin Suicides, Bowfinger, eXistenZ, Dick, Three Kings, Office Space, Stuart Little, Deep Blue Sea … . Seriously: Best. Movie. Year. Ever.

1999 Favorites: Now

1) Magnolia

2) The Talented Mr. Ripley

3) Election

4) Toy Story 2

5) Being John Malkovich

6) The Straight Story

7) Topsy-Turvy

8) American Movie

9) The Insider

10) South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut

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