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So I graduated high school in 1996. Whether that makes me young or old, I have no idea, but so be it. Ten days after graduation I left Los Angeles and moved to Santa Cruz to go to Junior College (at first) and then the UC. But in the mean time, somewhere in that time period, I had the best job of my life to this day: manager at Westside Video. It was the best time period for movies, too and we had the best VHS collection evAr. Films like Trainspotting, Bound and Lone Star were being released, and our copy of Return of the Living Dead wasn’t too beat-up for my best friend and I to go back into the store (essentially breaking in, even though I had the keys) after-hours to get it and watch it at 2am because I had never seen it.
Damn. I miss the late 90s. That was a good time. I never knew how good it was. Anyway, here’s some great films from a great time.---------------------
1) Broken Arrow – I saw this film on the BEST DATE I’ve ever had. To this day. So I associate great memories with it. A friend & I decided, “Maybe we should try going out?” We only had that one date and we are still wonderful friends, but it was probably one of the best nights of my life. Movie, dinner at Twain’s in the Valley, talking, just hanging out. 1996. What a time to be alive and young and enjoying Woo/Slater/Travolta.
2) The Birdcage – If you don’t love everything about this film, we probably won’t get along. That’s just probably a fact about me and who I am. I think if a film could be part of your genetic structure, this would be part of mine. All you have to do is say “Agador Spartacus” and I’m in tears laughing. The original La Cage aux Folles was on TCM the other night and I watched it without even bothering to read the subtitles. One of my most-loved-films.
3) The Rock – I LOVE THIS FILM. YOU WILL NOT TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME. IT IS A GOOD FILM. I STAND BY THIS. DO NOT KNOCK THIS FILM. THE ROCK RULES.
4) Set it Off – I am 100% obsessed with this film. If you have read my previous lists here, you know that I have a great affinity for crime films. This is no exception except that it is exceptioNAL. My great sadness is that it seems like NO ONE HAS seen it! I mention the film- “F. Gary Grey director, Queen Latifah, Vivica Fox, etc” and I get blank stares. So…all I would say is: see this. Not only do we have a major shortage of powerful and good women’s heist or crime films (the really great ones both came out in 1996- Set it Off and Bound) but even moreso, we are lacking in ones that platform women of color in a great way. Find this. Watch it.
5) Breaking The Waves – This film BROKE me. I watched it when I was working at my first video store job up in Santa Cruz, CA. But after watching it, I couldn’t think of ANYTHING else for the next 2 days. I’d never had that experience before. Of course, I couldn’t be the only traumatized person, so I recommended it to a ton of my customers. But they dug it too. And we had a lot to talk about which was wonderful. In a sense, it likely caused me to write my graduating thesis on Von Trier & the Dogme ‘95 ideologies, but that’s another story.
6) Different for Girls – I didn’t discover this film until the early 2000s, but I simply adore it. Great soundtrack, fabulous story. Just lovely little British film.
7) Girl 6 – First of all, I still am a religious adherent to the soundtrack. But it’s PRINCE. How could I not listen to it with a kind of oddball fanaticism? I swear, the Purple One may be some kind of drug. This film has always stuck with me though as I found it to be utterly terrifying. Shot in Lee’s unconventionally intimate style, it was, quite truly, the discomfort of patriarchally dominated female experience writ large. It’s been some years since I’ve seen it but I remember it being effective.
8) The King of Masks – It’s difficult to properly put into words how much I love this work. In ways, I think it’s personal. But I know that the film itself is so striking and magnificent that everyone I recommended it to at the video store returned it astounded, thanking me for the heads’ up. It contains so many things that I love. When I was a kid I went to China and got to go to the Beijing Opera, experiencing the splendor of the performance, costumes and decoration. This film’s narrative involves that culture in an amazing manner and is a really beautiful and rare work. I’ve never seen another film like it.
9) Shall We Dance? – Currently we are inundated with dozens of televised dance shows and films. It seems very commonplace. It wasn’t like that in 1996, however. Back then there was Baz Luhrman’s Strictly Ballroom released in 1992 and this one from 1996. Shall We Dance is just a pleasure and a treat. Again, a video store gem and highly loved by my customers. It was so fun to be able to talk to them and recommend more dancing films based on it (ie old Hollywood musicals).
10) Ridicule – Wow. Thinking back now, I haven’t considered this piece in ages! I really need to go back and revisit this. But I loved it so very much. Like several other works in the 90s, it makes the effort to celebrate intelligence and investigate history and politics in a very unusual and smart manner. This was a wonderful film and really makes me miss the films that were being released at that time. They really had a certain energy and feel.