Essential Movies Of The ’90s, From ‘Goodfellas’ To ‘The Truman Show’

“Goodfellas” (1990)

Joe Pesci in 'Goodfellas'

Joe Pesci in 'Goodfellas'

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Director Martin Scorsese was at the height of his talents in this bloody mob tale based on the true story of Henry Hill, with iconic performances from Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci.

“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)

Anthony Hopkins in 'The Silence of the Lambs'

Anthony Hopkins in 'The Silence of the Lambs'

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Anthony Hopkins turned Hannibal Lecter into the stuff of nightmares, but it was his cat-and-mouse game with the young FBI agent played by Jodie Foster that elevated director Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ book into an Oscar winner that spawned several considerably less tasty sequels and prequels.

“Boyz n the Hood’ (1991)

Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Ice Cube in 'Boyz n the Hood'

Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Ice Cube in 'Boyz n the Hood'

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John Singleton’s breakthrough film presented a sobering view of gangs, drugs and friendship, which its then-23-year-old director described as a cinematic version of alarms sounded by rap groups about the conditions faced in South Central Los Angeles and similar communities.

“Beauty and the Beast” (1991) and “Toy Story” (1995)

'Toy Story'

'Toy Story'

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It might have been a tale as old as time, but “Beauty and the Beast” marked the apex of Disney’s animated musicals and earned the first best-picture nomination for that genre. “Toy Story,” meanwhile, kicked off a quarter-century of Pixar movies defined by a level of consistency and quality that has brought families together in a manner that’s increasingly rare.

“Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

'Saving Private Ryan'

'Saving Private Ryan'

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Spielberg’s World War II movies can be viewed in concert, as the director channeled his blockbuster-honed filmmaking skills into unflinching looks at a harrowing chapter in history. Each could merit its own slot, although if push came to shove “Schindler” is the one to keep, while “Private Ryan” — visceral as it is — stumbles a bit with its ending.

“The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)

'The Shawshank Redemption'

'The Shawshank Redemption'

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“Get busy living or get busy dying” is just one of the quotable lines from Frank Darabont’s adaptation of this Stephen King prison story, anchored by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Notably, this was a movie that only gradually received the appreciation it deserved, seeming to play in a perpetual loop on cable, which, among other things, actually inspired people to turn “shawshank” into an adjective and verb.

“Fargo” (1996)

Frances McDormand in 'Fargo'

Frances McDormand in 'Fargo'

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Nothing better captures the Coen brothers’ unique niche than this violent, disarmingly funny take on a staged kidnapping gone very, very wrong, with a stellar cast headed by Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi.

“L.A. Confidential” (1997)

Kim Basinger and Guy Pearce in 'L.A. Confidential'

Kim Basinger and Guy Pearce in 'L.A. Confidential'

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Beautifully adapting James Ellroy’s novel, director Curtis Hanson captured police corruption in the 1950s, earning an Oscar for Kim Basinger and launching the careers of Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. What in almost any other year should have been a best picture winner, alas, ran into “Titanic.”

“Titanic” (1997)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in 'Titanic'

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in 'Titanic'

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The enormous commercial success shouldn’t obscure director James Cameron’s epic achievement, mixing the down-with-the-ship romance between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet with staggering spectacle, set to music from James Horner and Celine Dion that went on, and on.

    ‘The Truman Show’ (1998)

    Jim Carrey in 'The Truman Show'

    Jim Carrey in 'The Truman Show'

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    Maybe not the best movie of the ’90s, but perhaps the most prescient in anticipating the excesses of reality TV and media, with Jim Carrey’s wonderfully understated performance as the poor guy who doesn’t know his entire life is a made-for-TV spectacle.

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