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by Jason Koenigsberg

Since the ’90’s Movies From the 90’s that Best Reflect the 90’s’ was a very popular article and there were some noteworthy movies that were neglected it seemed justified to revisit this topic and add five more films that absolutely reflect the values, cultural touchstones, mores, and norms that made up the 1990’s. Each one of these films like the ones from the other article serve as a distinct social commentary on the decade. Without any further ado, here are five more movies that accurately reflect what life was like during the last ten years of the twentieth century. 

 

1. Liar Liar (1997) directed by Tom Shadyac

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How could I have written an article about the 1990’s without mentioning Jim Carrey? He was the King of Comedy on the big screen during the 90’s, well at least from 1994 up until about 1999. This is not his biggest movie, although it was a huge hit, nor is it his funniest movie from his reign at the top, although it is undeniably hilarious, Liar Liar is the movie he made that reflects what life was like and what movies and pop culture were like during the late 90’s better than any other comedy he made from his prime. First of all it stars Jim Carrey as a lawyer, remember legal movies were red hot during the decade with John Grisham adaptations. Even comedies wanted to get in on the legal action probably with all of the nation gripped by the O.J. Simpson trial. So movies found a way to cash in. Even Clueless (1995) possibly the quintessential 90’s comedy featured the main character’s father as a hot shot wealthy litigator and his daughter helped him out in order to be close to the guy she had a crush on. Liar Liar was a perfect vehicle for Jim Carrey to display his talents and it worked as a mini comeback for him after his previous film The Cable Guy (1996) was his first major disappointment. Actually, The Cable Guy reflects the 90’s because back then not having cable was like not having wifi but I digress. In Liar Liar Carrey plays a lawyer who has to lie for a living. His son is constantly disappointed when his father breaks plans with him and lets him down so he makes a wish on his birthday that his dad cannot lie for one day. The wish comes true and hilarity ensues for the next ninety minutes. This causes a major problem for Jim Carrey’s lawyer character on a professional level because the day he cannot tell a lie is the day he has to lie to help his client win her big custody case against her husband. The case itself is especially prescient as it reflects the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewisnky sex scandal at the time. Carrey’s client played by Jennifer Tilley could lose millions if she is found to be unfaithful to her husband. Liar Liar even supplies its own Linda Tripp with a neighbor who made a tape recording of Jennifer Tilley having sex and mid coitus proclaims, “you’re so much better than my husband!”. Liar Liar is a very funny and poignant comedy that still hits all the right moments and remains just as funny as it was twenty-three years ago. 

 

2. Murder at 1600 (1997) directed by Dwight Little

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This movie was mentioned in the previous article because of its similarities to Clint Eastwood’s Absolute Power (1997) which came out a few months prior to Murder at 1600. While Absolute Power was much more of a direct condemnation and blatant attack on President Clinton, Murder at 1600 was a little less heavy handed with its message and instead focused on being a typical action movie of its era. Perhaps it is not a smart or realistic movie, but it is entertaining. Wesley Snipes was a big action star during this time before he spent years in prison for tax evasion, and he plays a DC homicide detective called upon to investigate the murder of a young intern at the White House. Once again a scenario that was clearly inspired by the headlines of what if Clinton had the chance to murder the intern he had an affair with. Why the Secret Service would not simply cover up the murder and keep it in house is the obvious question that probably kept critics from enjoying this movie, or the ludicrous plot device that involves Wesley Snipes’ detective breaking into the White House with the aid of a government agent gone rogue played by Diane Lane (who looks gorgeous in this movie), and his partner played by Dennis Miller as a wise-cracking smart aleck sidekick. There are two movies in this article that have Dennis Miller in them and he plays basically the same role in both. Back in the mid 90’s before Dennis Miller became a right-wing nutcase he was an incredibly popular comedian starring in movies despite the fact he had very little acting talent. He had a hit show on HBO and was so in demand he hosted the MTV Video Music Awards two years in a row (1995 and 1996), and later became a commentator for Monday Night Football. Murder at 1600 was one of his last big starring roles in a theatrically released feature film. By 1997 his sarcastic rants and blunt style of humor started to become less insanely popular, and a lot of the movies he starred in underperformed at the box office including this one. Murder at 1600 may be a silly action movie but years later it represents a small time capsule of what could serve as a pitch for a movie that reflected the headlines and water cooler discussions Americans were having in the mid 90’s. 

 

3. My Fellow Americans (1996) directed by Peter Segal

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This movie could have been called ‘Grumpy Old Presidents’ if the scheduling worked out with Walter Matthau starring in the James Garner role. Most of the movies about the 90’s in this article and the previous one focus their attention on the Clinton Administration. My Fellow Americans was released in 1996 right smack in the middle of his presidency after he was reelected but it also manages to throw in a few jabs and compliments to our 41st President George H.W. Bush who was the only other man to preside in the Oval Office during the 90’s. Jack Lemmon stars as the Republican who was a thinly guised George Bush and James Garner was a more obvious parody of Democrat Bill Clinton constantly being reminded about his adulterous affairs. They even threw in jokes about New Gingrich, James Carville, and John Heard as a Vice President meant to resemble the dimwitted Dan Quayle. The plot itself involved the Presidents in a cover-up where they need to work together to prove their innocence in a scandal that they both did not take part in. It is a road movie with a lot of jokes about American history as the two ex presidents drive across the heartland of the nation encountering various people and avoid the secret agents that are after them. It was released to an underwhelming response from critics and audiences in the middle of the holiday season but had terrific replay value on HBO the following years. My Fellow Americans is a perfectly suitable political satire for the 90’s and is a funny couple of hours with enjoyable performances from Jack Lemmon, James Garner, Dan Aykroyd, John Heard, and Lauren Bacall. 

 

4. The Net (1995) directed by Irwin Winkler

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Remember back in the mid 90’s when the internet was not everywhere and controlled everything? The internet back then was a scary place where all it did was steal your identity and kill your friends. At least that is what it looked like according to the movie The Net. If you believed this movie you would never use a computer to purchase anything ever again. There’d be no Amazon, or eBay, or the internet as we know it. The Net was one of the first leading roles for Sandra Bullock after Speed (1994) came out the previous summer, which was by far the biggest hit of her career up until this point. This is also the first time she had to carry a film on her own without a man or a costars name above the title alongside hers. The Net is basically the story of a computer programmer played by Bullock who gets caught up in a conspiracy where nefarious people are after her and they steal her identity and kill everyone that she knew that could prove she was who she said she was. A ridiculous plot by todays standards but it turned a profit and was a medium sized hit during the summer of 1995. It is the second film on this list that stars Dennis Miller where he lends his charm/smarm to a movie that he had little business starring in the first place, but like I said in the mid 90’s Dennis Miller’s comedic stylings were red hot. There was another techno thriller released a few months later called Hackers that is very dated in terms of what technology and computers have become but it is mostly dated because of the special effects that visualized the technology. The plot of Hackers was not necessarily about the dangers of technology. The Net is overtly stating that computers are these evil devices and if we are not careful we can ruin our lives as well as the ones we love. It seems silly today, but I am sure that in 1995 The Net probably scared a lot of people who saw it. 

 

5. Wag the Dog (1997) directed by Barry Levinson

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A lot of these 90’s movies involved Bill Clinton and some not so subtle digs at his infamous infidelities. Well, Wag the Dog may be the least subtle of all of the movies that attempted to capitalize on his affairs. In fact, one could argue that this movie is based on facts, or that it influenced foreign policy depending on what actually came first and when it was written. Wag the Dog is the story of a President (who is only seen from behind but is clearly based on Bill Clinton) who needs a distraction from the press continually covering his extramarital affair so he secretly hires a Hollywood producer to stage a war against Albania. In real life, President Clinton was embroiled in his sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky and tried to distract the media by dropping bombs on Bosnia-Herzegovina. This hit so close to home when Clinton gave a press conference announcing that he was attacking Bosnia a reporter even asked his he had seen Wag the Dog or was familiar with the plot. Clinton simply dodged the question without actually answering it in his slick Willy way. Robert De Niro plays a political fixer who works for the President and hires Dustin Hoffman who plays a big shot Hollywood producer to stage a war with clips that they will send to all of the news outlets. Hoffman based his character on uber producer Robert Evans and earned his seventh and thus far final Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Both Hoffman and De Niro made the movie for no salary but instead got their money on the back end. Wag the Dog was a mid sized hit during the awards season of 1998. It was a timely political satire that has been forgotten today, so much so that I forgot to include it in the first article and is out of print on DVD and has yet to be released on blu ray. Despite a strong cast led by De Niro, Hoffman and supported by Anne Heche, Denis Leary, Woody Harrelson and a young Kirsten Dunst, it did not make much of an impression other than being a topical film with a plot that seemed as if it were ripped straight from the headlines. 

 

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