ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mike Justice is the only illegitimate offspring born of a short-lived union between a frustrated English horror movie star and an American film festival groupie. His legacy, therefore, is to obsessively pursue a litany of ill-defined ambitions in the industry (editor, director, actor) while also falling hard and fast for anything with an accent and/or mutton chops. Fortunately, he’s pretty good at distilling his various fizzles, faux pas, and let-downs into uproariously absurd, snarky tales filled with wit, wisdom, and (sometimes) redemption.
Mike is also one of my favorite people and his top ten lists on Facebook deserve to be preserved as much as this digital website can preserve his words. I am so happy that he has allowed them to be reprinted here. You can follow Mike on Facebook.
10. Bad Girls (1994): Remember the one starring Madeleine Stowe, Andie MacDowell, Drew Barrymore, and Mary Stuart Masterson as outlaw prostitutes in 19th-century Colorado who shoot their way out of a whorehouse and then head west to open a sawmill? The #10 spot on My Top 10 Favorite Forgotten (Bad) Films of the 90’s marathon is going straight to Bad Girls (1994), a godforsaken sexy-lady Western that’s actually not that bad. Well, it’s bad. But it’s not boring. In fact, it’s pretty entertaining. It began life as a low-budget, female-scripted drama to be directed by Tamra Davis (Guncrazy). A few weeks into production, 20th Century Fox decided it would be more fun to fire Davis, replace her with Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused), and bring in a half-dozen dudes to re-work the entire project into a big-budget, quasi-feminist Young Guns-with-chicks. I saw it opening night, and felt that what it lacked in authenticity, it made up for in gunfights, jail breaks, and dialogue like, “We sold our bodies, why can’t we sell some wood?” and “Kiss my sister’s black cat’s ass!” Bad Girls was #1 at the box office that weekend. Unfortunately I think it set a record for the lowest-grossing film to ever top the box office.
9. Final Analysis (1992): Kim Basinger plays a gangster’s wife with a medical condition called “Pathological Intoxication” that causes her to murder people whenever she drinks wine or NyQuil—and Richard Gere is the moody psychiatrist who loves her. This is a San Francisco-set Hitchcock “homage” featuring killer blondes, double-crosses, twists, turns, the requisite cable car chase, Kim Basinger in crazy bitch mode, and a very young Uma Thurman as Basinger’s sexually repressed sister who keeps dreaming about vagina-shaped flowers. It’s like if the director of Three O’Clock High got together with the writer of Arachnophobia to remake Double Idemnity while slavishly ripping off Vertigo because, well, that’s exactly what it is. But Hitchcock never had his leading lady brain Eric Roberts with a dumbbell. For that reason alone, this film makes the list.
8. A Stranger Among Us (1992): Melanie Griffith is a tough-as-nails homicide detective who goes undercover in the Hasidic community to catch a killer. This was maverick filmmaker Sidney Lumet’s stab at helming a crime drama/murder mystery/fish-out-of-water romance in the style of Peter Weir’s Oscar-winning Witness—except with Melanie Griffith and Jews. A “Vitness,” if you will. Someone’s knocking off Hasidic diamond cutters, so “untouchable shiksa” Griffith convincingly infiltrates their ranks by dying her hair two shades darker. Then she moves into the Rebbe’s house and starts throwing herself at his son. Romance, suspense, culture shock, and scenes of Melanie Griffith fucking up Hasidic customs ensue. But among the Ultra Orthodox, she discovers the true meaning of friendship and self-sacrifice. Or something. If I were a nineties-era Joel Siegel, my blurb on the poster would read: “Great cinematography, some decent action, and lots of fun scenes of Melanie Griffith’s character embarrassing herself make this a winner!”
7. Used People (1992): A Borscht Belt Moonstruck ripoff where Shirley MacLaine is a cantankerous Jewish widow living in 1960’s Queens who can’t get Marcello Mastroianni to stop trying to seduce her, Used People is a Neil Simon-esque cranky-family comedy that’s crafted with all the subtlety and finesse one can count on from the director of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995). If you crave bad accents, mean-spirited one-liners, a bouncy, tuba-heavy Rachel Portman score, and a parade of smart-assed grotesques masquerading as fleshed-out characters (as I do), then this is your jam. It’s basically To Wong Foo with Jews instead of drag queens. Critics’ main gripe was that, for a heartwarming romantic fable, the characters weren’t lovable. In fact, they were spiteful. And hateful. Well, I grew up in a family of hateful, endlessly bitching women, so I can attest to the authenticity. As for whether you should spend two hours with these slobs, ask yourself how you’d feel if John Waters remade Hannah and Her Sisters. If that sounds appealing, give this a go.
6. The Quick and the Dead (1995): Sharon Stone had some great roles in the 90s: icepick killer, frigid book editor, Vegas whore. But my favorite is her vengeful gunslinger dying to shoot Gene Hackman in the face in Sam Raimi’s Revisionist Western The Quick and the Dead. Hackman is the sadistic mayor of a frontier town called “Redemption” who treats the residents like crap, beats up Russell Crowe, and mocks son Leonardo DiCaprio for having farmer’s hands. Naturally, everyone wants to kill him. Enter mysterious stranger Sharon Stone who signs up for Hackman’s quick-draw contest and starts blowing away every sweaty, dust-covered dude in town to get to him. Stone plays her part as Clint Eastwood, and it’s basically a flamboyant B-Movie; a two-hour Spaghetti Western homage with tons of visual flourish. Rolling Stone said, “Despite director Sam Raimi’s hyper-stylized efforts to whip up action and laughs, The Quick and the Dead is deeply shallow and damned silly.” And?
5. The Associate (1996): Whoopi Goldberg is a crackshot investment banker who can’t get ahead on Wall Street, so she gets some drag queen to dress her up as an old white man and hilarity ensues? If you loved Mrs. Doubtfire, then you’ll probably like The Associate. One reviewer said Whoopi’s titular getup looks like “a cross between Marlon Brando and the guy on the Quaker Oats box.” That’s pretty accurate, but it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this flick. It’s no Sister Act. It’s not even Jumpin’ Jack Flash, but as directed by Donald Petrie (Mystic Pizza, Grumpy Old Men), it’s still a bright, fairly edgy big-budget farce in the mold of something Bette Midler would’ve headlined in the1980’s. Speaking of, it came out exactly one month after another female-driven, New York-set comedy with a similar “Don’t get mad, get even!” philosophy: The First Wives Club (1996). Unfortunately, The Associate grossed about 6% of what that film made, and was promptly consigned to oblivion. Perhaps rightfully so, but anything with Dianne Wiest, Lainie Kazan, Bebe Neuwirth, and Tim Daly under one roof deserves another look.
4. French Kiss (1995): Meg Ryan plays a neurotic Canadian who trails her cheating fiancee to Paris and then falls in love with Kevin Klein doing an Inspector Clouseau accent in maverick filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan’s first and only foray into rom-coms. There were many mediocre Meg Ryan vehicles in the 90’s, but this is the best of them (and funniest); Kline’s mustachioed dirtbag Frenchman with a heart of gold is as sleazy-hot awesome as you’d expect, and Ryan is refreshingly more in Innerspace/Joe vs. the Volcano mode here. Equal parts slapstick, screwball, and Yank-in-Europe adventure, there’s even a magical trip to the South of France, and a cops-vs-robbers subplot because God forbid Hollywood set a movie in Europe during this era and not have anyone get chased. Not to be confused with Forget Paris (1995) starring Billy Crystal and Debra Winger that opened two weeks later to equally mixed reviews and grossed the exact same amount. That movie makes my ass twitch.
3. The Net (1995): Remember the one where Sandra Bullock orders pizza on the internet? I love this movie. It’s The Pelican Brief meets North By Northwest meets Hackers; a summer action thriller for nerds. Bullock is a reclusive freelance analyst who stumbles onto an international cyberterrorism conspiracy and is targeted by bad guys who erase her identity and frame her for murder. Now she’s forced to fight back and save the day with nothing but her extensive knowledge of computer systems and a virus on a floppy disk. Although it aims for John Grisham-meets-Hitchcock with its falsely accused hero and cloak and dagger chases, The Net truly succeeds as a techno-thriller, somehow managing to turn escape keys, IP searches, and file upload progress bars into instruments of nerve-wracking suspense. It’s also nostalgia on a stick; I still want to grow up to be Angela Bennett, chillin’ in my Venice craftsman, listening to Annie Lennox while I chat online with “Cyberbob.” Brad Duncan on Letterboxd put it best when he said: “I miss when dumb, mid-budget trash like this was actually watchable and not boring sludge that gets dumped to Netflix and forgotten about immediately. The 90’s really was a theatrical Golden Age.”
2. Mars Attacks! (1996): Remember that all-star alien invasion spectacle where martians blow up the White House? But not that insufferable dumpster fire with Will Smith? Mars Attacks! (1996) might be the least-forgotten forgotten film so far, but it’s still criminally unappreciated. I usually hate star-studded CGI extravaganzas, but I love Mars Attacks!—probably because it was such an unfashionable train wreck. In 1996, the highest grosser in the U.S. was Independence Day—a bloated, overhyped, flag-waving suckfest aimed straight at the lowest common denominator. That Christmas, Warner Bros released Tim Burton’s similarly plotted, albeit far more schlocky and surreal sci-fi epic. Of the two, I obviously preferred Burton’s theremin-heavy Irwin Allen throwback to what Jason Bailey of Flavorwire calls “a loathsome, soulless husk of a garbage movie” (sorry, I just really hate Independence Day). Only seven years earlier, Batman (1989) was the most popular film stateside. It’s interesting to note how, by 1996, Tim Burton’s zany retro campiness was falling on deaf ears in an America hungry for jingoistic horseshit. Whatever. Mars Attacks! has Martin Short and Pam Grier. It wins.
1. 200 Cigarettes (1999): My favorite subgenre may be “The Ensemble Comedy Underscored by a Stream of Jukebox Hits that Unfolds Over the Course of One Night,” so it makes sense that this movie is my #1 Forgotten (Bad) Film of the 90’s. I consider it a minor classic, though despite its Rogue’s Gallery of hip indie darlings (Paul Rudd, Courtney Love, Dave Chappelle, Christina Ricci, Ben Affleck, Kate Hudson, Janeane Garafalo, Martha Plimpton) it’s definitely more Midnight Madness than Dazed and Confused. Think Love, Actually but written and produced by casting agents. The plot is simple: hipsters, yuppies, punks, and bridge-and-tunnel floozies drink, flirt, and yap their way through the East Village on New Years Eve 1981 (more like 11 or 12 comic subplots—some better than others—that converge at the end). For me, it’s an endlessly quotable comfort film, but for others they’ll need to dust off their DVD players because it’s one of the toughest movies from that era to stream (I’ve heard the soundtrack is a deal-structure nightmare nobody wants to touch). It’s interesting that, when first released, it was merely a period comedy about 80’s New York—but now it pulls double duty as a nostalgic time capsule of late 90’s Hollywood. It’s also weird to think this movie is older now than 1981 was in 1999.