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Strange Days: The Incomparable Genre Cinema Insanity of 1995
Bask in the undeniable cinematic glory that is, 1995.
Published on June 26, 2015 | Filed under editorial
Friday

There are great years for cinema, 1939, 1968, 1973, 1984, and then there’s 1995. What the fuck was in the water(world) halfway through the 90s? Whenever someone would mention 1995 and cinema concurrently, my brain would immediately jump to revered treasure like Clueless, Heat, Se7en, or Showgirls. But that’s not even close to the tip of the iceberg for what may be the most batshit year for cinema ever, and definitely for Hollywood. Looking through what else made those 52 weeks of motion picture marvels the magic that they were might make you long for a time not too long ago. The most odd thing about the movies of ’95, is how strangely, and I mean strangely, classifiable they were. The trends of the year seemed to either be an apex of what came in the few years prior or would influence the years to come (I don’t include Toy Story anywhere after this paragraph but, really, fucking Toy Story came out this year). I have broken up the cinema of ’95 into 12, yes 12, categories for this article. I didn’t include every film from the year, that’d just be crazy, but there’s a lot. So, here goes:

Kids

The Kids Aren’t Alright

Teen movies may have become all the rage in the later part of the decade, particularly in the very teen heavy 1999, but it’s hard to not see a big debt owed to 1995. After all, it does have Clueless. But, for as breezy and fun as Cher and Co may be, there was a decidedly darker side to growing up in 1995. At least in the movies. The year saw the release of Larry Clark’s Kids, which pushed boundaries for its frank portrayal of teen sexuality and the subsequent consequences; the Leonardo DiCaprio starring The Basketball Diaries which features a graphic school shooting; Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse which, though disguised as a quirky comedy, is an unrelenting portrayal of what it is like to grow up “different”; Greg Araki’s super angsty and ultra violent ode to Gen-X culture that is The Doom Generation; Michelle Pfeiffer doing her best to wrangle some hoodlums in Dangerous Minds (which may have the best soundtrack of the year); Alicia Silverstone would be very un-Cher in the erotically charged The Babysitter; National Lampoon would gift us with a steaming turd in the name of Senior Trip; the kids would have jobs in Empire Records and would complain about them a lot too; Angus would let us see what it’s like to grow up fat, and not… sugar coat… it; and overseas we’d get La Haine, which is as potent a portrayal of teen life from anywhere or anytime and a complete call to arms for humans.

Mortal Kombat

Adapt or Die

Every year has cinema adaptations. It’s just what we do. Be they books, TV shows, comics, video games, or even toys. But, for my money, no other year matches the wealth or absolute absurdity of the adaptations of 1995. We have it all here: adaptations of comic books, TV shows, novels, theater, a board game, and even prank calls (what?). But, what’s most strange is the properties themselves. There’s nothing huge here, budgets not considering, and it runs the cultural gamut from high brow to who-the-fuck-is-this-even-for. The big one, at least for me, is Mortal Kombat, a PG-13 adaptation of an enormously successful fighting game known for being the goriest thing ever. There’s the two weirdo small-time comic adaptations by big-time studios: Judge Dredd and Tank Girl, both of which carried R ratings and didn’t do their studios any favors. TV adaptations got weird with the family targeted Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie and The Brady Bunch Movie, both of which were relatively successful. But we also got a big screen version of an SNL sketch thanks to Stuart Saves His Family, which nobody wanted, not even his family, and HBO’s Tales from the Crypt hit screens for the first time with Demon Knight (which is fucking awesome, btw). A board game got adapted thanks to the enormous production of Jumanji, which turned out to be one of the bigger hits of the year. An old cartoon came to awkward special effects life in Casper, which is actually really fucking creepy to look back on. Books were all over the place, with the kiddie targeted Indian in the Cupboard (better left forgotten) and the Disney production of Mark Twain, Tom and Huck to the very adult targeted disaster of the Demi Moore starring The Scarlet Letter. Shakespeare, as usual, made it to (movie) theaters with the Laurence Fishbourne starring Othello. And then there’s The Jerky Boys Movie, a screen adaptation of a series of prank call CDs which were somehow a thing people bought in the 90s. Yeah, it was a different time.

Top Dog

Dogs, Monkeys and Elephants, Oh my. 

What the fuck was with animal movies in ’95? And they weren’t just for kids either. Though most were. Actually, even if all of the animal movies weren’t for kids, almost all kids movies had an animal in the leading cast. There’s so many animal movies, that most breeds got at least 2 (!) major movies that year. It got so crazy, that we even got 2 movies where the title character is a fucking talking pig. What other year has that? Zero other years. Oh, and one of those talking pig movies was up for Best Picture at the Oscars. That happened. That movie was Babe. The other talking pig movie was Gordy, which nobody gave a fuck about. Sorry, Gordy, you’re still cute. And then we got two gorilla movies. One was the cutesy Born to Be Wild about a troubled youth and his gorilla friend, and the other was Congo which has monkeys, lasers, and Ernie Hudson. Fuck yeah, ’95. Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home came out, yawn. Danny Glover, Ray Liotta, and Dennis Leary starred in a Disney produced Vietnam movie featuring an elephant that is dropped from a cargo plane and is titled Operation Dumbo Drop. Yeah, that’s real. Dogs get some love in the animated Balto, the sad as fuck Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog and the movie that teamed up Chuck Norris and a pooch, Top Dog. The dude who directed Young Guns made a panda movie titled The Amazing Panda Adventure, it isn’t amazing. And there’s a movie titled Mosquito which is about, well yeah.

Leaving Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas

A very small but important batch of films came out that took place in Las Vegas in ’95. And they aren’t just any films either. They’re Martin Scorsese’s epic of excess, Casino; Paul Verhoeven’s epic of excess, Showgirls; Mike Figgis’s epic of excess, Leaving Las Vegas (which won Nic Cage a fucking Oscar); and Leprechaun 3. Please take a day to marathon these. All in this order.

Virtuosity

The Future is Not Set

Man, people in the 90s were scared to shit by technology. But in 1995, they got really scared of the internet. And computers in general. Anime got really tech, and cleavage, heavy with Ghost in the Shell. Strange headsets became all the rage in Strange Days and Johnny Mnemonic. Those crazy kids got armed with computers in Hackers. Bruce Willis goes back in time (or does he) to do cybery shit in 12 Monkeys. Sandra Bullock finds all sorts of computer conspiracy hijinks in The Net. Robots will fuck you up in Screamers. Our favorite chef, Steven Seagal, is back in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory this time battling a dude with a satellite dish for a weapon. Russel Crowe plays a virtual reality serial killer in Virtuosity and gets fucked up by Denzel. And the director of Cyborg, Albert Pyun, brings us more cyborgs in Heatseeker, only this time they get kickboxed.

Nick of Time

Time’s Up!

Apparently people in ’95 were in a rush. At least a few movies came out with really strict deadlines, one of which even played out in real time. Die Hard With a Vengeance features a series of such encounters, all with the promise of explosions if the time limit isn’t met. And things do go boom. Sudden Death also features some bomb shenanigans, only in this one we also get to see Van Damme fight a penguin. Johnny Depp races the clock in real time in the aptly titled Nick of Time which also features Christopher Walken as a creepy motherfucker. Night of the Running Man may not feature Arnold, but it is from the director of Commando and features a frazzled Andrew McCarthy running from a hitman. And Alex de la Iglesia gives us Day of the Beast from Spain which has the anti-christ coming to Earth on Christmas and someone just HAS to stop that shit in time.

Kiss of Death

Nineteen-Noiry-Five

You don’t tend to see 1995 popping up on a lot of neo-noir lists but, damn. These may not all be proper neo-noir, but they all involve the things that I’m looking for in crime cinema to some extent and ’95 was a solid fucking year for crime film. The two big guns are David Fincher’s Se7en and Michael Mann’s Heat, which still get tons of attention twenty years later. Nicole Kidman starred in Gus van Sant’s darkly comical To Die For. Denzel was on screen again with the very noir inspired Devil in a Blue Dress. Serial killing was all the rage in Copycat and Citizen X. The Hughes Brothers would follow up Menace II Society with the heist/Vietnam flick Dead Presidents. Nicolas Cage and David Caruso would attempt to out-act each other in Kiss of Death. Soderbergh would try his hand at tight genre fare with The Underneath. Spike Lee’s Clockers is a gritty real life crime drama that feels like it could’ve been made by David Simon. Things to Do In Denver When You’re Dead may be the best title of the year, even if the movie can’t live up to it. William Friedkin would also put David Caruso on screen in Jade and would attempt to top his To Live and Die In L.A car chase, he may have succeeded. Sean Penn directs Jack Nicholson in the sleazy revenge drama, The Crossing Guard. Chabrol does as Chabrol does with La Ceremonie. Christopher Lambert happens upon a femme fatale and a bunch of ninjas in The Hunted. The Usual Suspects became the topic of much debate. And Just Cause is a courtroom/murder mystery featuring Sean Connery yelling and Laurence Fishburne wearing a fedora.

Bad Boys

Hey, Buddy!

There’s really only one buddy cop movie from ’95 and that’s Bad Boys. Some of the above titles already mentioned feature pairs of buddies getting into trouble and pissing each other off, most notably Die Hard with a Vengeance, but there’s a few more too. They’re also all comedies for the most part, including Bad Boys (which is still likely Michael Bay’s best). Friday is the buddiest of buddy movies (and maybe of bud movies too) and is my vote for best screenplay of the year. No joke. Tommy Boy is basically the white version of that, only not good. And then there’s Money Train which is like the racial split down the middle featuring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson together for the second time, this outing robbing a fucking train full of money in NYC. Get some friends together and watch them all. Maybe skip Tommy Boy though.

Dead Man

Blood and Dirt

’95 was a big move towards the western on cinema screens. The genre had recently become viable thanks to Unforgiven and Dances with Wolves, but few had really pushed it to its breaking point. Enter Jim Jarmusch, Walter Hill, and Sam Raimi, with Dead Man, Wild Bill, and The Quick & The Dead, respectively. Neither film was truly a success at the box office, even if critically revered, but they were all westerns through and through and each managed to fuck with the conventions of the genre in their own unique way. Not quite a western but one at heart was Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi follow up, Desperado. The gunplay was quick and bloody and its genre inspirations were obvious. Not a western at all, but dirty and bloody, was Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. It also featured more severed limbs and bare asses than anything else above.

Cutthroat Island

Why the Fuck?

A lot of what has already been mentioned, especially 3/4 of the animal flicks, could fall into this category too, but what’s here is here for a reason. Who the hell was greenlighting this shit? Someone put up a whole lot of money and freedom to give Kevin Costner gills and Dennis Hopper an eye patch in Waterworld. Sean Connery and Richard fucking Gere get medieval in the King Arthur romance flick First Knight which is directed by spoof practitioner Jerry Zucker in earnest. Renny Harlin somehow convinced Sony to spend an absurd amount of money on a pirate movie starring his wife, Geena Davis, and Matthew Modine (?) in Cutthroat Island. Wes Craven lost his damned mind and made Vampire in Brooklyn with Eddie Murphy in lots of make up. Theodore Rex exists. It still exists. Schumacher just had to make Batman Forever. We know why. But still wish he didn’t. The Wachowskis wrote a hitman script, directed by Richard Donner and starring Stallone and Banderas. Its titled Assassins, and someone sold their fucking soul(s) to get it made.

Outbreak

All Out Panic

You’d think that with all of the cyber terror, people would’ve been chill about everything else but, nope! People in ’95 were sitting on the edge of their seats for all sorts of intense shit. Tom Hanks gets stuck in space in Apollo 13. Julianne Moore becomes enemies with allergies in Todd Haynes’ Safe (which may be the best film of the year). Gene Hackman and Denzel butt heads over missiles in a submarine in Crimson Tide. Another monkey hits screens in Outbreak which will show you what everyone was afraid of when Ebola became a thing. Christopher Walken gets creepy again in The Prophecy and may bring about the end times. Some cub scouts get kidnapped by Daniel Stern in Bushwhacked, this is the most terrifying thing on this list. And Jackie Chan throws a baby in Rumble in the Bronx.

Tales from the Hood

Things That Go Bump Bump Bump In the Night

Horror was really weird in ’95. With the exception of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Meyers, there wasn’t anything all that decidedly mainstream offered. And we were still one year away from the re-invigoration of the genre with Scream in 1996. But, you could see a sexy alien shove her tongue out the back of a guy’s head in Species. Abel Ferrara got all sorts of gritty with his black and white vampire flick The Addiction. Jeffrey Combs channeled Lovecraft again in Castle Freak. Clint Howard puts a severed head in an ice cream cone in Ice Cream Man. Toby Hooper adapted Stephen King for The Mangler. He shouldn’t have. The cornfields get their due in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest and the wonderfully gruesome Night of the Scarecrow. And then there’s the crown jewel of the year, Tales from the Hood. Which will never get its due. A surprisingly heavy and progressive horror anthology featuring gangsters, voodoo dolls, and lots of gory shit. That’s the last title on this list too. We’re done! Go rent Tales from the Hood and all other 100+ titles here and pretend it’s ’95 all over again.

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in film preservation from the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and film studies from Keene State College. He is the Creative Manager at Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers and is an itinerant projectionist, ready to run reels if you’ve got ’em.

Justin LaLiberty

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  • Justin McGill

    Tommy Boy = NO GOOD? Yeah.. everything this “journalist” says is now INVALID… Yup.. stupid people shouldn’t be allowed opinions on movies.

    • Art is subjective @justin_mcgill:disqus.