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The early 1990’s continued the escalation in criminal activity that arose during the previous decade, until reaching its peak in 1991.
But thanks to the cinematic adaptation of Thomas Harris’ ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ (also released in 1991), a fearful fascination of serial killers – both real and fictional – dominated the media and pop culture.
It was also an era of volatile race relations: the brutal police beating of Rodney King shined a light on police misconduct like never before, while the O.J. Simpson trial sharply divided public opinion along racial lines in terms of guilt or innocence.
90’s cinema reflected all of these concerns in a deeply creative renaissance of the medium, both in technical achievements (‘Terminator 2’, ‘Jurassic Park’), and independent cinema.
Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’, a smash hit that redefined moviemaking with its unconventional narrative and rapid-fire dialogue, epitomized the latter.
Tarantino was uniquely apt at exploring our fascination with violence, race, and antiheroes of questionable morality, inspiring a movement in the process.
So, let’s examine other lesser-known good crime films that are also worthy additions to the genre.
ln this life, you gotta take what you want…
Hopper’s throwback to classic film noir is a slick adaptation of Charles Williams’ 1952 pulp novel, ‘Hell Hath No Fury.’
Don Johnson stars as Harry Maddox, a drifter who lands in a small Texas town. Shortly after getting a job at a used car dealership, he begins an affair with the owner’s wife (Virginia Madsen). His situation is further complicated by his amorous feelings for his coworker, Gloria (Jennifer Connelly).
Soon, Harry’s predicament grows more dire: a failed attempt to rob a local bank leads to blackmail and murder, and he must attempt to reconcile his love triangle before it gets him sent to prison… or killed.
‘The Hot Spot’ is a slow burn thriller, full of classic film noir dark humor and erotic tension. It’s a forgotten film waiting to be rediscovered.
Lila, even if I wanted to, I can’t help you…
A trio of violent criminals (played by Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams and Michael Beach) flees Los Angeles for a sleepy Arkansas town, pursued by LAPD detectives looking to end their reign of terror.
When the detectives meet the town’s affable wide-eyed Sherriff Dale “Hurricane” Dixon, (Bill Paxton) to discuss the threat, he jumps at the chance to work on a major case.
But the detectives have a suspicion that Dixon isn’t all that he seems, and his boyish demeanor hides a dark side… and a surprising connection to one of the fugitives at large.
‘One False Move’ is an accomplished crime drama, full of disturbing violence and compelling characters, along with an examination of racial tension in the 1990’s.
It’s also refreshingly deceptive in its narrative, leading to an unexpected and thrilling finale.
There is a line you cross, you don’t never come back from. Point of no return…
Al Pacino stars as Carlito Brigante, an ex-con pledging to play it straight upon his release from prison.
But his promise of good behavior is cut short as he’s brought back into a war with an ambitious young gangster by his own crooked lawyer (Shawn Penn).
‘Carlito’s Way’ was a return to form for Brian DePalma. It feels like a companion piece to his work with Pacino on ‘Scarface’, playing a sadder, wiser version of his Tony Montano character.
But it never got its due from critics, and only marginal box office success. It’s certainly the most underrated movie in DePalma’s filmography.
It’s a thrilling, violent gangster film that deserves classic status.
Why could not mother die? Dozens of people are dying all the time, thousands, so why not mother? And father too…
Pre-dating his ‘Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy, Jackson helmed this small-scale tale of Juliet (Kate Winslet, in her screen debut), a precocious London teenager relocating to Christchurch, New Zealand.
Upon meeting Pauline (Melanie Lynskey), a withdrawn fellow high school student, they soon become inseparable.
Pauline is enraptured by Juliet’s fanciful notions and games of make believe, but both sets of parents become concerned with their disconnection from reality, and suspicions of a sexual relationship.
When fate attempts to separate the two, Juliet and Pauline plot for a way to stay together forever, no matter the violent repercussions.
‘Heavenly Creatures’ is an unusual mix of true crime film (based on the 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case) with psychosexual elements and surreal dream sequences.
It also illustrates that Winslet was destined for stardom from the get-go, and that Jackson is a world-class filmmaker with a singular vision.
Life is like a mustard burp, momentarily tangy and then forgotten in the air…
Jimmy “The Saint” Tosnia (Andy Garcia) is an ex-con that gets lured back in to do “one last job” by a local crime boss known only as “The Man with the Plan” (played by Christopher Walken).
But the job goes awry with an unintentional murder thanks to Tosnia’s bumbling cohorts (including Treat Williams, Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, and Bill Nunn).
“The Man” becomes enraged by the botched job and sends out feared hit man, Mr. Shhh (Steve Buscemi), who sentences the group to “buckwheats” (a nebulous term for a most painful execution).
Jimmy and crew do their best to escape, but is Tosnia doomed by the incompetent company he keeps?
‘Denver’ was critically panned and commercial flop upon its release, but its black comic tone fit in perfectly in a post-‘Pulp Fiction’ cinematic landscape. It’s a blast for the uninitiated.
The first half of the 90’s covered an intense amount of ground – socially, politically and cinematically.
Films like ‘Boyz n the Hood’ and ‘Menace II Society’ were a different type of crime film, exploring how race and economic disparity shapes criminal behavior, with a corrupt system that seemingly encourages it.
And any hint that the genre was in danger was squashed by Michael Mann’s 1995 film ‘Heat,’ one of the greatest crime films ever made. There was plenty more to come, which I’ll explore in a future segment of crime cinema from 1995-2000.
So, that wraps up my list of good crime movies from 1990-1995! What films would you add to the list?
Tell me in the comments!
In the meantime, be sure to read my lists of films like ‘Heat’, Good Crime Movies From 1980-85, and 1985-90. I’ve included some notable honorable mentions below as well.
Honorable Mentions: ‘Heat’, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, ‘State of Grace’, ‘Miller’s Crossing’, ‘The Grifters’, ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘Usual Suspects’, ‘Cape Fear’, ‘The Bad Lieutenant’, ‘Kalifornia’, ‘Killing Zoe’, ‘White Sands,’ ‘Shallow Grave,’ ‘Menace II Society.’