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Good Crime Movies (1995-00): Failed Schemes & Broken Dreams

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Michael Taylor itcherCrime cinema in the mid-90’s was superlative thanks to critical and commercial hits like ‘Se7en’, ‘Fargo’ and ‘L.A. Confidential’. But let’s explore some underrated gems of the era, including ‘A Simple Plan’, ‘Arlington Road’ and ‘Copland.’ ~ Michael Taylor

Tales from the American Underbelly…

The United States became increasingly volatile in late 90’s, thanks to political scandals, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings.

President Bill Clinton’s 1998 sex scandal fascinated the world, with a tabloid fixation on his private life reserved normally for Hollywood celebrities. It was a media circus that embarrassed all sides.

The country also saw an increase in domestic terrorism from disturbed individuals like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and “The Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, both of whom were starving for fame and attention, no matter the method to attain it.

Likewise, the tragic 1999 Columbine High School Massacre marked a worrisome trend of mass shootings that have become shockingly commonplace in the 21st century.

All of these political foibles – nefarious schemes and sociopathic celebrities – fed into the cinematic landscape of the era, sparking serial killer thrillers like ‘Se7en’ and tales of government corruption in ‘L.A. Confidential.’

Let’s look at several under-the-radar 90’s good crime movies that deserve equal praise.


Terrifying Crime Movie Recommendations

‘To Die For’ (Gus Van Sant, 1995)

I mean, the point is… Larry is a nice guy, you know? But he just doesn’t know a thing about television…

In this black comedy mockumentary, Nicole Kidman plays a small town meteorologist looking for a big city news gig.

Her desire for fame and wealth clashes with her provincial husband’s lack of ambition, so she plots his murder, seducing a naive teenage boy to be her accomplice.

But her poor planning and delusional personality leads to police suspicion, making her famous in an equal and unintended way.

Van Sant’s skewering of real life murderer Pamela Smart is a whip-smart examination of how the American dream of fame and wealth can turn into an absolute nightmare.

‘Last Man Standing’ (Walter Hill, 1996)

It’s a funny thing. No matter how low you sink there’s still a right and wrong. You always end up choosing…

This film-noir throwback stars Bruce Willis as John Smith, a drifter landing in a town in prohibition-era Texas, with an eye for a mob boss’s lady.

Given a chilly reception by locals who don’t take kindly to his lustful gaze, he’s given orders to leave town by the local Sherriff (Bruce Dern), who admits that rival Irish and Italian bootlegging gangs have undermined his authority, causing city-wide corruption.

But rather than flee, Smith hires himself out to one gang, only to later defect for the other, inciting a mob war for which he plans to reap the spoils.

But first, he’ll have to survive the onslaught, hoping to get the girl in the process.

‘Standing’ is classic Walter Hill, a tale of a steely-eyed antihero weaving elements from westerns and samurai films into a mythic tapestry.

But despite its stylistic appeal and thrilling action sequences, audiences and critics bailed, making it one of the biggest flops of the 90’s. It’s time to give it the attention it deserves.

‘A Simple Plan’ (Sam Raimi, 1998)

I wish somebody else had found that money…

Bill Paxton stars as rural Minnesota businessman, who, along with his dimwitted brother (Billy Bob Thornton) and their drunken friend, discovers a crashed plane carrying a dead pilot… and three million dollars.

A mutual decision to pocket the money leads to their undoing, with their greed and distrust causing them to turn on one another, leaving them vulnerable to an inquisitive FBI agent (Gary Cole) with a suspiciously personal investment in finding the missing loot.

One of Raimi’s most suspenseful, heart-wrenching films, ‘A Simple Plan’ expertly balances black comedy with emotional turmoil, leading to a devastating twist – all punctuated by composer Danny Elfman’s haunting score.

Despite critical acclaim, ‘Plan’ was a box office bomb, and has faded from view. Well worth seeking out.

‘Cop Land’ (James Mangold, 1997)

Being right is not a bullet-proof vest, Freddy!

A New Jersey suburb heavily populated by police residents turns upside down after celebrated officer, Murray “Superboy” Babitch (Michael Rappaport), gets involved in a racially motivated shooting.

This shines an unwanted light on a police department ripe with corruption, thanks to the actions of Babitch’s Lieutenant uncle (Harvey Keitel) and his department associates (Ray Liotta and Robert Patrick).

When an Internal Affairs agent (Robert DeNiro) starts his investigation, he reaches out to local Sherriff, Freddy Hefflin (Stallone), a broken man afraid of stirring up a hornet’s nest in his tightly knit cop community.

Will their unholy alliance be enough to bring Babitch and his cronies to justice, and for Heflin to regain his self-respect?

‘Cop Land’ features a cast of such star wattage that it’s galling how badly it fizzled at the box office. It features one of Stallone’s most vulnerable performances, and a tale of police corruption that’s sadly as timely as ever.

‘Arlington Road’ (Mark Pellington, 1999)

Never wiser than when we’re children. They say it and it’s true. We’ll never see things that clear again…

Professor Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) becomes obsessed with terrorist threats after his wife, an FBI Agent, is murdered by a group of extremists.

His paranoia consumes him after new neighbors (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack) raise his conspiracy suspicions. Convinced they’re domestic terrorists plotting a bombing, the audience is left to wonder if he’s correct, or if his sanity is unraveling.

‘Arlington Road’s’ taut suspense and bleak storyline feels sadly omniscient in a post-9/11 world where no one is above suspicion. It also contains one of Bridges most evocative performances.

Tarnished by mixed reviews and poor box office numbers, ‘Arlington Road’ has been criminally forgotten and deserves being seen as a classic paranoid thriller.


A Century Ends…

America ended the 20th century with fears of Y2K and a presidential election that took weeks to decide.

As rancorous as the 90’s had proven, it seems almost idyllic compared to the dark era forged under a polarized electorate and the aftermath of September 11th.

And cinema would also change, with less emphasis on smaller independent films and a bigger focus on CGI-fueled remakes and reboots. But the crime film genre would stay resilient, if less celebrated, which I’ll explore in a future installment.

But now it’s your turn, what crime movies from 1995-2000 would you include on this list? Please let me know in the comments.

In the meantime, be sure to read my articles on Good Crime Movies from 1980-1985, 1985-90 and 1990-95. I’ve also included other notable 90’s crime films below.

Honorable Mentions: ‘Se7en’, ‘Fargo’, ‘Jackie Brown’, ‘Hard Eight’, ‘Donnie Brasco’, ‘L.A. Confidential’, ‘Casino’, ‘Out of Sight’, ‘Run Lola Run’, ‘The Limey’, ‘Traffic’. ‘American Psycho’, ‘Memento’, ‘Grosse Point Blank,’ ‘American History X,’ ‘Dead Presidents.’

My name is Michael Taylor and I′m your go-to source for finding the best in Alternative rock in all its various genres, such as Goth, Grunge, Post-punk, Shoegaze, Britpop and Electronica, with some metal thrown in for good measure. Film-wise, I′m all about sci-fi and horror, comic book movies, and cult classics. I love checking out all the best concerts and film events in my hometown of Austin, TX. I′ve written for sites such as Cracked, and I cover all my various pop culture obsessions on my site
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