#TBT: Looking Back at the Best Films of 1995

Welcome back! Here comes the hotstepper (murderer) as we #TBT it back to the year 1995 and reminisce on bended knee on the pretty stacked film year. We have been blessed with some pretty robust film slates these last few years, but I didn’t realize just how stacked 1995 was until I started to research this week’s article one sweet day.

A LOT of films went chasing waterfalls because of the surplus of great, quality films that came out this year. 1995 is so robust, in fact, that the top 5 films are interchangeable to me – depending on the day you ask me, any of these films can (and deserve to) be number 1.

As someone who grew up in the 90s, if you feel a sense of nostalgia reading this list, you are not alone. I am here with you. And though you’re far away, this list is here to stay. Sorry, I can’t control sneaking lyrics from the gold mine that is 90s music – the gift that keeps on giving.

I will again try to keep my reactions spoiler free….even though 1995 was OVER TWENTY YEARS AGO! So without further adieu, this is how we do it- looking back at the best films of the ’95.

Courtesy of Gramercy Pictures
Courtesy of Gramercy Pictures

10. Dead Man Walking

Directed by Tim Robbins, Dead Man Walking sees Susan Sarandon’s (and Tim Robbins’ main squeeze!) Sister Helen Prejean as she comforts Sean Penn’s Matthew Poncelet, a convicted killer on Death Row, and begins to empathize with both the killer and his victim’s families.

I always knew Tim Robbins as “The Shawshank Guy,” but I was blown away when I found out he directed this. I know Sean Penn won his Oscars for Mystic River and Milk, respectively, but I’ve never seen him better than I have in this film. He makes his convicted killer so sympathetic and earnest that you begin to root for him to get off. Susan Sarandon knocks it out of the park here as well as the sympathetic nun tasked with comforting Penn before his time comes.

What I think makes this film so effective is how Robbins handled the subject matter. He never gets preachy or heavy handed and forces you to choose a side or not to sympathize for Penn because he’s a “bad man.” He chooses to let the story play out and the audience to organically make up their minds and make their own decisions. This film also landed Sarandon a well deserved Oscar. Definitely worth checking out!

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

9. Apollo 13

Directed by Ron Howard, Apollo 13 stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton and Gary Sinise in the real life story of Apollo 13, where NASA must devise a strategy to return Apollo 13 to earth safely after it undergoes massive internal damage, putting the lives of the three astronauts in danger.

“Houston, we have a problem.”

Blockbuster filmmaking at its finest. Ron Howard can be hit or miss for me sometimes, personally, because he tends to only scratch the surface of what the story is capable of and kind of glosses over everything – but I think he hit it out of the park with this one. The cast is stellar (did you NOT see it?!) led by the always fantastic Tom Hanks and rounded out by the incredibly underrated Gary Sinise.

The film can feel a tad contrived at times, but most of the time it’s riveting, smart, big budget filmmaking – something severely lacking in Hollywood today.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

8. Babe

Directed by Chris Noonan and produced by the architect of post-apocalyptic masterpieces The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Fury Road George Miller, Babe follows, well Babe, a pig raised by sheepdogs, as he learns to herd sheep with a little help from Farmer Hoggett, played by James Cromwell.

Listen, let’s be honest here, there’s not much to say about this film other than it’s an adorable, uplifting, enlightening, endearing, funny, warm, and beautifully told story for kids AND adults. I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, when I saw it as an adult than I did as a child.

The film is so sweet you’ll get a cavity. Seriously.

Courtesy of MGM
Courtesy of MGM

7. Leaving Las Vegas

Directed by Mike Figgis, Leaving Las Vegas stars Nicolas Cage (in an Oscar winning role) as Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic Hollywood screenwriter who lost everything because of his drinking, and arrives in Las Vegas to drink himself to death. There, he meets and forms an uneasy friendship and non-interference pact with prostitute Sera – played by Elisabeth Shue.

This film is a bittersweet reminder at just how good of an actor Nicolas Cage is and can be. He won an Oscar for his role as Ben Sanderson, where his whole purpose throughout the film is to drink himself to death. He’s funny and deranged, damaged and vulnerable, confident and pompous. Cage adds and subtracts so many layers to his character; it’s truly a marvel to watch.

A notorious method actor, in order to prepare for his role, Cage would binge drink so he could record himself drunk and study his speech patterns. Elisabeth Shue is also particularly great in this film and mirrors the different layers and personality traits Cage’s character reveals. They are magnetic when they are both on the screen and their chemistry is palpable.

It’s a really heartbreaking performance and one that will, to me at least, always be painful to watch knowing that Cage is this caliber an actor, yet he’s made such schlock in recent years. Note to self: don’t buy castles in Scotland or dinosaur skulls.

Courtesy of Gramercy Pictures
Courtesy of Gramercy Pictures

6. The Usual Suspects

Directed by Bryan Singer, The Usual Suspects stars Kevin Spacey as the sole survivor of a horrific gun battle on a boat, as he tells of the twisty events leading up to the gun battle, which begin when five criminals meet at a seemingly random police lineup.

The role that won Kevin Spacey an Oscar, the film also stars Benecio Del Toro, Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Pollack, and Chazz Palminteri in the film with the twist of all twists! I can’t really go into it without potentially giving it away (and shame on you if you haven’t seen it!), so I won’t say much other than Spacey’s performance is fantastic and Christopher McQuarrie’s script is a labyrinth of secrets – which also won an Oscar.

I call bullshit if you say you saw the twist coming.

Courtesy of New Line Cinema
Courtesy of New Line Cinema

5. Se7en

Directed by David Fincher, Se7en follows two detectives, a rookie (Brad Pitt) and a veteran (Morgan Freeman), as they hunt a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his modus operandi.

In one of the most shocking, iconic and landmark scenes in the history of cinema (yeah, I went there) David Fincher “arrived” and cemented his place as not only one of the best working American directors, but as Hollywood’s Master of the Macabre – at least that’s what I’ve dubbed him.

And all it took were four words: “What’s in the box?”

Fincher was a successful director of music videos for the likes of Madonna, Aerosmith and Sting before making his directorial debut with Alien 3, a film he notoriously abandoned, and with good reason – it sucked. Though I’ve grown to appreciate Alien 3 as the years have gone by because he pulled a rabbit out of a hat considering all of the meddling the studio did.

His followup feature was this gem and he hasn’t looked back, churning out phenomenal films with ease – Zodiac is a criminally underrated masterpiece and is Fincher’s best film, in my opinion. Pitt and Freeman are at the top of their games here, but this is Fincher’s show and he delivers a moody, grisly, visceral character piece that still holds up its status as a modern classic, and will continue to for quite some time.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

4. Braveheart

Directed by Mel Gibson, Braveheart follows William Wallace (Gibson) who, after his secret bride is executed for assaulting an English soldier who tried to rape her, begins a revolt and leads Scottish warriors against the cruel English tyrant who rules Scotland with an iron fist.

Listen, craziness aside, Mel Gibson is a top notch director. On one hand a heart-breaking revenge story, on the other a sweeping war film where freedom is at stake, Mel Gibson combines the grandiose and intimate flawlessly in the film that cemented my lifelong love affair and obsession with film, as well as my desire to pursue it as a career. Ever since I first saw it as a child, I’ve wanted to be able to create something as epic as this.

Gibson pulls double duty on this one also starring in it, but his real mastery comes behind the camera. Gibson has a gift when it comes to melding emotional and intimate character moments, with the grandiose and epic scale of the world he creates and their happenings. If one did not sympathize with William Wallace’s plight, then the film would have fallen flat on its face and been hollow.

Despite this being only his second directorial effort, Gibson understood this and never lost sight of it, and in turn created a window into the depths one is willing to go to for love – even if it means leading an entire country to freedom along the way.

Courtesy of Disney/Pixar
Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

3. Toy Story

Directed by John Lasseter, Toy Story follows Woody (Tom Hanks), a cowboy doll who is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), supplants him as a top toy in a boy’s room.

Here it is. The film that started it all for Pixar and changed the landscape of animation in the process – a true game changer. Admittedly, those facts alone are enough justification to have this film at number 1 but, alas, it clocks in at number 3. The first installment in the highly lucrative and influential Toy Story franchise, Toy Story 1 sparked a renaissance in animation and revitalized a genre that was sorely lacking fresh ideas and approaches.

Introducing us to a bevy of lovable and unforgettable characters, Pixar showed its penchant for telling profound stories – touching on issues and emotions everyone can relate to – while still appealing to children and adults alike. Can you imagine a world without Pixar or Toy Story? I can’t, and I shudder at the thought. Would animation still even be around and as prevalent and mainstream as it is?

Or will it be more underground and niche, like the many anime out there?

In spite of it being an animated film, Toy Story is one of the most influential films of the 90s and, dare I say, one of the most influential films ever.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

2. Before Sunrise

Directed by Richard Linklater, Before Sunrise follows a young man and woman (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, respectively) who meet on a train in Europe and wind up spending an evening together in Vienna. Unfortunately, they both know that this will probably be their only night together.

“…here’s what you should do: you should get off the train with me, here in Vienna, and come check out the town”.

That sentence started the most underrated, beautiful, and enduring love story of our time – Richard Linklater’s “Before Trilogy”.

Before there was Boyhood, there was Before Sunrise where Linklater gave us the story of Jesse and Celine, two young people who can’t help but fall in love after doing the unthinkable: spending the day in Vienna with each other, after only meeting on the train early that same day.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy inhabit these characters and fill them with such a naturalistic charisma, that you would think Jesse and Celine were real people in your lives as you can’t take your eyes off of them and fall in love with them yourself. They actually went on to pen the subsequent sequels with Linklater. Never have I seen a movie with such natural dialogue that almost seems like the actors are improvising the entire film – they’re not.

Not one word spoken sounds out of place or unnatural, each sentence revealing a little bit of these characters allowing us to get to know them in real time along with the characters themselves. A film that is so in its moment, it’s a marvel really. As a filmmaker myself, I’m a huge proponent of the philosophy of shooting the film the way the story calls for, which is something Richard Linklater does to absolute perfection here.

Minimal cuts, long takes, allowing the characters to change the perspective through blocking, and allowing the story to flow and unfold organically, Richard Linklater shows his already impeccable ability to capture and develop characters visually.

This film is a beautiful reminder of the “less is more” approach in film and how effective it can be in the hands of a more than competent director like Linklater.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers
Courtesy of Warner Brothers

1. Heat

Directed by Michael Mann, Heat follows a group of professional bank robbers (led by Robert De Niro) who start to feel the heat from the police (led by Al Pacino) when they unknowingly leave a clue at their latest heist.

The seminal crime saga and easily Michael Mann’s masterpiece, Heat is a game changing action film – there have been action films before Heat and action films after Heat. You can see its influence on films like The Dark Knight, Skyfall, and The Town, where Ben Affleck is even watching Heat on his television in a deleted scene.

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro only share the screen together in a handful of scenes which only amount to roughly 10 minutes or so of the 170 minutes, and you are STILL riveted the entire time – at least I was. The film opts to focus on the lives of its ensemble cast, which include Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Val Kilmer and Danny Trejo, letting us take a look into their world and build a connection with these people.

That’s right; these are people we are watching, not some action hero dodging bullets for 2 hours. These are real people doing bad things and the toll it takes on not only them, but the people trying to stop them from doing said things. It takes a toll on their families, on their relationships, on their children, and on everyone around them.

At a robust 170 minutes, the film whizzes by, successfully sprinkling in tremendous action sequences across L.A. to balance out the smaller, character moments. I know I talk a lot about characters folks, but if you and I are going to invest 2 plus hours in a film, should we not care about the characters we are going on this journey with?

If I can’t sympathize with, empathize with, or at least enjoy the characters that I am watching, what’s the point in me wasting 2 hours of my life then? Heat is the rare action film that does this superbly, that makes you care about these characters and puts you right into their worlds and relationships – that takes the time to draw out these characters and make them real, living, breathing people, instead of action heroes and super villains shooting each other while spewing some awful, clichéd dialogue.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE those kinds of films and there is definitely a market and place for them, but it’s refreshing to see an action film take risks and do something different the way Heat did in 1995, which is why it’s number 1 on this list.

Oh, Michael Mann also choreographed one of the absolute best, if not the best, shootouts in the history of cinema – one that lasts almost 16 minutes. If you haven’t seen it, I IMPLORE you to watch it as soon as you can – you will wonder what you have been doing with your life all these years.

Other films worth mentioning that were released in 1995: Casino, Shallow Grave, Clueless, Die Hard 3: With a Vengeance, and Jumanji.

And that’s all, folks! I hope you enjoyed your trip down memory lane with me. Please let me know how I did – did I miss any films or did I get it right? Any suggestions, comments, or concerns? Anything at all, please, feel free to comment and follow! Most importantly? Thank for reading!

You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and you can also join my Facebook page Reel People, Real Reviews for more discussions about film, television, and anything pop culture!

This is Jovanni, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.


Jovanni Ibarra