After the highly-loved hideousness of the '80s, the '90s came to wipe the slate clean. Long-haired rock fell to disheveled grunge, and a sea of personal expression, rebellion against pop, and teen sexuality exploded. Unlike the '60s, which are touted as a sexy free-for-all, the '90s focused on its many aspects. In the realm of film, having sex wasn't link to "good" or "bad," but rather, to its different manisfestations and preferences. Emphasis was placed on the characters rather than the story, and this bred a collection of youthful films unlike the movies of other generations.

Here are the films that rocket me back to the '90s with their great characters, music, and sexual expression. Which do the same for you?

Empire Records

I know this -- that if I win this roll, I will save the place that I work from being sold, and the jobs of my friends that work there -- thus striking a blow at all that is evil and making this world a better place to be in.

People usually either love or hate Empire Records, and the ones that love it cherish its quirk, uniqueness, and killer lines. As the Empire employees fight against the news that their beloved workplace will be turned into a Music Town, they also struggle with their own personal issues. Artist A.J. glues quarters to the ground, which drives hooligan Warren crazy, while he obsesses over his secret love for Corey. She, meanwhile, plans to sweetly seduce the aging rock star guest Rex Manning, but he's more into her bad-girl best friend, Gina. Debra tried to kill herself with a pink, plastic razor with daisies on it. Lucas lost $9,000 of the store's money in Atlantic City, but it more interested in relaying his pearls of wisdom: "In this life, there are nothing but possibilities." Mark just gets stoned and hallucinates. And Joe, well, he loves these guys, but is weighed with the responsibility of running the store, and fighting the incoming music chain.

From Rory Cochrane's philosophical rambling to Renee Zellweger's stint as a sex-crazed wanna-be singer, Empire Records is a film in love with music and being different. The characters have extremely diverse interests and attitudes, but they all come together and happily co-exist in this tune-laden environment. Yet it isn't sickeningly saccharine; it's just accepting and honest.

Trivia: Deb's boyfriend Berko is played by the wonderful Coyote Shivers, who, at the time, was Liv Tyler's stepfather. a style="font-style: italic;" href="">


I told her we weren't right and all the stuff we both knew. A week later I realized I was wrong, tried to get back together with her. She won't see me.

This was Cameron Crowe's extremely-different follow-up to Say Anything. Set in the middle of the early-'90s Seattle grunge scene, Singles followed a group of twenty-somethings, most of whom lived together in the same apartment complex. There's the delightful, notorious banter of Campbell Scott, who is dating Kyra Sedgwick, and the desperate mania of Bridget Fonda, who just wants to please the dumb, grunge presence of Matt Dillon -- even if it means getting breast implants. The film lacks the magic realism of many of Crowe's other movies, but that's its strong suit. It's just people who struggle to define a life that doesn't include a successful job, marriage, kids, and a white picket fence -- and it's done within the musical breath of Crowe. Like Almost Famous, the music isn't just a nice backdrop -- it's a living entity in the film, which is apparent as you watch Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder slip on screen, or the late Alice in Chains frontman, Layne Staley.

Trivia: Cameron Crowe channeled his earlier journalist, playing the guy who interviews Matt Dillon.

Reality Bites

Hello, you've reached the winter of our discontent.

Although Singles preceded it, this film is considered by many to be the Generation X film. There's Winona Ryder as the obsessive filmmaker Lelaina, Ethan Hawke as the intellectual slacker/musician Troy, Janeane Garofalo as the Gap-working, casual sex-having Vickie, and Steve Zahn as their gay friend Sammy. This spawned the next phase in Hawke's career -- crowning him the ultimate greasy-haired slacker as he tormented Lelaina with everything from mockery to a gruff cover of Violent Femmes' Add it Up. And of course, we can't forget director and co-star Ben Stiller as Michael, the straight-laced executive who falls for her. It's a great film not only to zip back to the time when MTV first started dipping into reality television, and films began to dip into the post-grad struggles with ideals, work, and sexuality, but also to see Stiller before his predilection for goofy comedy. It merges smarts with spasticness, and also offers some more intellectual and social ideas without being heavy and preachy. From Vickie's sexual worries to Lelaina's struggles to maintain the integrity of her film, Reality Bites taps into so many aspects of that time of life, that at least a few feel familiar for everyone.

Trivia: Can you imagine Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Heche, or Parker Posey as Vickie? They all auditioned for the role.

Chasing Amy

I love you. And not, not in a friendly way, although I think we're great friends. And not in a misplaced affection, puppy-dog way, although I'm sure that's what you'll call it. I love you. Very, very simple, very truly. You are the epitome of everything I have ever looked for in another human being.

Kevin Smith's film about a comic artist who falls for a lesbian was a shock when it came out -- not only for its subject matter, but because it wasn't a comedic film based on some sort of commerce. It's a story that lives and breathes the '90s, and one that expresses diverging sexual interests with ease and compassion. When Holden, a rounder and plaid-clad Ben Affleck, tries to understand the intricacies of lesbian sex on a swingset with Alyssa, it's matched with the purr of Liz Phair -- a fitting match considering the artist's music, while also a provoking contrast for the choice of songs (California). Jason Lee's Banky, meanwhile, perfectly manages the fine line between repulsion and closeted anxiety. The film wasn't flashy, but it was an honest cinematic moment that wonderfully tapped into the innocent naivete of young hetero men, and let the audience grow along with them.

Trivia: This was one of the first appearances of Guinevere Turner, who went on to collaborate and act on The L Word, and co-wrote American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page with Mary Harron. In the film, she coaxed Alyssa on-stage to sing Alive -- which Joey Lauren Adams wrote.

Party Girl

I may have made a mistake, but that is no reason to patronize me. It is dismaying that your expectations are based on the performance of a lesser primate, and also revelatory of a managerial style which is sadly lacking. Is it any wonder then that I've chosen not to learn the intricacies of an antiquated and idiotic system? I think not!

This is the guilty pleasure of the list -- a Parker Posey-starring film that isn't any stunning cinematic achievement, but one that shows the club scene version of Smith's Chasing Amy. Posey is a Manhattan party girl and fashionista named Mary, who spends her time throwing parties, doing drugs, and hanging with her gay, male friends. However, between falling for a falafel vendor and needing money, she finds herself drawn to the librarian life of her Godmother. As a result, the Dewey Decimal system not only organizes the library she begins to work at, but also her things, her friends, and her life. But it's not just a party -- it's a bubblegum, dancing, electronic redo on the theme of Sisyphus, which pops up again and again after her ethnic lover, Mustafa, explains the story.

Trivia: Eric Stoltz appeared in the first party scene, but his footage was cut.

Pump up the Volume

I'm sick of being ashamed. I don't mind being dejected and rejected, but I'm not going to be ashamed about it. At least pain is real. I mean, you look around and you see nothing is real, but at least the pain is real.

The film that entered every brain like a criminal, Pump up the Volume was the peak of Christian Slater's popularity -- something that could never be topped after this performance as pirate DJ Mark Hunter, and his previous stint as the bad paramour in Heathers. He spoke of teen dysfunction while the film mocked the media push for everyone to be the same. To be "normal." Matched with a soundtrack including everyone from Leonard Cohen to Henry Rollins, Pump up the Volume was the slightly risque anthem for a generation. With Lenny Bruce as his guide, Mark challenged the binaries that dictated notions such as smart as good and chaste, and rebellious as bad and sexual. It wasn't a flawless argument, but it was a revolution with depth.

Trivia: Yes, that's Seth Green sporting a longish mullet.


You have the hots for me, I have the hots for him, and sooner or later he's gonna have the hots for you. ...Sounds pretty hot to me.

Ah, Threesome. The most risque of the bunch, Andrew Fleming's film focused on three university students -- the shy and gay Eddy (Josh Charles), the obnoxious, sex-loving jock (Stephen Baldwin before he was born again), and the expressive, emotional Alex (Lara Flynn Boyle) -- who really, really loves big words. Unlike many triangles which exist in safe, hetero circles, Threesome blew that out of the water, having Eddy lust for Stuart, who in turn lusted for Alex, who had her own thing for Eddy -- it was a true, one-direction triangle. While it was completely over-the-top and often unrealistic, it's a fun, and interesting look at how one's dreamed ideals can't survive in the harsh light of reality. And it was scored with apt music titles like Bizarre Love Triangle and Like a Virgin.

Trivia: While progressive, the film still cut more sexually intimate footage between Charles and Baldwin.
categories Cinematical