My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1996

09 May

As usual, this goes by release year as listed on IMDB.

Honorable mentions: The Rock, Sling Blade

10 – FOXFIRE (Annette Haywood-Carter)

“Live dangerously. Walk me to class.”

A cool and thoughtful movie about the friendship that develops between a group of teenage girls, with drifter Legs (a pre-breakthrough Angelina Jolie) acting as the catalyst. Truth be told, I don’t remember much details about this film, but I do recall being quite taken by the earnest performances and the very 90s-y feel of the movie. Sadly, not many people seem to have seen this one. Do check it out if you have the chance.

9 – KINGPIN (Peter & Bobby Farrelly)

“It’s round, has three holes, and you put your fingers into it.”

I haven’t seen this one since the early 2000s, but this one got frequent play on my VCR back in the day. The humor is of the typical Farrelly brand; if that’s not your thing, this bowling comedy won’t change your mind. For those of us who like this stuff, Kingpin offers plenty of laughs. Having two great actors like Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray in the central parts certainly doesn’t hurt either, with Murray in particular stealing the show in the film’s climactic bowling game.

8 – WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (Christopher Guest)

“We consider ourselves bi-costal if you consider the Mississippi River one of the coasts.”

This was the first mockumentary Christopher Guest directed, and right from the start, he and his recurring band of collaborators (Eugene Levy, Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara and more) nail the formula. Waiting for Guffman follows the inhabitants of a small town in Missouri as they attempt to put together a theater production. Teriffic improvisational humor that often drifts off into pleasantly unexpected directions.

7 – FARGO (Joel & Ethan Coen)

“What the heck do ya mean?”

A dark comedy steeped in personality. The wintry Minnesota/North Dakota setting, along with the distinct dialects, gives Fargo a unique atmosphere. Of course, that’s not all it takes to make a film great. Luckily, the Coens also tells one of their sharpest stories here about a faked kidnapping and the complications that arise from it. Also to be treasured are the unforgettable performances: Frances McDormand‘s pregnant cop, William H. Macy‘s car salesman who’s in way over his head, and two bickering small-time crooks played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare.

6 – PRIMAL FEAR (Gregory Hoblit)

“I choose to believe that not all crimes are committed by bad people. And I try to understand that some very, very good people do some very bad things.”

It’s hard to believe that Primal Fear was Edward Norton‘s first movie. His performance here as a stuttering altar boy accused of murder still ranks as one of the actor’s most powerful to this day. While Norton may be the movie’s highlight, the other aspects of it don’t trail far behind. This is a captivating courtroom drama, with plenty of neat developments that keeps things fresh in a genre where it often feels like everything has been done before. A tight story that’s wonderfully executed.


“You never let’em behind the curtain, Will. You never let them see the little ol’ man behind the curtain working the levers of the great and powerful Oz. They’re all sisters, Willie. They aren’t allowed back there. They mustn’t see.”

Maybe my appreciation for this film is magnified due to it being about people of the age I’m in: the upper 20s. That time when you realize that you’re not young anymore, that the years will just keep marching on, and that you might have to stop procrastinating about deciding what you want out of life. A cast full of familiar names and faces populate this movie, in which a musician (Timothy Hutton) returns to his hometown in Massachusetts to attend his high school reunion and reconnect with his old friends. Though the mood of the film is a pleasant and warm one, every character has their problems. Most of them seems to center around people of the opposite sex. Funny how that tends to be. Beautiful Girls offers both laughter and thoughtfulness, and is worth seeing for the great scenes between Hutton and a young Natalie Portman alone.

4 – BOUND (Larry & Andy Wachowski)

“Who’s the dead man? Who? Who’s dead, fuckface?”

Bound is known primarily for two things: the lesbian sex scene between lead actresses Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly, and for being the directorial debut of the Wachowskis. Noteworthy aspects to be sure, but the real gem in this neo-noir is Joe Pantoliano‘s performance as mafia member Caesar. Powerful doesn’t even begin to describe it, as he grows more irate, desperate and violent the more trouble he finds himself in. This is also an expertly crafted story that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and where every shot helps to build the mood.

3 – TRAINSPOTTING (Danny Boyle)

“The downside of coming off junk was I knew I would need to mix with my friends again in a state of full consciousness. It was awful. They reminded me so much of myself, I could hardly bear to look at them.”

The really cool thing about Trainspotting is how it sweeps you along in its drug-fuelled story. At the start where everything is a bliss for the addicted Scotting youngsters, Danny Boyle throws his full reprtoire of rapid cuts, stylish transitions and hyperactive editing tricks on us, the soundtrack blasts on and the humor comes quick and furious. Later on, as the viewpoint character weans himself off of drugs, the whole movie settles down; there’s less music, no rushing about, and the plot gets more serious. While most of the characters are fuck-ups and/or of questionable moral fibers. it’s still hard not to feel some degree of affection towards them. In terms of films showing the devastating and life-altering effects of narcotics, Trainspotting ranks up there with Requiem for a Dream as one of the modern must-sees.

2 – SWINGERS (Doug Liman)

“Don’t tell me we didn’t make it. We made it! We are here. And everything that has passed is prologue to this.”

Not only is Swingers a very funny movie; it also effortlessly captures the essence of hanging out with your friends. Whether you’re arguing over video games or going out drinking, this movie gets everything just right. Despite taking place half a world away and in a slightly different era, everything here is still immediately reocgnizable to me. Future Iron Man director Jon Favreau is effective in the lead as the meek aspiring comedian Mike, but it’s Vince Vaughn who steals the show in his breakout role as Mike’s confident friend Trent, never letting him forget that he is, in fact, money. So is this movie.

1 – BREAKING THE WAVES (Lars von Trier)

“I love you no matter what is in your head.”

Movies like this one are rare. I’m talking about films that walk up to you, punch you in the gut, and then when you’re doubled over gasping for air, they knee you right in the face. But in a good way. In Breaking the Waves, Lars von Trier goes to great lengths to put his leading lady Emily Watson‘s character – simple but kind-hearted church-goer Bess – through emotional torture and hardship. It’s heartbreaking stuff, and at times it almost becomes too much. Like, it’s great, but come on! Let up a bit, please! But then that last shot of the film appears, and everything just clicks into place. This is a tremendous movie, and watching it is a reminder of just how powerful film can be.

What are you favorite films of 1996? What do you think of the movies on this list?


Posted by on 9 May, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year


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24 responses to “My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1996

  1. Dave

    9 May, 2012 at 23:28

    A terrific year! I loved most of these movies, though not in the order you would suggest. I think I’d have Kingpin as number one with Bound as number two. Primal Fear, Trainspotting, Fargo, Breaking the Waves — all brilliant stuff. Swingers was a bit overrated for me, and Beautiful Girls was sweet and good, but I didn’t quite love it. Never even heard of Foxfire!

    Have you ever seen Siskel and Ebert’s online review of Kingpin? Watching these two guys rave over how much Kingpin made them laugh is a real treat. They were thanking the Farrellys for really making their year.

    So what’s missing? I’d throw in The Birdcage, Jerry Maguire, Mission: Impossible, From Dusk Til Dawn, The People Vs Larry Flynt, and Secrets & Lies. Wow… what a great year that was…

    Keep it up, bro!

    • Emil

      9 May, 2012 at 23:38

      You’re not alone in not having heard of Foxfire, I reckon. I wouldn’t call it a great movie, but it is enjoyable and has the added appeal of Angelina Jolie before she became a huge star. Might be worth checking out. I think you’d like it.

      Haven’t seen that Kingpin review, no. I’m a big fan of Ebert’s written work, but I haven’t seen a whole lot from the TV show. I’ll have to try and find that one. Sounds like fun!

      I wasn’t terrible impressed with the first Mission Impossible movie when I saw it in the late 90s, but circumstances were far from ideal – I watched it on a bus ride! From Dusk Til Dawn are both good films, but not enough to make this list. The rest of what you mentioned I haven’t seen, I’m afraid.

      I’m rather underwatched when it comes to 1996, to be honest – and it’ll only get worse the further back I go in years. That’s why getting recommendations through the comments here is a great thing for me. :)

      Thank you for the comment, bro!

  2. TheVern

    10 May, 2012 at 07:08

    I forgot how many good movies came out that year. I hope the Warchowski’s get back into doing another stylish Noir like they did with with “Bound”. “Fargo” is still my favorite Coen Bros flick. All great choices

    • Emil

      10 May, 2012 at 08:23

      I’m not expecting the Wachowskis to go back to this kind of film anytime soon. They seem quite fond of their big action spectactles. It would sure be nice, though. I don’t want another Speed Racer.

      As for favorite Coens film, nothing tops The Big Lebowski in my book. Fargo is among those battling it out for second place, though.

      Thank you for the comment!

  3. Tyler

    10 May, 2012 at 08:33

    I absolutely love that you have picked Breaking the Waves for the best film of the year instead of Fargo, which most people pick. Few people love Fargo as much as I do, but I love Breaking the Waves even more, and it is a treat to see it at number one. Great list as usual.

    • Emil

      10 May, 2012 at 09:57

      Breaking the Waves was pretty firmly locked into the top spot here ever since I first saw it. Amazing movie, and the one that cemented Lars von Trier as a great director in my eyes. I’ve rewatched both Trainspotting and Swingers in recent weeks and found them to really grow on me too, to the point where I went “Hmm, maybe this could top my 1996 list. What else was released that ye… Oh, right. Breaking the Waves. Nevermind then!”

      I feel like I should have given Fargo a rewatch as well before making this list. I’ve only seen it once, and as I’ve mentioned before, the Coens always work better the second time around. Alas, this didn’t happen. I don’t think it would top von Trier’s film in my eyes, though.

  4. Jessica

    10 May, 2012 at 09:40

    In 1996 my oldest daughter was 4 and my youngest 2, which might explain why I haven’t watched all that many movies on this list. I’m a big fan of Trainspotting though and would probably have put it as my number one, above Breaking the Waves, which also would be on my list.

    Other good movies from this year that come to my mind: Secrets and Lies would definitely be high up on my list. Also: Jerry Maguire, The English Patient, Brassed off. Woody Allen did a musical, Everyone says I love you. Probably on my list too. Yes, I’m a fan! :)

    • Emil

      10 May, 2012 at 10:01

      Glad to hear we agree that Trainspotting and Breaking the Waves are great films. Very different, of course, but great nonetheless.

      You’re not the first one to mention Secrets and Lies here. I’ll definitely check it out at some point. I do love me some Mike Leigh. Haven’t seen any of the others either, and I’ve never even heard of Brassed Off before. I’ll have to look that one up. Thank you for the suggestions, Jessica!

  5. Pete

    10 May, 2012 at 10:21

    Trainspotting would be my number one. I’d also have Romeo and Juliet on the list. Swingers and Breaking the Waves and Primal Fear are also top choices!

    • Emil

      10 May, 2012 at 10:52

      I recall being quite fond of Romeo + Juliet back when I saw it in… like… 2000. But my memories are far too hazy for it to rise high enough to make my list. The one thing I remember from this film was that they named their guns after swords so that the prose would make sense, which I thought was pretty cute. I should probably try to see that one again at some point.

  6. Nostra

    10 May, 2012 at 15:18

    Love this series, have to admit that I haven’t seen quite a lot of them (only half). Have to note down the ones that I haven’t and hope to be able to watch them in the future :)

    • Emil

      10 May, 2012 at 16:25

      Always nice to get positive feedback on these posts. They’re easy and fun to do, which of course mutates in my brain to mean that it’s something I shouldn’t do too often. I try to space them out a bit so that it doesn’t wear too thin. I could have churned them all out in the week after I made the first one, to be honest. :P

      Hope you’ll enjoy the other films on this list!

  7. Alex Withrow

    10 May, 2012 at 18:06

    Oh man, Primal Fear, Fargo, Bound, Swingers, Breaking the Waves… 1996 was a damn fine year. Glad to see a shout out to Sling Blade, my favorite film of that year.

    Some others from me: Bottle Rocket, Secrets & Lies, Crash, Lost Highway, Scream, A Time to Kill, When We Were Kings, and Paradise Lost.

    I may have to take my Sling Blade comment back, Barry Levinson’s Sleepers is one of the best, most underrated American films ever made. It would definitely top my list for 1996.

    Another excellent edition to My Top 10!

    • Emil

      10 May, 2012 at 19:58

      Sling Blade is another one of those films I really ought to rewatch at some point. Been a long time since I saw it. Billy Bob Thornton’s character is pretty unforgettable, though. Mm-hmm.

      Lots of interesting suggestions that I should be getting around to seeing sooner rather than later, hopefully. The only one of those I’ve seen is Crash, and I didn’t care much for that one. Me and Cronenberg have a rocky relationship, it seems. The only film of his that I’ve seen and really loved is A History of Violence. Everything else ranges from “meh” to “pretty good”.

      Thank you for the kind words, Alex!

  8. Travis McClain

    12 May, 2012 at 00:30

    Emil, as I’ve already mentioned to you, 1996 is a mythical year in film for me. I was 17 for most of that year (my birthday is in December), and it was the first full calendar year in which we had a theater in my small town. It was truly the dawn of my movie watching life. Prior to 1996, my movie watching was confined to stuff meant to mollify my attention span as a child and a handful of movies I rented on VHS in the 90s. In 1996, though, I was a card carrying member of the movie-going population.

    My friends and I went semi-regularly that year. There were times when we picked movies to see without anything more to go on than the title and the fact we’d already seen everything else playing that interested us. Yeah, imagine going into see Event Horizon with literally no more to go on than that! It was a truly glorious year in my life; I began as a junior in high school and finished it in my senior year. I turned 18 that December. In addition to the movies, that summer I gorged on reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas on a cable channel (TNN, which became Spike TV) and I ate an absolute ton of pulled pork BBQ. I could not get enough of those shows or the BBQ!

    Alas, I confess: There are few movies on your list I’ve actually seen. Most have been on my expansive To See list for the last 16 years, of course. I did see Kingpin. To be honest, what I remember more than anything was that creepy old woman who took out her teeth. Whenever I think of that movie, I still recall shuddering. It’s my default emotional reaction to that movie, even still.

    I have seen Bound (VHS), Trainspotting (Netflix streaming) and Swingers (DVD) since then, but I missed all of them in the theater. I don’t know that any of them even played here, to be honest, though maybe I was just oblivious.

    Anyway, here are my top faves from 1996, per Flickchart. (T) indicates a movie I saw at the theater.

    1. Star Trek: First Contact (T) – Captain Picard was never a bigger badass than he was in this movie.
    2. From Dusk Till Dawn – I think this was a “new release” at the local video rental store for nearly two years. Salma Hayek’s erotic dance was one of my 100 Things I Love About Films.
    3. The Rock (T) – Sheer self-indulgent fun.
    4. Twister (T) – My first “event” movie at the theater. That place was PACKED! I almost had an anxiety attack before the movie started, actually. The speakers have never recovered from that movie. I recently watched this in an outdoors projection at a friend’s house and found it still holds up and is fun to watch.
    5. Lone Star – Chris Cooper may never give a better performance than he does in this. Kristofferson nails the role of an old school bastard.
    6. Happy Gilmore (T) – I went with a friend to see Down Periscope and I think between the two of us, we may have laughed once. I left feeling very dissatisfied. On our way out, I ran into a pair of classmates on their way in to see this. I wasn’t a big Sandler fan (though I liked his Opera Man sketch on Saturday Night Live), but there was something about the spontaneity of turning right around and going in to see a second movie that appealed to me, so I did. I found myself enjoying it in spite of the fact it wasn’t my normal taste in comedy and have rarely enjoyed myself more at a theater than I did that night.
    7. Trees Lounge – Buscemi! Seriously, that one name is all I ought to have to say about why this movie rocks. Fun fact; David Chase specifically wanted the women who cast this movie to cast The Sopranos because he was so impressed by how great a job they did filling this movie’s roles with people who felt right to him.
    8. Mission: Impossible – Sure, it took me nine years to understand just what the hell happened, but it was great fun. The night this opened, I went with my brother and a friend to first see Spy Hard, which was amusing. Then we walked uptown to a local BBQ restaurant for a bite to eat before returning to the theater to see Mission: Impossible. The clouds looked really weird while we were out, as though the Apocalypse was nigh.
    9. Independence Day – The big, dumb popcorn movie was tremendous fun when I was 17. I still recall choosing to overlook its failings in logic because it was just so much damn fun.
    10. My Fellow Americans – Okay, I’ve always had a problem with fictitious presidents because I mentally begin trying to fit them into our real life chronology and Jack Lemmon and James Garner effectively replaced Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and somehow Dan Aykroyd became Bill Clinton…with John Heard becoming Al Gore (but a whole lot more like George W. Bush). It makes my head spin to try to reconcile them with reality, but once I get past that…okay, it’s still a pretty average movie. But I had a lot of fun at the theater with it, and went back a second week to see it with another friend. We quickly saddled one of our other friends with the nickname, “Blinky” because of this movie. He was not happy when he learned what the connotation actually was, but by then it was too late.

    • Emil

      12 May, 2012 at 01:15

      Thank you for the in-depth comment, Travis! Always interesting to hear what you have to say. :)

      Sounds like 1996 was to you what 2008 was to me in terms of cinematic awakenings. I wonder if I’ll have the same sense of nostalgia towards my year as you have towards yorus, though. From what I gather, it wasn’t just about the movies for you, but the whole experience around seeing them and going to the theater. Plus, the age of 17 tends to be more memorable than 25, I reckon. Ah, youth.

      The image that has stuck with me from Kingpin through the years is Bill Murray’s gesturing and increasinly messed-up hair as the big game at the end goes on. That, and the cow milking gag, which me and a friend kept finding excuses to quote towards one another in high school (well, the closest Swedish equivalent). Other than the obvious picks of Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day, Kingpin is the film that cemented Murray as one of my favorite actors even in my pre-awakening days.

      Your picks are an interesting bunch, as always. I”ve seen five of them myself: From Dusk Til Dawn, The Rock, Happy Gilmore, Mission Impossible, and Independence Day. Other than Happy Gilmore, which I only caught for the first time the other year or so, neither are very fresh in my memories. I recall really enjoying The Rock – hence why it made my Honorable mentions – while the rest falls into the “enjoyably but not particularly outstanding” category for me. Odds are I’m wrong on at least a couple of them.

      Neither Lone Star nor My Fellow Americans have been on my radar previously. The latter is one I’ll certainly check out at some point. Lone Star doesn’t sound terribly interesting, but I do like me some Chris Cooper, and Kristofferson is one of those actors I’ll always associate with “cool” because he was in Payback.

      Tree’s Lounge is one I’ve been wanting to see for quite some time. Buscemi rarely fails to deliver, especially not when he gets a larger part to run with. Twister holds little appeal to me. Star Trek is… iffy. I’ve never watched any of the TV shows, and the only film I’ve seen is the 2009 one. I hear really good things about some of the movies, but equally bad things about others. And if I were to start on them, I’d probably feel the need to go through them all in order. Is that necessary, or is it okay to cherry-pick what to watch in the series? I mean, is there strong continuity between them?

      • Travis McClain

        12 May, 2012 at 09:34

        It’s also worth noting that 1996 was a presidential election year. Even though my birthday was just a few weeks after the election itself and I was unable to cast a vote in it, that was something that I followed pretty closely. It was not the beginning of my political awareness or interest, the way it was for me with movies, but it certainly had an influence on the way I perceived the world at large and film in particular. That’s a whole post unto itself, though, but I do feel it’s one more reason that 1996 looms so large in my memory.

        As for Bill Murray, I think he may never have been finer than he was in Wild Things. Without him, it’s still a solid movie…but with him, it’s flat-out great.

        I think you’d really like Lone Star. It’s a morally murky character film. It would make an interesting double feature with Trees Lounge, come to think of it.

        Regarding the Star Treks, the continuity goes like this:

        Star Trek (The Original Series)
        Star Trek: The Motion Picture – not at all important, really, and frankly dull; the director’s cut on DVD was much stronger than the theatrical cut or, God forbid, the even longer, original home video version. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is a genuine masterpiece, though.

        Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
        Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
        Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

        ^The above constitute a trilogy that very much connect directly with one another.

        Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – I’m an apologist and a fan, but most fans hate this one. It’s Star Trek‘s Batman & Robin, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Phantom Menace.

        Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – Largely a standalone story, really, though you’ll get a lot more of the throwaway references and care a lot more about supporting characters if you’ve seen the previous movies. My personal favorite.

        Star Trek: The Next Generation
        These movies feature the cast & crew of The Next Generation, which takes place ~80 years after the original series. You don’t really need to have seen much of anything Trek to follow any of these.

        Star Trek Generations – Transition film that brought Captain Kirk from the original series into the future for the purpose of 1) stunt story to draw crowds and 2) to pass the symbolic cinematic baton to the TNG troupe.

        Star Trek: First Contact – A direct sequel to a subplot from the TNG show, but the relevant bits are summarized for you very concisely. Very accessible, but if you want to do your homework, there are really only three episodes you “ought” to see first: “The Best of Both Worlds” Parts I & II and “Family.”

        Star Trek: Insurrection – Standalone movie, comparable in tone to The Voyage Home

        Star Trek: Nemesis – TNG swan song; even less liked than The Final Frontier. Biggest complaint I have is that John Logan’s script reads as glorified fanfic with way too many “homages” to past episodes and movies. Nothing particularly original to be found here.

        • Emil

          12 May, 2012 at 10:37

          Ah, Wild Things. I don’t think I’ve seen any other film so dedicated to throwing twists at the audience. Even the end credits can’t stop the plot developments! Murray is very good in that one, yes. I remember seeing that one back in my Kevin Bacon-hating days. My internal monologue during the opening credits:

          BILL MURRAY
          “What? Who the fuck gave Bacon permission to be in the same movie as the awesome Murray?”

          I have since grown to be quite fond of Mr. Bacon, of course.

          Thank you for the rundown on the Star Trek series of films. That should prove useful.

  9. Jandy

    14 May, 2012 at 23:28

    I’d definitely Fargo and Trainspotting high on my list, as well.

    But my first thought on opening this post…”Foxfire, hmm, never heard of that…HOLD UP, THAT’S JENNY LEWIS.” She’s my favorite singer EVAR. Had a brief film career in the ’90s as a teenager (apparently including this film), then moved more into music. She’s a better singer than she is actress, but she’s awesome in general. Now I must see this movie.

    • Emil

      15 May, 2012 at 08:00

      Oh! That’s the Jenny from Jenny and Johnny. Holy crap.

      I wish I could tell you anything about her performance in Foxfire, but memories are too hazy. She has a quite prominent role, at least.

  10. vinnieh

    12 July, 2012 at 09:50

    Great list, Haven’t seen Breaking the waves in ages but will watch after reading this.

    • Emil

      12 July, 2012 at 11:10

      Thank you! Breaking the Waves had me completely enthralled. One of those films that made me want to see everything its director has ever done, because if he’s capable of THIS, there might be greatness elsewhere in his filmography too.

      • vinnieh

        12 July, 2012 at 11:12

        From what I remember this was Watson’s movie debut. And what a debut it was!

        • Emil

          12 July, 2012 at 11:40

          Yeah, it seems this was indeed her first movie. Wow! I had no idea. Hell of an impressive debut indeed! According to Wikipedia, Watson was a last-minute replacement for Helena Bonham Carter, who had to drop out suddenly. I reckon Carter could have done a great job with the part, but no way would I trade away Watson for anyone in that movie.


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