News And Commentary – Last List: The Greatest Films of the 1980s and 1990s

Finally, the fifth and last list of favorites—twenty-five films from the 1980s and 1990s.  Again, and as always, it’s important to follow the Rules of the Game, but one reminder I will mention explicitly: only one director per list (and so any other films from that director which would have otherwise found a place on the list follow in italics).  Wonderful films abound here—great films have always been made, and will always be made, even in the most dire of cultural settings.  But on the American front in particular, the drop off from the heights of the sixties and seventies is too profound to ignore.  (For example, the seventies list had a whopping Ten of the twenty-five all-time greatest; these two decades net Three.)  The sudden collapse of the New Hollywood (1967-1976) accounts for much of this.  Some of its wounds were self-inflicted, others the result of demographic and social changes (from Nixon and Vietnam to Disco and Reagan), and there was also the seismic transformation of the industry.  Yes, I’m still looking at you, Star Wars – an old-fashioned underdog good-guys versus daunting bad-guys yarn (wonder who wins?) that I watched with pleasure – but which was, nevertheless, the first film that was a toy store with a movie attached.  Now the (money-making) rule rather than the exception, it was sort of the opposite everything the New Hollywood was about.  But of course these shifts were about much, much more than that.  I discuss these changes in the concluding chapter of Hollywood’s Last Golden Age, but I also summarize some of these themes in a much shorter essay here.   

Thanks to everybody who offered comments on (and objections to) the previous lists.  Such contestation – joyous contestation as one member of my (day-job) profession once called it – is the stuffing of great conversation.  And so, finally – and as always listed in order of (local) domestic release date and with an asterisk* indicating membership on the first list of twenty-five “all-time greats” – here are jewels in the crown of the eighties and the nineties:


Ordinary People (Redford, 1980)

Raging Bull (Scorsese, 1980)     Goodfellas (1990)

Prince of the City (Lumet, 1981)

My Dinner with Andre (Malle, 1981)*     Vanya on Forty-Second Street (1994)

Fanny and Alexander (Bergman, 1982)*

Confidentially Yours (Truffaut, 1983)

Love Streams (Cassavetes, 1984)

Love Unto Death (Resnais, 1984)    Melo (1986)

Police (Pialat, 1985)    A Nos Amours (1983)

Round Midnight (Tavernier, 1986)    Life and Nothing But (1989)

Wings of Desire (Wenders, 1987)

The Dead (Huston, 1987)

Sex, Lies and Videotape (Soderbergh, 1989)

Crimes and Misdemeanors (Allen, 1989)   Hannah and Her Sisters (1986); Another Woman (1988); Husbands & Wives (1992)

Drugstore Cowboy (Van Sant, 1989)

La Belle Nioseuse (Rivette, 1991)     Secret Defense (1998)

One False Move (Franklin, 1992)

A Heart in Winter (Sautet, 1992)

Short Cuts (Altman, 1993)  

Red (Kieslowski, 1994)*     Blue (1993); Dekalog (1989-1990)

Carrington (Hampton, 1995)

Autumn Tale (Rohmer, 1998)    A Tale of Springtime (1990)

Late August, Early September (Assayas, 1998)

The Color of Lies (Chabrol, 1999)     Cop Au Vin (1985)

Magnolia (Anderson, 1999)     Boogie Nights (1997)