When Taylor Swift sings about stars aligning as she meets one of the many men of her dreams, I grimace. "Stars do not align! They never align! What does that even mean?!" I shout at her while listening to "Love Story" for the third time that morning on the train. Explaining the desirable outcome of an unprecedented combination of complementary events with the alignment of stars is a simplistic and ignorant approach to understanding anything. A complex and lengthy series of circumstances and decisions is what leads each of us to any given moment, not stellar synchronicity.
Having said that, "the stars aligned" may be the only explanation for 1995 being the greatest year in the history of movies. How else do we make sense out of the bounty that included no less than three Christina Ricci vehicles, career-bests for Ron Howard, Michael Mann, Mel Gibson, Richard Linklater, Amy Heckerling, Todd Haynes, and Clint Eastwood, the speedy ascension of Sandra Bullock's star, a talking pig, AND Showgirls? Individually, these movies aren't that great. In fact, few are better than merely charming, but as a collection of memories and personal influences, 1995 is unparalleled.
I can't possibly chalk this up to mere nostalgia, adolescent attachment, or cable TV's dedication to showing these movies exclusively and all the time. The stars aligned. That's it. That's what happened.
Comedies From 1995
In 1995 Todd Solondz introduced both himself and Heather Matarazzo to the world with the dark and hysterical independent classic Welcome to the Dollhouse; SNL alums Adam Sandler, David Spade, and Chris Farley put a flaming bag of poop on the doorsteps of critics everywhere as Billy Madison and Tommy Boy dominated the box office; Patrick Swayze dressed in drag and found himself nominated for a Golden Globe for the oddly touching and kind-hearted To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar; the world was given the first (and best) installment of the Friday franchise; and Empire Records taught us that the most important holiday is Rex Manning Day.
But the most important comedy of 1995, and one of the most important comedies, period, was Clueless. Honestly, where would we be without it? Tony Curtis once said, "Movies are part of my life, part of everybody’s life. That’s where we learn about life. Watching Cary Grant taught me how to behave with a woman, how to get dressed at night, how to go to a restaurant and order dinner.” First, take a moment to laugh at me for quoting Tony Curtis. Second, take a moment to realize just how much you learned from Cher Horowitz.
What do you do after a car accident? Leave a note.
What do you do if you have too many tardies? Blame the Crimson Wave.
What’s the most important word in the English language? Sporadically.
When you have no one else to date, who do you date? Your step-sibling.
Dramas From 1995
Much of it may have been funny, but 1995 also got very, very real. Kids was the dark and explicit tale about the realness of American youth giving one another AIDS, The Basketball Diaries had pre-Titanic Leo realness regarding school violence, Leaving Las Vegas was about the realness of addiction and Nicolas Cage’s talent, Dangerous Minds gave us Coolio-accompanied Michelle-Pfieffer-in-a-leather-jacket-with-a-shoulder-length-haircut realness, Powder was all about electromagnetic outcast realness, Safe marked one of the first times America said, “Damn, Julianne Moore is great at giving us realness,” Showgirls was the opposite of realness — which made it absolutely (and excruciatingly) real, and Waiting to Exhale translated “realness” to, simply, “shoop.”
But what drama threw us the most realness in 1995?
Apollo 13 was the most important drama of 1995 for three reasons:
1. That vest.
2. That Hanks.
3. That re-entry scene. Even independent of the complete film, it’s difficult to watch that moment without getting goosebumps — and it’s completely James Horner’s fault.
Action Films/Thrillers From 1995
Mel Gibson’s Braveheart won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1995, but it wasn’t the only critically acclaimed action film released that year. Though some praise was far from immediate, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, David Fincher’s Seven, Michael Mann’s Heat, Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, and Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide all won over critics and audiences eventually. But the most important action/thrillers from 1995 didn’t care about critics, they cared about one thing and one thing only: making us all simultaneously fascinated by and terrified of something called “The Internet.”
According to The Net and Hackers, the Internet is a great place where you can order pizza, chat with friends, listen to Annie Lennox, and control your local TV station’s programming. Also according to The Net and Hackers, the Internet is a terrifying place where FISHER STEVENS AND JEREMY NORTHAM WANT TO RUIN YOUR LIFE.
The Net and Hackers are what made me love the internet, and this was a 12 years before Tumblr even launched. Someone once told me that Mark Zuckerburg would have gone into horticulture had he not seen The Net and Hackers in 1995. I made that up, but it’s probably true.
Family Films From 1995
If you threw a rock in 1995, you’d hit a great family movie. They were all over the place, and most of them starred Christina Ricci and The Acronym Known As JTT.
1995 marked Christina Ricci's final year as a high-profile child star. Her leading roles in Casper, Now and Then, and the underseen Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain proved not only that she had the strength to headline a movie, but that an adult career was all but inevitable. It was essentially her final year as a high-profile child star, as she would transition to adult actress with 1997's The Ice Storm as a character who is really just a more socially conscious and sexually experimental version of Now and Then's Roberta.
Ricci's longevity notwithstanding, an arguably more popular star at the time was Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who broke the hearts of tweens across the country with his "I don't give a flip" attitude and middle-child antics in Man of the House and Tom and Huck. Both films were objectively terrible, but charming and harmless enough to warrant their clamshells' addition in every mid-'90s family's VHS library. Or, if you were the type of person who didn't want to tell your parents to buy you two Jonathan Taylor Thomas movies on VHS, you'd just record their eventual TV broadcast on Extended Play because picture quality didn't really become important to you until high school.
Also notable in 1995 were the movie-about-a-game-turned-actual-game-turned-phenomenon-that-I'm-not-certain-was-ever-actually-a-phenomenon, Jumanji, and one of the best and most critically-acclaimed family films ever released, Babe. Jumanji stands out in my memory as having been a "big deal," and Babe stands out in my memory as having been "that thing I'd rather be watching than left field of this stupid little-league game ugh I hate this why am I playing this no one ever hits to left field."
When given the choice between watching Babe, Jumanji, Now and Then, or Casper in 1995, children across the country would black out, become comatose, and wake up days later in the hospital after being diagnosed with stress-related exhaustion. As the rats on Hoggett's farm sang, "If I had words to make a day for you, I'd sing you a day filled with repeat viewings of Babe, Jumanji, Now and Then, and Casper. Then I'd order us a Bigfoot from Pizza Hut."
Romances From 1995
Oh yeah. I haven’t covered romances yet. That one’s easy:
Sure, there are plenty of better movies than the ones discussed above, but if told I could only watch releases from a single year for the rest of my life, I’d choose 1995. There’s no question. 1995 was the best year ever for movies because its perfect assortment of comedy, action, drama, and romance made me who I am today. And even though who I am today is the type of person who will put the rest of the world on hold if Now and Then is on television, I’m absolutely okay with that.
Previously: Pop-Cultural Recaps in Screenplay Form.
Bobby Finger is also a fan of 1996.