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Iconic American films of the 1990s

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IFI’s Essential Cinema

Essential Cinema is the IFI’s decade-by-decade look at masterpieces of American cinema, programmed in conjunction with The National Film School at IADT. This April it’s time to take a look at the 1990s, with a short programme of the decade’s key titles, each preceded by a short introduction from IADT lecturer, Tom Kennedy.

In filmmaking terms, the 1990s were not a radical decade. Scorsese and Altman did not disappoint with Goodfellas and Short Cuts, but it was relative newcomers such Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, and Wes Anderson who began carving out their own, very different territory. And then the writer/director Minnesota brothers, the Coens, finally achieved a breakout hit with Fargo after which ‘police work’ would never be the same.

Revisionist Western Unforgiven (April 1st, 18.15) kicks off Essential Cinema’s look at the decade with a kind of farewell. Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, the film sees him as a retired gunfighter who has turned his back on killing and wants to live quietly on his farm. But tempted by the old ways, he decides to take one last gun-for-hire job.

Countless memorable scenes and lines combined with the Coens’ meticulously detailed direction gained them a host of new fans and a firm place in contemporary American cinema with Fargo (April 8th, 18.30), a gem of a thriller which contrasts the horror of crime with the values of small town life, through the person of indomitable police chief and very pregnant Marge (a storming Frances McDormand).
A screenplay by Charlie Kaufman directed by Spike Jonze was bound to yield something fantastically nutty. Being John Malkovich (April 29th, 18.30), a glimpse at what might be the life of the movie star, as revealed through John Cusack’s failed puppeteer, keeps the viewers on their toes as they try to figure out just who is mocking whom. The genius of the film is that amid the in-jokes and absurd situations there’s a pertinent examination of identity, celebrity and who actually controls our actions.