best film:  Heat from Michael Mann.

  • Heat is both the summation of Michael Mann’s previous efforts, and an artist at his clear peak. After his biggest financial success in 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans, he had the juice to go back to his urban jungle—cops vs. thieves—and do it with the long awaited meeting of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen (the two had been dancing around each other for decades after working together, but separately, in The Godfather: Part II). Mann here does not look to tell a cop versus thief story—he looks to tell THE cop versus thief story—on an epic canvas that no one had done before.
  • Pacino plays Lieutenant Vincent Hanna and De Niro plays master thief Neil McCauley. They are on opposite sides of the law but have very much in common. They are both so dedicated to their respective crafts that it rises to the level of art. There is an obvious admiration and mutual respect between the two.

Kurosawa’s High and Low is mentioned by a few critics for taking the crime genre to the top of the cinematic art form…. if Kurosawa’s masterpiece spends roughly half the film in Mifune’s character’s grand apartment— I want a movie that takes place entirely here in McCauley’s place.

  • Mann staked his claim to the mantle of one of the art form’s greatest action auteurs with the real effect set piece work. The opening heist, the sound design, the semi-truck—this obviously influenced the likes of Christopher Nolan. There is no The Dark Knight without Heat.

The 21-minute mark has one of the greatest one minute segments in 1990s cinema. This is the blue day for night scene at McCauley’s home. First, there is the gun on the coffee table- a phenomenal photograph. Then De Niro’s McCauley holds for a sublime cinematic painting in front of a wall of windows in his home overlooking the sea. The cool sheen of the home tells you about his financial successes as a brilliant thief and meticulous nature—but the scene and image is also a way for Mann to portray McCauley’s melancholic isolation. Don Siegel has a similar shot in Dirty Harry, but I also think you have the mention the cove sequences and sapphire color in Melville’s Army of Shadows as well.Mann gives you another look at the emptiness he feels when he dines with his crew and they all have a loved one with them except for McCauley.

  • If you are discussing the collision of acting artists in Pacino and De Niro you have to give the edge to De Niro here as Pacino blinks first. They are both excellent, but Pacino’s improvisations often distract- he is singing, “I’m Donald Duck” and “get killed walking your doggy” – it just needs to be just reined in a little (you’ll notice the theatrics are downplayed in the marvelous coffee shop scene with De Niro). I love a good larger than life, drug-induced (cocaine addict according to Pacino), swaggering character and performance—but this just needs to be dialed back.

The bank heist set-piece is at the 102-minute mark. The sound design is justifiably legendary. No shootout had sounded like this before. The music score (which magnificently drapes most of the film) drops out, there is glass shattering, the gunshots seem to rattle the screen… towards the end of the film with the final duel, the airport sound design will leave your jaw on the floor as well.

  • The narrative is just a smooth crime drama machine in motion—writing that would make any great writer jealous like “for me, the action is the juice”.
  • Mann utilizes these gorgeous tight shallow focus close-ups during the final meeting of cop and thief.
  • The final frame at the 166-minute mark with Pacino’s Hanna embracing McCauley is held—an absolute stunner of a composition that fittingly ends this masterpiece.



most underrated:   Cuaron’s work in the 1990s needs saving (none of his three films are on the TSPDT consensus top 1000) so I want to acknowledge A Little Princess missing from the consensus list here. But, the choice for this category in 1995 is 12 Monkeys. It does not land on the consensus top 1000 list at all.

  • 12 Monkeys finds Terry Gilliam back in the world of retro looking future dystopias (Brazil) and this dense (and genius) narrative is a perfect match for the Gilliam aesthetic.
  • a near constant use of the canted/dutch angle– Gilliam is surely an acolyte of Welles– even more here than his previous efforts
  • heavy use of the wideangle lens- disorientation, surveillance and paranoia– a perfect stylistic visual choice for the narrative and larger Gilliam aesthetic
  • look to the ceiling as a reference point- Gilliam puts the world of 12 Monkeys at an angle again and again
  • The quirky looking hazmat suit, the exposed duct/pipe design set up in the credits like we’re in Antonioni’s Red Desert. It is worth noting that as we go through the time zones (it is a complex set up)—which include 1917, 1990, 1996 and 2035 it isn’t just the 2035 future that is meticulously designed. Gilliam’s Philadelphia in 1996 is a nightmare. There’s a powerful scene of Tom Waits screaming on the radio as they enter the city in disorienting low-angle shots of the high rises

That aesthetic includes his hoarder/garbage art production design detail and his wild choices with camera angles and lenses- including the canted/dutch angle


  • Gilliam shows the high and low angles of the empty city in the opening
  • Bruce Willis is admirable in the lead-but he proves worthy of the casting when many had their doubts in 1995 (he’s obviously a huge star at the time but not known for his acting chops—his back to back 1994 and 1995 with this and Pulp Fiction largely put that to rest). It is Brad Pitt who steals every scene he’s in playing Jeffrey Goines- a man riddled with ticks and monologues (diatribes on sanity and germs). He’s on the screen for maybe 10 minutes and goes nuts 3-4 times— it is a very good role.
  • There is constant doubling in the narrative and the visuals- repeatedly questioning the reality of what we’re watching. We get the shower/cleaning/delousing both underground in the mental hospital. We get the panel of doctors in a row just like the panel of scientists/leaders in the underground future. There’s the blurring of characters, objects and lines from the screenplay over the timeline that is very well done. The Cassandra complex, the Vertigo tree rings scenes– there’s a puzzle factor to the film but it holds up to repeat viewings after the mysteries are revealed. It is based on Chris Marker’s La Jetée (Gilliam claims to have never seen it) — an impressively intelligent and ambitious Hollywood undertaking.
  • Like Brazil’s fantasy cutaways, and the red knight cutaways in The Fisher King-  Gilliam uses the white out slow motion dream sequences here to intercut into the main narrative. This is obviously a trait of Gilliam’s at this point.
  • Gilliam’s reoccurring overhead shot here- overhead in a solitary cell—same as Brazil and Fisher King
  • Paul Buckmaster score is a sort of blend of the Seinfeld jingle and the zither score from Anton Karas in The Third Man


A Little Princess is  the strongest of Cuaron’s three 1990s films—sort of the “green trilogy” (my term- sorry I am not more creative) before exceling with Y Tu Mama Tambien in 2001—they are all worthy of study.

It is breathtaking to look at—sort of baffling that Disney let Cuaron get away with this much avant garde artistry. Nominations for production design (worthy for sure) and Emmanuel Lubezki- his first- of course deserving. With another viewing Cuaron’s work may climb higher on 1995’s top 10.


most overrated:   Emir Kusturica’s Underground is #294 on the all-time TSPDT consensus list which makes it #1 for 1995. The consensus top 11 of 1995 also has room for Babe, Toy Story and Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County.


gems I want to spotlight:    The City of Lost Children from Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet has impressive worldbuilding and sits somewhere in the sphere of Gilliam and Guillermo del Toro.


what a year for Iranian cinematographer Darius Khondji who shot both The City of Lost Children (here) and Se7en

post Greenaway but before Wes Anderson

a sublime cinematic painting from The City of Lost Children


trends and notables:

  • For whatever the reason, eight of the top ten films from 1995 are from American directors
  • Casino, Heat, Safe, Se7en… is 1995 the year of the one-word titles? Haha. Ok, but seriously 1995 is notable because it marks the summit for both Michael Mann and Jim Jarmusch. These are two top 100 auteurs with such distinct voices.

Dead Man is easily Jarmusch’s most beautiful film visually from a photographic standpoint at this point in his career in 1995.  Ebert called Jarmusch a poet—two decades before Jarmusch’s Paterson would be about an everyman poet.  Robby Muller is the DP again- immaculate work- this is at the level Kings of the Road which is Wim Wenders (Jarmusch’s buddy) most beautiful film. Neil Young’s achievement here with the music is incalculable—again we have a nod at Wim Wenders (clearly an influence on Jarmusch) with the Ry Cooder score for Paris, Texas– minimal, haunting work by Young.

The editing is crucial—Jarmusch fades to black between each scene like he does with Stranger Than Paradise. It lulls you in—you pair it with the evocative photography and the repetitious and radiant score—you feel the dream state Jarmusch is going for in tone. The fantastic short film train opening- very elliptical- Depp’s William Blake sleeps and wakes up seeing the passengers and window landscape scenery get more and more wild/western. Jarmusch cuts back and forth to the train itself (exterior) – this editing is Ozu.

  • In 1995 Scorsese is playing his greatest hits here with Casino but the vibrancy in the visual and stylistic filmmaking is not stale in the slightest. Yes, it is clearly inferior to Goodfellas,  but it is still an artistically ambitious work from one of the greatest auteurs of all time.

Casino is often viewed through the lens of Goodfellas. My reaction is normally to reject this—no, this isn’t one of the best 20-25 films of all-time—but it is better than almost anything else and should be appreciated in that regard. But, it is complex because film studies and evaluation are not done in a vacuum—there is a history here both in Scorsese’s oeuvre and Scorsese’s relation to cinema’s artistic past. – almost all of Kubrick’s films are different from each other—but Hitchcock often made and remade similar films or flat out remade himself (The 39 Steps/North by Northwest or literally remaking his own film with The Man Who Knew Too Much) or take Ozu for example, he remade Floating Weeds and his Late Spring/Early Summer/Tokyo Story/Late Autumn all have so much in common in content and visually. These films – including Goodfellas and Casino– cement the legacy of their auteurs- they share a distinct (not from each other, but for their artist) style- they do not diminish.

  • Tom Hanks is a massive star in 1995. This is the final leg of the Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and Apollo 13 three year run (and throw in a vocal credit for Toy Story). Many thought he would win his third consecutive best actor Oscar in 1995 (losing to Nic Cage eventually). Apollo 13 is the second biggest box office hit in 1995.

1995 marks the first of the “Before” film trilogy (Sunrise– 1995, Sunset- 2004, and Midnight- 2013. I hope there are more in the series from Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Before Sunrise makes for the third top 10 of the year film for Linklater so far in the 1990s.

Linklater retraces the steps of Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) through this Ozu- like gorgeous, lyrical cutaways of the empty places where the two were earlier that day/night. Woody does something similar to open Interiors (1978) as does Charlie Kaufman in I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020).

  • Todd Haynes may not quite be Linklater or Tarantino but with Safe he announces himself as a worthy part of that 1990s indie new wave class.

from Safe – a special dedication to mise-en-scene and interior design- some of it looks like it  enveloping Julianne Moore’s Carol character. This is an astonishing performance from Moore. Haynes largely uses medium to medium long shots with the suburban affluence taking over her almost – I adore the slow tracking shot in on her with her “help” all around her in her mansion.

Even during a scene where she breaks down– Haynes holds it in longer shot  distance letting the mise-en-scene play a part. The film slows a bit at the ranch with dialogue (otherwise this would be a masterpiece)—I prefer the opening sections of the film with Haynes’ framing taking effect on Moore ‘s Carol.

  • Toy Story might actually be the closest thing we have to a technological landmark in 1995. It is the beginning of Pixar and the first film of note to make the switch from drawing animation (around since essentially the 1930s) to digital computer animation.
  • 1995 is Noah Baumbach’s true debut– Kicking and Screaming. Baumbach is age 26.
  • For actors we have firsts for Gwyneth Paltrow (daughter of archiveable actress Bythe Danner) in Se7en where she is very impressive.. Paltrow is the sole bright spark in the film—and it is formally fitting that she is snuffed out—devastating. And she is dazzling in her few scenes.
  • We also have a first for a young Casey Affleck in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. Van Sant should be praised for helping to discover and foster young acting talents throughout his career (Matt Dillion, Matt Damon later, River Phoenix).


best performance male:  Robert De Niro is lights out in the first (Heat) and fourth (Casino) best films of the year. He deserves two mentions for 1995- and he definitely had the edge on Pacino in Heat if you are ranking performances in this film. So, the answer to this category in 1995 is De Niro. De Niro has strong contenders behind him though in 1995. Johnny Depp gives the best performance of his career in Dead Man. His comedic blank stare is perfect for the Jarmuscian style. I wish these two would have worked together again. Depp’s work definitely feels like a nod to Buster Keaton with his ironic deadpan. Depp’s performance here is pivotal to the brilliance of the film- he underplays it perfectly- he lets all the loud noises come from around him.  Joe Pesci riffs on his Goodfellas performance with his work in Casino– the napoleonic Nicky Santoro. He walks like a bulldog. De Niro and Pesci are doing great work together and they make for such great sparring partners (here, Raging Bull)—it is a testament to both that the other is not just blown off the screen. Brad Pitt gets a joint nominee here for his work in both Se7en and 12 Monkeys. Kevin Spacey very much deserved the best supporting Oscar for his work in The Usual Suspects (throw in a bone chilling performance as John Doe in Se7en for the cherry on top for 1995). Morgan Freeman rounds out the trio from Se7en getting a mention here. His work in Fincher’s film is no less than Pitt or Spacey- he just does not have the second 1995 film to add to the resume. Still, this is a mention in back to back years for Freeman in this category- the best stretch of his career for sure. Speaking of career peaks, though his single best performance may be from Die Hard in 1988—Bruce Willis is here again in 1995 for 12 Monkeys after his work here with Tarantino from 1994’s Pulp Fiction. Vincent Cassel arrives like a bat out of hell in La Haine. All of these actors are mesmerizing in their work here in 1995—very strong year for this category.


Pesci and De Niro as perfect sparring partners – and this shot is a few years before Gilliam would try something similar in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas– Scorsese here has Pesci and De Niro driving down the strip at dutch angles or canted angles to let the neon lights bounce off the car window- brilliant.

Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine- featuring a tour de force performance by Vincent Cassel


best performance female: There are three very worthy standouts here in 1995. Julianne Moore leads the way with her work in Todd Haynes’ Safe. Moore plays Carol. She’s like a Lynne Ramsay vessel—full of internalizations and ambiguity.   Carol is retreating, frail- weight loss for Moore with the physical performance. Sharon Stone is next for Casino. Sharon Stone holds her own with Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci. Stone is intoxicatingly beautiful one minute and just about equally bat-$hit crazy the next- and truly excels at both sides of that coin. Susan Sarandon slides into a slot here for 1995 with Dead Man Walking. She does not land for 1995 alone- but this marks the third exceptional performance (Bull Durham in 1988, Thelma & Louise in 1991) on a borderline top 10 of the year film this felt fitting to finally add a mention for her.

Susan Sarandon opposite of Sean Penn off the glass here Tim Robbins’ Dead Man Walking– a powerful film about the death penalty. Sarandon has been around for decades at this point (Joe in 1970 her first in the archives) but this, Bull Durham and Thelma & Louis prove that she is one of the best of the late 1980s and early 1990s.


top 10

  1. Heat
  2. Dead Man
  3. Se7en
  4. Casino
  5. Twelve Monkeys
  6. Safe
  7. The Usual Suspects
  8. La Haine
  9. Before Sunrise
  10. A Little Princess


A low angle dazzler of a frame from Se7en. With Gordon Willis inactive at the time and beyond (he actually had one credit post 1995 and it was with Pitt in The Devil’s Own) I would like to officially call Fincher the master of darkness from this point on. This is a perfect marriage of content and style—the film is so dark, sadistic, nihilistic and medieval. The opening credits are a short film experimental  piece of cinema gold. Fincher’s background in music videos (George Michael “Freedom”, Madonna “Vogue”) pays off in only his second film, a borderline masterpiece at age 33.

Chef’s kiss on the location scouting. This movie has been made a dozen time before and since (not on this level at all) but often the killer and/or the final showdown is a dud—but not here– far far from it. A character built up and talked about the entire movie must live up to the hype as Ebert says and Spacey and this film crush it. Other examples of this working are Apocalypse Now and The Third Man.

a marvelous composition from The Usual Suspects– Singer was 30 when he directed it—he would never really fulfill the promise of this debut.

The Usual Suspects is first and foremost a masterful screenplay- won the Oscar.  Certainly, it has noir elements in the film- some from 1949’s D.O.A (flashback structure of course, seedy elements and a few from 1950’s Asphalt Jungle– (the collection of a group of criminals).

the film deploys the brilliant dueling narrative structure of the progressing traditional flashback story and the interrupting interrogation

this sublime frame is from Dolores Claiborne

a prolific stretch from WKW- Fallen Angels here in 1995

nobody does urban nocturnal ennui like WKW

Ghost in the Shell- with a shot here worthy of an art museum wall

the influence of Spike Lee felt even abroad- in La Haine

a very handsome composition from Braveheart. Mel Gibson’s film won many awards in 1995 and it is a strong film. Rob Roy shares much in common with it and that is worth seeking out as well. Gibson’s film was shot by John Toll who put together a nice body of work in the 1990s winning best cinematography in back to back years in 1994 and 1995 with this and Legends of the Fall. He would also serve as Malick’s DP on The Thin Red Line (1998)


Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Little Princess – Cuaron HR
Apollo 13 – Howard R/HR
Babe- Noonan R
Before Sunrise- Linklater HR/MS
Braveheart- Gibson R
Casino – Scorsese MS/MP
Clockers – S. Lee R
Clueless – Heckerling R
Crimson Tide- T. Scott R
Cyclo- Tran Anh Hung R
Dead Man – Jarmusch MP
Dead Man Walking- Robbins HR
Devil in a Blue Dress- Franklin R
Dolores Claiborne- Hackford R
Fallen Angels- WKW HR
Get Shorty- Sonnenfeld R
Ghost in the Shell – Oshii HR
Heat – M. Mann MP
Il Postino – Radford
Kicking and Screaming- Baumbach R
La Ceremonie – Chabrol R/HR
La Haine- Kassovitz MS
Leaving Las Vegas- Figgis HR
Maborosi – Koreeda,
Mighty Aphrodite- Allen R
Nixon- Stone HR
Richard III- Loncraine R
Rob Roy- Caton-Jones R
Safe – Haynes MS
Sense and Sensibility- A. Lee R
Se7en – Fincher MS/MP
Shanghai Triad- Yimou Zhang R
Strange Days – Bigelow R
The Bridges of Madison County – Eastwood R
The City of Lost Children- Jeunet HR
The Flower of My Secret- Almodovar R
The Usual Suspects – Singer MS
To Die For- Van Sant R
Toy Story – Lasseter R/HR
12 Monkeys – Gilliam MS
Ulysses’ Gaze – Angelopoulos
Underground- Kusturica HR
Welcome to the Dollhouse – Solondz R
White Balloon- Panahi


*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives