Total Recall (1990)

Even in his escapist storytelling, Paul Verhoeven still finds a way to let the philosophical questions of identity and perception uncomfortably linger in our minds, sweeping us away on Total Recall’s waves of outlandish retrofuturism and thrilling set pieces that lead us into the depths of a Martian conspiracy, though never letting us forget the existential possibility of its unreality.

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A Little Princess (1995)

Like the fantastical fables Sara tells her fellow students in A Little Princess, her life in a 1910s New York boarding school takes the form of a whimsical fairy tale painted in evocative green palettes and drawn along a light thread of magical realism, each expressing Alfonso Cuarón’s deep love of stories that liberate prisoners of a cynical world.

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Philadelphia (1993)

Jonathan Demme’s camera is a vehicle of pure empathy in Philadelphia, as it is through his consistent yet versatile close-ups that he pulls such raw anger, melancholy, and yearning from Tom Hanks’ emotive performance, opening us up to the complicated struggle behind one gay man’s fight for justice against his prejudiced former employers.

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Trainspotting (1996)

Danny Boyle’s kinetic pacing, surreal trips, and intoxicating camerawork not only match the edgy vigour of Ewan McGregor’s cynical Scottish drug addict in Trainspotting, but he also uses them as distractions from the crushing despair lying just outside its bubble of energetic thrills, drifting through vignettes that stage a darkly comedic battle between primal temptation and sober stability.

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The Thin Red Line (1998)

There is a jarring contrast between Terrence Malick’s violent imagery and his affecting spiritual expressions in The Thin Red Line, but it is exactly this disparity upon which he hinges his condemnation of war as an ugly stain on the natural world, playing out the human struggle between dominance and grace through stirring, lyrical rhythms.

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Delicatessen (1991)

Within Delicatessen’s grotesque, dystopian France that sees a butcher kill his neighbours to sell their meat, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro construct a meticulously expressionistic world of absurdly outlandish set pieces which, while unsettling in their Gothic visage, savour the traces of whimsy that exist on the verge of extinction.

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