1. Fargo Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
2. The Delta Written and directed by Ira Sachs
A coming-of-age story in which no one really comes of age; a brilliantly acted movie with a cast of nonactors; a film that depicts interlocking cultural worlds without the P.C. superficiality that often mars such pictures.
3. Flirting with Disaster Written and directed by David O. Russell
This screwball road movie is by far the funniest film to star Ben Stiller, but that just scratches the surface of its merits. It has a deep bench, and some of its best pleasures involve the supporting players, from Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin as aging desert hippies to Josh Brolin and Richard Jenkins as gay feds in love.
4. Bring the Pain Directed by Keith Truesdell Written by Chris Rock
The most essential hour of stand-up comedy to be recorded in the 1990s.
5. Microcosmos Written and directed by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou
No angels, just insects.
6. Conspirators of Pleasure Written and directed by Jan Svankmajer
Cinema's greatest surrealist since Bunuel spins a weird web of fetishes and invisible connections. A romantic comedy on bad acid.
7. Breaking the Waves Directed by Lars von Trier Written by von Trier and Peter Asmussen
A rarity at the cineplex: a nuanced look at faith.
8. The Wife Written and directed by Tom Noonan, from his play
A dark comedy, or perhaps a bleakly comic drama, about an unplanned encounter between a manipulative New Age therapist, one of his patients, and their wives. Constantly unsettling, as though the characters' mind games are spilling off the screen.
9. Paradise Lost Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
A modern witch hunt is captured on film. The result is another rarity: an investigative documentary that makes a genuinely compelling case rather than an outline of a case best read elsewhere.
10. I Shot Andy Warhol Directed by Mary Harron Wirtten by Harron, Daniel Minahan, and Jeremiah Newton
"Valerie Solanas took the elevator, got off at the fourth floor..."
11. Kingpin (Bobby and Peter Farrelly) 12. Personal Belongings (Steven Bognar) 13. Three Lives and Only One Death (Raoul Ruiz) 14. Welcome to the Dollhouse (Todd Solondz) 15. Gabbeh (Mohsen Makhmalbaf) 16. Schizopolis (Steven Soderbergh) 17. Citizen Ruth (Alexander Payne) 18. When We Were Kings (Leon Gast) 19. Forgotten Silver (Costa Botes, Peter Jackson) 20. Capitaine Conan (Bertrand Tavernier)
N.B.: According to the IMDB, The Wife and Forgotten Silver technically debuted in 1995. That may well be true, but I left them out when I posted my 1995 list last year and I wouldn't want them to be lost on the cutting room floor.