The great fraud of our streaming age is the illusion of infinite content. We've done away with physical media because many of us believe that the internet, with its hundreds of streaming services, contains everything. But anyone who has been to Seattle's Scarecrow Video knows this isn't true. The nonprofit video store, which happens to be the largest physical media library in the world, encourages people from all over the country to rent from their 130,000+ titles. You can get lost in their rows of silent films, giallos, rare pornos...
Every Friday, we write about four films available at Scarecrow that you can't find on major US streaming services in our column Unstreamable. We're not anti-streaming, we just strongly agree that it's important to curate your own film journey—outside of restrictive algorithms.
For fun, this week we've organized 10 of our picks from the 1990s, choosing one film from each year in the decade. We'll start with the year 1990, Wild at Heart, and horny hands...
USA, 1990, 125 min, Dir. David Lynch
We spend a lot of time talking about Quentin Tarantino's foot fetish and not enough time talking about David Lynch's hand fetish. The dude clearly has a thing for elegant hands with brilliant manicures. It really stood out to me while rewatching Wild at Heart. The film features a horned-up, wild Lula (Laura Dern) constantly having melodramatic sex with the horned-up, wild Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage). During their humping, the camera almost always ends up pivoting from their energetic faps to Dern's hand; perfectly posed, fluttering with blood, often lying on a pretty sheet. Maybe if we put enough of these male directors together we can finally get a director who's obsessed with a whole woman. (Or, hire more female directors.)
I have a hard time focusing during Lynch's films, but so many of Wild at Heart's extreme scenes stick with me: The opening, which revs up from a polite Southern gathering to a brutal head-bashing in seconds; the scene where Ripley hijacks a microphone to sing while girls excitedly scream in the background, but they're pitched up to sound like eagles; the scene where Lulu pulls over her car because she can't handle the negativity of news radio, so she makes Ripley put on some hardcore music and then they rage in a pasture. The whole film is, as they say, hotter than Georgia asphalt. Especially those hands. CHASE BURNS
USA, 1991, 118 min, Dir. Mira Nair
In 1972, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expelled approximately 80,000 South Asians from the country, wanting to make way for “ethnic Ugandans.” Displaced, this Asian minority had nowhere to go. Mississippi Masala follows a Ugandan-Indian family who ends up in Greenwood, Mississippi, living in a motel owned by their extended family. The father grapples with having to forcibly leave his home, but his daughter Mina (Sarita Choudhury) acclimates to the American lifestyle—she likes dancing, drinking, and eventually falls in love with a very hot black carpet cleaner named Demetrius (Denzel Washington!!!). Does the film have a beautiful, complex interracial relationship where both characters learn, grow, and have hot sex? Yes! Does it dissect the very real, racist dynamics between minority groups often pitted against each other in a way that's neither condescending or boring? Yes! Does it understand the concept of home and belonging as a displaced person twice over? Yes! People, I’m crying over this film!!! JASMYNE KEIMIG
Japan, 1992, 105 minutes, Dir. Masayuki Suo
I've been on a bit of a Masayuki Suo kick. I've watched three of the Japanese director's biggest movies in a row, starting with Shall We Dance? (which is best known for its horrible 2004 US remake), then Fancy Dance (about a Tokyo punk rocker who becomes a monk), and then Sumo Do, Sumo Don't (about a college slacker who is forced to join his school's failing sumo team). Suo's films tend to use the same cast and conflict structure (a hip slacker must attempt to do something traditional, like become a Buddhist monk or learn sumo wrestling). I'd like to write about all of his films for the column but that would be boring, so: Sumo Do, Sumo Don't.
It's homoerotic. Suo combines hip young styles of the early '90s with traditional sumo, which results in his male lead often being naked except for a Keith Haring-printed baseball cap, sumo sash (mawashi), and sneakers. I would watch that porn. The plot is not too complicated: The terrible sumo club at a college has no enrollees, then it slowly gathers a few misfits, then those misfits become popular, then they get slightly better at sumo, etc, etc. The final sumo matches are genuinely exciting. So much so that I started watching sumo wrestling on YouTube. It's a sport I can understand. There are two people in a circle. They have to push each other out. That's basically it. No constant stop-and-starting, like in football. Just brute force, tradition, and a whole lot of ass. CHASE BURNS
UK | USA | Japan, 1993, 104 min, Dir. Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton
The concept of a "guilty pleasure" is stupid—if you like something you like something; guilt can be unlearned. But if I had to have a guilty pleasure it would be Super Mario Bros. The early-90s live-action adaptation of the popular video game series follows John Leguizamo as Luigi and Bob Hoskins as Mario as they plumb their way to save the world. Cool guy Dennis Hooper plays the main villain. Everything is very stylized and weird.
I'm pretty sure this movie is an early gay root for me. It's practically kinky. (The RuPaul-led gay conversion therapy camp in But I'm a Cheerleader presents the idea of a gay "root"—an image, experience, or sensation that causes someone to be gay. This isn't a real thing, but I love the idea that something like a Madonna music video could turn someone gay.) In Super Mario Bros., Mario is Luigi's daddy. Mario likes muscle-women who can slap him around. Luigi is both trade and a twink. Fiona Shaw is in the movie, too, and sports a witchy sensuality. Listen, my eyes were WIDE watching this as a kid. Don't get me started on the dinosaurs. CHASE BURNS
USA | UK | France, 1994, 105 minutes, Dir. Hal Hartley
As for Amateurs itself, the film revolves around Isabelle helping a man (Martin Donovan) recover his identity after he wakes in the middle of a New York street forgetting who he is. They both get sucked into a shadowy and actually-kinda-underdeveloped ring of violence and murder based on this man's mysterious past. The movie is an intoxicating blend of fuzzy '90s rock ("Girls Girls Girls" by Liz Phair pops up to my delight), melodramatic death sequences, pornos, TERF bangs, and trauma-induced amnesia. It is good—but Huppert's Isabelle pining to get her holes filled is the best part. JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1995, 145 min, Dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Strange Days feels eerily resonant today, despite its ballooned and overambitious script and runtime (it all made sense once the credits rolled and I saw "Screenplay by James Cameron"). Set in Los Angeles during the final days of the last century, Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny Nero, an ex-cop who deals illegal "SQUID" recordings, a futuristic technology that can record the memories and feelings of its wearer for later playback. Lenny gets tangled up in some messy shit when someone slips him a disk containing a memory of a violent sexual assault and murder. He ends up dragging his hot friend Mace (Angela Bassett) into the fray as the world counts down to the big and scary 2-0-0-0.
Released in 1995, four years before the events of the film were meant to happen, this pseudo-future reflects the issues of the year it was made: the platform of politically conscious rappers, police brutality, the explosive growth in tech. It's a great watch with some outstanding extensive POV shots. Heads up: there's a brutal scene of sexual assault about a third of the way through. JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1996, 100 min, Dir. Steve Rash
I picked out Eddie because I recently discovered that Frank Langella and Whoopi Goldberg were partners, which surprised me. Frank Langella? The guy who played Richard Nixon and Count Dracula? (I've always thought Whoopi gave off serious lesbian vibes, but I've been told we have to believe people when they say they're straight.) Langella is known for playing men who are dashing and powerful and dom but blind to boundaries. (Have you read his memoir? It's a sexy, navel-gazing ego-fest called Dropped Names. It's just him name dropping all the stars who've fawned over him: Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Montgomery Clift, Laurence Olivier, Rachel "Bunny" Mellon [but not, dubiously, Whoopi Goldberg].) Langella, previously married to Ruth Weil from 1977 to 1996, left his wife and partnered with Whoopi while creating Eddie. This film is to them what Mr. and Mrs. Smith is to Brad and Angelina.
But Eddie isn't about assassins, it's a comedy about the New York Knicks. Langella plays the owner of the Knicks and Whoopi plays a passionate fan who somehow becomes the Knicks' coach. Coming out the same year as Space Jam, it rode the '90s NBA fever but barely broke even at the box office. It does, however, feature Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Edward Koch, Fabio, Dennis Rodman, Muggsy Bogues, and David Letterman as themselves. (Langella did not include any of these names in Dropped Names—also dubious.) Eddie is improbable and stupid but many of the scenes end with Whoopi making the type of speeches she makes every day on The View: authoritative, inspiring, and sometimes nonsensical. But the thing about Eddie that I keep coming back to is what Whoopi finds in Langella that is so seductive. They both seem like such doms to me. Was there a sub? CHASE BURNS
UK, 1997, 93 min, Dir. Bob Spiers
Like it or not, the aesthetics of Spice World are in vogue again. The Matrix glasses. The Kappa tracksuits. The girly feminism. The furry hoodies. Scary, Baby, Ginger, Posh, and Sporty are even back, launching a reunion tour last year. And yet Spice World, their Razzie Award-winning '90s-defining film, is totally freaking unstreamable. Honestly, a tragedy—especially if you consider it to be a poignant take on the evils of the paparazzi. I don't, but I'm saying you could if you wanted to.
I recently snagged a physical copy of Spice World and was struck by how well it stands up—the pacing is better than you'd expect—and also how fantastical it is. Take, for example, the famous double-decker "Spice Bus" that unfolds like a dollhouse. Each of the girls gets their own themed room—Posh has a runway, Baby has a slide, Sporty has an elliptical. Meat Loaf is the bus driver. It's gleefully impossible. There are aliens, men in ass-less chaps, celebrities like Elton John and Alan Cumming. It's peak Cool Britannia, with as much aplomb as an Olympic opening ceremony.
Last summer, The Hollywood Reporter announced that a new animated Spice Girls movie is in the works (with all five original members signed on to star in it), so maybe we'll be spicing up our lives soon enough. CHASE BURNS
UK, 1998, 94 min, Dir. Mike Hodges
I'm on a neo-noir kick lately. Sometimes you just need to dig into a Clive Owen film. And boy is Croupier a good one. It introduced the brooding young English actor to an American audience, as a tuxedoed croupier (card dealer) in a casino in London. Day is hard to come by in this film; most of the action takes place at night or in the windowless, underground casino. The walls are covered in warped mirrors that resemble molten silver. The felt on the card tables is an unsettlingly purple-blue. Owen as Jack, a down-on-his-luck writer with a preternatural gift for dealing, is cool and immutable; a bit misshapen but attractive, observant, and deeply self-involved. He's a Gemini so he's charming, the type of dude where women just appear naked before him. The seediness of the punters (gamblers) and a life lived at night are all fodder for his book, which is encapsulated as voiceovers in the film. My favorite thing about Croupier is the sound of the different games: the chips stacked on the tables, the rattling of the marble ball spinning in the roulette wheel; the clip of the cards dealt in front of players. This movie is perfect for a post-Thanksgiving coma. JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1999, 101 min, Dir. Risa Bramon Garcia
Before there was Love, Actually, there was 200 Cigarettes. There are easy parallels here: Both cast a cornucopia of celebrities, both are controversially cloying, and both rank high on people's "guilty pleasure" lists. The obvious differences between the two are their settings (Love, Actually is a Christmas movie, 200 Cigs is a New Year's Eve movie), their box office totals (Love, Actually's box office is close to $250 million, 200 Cigs barely beat its budget), and their streaming statuses. 200 Cigs, an early movie from MTV Films, is totally, woefully unstreamable.
Like many unstreamable artifacts, 200 Cigarettes' unstreamability is probably due to its bloated soundtrack. The movie contains 49 songs, featuring everyone from Blondie to Elvis Costello to—checks notes—Harvey Danger singing a cover of English Beat's "Save It for Later." The song's music video includes some of the most famous women from the '90s—Courtney Love!!!—hitting on Harvey Danger frontman/Stranger alum Sean Nelson. (Watch it here. Sorry for digging this up, Sean, but it's cute.)
I can't say I disagree with the film's original reviews. It is, as Variety wrote, "dismally unfunny." But I'd like to argue that its costumes, designed by Susan Lyall with a heavy Betsey Johnson vibe, are enough to save the movie. The coats that Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffmann wear should be in a museum. Martha Plimpton is so perfectly bad and distressed and her gowns match her mood. We frequently look past a subpar movie's terrible script or acting as long as it contains good special effects or cinematography, but we rarely extend the same courtesy to good costuming. How boring. CHASE BURNS
Browse more of our Unstreamable picks here.