The 50 Best Movies of the '90s

11. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, Ted Danson

Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg's hard-hitting account of World War II's pivotal D-Day, doesn't skimp on the sentiment. With a large ensemble of colorful characters, led by Tom Hanks' resilient army captain, Spielberg levels the viewer with a series of visceral battle sequences, but also intricate characterization. And the central story is a knockout: Matt Damon plays a missing soldier whose three brothers have been killed in action, inspiring Hanks to lead a search-and-rescue mission to save one man, even though many will be killed in the process.

The conflicts of "Should many die to help one?" provide sufficient emotion for Spielberg to milk, but the film's book-ending flashes to modern times are its ripest suppliers of visual waterworks: Damon's character, now an old man, brings his family to Hanks' grave, a powerful image strengthened by the sight of an American flag and an evocative score.

Sentiment aside, the opening is necessary viewing for film lovers, especially in light  of the recent fascination with ordeal movies that render painful experiences in minute detail, works like Amour and Hunger. —MB

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