Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Movies Of The Year: 1993

1993 was a great year for movies. I count 77 films from that year that I've seen, which is significantly more than any year thus far. There's great quality too as the top 30 or so are all very good and I'd say the top 60 or so are all worth watching. It's also a big year for Jet Li, whose films manage to appear on this list 6 times. Numbers 29 and 26 tie for the First Annual Crying Game Award for the rankings most likely to get the wife to kick me out of the house.

77. Made In America
76. The Firm
75. National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1
74. Sliver
73. The Pelican Brief
72. Another Stakeout
71. Posse
70. Mrs. Doubtfire
69. Three Of Hearts
69. The Program
68. The Advocate
67. Wayne's World 2
66. Manhattan Murder Mystery
65. Coneheads
64. Judgement Night
63. Indecent Proposal
62. The Man Without A Face
61. Sleepless In Seattle
60. Dave
58. The Legend Of Fong Sai-yuk II
57. Point Of No Return
56. Grumpy Old Men
55. Once Upon A Time In China III
54. Cool Runnings
53. Hot Shots Part Deux
52. The Thing Called Love
51. Robin Hood: Men In Tights
50. Cliffhanger
48. The Piano
47. CB4
46. Faraway, So Close!
45. The Last Action Hero
44. What's Eating Gilbert Grape
43. The Trial
42. Demolition Man
41. Malice
40. Rudy
39. Latcho Drom
39. Addams Family Values
38. Last Hero In China
37. Little Buddha
36. The House Of The Spirits
35. Much Ado About Nothing
34. Mad Dog And Glory
33. Ninja Scroll
32. Falling Down
31. This Boy's Life
30. Carlito's Way
29. Philadelphia
28. The War Room
27. The Nightmare Before Christmas
26. The Wedding Banquet
25. Kung Fu Cult Master (Lord Of the Wu Tang)
24. Short Cuts
23. Benny & Joon
22. The Remains Of The Day
21. Gettysburg
20. And The Band Played On
19. The Fugitive
18. The Age Of Innocence
17. Shadowlands
16. In The Line Of Fire

15. The Tai Chi Master - Jet Li stars in this kung fu film about two guys who get kicked out of their Temple. One of them goes off and joins the evil government. The other joins MIchelle Yeoh and a group of revolutionaries. It's a formulaic Jet Li film, all the ones from this period are essentially the same, but it doesn't matter. Yuen Woo Ping, the guy who's directed just about every cool action sequence from the last decade (Kill Bill, The Matrix, etc), is the director and he blends the action and the obligatory slapstick comedy very well. Released in the US under the idiotic title "Twin Warriors" attempting to cash in on Michelle Yeoh's fame after Crouching Tiger. She doesn't have a large part, certainly not large enough to be in the title, but she is great when she's on screen.

14. Juraissic Park - The first of two Steven Spielberg films on the list this year, I bet you can guess what the other is. Somehow I managed to not see this the summer it came out. I have no idea what happened, but I didn't see it until the following winter when it was either rereleased or played the local discount theatre. It's an action movie, and a very good one. Frankly, I hate the kids. But all the adults are great. Oh yeah, there's some cool special effects too.

13. So, I Married An Axe Murderer - In the wake of the huge success of Wayne's World, Mike Myers was basically able to make any movie he wanted. He made this, it bombed and he basically disappeared for four years. It's a very funny romantic comedy about a spoken word poet who thinks his girlfriend might be a serial killer. Nancy Travis, who's terrific, as she was in Three Men And A Little Lady, plays the girlfriend. Amanda Plummer, Anthony LaPaglia, Brenda Fricker, Steven Wright, Phil Hartman, Charles Grodin, Debi Mazar and Alan Arkin also star.

12. A Perfect World - Clint Eastwood decided to follow up the destruction of the western genre with something even more remarkable: getting good acting out of Kevin Costner. Costner plays an escaped convict who kidnaps a little kid and takes him on the run with him. Eastwood plays the US Marshal tracking him down. It's a coming of age story, both for the kid and the kidnapper. Costner really is very good. Really, I'm not kidding. Also stars Laura Dern and Bradley Whitford.

11. Army Of Darkness - The culmination of Sam Raini's Evil Dead trilogy sees our hero Ash (the legendary Bruce Campbell) thrown back to 1300 AD where he must defeat the forces of evil and get back to his own time. One-armed with a shotgun, a chainsaw and a vast array of clever one-liners, he bravely joins a medieval kingdom in its fight against the undead. With Embeth Davidtz, who also stars in this year's #1 film. And Bridget Fonda has a cameo. Hail to the king, baby.

10. In The Name Of The Father - Daniel Day-Lewis is outstanding once again as a member of the Guildfor Four, people who were wrongfully imprisoned for an IRA bombing. Pete Posthlewaite plays his father who's imprisoned as well. Emma Thompson plays the lawyer who eventually gets them out. Directed by Jim Sheridan, who also did My Left Foot, The Boxer, The Field, In America and. . . the 50 Cent epic Get Rich Or Die Tryin'?

9. Groundhog Day - Yeah, it's better in theory than it is when watching it, but it's still a very good movie. It's not especially profound, at least not as much as director Harold Ramis seems to think it is. Bill Murray plays a grumpy weatherman who's forced to live one day over and over again until he becomes a good person. Then he gets Andie McDowell and February 3rd. Also stars Brian Doyle-Murray, Stephen Tobolowsky, Willie Garson and Chris Elliott. Pop Buddhism.

8. The Legend Of Fong Sai-yuk - My personal favorite kung fu movie stars Jet Li as a Cantonese kung fu expert who tries to win the hand of the local Manchu official's daughter while helping the Red Lotus Society rebel against the evil Manchu Emperor. Directed by Corey Yuen, who also directed The Transporter. The slapstick and humor is alright. If you've never seen a Hong Kong martial arts comedy, this is a good place to start. But it's the fight scenes, of course, that are the main attraction. There's one that totally amazed me when I saw and made me want to watch every Jet Li movie I could get my hands on, which I proceeded to do. Released in the US under the very informative title "The Legend".

7. Menace II Society - By far the best thing to come out of the 'gangsta' genre of film and music is this debut film by the Hughes Brothers (who are exactly 4 years older than me). Much more effective than John Singleton's Boyz In the Hood because the characters actually feel like real people instead of representatives of theoretical types. Tyrin Turner stars as a drug dealer trying to decide if he cares enough to go straight and move to Atlanta with Jada Pinkett. Larenz Tate is amazing as his psychotic best friend O-Dogg. Samuel L. Jackson and Khandi Alexander also star, along with Charles S. Dutton in the only truly preachy scene in the film, one which is mercifully short. Do you care if you live or die?

6. Dazed And Confused - Richard Linklater's film about the last day of school in a small Texas town in 1976. I was born that year, so the film doesn't have a real nostalgia grip on me. Instead, I like it because it's simply a great movie. It's the kind of film Robert Altman wanted Short Cuts to be, but was too old and 'serious' to realize it. You get to know about a dozen distinct characters throughout the film, all of which are unique and interesting. The cast certainly helps: Mathew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Jason London, Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, and Adam Goldberg all appear, though some less often than others. I love movies that convey a real sense of time and place, and Dazed and Confused does that as well as any movie I've ever seen.

5. Six Degrees Of Seperation - Nobody thought Will Smith could act, you see. He was still known almost exclusively as the Fresh Prince, both the rapper and sitcom star. Then he blew everyone (well, everyone who saw it) away in this film as a street hustler who worms his way into the upper class Manhattan lives of Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing with his interesting interpretation of The Catcher In The Rye and offers to appear in Sidney Poitier's film version of Cats. Seems Anthony Michael Hall picked him up in Boston and taught him all the inner secrets of and how to blend in with the Elites. The story is told as a series of anecdotes that Sutherland and Channing relate at parties. It's about any number of things, depending on how you look at it, but mostly, it's about phonies.

4. Searching For Bobby Fischer - May be the best sports movie ever, even though chess isn't really a sport. It's about competitiveness and obsession and art and life and everything else that makes sports great. Based on a true story, it's the story of kid chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin and how he learns to be a champion player without losing his soul. As a counterpoint, throughout the film Josh tells the story of Bobby Fischer, the crazy chess genius. Max Pomeranc is terrific as Josh, but the adults are some pretty good actors themselves: Ben Kingsley as his traditional-style teacher, Laurence Fishburne as the chess hustler he hangs out with in the park, Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen as his parents. Tony Shaloub, Laura Linney, William H. Macy, Dan Hedaya and David Paymer also have small roles. One of only three films directed by Steven Zaillian, the guy who wrote The Falcon and the Snowman, Awakenings, A Civil Action, Gangs Of New York and this year's #1 film.

3. True Romance - The best film ever directed by someone with the last name of "Scott"? Perhaps. The script is by Quentin Tarantino (apparently he's very happy with this film, unlike Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers). Director Tony Scott (Top Gun) captures exactly what you imagine Tarantino was going for when he wrote it. A Quentin-esque Christian Slater (he works at a comic book shop and goes to a Sonny Chiba triple feature on his birthday) meets a beautiful hooker with a heart of gold who falls in love with him. They get married right away and when he goes to get her belongings from her pimp he accidentally ends up with a suitcase full of cocaine. So, they set off for Hollywood to sell the coke and live happily ever after. It's a movie geek's dream of a movie. Maybe the best cast ever features Slater, Patricia Arquette, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Pitt, MIchael Rappaport, James Gandolfini, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Bronson Pinchot, Jack Black (in a deleted scene), Saul Rubinek, Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken.

2. Three Colors: Blue - The first part of Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy loosely based on the French Flag (liberty, equality, fraternity). This one stars Juliette Binoche as a famous composer's wife whose husband and daughter are killed in a car accident which she survives. The movie's about how she deals with this newfound freedom. She tries a variety of things, mostly hiding from people and the world, but eventually is brought back to life by music, which she had actually been secretly writing for her husband for years. It's the most difficult of the Three Colors films: not as fun and entertaining as White; not as clever as Red. But it's my favorite, probably because it's the first art movie I really worked to understand (not that I've come near to plumbing all it's depths). Juliette Binoche is the best of the three star actresses too, it isn't really close. Between this, Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf and The English Patient, she might be my pick as the best actress of the early 90s.

1. Schindler's List - The obvious pick, but I almost didn't rank it this high. The thing is, I think there are legitimate concerns that it trivializes the Holocaust. Not the story itself (although it does fall victim, somewhat, to Mississippi Burning Syndrome: a movie about the Holocaust in which the hero is a Nazi), but just the fact of making a movie about the Holocaust trivializes it. Especially one as terrifically well-made as this one. The argument can be made in a number of ways. First, any film about the Holocaust necessarily trivializes it. The Holocaust is the ultimate in evil. The idea of spending millions of dollars to film a story about it, then have people pay 20 bucks a piece to sit in a theatre and munch Milk Duds and popcorn while watching people get sent to gas chambers is just plain sick. Second, you can paraphrase Truffaut's famous argument that it's impossible to make an anti-war film because cinema inevitably makes glamourous anything it shows. This is the formulation I find most persuasive because it matches best my own reaction to the film. I saw it three times in the theatre, and while I was of course horrified by the events it depicts, the reason I kept going to see it was the technique. The terrific acting by Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and especially Ralph Fiennes. The beautiful black and white cinematography with surprising and powerful bursts of color. The tour de force action sequence that the liquidation of the ghetto turns into (the music in this sequence is phenomenal). And most memorable, for me, the sound effects. Yup, the sound. I love the opening scene, the rustle of silk as Liam Neeson ties his tie, the way the sound is so clear you can almost feel it on your own shirt when Liam Neeson sticks his swastika pin in his jacket. Schindler's List is a film about the worst evil that humans can do, but it's so well-made, such a great work of art, that you can't help but enjoy it. There is something fundamentally wrong about that. But I don't know what to do about it; I'm not sure if it's Spielberg's fault, my fault, or the fault of everyone who has ever watched a movie about something horrific. But since this is a list about film first and foremost, I can't rightly punish Spielberg's film for a failing that I, and perhaps film in general, share. So it goes at the top of the list as possibly the best film of my lifetime.

Despite the ridiculous number of films I've seen from this year, there's still a bunch of movies I really need to see. Definitely the best year for movies so far. It would really surprise me if another matches it. The Unseen:

Iron Monkey
Farewell, My Concubine
32 Short Films About Glenn Gould
The Visitors
Son In Law
Body Of Evidence
The Crush
Untamed Heart
Swing Kids
The Vanishing
Free Willy
The Joy Luck Club
The Sandlot
Super Mario Bros.
Rising Sun
A Bronx Tale
Poetic Justice
The Scent Of Green Papaya
Knight Moves
Who's The Man?
Boxing Helena
Heaven & Earth
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues


  1. Get yourself to the video store immediately to rent Son in Law.

  2. Yeah, I don't think that's gonna happen.

  3. Stalingrad is going on the request list right now. As is Heaven and Earth----one of the scariest Tommy Lee Jones movies ever. But no one ever knows what I'm talking about, because I guess I was only one out of about 15 people that saw the movie. And as far as the trilogy about Vietnam goes, it's one of the better ones. So yep, that's going on the netflix too. Farewell my Concubine was pretty bad---can't believe you didn't see it. It got so much attention....To Live and Ju Du are much better.

  4. I tried watching Farewell My Concubine once. I fell asleep. I hear Chen Kaige's made a Romance of the Three Kingdoms movie. Should be out here eventually.

    Have you seen Platoon?

  5. Tombstone was one of my favorites. Val Kilmer is perfect as Doc Holiday.

  6. Really great blog. "The kungfu Master" I have seen a lot. Fighting is best part of movies. List of movies are very good. Keep movies to watch