If for some weird reason you’re a fan of this blog, and thus, you have been wondering why I haven’t really post much this week, well, it’s because I’m moving and I still don’t have internet at my new place. However, I managed to find some time to post this list, which will be the official send-off to the Summer of ’92 series, which I hope you enjoyed. And what better way to say goodbye to my exploration of the movies of the year I was born, than to make a list of my favorites!
When choosing what movies I was going to write about in the series, I went with a mix of movies that I thought were historically significant, and movies that I hadn’t seen before. I basically wanted to focus on the movies people usually talk about when they talk about 1992. In retrospect, the list was a little too American, and too mainstream, but I guess that’s ok, since it’s the most popular movies that people usually talk about. Anyway, now it’s time to focus on my favorites. So, if you ever want movie recommendations from the year 1992, this is the list you’re looking for.
The Ten Best Movies of 1992
1. The Player (directed by Robert Altman)
The ending of The Player is so perfect that I think it’s impossible that a better satire about Hollywood and the movie business could ever be made. Truth and fiction intermingle to reveal that, after all that happened in the movie, a relatively happy ending -the kind that Hollywood loves most- can end up being the most terrifyingly dark thing that could possibly happen. But don’t be fooled, The Player is so much more than its ending. This is one of Altman’s best movies, and one of his most playful. From the opening shot that lasts six minutes, to the innumerable flashing arrows that foreshadow the plot, the celebrity cameos, and all those classic movie posters… It’s a perfect movie for film lovers. That’s all.
2. Porco Rosso (directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
Is Porco Rosso the most underrated Miyazaki movie? Sure, it isn’t as epic as Princess Mononoke, nor is it as imaginative as Spirited Away, but it is just as much of a masterpiece. This story about a fighter pilot cursed to look like a pig, and a young mechanic girl that team up to fight a band of air-pirates on the Adriatic Sea is nothing if not a labor of love. The colorful characters and silly comedy make it perfect for kids, but it is the melancholic voice that peaks between the moments of light-hearted adventure that make it so fantastic to watch as an adult. But really, at this point, just saying that this is one of the best Miyazaki movies should be more than enough for you to run and watch it as soon as you can.
3. Unforgiven (directed by Clint Eastwood)
I’m not a fan of Clint Eastwood as a director, but I must admit that the early-mid nineties were probably his best period, and that Unforgiven is a great movie if there ever was one. It’s a very violent movie, but being as it is about violence itself, it treats the subject with as much gravity and sorrow as Eastwood saw it necessary. Eastwood himself, of course, plays with his own screen persona when he plays an old man who has made a living out of killing and has, in turn, become extremely weary and tired. But he is not the only one, most of the characters in the movie have fascinating relationships to violence. From the evil but deeply logical sheriff played by Gene Hackman to the young Kid that wants to prove his worth through brutality.
4. Hard Boiled (directed by John Woo)
And while we’re on the subject of violent movies, you can’t really get much more violent than the action movies produced in Hong Kong in the late eighties and early nineties. Hard Boiled is one of the best (if not the very best) action movie ever made. First of all, the way Woo stages and directs action, is simply awesome. The movie is full of amazing stunts (like Mad Dog on the motorcycle), and amazing long shots (like the one on the elevator), but it also does something that American action movies are very unwilling to do (even today): it makes it about the victims of violence, and the weight that comes with the death of every innocence. It’s thematically outstanding on the inside, and a kick-ass thriller starring Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung on the oustide.
5. The Long Day Closes (directed by Terence Davies)
I’m usually not a huge fan of artistic movies that are light on plot and heavy on imagery (I’m not a huge fan of either The Tree of Life or The Mirror), but there’s something about Davies’s The Long Day Closes that gets to me. Maybe it’s the fact that film itself, and the love of film, are essential to its plot. Actually, one of the most popular ways to describe this movie is “Cinema Paradiso meets The Tree of Life“. This is a very personal movie, an almost autobiographical account of Davies’s years growing up amongst his loving family, his strict catholic school, and the movies. It’s a movie that breezes over you. I watched it for the first time a couple weeks ago, and I’m sure there are many things to uncover in future viewings.
6. Strictly Ballroom (directed by Baz Luhrmann)
Even if yo don’t like Baz Luhrmann, you might love Strictly Ballroom. I don’t see how you could not be delighted by this cheeky and bizarre story about a group of Australian obsessed with ballroom dancing. The narrative of the movie is deeply traditional, a mix of romantic comedy and sports movie that develops almost as predictably as you’d expect… but it is also an absolute delight. Luhrmann announces himself as one of the most iconoclastic, flamboyant, and colorful directors from his very first film. And at this point of his career, when he was still discovering his style, and trying to make due with relatively limited resources, the result is truly special.
7. Howards End (directed by James Ivory)
I said when I wrote about it for the series, but Merchant-Ivory movies have been wrongfully maligned for too long. It’s easy to look at them and dismiss them as stuffy English drama the likes of Downton Abbey and whatnot, but the truth is that the duo, as well as screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala were a masterful filmmaking team. Especially director James Ivory, who makes Howards End an insanely watchable movie. Not only because it is gorgeous to look at, but because of all kinds of different choices. The one I always return to is the way he frames the characters in the movie. There could be a whole book written about who is and isn’t the frame, and how the characters in the frame are seen in relation to one another. And I haven’t even said anything about its angry attitudes towards class, and feminism, and family, and… I think you get it. It’s a good movie.
8. Husbands and Wives (directed by Woody Allen)
One of Woody Allen’s best. It’s hard to say what it makes Husbands and Wives so successful, though. I would like to say that it doesn’t have to do with the behind-the-scenes gossipy element about how the movie was filmed and released just as the Allen’s marriage to Mia Farrow was crumbling, but it just might have everything to do with that. The movie delves into many of the usual Woody Allen themes, but its documentary aesthetic, and the amazing performances, that are an impressive balancing act between cartoons and real human beings help illustrate the most ridiculous and pathetic elements of love and marriage.
9. Man Bites Dog (directed by Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel, and Benoit Poelvoorde)
A found-footage type movie about a group of filmmakers following the life of a serial killer. It’s an outrageous premise, not only ahead of its time, but also impressively executed. Benoit Poelvoorde gives the lead performance, and is essential to the movie’s biggest asset: it makes the whole enterprise as despicable as it is hilarious. Like Allen’s movie, and unlike many of the movies that later adopted the same aesthetic, it makes the most out of marrying style and content. It’s an unsettling movie to watch, even more than you’d expect, but like I said, it’s also incredibly funny. Man Bites DOg an uncomfortable, insane, almost dadaist watching experience.
10. One False Move (directed by Carl Franklin)
I continue to be fascinated by how unique One False Move feels despite all of its similarities to so many movies that came before and after it. The thing is, despite the fact that many of its elements have been present in movies all throughout history, almost none of them have mixed them quite in the same way. At the end of the day, it is just a solid thriller, with a refreshingly low-key approach to big themes and violent moments, and grounded by the performances that make up its center, especially Bill Paxton as the charismatic southern sheriff, who’s got more diverse and complex sides to him than you’d expect at first glance.
Honorable Mentions: Aladdin, Malcolm X, A League of Their Own and The Muppet Christmas Carol
And as a bonus: since I’m the kind of obsessive person that spends way too much time thinking about this kind of thing, here’s my dream Oscar ballot for the performances of 1992…
Best Lead Actor:
- Tom Cruise, owning the screen like only a superstar of his talent can in A Few Good Men.
- Jack Lemmon, horribly vulnerable and desperate in Glengarry Glen Ross.
- Bill Paxton, who goes beyond the charisma and the darkness of his character in One False Move.
- Tim Robbins, embracing the sleaziest aspects of his screen persona in The Player.
- Denzel Washington, larger than life but always human in Malcolm X
Best Lead Actress:
- Mia Farrow, almost unbearably sorrowful in Husbands and Wives.
- Susan Sarandon, a strong actress giving an even stronger performance in Lorenzo’s Oil.
- Tilda Swinton, being her magnificent self, in Orlando.
- Emma Thompson, hinting at a feminist woman trapped in her own time in Howards End
- Alfre Woodard, telling whole stories behind her big eyes in Passion Fish
Best Supporting Actor:
- Gene Hackman, finding logic in the evil mind of his character in Unforgiven
- Tom Hanks, at his most likable and hilarious in A League of Their Own
- Sydney Pollack, breaking through as funny and poignant in Husbands and Wives
- Wes Studi, communicating more with a glance than anyone else in The Last of the Mohicans
- Robin Williams, who cannot be stopped in Aladdin
Best Supporting Actress
- Judy Davis, hilariously shrill and surprisingly believable as a human in Husbands and Wives
- Rosie Perez, simply awesome showing her innate talent in White Men Can’t Jump
- Michelle Pfeiffer, one of the best super-villains the screen has ever seen in Batman Returns
- Vanessa Redgrave, showing us an inside into a removed and complex woman in Howards End.
- Marisa Tomei, who is just so much fun in My Cousin Vinny.