Let’s see now, where did we leave off…
Last year, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of my discovery of movies, I began a countdown of the movies that moved me (and didn’t), year by year, starting with 1982. My last, pre-Oscar, installment was 1991, so here we pick it up again with 1992. This was the year I graduated college, so, be warned, I was susceptible to, well…everything.
The Movies That Mattered:
Yes, exceedingly young Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are in this movie, mostly with shirts off, but that’s not why I loved it the first time I saw it and have loved it each of the dozens of times I’ve seen it since. This is a less cerebral version of The Dead Poets Society, similarly set in an elite boys prep school in the 50s, but with a story that focuses on the students instead of the teacher. Most notably, one student, played by Brendan Fraser, whose character fits in really well until the “secret” that he’s Jewish comes out. Then he’s not so popular, but he has a few things to say about that. This may not be great cinema, but this is as classic a high school boys tale as you’re going to get and Fraser is just so damn charming that you can’t help but root for him every second. And watching a young Matt Damon (in only his second movie) play a total jerk is pure entertainment in itself.
The Crying Game
Forget 1992, this is hands down one of the best films of the decade. It’s movies like this, with the layers, the writing, the characters, the acting and the story that make me keep wanting to go back into the theatre. If you’ve never seen it, remedy that immediately. It’s flawless.
A Few Good Men
My introduction to writer Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin wrote the screenplay for A Few Good Men, based on his own play, and it was my first exposure to the Sorkin wordplay I would soon come to know and love in his TV series Sports Night and West Wing and movies The Social Network and Moneyball. I remember Jack Nicholson’s big, brief performance, but, other than that, what I think of with this movie is the pace of the story, the building of the drama and the mesmerizing structure that keeps you engaged to the very end. Credit Sorkin and director Rob Reiner for that. And any time I can forget Tom Cruise is in a movie, I’m appreciative.
Glengarry Glen Ross
Speaking of words, Glengarry Glen Ross was another 1992 movie based on a play, with the screenplay written by the playwright. But, unlike A Few Good Men, there was no way to forget the cast. Glengarry Glen Ross is perhaps the most perfect movie melding of acting and script—and the two come together forcefully in this David Mamet masterpiece. When I first saw this movie, I was floored by its language and powerhouse performances from Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Al Pacino, Alan Arkin and Ed Harris. These guys together are absolutely incredible—they totally kill it. But it’s the Mamet script that sears into your soul.
I’m not afraid to admit how many Saturday afternoons would find my television locked onto this Harrison Ford actioner. Not only does it always seem to be on, but it’s just so damn entertaining—as I find most Ford action movies to be—that I can watch it a million times and always be interested. I usually get this one confused with its counterpart, Clear and Present Danger, but it doesn’t really matter. They both star Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan and there’s no other way I’d rather lose a lazy Saturday afternoon.
The Last of the Mohicans
I recently revisited this Michael Mann epic and was curious to see how it held up after 20 years. I’m happy to say it’s just as compelling and riveting the second time. I’m so used now to seeing Daniel Day-Lewis deliver powerhouse performances, it is fascinating to go back and see this one, which was just after his first Oscar-winning performance in My Left Foot. He’s really good, as expected, but I think Mann’s directing, as well as the score (by Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones) and the cinematography (Dante Spinotti) are the real stars.
A League of Their Own
What’s not to love? Director Penny Marshall has only made 7 films in her career and two of them are classics of the late eighties and early nineties. A League of Their Own has the same sweet sincerity of Big, but Big was carried by the charm and talents of its star, Tom Hanks. A League of Their Own is an ensemble piece and Marshall is able to cobble together a wonderfully buoyant movie about everything from baseball to feminism, with a totally endearing cast. Even Madonna can’t bring this one down. There’s a spirit about this movie that can’t be denied.
I still think I’m the only one who’s ever actually seen this movie. I don’t know if it just hit me at a good time or what, but I love this movie. Christine Lahti can do no wrong in my book and she is at her best in this quirky little movie about two women on a road trip through Alaska. Lahti co-stars with Meg Tilly, who is just as odd as this movie is, but there’s something that works in their chemistry and in this little movie about the power of friendship. Of course, maybe I was subconsciously succumbing to the Fried Green Tomatoes effect—reading more into the “friendship” than was really there—but, either way, this one hit home for me and deserved more attention than it got.
Night and the City
Jessica Lange’s second consecutive movie with Robert De Niro, Night and the City follows 1991’s Cape Fear but, sadly, it’s nowhere near as memorable. Not sure if she just wanted to work with De Niro again (or vice versa), but this movie left me scratching my head—it did nothing for me. But still, anything with Jessica in it goes on my list. Even a bad Jessica Lange movie is better than anything else.
I came to appreciate this movie later in life, as I got to know the extraordinary talent, wit and wisdom of Stephen Fry. Fry stars as Peter, a man who gathers together all of his college chums for a Christmas getaway at his country estate in England. The film itself is not much more than a showcase for the actors, including Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and Rita Rudner, as there’s nothing really groundbreaking or monumental about the simplistically-drawn characters and seen-it story. But this movie is worth it for the chemistry these actors have with each other—Fry, Laurie and Thompson are old friends in real life—even if director Kenneth Branagh has no idea how to direct himself.
Tim Robbins has only written three movies and they are all reflections of his passionately liberal philosophies and sensibilities. Bob Roberts was his first and still my favorite. I love Bob Roberts because it is such a pure form of satire done without buffoonery or camp. Christopher Guest owes a lot to this movie.
Just as my dream of being in the movie business was ending, The Player showed me that maybe I wouldn’t be missing too much. I love this Robert Altman classic, with its cynicism, satire and patented Altman ensemble acting. Tim Robbins is at his best here, playing a character who buys into his own hype and pays the price. How Hollywood.
Of Mice and Men
I was blown away by Gary Sinise and John Malkovich in this wonderful adaptation of the classic John Steinbeck novel. Sinise made his directing debut here but it strangely turned out to his one and only directing effort. There’s got to be a story there.
So while Gary Sinise realized he didn’t have a future in directing, the world learned about a kid named Quentin Tarantino who did. Reservoir Dogs was a revelation, as was its vibrant and bold writer/director, whose new voice demanded to be heard. Reservoir Dogs was one of the most stunning debuts ever, visceral, raw and magnificent. Nice to meet you, Mr. Tarantino.
A River Runs Through It
Robert Redford directing, Brad Pitt starring, and that Oscar-winning cinematography (by Philippe Rousselot)? It had me at hello.
For some reason, I always thought Helen Hunt and Eric Stoltz would make a great pair onscreen. Then they were cast together in this little-seen independent movie and I was totally proven right. Too bad nobody else saw it.
Where the Day Takes You
The only movie I ever “worked” on. Technically, I was an intern at Cinetel Films, the company that produced this small, independent and ultimately unseen movie. I got to go on the set a couple times, was even a stand-in one day for Laura San Giacomo. Too bad my brief Hollywood career is represented by this really terrible movie that nobody has ever heard of or seen, in spite of a lot of familiar faces in the cast (including Will Smith in his movie debut). I guess that speaks volumes.
The Movies That Should Have Mattered More:
I know it’s blasphemy, but I just couldn’t get into it.
A World War II movie about spies and Nazis? Oh, what potential. But then they cast Melanie Griffith.
Speaking of wasted potential, this is probably the most disappointing movie experience of my life. Director Barry Levinson, Robin Williams, Joan Cusack—seriously, what were you thinking?
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
I was one of those people who wrote into ABC when they wanted to cancel my favorite show, Twin Peaks, so you can imagine I was one of the first in line to see the big screen version. Needless to say, I didn’t write any more letters after that.
I thought this Best Picture winner had a great look, but it didn’t resonate for me at all.
The Movies that Might Have Mattered, But I Missed:
Husbands and Wives
Oscar Winners of 1992:
Best Picture: Unforgiven
Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven
Best Actor: Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman
Best Actress: Emma Thompson, Howard’s End
Best Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny
Best Supporting Actor: Gene Hackman, Unforgiven