Going over the films of the early 90s we notice some patterns and they are reflected in this list and in my other lists concerning the 90s. We notice Asian themed movies were quite popular, but a little more on that later. We also see lots of films dealing with lawyers and novels by John Grisham became popular. In 1993 Grisham had two of his novels turned into films; "The Pelican Brief" with Julia Roberts and "The Firm" with Tom Cruise. Though neither one of them is on my list they were two of the most successful films of the year at the box-office. In the following year Grisham's "The Client" with Tommy Lee Jones was also turned into a film as was "The Rainmaker" (1997) directed by Francis Ford Coppola and "The Gingerbread Man" (1998) directed by Robert Altman. What accounted for such an interest in lawyers? And the kicker is one of them is the hero! Who ever heard of a lawyer ever being a hero?
The year also saw Steven Spielberg grow up. After making his "Jurassic Park", the most successful film at the box-office that year, Spielberg gave us "Schindler's List". Today we might think Spielberg and WW2 go hand and glove, especially with his "Saving Private Ryan", but, back in 1993 it wasn't such a sure thing. Remember this is the man who had just made a movie about dinosaurs coming back to life and gave us "Hook". A serious film about the Holocaust didn't seem likely coming from him. And he wasn't the first choice. Roman Polanski was offered it first and even Billy Wilder. Wilder directed the POW film "Stalag 17" and Polanski of course went on to direct his own Holocaust movie, "The Pianist". A film I think is more powerful than "Schindler's List".
There were other important events that year. Hollywood would deal with AIDS, Robert Altman made one of his best films ("Short Cuts") and we said goodbye to one of the all time great filmmakers Federico Fellini.
Here are my favorite films of 1993!
1. THE JOY LUCK CLUB (Dir. Wanye Wang; U.S.) - As I said the 90s saw a strong interest in Asian themed movies. Though Mr. Wang's film is centered around Asian-Americans, the film is about Chinese traditions and the way it disappears from generation to generation. Films about finding one's roots or holding on to them when leaving one's homeland always interest me. I'm able to relate to the idea. While this is surely not the popular choice to most movie fans, especially in a year with "Schindler's List" and "Short Cuts", "The Joy Luck Club" touched me on a more personal level. Mr. Wang, sadly, has not always made films of the same high quality as this (remember "Maid in Manhattan) but he has decided to go back to his roots. Last year's "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" was good but lacked the emotional impact I had when I first saw this.
2. A BRONX TALE (Dir. Robert De Niro; U.S.) - For some reason I love a good gangster film. De Niro, of course probably best known for the genre, directs a modern masterpiece. Based on a one man stage play by Chazz Palminteri (who also stars in the film) about his youth. The film creates a rich world in 1950s New York.
3. REMAINS OF THE DAY (Dir. James Ivory; U.K./U.S.) - A companion piece to the Ivory/Merchant production made the previous year, "Howard's End", "Remains of the Day" is a movie I prefer between the two, though that is not the popular reaction. Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson return in this film which went on to earn 5 Academy Award nominations including "Best Picture" and "Best Director".
4. M. BUTTERFLY (Dir. David Cronenberg; U.S.) - Upon its release many considered this one of Cronenberg's weaker efforts if not his weakest. As time has passed this adaptation of David Henry Hwang's play is now considered a powerful film. Jeremy Irons and John Lone star in this story based on a true incident of a man who fell in love with an opera star for 20 years not realizing it was a man.
5. SHORT CUTS (Dir. Robert Altman; U.S.) - Made a year after Altman's "comeback" film "The Player", "Short Cuts" put him on a winning streak. In some ways I think this may be Altman's best film. It is typical of what we love about his work with the multiple characters and cross-cutting in the style of "Nashville". The film was nominated for only one Oscar, Altman for "Best Director" but shamefully no "Best Picture" nomination. I guess the academy had to make room for "The Fugitive" that year.
6. SCHINDLER'S LIST (Dir. Steven Spielberg; U.S.) - Here it is! The movie you must put on your top ten list or you'll be stoned to death. In all seriousness I do like this film. It marked the first film Spielberg made at the time which I enjoyed. This true story based on Oszkar Schindler's life was nominated for 12 Oscars, winning a total of 7 including "Best Picture". Siskel & Ebert both named it the best film of the year.
7. FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE (Dir. Chen Kaige; China) - I said the 90s were a time of Asian themed movies here is the film which put Kaige on the cinematic map. The early 90s were very good to Kaige and Zhang Yimou who would make masterpiece after masterpiece. Some audiences are reluctant to give Mr. Kaige credit for any movie he has made since this one. That is too bad. This film was nominated for 2 Oscars, including "Best Foreign Language" film and won the palme d'or at the Cannes Film Festival. Actually it tied with Jane Campion's "The Piano".
8. IN THE LINE OF FIRE (Dir. Wolfgang Petersen; U.S.) -Wolfgang "Das Boot" Petersen makes one of the best thriller's of the 90s as Clint Eastwood stars as a secret service agent and John Malkovich as a would-be assassin. It could also be not only one of Eastwood's best performances of the decade but maybe of all time. Nominated for 3 Oscars; "Best Supporting Actor" (Malkovich) and " Best Screenplay" among them.
9. INTERVISTA (Dir. Federico Fellini; Italy) - The last film released in America by the great Fellini. The film is really just for his most devoted fans as it is a love letter to his country and his love of movies, particularly his own. The film is probably best known for the sequence involving a reunion between Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.
10. PHILADELPHIA (Dir. Johnathan Demme; U.S.) - One of, if not the first, major Hollywood film to deal with AIDS, which became a big issue during the early 90s. Tom Hanks won his first Oscar for his performance here as a young lawyer who may or may not have been fired for being gay. Denzel Washington plays a homophobic lawyer who defends him. If we really want to examine this film and the issues we see Hollywood had two use two devices in order to make this film work since gays and AIDS were a touchy subject at the time. First of all it disguises itself as a courtroom thriller and secondly tries to tie discrimination against gays with discrimination against blacks. Still, powerful for its time.