Let me toss some numbers your way. 25, 40, 43, 52. These are the numbers considered for the previous years in my Top Ten By Year column entries for 1935, 1983, 1965 and 1943 respectively. 1992 is a bit different. Once we reach the 90’s, numbers jump. A lot. I’ve got 92 films in consideration. Yes, some of these include throwaways like Tom and Jerry: The Movie, or Medicine Man, or Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. But there’s a lot (especially with all the first-time viewings done for this) of quality material in the mix. Many I’ve long loved; others, new-found discoveries.
Up until now I’ve put a handful of honorable mentions in the main list post. This time they get their own (usually when there are this many films involved, like my end-of-the-year lists, I ditch Top 10 and go straight for Top 30). Now, I tweeted this yesterday, but it bears repeating; my Honorable Mentions list is such a traffic jam, not even Reservoir Dogs made the cut. Again; Reservoir Dogs did not even make my honorable mentions. Granted, I’m not as enamored by it to the degree many are (it’s my least favorite after Django Unchained but note a considerable chasm between the two) but I feel comfortable saying that I love it. As a whole it’s an unassailable statement of ‘make way because I’m here, damn it’. (Yet perhaps the biggest surprise for me was that I couldn’t even get Bob Roberts, which I loved, or Aladdin, on here)
With this ongoing project I always feel the need to scribble a bit about how my perspective on film has/is evolving from taking part in, however minor, the online film community (which, based on the environment, you’d think would prompt a different response). I refer not to taste but rapport; how relationships with films evolve. How some exhaust themselves of return value, so I put them in storage for a while. How some embed into my sense of self and become larger than life. The bittersweet and/or joyful nature of changing connections, up or down, shallow or profound. That it’s just as okay to feel ‘done’ with a film and move past it with no hard feelings, just as normal as it is to have a growing appreciation for something that didn’t quite sit the first or second time. That favorites don’t just mean ‘what do I like the most’ and that films aren’t a math equation. Whether it works or not, how enriching and engaging is it? How much is there to parse through? Which ones make me want to go back and stick my hands in like a hill of sinking sand? There are times when failings can be inherently more interesting than something with all the right stuff in all the right places. I’ve known or felt all of this on some level for a long time, but I’m seeing it shape so sayings like “it’s not perfect” or “it’s perfection”, or “it’s not without its flaws” don’t mean much of anything to me anymore.
Take A.I: Artificial Intelligence. I haven’t seen it in many years but think about it relatively often, considering. My basic assessment used to be “I love it so much but why oh why does the last section have to be there”. Now, I still ask “why oh why does the last section need to be there”. It’s a valid concern. And there are plenty, plenty, plenty of films with misguided aspects and choices that become irredeemable for the viewer. But there is so much to unpack with A.I. that it feels reductive to use the final section as dismissal of the rest. Or to use it, as Pee Wee puts it, a big ‘but’. Why do we need to parcel things out like that? This is a film where the good, the bad, the Kubrick, the whatever; it’s all uncommonly riveting material to wrestle with and contemplate (with oneself and others; nothing like a good movie convo). That, in this case, is worth more than “It’s so good up until…”.
This relates to these lists because it impacts how films are chosen and how they are valued. There’s one film in particular that, even more than the others, I’m angling to find a place for. Do I put it at #10 or in the honorable mentions? I don’t even know if the film works for me. I really don’t. But I love it. And I go into it like it’s a puzzle, magnifying glass in tow, thinking ‘this time I’ll find the missing piece. This time I’ll get a sense of who this person was’. Yet I know that won’t happen. ‘But maybe this time’ is the spell that it casts.
Okay; ever-evolving relationship with film rant over. This is meant to read as a sort of alternate top ten, in alphabetical order. There are nine in this post, and my top honorable mention will accompany the final list (mostly because my notes on the film are in my apartment in Providence, and I’m in CT right now). As I write this, I have the twenty films sorted and 90% are locked into place. A few though…a few have made their beds in both camps, remaining in a limbo land until I make some final decisions. Several of these, and I’ll point out which ones, are films I’ve known a very long time. Several I had not seen until I began research and several were re-watches. The final list will go up next week.
FTV = First Time Viewing
RW = Re-Watch
LTF = Long Time Favorite
Bad Lieutenant (Ferrara) (US) (FTV)
The lower depths of humanity are plumbed (and then some) with beautifully considered slow-burn imagery, strung along by the traipsing sounds of unintelligible and unformed pleas. A man who has lost touch with himself as human is confronted with the possibility of being judged by a higher being; blank slate, wiped clean, lifted up and out. Harvey Keitel’s Lieutenant (in a purging of the soul performance) cannot comprehend the forgiveness of sin, and it builds to a protracted and somewhat deformed act of salvation akin to watching teeth pulled.
Baraka (Fricke) (US) (RW)
With its direct images, enveloping spiritualism, and earnest curiosity about globe-spanning rituals, a trek is made from hope in variety to despair in decimation, settling somewhere in the middle, like a peaceful reconciliation.
Dead Alive (Jackson) (New Zealand) (RW)
Was positive this would be on the final ten, but alas… Underneath its bulgy-low-budget aesthetic discomfort and gleefully destructive blood-letting is a heart of graceless gold in Lionel and Paquita. Zany in the most complimentary sense of the word.
Death Becomes Her (Zemeckis) (US) (LTF)
Basic bitches not wanted. Body horror in reverse and then forward drive played for laughs and unashamedly built around innovative special effects. Fueled by sing-song malevolence and Looney Tunes violence. Lampoons our peddling of youthful beauty within consumerism and Hollywood. Has grown into its cult status with ease and endless quotability. Bruce Willis has never been better shouting against type as a dweeb surgeon not worth anyone’s time, and just watch Meryl Streep wring out each syllable like she’s in a self-aware soap. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Contact, and this give Zemeckis a lifetime pass.
Un coeur en hiver (A Heart in Winter) (Sautet) (France) (FTV)
A very familiar illicit scenario but with an unusual player at its center, a man who cannot form personal connections, skewing all expected developments. First and foremost a character study about Stéphane (Daniel Auteuil) and his reliable inability to change. He is cruel in his anthropological curiosities, showing more intimacy with the inanimate violins he lovingly repairs. Emmanuelle Béart, in what has got to be the only time she ever has or will have to be on the other side of an unrequited love, is magnificent; understandably tormented and confused, always achingly human. A complex film that addresses the answerable qualities and inadequacies of ourselves.
A League of Their Own (Marshall) (US) (LTF)
I can’t claim that this holds me the way it once did. It overuses montage, goes for some cheap laughs, has an often too-pointed score, and hints that later in his career Tom Hanks will (though very good here) prove distracting whenever he reaches outside his immediate strengths. But I’ve seen this so many times and the genuine female camaraderie and opportunities that rise out of wartime continues to be wholly earned (and fun) triumph. I laugh, I cry, and the final game always puts me on the edge of my seat.
Noises Off… (Bogdanovich) (US) (RW)
Endlessly watchable, pure hilarity, increasing discord; a film anyone would be proud to know inside and out. A farce that gradually becomes so overwhelming as to be incomprehensible. So what keeps this off the ten, besides the there’s-just-too-much reason? Transplanting this English play into an American film warps the dissolution of politeness and niceties, which is so carefully and centrally established, only to crumble to bits. Americanizing an English farce without adapting to said change ends up being dissonant and awkward. But my God, there is no other film from 1992 that brings more unheralded escalating buffoonery.
Orlando (Potter) (UK) (FTV)
An elaborate mirage on gender identity and stigma, where past and present are just an edit away and where there is little fixture in space even within specific time periods. Sally Potter approaches this Virginia Woolf adaptation (a novel I loved in concept but felt removed from in reading) with witty presentational candor and Tilda Swinton sells it with softness and a hearty wink. Singular, amusing, and honest.
Savage Nights (Les Nuits Fauves) (Collard) (France) (FTV)
Cyril Collard smartly addresses AIDS by not addressing it. Jean’s (Collard) resolute inability to process his condition haunts the entire film and his actions (or rather inaction). It is made the backdrop for a story about toxic relationships, where Jean’s condition indirectly informs all interpersonal drama. Blue, red, yellow, the primary colors, predominate the film. The building blocks of living; separate, not in tandem.