best film: Malcolm X from Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s Malcolm X is rarity- a biopic that is filled with cinematic ambition. Denzel’s singular achievement is the definition of tour de force—a top five performance of the decade. But Spike Lee is going for as much stylistically as he was in 1989’s Do the Right Thing. He pulls out all the stops visually combining a painterly production design with an active camera. Spike uses his patented double dolly shot (especially when combined with the use of a closeup)—sort of a variation on the Mean Streets’ shot (the Harvey Keitel “Rubber Biscuit” sequence). This gives Spike Lee two masterpieces under his belt at the age of thirty-five (35).
most underrated: It is a masterpiece and yet the TSPDT consensus list omits Malcolm X altogether so that is yet another easy pick for this category. The consensus list still only has one Spike Lee film on it at this point which is really disappointing. Malcolm X may not quite be Lawrence of Arabia, Citizen Kane, or Raging Bull (three biopics at the top) but it is much closer in quality to these films artistically then your run of the mill non-top 1000 on TSPDT biopic (like say Man on the Moon or Ray). There are a lot of underrated options for this category in 1992. Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans is also notably absent from the TSPDT list. That is a travesty. Altman’s big comeback The Player is nowhere to be found either and ditto for the height of the Merchant Ivory films- Howards End.
most overrated: There are not any overrated films from 1992. Shockingly, even nearly thirty years later, there are only six films from 1992 on the TSPDT list. The six inductees include Unforgiven, Reservoir Dogs, Orlando, The Long Day Closes, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (what a ride for this film which was panned upon release) and Bad Lieutenant. None of these films are underrated.
gems I want to spotlight: Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It is a film I have seen at least a dozen times and I hope to see it a dozen times more. Philippe Rousselot’s nominated cinematography beautiful captures Montana and Wyoming. Brad Pitt’s star continues to ascend, and Redford himself provides such a calming voiceover. Glengarry Glen Ross is a chance to watch a terrific ensemble (Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Jonathan Pryce) belt out superlative dialogue from the great David Mamet.
trends and notables:
- There is a lot going on in 1992. As I said above, at age thirty five (35) with two stone cold masterpieces already, Spike Lee looked like the next Orson Welles or Francis Ford Coppola. Spike has a very strong career since Malcolm X (25th Hour is a standout) but certainly has never quite achieved the early promise of this ridiculous start.
- 1992 is also the year of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino, I would argue, is one of the two or three greatest filmmakers to debut post-1990. His influence would impact modern cinema as much as just about anyone. If the 1990s indie movement is a real thing (and I believe it is)- Tarantino is this movement’s Godard.
- Michael Haneke would not have quite the influence Tarantino would, but he is certainly considered one of the greatest auteurs in the last thirty years and his Benny’s Video marks his first archiveable film here in 1992. Haneke was a late bloomer—in 1992 he was already fifty (50) years old.
- Ming-liang Tsai’s Rebel of a Neon God (what a title- I cannot get over that title) makes his first archiveable film as well.
- The Player is the return of Robert Altman to the top 10 (1977 was the last time) and has a wonderful eight-minute opening shot. What a way to announce you are back!
- A Few Good Men is a great film to mention for many reasons. One, it sort of marks the end of the Rob Reiner run. Two, it helps introduce Aaron Sorkin—a gifted screenwriter. And lastly, the cast has Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore (speaking and yelling delicious Sorkinisms)- three of the biggest stars on the planet.
- 1992 would mark the last collaboration between auteur/muse Woody Allen and Mia Farrow in Husbands and Wives. This was an incredibly fertile artistic period for both– so it was too bad it came to an end.
- The late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman would appear in his first archiveable film with A Scent of Woman in 1992. He is an all-time talent. Tilda Swinton’s first archiveable film (and the best female performance of the year) was in 1992 with Orlando. It would take her another thirteen years (Broken Flowers) or fifteen (Michael Clayton) years to find another great role and start a period of work (no looking back from 2007 on) where she would become one of the best actresses of her generation. At age eleven (11) Joseph Gordon-Levitt would mark his first archiveable film entry with a small role in Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It. Laura Linney, certainly an underrated actress, would give us her first archiveable film in Lorenzo’s Oil. Marisa Tomei would get her start in two 1992 films (My Cousin Vinny for which she would win an Oscar– and Chaplin).
best performance male: With no disrespect meant to any of the other great actors listed here among the best of 1992, this is Denzel Washington’s year. His work here is peerless- good enough to buoy a mediocre film. However, when it is an intrinsic part of a cinematically ambitious masterpiece like Spike delivers here, it rises to one of the best performances of this or any era. Two films, Unforgiven and Reservoir Dogs, have three actors a piece that deserve mention among the years best in 1992. Clint Eastwood’s iconic take as William Munny is equal to his work with Leone and many thought that would ever happen. Gene Hackman is of comparable cinematic size and stature to Eastwood making him the perfect adversary to Clint in Unforgiven. This performance lands on Hackman’s Mount Rushmore. I am also making room for Richard Harris in Unforgiven as the unforgettable English Bob. One of the reasons the narrative works so well is Hackman’s character defeats Harris. Harris seems extremely tough to begin with so this makes Hackman’s character seem terrifying. If either one of those two characters fail to impress (aided by magnificent acting by Hackman and Harris), the set up does not work. Reservoir Dogs also has three slots in this section for 1992. Steve Buscemi is one as Mr. Pink, Michael Madsen is another as Mr. Blonde (oozing sadistic cool with his “Stuck in the Middle With You” dance) and Harvey Keitel the final mention as Mr. White. Keitel gets the added bonus of his work in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant in 1992. That is one of the bravest performances I have seen- raw and powerful. Al Pacino is a god (1992 was a big year for him with two acting nominations- one win)– but Keitel easily had the better year (not to mention Denzel). It is a big year for heavy hitters as the next two nominees in 1992 are Daniel Day-Lewis for The Last of the Mohicans and Anthony Hopkins for Howards End. Hopkins would capitalize on his success in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs in 1992 (he is also in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Chaplin). It would be a very late peak for Hopkins’ star (age 55). Day-Lewis brought method to a new level by getting into character for months on the set of Michael Mann’s film. He is marvelous here- he is a more-than-convincing action hero (the work he put in must have paid off because every motion seems natural) and romantic lead. Wes Studi lands the final spot for this category in 1992 for his work opposite of Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans. Wes Studi takes his impressive turn in 1990’s Dances With Wolves to the next level here. Studi is Magua—a Huron warrior with a backstory. Magua is a worthy foe.
best performance female: Tilda Swinton, about two decades before she becomes just every auteur’s favorite collaborator, tops this category for her work in Sally Potter’s Orlando. Sure, it is a desirable role and project—but it impossible not to see Swinton in that part now. Behind her, the three next best female performances of 1992 might be in Merchant Ivory’s Howards End. Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter are both superb as intelligent, outspoken, and well-intentioned sisters. And Vanessa Redgrave is enchanting in her few moments on screen. She is anomalous- almost other worldly—but she is immensely likeable here- which she rarely is throughout her career even when she gives a great performance. Lastly, Madeline Stowe is perfect as Cora Munro in The Last of the Mohicans.
- Malcolm X
- Reservoir Dogs
- The Last of the Mohicans
- Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
- The Long Day Closes
- The Player
- Howards End
- Husbands and Wives
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Few Good Men – Reiner||R/HR|
|A Midnight Clear- Keith Gordon||R|
|A River Runs Through It- Redford||HR|
|A Tale of Winter – Rohmer|
|Aladdin -Clements, Musker||R|
|American Heart- Bell||R|
|Bad Lieutenant- Ferrara||HR|
|Basic Instinct – Verhoeven||R|
|Benny’s Video – Haneke||R|
|Bram Stoker’s Dracula- F. Coppola||R/HR|
|Glengarry Glen Ross- Foley||R|
|Hard Boiled- Woo||HR|
|Howards End – Ivory||HR/MS|
|Husbands and Wives- Allen||HR/MS|
|La Vie de Bohème – Kaurismäki||R/HR|
|Leolo – Lauzon||R|
|Light Sleeper- Schrader||HR|
|Lorenzo’s Oil- G. Miller||R|
|Malcolm X- S. Lee||MP|
|My Cousin Vinny – J. Lynn||R|
|One False Move- Franklin||R|
|Orlando – Potter||HR/MS|
|Passion Fish- Sayles, Bassett||R|
|Patriot Games – Noyce||R|
|Porco Rosso- Miyazaki||R|
|Raising Cain – De Palma||R|
|Rebels of the Neon God – Ming-liang Tsai||R/HR|
|Reservoir Dogs – Tarantino||MS/MP|
|Scent of a Woman-Brest,||R|
|Simple Men- Hartley||R|
|Sneakers- Alden Robinson||R|
|The Crying Game- Jordan||R|
|The Last of the Mohicans – M. Mann||MS/MP|
|The Long Day Closes- Davies||MS|
|The Player – Altman||HR/MS|
|The Story of Qiu Ju- Yimou Zhang|
|Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me- Lynch||MS|
|Under Siege – A. Davis||R|
|Unlawful Entry – Kaplan||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
Very interesting that you didn’t archive a film like A league of their own which is already in the National Film Registry.Cinema Archives may lose credibility when that film is not shown here.
@Chris– oh yeah?
@Chris – I don’t understand, you criticize a movie grade or selection or performance on every page, don’t appreciate the extent of work done here and to top it all you say the site will lose its credibility. Truly my mind boggles at such words.. Apologies if I’m being harsh or rude.
I hope you know @Drake there MANY, MANY others who absolutely love the work you do here.
Where the hell did I critisize a movie grade?Certainly I think someone like Pacino need to mentioned in 2019 and Pesci in 1995 for casino but other than that where did I critisize a movie performance?Certainly I helped Drake find out about new films like Black Cat.White Cat(1998),Arizona Dream(1993),Cinderella Liberty(1973) etc.Maybe I was too harsh by saying the credibility thing but still I think Fingers(1978),A League of their Own (1992) and Brians Song(1971) are the three big omissions in this site.Can’t believe they are not even included here.
@Chris – I spoke about other pages and regret being brash because not only was that besides the point, but also your right to voice yourself. My issue was with your credibility statement mainly because it definitely isn’t the case and partly because you haven’t made a convincing arguement for the movie, instead merely stating other lists which don’t influence the ranking here.
Hope I haven’t offended you for it definitely wasn’t my intention.
Haha, I came to comment the same @JC, the site does not lose credibility, Drake is the person I trust the most when evaluating movies, sometimes he is wrong, such as Gertrud and solves it, i’ll take Drake’s evaluations above any critic
You write that the Best Male Performance category for 1992 is one of the easiest choices for you. What are some other categories that were very easy or that you chose with little hesitation?
@Graham— hmm– I’ll have to think of that as I go through the years. I just finished the recap for 1945 so Anna Magnani and her performance is fresh on my mind– far and away the best performance of 1945 without hesitation.
@Drake First of all there are far worse performances in far worse movies than Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman who have been oscar nominated. So no disrespect to the great Al Pacino here. But if someone said Al Pacino didn’t deserve to get oscar nominated for Scent of a Woman do you have a beef with it? So there is Denzel,Keitel,Eastwood and DDL who are in far better films. I’d add Tim Robbins in The Player to the mix. Maybe that should have been the five nominees.
Saw husbands and wives on blue ray. It’s an intimate movie. Very amazingly shot , a docudrama. Indeed an underrated movie. Judy Davis was on fire. The scene where is repeatedly calls her husband while having a guy over was a towering moment in comic brilliance.
@MASH- I’m thrilled to hear this- thanks for sharing
I’m on mobile right now and I can’t see any of the grades.
That’s been true for every single other year update as well. You can see them if you turn your phone sideways.
Wait, never mind, I see what you mean! You can’t see them if you turn it sideways either on this page. Strange.
@Graham – Yeah I just haven’t ever mentioned it since if you change the orientation, it will finally show them. This time, however, it didn’t. I’m at my computer now and can see the rankings but they should be visible on mobile as well.
You have to switch your phone screen from 100% zoom to 75% zoom and it will show all grades
You can make it a desktop site on your mobile phone & can view the grades on phone.
@Drake are you going to fix this? On my computer, it appears the grades are types too far to the right, which prevents them from being seen on a phone, even when turned sideways.
@Graham- I just tried something but – maybe that will help
Thank you; it is fixed now. However, the grades on all updated yearly archive pages can still only be seen on mobile if you turn the phone sideways, which will be unknown to most new visitors to the site and may prevent them from ever seeing the grades.
@Graham- thanks for this call out. I don’t know if I’ll go back but I’ll make a mental note to keep the margins tighter on all future updates. I appreciate this feedback and others to help make the site better- much appreciated.
Which is Tim Robbins’ greatest performance, The Player or The Shawshank Redemption?
@Graham- The Shawshank Redemption
@Graham – I have to 2nd that for Shawshank although I love Robbins in The Player. It shows an incredible range, there is no overlap whatsoever between these 2 roles. He’s such a smug pompous jerk in The Player yet so inspiring in Shawshank
I think his Shawshank performance is his career best but I think his Mystic River performance deserves a mention as well. It is an utterly haunting performance, Robbins conveys so much with his body language (always slumped over, walks with a slight limp, pained look on his face) I would probably rank Robbins top 3 career performances as
2. Mystic River
3. The Player
The opening scene in Reservoir Dogs could not be a more perfect opening to Tarantino’s career, a group of gangsters in a diner discussing the meaning of a Madonna song. Tarantino loves his pop culture references, and this followed by the hilarious tipping diatribe by Buscemi. While the production quality is not nearly at the same level of several of Tarantino’s numerous Masterpieces that would follow, I still find this to be arguably the most purely entertaining (although not the best) Tarantino film. I still listen to the soundtrack to this very day
I noticed above you for the Archives, Directors, and Grades you list:
“Reservoir Dogs – Tarantino, Keitel”
Is the Keitel just a typo?
@James Trapp- yep, good catch- thank you. Fixed.
The last 10-15 min of Unforgiven has to be one of the most satisfying of any film. The final shootout may not be as technically impressive as say The Wild Bunch although it certainly is phenomenal. You have to give a lot of the credit to Hackman’s acting as well; he’s so terrifying and despicable. And of course it’s one of the 3 or 4 best scenes from Eastwood’s entire career.
What are some of the other most satisfying endings?
Wong Kar-wai ends his movies incredibly well – Fallen Angels and Chungking Express especially. I also think the endings of Casablanca, Notorious, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Star Wars, Suspiria, Three Colors: Red, Magnolia, Almost Famous, Pan’s Labyrinth and There Will Be Blood are very satisfying. The #1 for me, though, is probably It’s a Wonderful Life – I don’t think I’ve ever reacted so strongly to a final act.
@Pedro – great picks,
I’d throw in Inglorious Basterds (although Shoshanna dying is kind of a downer), the Magnificent Ambersens would have been if they ended it as Welles intended with George getting his “comeuptance”. The Shawshank Redemption is probably # 1 for a lot of people and it’s hard to make an argument against it. But my personal favorite may be the following:
@James Trapp – Easy. I Saw the Devil.
@Pedro and @JamesTrapp
1.Before sunset’s ending. Julie Delpy mimics Nina Simone. She says in a Nina Simone voice “Baby. You are gonna miss that plane” “I know” replies Hawke and the movie ends as Delpy goes on dancing. That entire sequence is ♥️♥️.
2. Ullmann’s ending monologue in Scenes from a Marriage.
3. Therese approaching Carol with an assured decision and determination on her face. And a zoom on Carol as she smiles as if it’s her accomplishment.
4. The Godfather as Michael shuts Kay out.
5. Spiritual surrealistic cathartic ending of Breaking the Waves.
6. Mulholland Dr. When the past comes to haunt Naomi Watts in form of the old couple.
SPOILER!!! FOR THE PIANO TEACHER
7. Ending long take sequence of The Piano Teacher. Huppert Stabbing herself right in the heart. As the pain was there.
Yeah here were some. I’ll come with other later.
Great list. Ugh… how could I forget Before Sunset?! Nice addition.
Since its Christmas time i thought i should ask what are your thoughts on Home Alone 2. I think it is superior to the first, though I love them both
@Big chungus- Merry Christmas! haha. What’s your case for Home Alone 2? I’ll take the old man with the shovel over the pigeon lady all day long.
Ill take Tim Curry over both of them haha. I just think it has better gags, which is about the only thing you can compare.
They are the same quality, i just enjoy the second more 🙂
@Malith- thank you for your help here on this page and elsewhere
I think Sheryl Lee is certainly worthy of a mention for Fire Walk With Me.
Yep! @Drake what is your review of Sheryl Lee’s performance in Twin Peak fire walk with me. She gives an excellent performance definitely one of the year’s best!!!
@Ric- Good suggestion- I’ll make sure to pay closer attention to Lee’s work when I revisit. You may be right.
Is it a mistake that Husbands and Wives (MS) is behind two HR/MS films on the top 10? Doesn’t make complete sense
@Harry- good catch- thank you.