Sunday, August 4, 2019

The 100 Project: The Top 10 Movies of 1991

1991 might be the most interesting year of The 100 Project when it's all said and done. I saw comparative few movies released this year, failing to reach 50 (at this point) for the first time since 1981. Yet, a number of the movies I did see are serious contenders to make the final list of my top 100 movies of all-time. What makes it really interesting is that many of you will look at this year's list as completely out of order. Some of those many of you consider all-time greats make the cut, but below movies that are more personal to me. The battle between objectively great (or at least widely accepted as great) and deeply relatable to me as an individual rages on. Let's see how it plays out this time.

My Top 10 Movies of 1991
  • According to my Letterboxd account, I've watched 46 movies released during 1991
  • I've seen 3 of the 5 Best Picture nominees. 2 make the list, the other is an honorable mention
  • 4 of the 7 movies I saw in theaters make the list
  • 5 movies in my top 10 have an African-American lead

10. A Rage in Harlem
This story of a nerd saving the day and getting the girl strikes a chord with me. It's not quite a private eye noir, but borrows heavily from that genre. It's also a period piece giving us a ground zero of Harlem during its heyday as the centerpiece of Black culture, but exploring its criminal underbelly. Finally, it gives me my favorite Forest Whitaker performance.

9. The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear
If you've been following this project, you're aware I love well-done, self-aware movies. The Naked Gun series is filled with just that. I love this one nearly as much as the first. Leslie Nielsen continues to be a perfectly oblivious hero in a film that once again possesses the perfect combination of intelligence and stupidity.

8. Bugsy
I saw this one about 15 years after its release, so I was aware of all its acclaim. I set my skepticism on high when I pressed play, but it thoroughly won me over. The story of infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel and the genesis of Las Vegas as America's most famous adult playground mesmerized me.

7. Jungle Fever
Looking at TV, and just walking around in public gives the impression that this movie is incredibly dated. After all, the main plot deals with everyone's hang-ups about interracial relationships. I see people in them everywhere I go. Lots of them. And no one seems to bat an eye. On the other hand, I KNOW that conversations very similar to the ones in the movie (if not verbatim) still take place in private. Plus, the subplot about drug addiction ripping up families and entire communities is still brutally relevant.

6. Point Break
Sometimes all a movie needs to be is fun. That's the case with this cinematic shot of adrenaline. The action sequences are still jaw-dropping. Keanu Reeves is in a role that perfectly fits his strengths as an actor while avoiding his weaknesses. Patrick Swayze has never been better. NEVER. And director Kathryn Bigelow makes sure this thing moves.

5. The Silence of the Lambs
If I ever meet Anthony Hopkins in real life, he might scare the shit out of me. That's because for better or worse, he is Hannibal Lecter. It's one of the most amazing performances any of us have ever seen. At the same time, Jodie Foster is, and will forever be, Clarice Starling. And the movie housing these two towering achievements of acting is all sorts of unsettling to this day.

4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
My love of the first movie in the franchise, and the promise of an amazing spectacle drew me to the theater for this one. I most certainly got the spectacle. Certain movies altered the cinematic landscape from a visual standpoint. This is one of them. What makes it endure, however, is its heart. It's the only movie in the franchise that gives us the warm and fuzzies to go with our excitement.

3. The Five Heartbeats
It's about a fictional singing group that mimics the rise and fall of The Temptations. It also works in elements from the stories of The Dells, The Four Tops, James Brown, and others. Director/star Robert Townsend who also co-wrote the script with Keenen Ivory Wayans, synthesizes all of this perfectly into a movie that I can both sing along to and quote every day life. I have been known to suddenly break into my imitation of a drunken Eddie King and stammer "Nights like this/I wish/Raindrops would faaaa-hahahahall. Dun-DUNNN!" I laugh even if no one else does and that's all that matters.

2. New Jack City
Speaking of movies I quote in daily life, there is this. I could tell you how a movie based on the rise of crack and the 'hood drug lord hits a little too close to home. I could tell you that this is the best performance Wesley Snipes has ever given. But I'd rather just share a few of the lines from this movie that I find myself saying from time to time. "That shit just be callin' me man, it be callin' me." "I never liked you anyway, pretty motherfucker." "Rock a bye, baby!" And my personal favorite: "Sit yo' five dollar ass down before I make change!"

1. Boyz N the Hood
Yes, I can quote this movie, too. But this one is much more than that. The fact it's a dissertation on the importance of fathers, particularly in the Black community, hits me right where I live. It examines this subject in every single frame and rips your heart out while doing so. Much has been made of the fact that it's an amazing debut from John Singleton, the lunacy of the idea that it didn't get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, the wonderful acting debut of Ice Cube, and the film's overall message. What hasn't gotten nearly enough credit is the performance conveying that message and permeating the entire film whether he's on screen or not - that of Laurence Fishburne as the wonderfully named Furious Styles.

Honorable Mentions (alphabetically listed): Beauty and the Beast, The Last Boy Scout, Madonna: Truth or Dare, My Girl, Other People's Money, The People Under the Stairs, Ricochet, The Super


  1. Of your top 10, I've only seen bits of Bugsy while The Five Heartbeats is the only other film in the top 10 I haven't seen. In my list so far, only Boyz N the Hood is in the top 10 considering that half of the top 10 are European films. A Rage in Harlem is underrated as it was the film that introduced me to Robin Givens and man, she was gorgeous. Mike Tyson though is right about her now, a cold fart. And yes, Brad Pitt does owe Mike some money for being with Givens while they were married.

    1. I hope you get to see both of those soon. Never heard about Brad Pitt & Mike Tyson, lol.

  2. This is such a good year for movies, and that doesn't get talked about. Fried Green Tomatoes, Raise the Red Lantern, JFK, Centre Stage, The Addams Family, Beauty and the Beast, Hearts of Darkness, The Commitments, L.A. Story, Delicatessen, The Double Life of Veronique, Thelma and Louise...

    And that leaves off everything already on your list.

    Boyz n the Hood is one of the greatest directorial debuts in film history.

    As for the other Best Picture nominees, JFK is worth seeing if only because pretty much everyone is in it and because it's Oliver Stone in coked-out conspiratorial fury. The Prince of Tides is drippy and awful.

    1. I'll be watching Thelma and Louise as a Blind Spot watch later this year. JFK is in that group of movies that I keep telling myself I'm going to watch but never do.

  3. I love that Boyz in the Hood is #1. I'm so happy I finally got around to that with my Blind Spot list last year. I love Silence of the Lambs and T2 is always a classic as well.

    1. Oh, they're all classics. No doubt about it.

  4. Wow we had more matches than usual for 1990 and this time out I have one of your main choices in my runner-ups and that’s all! I’ve also seen less this time than any other year, I’m missing four-Jungle Fever, Boyz in the Hood, New Jack City and A Rage in Harlem though that last is in my queue which is working its way towards the top and I’ll be giving it a look soon.

    Of the others:

    Naked Gun 2 ½ has moments of humor and Leslie Nielsen is a comic god but it’s not something I go back to.

    Bugsy was…fine. Beautifully put together, decently acted but knowing quite a bit about Bugsy Siegel & Virginia Hill far too slick and prettied up.

    I agree with everything you said about Point Break it’s absurd but in a breezy way. Keanu’s role definitely plays into his strengths probably better than any other movie outside of Speed. But as escapist as it is it is not something I’ve felt the pull to watch again in years.

    Silence of the Lambs is expertly made and both Hopkins and Jodie Foster great but just like the book, which is excellently written, it was too unsettling for me to fully embrace as something I’d list as a favorite.

    As was the case with Bugsy The Five Heartbeats was a decent film that I don’t hold a great deal of affection for.

    Our one match is Terminator 2 (or T2 as it was referred to everywhere when it came out). I was certain when it came out that it would stink as most follow up sequels do but they wisely had Cameron return to helm it and they took it in interesting directions.

    Of your runner-ups I’ve seen them all, yes even Beauty & the Beast, but the only one that elicited a strong emotion was the Madonna movie. It made me dislike her even more intensely than I did before which I hadn’t thought possible beforehand.

    1. Of your four misses, obviously I'm most highly recommending Boyz N the Hood. It is the one that still holds its place as an important film and one that is still relevant.

      But Point Break is just so fun. I have to go back to it every now and again.

      Yeah, I remember T2 being prominently displayed everywhere. To this day, most people call it that.

      Lol on Madonna. I was in high school when she took over the world, and I have to admit, I am a fan of all her work into the mid/late 90s. I had a good time with Truth or Dare. That said, I know she rubs lots of folks the wrong way.

    2. Hey Dell, just dropping back to say I saw A Rage in Harlem the other day. I liked it. It had its flaws but overall it was quite enjoyable. Gorgeous production design.

      Robin Givens was okay, certainly beautiful but no noir queen like Jane Greer or Lizabeth Scott. It left me wondering what a stronger actress such as Angela Bassett or Lynn Whitfield could have brought to the picture.

  5. As Steve said this was a really strong year which I think shows in that all you chose and ones he mentions we all have such little overlap.

    I do want to mention the British Up series. Starting in 1964 with 7 Up! The documentarian spoke to a group of seven year old returning every 7 years to chart their growth and see how their childhood shelves influenced the people they became. In 1991 35 Up came out. Since it starts as a show on the BBC then is shown theatrically in the States I didn’t include it but it would be top pick had they been strictly theatrical features. 63 Up is coming later this year!!

    Here’s my 10:

    Enchanted April-To escape the dreary, rainy London of the 20’s four women, kindly Lottie (Josie Lawrence), pious Rose (Miranda Richardson), the wealthy & flighty Caroline (Polly Walker) and aristocratic Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) escape to sunny Italy for a holiday. After a scarifying journey they arrive at the rented castle and fall under its life changing spell.

    Soapdish-The wacky machinations and meltdowns behind the scenes of the daytime soap The Sun Also Sets. Stacked with a cast of comedy experts-Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Cathy Moriarty, Elisabeth Shue, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Downey, Jr., Carrie Fisher and Teri Hatcher among others-that any real soap would give their eye teeth for.

    Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead-When her mother goes on vacation to her boyfriend’s Australian sheep ranch high school senior Swell (Christina Applegate) suddenly finds herself responsible for her four younger siblings when their ogre of a babysitter drops dead. Passing herself off as much older she finagles a great job and the hilarity begins.

    Deceived-After a whirlwind courtship art restorer Adrienne (Goldie Hawn) and art dealer Jack Saunders (John Heard) quickly marry and have a daughter, Mary. Contentedly living in a restored loft they seem to have everything but during an exhibition at Jack’s museum the curator appears to commit suicide followed shortly afterwards by Jack’s death in a car wreck. When Adrienne files for his benefits she’s told that Jack Saunders died many years before in a plane crash. So who was she married to? As she looks for the truth she finds the answer could be lethal. Something different for Goldie and quite good.

    Doc Hollywood-Dr. Ben Stone (Michael J. Fox) is an egotistical jerk of a physician driving from New York to L.A. for an interview to work with a top plastic surgeon. Taking a shortcut through the small town of Grady he has a minor accident and is sentenced to community service to pay for the damage. He very reluctantly complies but as time passes he is taken with the quirky townspeople and in particular the scrappy ambulance driver Lou (Julie Warner).

    1. Though the Up series is now legendary, and I'm well aware of the premise, I haven't seen any of it.

      Of this group of films, the only one I saw in full is Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead. I laughed, it was fine. Didn't love it. I saw bits and pieces of both Soapdish and Doc Hollywood. Not sure why I never finished the former, but the latter didn't hold my attention. I think I just may have been too immature to accept Fox as anything other than a confused high school kid in an outrageous situation, i.e. Back to the Future, Teen Wolf, that sort of thing). I probably should go back to it. Maybe I will, maybe not.

    2. Doc Hollywood is really, really good. I don't exactly know why--there are no surprises in this movie at all, but it's so much fun. Great cast all the way through, funny, and highly quotable. It's worth tracking down.

  6. Proof-Blind photographer Martin (Hugo Weaving) takes photographs as "proof" that the world really is as others describe it to him. He has an antagonistic relationship with Celia (Genevieve Picot), who cleans and cooks for him, habitually rearranges the furniture in the house and secretly loves him. One day he strikes up a friendship with Andy (Russell Crowe), who has a talent for description and as Celia feels threatened the seeds of trouble brew.

    If Looks Could Kill-High school senior Michael Corben (Richard Grieco) is going to Europe with the French club to earn the necessary credit to graduate. A mix-up at the airport leads him to be mistaken for an international spy, whisked to British Headquarters, provided with every gadget imaginable and tasked with defeating the evil Augustus Steranko (Roger Rees) and his henchwoman Ilsa Grunt (Linda Hunt) who want to take over the world gold supply. Ridiculously enjoyable spy spoof with Rees and Linda Hunt delightfully hamming it up.

    JFK-Oliver Stone directed look at the investigation into Kennedy’s assassination from the point of view of New Orleans DA Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) and the dark corridors both explored and ignored. Enormous cast of famous faces pass through.

    Dead Again-A mute amnesiac (Emma Thompson) arrives at the gates of an old orphanage and private investigator Mike Church (Kenneth Branagh) is asked to find out who she is. With the help of a hypnotist (Derek Jacobi), the woman regains her voice and recalls vivid past memories of a couple from the 1940s torn apart by murder. Church begins to develop feelings for the woman, whom he calls Grace then discovers he has a connection to the tragic couple from the 40s. Atmospheric noir shot at the time that Emma Thompson & Branagh were married.

    The Man in the Moon-In 1957 14 year old Dani (Reese Witherspoon in her screen debut) lives on a small Louisiana farm with her parents and two sisters and is particularly close to older sister Maureen (Emily Warfield). One day 17 year old, Court Foster (Jason London) and his family move into the neighboring farm. Court meets Dani at the local swimming hole and their attraction is immediate but when Court meets Maureen they fall deeply in love. As Dani and Maureen are torn by their feelings events take a tragic turn.

    The Hard Way, He Said, She Said, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Rocketeer, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Terminator 2, Toy Soldiers

    1. Of this group, I've only seen The Man in the Moon. You may remember it's one of my daughters all-time favorites. JFK will be the next one I watch from this bunch.

      Of the runner-ups, aside from T2, I've only seen all of Toy Soldiers. I had fun with it, but always viewed it as just a Red Dawn knock-off. I've tried several times with Prince of Thieves, just couldn't get into it. My last try was many years ago, so I might try it again. The Rocketeer is one I'm going to see sooner, rather than later. Same for Star Trek VI. Strangely, it's one of those in the franchise that I just completely missed and don't know how.

  7. Out of sheer curiosity I checked my Letterboxd account to see how many 1991 movies I'd seen. 2. Only 2! This is awful. At least one of the 2 was one from your list, Point Break!

    1. Awful, indeed. I'd say check out Boyz N the Hood, first. Then watch Terminator 2, providing that you've seen the first one. If not, watch the first one, then watch T2.

  8. The Wiggles will be 30 by 2021 ❤️💜💛💙

  9. I started my job in 1991 and am still there. I feel old..hahahaaa. I wish I would have seen more of the films you chose which is bad on me to be honest. I love Silence of the Lambs even though it is quite violent. I have chosen my top 10 and am shocked one of them is not on your list as it is one of my favourite movies ever.

    10. Star Trek IV- who doesn’t love Kirk in a very bad prison with Iman
    9. dead Again- a very good whodunit with noir aspects and reincarnation
    8. naked Gun 2 1/2- Leslie Nielsen is gold
    7. City Slickers- fun comedy I can watch over and over
    6. The Rocketeer- a good old fashion adventure that should be known better
    5. Regarding Henry- moody Harrison Ford( Just him I think) in a quiet thriller with very moody music that I love
    4. Only The Lonely- a sweet comedy with John Candy who lives with his mom, Maureen O’Hara
    3. Silence of the Lambs- you said it all. I was on the edge of my seat at the end...popcorn went flying.
    2. Beaut6 and the Beast- great an8mated film that gave yet another slant to this classic fairy tale
    1. The Fisher King- my favourite Robin Williams role with Jeff Bridges who is a lost soul. He meets up with a homeless bum and ends up helping him on his quest to find the holy Grail. Terry Gilliam directed a great film here

    1. Hopefully, being in one place that long means you will have a really great retirement when the time comes. I really need to see The Fisher King. I've heard nothing but good things about it, and still haven't gotten around to it. City Slickers didn't do it for me.

  10. Ahhh yes, The Naked Gun series. That was a time when comedy branched towards the Airplane! style of absurdist comedy which I've always kinda loved. In fact I think Hot Shots! came out that year as well. As far as guilty pleasures from 1991...ever see Hard Target? LOL.

    1. I love that style, too. I had fun with Hot Shots! Yes, I've seen Hard Target and didn't like it. This came during a stretch of Van Damme movies that I hated. JCVD having a mullet didn't help.

  11. New Jack City is one of the great movie names. And Furious Styles is such an awesome name. Great choice for number one. Not so much comedy but great year for drama.

    1. Yeah, this was definitely a strong year for drama.