Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The 100 Project: The Top 10 Movies of 1992

1992 was an important year for me. I got out of the U.S. Army in July. Two weeks later, I turned 21. Then I had to figure what I would do next. I took a job slinging boxes for UPS while I thought about it. In the meantime, there were movies. Some of them were even good. For the first time since being a "grown-up" I made double digit trips to the theaters. And I even liked some of those! Here's how it all shakes out for me:

My Top 10 Movies of 1992

  • According to my Letterboxd account I watched 61 movies, the most since 1985.
  • Of the 10 movies I saw in theaters, 4 made the list.
  • I've seen 2 of the 5 Best Picture nominees, both are honorable mentions.
  • The list is book-ended by biopics, while a third movie is based on a true story.

10. Chaplin
These days, Robert Downey Jr. is better known as Tony Stark. There was a time, however, when he was known as a varied performer with considerable range. It's on display here as he embodies the legendary Charlie Chaplin as well as he does Iron Man. I came to this one late, having just seen this one for the first time a couple years ago. Glad I did because I was in a better position to appreciate his work than I would've been back when it came out.

9. Deep Cover
A good undercover cop story is always fun. This one does a deep psychological dive on an officer trying to bust the biggest drug lord in the city. Laurence Fishburne gives us some of his best work as the cop. Now add in Jeff Goldblum as that drug lord. Gold. Unfortunately, this has been relegated to 'hood classic status. There's nothing wrong with that but it deserves so much more.

8. Candyman
Let's start with a true story. As soon as I got home from the theater after seeing this, I went straight to the restroom, shut the door, looked in the mirror and said "Candyman" out loud five times in a row. I'm stupid like that, but so far so good. Let's end on a true story, too. This was my son's first horror flick, and it was probably too soon. He seemed fine all the way through it. However, I awoke at 3 AM to him standing over me with a petrified look on his sweaty face. Oops, my bad.

7. A Few Good Men
I'm like you when it comes to this movie. If someone tells me they want the truth, "You can't handle the truth!" is the first thing that pops into my head. There's a 50/50 chance I'll actually say it. Don't even get me started on when someone asks me to remove myself from the wall. Sometimes people have to be reminded that not only do they want me on that wall, they need me on it.

6. Basic Instinct
The first time I watched this I wasn't sure how much I liked it because I forgot everything after that shot of Sharon's stone. When I saw it again, I was able to maintain my focus and I loved it. I was terrified, but I loved it. Just to be on the safe side, there has never been an ice pick in the Dell household. This was especially important back in the early 90s because I had a waterbed. I was very afraid of having an orgasm, getting stabbed to death, and drowning all at once.

5. A League of Their Own
Baseball runs neck and neck with boxing for the sport with the best movies. This is one of the best of either. The performances are great all around, even from Madonna. Geena Davis rules everything as our de facto leader. However, it's Tom Hanks who steals every scene he's in and threatens to walk off with the entire movie. After all, he taught us "There's no crying in baseball."

4. White Men Can't Jump
On the other hand, most basketball movies are bad. This is an exception to the rule thanks in large part to the chemistry between Wesley Snipes and Wood Harrelson. The next biggest factor was Harrelson's chemistry with Rosie Perez. Then there was Perez's chemistry with me. Sorry, I didn't mean to say that last thing out loud. I meant it's hilarious, and I love basketball. Yeah, that's what I meant.

3. Juice
A hip hop heist-gone-bad movie featuring a DJ that pays homage to and draws inspiration from White Heat? I'm in. The story sizzles and culture icon Tupac Shakur gives us an amazing villain. And so many iconic moments of hip hop's cinematic history. This also happens to be the last movie I saw in theaters while living in Hawaii. And the soundtrack is one of my all-time favorites.

2. Reservoir Dogs
Right from the opening scene in the diner I was hooked. The conversation about tipping is some of the best stuff put on film. It sounds exactly like many conversations I've either had or overheard. And  these conversations kept happening, though the content of them was far darker than anything I was involved in. Yes, it's a slow burn of a plot, but that dialogue is everything. I know lots of people praise it for that, but seldom do they tell you what the main ingredient of all this talking is. Fact is, it's funny as hell even when ratcheting up the tension...or cutting off body parts.

1. Malcolm X
The opening scene features an American flag burning away until it's in the shape of the letter 'X' while the eponymous civil rights leader delivers a fiery speech. That night I saw it in a theater and every time I have watched it since, I've been mesmerized from that moment forward. And with good reason. What follows is the story of a man who redeemed and reinvented himself several times over and who's successes precipitated his failures. He's also a man who died while being actively involved in his own evolution. And THAT performance by Denzel Washington. Wow.

Honorable Mention (alphabetically listed): Aladdin, American Me, Army of Darkness, Batman Returns, Bebe's Kids, Boomerang, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Death Becomes Her, Glengarry Glen Ross, Hard Boiled, Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., My Cousin Vinny, South Central, Unforgiven, Wayne's World


  1. Chaplin! I'm so happy RDJ has all that money and fame now but before MCU he made such great movies and gave so many different performances. That said, Tropic Thunder is still the biggest gem. Shame he had such huge competition both times he was nominated for an Oscar

    1. Maybe he'll go back to more dramatic and varied acting now that his stint in the MCU is over...I think.

  2. Interesting list Dell. A couple I loved, some I liked, one I hated and some I haven’t seen.

    Starting with the two I loved:

    I’m not much of a Cruise fan but the role of Kaffee in A Few Good Men plays to all his strengths and he’s surrounded by a similarly well-chosen cast, in particular Nicholson. It helps that I’m a big fan of courtroom dramas and Rob Reiner’s direction is very tight.

    I agree baseball movies are usually much more entertaining than basketball films. Maybe the difference is basketball doesn’t allow for the same sense of communal pull that baseball does. Be that as it may A League of Their Own really does have a great story that you can’t help but care about and all the performers do some of their best work, but Hanks is inimitable. I’m surprised he didn’t get a nomination.

    White Men Can’t Jump on the other hand was just passable. Harrelson & Snipes did make a good team.

    Of those others I liked:

    Chaplin is a thorough bio-pic and RDJ gives it his all but maybe because I’m not a huge Chaplin fan (he was very, very talented but most of his silents don’t do much for me) I wasn’t swept away by the movie so one viewing was good for me.

    Tarantino is very hit or miss for me but when I finally got around to Reservoir Dogs it was better than I expected. I didn’t love it but it had a lot of noir elements that I do love and it was great that he got one of the veterans of the genre-Lawrence Tierney to play one of the main characters.

    Malcolm X was my most recent watch of all of these and it really was quite impressive.

    The only one I flat out hated was Basic Instinct which I thought was just salacious trash.

    I’ve never seen Candyman (and never will) nor Deep Cover, which sounds interesting. Juice would normally be something I’d avoid like the plague, I am in no way a hip hop fan, but if it’s inspired by White Heat which I’m a big fan of I might give it a try.

    1. I think baseball has gotten better movies because it's been so heavily romanticized for so long people, including filmmakers, really take the adage about baseball being a metaphor for life to heart. The structure of the game itself allows time for examination between innings, between batters, and even between pitches. The movies reflect this. Basketball is more kinetic. Likewise, the movies reflect the game - faster and trying to be enjoyed on a surface level. That's hit or miss. Generally speaking, we're too busy reacting to basketball to give it as much thought as required to discover the game's depth. It doesn't help that depicting a legitimate looking baseball play is far easier than doing the same for basketball. Baseball players can be isolated, or shot with one other person as a natural part of the game. Two guys can generate drama by standing still having a conversation, or glaring at one another. Basketball always has constantly moving pieces that have to all look like they don't know what's about to happen. Conversations have to be purely trash talk, at which screenwriters generally suck, and two players standing around talking can only happen on very few occasions. I've gone on way too much about this.

      Not a huge Chaplin fan myself (I've still only seen City Lights), but I find Chaplin to be an excellent film.

      I agree that Basic Instinct is salacious trash, but it's good at being just that.

      The bad guy in Juice, Bishop, is enamored with Cagney's character in White Heat and takes on the role of tearing his own crew apart because his hunger for power is driving him mad. He's dressed in 90s urban gear instead of 40s gangster suits, but the sentiment surrounding Bishop is much the same. There's plenty more going on, too. Of all the 'hood movies that sprang up in the wake of Boyz N the Hood this is one of the best.

  3. We have two matches and one of your runner-ups made my list and one of your main choices made mine. But otherwise we seem to be worlds apart! I thought Death Becomes Her was okay, more for the performances than anything else but it didn’t make the cut for my list.

    Howards End-Members of three families of different social strata-the wealthy Wilcoxes (headed by Anthony Hopkins & Vanessa Redgrave) the middle class Schlegels (Emma Thompson & Helena Bohnam Carter) and the impoverished Basts (Samuel West), meet in London during the early years of the 20th century. When their scruples and one disastrous irreparable decision collide all their lives are laid waste in one way or another.

    The Last of the Mohicans-Vigorous, vivid, kinetic and exciting version of the James Fenimore Cooper tale of the Indian raised Hawkeye (an incredibly physical Daniel Day-Lewis) and his adopted father and brother Chingachgook & Uncas as they lead two sisters Cora (Madeleine Stowe-who shares a powerful chemistry with DDL) and Alice Munro through hostile upstate New York territory during the French-Indian War.

    My Cousin Vinny-Two yuts are arrested for a crime they didn’t commit while driving through Alabama and in distress call on one of their cousins, hard core New Yorker Vinnie Gambini (Joe Pesci) who just passed the bar after six attempts to represent them. He rolls into town with his equally flashy girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei-who deserved her Oscar no matter what anyone says) and the two fish out of water get into all kinds of scrapes while Vinnie tries to save the boys.

    Sister Act-Reno entertainer Delores Van Cartier (Whoopi Goldberg) witnesses her married gangster lover Vince (Harvey Keitel) rub someone out and when she escapes to the police they hide her out in a convent overseen by a stern Reverend Mother (Maggie Smith). Chafing under the confines of the convent Delores (now called Sister Mary Clarence) is assigned to being in the choir. She ends up leading it turning them into a sensational group garnering widespread attention.

    A River Runs Through It-Meditative study of two Montana brothers (Brad Pitt & Craig Sheffer), both devout fly fisherman, and the different courses their lives take once they reach maturity.

    1. Of this bunch, I've only seen My Cousin Vinny and Sister Act. Of course, I'm a fan of the former, but the latter - not so much. I just found it boring and unfunny. On the other hand, I really like Sister Act 2, go figure.

    2. I thought Sister Act 2 was such a letdown.

      Of course I love all mine but I think Last of the Mohicans would be the one you'd enjoy the most out of this group. It's a great adventure.

  4. School Ties-In the 50’s working class kid David Greene (Brendan Fraser) gets the opportunity to attend an Ivy League prep school on a football scholarship which will enable him to attain his dream of enrolling at Harvard. On his way there his coach tacitly advises him to keep the fact that he is Jewish to himself for fear of reprisal. Anxious to fit in he says nothing and becomes very popular with his classmates (including very young Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Chris O’Donnell) and falls for a girl. But when his faith is discovered anti-Semitism rears its head and things take an ugly turn.

    A Few Good Men-Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is a military lawyer defending two U.S. Marines charged with killing a fellow Marine at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Convinced of their innocence by fellow lawyer, Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), and that they were most likely carrying out an order from their commanding officer Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson). Up against a wall of evidence Kaffee takes a risk by calling Jessep to the stand in an effort to uncover the conspiracy. Taut courtroom drama with some top flight performances.

    One False Move-After a murderous rampage in L.A. three criminals, (Cynda Williams, Billy Bob Thornton and Michael Beach) race to a small Arkansas town to go into hiding. Two detectives from the LAPD, who are already on the case, contact the town's sheriff, Dale Dixon (Bill Paxton), to alert him of the fugitives' presence in the area. Underestimating Dixon, the criminals have no idea what they are about to face. Hard edged, action packed crime drama with some very good performances, especially Paxton.

    Noises Off!-Daffy door slamming comedy of the backstage entanglements of a troupe of performers in a long running touring play loses some of the spontaneous joy of its source play but with a cast including Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter and Marilu Henner it goes down easy.

    A League of Their Own-Comedy/drama which uses the women’s baseball leagues that sprang up during WWII as its framework. Warm and touching with great performances….and remember “There’s no crying in baseball!!”

    Chaplin, The Crying Game, Malcolm X, The Mighty Ducks, Of Mice and Men, Passion Fish, The Railway Station Man, Sneakers, Under Siege

    1. Of the rest of your main list, I've seen only the two on my list. Of your runner-ups, aside from the two on my list, I've seen Of Mice and Men and Under Siege, both of which I enjoy. The latter I've seen maybe half a dozen times. I've seen bits and pieces of The Mighty Ducks. I never bothered with The Crying Game because I found out the twist before I could. I might still give it a shot.

    2. You should track down One False Move. I think it will fall right into your movie watching sweet spot.

  5. Based on my own list, I have Reservoir Dogs at #1 and Malcolm X at 3. I've seen all of the films in your top 10 lists but on your honorable mentions, the ones I haven't seen are: American Me, Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., and Hard Boiled.

    White Men Can't Jump is a film that I'm seriously hoping would be released as part of the Criterion Collection. Not just because it's a great sports movie but for the fact that it's attracted a major cult following with filmmakers. It was one of Stanley Kubrick's favorite films in his final years and it's also a favorite of Terrence Malick. I would love for someone who know those two to just talk about the film and why those filmmakers love it so much.

    1. I'd heard before that Kubrick liked White Men Can't Jump, but I had no idea Malick did, too. That's very interesting and doesn't seem to make sense. Like you, I would love to hear them talk about it, especially Malick because he's a nut I haven't cracked yet. Just can't get into his work.

  6. I realize how few films I actually have seen when I read your blog:) I enjoyed Chaplin but, for some reason, something was missing although Downey was excellent. Denzel is excellent and one actor I admire. There are a couple I have on my list and a couple from Joel’s too. So here are mine...

    10. Basic Instinct- Bad girl showing her who-ha to cops but may love ice picks more.
    9. Lethal Weapon 3- I have a soft spot for these movies. They are a guilty pleasure
    8. Noises Off- Slapstick farce that I was lucky to see on stage in NYC
    7. A Few Good Men- I say the same thing...you can’t handle the truth!
    6. Last of the Mohicans- Joel says it best plus it has Daniel Day Lewis...be still my heart.
    5. Sister Act- my mom loved this nun story with some fun singing
    4. Howard’s End- I need to see this again but it is just so beautifully told
    3. A League of Their Own- you both said it best. So much fun to watch
    2. Unforgiven- this is a great western by the #2 leading western star, Clint Eastwood. (John Wayne Being #1)
    1. Beam Stoker’s Dracula-I love this version with the great art direction, music, cinematography, costumes and the acting of Gary Oldman who should have won the Oscar.

    There’s my list and hope you enjoy it.

    1. Birgit, I'm jealous you were able to see Noises Off! on stage in New York! I've seen two other productions, one in Philadelphia at the Walnut Street Theatre and another at a smaller regional place and both were hilarious. I think the play is pretty indestructible as long as you have good actors and the pacing is right.

    2. I feel so out of the loop on Noises Off. Haven't even heard of it before now.

      Birgit, I do love your list. Glad to see Dracula at the top. Agreed, Oldman was amazing.

    3. I was lucky but it wasn’t the original production but who cares! I was in NYC and saw Jane Curtain in the lead. It is a funny movie and play. I love Dracula and Oldman was robbed of an Oscar Nom.

  7. OUCH! My easy #1 didn't even make an honorable mention. "The Last of the Mohicans" is not only my favorite movie of 92 but one of my favorites of all-time. Such an incredible mix of story, performances, incredible cinematography and a stunning score ( I actually used parts of the soundtrack in our wedding). I can't praise that film enough.

    1. I haven't seen it. Sorry, dude. If it helps, I plan on seeing it soon. Then again, I've been planning on it for years. Maybe this time I'll come through on that promise to myself.

  8. I'm loving these lists, mainly because I'm compiling a great selection of movies for when I'm ready to explore some older classics. Reservoir Dogs is such a good one :D

  9. I wondered what would keep Reservoir Dogs off of number one. Malcolm X is extraordinary. I had no idea about WMCJ having such influential filmmaker fans. I read somewhere that Keanu Reeves was the first choice which makes a lot of sense.

  10. You included many great films from 1992 and Malcolm Xs is top 5 for me. My absolute favorite from that year is Scent of a Woman. I know some folks dislike Pacino's "hoo-ah's" but I can't get enough of that movie. If you enjoy horror, Peter Jackson directed a great one called Dead Alive (1992).