When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1990, it gave its Best Picture award to Dances with Wolves, the middlebrow message-movie that definitively established that a revisionist western could be boring. I prefer these:
1. Miller's Crossing Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
A story about power, loyalty, and violence, and the ways the first item on that list depends on the other two.
2. Ju Dou Directed by Zhang Yimou and Yang Fengliang Written by Liu Heng
From the days when Zhang made movies that worried the Chinese authorities instead of celebrating them.
3. The Reflecting Skin Written and directed by Philip Ridley
This would make an interesting double feature with Martin.
4. An Angel at My Table Directed by Jane Campion Written by Laura Jones, from the memoirs of Janet Frame
The life of Janet Frame, who endured psychiatric torture just for being a bit of a nonconformist, survived the experience, and became a successful writer. I've never been a big Campion fan, but this movie is a masterpiece.
5. Jacob's Ladder Directed by Adrian Lyne Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Lyne's flicks are usually unwatchable, and Rubin is best known for writing the sappy Ghost. How those two, of all people, managed to put together this absorbing thriller -- part Philip K. Dick, part Lucius Shepard, part Ambrose Bierce -- is a mystery.
6. Europa Europa Directed by Agnieszka Holland Written by Holland with Paul Hengge, from the memoirs of Solomon Perel
Schindler's List poses the audience a question: Would you give up your riches to save thousands of lives, or would you selfishly serve the Nazis? And us viewers allow ourselves to believe that we would be as noble as Oskar Schindler, and we pat ourselves on the back. Europa Europa, the tale of a Jewish boy passing as an Aryan in the Nazi era, asks a much trickier question: whether we'd be willing to suppress our own identity to survive, inflicting tremendous physical and emotional pain on ourselves in the process. The answer is not as easy, and the movie is much more interesting.
7. The Nasty Girl Written and directed by Michael Verhoeven
Another good Holocaust film -- they're rare, but they do exist. This one is about the Germans who weren't as noble as Oskar Schindler, and how they dealt with their history after the war was over.
8. Sink or Swim Written and directed by Su Friedrich
"She didn't know whether to feel pity or envy for the young girl who sat alone in the sunshine trying to invent a more interesting story."
9. Quick Change Directed by Howard Franklin and Bill Murray Written by Franklin, from a novel by Jay Cronley
Some movies are love letters to New York. This is not one of them.
10. To Sleep with Anger Written and directed by Charles Burnett
"And where did he get the power to summon up all his old raffish friends?"
11. Metropolitan (Whit Stillman) 12. King of New York (Abel Ferrara) 13. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese) 14. Miami Blues (George Armitage) 15. La Femme Nikita (Luc Besson) 16. The Freshman (Andrew Bergman) 17. The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (Jan Svankmajer) 18. White Hunter, Black Heart (Clint Eastwood) 19. Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami) 20. To Be (John Weldon)
Of the movies of 1990 that I haven't seen, the one that interests me the most is No Fear, No Die.