When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked at 1991, it gave its Best Picture award to The Silence of the Lambs. There are things that I like about that highbrow slasher flick, and there are things that I don't; it squeezed its way into my honorable mentions, but it didn't make the top 10.
1. The Rapture
Written and directed by Michael Tolkin
The best movie ever made about apocalyptic Christianity.
2. Hearts of Darkness
Directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper
A behind-the-scenes look at Apocalypse Now that doubles as a remake of Apocalypse Now.
Written and directed by David Mamet
"When you start cumming with the customers, it's time to quit."
4. Raise the Red Lantern
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Written by Zhen Ni, from a novel by Su Tong
"It's all playacting. If you play well, you fool the others. If you play badly, you only fool yourself. If you can't even fool yourself, you can fool the ghosts."
5. Tribulation 99
Written and directed by Craig Baldwin
We'll get to JFK soon enough. But this is the great sprawling conspiracy epic of 1991.
6. Blooper Bunny
Directed by Greg Ford and Terry Lennon
Written by Ford, Lennon, and Ronnie Schelb
One of the few latter-day Bugs Bunny cartoons that retains the edge of the originals.
Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Stone and Zachary Sklar
Stone throws so many theories into this movie that his psychedelic montages take on a life of their own; the cascading images and ideas sweep aside any single story about what happened in Dallas in 1963. As a result, whether he intended it or not, the film looks less like an historical thesis and more like a panoramic view of the psychic landscape in paranoid post-assassination America. Needless to say, that's much more interesting than the standard Oliver Stone message-movie.
Written and directed by Richard Linklater
Obsessive geeks, conspiracy theorists, alt-media weirdos, an anarchist invoking Guy Fawkes, even a "Ron Paul: Libertarian for President" sign: Here is your guide to the ensuing 30 years of the counterculture.
9. Point Break
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by W. Peter Iliff
I'll tip my hat to Andrew Sarris and call this "expressive esoterica."
10. Prime Suspect
Directed by Christopher Menaul
Written by Lynda La Plante
How amazed I was by this miniseries when it first came out. A police procedural whose solution wasn't telegraphed from the beginning. With red herrings that might actually mislead you. On television! In those days this was just about unheard-of.
11. Delicatessen (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro)
12. Blood in the Face (Anne Bohlen, Kevin Rafferty, James Ridgeway)
13. The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
14. Zentropa (Lars von Trier)
15. Little Man Tate (Jodie Foster)
16. Dogfight (Nancy Savoca)
17. Thanksgiving Prayer (Gus Van Sant)
18. The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (Jan Švankmajer)
19. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme)
20. Flirting (John Duigan)
Of the films of 1991 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in A Brighter Summer Day.