By Preston Wilder
Here’s another instalment of ‘Through the Decades’, our annual summer feature going back through film history a decade at a time.
1993 facts and figures:
Top 5 Money-Makers (US):
Sleepless in Seattle
Best Film Oscar: Schindler’s List
Best Actor Oscar: Tom Hanks, Philadelphia
Best Actress Oscar: Holly Hunter, The Piano
Cannes Festival ‘Golden Palm’ (tie): The Piano (New Zealand) and Farewell My Concubine (China)
1993 was the year of Steven Spielberg: landing an impressive one-two punch, he revolutionised the special-effects industry in Jurassic Park then – just a few short months later – won the Best Director Oscar that had previously eluded him with Schindler’s List, frequently (if wrongly) referred to as the best film of the 90s.
Spielberg was the year’s MVP – but, as the multiplex boom gathered pace around the world, Hollywood also saw huge profits for films like The Fugitive (nominated for Best Picture), In The Line of Fire and Free Willy. Amazingly, the year’s 10 biggest hits in the US didn’t include a single sequel.
American films ranged from Martin Scorsese’s subtle Edith Wharton adaptation The Age of Innocence to fevered ghetto movie Menace II Society – not to mention Steven Soderbergh’s deft coming-of-age film King of the Hill, Brian de Palma’s ornate Carlito’s Way, the Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance and the odd, underrated A Perfect World. From Britain came miscarriage-of-justice drama In the Name of the Father and Kenneth Branagh’s merry Shakespeare jape Much Ado About Nothing – though everything paled beside Mike Leigh’s coruscating Naked.
Elsewhere there were two films named Blue (by Derek Jarman and Krzysztof Kieslowski), a quirky Japanese crime comedy (Sonatine) from Takeshi Kitano, the Smoking/No Smoking diptych (based on Alan Ayckbourn), and a Chinese New Wave epitomised by The Days and Farewell My Concubine. Above all, The Piano – the year’s big arthouse hit, winning Oscars for Holly Hunter and little Anna Paquin.
I have a terrible confession to make: I haven’t seen most of the films on this list in exactly 20 years. 1993 occupies a strange halfway house, seemingly close enough in memory that one doesn’t feel compelled to revisit one’s favourites, but actually far enough in reality that details fade and recollections become unreliable. Someday I hope to take another look, especially at the pair of three-hour epics in the Top Five. Here, nonetheless, is our Top 10, along with 15 other films that marked the year:
1. NAKED. “You don’t want to f*** me. You’ll catch something cruel”. David Thewlis as the most sardonic, scabrous, downright hilarious anti-hero of the 90s, ranting about barcodes, offering a potted history of evolution in 30 seconds, and sneering at all and sundry in Mike Leigh’s razor-sharp – yet deep-down melancholy – satire of modern mores.
2. GROUNDHOG DAY. High-concept comedy (the same day repeated again and again) taken to a dark place – the frustration of a life without consequences – then a deeply touching affirmation of the power of kindness. A disguised variation on A Christmas Carol, with Bill Murray as a very funny Scrooge; Hollywood comedy hasn’t been this wondrous in … well, 20 years.
3. SHORT CUTS. Helicopters fly over LA, a God’s-eye view swooping down on the lives of various characters: Andie MacDowell suffers family tragedy, three friends on a fishing trip make a macabre discovery, philandering cop Tim Robbins hates the family dog – and so on and so forth. Robert Altman’s loose, teeming, hugely influential mosaic, based on nine Raymond Carver stories, seemed to herald a new kind of movie – even if it also led to Crash a decade later.
4. SCHINDLER’S LIST. Memories: the Zena Palace in Nicosia absolutely packed – upstairs and down – on a Saturday night, hundreds of people there to watch a three-hour, black-and-white drama about the extermination of Jews in WW2 (and one brave man who tried to stem the tide). Best film of the 90s? Clearly not. But that full house watched to the end, and you could’ve heard a pin drop.
5. DAZED AND CONFUSED. The mid-70s. Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’. High-school hazing rituals. Permanently stoned Texas teenagers. Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey in early roles. You wouldn’t necessarily think a great film could be made from those ingredients. But you’d be wrong.
6. THE REMAINS OF THE DAY. Big drop-off from #5 to #6 – but still a dry, cunning version of Kazuo Ishiguro novel, with Anthony Hopkins monumentally repressed as the perfect English butler. Extra credits for the symbolic bird in the final scene.
7. ARIZONA DREAM. Iggy Pop sings ‘In the Death Car’, Vincent Gallo pantomimes the crop-duster scene from North by Northwest, Johnny Depp works with fish (!) then moves to Arizona at the behest of uncle ‘Leo Sweetie’ (Jerry Lewis). Quirky Emir Kusturica comedy – his only film in English – is like nothing else.
8. FEARLESS. Jeff Bridges as possibly deranged plane-crash survivor, striding out of a cornfield and back into his old life, afraid of nothing. Starts and finishes unforgettably, gets a tad conventional in the middle – but director Peter Weir has a knack for unnerving ambience, and Bridges is magnificent.
9. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. Martin Scorsese moves from homicidal Mafiosi to a much more lethal world: New York in the late 19th century, where a quiet scandal – the liaison of up-and-coming lawyer Daniel Day Lewis and married woman Michelle Pfeiffer – ripples across high society. Lavish but formidably intelligent, and enough to give costume dramas a good name.
10. THIRTY TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD. Some are straight documentary snippets, others poignant illustrations of the power of music; a couple are animated. Together, the 32 short films build a suitably fractured portrait of the late Mr. Gould (played by Colm Feore), Canadian piano virtuoso and world-class eccentric. Best scene: a chambermaid in fog-shrouded Hamburg thaws to Beethoven.
15 OTHER MUST-SEE FILMS FROM 1993:
FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE (Chen Kaige)
THE FUGITIVE (Andrew Davis)
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (Jim Sheridan)
JURASSIC PARK (Steven Spielberg)
KING OF THE HILL (Steven Soderbergh)
MATINEE (Joe Dante)
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (Henry Selick)
A PERFECT WORLD (Clint Eastwood)
THE PIANO (Jane Campion)
SHADOWLANDS (Richard Attenborough)
SMOKING/NO SMOKING (Alain Resnais)
THREE COLOURS: BLUE (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
TRUE ROMANCE (Tony Scott)
THE WEDDING BANQUET (Ang Lee)
WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (Lasse Hallstrom)