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Rob's Top Ten Movies of 1991


#10: Truly, Madly, Deeply

Since the great Alan Rickman appears in two films on my Worst list (see below), I feel duty-bound to point out Rickman at his best -- for once, not playing a sneering wretch -- in this detailed and warming British comedy best described as the thinking person's Ghost.

#9: The Commitments

Alan Parker relaxes and lets his hair down -- for once, he doesn't try to take our eyeballs out with some seething frenzied exercise in style. He just puts his camera in front of great music and lets his actors be mean and funny.


#8: Bugsy

A sumptuous old-school entertainment, featuring (courtesy of writer James Toback) one of the all-time great hardboiled lines: "Why don't you suck your apology out of my dick?"


#7: Dogfight

If you've only seen Lili Taylor in Hollywood garbage like Ransom and The Haunting, you need to go back and look her up in this touching drama from Nancy Savoca. A group of Marines bet on who can get the ugliest date; River Phoenix picks Taylor, but as he gets to know her, he realizes he's going to lose the bet.


#6: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

A big monster toy, with all the mayhem $100 million (a then-unprecedented figure) could buy. There are big stupid violent blockbusters, and then there are James Cameron big stupid violent blockbusters.


#5: Boyz N the Hood

John Singleton's debut managed to weather a shaky opening weekend (several shootings happened in or around theaters showing it) and become one of the summer's sleeper hits, based as much on its solid cinematic sense and character attention as on its plea to increase the peace.


#4: Thelma & Louise

In a year of controversial conversation pieces, this might've been the biggest, but making a big feminist statement was the furthest thing from the minds of everyone who made it. It's just a kick-ass road movie, with time-capsule-worthy work from Sarandon and Davis.


#3: Barton Fink

Unlike anything you've ever seen, this Cannes award-winner is essentially an underpopulated play exploring the wild and unruly "life of the mind." John Goodman should've won Best Supporting Actor for his final scene alone.


#2: JFK

A big, thick wedge of alternate history -- it's amazing that Oliver Stone actually pushed this Howard Zinn-like piece of borderline sedition through a major studio. More amazing still, he collects big armfuls of assassination lore and shoots them out at us, never losing us, always engaging our senses.


#1: The Silence of the Lambs

Big surprise here, eh? This captured the public imagination like no movie in years -- in the horror genre or otherwise -- and it set the standard for a decade of (mostly lame) thrillers to come.

Steve Martin's gentle valentine to his adopted city, L.A. Story ... the amiably retro The Rocketeer ... Matty Rich's rough but heartfelt Straight Out of Brooklyn ... Richard Linklater's roving debut Slacker ... Kenneth Branagh's appealingly over-the-top Dead Again ... Lili Fini Zanuck's scorching debut Rush ... Steven Soderbergh's odd little item Kafka ... the solid, well-crafted Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country ... Robert Benton's heavy, measured Billy Bathgate ... David Cronenberg's mesmerizing Burroughs 101 course Naked Lunch ... Mario Van Peebles' down-and-dirty New Jack City ... Albert Brooks' menschy Defending Your Life ... Adam Rifkin's indescribable The Dark Backward ... Eric Bogosian's epic rant Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll ... Terry Gilliam's atypical The Fisher King ... Gus Van Sant's bizarre but enthralling My Own Private Idaho ... W.D. Richter's easygoing Late for Dinner ... Sean Penn's sober-sided debut The Indian Runner ... Michael Tolkin's maddening, fascinating The Rapture ... John Sayles' kaleidoscopic City of Hope ... and the comedy for goths, gays, and everyone in between, The Addams Family.


So, yeah, the critics all hated Shakes the Clown, but I for one thought Bobcat Goldthwait's directing debut -- and why haven't we seen more from him? -- was rudely funny and, yes, insightful about a particular subculture: turns out clowns are as clique-ish as any other group, and Goldthwait uses them to score points on gay-bashers, sell-outs, etc.

Rob's Top Ten WORST Movies of 1991


#10: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Dreary, dark, needlessly brutal "rethinking" of the legend, complete with anachronistic profanity ("Well, fuck me") and a near-rape played for laughs. Alan Rickman's hammy turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham is the only reason to stay interested.


#9: Closet Land

Here's Rickman again as a government torturer, singling out children's-book writer Madeleine Stowe. Little more than a feature-length commercial for Amnesty International -- a noble enough purpose, but as a movie it's pompous and endless.


#8: Cape Fear

"You want a mainstream thriller?" Martin Scorsese must have said. "I'll give you a goddamn mainstream thriller." Fine, but he didn't have to ram it down our throats quite so hard. Shrill and invasive, this remains Scorsese's biggest hit to this day, sadly.


#7: Whore

For the benefit of bashful video patrons, there was a VHS version entitled If You Can't Say It, Just See It. Or, you could just not say it and not see it. Ken Russell's companion piece to his equally lurid and boring Crimes of Passion was intended as an answer to sanitized stuff like Pretty Woman, but it just comes off as art-house phone sex.


#6: Jungle Fever

If we're lucky, this loud and aimless melodrama purportedly about interracial love -- but really about limited people's stupid misconceptions about it -- will remain Spike Lee's worst movie. It's Spike at his most in-your-face, I-can-do-no-wrong arrogant.


#5: Scenes from a Mall

Pop-culture mystery #246: How can a movie directed by Paul Mazursky and starring Woody Allen and Bette Midler be so relentlessly unfunny?


#4: Hook

Spielberg at his aggressively saccharine worst, and yet another one of 1991's rash of Busy Dad Sees the Error of His Ways fables.


#3: Cool as Ice

"Drop the zero, get with the hero." This actually might be fun to watch with a room full of sarcastic friends who all remember Vanilla Ice's (mercifully) brief tenure as The Most Exasperating "Musician" Since Milli Vanilli. That someone actually kicked up the money for a Vanilla Ice movie is bottomlessly funny; that Ice's star fell so promptly that the movie didn't even come out in time to capitalize on it is even better.


#2: Regarding Henry

Here's another one -- Cold-Hearted Professional Man Endures Crisis, Becomes Nicer Person. So does that mean we can go out and shoot all yuppies in the head to make them kinder, gentler people?


#1: Curly Sue

Of all the crimes against intelligence John Hughes has committed, this may well be the worst -- a wannabe-Capra-esque fable wherein a bum (James Belushi) teaches his Muppet-like daughter (Alisan Porter, and where is she now?) how to swindle people out of their cash. Of course when they meet rich bitch Kelly Lynch, they melt her heart and they live happily ever after. If a fatwa wasn't issued on Hughes' life after this one, I guess nothing else he does will provoke one.

The well-intentioned but boring Macbeth update Men of Respect ... the cheesy thrillers Popcorn, Sleeping with the Enemy, A Kiss Before Dying, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, and The People Under the Stairs ... the lame blacklist movie Guilty by Suspicion ... the bland non-movie Class Action ... Mel Brooks hitting bottom in Life Stinks ... Kathleen Turner's failed attempt at a franchise with V.I. Warshawski ... Christopher Walken looking bored in the routine action crap McBain ... and Madonna unable to get over herself in the self-adoring, bought-and-paid-for documentary Truth or Dare.


Catch the excitement, catch the adventure, catch a few Z's. Hudson Hawk was the box-office poison of the year; it has its fans these days, but at the time it was the most aggressive example yet of Hollywood's increasing lack of regard for the audience's basic need to be entertained, and many onlookers were ecstatic to see it wither.

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