It was still possible to say “The Western is back” in 1992, when Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven became one of those periodic consensus Best Picture Oscar winners and a solid box-office success. Dances with Wolves had scored the Oscar two years earlier and Lonseome Dove had been a TV smash, prompting the same kind of hopeful comments. But these were isolated, high-profile events, not a return of a once-ubiquitous genre, and nobody thinks the Western is coming back any time soon except as a one-off, a star vehicle, or a new angle.
Which makes Unforgiven seem even more like a summing-up now than it did then. That moment when Eastwood’s character, a professional gunman named William Munny, stands under a lone tree and speaks the words that describe what really happens in the slaughter that fuels so many action films (“It’s a hell of a thing, killing’ a man – take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have”) is the quiet Bodhi-tree revelation toward which an entire huge section of film history has been moving.
The ten best of 1992:
1. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood)
2. The Hours and Times (Christopher Munch)
3. The Crying Game (Neil Jordan)
4. The Best Intentions (Billie August)
5. The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann)
6. The Player (Robert Altman)
7. Strictly Ballroom (Baz Luhrmann)
8. The Visitor (Satyajit Ray)
9. Hyenas (Djibril Diop Mambety)
10. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino) and Hard-Boiled (John Woo)
That last slot might suggest a contradiction of Unforgiven‘s sober account of the price of violence, but…movies live where they live. They even live in low-budget, 60-minute forms, such as The Hours and Times, Munch’s brilliant, generous speculation about a vacation spent by John Lennon and Brian Epstein in Spain. Neil Jordan and Michael Mann each had one of those okay-this-is-where-I-put-it-all-together moments, while Altman’s film is casual and impertinent as it says, “Comeback? What comeback? You people haven’t been paying attention.”
The Best Intentions is a magnificent Ingmar Bergman script that I think is underrated as a film achievement, a devastating portrait of his parents’ “life-fiasco” of a marriage. The Visitor (also called The Stranger) is Satyajit Ray’s final film, and it comes on quietly, with no fuss, just the plainness of an artist who isn’t trying to impress anybody anymore. No so Hyenas: this is a brazen, wickedly funny, politically charged film that transfers the storyline of Durenmatt’s The Visit to an African village. Senegalese filmmaker Mambety completed only two more short films (one of which, The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun, is superb) before his death at 53 in 1998 – a huge loss for African cinema.
Lots of interesting movies in the also-rans, including slim but potent things from Kaurismaki (The Match Factory Girl) and Kiarostami (And Life Goes On), plus the Merchant Ivory crew nailing Howards End.
Next week: 1935.
Filed under: Year by Year Best Movies | Tagged: 1992 Ten Best Movies, Unforgiven | 1 Comment »