1991 Ten Best Movies

lesamants4Some movies deserve to own their moment, to be shared by audiences and define a certain time and place, not in the way a blockbuster does but as a challenging New Thing. Like Blowup, say, or La Dolce Vita. Why didn’t Les Amants du Pont Neuf find its place? Leos Carax’s film is exhilarating, but perhaps it lacked glamour, despite the presence of Juliette Binoche in the lead. Its initial reception in France was scathing, partly because Carax had run up his budget to disastrous levels while creating a false bridge in a false Paris. And the film fumbled its chance to get to people in the U.S.: distribution woes stalled a regular American release from its showing at the New York Film Festival in 1992 until 1999. That’s no way to catch a zeitgeist.

It’s hard for Les Amants to build an audience on DVD, because it wants a big screen. But it’s an enchanted film. See it and be swept away.

The best movies of 1991:

1. Les Amants du Pont Neuf (Leos Carax)

2. The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski)

3. La Belle Noiseuse (Jacques Rivette)

4. Slacker (Richard Linklater)

5. My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant)

6. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme)

7. Rambling Rose (Martha Coolidge)

8. Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou)

9. A Woman’s Tale (Paul Cox)

10. Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow) and The Doors (Oliver Stone)

The #10 slot goes to a pair of California pleasures, possibly guilty, but really not. As for Stone’s JFK, also a 1991 release, it may not have been history, but it was maybe the most dynamic American film essay since F for Fake. Rambling Rose is one of Coolidge’s best, and has great performances by Laura Dern, Robert Duvall, and Diane Ladd. For the perpetually neglected Paul Cox, A Woman’s Tale is a typically thoughtful work, so I have to give it the edge over other movies I like, such as Bugsy and Barton FinkSlacker is always given a 1991 release date, although I saw it at the Seattle Film Festival in 1990 and wrote about it for Film Comment that year. We’ll go with the official consensus — and that was one movie that actually did become a moment-defining picture.

In 2000 I wrote this piece on Leos Carax; since he has directed little since then, it doesn’t need much updating.

Next week: 1948. Gold!