The year that was 1993 was a monumental year for the movies.
This was the year when newfangled digital visual effects were finally good enough—and, more crucially, photorealistic enough—for audiences to suspend disbelief for an entire feature film and accept pixelated monsters as flesh-and-blood creatures.
The only genre lacking a clear-cut standout classic in 1993 is horror, but I’ve managed to pick one that, despite its limitations, still packs a potent punch all these years later.
Last time I looked at Action/Adventure and Sci-Fi Fantasy.
So, pop some corn, pull up a seat, and let’s take a multi-phased trip down memory lane.
The year 1993 saw the release of several horror films, but I dare say nary a one endures as a true genre-defining (or even genre-bending) classic. That said, and because I feel obliged to pick at least one title that registers as “Best In Class,” there is a small picture that, despite its faults and limitations, manages to pack an eerie punch and still sends shivers down my spine.
Best In Class
Abel Ferrara’s scrappy and sporadically effective remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the third film adaptation of the Jack Finney sci-fi novel, but unlike its predecessors the film doesn’t aspire to the same social and political undertones.
The first film (Don Siegel’s 1956 black and white version, set in generic small-town Americana) still stands as a thinly veiled screed against the spread of communism and the reactionary dread of McCarthyism.
The second version (Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version, set in San Francisco) merged the paranoia of Finney’s tale of identity lost with modern hippy counterculture.
For this third iteration, the story uses as a springboard for Finney’s cautionary ideas the hierarchy of the military and its inherent dissolution of self-identity. Most sequels and remakes tend to expand the canvas and “go bigger,” so not only does this narrower focus keep the film from rising to the same globe-threatening heights of its forbearers, the very notion that service in the armed forces kills individuality makes the many transformations of humans into “pod people” seem downright negligible.
The lack of marquee names doesn’t help—the leads are one of the vampire gang from The Lost Boys and the ingénue who tangoed with Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, with only Forest Whitaker and Meg Tilly providing limited star-power wattage in what amounts to glorified cameos. Still, for a low-budget affair, the practical effects are quite good—the gelatinous pod tendrils that slither into victims’ orifices are particularly creepy—and the film deploys signature visual and auditory elements of the Siegel and Kaufman versions to great effect.
That the film holds up today owes more to the enduring relevance of Finney’s source material than for the sum of the movie’s parts, but it is admittedly light years better than the ensuing fourth version The Invasion from 2007.
Carnosaur; Cronos; Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday; Leprechaun; Needful Things; Return of the Living Dead III
Fewer Will Remember
The Dark Half; Ghost in the Machine
Best In Class
In the Line of Fire
It’s a rare event when Clint Eastwood stars in movie directed by somebody else—here, the reigns are held by Wolfgang Petersen of Das Boot, The Neverending Story, and Enemy Mine fame—so this sleek and suspenseful thriller really allows the squinty one to shine in his most humane role to date.
As an aging Secret Service agent who failed to protect President Kennedy in 1963 (but who will get a shot at redemption here), he’s rueful, charming, and funny in equal measure…and, of course, tough as nails as demanded. Nicely paired off with Rene Russo (object of mutual flirtation) and Dylan McDermott (doomed partner), and pitted against John Malkovich (slippery psychotic villain), the film remains Clint’s finest contemporary thriller.
Romeo Is Bleeding
Though criticized for its convoluted plot involving corrupt cops and the mob, Peter Medak’s modern noir holds up quite well today for its technical aspects—notably its moody ambient score and shadowy cinematography—but most especially for its superb all-star supporting cast, bolstered by a sensational scenery-devouring turn from Lena Olin.
Now that Gary Oldman has won his first Oscar, more people will undoubtedly want to check out his earlier work, and his shady anti-hero performance here is every bit as good as his flashier sinister roles in Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element.
Body of Evidence; Guilty as Sin; Judgment Night; The Pelican Brief; Sliver
Fewer Will Remember
The Good Son; Malice; The Temp; The Vanishing
Best In Class
In a year remembered for the Oscar love shown to Steven Spielberg’s monumental Holocaust film Schindler’s List, there were more than the usual number of superb dramas that tower above other releases and remain influential today.
Anchored by Al Pacino’s restrained performance as a contemplative ex-crook just out of prison but drawn back into crime to help his best friend (Sean Penn, unhinged and amazing), Brian De Palma’s gangster saga is a time-capsule tale of the Harlem underworld during the mid-’70s. Brimming with wonderful period detail, chock full of memorable supporting players, punctuated with visceral camerawork, white-knuckle suspense sequences and shocking violence, and topped off with a vibrant disco-tinged soundtrack, the film remains a high-point for everyone involved.
The Remains of the Day
Unrequited romance has never before, and not-yet-since, played as lovingly and lingered as hauntingly as in this achingly beautiful Merchant/Ivory period drama. Boasting superlative work from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, and featuring a nice supporting turn by Christopher Reeve in a film role not requiring a cape and tights.
Fans of inspirational sports dramas tend to name as their favorite either 1986’s Hoosiers or this true-life story of a pint-sized Notre Dame student who never gives up on his dream of playing for their legendary football team. It’s a close call for me, and no wonder when you realize both films were directed by the same guy. Sean Astin will always be loved for his contributions to The Goonies and The Lord of the Rings, but his earnest performance here is one for the Hollywood Hall of Fame. If Jerry Goldsmith’s gushy score doesn’t put a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye, you’re simply made of stone.
Steven Spielberg abandoned his frequent directorial trappings—swooping crane and dolly shots, widescreen aspect ratio, color, grand visual effects, a bombastic orchestral score—all the better to let the solemn tale of a conscientious Nazi who spent his fortune to save the lives of his Jewish factory workers during the Holocaust speak for itself. The film remains a haunting monument to courage, dignity, and sacrifice in the face of man’s inhumanity towards man, and even though it’s not the sort of film “entertainment” that beckons viewers to revisit it again and again, its towering technical achievements equal anything produced in its wake and warrant ongoing dissection and analysis.
Star-making turns by Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette. A rogues’ gallery of insanely good supporting performers (Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, Bronson Pinchot, James Gandolfini, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Sizemore, Chris Penn). Brisk direction by the late great Tony Scott. A wildly inventive and endlessly quotable screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, before he became a cliché of himself. An eclectic score of rock songs plus a lilting Hans Zimmer theme. Any one of these assets alone would be enough to make True Romance a cut above other dramas in 1993; combined they make for a modern-day classic the likes of which Hollywood has yet to equal in the quarter century since. It may not be an “Oscar” movie in the same vein as other prestigious and award-winning pictures—its level of brutality is what likely turned off Academy viewers—but chances are folks revisit this flick more often than any other title I’ve chosen as “Best In Class.”
The Age of Innocence; Blood In, Blood Out: Bound by Honor; A Bronx Tale; Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story; Ethan Frome; Falling Down; Fearless; The Firm; In the Name of the Father; Indecent Proposal; Indian Summer; The Joy Luck Club; Kalifornia; King of the Hill; Menace II Society; A Perfect World; Philadelphia; The Piano; Poetic Justice; Red Rock West; Rising Sun; Searching for Bobby Fischer; Short Cuts; Six Degrees of Separation; Sommersby; The Thing Called Love; This Boy’s Life; What’s Eating Gilbert Grape; What’s Love Got to Do with It; The Young Americans
Fewer Will Remember
Bopha!; Boxing Helena; Calendar Girl; Faraway, So Close!; Flesh and Bone; Geronimo: An American Legend; Gettysburg; Golden Gate; Heaven & Earth; A Home of Our Own; Jack the Bear; Little Buddha; M. Butterfly; Money for Nothing; Mr. Jones; Mr. Wonderful; My Life; Posse; Shadowlands; Sugar Hill; Swing Kids; Untamed Heart; Wrestling Ernest Hemingway
Tune in next time for the finale, The Class of 1993: 25 Years Later – Phase III.