20/20 Hindsight: The Best Movies of 1993

As far as I’m concerned, 1993 was the year where the 90’s movie scene kicked in in earnest.  Sure, the Disney Renaissance might have already been in full swing, Tarantinoesque and indie movies might have started to take over, but this was the year that the decade truly clicked into place: when it finally knew what it wanted to be and charged ahead full-speed with it.  It featured a double-helping of Spielberg classics, a pair of beloved animated features, the start of Linklater’s talk-heavy output (which would eventually culminate in his acclaimed Before trilogy) and the start of a foreign trilogy that continues to hold a special place in cineastes’ hearts even today.

10. Mrs. Doubtfire

For as much of a bump-on-a-log as I am about comedies in general, I really loved the genre in the 90s.  It wasn’t just that these were the shucksters I grew up with; this was a legitimately great time for these kinds of movies.  You had the unprecedented three-year rise of Jim Carry, the heyday of Robin Williams and a genuine treasure trove of funnymen and women throughout the period.  And when it comes to comedies of the day, few were as gut-bustingly funny as Mrs. Doubtfiire: the tailor-made Robin Williams vehicle about a desperate father who dresses as a woman so as to trick his ex-wife into hiring him to watch the kids while she’s at work.  It’s as remarkably touching as it his hilarious, simultaneously showing off Williams’s dramatic and comedic talents (and far better than other movies of the same time).

9. Groundhog Day

Speaking of great comedies, there really is not getting around what a treasure Groundhog Day is.  An ideal vehicle for Bill Murray’s unique screen presence, it’s a day in the life of a dispassionate newsman who wakes up every morning at the start of yesterday.  The movie swings wildly with Murray’s increasingly manic moods: easily shifting from confusion to bemusement to suicidal desperation to min-maxing his day by memorizing every single event that will happen in every single corner of this sleepy little New England town.  Like Mrs. Doubtfire was for Robin Williams, the broad arch of the movie’s script acts as a showcase for Murray’s considerable gifts, both dramatic and comedic, and walks us through this oft-repeated day with remarkable insight into what such a Sisyphean curse would do to a person.

8. The Nightmare Before Christmas

I’ve always found A Nightmare Before Christmas something of an awkward movie to watch.  It’s too Christmassy for Halloween, in which its namesake setting naturally lends itself to.  On the other hand, it’s much too Halloweeny for Christmas, casting a dour shadow on the ordinarily uplifting holiday.  It’s a great movie in the filmography of a filmmaker I generally can’t bring myself to care about and an entry into an animation style that, while fun, is uncanny enough to be off-putting at casual glance.  Its fun and quirky unquestionably well-made, but the only time I ever want to watch it is between when everybody else around me wants to: November, which splits the difference between its two holiday extremes.  Despite these viewing difficulties, however, it really is a charming, worthwhile film that’s more than good enough to put up with its awkward placement on my movie shelf.

7. The Fugitive

More often than not, adapting TV shows to the big screen is just as problematic as adapting video games: it’s nearly impossible to slim down such a long story into such a compact run-time without feeling that the best parts were left discarded on the cutting room floor.  And this isn’t a Mission: Impossible (1996) where a movie can just play out like a longer episode of the show; the thrust of The Fugitive is such that it necessarily had to be the entire series in miniature — four years-worth of narrative chopped down to two hours and change.  And, what’s truly astounding, is that they managed to do just that.  The laser-focused story solves the murder mystery at its core with plenty of time to spare, delivering one of the most exciting, engaging and all-around humdingers of a movie of the decade.

6. Three Colors: Blue

Although largely unknown among the broader moviegoing public, most causal watchers will at least recognize the name as the inspiration for Edgar Wright’s Cornetto — or, Three Flavors — Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End).  Based on the colors and virtues represented by the French flag, this thematic trio of Polish dramas aim to embody the ideals of the French Republic: liberty, equality, fraternity.  In this opening film, representing liberty, the widow of a famous composer attempts to finish his final masterpiece and, in doing so, reach some measure of closure regarding her now-ended marriage.  It’s a touching story, beautifully told, and as fine a character study as any you could hope for.

5. Falling Down

Rewatching this movie for the first time in decades in the age of Trump, it is chilling just how prescient this film was at depicting the present state of toxic masculinity, hateful rhetoric and social self-destruction.  And that it would come to us by the man best-remembered for directing the likes of Batman & Robin (1997) is probably the most shocking thing about it (at least from the perspective of a modern day moviegoer).  Like the punchline to a story told by the Joker, the movie shows how the unlikely events of one really bad day in the life of an abusive, psychotic, racist, proto-MAGA nutjob pushes him over the rickety edge of sanity, leading to a full-blown killing spree en route back to his ex-wife’s home for his daughter’s birthday party.  It’s as fascinatingly horrific and it is tragically true to life, made all the more so by just how often things like this seem to keep happening in society twenty-odd years later.

4. Jurassic Park

Want proof of just how good of a director Steven Spielberg is?  Not only is Jurassic Park not the only movie he made in 1993, but it isn’t even the best movie he made that year: not even close.  What for virtually any other director would have been a career-high achievement is merely a mid-tier movie for him, a commercial afterthought to what he was really passionate about working on at the time.  A revelation in special effects and blockbuster filmmaking… barely even a blip on the radar for him.  The casual indifference with which this man can pump out certified classics year after year is absolutely insane, and it’s frankly high time that we admit that he’s simply the best that there is at what he does.

3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

People have been quibbling about what the best Batman movie is since 1992, when the first real challenger to the Batman (1989) throne came in the form of Batman Returns (1992): the grimmer, darker, more highly stylized and more distinctively Burtonesque sequel to its 80’s forebear.  But while I loved the first and… well, I guess “appreciate” the second… neither one of those was ever my Batman.  And while I certainly hold that Nolan made the best crafted Batman movies, none of his were my Batman.  My Batman was the Batman from the 90s animated series, who was humane and sympathetic and cared deeply for every last soul he failed to save in his home.  He’s the kind of man who would “stay with [Harley Quinn] all day, risking [his] butt for somebody who’s never given [him] anything but trouble” because he “know[s] what it’s like to try and rebuild a life, [because he] had a bad day too once.”  That’s exactly what we get with Mask of the Phantasm, the big-screen continuation of that singularly perfect animated series, wrapped up in a compelling murder mystery and a dark story straight from the early years of Bruce Wayne’s obsessive vigilantism.

2. Dazed and Confused

Richard Linklater is, without a doubt, one of the best filmmakers working today.  He might lack the heightened sensibilities of Tarantino, the bombastic polish of Scorsese and the directorial flourish of Spielberg, but his dynamite scripts are among the most compelling, honest and insightful pieces of writing ever composed for any medium.  He can stretch out what is fundamentally a single conversation into an entire film, reveal layer upon layer of his characters through word alone, and make it one of the most mesmeric experiences you’re likely to get from the silver screen.  When I first watched the Before trilogy, I intended to stretch it out over the course of a weekend, but instead marathoned everything in one night because I couldn’t bring myself to pull away from these lovingly rendered characters.  I watched Boyhood (2014) in a daze and Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) drew me into its world in a way that few other movies do (and, rest assured, I could hardly have less in common with the protagonists of that film).  Dazed and Confused is definitely early Linklater: acting somewhat like a rough-draft for the more ambitious Boyhood and something of a prequel for the events of Everybody Wants Some!!  It draws you into the last day of school for a group of high schoolers and somehow explodes their experiences outward into something of a universal truth.  And, though it all, all we get is conversations: just words passed between Linklater’s fully realized creations.  In the end, that’s all we ever needed.

1. Schindler’s List

I’m not going to say that Schindler’s List is easy viewing.  It’s not.  For the exact same reason as Grave of the Fireflies (1988) isn’t a happy thing to sit through, it will crush whatever small part of your soul believed in the innate goodness of people.  It’s the kind of movie that strips you down to your core by showing you the tragic reality of what people are really like when you give them a chance to show you who they are underneath the thin veneer of civilization they wrap themselves in.  Yet, the movie is kinder than that, and through Oscar Schindler’s eyes, redeems you the same as him.  It is a harrowing experience to watch (to say nothing of actually living through it) and it took me years to finish the movie after I first picked it out to watch as a kid.  If you can make it through till the end, however, it is one of the richest and most rewarding narratives ever committed to film.

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