Best of 1991

In 1991, The Silence of the Lambs became the third film and the first since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975 to sweep the top five awards at the Oscars.  Based on the 50 critics’ top 10 lists that I’ve found, the Best Picture win is very deserving.

It only topped four lists, but it was still enough to tie Beauty and the Beast and My Own Private Idaho for the most number one mentions.

19. An Angel At My Table (8 lists)


“Campion’s knack for solitary yet paradoxically epic scope nibbles off Laura Jones’s bite-sized scene-sketches of loneliness and makes entire meals of them.” – Eric Henderson, Slant Magazine

19. Jungle Fever (8 lists)


“Lee tackles the subject of interracial romance from the unavoidable vantage point that, while things today are more open, they are also considerably more volatile and complex.” – Variety

17. Life Is Sweet (10 lists)


“The director’s wife at the time, Alison Steadman, stealing the show as Wendy the nurturing suburban housewife survivor.” – Ozus’ World Movie Review

17. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (10 lists)


“Schwarzenegger is in impeccable deadpan form, milking his tough-guy image for all it’s worth and getting laughs out of the Terminator’s wooden parroting of slang (“No problemo” probably will be a catch-phrase to reckon with this summer).” – Michael Unchurch, Seattle Times

16. The Fisher King (10 lists; 1 top spot)


“Working within the constraints of a big studio film has brought out Gilliam’s best: he’s become a true storyteller and a wonderful director of actors. This time he delights not only the eye but the soul.” – David Ansen, Newsweek

15 . La Belle Noiseuse (10 lists; 2 top spots)


“What’s good about the film is the sense of real evolution, of believable character change, instead of the Speedy Gonzalez transformations movie characters usually experience. What’s also good is a realistic feel for the act of creation.” – Desson Thomson, Washington Post

14. Paris Is Burning (11 lists)


“One emerges from this film not only with a new vocabulary and a fresh way of viewing the straight world but with a bracing object lesson in understanding what society “role models” are all about.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

13. Rambling Rose (11 lists; 1 top spot)


“Willingham, who also scripted Paths of Glory, Little Big Man and The Graduate, wrote Rose in the early 1970s. Thanks to these sterling performances almost two decades later, his screenplay enjoys a fresh and tender blossoming.” – Desson Thomson, Washington Post

11. Cape Fear (12 lists)


“Stay away if you’re squeamish but, if you do, you’ll miss an essential work by one of our masters, as well as two of the year’s most accomplished performances, those of Mr. De Niro and Ms. Lewis.” – Vincent Canby, New York Times

11. City of Hope (12 lists)


“Though flawed, Sayles’ most ambitious film to date confronts modern America as it is beset with explosive racial and class tensions, escalating crime, political corruption, and police brutality.” – Emanuel Levy,

10. Europa, Europa (14 lists)


“A fresh, incredible story in the way that only true stories can be, it is based on the memoirs of Solomon Perel, who survived the War ordeal through a chain of extraordinary events.” – Emanuel Levy,

9. The Commitments (14 lists; 1 top spot)


“Alan Parker’s sexy, hilarious, exuberantly energetic new film, The Commitments, has so much rhythmic juice that it’s nearly impossible to stay in your seat.” – Hal Hinson, Washington Post

8. Barton Fink (15 lists)


“Somehow everything coheres, thanks to the Coens’ superb writing and assured direction, and a roster of marvellous performances. The result works on numerous levels, thrilling the mind, ears and eyes, and racking the nerves.” – Geoff Andrew, Time Out

7. JFK (17 lists; 2 top spots)


“Costner may not resemble the real Garrison much … but the actor, in a low-key but forceful performance, nicely conveys the requisite grit, curiosity and fearlessness.” – Variety

6. My Own Private Idaho (18 lists; 4 top spots)


“Although River Phoenix has distinguished himself as an actor ever since his second film, Stand By Me, nothing he has ever done before prepares you for his performance in Private Idaho as the motherless, homeless, loveless piece of human driftwood.” – Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer

5. Boyz N the Hood (19 lists; 1 top spot)


“Boyz N the Hood has maturity and emotional depth: There are no cheap shots, nothing is thrown in for effect, realism is placed ahead of easy dramatic payoffs, and the audience grows deeply involved.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

4. Bugsy (22 lists; 1 top spot)


“Not just another gangster picture, as some had feared. James Toback`s sparkling script as interpreted by director Barry Levinson and producer-star Warren Beatty is both a rare love story between equals and a portrait of a dreamer.” – Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

3. Beauty and the Beast (22 lists; 4 top spots)


“It’s exceptionally difficult to make an audience care for animated characters unless they’re mermaids or anthropomorphized animals or insects, yet the Disney animators, with a big assist from the vocal talents of a superb cast, have pulled it off.” – John Hartl, Seattle Times

2. Thelma & Louise (24 lists; 2 top spots)


“Thelma & Louise is a rare thrill – a gleefully offbeat road movie in which two women, instead of the usual footloose fellas, exult in the heady freedom of America’s lonesome highways.” – Kathleen Carroll, New York Daily News

1. The Silence of the Lambs (32 lists; 4 top spots)


“For all the unbridled savagery on display, what is shrewd, significant and finally hopeful about Silence of the Lambs is the way it proves that a movie can be mercilessly scary and mercifully humane at the same time.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone