The summer of 1993 was a great one for movies, with a perfect blend of options for everyone (and not just typical blockbusters). Twenty-five years later, they’re worth praising – and watching – again.
Sure, it had its glut of mediocrity like any summer does (Cliffhanger, Last Action Hero, and Super Mario Bros. instantly come to mind) , but it also gave us two all-time classics from two polar-opposite genres (no small feat), two solid thrillers for grown-ups, one powerful and artful family film that really deserves a serious re-evaluation (no, I’m not talking about Free Willy), and a Best Picture nominee.
Here’s a ranking of the best movies from the Summer of ’93: six great go-to choices, 25 years later.
A boiler-plate action formula (aging Secret Service agent haunted by the Kennedy assassination is taunted by ex-CIA assassin who has the current President as his target) is elevated by a (mostly) sharp script and even better performances, from Clint Eastwood’s iconic yet humanized persona (especially in the wake of his Unforgiven Oscar wins) to John Malkovich giving a chilling, credible dimension to a normally caricatured villain archetype, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
The direction from Wolfgang Petersen is taut and smart if a tad dated in moments, but it’s the kind of movie that aspired to more than the gratuitous vigilante pics that are given to aging actors today (Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis), where the psychological mind game phone conversations between hero and villain are truly the film’s most thrilling.
Roger Ebert compared this movie to the best of Hitchcock (more in the vein of North by Northwest than Psycho), and it wasn’t hyperbole. Director Andrew Davis never came close to that promise again, probably because he didn’t have another script co-written by the Die Hard screenwriter Jeb Stuart.
Oh, plus Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, too. At their best.
Ford’s turns the role of grieving widower-on-the-run Richard Kimble into a real actor’s showcase; his breakdown during the early interrogation scene is a career highlight. And of course, Tommy Lee Jones went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. (The duo’s “I didn’t kill my wife!” / “I don’t care!” exchange is a perfect microcosm of how astutely calibrated their performances were.)
Aspects of this are a bit dated, too, but between the two leads and some riveting action sequences (the bus/train opener, the sewage tunnels, and more), all fueled by directorial panache and spectacular stunts more than explosive special effects, The Fugitive was a worthy Best Picture nominee in a year stacked with contenders.
I’ll stop short of calling this a masterpiece, despite the temptation, but The Firm is basically flawless, both subtle and elegant in its genre mastery. To the extent other films feel dated, this one surprisingly doesn’t (aside, perhaps, from the fact that this white-knuckle legal thriller would have to play very differently in our cell phone age).
Oscar-winning director Sydney Pollack gives this a touch of class and sophistication, particularly with the piano-only score from Dave Grusin that goes from light to melancholy to intense (it’s been in my playlist rotation ever since the film opened). It’s the story of a young lawyer whose life is threatened when he learns that his Memphis Law firm is illegally corrupt, even guilty of murder.
Tom Cruise is at his best, showcasing legit acting chops, range, and depth (though not any of his cocky swagger), and leads a stellar cast from top to bottom that includes Gene Hackman, Holly Hunter (Oscar-nominated), Ed Harris, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Wilford Brimley, Gary Busey, and Jeanne Tripplehorn in a strong, complicated female co-lead that should’ve vaulted her to a much higher career profile and trajectory.
The Firm also happens to be the best adaptation of a John Grisham novel, with an ending that’s even better than the book, a nail-biting high wire act of legal, moral, and lethal complications.
Smooth, smart, and absolutely riveting, not to mention a deeply compelling story about a marriage of genuine love that’s also in crisis, The Firm transcends its genre and the tropes that go with it to be deceptively great – and thoroughly entertaining.
When Harry Met Sally brought sophistication back to the rom-com in 1989, but Sleepless In Seattle turned that anomaly into a trend – and both were written by Nora Ephron. She also directs here, re-teaming with Meg Ryan, but then swaps Billy Crystal for Tom Hanks (who would go on to win the 1993 Best Actor Oscar for Philadelphia).
Sleepless would ignite a rom-com Golden Age that would last the decade, an era from which even less successful second-tier entries like Only You now play like classics by today’s standards. The biggest miracle? Ephron keeps her romantic leads apart until the very last scene, yet the fated love of these soulmates feels as real as any ever contrived in the history of the movies.
No matter how much you may love this classic, I guarantee it’s even better than you remember it.
Oh. My. Gosh. I. Love. This. Movie.
It’s not overstating things to call Searching For Bobby Fischer an absolute must-see; I don’t care who you are. This small late-summer drama about a lisp-tongued 7-year-old chess prodigy is profoundly moving.
The cast boasts a deep bench of some of the greatest character actors from the past thirty years (plus Joan Allen who turns “the mom” role into a maternal gladiator), Searching For Bobby Fischer is a family film made at a prestige level.
With images of atmospheric portraiture by legendary cinematographer Conrad L. Hall and a signature score by composer James Horner (musical callbacks to Field of Dreams, his other recent “sports” movie of the time, can be heard), the aesthetics alone are a cinephile’s dream.
Written and directed by Steve Zaillian (who would go on to win a Screenwriting Oscar that year for adapting Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List), Searching For Bobby Fischer is what a drama directed by Ken Burns would look and feel like.
This one is self-evident. It’s Jurassic Park, for crying out loud (a common response to watching it, too). It’s fitting that the summer movies I have at 1 and 2 come from the pair of filmmakers that would go on to collaborate on the year’s best. You can read my review of the original Jurassic Park here, not that you need to. Just grab some popcorn and enjoy it again for the umpteenth time.