Jesse Walker continues his end-of-year best movies lists, going back decades to the beginning of a great period in film, 1990:

1. Miller’s Crossing
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

A story about power, loyalty, and violence, and the ways the first item on that list depends on the other two.

2. Ju Dou
Directed by Zhang Yimou and Yang Fengliang
Written by Liu Heng

From the days when Zhang made movies that worried the Chinese authorities instead of celebrating them.

3. The Reflecting Skin
Written and directed by Philip Ridley

This would make an interesting double feature with Martin.

4. An Angel at My Table
Directed by Jane Campion
Written by Laura Jones, from the memoirs of Janet Frame

The life of Janet Frame, who endured psychiatric torture just for being a bit of a nonconformist, survived the experience, and became a successful writer.

5. The Ear
Directed by Karel Kachyňa
Written by Kachyňa and Jan Procházka, from a story by Procházka

A Czech tale of surveillance, suspicion, and domestic discord, made in 1970 but suppressed until the Velvet Revolution. It’s been called a paranoid picture, but you know the saying: Even paranoids have real enemies.

6. Jacob’s Ladder
Directed by Adrian Lyne
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin

Part Philip K. Dick, part Lucius Shepard, part Ambrose Bierce. Lyne’s flicks are usually unwatchable, and Rubin is best known for writing the sappy Ghost; I wouldn’t have expected those two to create such a riveting thriller, yet here we are.

7. Europa Europa
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Written by Holland with Paul Hengge, from the memoirs of Solomon Perel

Schindler’s List asks the audience: Would you give up your riches to save thousands of lives, or would you selfishly serve the Nazis? And us viewers allow ourselves to believe that we would be as noble as Oskar Schindler, and we pat ourselves on the back. Europa Europa, the tale of a Jewish boy passing as an Aryan in the Nazi era, asks a much trickier question: whether we’d be willing to suppress our own identity to survive, inflicting tremendous physical and emotional pain on ourselves in the process. The answer is not as easy, and the movie is much more interesting.

8. The Nasty Girl
Written and directed by Michael Verhoeven

This one is about the Germans who weren’t as noble as Oskar Schindler, and how they dealt with their history after the war was over.

9. Sink or Swim
Written and directed by Su Friedrich

“She didn’t know whether to feel pity or envy for the young girl who sat alone in the sunshine trying to invent a more interesting story.”

10. Metropolitan
Written and directed by Whit Stillman

“I’ve always planned to be a failure anyway. That’s why I plan to marry an extremely wealthy woman.”

11. Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston)
12. King of New York (Abel Ferrara)
13. To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett)
14. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese)
15. Quick Change (Howard Franklin, Bill Murray)
16. Miami Blues (George Armitage)
17. No Fear, No Die (Claire Denis)
18. The Freshman (Andrew Bergman)
19. Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami)
20. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Joe Dante)

My reaction?

The standouts for me from your list: Miller’s Crossing; The Reflecting Skin; The Nasty Girl; Goodfellas; Miami Blues; The Freshman. Not on your list, but which I would consider putting on a favorites list: Tremors; Wild at Heart; La femme Nikita; Arachnophobia; The Grifters; Dreams. And for one scene, Green Card. And I forget whether Trust is one of the Hal Hartley movies I haven’t seen, I love, or shake my head at (half his titles defy imprinting on my memory).

George Romero’s Martin, mentioned by Jesse in his comment on The Reflecting Skin, is one of the few movies I have walked out of the theater before the end. I never want to look at a frame of it again. The Reflecting Skin, on the other hand, is the film mentioned here I wish to see again most eagerly.

Jesse and I met because we both worked on a magazine in Port Townsend, Washington. Our boss there loved movies, and made the insightful observation that Miller’s Crossing is a retelling of The Glass Key (1942) — a point I see now recognized in the Wikipedia page for the Dashiell Hammett novel.

On Jesse’s 2010 list, my favorite is in his also-rans, Black Swan.