1. Reversal of Fortune
Without a doubt, the crowning achievement of this movie is Jeremy Irons’ masterfully droll performance as Claus von Bülow, the ghoulish aristocrat who may or may not have attempted to murder his rich, depressed, socialite wife (Glenn Close). Irons does something far more perverse than getting you to ”care” about Claus — he gets you to like him. Yet what finally makes Barbet Schroeder’s reenactment of the Von Bülow affair a truly great movie is the spine-tingling ambiguity with which it views Claus’ conduct. Ushering us behind the mausoleum-like walls of the Von Bülows’ Newport estate, the film offers many contrasting versions of the events, holding contradictory bits of evidence up to the light with a Rashomon-like dexterity. By the end, it almost doesn’t matter whether Von Bülow actually tried to kill his wife or simply stood by and watched her sink into suicidal despair. The real question is whether there’s any difference.
2. Men Don’t Leave
Though it never got the audience it deserved, this wonderfully funny and touching domestic weeper is an exhilarating contradiction: a happy movie about depression. It’s the story of a newly widowed mother (Jessica Lange) and her two sons and how they struggle to remain a unit without Dad, their cornerstone. That may sound like the plot of a dozen made-for-TV movies, but Men Don’t Leave has something that is fast disappearing from American films: a genuine emotional texture. Director Paul Brickman — this is his first film since 1983’s Risky Business — empathizes with everyone on screen, keeping the point of view shifting and elusive. Though rooted in the pain of sudden loss, Men Don’t Leave is really about the pleasure and the sadness of growing up. It’s the rare case of a sentimental movie that earns every one of its tears — and believe me, you shed them.
3. A Shock to the System
A black comedy played very, very close to the bone. When Michael Caine, as a New York advertising executive up for promotion, is passed over to make room for a tight-lipped specimen of yuppus scumus (Peter Riegert), his revenge is so extreme — he becomes a happily self-justified killer — and, at the same time, so believable that identifying with him becomes a delirious and dizzying experience. The fun of the movie is that we’re watching a ruthless killer portrayed by one of the most wittily humane actors alive. Caine’s performance is a wonder; it’s as if he were playing Jekyll and Hyde at the same time. You keep rooting for him even as you’re appalled by his behavior, and the movie pulls you into deeper and deeper levels of amoral glee.