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COMMENTARY: Looking back to an oustanding year for American cinema

It’s worth noting that 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most remarkable years in American cinema. The twelve months from January to December of 1992 saw the release of more excellent films (and more films worth deep conversation) than any year since.

And I am not sure I remember any year when we had as many movies that have so much to teach us today. So here is a list of 1992 films whose lessons I recommend.

For President Donald Trump and the most passionate anti-Trump protesters: “Unforgiven.” Not because of the title. Because of the lesson. Sometimes in the process of achieving your goals you set in motion forces you find yourself unable to control. The women who hire Clint Eastwood’s gunslinger have justice and right on their side. But the horrific consequences are unstoppable.

For students and young professionals full of ambition and status anxiety: “Scent of a Woman.” There are lines you do not cross to succeed, even when crossing them is perfectly legal. Which is to say, there are things you do not do even to get into Harvard. Plus, extra points for Al Pacino’s stirring defense of loyalty as a cardinal virtue.

For those who are always sure they know before any scandal investigation who ought to be punished, “The Player.” Guessing wrong can have pretty terrible costs. The costs rarely fall on the accusers, especially when the accusers are themselves powerful. They fall instead on the innocent. But who cares?

For those who can hardly bear a moment away from social media or other forms of quick and easy stimulation, “A River Runs Through It.” This marvelous film, based on a book by Norman Maclean, celebrates the virtues of quiet and patience and fortitude. Some rewards take time. The vehicle through which the lessons are taught is fly fishing, but one need not have any interest in the sport. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the casting is perfect. A young Brad Pitt dazzles. The closing line is one of the most haunting in all of cinema. Puts you in a reflective mood. Not many movies do that these days.

For those who in this maddening political moment have formed what they imagine are alliances of convenience with those they secretly despise or even fear: “The Crying Game.” Not for the gender dynamics or the mid-film surprise that by now everyone has heard of, but for Forest Whitaker reciting the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog.

For those who believe the troubles they face are insurmountable, “My Cousin Vinny”: Share your problems with a loved one. You might be surprised at what hidden talents come to the surface. (Also, always be respectful to judges, whether you like them or not, and, if you’re arrested for a crime you didn’t commit, confine your answers to Yes and No.)

Let’s add in a small political collection, with the hope of perhaps helping those on either side of the ideological divide gain some further understanding of the other.

“A Few Good Men”: A movie conservatives should watch to be reminded how liberals think conservatives think. (You can’t handle the truth, but you sure do want me on that wall!)

“Howard’s End”: A movie conservatives should watch to be reminded how liberals think liberals think. (Rich do-gooders can stay rich and still do good.)

“Aladdin”: A movie liberals should watch to see how conservatives think liberals think. (Rub the magic lamp and all good things materialize, courtesy of the federal gover— um, that is, the genie.)

“Shining Through”: A movie liberals should watch to see how conservatives think conservatives think. (Bravery, sacrifice, patriotism, loyalty, all without loud music or foul language.)

Finally, for all of us celebrating a remarkable year in cinema, “A League of Their Own”: Right now, lots of people are frustrated with the working of democracy. Up until now, especially for young people, it’s all seemed pretty easy. But remember: It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg View columnist.

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