Of the year's best, 'One False Move' topped threesome at No. 1 with a quiver MEMORABLE MOMENTS

December 27, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

I call it the quiver.

It happens oh so very rarely, and for a professional moviegoer such as myself, jaded and slow to impress and slower yet to actually feel, it happens almost never.

I can first remember identifying it in another person, namely my son. He's a lanky teen-ager now, busy with sports and studies and trying to find the appropriate degree of cool to carry him through a complex life, but not so long ago he was a chubby blond baby and the world was mudluscious with possibility.

One day, in complete innocence, we took him to a fast-food restaurant on the way home from a hardware store. It was one of those bleak, plastic places that serves burgers in the billions and is exactly the same no matter if you pay for your Mac in dollars or pounds or rubles or pfennigs or zlotys. We thought nothing much of it, but at one point in the ordeal I took a look at the boy.

He was in paradise.

He'd seen not a thing like this place, and I could see his eyes balloon with crazy, giddy pleasure as he approached hyperventilation, trying to suck in all the visual information and olfactory sensation: the cheesy yellow plastic clowns, the monumental curves of those two golden arches, the odor of grease and cholesterol commingling in the air into a fatal elixir that promised delight and damnation at once. The place, to his innocent eyes at least, was a festival of the food chain.

And then I set before this boy, poised on the cusp of the awareness of his own separation from the world at large, something so intensely delicious, so narcotically mind-blowing, so synapse-blastingly beautiful that I wondered if he could handle it.

I remember how big his eyes got and how his entire fleshy body seemed to ossify in the magnificence of the moment. Nothing else existed but that little cardboard box with its precious cargo of calories and fat.

And then the quiver. He was so excited I thought he'd implode. He could no longer control his flesh. It was a spasm that just undulated through him, something deep and profoundly involuntary, a phenomenon of respiration and oxygen depri

vation. He began to shake, he began to rattle, the world itself disappeared as he sank into a universe of bliss so pure and urgent it should be illegal.

It was his first Happy Meal!

As I say, such bliss is hard to find, and in 10 years of movie-going for The Sun I've only hit the Happy Meal level once or twice. And once was this year, my most memorable movie moment.

It was in one of the three films that made my No. 1 triple-pick for best film(s) of the year, because they represented the restoration of a particularly pungent and native American sensibility to film culture -- that school of the imagination that was called hard-boiled in fiction, when its practitioners were Chandler, Hammett and Cain, and called film noir in movies, where its practitioners were Huston and Hawks and Dmytryk.

The film in question was the superb "One False Move," about a country-boy sheriff named Dale "Hurricane" Dixon who finds himself matched against some real bad boys from the big city. What's so superb about it -- particularly coming as it did after a long line of more or less synthetic Hollywood summer pap -- is the degree to which the characters seem to leave the screen and occupy their own space.

The two bad boys head up the steps toward Hurricane, and you knew that someone would live and someone would die and whoever survived would be traumatized forever.

There was just a moment there where you felt you were in the room with them and the tension was so frozen you could feel it in the air, the most palpable and terrifying pleasure of art: that feeling of being connected through a movie screen to the whole sad world.

That's when I felt The Quiver.

So here is my list of the 10 best films of 1992, all 14 of them.

10. "Last of the Mohicans," Michael Mann's post-modern version of James Fenimore Cooper's pre-modern novel of scouts and Indians in the violent wilderness was a sleek dream of American freedom and American violence.

9. "Howard's End," the Ivory-Merchant team's wonderful and zingy version of the E. M. Forster novel with splendid performances from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Also from the glory days of empire and equally as pleasant, "Enchanted April," Mike Newell's meditation on the glories of vacation for three British women in the days immediately after World War I.

8. "Of Mice and Men" restored Literature with a capital L to the screen, in Gary Sinese's sinewy and sturdy version of the Steinbeck classic, with Sinese himself as the compassionate George and John Malkovich as pitiful Lenny.

7. "The Unforgiven," Clint Eastwood's meditation on violence, cowtown style, a muddy revisionist Western in which the legendary gunhawks were revealed to be squalid little psychopaths. Eastwood's best film as both director and actor in years.

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