The Movies That Mattered:
1987 was the year I started to wander out of my cinematic comfort zone and explore movies that were slightly off the beaten path. Bagdad Café is one of my favorite “little films” ever—a movie whose discovery confirmed my love of movies. German director Percy Adlon’s indie masterpiece about loneliness, independence and friendship just reached in and grabbed hold of me and I’ve never been able to let it go. It’s offbeat and distinctly European in tone and atmosphere, but its humanity is universal. The thoroughly under-appreciated and always brilliant Marianne Sagebrecht and CCH Pounder are both equal parts bizarre and loveable in roles they were meant to play. And one of the most hauntingly effecting songs from any movie, Jevetta Steele’s “Calling You,” will stay with you forever.
The Princess Bride
I don’t know what more can be said about one of my generation’s all-time favorite movies. It really does have it all: romance, action and comedy. But any movie can have that. What Princess Bride also has is some of the greatest screen characters of all time, some of the greatest lines of all time and one of the smartest screenplays ever (by the master, William Goldman). And Rob Reiner’s direction infuses the cleverness with sweetness, creating a cinema classic for all ages. It’s impossible to not love this movie. Really.
Wow, 1987 was a good year for movies. And Broadcast News was the best of the bunch. The Oscars went for epic and historical (The Last Emperor), but, in my mind, this James L. Brooks film about broadcast journalism wins every time. Holly Hunter delivers the performance of her career (despite her Oscar win for another movie) but it is Albert Brooks, as the loveably neurotic Aaron Altman, who steals the show. My favorite movie of the year—and in a year that includes Raising Arizona, that’s saying something.
There was a time when Nicolas Cage wasn’t crazy. Or, to put it more precisely, there was a time when Nicolas Cage’s craziness was put to good use. And if there are any directors who know how to utilize—and reflect—insanity, it’s the Coen brothers. Joel and Ethan Coen are my favorite filmmakers and this is my favorite Coen brothers movie. Fargo may be smarter and No Country For Old Men may be deeper, but Raising Arizona has the gleeful soul of artists let loose to express their style. Wild abandon, bizarre humor and dark undertones are Coen hallmarks, as well as brilliant cinematography and eccentric characters. Raising Arizona is the quintessential Coen movie, brimming with excess, coming thisclose to camp, and layered with a darkness that is only overridden in the end by its spirit of compassion. And it is one of the funniest movies ever made.
The definition of guilty pleasure.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that Kevin Costner is not a good actor. But for some reason he keeps showing up in credible films. The Untouchables is yet another movie that even Costner can’t ruin, a gangster movie of the ultimate kind: Eliot Ness trying to bring down Al Capone. This movie is pure entertainment. And the climactic scene that is an homage to Battleship Potemkin? Brilliant.
Empire of the Sun
I feel like I personally discovered Christian Bale in 1987. Empire of the Sun blew me away when I saw it in the theatre. The then 12-year-old Bale’s intensity and obvious talent were staggering. I loved the movie too, and I’ve never understood why this is one of Steven Spielberg’s least-known films.
Full Metal Jacket
An Officer and a Gentleman meets Platoon meets A Clockwork Orange. Twisted. Disturbing. Dark. Intense. Brilliant. Kubrick.
Less Than Zero
Author Bret Easton Ellis specializes in yuppie nightmares, but Less Than Zero is much more fun than American Psycho. I don’t need all that blood and crazy serial killer stuff, just give me pampered white kids who ruin their own lives and feel sorry for themselves. Oh, and throw in some great filtered-lens camerawork and lots of melodrama and I’m there. Less Than Zero is everything a John Hughes movie isn’t. Plus, Robert Downey Jr. is spectacular, although, again, I’m not really convinced he was acting.
Some Kind of Wonderful
Can someone explain to me why Eric Stoltz isn’t a big star? He’s now directing episodes of Glee when he should be polishing his awards. He’s had a massively productive career in front of the camera, don’t get me wrong, but his only real starring vehicles that anyone has heard of were Mask and Some Kind of Wonderful, back-to-back in ’85 and ’87. I’ll never know why he never took off, but I do know that his grounded, quiet and sublime performance as Keith in Some Kind of Wonderful, opposite Mary Stuart Masterson’s wild and insecure (and sexually-confused?) tomboy Watts make this my favorite John Hughes movie ever.
Before we knew the truth about Mel Gibson, he was a giant movie star who made a few really entertaining movies. Lethal Weapon was the best of them.
No Way Out
Again, Kevin Costner can’t act. And, yet again, he finds his way into a movie that works in spite of that fact. No Way Out isn’t even a great movie, but it moves briskly and has sustained suspense that builds to a great payoff. I wish Hollywood built movies like this more often.
I guess you can just chalk this one up to the fact that I’m a huge Babs fan. This isn’t Funny Girl (far from it), but I was still impressed with her dramatic chops.
A classic piece of literature adapted by a modern comic genius and turned into a charming, sweet, innocent and smart contemporary cinematic fairy tale. That may be overstating it, but I love Roxanne for its spirit and for Steve Martin’s adorable performance as a sweet, smart, small-town firefighter who tries to woo Daryl Hannah, in spite of his Cyrano-like schnozz. And, of course, all small towns are like this, right?
There was just something about this buddy cop action/comedy, starring Emilio Estevez and Richard Dreyfuss. I loved it.
Socially relevant and controversial, melodramatic and overwrought, sexy and scary, Fatal Attraction is a bonafide modern American classic.
The year of the divas. Barbra Streisand shines in Nuts and Cher steals the show in Suspect. Dennis Quaid and Liam Neeson also give great performances in this well-made thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I know it sucked me in.
Wings of Desire
No other film captures the spirit and soul of my beloved Berlin like Wim Wenders’ poetic (and gorgeous) ode to humanity, heartbreak and rebirth.
The Movies That Should Have Mattered More:
The Witches of Eastwick
Can’t handle the vomit scene. Seriously.
Probably should see it again because it just fell flat for me.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
What’s wrong with me that I don’t love this movie as much as everyone else does? I wonder that a lot.
The Living Daylights
Oh, good lord. James Bond can survive anything, but he nearly didn’t survive being played by Timothy Dalton.
Good Morning, Vietnam
I saw The World According to Garp. I know Robin Williams can act. But he chose to make a career not out of acting but of being annoying. This was the start.
The Last Emperor
Overrated costume drama.
The Movies that Might Have Mattered, But I Missed:
Hope and Glory
The Lost Boys
My Life as a Dog
Oscar Winners of 1987:
Best Picture: The Last Emperor – Hemdale, Columbia
Best Director: Bernardo Bertolucci – The Last Emperor
Best Actor: Michael Douglas – Wall Street
Best Actress: Cher – Moonstruck
Best Supporting Actor: Sean Connery – The Untouchables
Best Supporting Actress: Olympia Dukakis – Moonstruck