You are being redirected - hold on tight!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Movies: Flashback - The Best Movies of 1988 Part One

Continuing my Flashback series we go back twenty years to 1988. It was an election year but a very different one with a Bush on the ticket, a dimbulb veep candidate (some things don't change) and a little guy named Dukakis. These were the best films of the year, in no particular order.

1. Married to The Mob
Before Jonathan Demme became a big Hollywood director with Silence of the Lambs but after he had graduated from Roger Corman schlock like Crazy Mama he made a string of distinctly quirky American comedies culminating in this offbeat treat. With the bright colors and quirky rhythms of new wave (he was the perfect director for the classic Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense) he brought a distinct New York "downtown" sensibility to what on paper could be pretty worn material. Michelle Pfeiffer is terrific as the wife of a rubbed out mobster - decked out in neon and chewing gum but with a spunky good heart. The mob boss, played by Dean Stockwell with thick eyebrows and an appraisers squint, wants to get into her spandex. Matthew Modine is the FBI agent who charms Pfeiffer without letting her know who he is. Finally Mercedes Ruehl nearly hijacks the film as the mob bosses jealous wife, crazy eyed and off-balance yet steely with moral outrage. It's as much about Pfeffier's independence against all of these mobbed-up men who try to control her.

2. A Fish Called Wanda

A transcontinental comedy that bridged humor on both continents Wanda is a rollicking culture clash of uptight Brits like John Cleese and stuttering Michael Palin and outrageously crass and libidinous Americans Jamie Lee Curtis and a never-better Kevin Kline as a pretentious moron with aspirations to intellect. It's all hung around a classic heist plot that manages to weave in the ultimate cinematic taboo - the killing of canines. Several times. Hilariously. Jamie Lee Curtis is phenomenal in one of the few roles that allows her to show her great range.

3. Beetlejuice
Tim Burton's cinematic vision was first widely seen in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure but the casual Surrealism and candy-coated darkness was hard to discern as being distinct from the Pee-Wee Herman universe. Beetlejuice was Burton's own baby, with even more goth-baiting gloom in the form of young Winona Ryder, a mind-bending and unique view of the afterlife, and a cast in tune with his wacked-out sensibilities. Catherine O'Hara could be from a contemporary Demme film as an art-world diva, Jeffrey Jones is great as her nebbishy husband and Michael Keaton was suitably borscht belt macabre as the titular character. Sadly Alec Baldwin is asked to play it straight with Geena Davis as the nice young dead couple who insist on haunting their dream house.

4. The Vanishing
Another view of death and the mystery of life entirely and a far bleaker one is George Sluizer's original version of The Vanishing , later re-made with diminished returns by the director in English. A man's girlfriend is kidnapped suddenly and he becomes obsessed with learning her fate. His obsession becomes a subject of fascination for her kidnapper, who offers to supply the insight the boyfriend is so desperate to acquire.

5. The Thin Blue Line
From the imagined crime of the Vanishing we move to the real life crimes surrounding Errol Morris documentary The Thin Blue Line. This was the first documentary I ever saw in the theater, my father taking me to see it in Lincoln Square Cinemas after a rave in The New Yorker. It remains as one of the best documentary films ever made with chillingly clever recreations, Philip Glass's hypnotic score, and the words of those involved unfolding a story of justice denied by Texas legal system and the possibility that an innocent man would be executed.

No comments: