Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 8th 2019
1988 had some great films
Recently I had a look at the films of 1987 and that proved quite popular. Which is a relief because I was writing this list of the films of 1988 at the same time. And, again, yes, I've looked at the songs of 1988 already, so why not look at the films? Basically, what's happened is that I've started to sort through my DVD/video cassette collection, and so 1987 and 1988 stared back at me quite starkly…
1988 was the year I finally took study seriously, with the help of my wonderful friend Mel (I wonder what she's doing nowadays…). It was actually also the last year I went to the cinemas on a regular basis, aged 17 and cycling through female companions way too frequently. (Mel was always only a good friend; ours was a platonic relationship.) Yes, I did see a lot of films of other years, but saw many on video when they were released, or, later, DVD or some sort of TV subscription service. So this is the last year, really, when the film experience clouds my judgement of the movies.
On the world stage… well, to us, Australia celebrated 200 years of recognised white settlement. If you lived in Australia, you'd think nothing else happened anywhere ever for twelve months. And, seriously, I was trying to pass year twelve/matriculation so I really didn't care. (For the record, I did, and subsequently went on to get a post-graduate degree, so something worked, and I think Mel was the reason for that.)
How the world sees Australia… if it's not on fire or being eaten by a shark or disappearing in the Outback…
Now, filmically (is that a word? Is now!), there were some huge films in 1988. However, a number of them, while critically acclaimed and popular, just didn't grab me at all: Chocolat; Evil Angels; Gorillas In The Mist; Mississippi Burning; Rain Man; Working Girl. Sorry. Not my films…
Now, my films! So, as usual, first the honourable mentions! Above The Law (Steven Seagal's first!); Big (of the 3 major release body swap films, this Penny Marshall directed one with Tom Hanks was the best); Bloodsport (Jean-Claude Van Damme's best film); Buster (fun crime film starring Phil Collins); Crocodile Dundee II (while not as good as the original, still not a bad sequel); Scrooged (entertaining Bill Murray update of the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol); Shame (Australian psychological thriller, well worth tracking down); The Blob (a surprisingly decent remake); The Dead Pool (final Dirty Harry film, with an original, intriguing plot); The Last Temptation Of Christ (ignore the controversy, Martin Scorsese's film is actually quite stunning and thought-provoking); Without A Clue (not bad Sherlock Holmes spoof starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley, which is actually funny); Young Guns (brat pack western, showing that the genre was not dead yet).
As you can see, some really good films released in that year!
All right: my list! However, having said there were some good films, in all conscience I couldn't do a top ten. Sorry. Here's my 9 favourites of the year.
This hybrid of 'police officers who don't like each other but have to work together' and 'alien invasion sci-fi' films works really well. The mix of cultures, the bigotry, the underlying tensions – yes, it is an alien remake if In The Heat Of The Night with the alien standing in for the Afro-American, which probably makes it more palatable to a wider audience. Or, today, any immigrant at all in any Western country in the world. Still, I enjoy it for what it is, and I am a fan of James Caan (who is the star of my favourite film of all time), so I recommend this film whole-heartedly.
I mentioned in my 1987 films column that Mel Brooks is my favourite US comedy director; the Zucker brothers run a close second. And then there is daylight to anyone else. US comedies are generally… yeah. This David Zucker filmic version of the brief TV series sees Leslie Nielsen reprise his role and shows that Priscilla Presley can really act. It is genuinely funny with too many sight gags and a bizarre plot involving assassinating the Queen of England at a baseball game. Great film.
This Tim Burton film, with Michael Keaton doing a brilliant OTT performance, is just a fun, strange picture. It's a ghost story, told from the point of view of view of the ghosts, and it gets weirder from there. The scene in the death waiting room with all the dead corpses chatting away is hilariously gross, and that's just the beginning. It is a unique film. And to think, Burton and Keaton went on to do Batman together, in what was a fine filmic version of the superhero.
Terry Gilliam's fantasy comedy is another bizarre film with the trademark Gilliam visually stunning set pieces and some awesomely contrived fantastic elements, as well as some pure silliness. The story-line, of an old man regaling his audience with a story that ends up being true, and what a story it turns out to be, is a worn trope that Gilliam makes work. The majority of Gilliam films are great, in my opinion, and this is one of my favourites. Just a shame it didn't do well at the box office.
Remember when an Eddie Murphy film was something worth going to see at the cinema? Remember looking forward to the next one? Remember? This is one of them; of course, having a director as good as John Landis at the helm does help. The story of a prince pretending to not be a prince to find true love, coming from Africa to America, is simple and sweet, but Murphy and Arsenio Hall are great and drive the narrative above and beyond. And the number of smaller characters they play in the film! This is a great movie.
A little-known science fiction film in the paranoia sub-genre, John Carpenter steers professional wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper through a great alien invasion story (Piper was the best wrestler-turned-actor before Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson hit our screens). The problem is, only Piper (as Nada) can see the aliens and their subtle messages through special sunglasses he wears. An awesome change to a standard sci-fi trope. Plus, it's funny. More than that, today, with the political use of social media and subtle control techniques, its themes are more relevant than ever before. And it has one of the greatest film lines EVER! "I have come here to chew bubblegum and to kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum."
One of the best comedy films made, with all the leads – John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Palin – in such fine form. The chips up the nose scene, the dangling out the window scene, the speaking French for erotica scene, the final airport scene… it is an absolute classic. I saw this film with a mate and we laughed so hard we were almost ill. So, I decided to take the girl I was seeing along to it. She tittered a bit. She didn't get it. Our relationship didn't last much longer. To me, it's that sort of a film.
Such a brilliant merging of animation and real-life, Robert Zemeckis guides Bob Hoskins and a completely over the top Christopher Lloyd (always the best Christopher Lloyd!) through a strange film about knocking down a cartoon part of the world. Add a sexy cartoon ("I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way.") voiced by Kathleen Turner and an insane rabbit (Charles Fleischer) and cartoon logic applied to the real world and… what a great film. I have a feeling if it was done nowadays, there'd be so many CGI Bob Hoskinses used that it might as well be a straight cartoon. Yes, films were better in so many ways back then.
Not only the best film of 1988, but the best Christmas film ever (and a crazy brilliant parody poem), this film marked Bruce Willis finally leaving the smirking, comedic Moonlighting character behind and adopting the wise-cracking action hero persona we all know and love now. With Alan Rickman in fine form as the villain, the film is just brilliant set-piece after brilliant set-piece with explsions and gunfire and killings and punchings and more explosions and gunfire and killings and punchings. And this is one of the first films where the hero ends up in the sort of terrible physical state you'd expect after going through what he went through. No 'one scratch on the arm' here; he was beaten and bruised and bleeding and limping. And, of course, the good guy wins and the media guy gets his as well. This film never gets old. Ever.
And that's my top 9 films of the year 1988. What did I miss out? What did I get wrong? Is Rain Man in fact the greatest film of the year? Comments, suggestions, arguments always welcome!