1988: The Year in Pictures
November 5, 2007
With Nate’s visit to scenic Somerville now one for the books, another year of Academy Award reviews can be added to the YS’ archives. In fact, 2 years can now be added, but given the bizarre absence of a record for 1990 (contra 1991 and 1989), I’ll hold off hyping the 1987 list until it has somehow made its way from my computer screen to yours. And, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, as I promised in the 1991 post, I’ll one day get around to adding grades for the other years.
But let us now praise famous films and take a look into the not-too-recent-or-useable past.
A Fish Called Wanda: Rather unlike today, the academy of yesteryear used to regularly nominate two, or even three comedies, for the major awards. Perhaps things were just simpler in a world with history, without great conflicts that necessitated drama after drama. Either way, A Fish Called Wanda is really funny. Not just lighthearted or charming (adjectives that will come to dominate the 1987 list), but legitimately funny. John Cleese and Kevin Kline standout in a cast of standouts, and Charles Crichton was justly nominated for managing the cast and coaxing the best out of his actors. But what’s truly interesting about Fish is the timelessness of its humour. The best jokes and set-ups would be funny in any generation; almost nothing is dependent on immediate cultural references, and, if it is, the joke is immediately transparent. Justly on everyone’s mothers list of top comedies. Grade: A
The Last Temptation of Christ…has not aged well. Willem Dafoe is still excellent, and David Bowie’s Pilate is far superior to Jeff Ament’s. But Harvey Keitel is horribly miscast as Judas and the movie at times feels as if it’s going through the motions, portraying one biblical scene after another solely for the sake of having them in the movie (this predictability is really the problem encountered by all Jesus movies). Still, it’s hard not to appreciate Peter Gabriel’s score, and Scorsese’s gusto is evident. B/B+
Best Picture Nominees:
Working Girl: The second comedy on the list, Working Girl tells the story of a plucky secretary’s (invented) rise to dealmaker. Think The Secret of My Success with the girl-power of Veronica Mars. Actually, I’m not sure what WG (no Robinson) is trying to say about the place of women in the workplace. Tess’ boss (the excellent Sigourney Weaver) is the only female executive in sight and she tries to steal Melanie Griffith’s idea, lest she too succeed. Though the movie would seem to be acclaiming equality there is still the bizarre suggestion that only one woman can succeed at a time, or that the only way for a woman to succeed in business is to be conniving and manipulative. Perhaps I’m reading into the movie, but perhaps not. Then again, the movie may be a mirror and not a lamp, reflecting commonly held ideas while arguing against the culture that would pit two obviously qualified women against one another. Also, Harrison Ford makes even Mr. Hammerskjold’s heart go a flutter–quite a feat considering his alleged Asian fetish. A-
Mississippi Burning: Good old-fashioned filmmaking. The movie tells a story, and tells it well, and Willem Dafoe gets to continue his 1987-long habit of saving society. Gene Hackman carries much of the dramatic load, expertly displaying the nuances in Southern society. The unrecognizable young Francis McDormand shows the skills that would eventually make her a star. One wishes that we’d never have to see incidents like the ones that took place in this movie again, but given all the questionable civil rights incidents that have occurred in the last few years, the movie is just as important for showing us how far we haven’t come as how far we have. A-
Dangerous Liaisons: Although it would have been nice if I hadn’t had to explain the movie’s plot to fellow viewers in relation to Cruel Intentions, I still had enough time to appreciate Malkovitch’s acting clinic (I’m sure Ryan Phillippe was an eager student). That’s really the best way of explaining the power and creativity he put into the performance, which was so good I wore my spectacles instead of my glasses. Glenn Close has the misfortune of having had to play across from him; her own excellent performance is overshadowed. Still, one recognizes just how impressive it is that she doesn’t disappear entirely. Bonus points for a young Uma Thurman in compromising states of attire. A-/B+
The Accidental Tourist: William Hurt owned the 80’s; a star that can enliven even the most boring role and who did a fine job of capturing the boredom and tentativeness of the Accidental Tourist. Still, I don’t understand how this movie was nominated for best picture as it is really just ok. Other than Hurt, the movie’s best feature is the funny and interesting voice-over that opens the film. Then again, the voice over was so good that I didn’t understand why the movie abandoned that tone in favour of melodrama and Geena Davis. B-
Rain Man: Rain Man has a lot to say about the transportation infrastructure in America. Raymond won’t fly, Tom Cruise’s dad won’t let him drive the family car, Tom Cruise sells cars that overly pollute an already overly polluted environment, and there are two bizarre shots of rail related materials, one of tracks leading to Cruise’s hanger-office, the other of a flat wasteland that appears to be a remnant of the lost Cincinnati subway (ok, that one might be me reading into the text). By the time Raymond gets on the Amtrak back to Cincinnati at the end of the film, one realizes that real sustainable passenger rail is the only solution to our problems. Along the way, Tom Cruise grows and develops and Dustin Hoffman learns to dance and play blackjack. Hoffman gave another great performance in a year of great performances, and Cruise’s Charlie Babbit is the UR-text for his character in Magnolia. Definitely a great movie, but one that unfortunately fades on repeat viewings. Excellent, and unmissable deleted scene included in the special features. A-
Real Best Picture: A Fish Called Wanda