Movies Of The Year: 1989

Lots of bad movies in 1989, as apparently I’d watch anything that happened to have a theatrical release. Still, some pretty good ones at the top.

55. Police Academy 6: City Under Seige
54. Who’s Harry Crumb?
53. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
52. K-9
51. We’re No Angels
50. Troop Beverly Hills
49. The Wizard
48. The Karate Kid Part III
47. Fletch Lives
46. See No Evil, Hear No Evil
45. Turner & Hooch
44. Sex, Lies And Videotape
43. Uncle Buck
42. The Gods Must Be Crazy II
41. Her Alibi
40. Ghostbusters II
39. Three Fugitives
38. The Dream Team
37. Family Business
36. Driving Miss Daisy
35. The Little Mermaid
34. Look Who’s Talking
33. Honey, I Shrunk The Kids
32. The Burbs
31. Parenthood
30. Wekend At Bernie’s
29. My Left Foot
28. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
27. Lethal Weapon 2
26. Back To The Future Part II
25. UHF
24. Steel Magnolias
23. Wallace & Grommit: A Grand Day Out
22. Lonesome Dove
21. License To Kill
20. Major League
19. Valmont
18. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
17. Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
16. Field Of Dreams

15. Mystery Train – Weird little Jim Jarmusch movie, and yes, that is redundant. Japanese tourists who prefer Carl Perkins to Elvis, Steve Buscemi, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Joe Strummer congregate in a Memphis hotel. A trio of simultaneous stories, all centered around the hotel. A gem.

14. Fabulous Baker Boys – A very cool movie. Great performances from both of the Bridges brothers, and of course, Michelle Pfeiffer. Cool characters, cool music, cool dialogue, cool directing. The writer-director Steven Kloves hasn;t directed anything else of note, but he did write Wonder Boys and the first four Harry Potter movies.

13. Drugstore Cowboy – Gus Van Sant’s first movie is probably still his best, though I haven’t seen any of his post-Psycho ultra-minimalist films. Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch are drug addicts who travel around committing crimes. Then Dillon goes straight and meets William S. Burroughs. Somewhere along the line, they meet Heather Graham (fresh from her outstanding performance in 1988’s License To Drive). Not as weird as My Own Private Idaho, which helps make it a lot more compelling.

12. Say Anything – Cameron Crowe’s debut film as a director. I think it’s a bit overrated. The simple fact is that every scene that revolves around John Cusak’s Lloyd Dobler is outstanding, but the subplot about Ione Skye’s father’s legal troubles just is not that interesting. John Mahoney’s good as the dad, it’s just that this should be a movie about Lloyd, a truly classic character and performance. Lili Taylor is also good as Lloyd’s Ducky. I was never a big Ione Skye fan. Lloyd could have done better.

11. Dead Poets Society – Everyone loved this movie at the time, but it really can’t rate any higher than this on anything more than nostalgia. Ethan Hawke’s character is underdeveloped, Robin Williams lapses too often into stand-up, the whole plotline of Robert Sean Leonard killing himself because Red Foreman won’t let him be an actor (a thinly disguised allegory for “he’s gay! gasp!”) is just plain silly, not to mention Williams getting fired over it. The actors are all very good though, I still think Knox Overstreeet’s plotline is the best part of the movie, and you really can’t help being a sucker for all the melodrama: the classroom scenes with Hawke and Williams, especially the last one, are great. But profound it is not, unless you happen to be in the 7th grade.

10. The Abyss – The best James Cameron movie set in or on the water. Crew of an undersea research center (think SeaLab 2020) gets lost because of a hurricane. As they try to repair their station and get back to the surface, Marine Michael Biehn (in another great performance for him in a Cameron movie) goes nuts and decides to set off some nukes. Then they discover the aliens. Great stuff. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio does a decent ripoff of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character, but Ed Harris is the star of the movie for me. One of my favorite of his performances. Chris Elliott also stars. See the long version, without a doubt.

9. Batman – Important film, to be sure, but definitely overrated. Kim Basinger is truly awful, Jack Nicholson comes perilously close to going too far over the top, and did anyone ever really think Michael Keaton was a good Batman? Anyone? Making the Joker into the guy who killed Batman’s parents was lame. Still, a great looking movie, even if it is mostly a Blade Runner rip-off.

8. Heathers – Greater than any John Hughes teen comedy, to be sure. It’s been often imitated over the last 15 years, but only Election has come close to matching it’s high school black comedy nastiness. Winona Ryder and Christian Slater kill off a bunch of popular kids, first by accident, then out of psychosis. Great fun. Best line: “I love my dead gay son!”

7. Roger & Me – Even the people who irrationally hate Michael Moore have to respect this movie. It’s not my favorite of his, I think he comes to close to outright mockery of the poor victims of General Motors, when the people he should be targeting are the rich people, not the folks just trying to survive. But still, it revolutionized non-fiction film, a revolution which is still ongoing, as you can tell by the reaction to his last two films (How can it be a documentary?? It has an Opinion! ).

6. The Killer – The first really great John Woo film (that I’ve seen) stars the great Chow Yun-Fat as a hitman who accidentally blinds a woman in a shoot out and tries to make amends but gets double-crossed by his boss and ends up teamed up with the cop who’s been pursuing him (Danny Lee). Woo explored the same themes a couple years later in the superior Hard-Boiled, but that film’s more epic in scope. The Killer is still a big flashy John Woo action movie, but the story is simpler, there’s less action, and there’s more work in developing at least Chow’s character. Still better than 99% of American action movies from the 80s. Style goes a long way.

5. When Harry Met Sally – A little dated perhaps, or maybe I’ve just seen it too many times. One of my favorite romantic comedies, though I still can’t accept Billy Crystal as a romantic lead (which was probably Sally’s real problem anyway). Meg Ryan’s terrific, much better than she was on Charles In Charge. Whatever happened to her, anyway? Ever since Courage Under Fire, she’s been in some terrible movies.

4. Glory – One of the better war movies ever made. Mathew Broderick is decent, Cary Elwes is pretty bad, but Denzel Washington, Andre Braugher and especially Morgan Freeman are outstanding. Washington won the Oscar, but I actually think Freeman gave the better performance. It wasn’t as flashy, but he’s the center of the movie, the emotional core. Watching this movie again a few months ago, I was shocked by how clear it was that they all knew they were going to die. How, in fact, their ultimate goal was to get themselves killed in battle. I always thought the end was unhappy, futility of war and all that. But it isn’t. They prove their point by willingly marching to certain death (hence the title). Wars are weird.

3. Crimes And Misdemeanors – Woody Allen barely misses having yet another #2 film of the year. This one’s two seperate stories that come together at the end. The crime part follows Martin Landau as he has Anjelica Huston, who he was having an affair with, murdered. The misdemeanor part is Allen fighting with Alan Alda over MIa Farrow. Each half is pretty good, though I prefer the funny part, but the movie becomes great in the final scene where Landau and Allen meet at a party. Probably the best of Allen’s ‘serious’ films, though it’s close with Hannah And Her Sisters, a superficially similar film.

2. Henry V – My favorite Shakespeare movie (not counting adaptations like Throne Of Blood, Ran or Chimes At Midnight) is also kenneth Branagh’s directorial debut. I don’t much like Branagh as an actor generally, but he’s great in this movie. He gets both the war-king Henry and the comic wooing-Henry exactly right. Having Derek Jacobi play the theatre-specific role of the Chorus in the movie version is weird but still works. The battle scenes are terrific, especially the Agincourt battle and it’s aftermath. The movie would have been great if it ended at Agincourt, but instead we get an extended coda of Henry attempting to convince the King of France’s daughter (Emma Thompson) to marry him. Thompson’s very funny and the two of them work great together. Also stars Ian Holm, Paul Scofield, Brian Blessed and Christian Bale.

1. Do The Right Thing – My pick as the best movie of the 1980s. Great cast featuring Spike Lee, Rosie Perez, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, John Turturro, John Savage, Giancarlo Esposito and Samuel L. Jackson. You can tell a lot about a person by their reaction to this film. I wonder if the folks who think the film is racist and white-hating have actually bothered to watch it. Or are they just so desperate to beat back the infringements on their power over the previous 30 years that they’ll leap at any chance they get to put someone like Spike Lee in his place? The film’s message was apparently too subtle: there’s no such thing as the right thing, so what do you do then? Formally speaking, the film is great as well, and really, for me, the politics of the film is a secondary concern. it’s a great film because it’s a great film, first and foremost. That I happen to agree with it’s political point of view is a secondary manner. In fact, I generally don’t like political films that have to say what I already know and agree with; they bore me. The economy with which Lee depicts the neighborhood, sets up so many different characters and makes them all unique an memorable is extraordinary. Few films convey such a strong sense of place and weather as this one. It’s the hottest day of the year, and it really does feel like it. This is a masterpiece that seems to have been forgotten by history or marginalized as a mere political statement and unfairly maligned by reactionaries who either haven’t seen the film or didn’t bother paying attention to it. Now, as for Spike Lee’s view of women. . . .

Some big Unseen movies this year. Cinema Paradiso is next up in my Netflix queue:

Cinema Paradiso
The Decalogue
Born On The Fouth Of July
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
Sea Of Love
Road House
Dead Calm
Meet The Feebles
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Jesus Of Montreal
Casualties Of War
Great Balls Of Fire
Erik The Viking
Tango And Cash
The War Of The Roses
Black Rain
Lean On Me
Lock Up
New York Stories

2 thoughts on “Movies Of The Year: 1989

  1. Casualties of War and the Scorsese segment of “New York Stories” were the best American films released in 1989, so definitely seek those out. Road House is monumentally, iconically awful, so that’s a must-see, perhaps more urgently than anything else. Best 3 Bad Movies mentioned in your post: Road House; The Wizard; The Karate Kid Part III (love that scene on the cliff). Worst 3 Bad Movies mentioned in your post: Dead Poet’s Society; When Harry Met Sally; and Field of Dreams.


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