Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The 7 Best English-Language Films of 1988

1988 - the year the first MacDonald's in a communist country was opened in Belgrade, Sonny Bono was elected mayor of Palm Springs, Celine Dion won the Eurovision Song Contest (why?!?), and Rupert Grint, Haley Joel Osment, and Michael Cera were delivered into the world. A lot of awful stuff involving terrorism, bombings, industrial accidents, and the formal announcement of man-created global warming to the Senate happened too. At least we had these seven great movies to watch:

7. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Whether you love or hate this film, it's undeniably an impressive technical achievement, seamlessly blending animation and live-action in a frenetically paced noir satire. The late Bob Hoskins plays a private detective, hired by cartoon Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer) to investigate the possibility that his sexy wife, Jessica Rabbit (Kathleen Turner), is cheating on him. Soon Roger is framed for the murder of the owner of Toontown, the segregated neighborhood inhabited by the local cartoon population, and things just get crazier from there. A zany, weird movie that pushes the cinematic medium to its utter limit - it gives me a headache, but I'm still impressed.

6. Oliver and Company
The last animated film released by Disney before The Little Mermaid and the widely touted Disney Renaissance, this musical modern-day adaptation of Dickens's classic novel already has many of the elements that would bring its Renaissance films to critical and financial success: a celebrity cast (including Bette Midler, Billy Joel, Dom DeLuise, and Cheech Marin), some extremely successful forays into digital animation techniques, Broadway and pop style musical numbers, lovable cuddly animal characters, and a fast-paced screenplay full of clever one-liners. Oliver and Company is not a great film on a par with The Lion King or Cinderella, but it's a darn good one and from any studio but Disney, that would be more than enough.

5. Rain Man
Both the highest grossing film of the year and the winner of the Oscar for Best Picture, Rain Man is a rare hybrid of feel-good blockbuster and legitimately well-crafted, well-acted film. Tom Cruise plays Charley, a self-centered, arrogant businessman in desperate need of funds who discovers that he has a severely autistic brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), when their deceased father leaves Raymond all his money. The film convincingly portrays the development of a relationship between the two brothers, both the unbearable frustrations and the fleeting moments of genuine affection. Rain Man is an unremittingly optimistic film, but it never sets one's teeth on edge.

4. Willow
The 1980s saw an explosion of fantasy film-making and the best of the bunch, directed by Ron Howard and developed from a story by George Lucas, is Willow. Warwick Davis stars as Willow, a member of the hobbit-like Nelwyn community who dreams of becoming a great sorcerer. When he discovers a Daikini, or full-size human, baby abandoned by the river, his paternal affection leads him on to a quest to defeat the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). Costarring Val Kilmer as Madmartigan, the greatest swordsman who ever lived, and Joanne Whalley as Bavmorda's bloodthirsty daughter Sorsha, Willow has everything one could possibly want in a fantasy film: terrifying monsters, epic battles, gorgeous castles and landscapes, and, best of all, a marvelous sense of humor.

3. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 
Though technically a television film, this wonderful adaptation of C. S. Lewis's most beloved work is both a beautifully rendered interpretation of the novel and a lovely, atmospheric fantasy film. And it is so incredibly superior to Disney's abysmally bad version. Four children sent to the country during the London Blitz discover a magic wardrobe that lets them into the enchanted country of Narnia, where animals and trees can talk, fauns have tea with friends, and the lion Aslan is on the move. The marvelous cast of actors includes Barbara Kellerman as the White Witch and Richard Dempsey, Sophie Cook, Johnathan R. Scott, and Sophie Wilcox as the Pevensie children. This remains one of my favorite films, even as an adult.

2. Dangerous Liaisons
Dangerous Liaisons is a stunningly good adaptation, by Christopher Hampton, of Laclos's deeply complex, not to mention controversial, novel. Glenn Close and John Malkovich play unscrupulous, bored aristocrats who amuse themselves with sinister sexual games, which threaten to destroy the lives of the players. Their victims include a convent-educated virgin being groomed for an arranged marriage (Uma Thurman), a romantic young music teacher (Keanu Reeves), and most significantly, the notoriously virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer). With a marvelous period-inspired score by George Fenton and Oscar-winning work in costume and production design, this is the best drama of 1988 and one of the best period pieces of cinema.

1. A Fish Called Wanda
The plot of this jewel-heist comedy is largely superfluous (though tightly structured) - the reason to watch A Fish Called Wanda is one of the single greatest comic casts of all time. Kevin Kline (who won an Oscar for his performance) is Otto, a genuinely stupid gunman who loathes being called stupid, John Cleese is Archie Leach, a hen-pecked barrister haplessly drawn into the scheme, Jamie Lee Curtis is Wanda, a con-artist with a sexual predilection for foreign languages, and Michael Palin is Ken, a passionate animal-lover with a really bad stutter. Cleese's screenplay is incredibly funny, retaining the wit of the Monty Python Boys without their extreme zaniness and love of non-sequiturs. A Fish Called Wanda is simply one of the best comedies ever made.

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