Saturday, April 11, 2009

1989 (The 9 Years, Part 6)

As we are now in 2009, we can expect to see a great many articles trumpeting the 70th anniversary of the fabled "Best Movie Year," 1939. This is tradition, dating back probably to every 9 year of every movie-oriented decade.

But is 1939 really the best year for movies? I don't know about that. It was great, but after the watershed year 1979, I started having my doubts. In 1989, I started noticing a trend. And in 1999, I was sure I was on to something.

I have a theory: that the 9 year in every decade is the best of that period. Why? I can only surmise that filmmakers working during the decade in question want to get out their final word on the era, and thus save their best for last. But, in the end, who really knows why: maybe it's simply just chance working here. Still, it's a very definable trend.

1989 was the first drop in quality for the 9 Years theory. But it also was the first year in which I couldn't decide between Do The Right Thing and Drugstore Cowboy as my favorite film of the year. Usually, for me, these things are easy to see, but still I can't decide between the two, so it's the only year that I have a tie for my most treasured title.

I should note: here I start talking more in depth about why these movies should be noted, because the time that's elapsed since their release has not been great enough to ensure their inclusion into the filmmaking canon. You will see this trend in my writing increase, for the same reasons, with the last entry in this series.

And so:

20 years ago this year, we celebrate:

84 Charlie Mopic (unusual Vietnam film about photographers filming the Southeastern Asia carnage)

The Abyss (James Cameron epic, very difficult to shoot, about an underwater oil drilling crew confronted by Cold War politics and alien intrusion; on-point performances from Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Biehn; cutting-edge digital-derived special effects; unspeakably convincing production design and Mikael Solomon photography; exciting, moving film later released in an even-better director's cut; my sixth favorite film of the year)

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (joyous but dark Terry Gilliam quasi-biopic about a tall-tale-telling German Baron coming to the aid of a troubled town; pop-out cast includes John Neville, a young Sarah Polley (in her debut), Eric Idle, Charles McKeown, Jack Purvis, Winton Dennis, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams, Sting, Ray Cooper and Valentina Cortese; troubled picture, a mature take on the family film, was rightfully Oscar-nominated for its special effects, makeup, art direction, and costumes)

Apartment Zero (notably taut thriller with Colin Firth and Hart Bochner as contentious roommates in Buenos Aires)

Batman (the year's biggest box office hit; Tim Burton directed this intermittently successful comic-book adaptation, with Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson impressive as The Joker; Kim Basinger, Billy Dee Williams, Pat Hingle, and Jack Palance co-star; wonderfully dark Oscar-winning art direction by Anton Furst. The rousing score by Danny Elfman is sullied by intrusive Prince songs)

Baxter (Jérôme Boivin's wretchingly bleak French work about sentient pit bull-terrier became a popular cult film on video)

The Bear (Jean-Jacques Annaud's masterful, nearly-wordless movie about an orphaned grizzly bear; magnificent photography by Phillippe Rousselot)

The Big Picture (cautionary tale following a first-time filmmaker, played by Kevin Bacon; Christopher Guest's directorial debut)

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (hit stoner comedy starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as time-traveling surfer dudes; George Carlin co-stars)

Black Rain (devastating black-and-white movie from Shohei Imamura about survivors of Hiroshima nuclear blast is truly unlike anything you've ever seen)

Born on the Fourth of July (Oliver Stone won Best Director Oscar for biopic of Ron Kovic, one-time gung-ho Vietnam soldier who returned, politically-awakened from war in a wheelchair; Tom Cruise got his first Oscar nomination for overpowering work in the lead)

Breaking In (low-key comedy about safecrackers with Burt Reynolds and Casey Siemaszko; directed by Scot Bill Forsyth and scripted by John Sayles)
Cinema Paradiso (Oscar-winning Italian film from Giuseppe Tornetore about kid's lifelong relationship with small villa's cinema; unrelentingly romantic and touching, with outstanding lead from Philippe Noiret)

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (inevitably sentimental Oscar-winning doc about the famed AIDS quilt)

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (nauseating but somehow beautiful Peter Greenaway effort with Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Tim Roth and Richard Bohringer)

Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen's last true masterpiece; two stories: Allen as intellectual doc filmmaker forced to sell out in making film about popular movie producer, and Martin Landau as uptown NYC doctor/family man backed into corner by woman with whom he's having an affair; great performances from Landau, Alan Alda, Angelica Huston, and Sam Waterston; seems daring to say, but is this Woody's finest screenplay?)

Dead Calm (extremely tense redo of Polanski's Knife in the Water with then-newcomer Nicole Kidman as wife of Sam Neill, a wealthy, troubled couple vacationing on their sailboat where they are stalked by sociopath Billy Zane; thrilling direction from Aussie Phillip Noyce)

Dead Poets Society (Australian Peter Weir directs extremely popular melodrama about poetry-loving teacher Robin Williams and his boys-school charges; I will forever hate that its script won the Oscar over Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing)

Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies' UK-set autobiographical period film about childhood with abusive father and passive mother, played well by Pete Posthelwaite and Freda Dowie)

Do The Right Thing (writer/director Spike Lee has still never hit such heights as he did with this firey, funny, devastating look at a day in the life of a dynamic Brooklyn neighborhood in the throes of heat wave and bubbling-over racial tensions; incredible cast--the best of 1989--includes Lee, Danny Aiello (Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actor), John Turturro, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Rosie Perez, Bill Nunn, Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Edson, Paul Benjamin, Robin Harris, Joie Lee, Martin Lawrence, Frank Vincent and John Savage; tremendous, heated, sweaty photography from Ernest Dickerson and diverse orchestral score from Spike's dad, Bill Lee; Public Enemy's "Fight The Power" is, unequivocally, the 1990's most important and powerful movie song; energetic credits sequence choreographed and performed by Rosie Perez; absolutely essential, with endlessly debate-sparking climax)

Driving Miss Daisy (Oscar-winning Best Picture with Best Actress Jessica Tandy as racist elderly Atlanta matron who strikes up friendship with her driver, played impeccably by Morgan Freeman in one of the year's best performances; good-hearted but unrealistic hit was directed by Australian Bruce Beresford; former Atlantan Alfred Urys won the Oscar for adapting his prize-winning play to the screen)

Drugstore Cowboy (Gus Van Sant broke into the big time with this riveting account of team of addicted drugstore thieves; another astonishing cast: Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James Le Gros, Heather Graham, Max Perlich, James Remar, and William Burroughs; great script by Van Sant and Daniel Yost, and zazzy source music score; Do The Right Thing might be the more important movie, but is it more siddown-and-shucher-mouth? Hell, certainly not!! Van Sant's film is a freakin' bear! Co-written by Daniel Yost; really---it's a masterpiece!!!)

Enemies: A Love Story (critically-acclaimed Paul Mazursky period romance about NYC man with three wives; Ron Silver, Angelica Huston, and Lena Olin star)

The Fabulous Baker Boys
(feather-light movie pairing Jeff and Beau Bridges as piano-playing lounge act disrupted by beautiful Michelle Pfieffer; earned well-deserved Oscar nominations for Pfieffer, director Steve Klove's intelligent screenplay, and Michael Chapman's elegant photography)

Field of Dreams
(extremely sentimental Phil Alden Robinson adaptation of Ray Kinsella novel about Iowa farmer who's instructed by God to construct a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop; shouldn't have worked but does, with Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, Burt Lancaster (in his final performance), Ray Liotta, and great James Earl Jones; gorgeous James Horner soundtrack)

For All Mankind
(astonishing documentary about US space program; primarily a visual experience, it's best seen on the big screen)

Glory (Edward Zwick's largely masterful look at the first all-black military regiment, fighting against the South during the Civil War, with Matthew Broderick and Cary Elwes as their leaders, and Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Jihmi Kennedy, and Supporting Actor Oscar-winner Denzel Washington; wonderful photography from Freddie Fields and scoring from James Horner)

Great Balls of Fire (amusing Jerry Lee Lewis biopic enlivened by committed performances from Dennis Quaid as The Killer, and Winona Ryder as his young cousin)

Happy Together (much-loved gay romance from Wong Kar-Wai)

Heathers (cult hit with Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as murderous teens offing school's "best and brightest")

Henry V (Kenneth Branaugh's rousing directorial debut, an adaptation of Shakespeare's enlivened epic about the heroic king, with Branaugh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi and an equally impressive supporting cast)

High Hopes (lovely Mike Leigh (American) breakthrough with Philip Davies and Ruth Sheen excellent as loving, pot-smoking lower-class Brits dealing with doddering elderly mother (standout performance from Edna Dore), charmingly dim friend Jason Watkins, social climbing sister Heather Tobias, and nasty wanna-be-rich neighbors Leslie Manville and David Bamber)

How to Get Ahead in Advertising (much-loved British cult movie with Richard E. Grant as ad exec who grows second head that advises him; written and directed by Bruce Robinson)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (third entry in Steven Spielberg's throwback action series, this time a quest for the Holy Grail; most memorable for including a game Sean Connery as Indie's tweedy father)

Jesus of Montreal
(great effort from Canadian Denys Arcand, about a committed group of Passion Players who begin to take their Biblical roles too seriously)

Johnny Handsome (Walter Hill-helmed B-effort with fine lead work from disfigured Mickey Rourke)

Last Exit to Brooklyn (German Uli Edel's VERY depressing adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr's novel about destitute Brooklyn neighborhood, with fine supporting performance from sexy Jennifer Jason Leigh)

Lethal Weapon 2 (the best entry in action series helmed by Richard Donner, starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, and Joe Pesci)

Leningrad Cowboys Go America (peppy Aki Kaurismäki comedy about Finnish country-rock group touring the US)

Let It Ride (unjustly ignored farce with compulsive gambler Richard Dreyfus having his best day ever at the racetrack; incredible cast includes Teri Garr, Jennifer Tilly, Cynthia Nixon, David Johansen, Allen Garfield, Michelle Phillips, Richard Edson and Richard Dimitri; really, one of the 1980s funniest comedies)

Licence to Kill (the best Bond movie of the 1980s, and Timothy Dalton's first outing as a newly-tough 007)

The Little Mermaid (incredibly popular Disney animated effort, with Oscar-winning score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman)

Meet the Feebles (New Zealand's Peter Jackson offends all with nasty, funny Muppet spoof)

Miracle Mile (the world is about to end and Anthony Edwards knows it and has to search for estranged girlfriend Mare Winningham in order to make up before the apocalypse hits; Mykelti Williamson makes a deep impression, too, in underseen comedy-thriller)

Monsiuer Hire (Michel Blanc is tremendous in the lead as anti-social Frenchman who's suspected of murder simply because he doesn't like anyone; Oscar-nominated as Best Foreign Language Film)

My Left Foot (Daniel Day-Lewis justifiably won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as cerebral-palsy-afflicted Irish author Christy Brown; mother Brenda Fricker (Supporting Actress Oscar-winner), father Ray McAnally, and young Christy Hugh O'Conor just as good, though; written and directed by Jim Sheridan)

Mystery Train (one of Jim Jarmusch's best: a triptych of intertwining stories set in Memphis, Tennessee, with transplanted leads Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase as too-cool Japanese tourists, Italian Nicoletta Braschi as stranded woman visited by ghost of Elvis Presley, and Brit Joe Strummer as drunkard who drags friends Steve Buscemi and Rick Aviles into violence; my favorite supporting performance of the year comes from rock legend Screamin' Jay Hawkins as hotel manager; a masterpiece)

The Navigator
(mind-bending sci-fi movie from New Zealand's Vincent Ward)

New York Stories (Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen contribute episodes to this anthology film, with only Coppola coming up with zero; Scorsese's sequence, "Life Lessons," is among his best works, with painter Nick Nolte trying to hold on to student/lover Rosanna Arquette; Allen also scores with "Oedipus Wrecks," where he plays an NYC man terrorized by his mother, played exquisitely by Betty Boop herself, Mae Questel)

Paperhouse (Bernard Rose's debut as director, with Charlotte Burke as lonely little girl that gets psychologically lost in her drawings; an unusually humanistic entry into the horror genre)

Parenthood (raucous comedy from director Ron Howard and scripters Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz about the perils of parenting, with top-notch cast including Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Leaf (Joachim) Phoenix, Martha Plimpton, Tom Hulce, Rick Moranis, Keanu Reeves (in his best performance), and Jason Robards)

Parents (the anti-Parenthood; Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt excel as scary, cannibalistic parents in actor Bob Balaban's directorial debut)

The Rachel Papers (lovely little indie with Dexter Fletcher and Ione Skye)

Roadhouse (cult film with Patrick Swayze; terrible, but with sizable following)

Roger and Me (funny, sad debut doc from now-iconic Michael Moore, about failing car town Flint, Michigan)

Santa Sangre (typically weird doings from Alejandro Jodorowsky)

Say Anything... (John Cusack chases longtime love Ione Skye in smart, charming writing/directing debut from Cameron Crowe; excellent supporting performances from John Mahoney and Lili Taylor)

sex, lies and videotape... (smash hit indie debut from Steven Soderburgh about romantic gamesmanship in Baton Rouge, LA; winner of the Best Feature at Sundance, Palme D'Or at Cannes and of the fest's Best Actor prize for James Spader as sexually repressed lead; career-changing performances from Andie McDowell, Peter Gallagher, and Laura San Giacomo)

Sidewalk Stories (black-and-white silent movie homage written and directed by star Charles Lane; one of the year's best movies, but very little-seen)

Steel Magnolias (Southern-based star vehicle for Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Darryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and then-newcomer Julia Roberts)

The Tall Guy (extremely funny Brit-set romantic comedy with Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson)

True Believer (diverting courtroom vehicle for wild James Woods and Robert Downey Jr.)

True Love (famed indie movie from Nancy Savoca, with Annabella Sciorra and Ron Eldard as troubled NY-borough fiancees; lots of early work from later Sopranos cast members, including Aida Tururro and Vincent Pastore)

UHF (cult comedy vehicle for Weird Al Yankovic)

The Unbelievable Truth (Hal Hartley effort with fine lead from Adrienne Shelley)

Vampire's Kiss (horror-comedy with outstanding lead work from Nicolas Cage)

When Harry Met Sally (Rob Reiner's Woody Allen rip-off with star-making performances from Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal)

ALSO: Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean's 1962 masterwork was re-released in 1989 in a newly-restored version, co-produced by Martin Scorsese, that deepens our understanding of the film's complex lead, played by Peter O'Toole; certainly deserves to be one of 1989's most notable film releases)

A step down, quality-wise, for the theory of the 9 Years, but still a smash-bang showing. Big year for the indies--the watershed mark for the indie revolution--and for foreign product, with movies from France, New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Canada, Mexico, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, and Italy. Big year for directorial debuts: Cameron Crowe, Bob Balaban, Kenneth Branaugh, Christopher Guest, Steven Soderburgh, Michael Moore and Edward Zwick, among others. Also the year that, with The Abyss, ushered in the use of CGI special effects. Perhaps, if I'm honest, not the best year of the decade, but certainly one of them! Next on The 9 Years, we take a gigantic step upwards with 1999!

The scorecard now stands at:
1939: 41 titles
1949: 56
1959: 66
1969: 73
1979: 85
1989: 67


Funny videos said...

A step down, quality-wise, for the theory of the 9 Years. I like this movie.

yabbadoody said...

This was a particularly good year for film indeed.

Jose Sinclair said...

Drugstore Cowboy! my favorite of that year, close to the best of the decade. very powerful movie. Glad you called it a "masterpiece", so would I.

Did you also like Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000)? That also blew me away, I was shaking when it ended. The apt cleaning scene: surreal yet mundanely real!