Connecting a Top 5 List to this week’s post about Grave of the Fireflies was difficult. I’ve already covered Japanese films and anime, so I decided to focus on the excellent year of 1988. There was a good mix of big-budget and smaller films during that year, which occurred during the prime of the blockbuster. There still are plenty of movies that I haven’t seen yet from 1988, particularly independent and foreign films. The five (actually seven) picks come from the approximately 30 choices that I’ve caught so far. I’m pleased with this list but realize it’s obviously incomplete. Examples of movies that I haven’t seen yet include The Accused, Gorillas in the Mist, Rambo 3, Another Woman, and Action Jackson. I’m expecting a scolding below in the comments section for not checking out the Carl Weathers action thriller. Let’s check out the list to see what else is missing!
Honorable Mention: Beetlejuice, The Last Temptation of Christ
Tim Burton’s highly original comedy Beetlejuice is definitely a movie that I need to revisit soon. I watched it a few times years ago but expect I’d enjoy its dark humor even more today. Michael Keaton is nearly unrecognizable as the nasty title character that remains an iconic figure today. Living in a much-different realm is Martin Scorsese’s epic and controversial look at the life of Jesus Christ. Although it angered some viewers, I believe it’s one of the most convincing stories of Jesus ever put on screen. Willem Defoe does a remarkable job in the role and shows us the human side of the holy figure.
5. They Live
I adore much of John Carpenter’s work, and his run during the ‘70s and ‘80s includes a series of classic movies. One of my favorites is They Live, which stars Roddy Piper as a drifter who discovers the existence of aliens by pure chance. Sunglasses reveal their hidden presence in our world and the subliminal messages that keep humanity subservient. Functioning both as a dark comedy and as a convincing sci-fi thriller, it includes one of the great hand-to-hand fights in movie history. Piper and his buddy played by Keith David use all types of wrestling moves in a battle that goes on for a very long time. Carpenter use this genre film to attack the excesses of Reagan-era greed and delivers a highly entertaining movie.
4. Grave of the Fireflies
I watched this tragic story from Isao Takahata this week, and it already ranks among the most powerful war movies that I’ve seen. Instead of focusing on the soldiers, Grave of the Fireflies gives an intimate look at a teenage boy and his four-year-old sister trying to survive after their mom is killed. Even if they avoid the firebombing, the larger threat is malnutrition because resources are so thin. It’s an extremely sad movie, but there are moments of beauty and grace that keep it from becoming too morose.
This Penny Marshall comedy is incredibly charming and includes one of Tom Hanks’ classic roles. He’s the perfect choice to play a 12-year-old trapped in a 30-year-old’s body, and the story never hits a wrong note. This is one of those movies that you can watch over and over and still enjoy because it’s such a fun experience. Classic movie moments like playing the giant keyboard with Robert Loggia at FAO Schwartz still work, and the romance is strangely effective. It’s a bit creepy when you think about it, but Marshall never delves too far into that realm of the story. It’s a fairly tale with plenty of humor that works because of Hanks’ wonderful performance. I really wish he could find another truly funny role soon (Larry Crowne doesn’t count) that really takes advantage of his comic skills.
2. Die Hard
Plenty has been written about the effect John McTiernan’s classic action film had on the genre. It spawned numerous imitators that took the premise and transferred it to a cruise liner, a train, a plane, and even a high-tech prison. It also differed from the huge-muscled action stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger and presented a regular guy as the lead. The diminishing creative returns of the sequels don’t take away from just how awesome the original still is today. Along with providing great action and a star-making performance from Bruce Willis, it also functions as an excellent heist film. Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is one of the great movie villains, and the combination of humor and action works perfectly.
1. Eight Men Out
This one is a sentimental pick because of my love for John Sayles, but it also stands up really well as an excellent film. It’s my favorite baseball movie and contains a stellar young cast with John Cusack, David Strathairn, D.B. Sweeney, and even an understated Charlie Sheen. The story of the Black Sox scandal avoids the typical clichés and doesn’t condemn the players as obvious villains. Instead, it presents the reasons why a group of them decided to throw the series and the corruption involved in the sport. It’s a fascinating film that’s also really entertaining, which is a tricky combination. The period styles are excellent too, and Sayles creates a convincing look at the early days of baseball.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about this list. What are your favorite movies of 1988? You should also check out the archive of past Top 5 Lists if you've missed them.
Next week, I'll continue the Readers' Choice Marathon with the original Gone in 60 Seconds, which does not star Nicolas Cage.