Deciding on my favorite movies from any year is tricky, but it's even tougher when it goes back to my childhood. I was 10 years old in 1986, and it's impossible to separate the films I love from what engaged me at that time. There are some new additions that I caught recently, but the top picks hearken back to the late '80s. Even so, I'll stand by this list (no pun intended) as representing a strong group from a solid year. Other options were Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Fly, The Color of Money, Manhunter, and The Karate Kid Part II. I could argue with any of these making a Top 5 List, except maybe the last one. The sweet sounds of Peter Cetera do make it a contender, however. I haven't seen Children of a Lesser God, Down by Law, The Name of the Rose, and River's Edge, so those might also be worthy contenders. Let's check out the list and see what made the cut!
Honorable Mention: Stand By Me
I didn't see this charming Rob Reiner movie until this past January, and it's sad that it took me this long. The coming-of-age story doesn't feel dated and chronicles that time right before reaching young adulthood. There's a definite nostalgia to this film, especially due to its framing story with Richard Dreyfuss looking back on his adventures in the late '50s. The talented young cast includes River Phoenix, Kiefer Sutherland, Jerry O'Connell, Wil Wheaton, and John Cusack, among others. Adapted from the Stephen King short story "The Body", Stand By Me will continue to be discovered by new generations for years to come.
5. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
My friends and I were big fans of both the Star Trek TV series and movies growing up, and one of the main reasons was this highly entertaining time travel movie. The "fish out of water" story combines wonderfully with the sci-fi elements to deliver a surprisingly funny story. It's clear that William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the entire gang knew each other so well that they're able to have more fun this time around. The Earth may be at risk from a mysterious probe, but the stakes never feel too serious. Even the oddball solution of using humpback whales to save the day works because we're engaged with the main characters. This enjoyable movie has showed up on several previous lists for me, and I doubt this is the last time it will make an appearance.
Oliver Stone's recent output like World Trade Center and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps may have diminished his standing as a top-notch director, but it's hard to deny his talent. One of his best films is Platoon, a personal project for him based on his time in Vietnam. Back when he was more than a bad punchline, Charlie Sheen brings the right level of innocence to Chris, who struggles to figure out the right way to deal with the chaos. Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Sergeant Elias (Willem Defoe) offer different points of view about the emotional state needed to survive. As their conflict builds, Stone conveys the grand mess that just keeps getting crazier as the story progresses.
3. Hannah and Her Sisters
Woody Allen has directed so many great movies, and there's a pretty large group that you could place near the top of the list. One of my favorites is definitely Hannah and Her Sisters, which combines drama and humor in a realistic fashion. Allen's character shifts more to the background, and the three female leads (Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, and Barbara Hershey) take the center stage. The entire cast is excellent, including Michael Caine in a tricky role of lusting after his wife's sister. Sometimes forgotten amid the raves for Annie Hall and Manhattan, this movie stands right with them and deserves the same level of attention.
What more can be said about this movie? Given all the attention on the franchise after Prometheus, there's little more that I can write about this excellent sequel. James Cameron incorporates his own style into the series and transforms Ridley Scott's vision into a military conflict. This time it's war. While a few flaws show up after repeated viewings, Aliens remains a powerful action movie that packs a mighty punch. The editing from Ray Lovejoy (The Shining) is pitch-perfect and sells the epic scale. When many people think of the series and Sigourney Weaver's iconic Ripley, it's this movie they remember the most. I slightly prefer the original, but that takes nothing away from this remarkable success.
1. Big Trouble in Little China
John Carpenter's offbeat adventure is an underrated gem that deserves a lot more attention. Kurt Russell spoofs the blustering action hero while his buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) saves the day. While it's easy to dismiss the over-the-top story, that wouldn't give enough credit to Carpenter and his star. The tongue-in-cheek approach works much better than expected and offers consistent entertainment. I can't say enough good things about this clever genre mishmash. Kim Cattrall, James Hong, and Victor Wong join the fun, but this is Russell's showcase. He seizes the opportunity and shines within Carpenter's excellent framework.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about this list. Should The Golden Child or Crocodile Dundee make it? You should also check out the archive of past Top 5 Lists if you've missed them.