Friday, March 11, 2011

Best of the Year: 1989

My Picks of the Year
(in alphabetical order)
The Abyss
James Cameron's masterful underwater adventure is groundbreaking, entertaining, and highly suspenseful. This saga is uplifted even more by a great veteran cast who invite us to become emotionally involved during the mayhem that ensues in Cameron's submarine. Thought-provoking and really easy on the eyes, The Abyss is rousing movie-making.

One of Steven Spielberg's most under appreciated gems. This is a lovely story of a cocky pilot (played to perfection by Richard Dreyfuss) who inevitably dies on the job and comes back to Earth as an angel to watch over his longtime girlfriend (a beautiful Holly Hunter). With an always-reliable John Goodman as the best buddy/comic relief and gorgeous cinematography by Mikael Saloman, Always is emotionally soaring.

Back to the Future Part II
A beguiling genius named Robert Zemeckis trots out another fun-filled fantasy that maintains the spirit of the original and adds on a smorgasbord of sly humor, witty references, and satisfying brain-twisting logic. This sequel requires several sittings to get the full effect of Marty McFly's time-travel adventures, and each viewing is an entirely new experience. Zemeckis and crew were smart enough to make each Back to the Future episode radically different from each other, making this trilogy one of the very best and most prolific in motion picture history.

The 'burbs
"That's not the dog, Art. It's Walter!" This one is an absolutely silly dark comedy with a certain edginess that makes it stand out. Joe Dante gleefully directed a sinister Tom Hanks and wily Rick Duccommun as buddies who are convinced that the neighbors next door belong to a sadistic cult. An eclectic supporting cast also makes this one an underground favorite.

Casualties of War
Michael J. Fox blew me away here as a conflicted young soldier who must decide whether to side with the law or his fellow men. Of course it isn't that simple in the jungle, which Brian DePalma so tensely depicts. Sean Penn, John C. Reilly, and John Leguizamo do fine work, but it's Fox who pushes his limits as an actor and succeeds. Casualties of War is a fantastic film.

Dead Calm
Nicole Kidman wowed me in this simple, taut thriller in which a killer (a memorable Billy Zane) terrorizes a young couple aboard their yacht. Sam Neill is also effective as the husband, but it's a young, fresh Kidman who leaves a great impression long after the film is over.

Disorganized Crime
One of the lightest, most laugh-out-loud comedies of the year, this pleasant diversion has appealing actors, taut pacing, and terrific locales. Ruben Blades, Lou Diamond Philips, Fred Gwynne and William Russ are thieves who rob a bank for someone they don't even know. The mastermind behind the plot is Corbin Bernsen, who is having difficulty running away from the law (played so deliciously by Ed O'Neill.) It's clever, inspired lunacy.

Field of Dreams
"If you build it, he will come." Oh, how wondrous. Kevin Costner and team hit a grand slam in Phil Alden Robinson's ode to America's favorite pastime. This fantasy is pure magic, a top-of-the-line piece of movie escapism. The action moves gracefully, the music swells up, the drama is played out, and damned if we don't eat it all up right on cue.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The third entry of the adventures of Dr. Jones comes dangerously close to cinematic perfection as we tag along on a good-spirited, light-hearted romp with the Joneses. The addition of Sean Connery's Professor Jones is inspired genius, as are the return of Marcus and Sallah. River Phoenix also does great work but, of course, it's the inimitable Harrison Ford we cannot do without. "You call this archaeology?"

Lethal Weapon 2
The best in the entire series, this first sequel has stunning action, sizzling chemistry, and some classic funny moments. Remember when Riggs and Murtaugh were on the toilet? Riggs playing "Einie Meenie Miney Moe?" The squad getting blown away at the house? The revoking of "diplomatic immunity?" All said, Lethal Weapon 2 is the tops of an action-drama genre in its prime.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Christmas just isn't the same without the Griswalds. Returning to the bumbling family adventures are Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid (eliciting great laughs), and newbies Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis (who later rose to modest Hollywood careers, better so than the previous Griswald kids). This comedy is a Christmas-season-in-the-life tale of a family so tragically marred with ineptitude and wide-eyed optimism. This optimism is, in fact, what makes this franchise so successful. They're idiots, of course, but they mean well. A classic low-key farce with a late 80's sensibility and a heart of gold.

Ron Howard's warm, hugely entertaining dysfunctional family drama is a hit because of the delectable characters displayed on-screen. Steve Martin, Keanu Reeves, Dianne Wiest, and Joaquin Phoenix stand out in a large, beautifully cast ensemble. Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel's very funny script has just the right amount of saccharine sweetness to it.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Imminently quotable and shamelessly stupid, this re-pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor is truly inspired. Wilder's deaf ("Fuzzy Wuzzy was a woman?"), Pryor's blind ("What do you mean, I'm not white? Does Dad know?!"), and comic mayhem ensue. Look for Kevin Spacey hamming it up as the villain.

Three Fugitives
This one's got a big heart. Nick Nolte just got out of prison for armed robbery and within moments of his release, Martin Short is holding him hostage at a bank. There's wonderful chemistry between the two leads and they are surrounded by a solid, veteran supporting cast, including Alan Ruck, James Earl Jones and Bruce McGill. Veteran farceur Francis Veber directs.

"There's only one law.....His Law. Gandhi 2. Coming soon!" From Raiders to Gone with the Wind to Beverly Hillbillies, Weird Al Yankovich has created a wonderful amalgam of tributes and spoofs to beloved movie and TV genres. Al and his comic team display a goofy charm that even a curmudgeon would have a hard time dismissing it.

The War of the Roses
Cynics unite! This is the darkest, most morbid comedy I have ever seen. This third teaming of Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito is incredibly inspired, especially coming after two frothy romantic adventures. Delicately paced, DeVito (a vastly underrated director) stages this different kind of romance tale, one that goes horribly, horribly awry. It's a sad story, really, but it takes seasoned pros like Douglas and Turner to bring humor into the saddest state of affairs.

Honorable Mention
Black Rain; Born on the 4th of July; Collision Course; Crimes and Misdemeanors; Dead Poets Society; Do the Right Thing; Glory; Lean on Me; Miracle Mile; My Left Foot; The Ryan White Story; Turner and Hooch; Weekend at Bernie's

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