A Lifetime in Film 1988: Wrap-Up

Overall Impressions:

As I look back on the 15 films that formed my cinematic journey through the year 1988, I tend to think back on individual scenes rather than whole cinematic experiences. It’s usually the case, looking back on a year of cinema that the real power is with singular moments, no matter how good the overall film is. Most interestingly, the scenes that stick out are not the most obvious centerpiece scenes, but small character moments that helped me connect with the humanity of the characters. Looking back I still vividly remember the scene in The Great Outdoors when Cammie (Lucy Deakins) tells Buck (Chris Young) that the prospect of their relationship is pointless, relationships in tourist town are fleeting, and usually end in heartbreak. It’s a sad observation the ever-aware John Hughes makes in a moment that in any other script would be a throw away, but not here.

I remember a husband hanging his complaining wife up on a coat rack, like a piece of clothing in Time of the Gypsies, two people looking at the New York skyline (including the WTC twin towers) in Coming to America, a priest’s disgusted reaction to a movie sex scene in Cinema Paradiso, Bob Hoskins being sexually attracted to a hand drawn cartoon character in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, a little girl fighting with her grief over her mother’s sickness in My Neighbor Totoro, a Japanese passer-by seeing a nearly dead homeless man in the subway and saying “What would the Americans thing when they come here?” in Grave of the Fireflies, Tom Cruise slowly driving his car behind a terrified Dustin Hoffman to the nearest highway exit in Rain Man. Those scenes and many more are my reward for going on this cinematic journey and I think I’ve gained an understanding of what makes cinema so powerful – sometime it’s incidental – a small seemingly throw-away line or scene that demonstrates the art at its purest form.

1988’s effect on modern cinema cannot be understated. Films like Die HardHeathers and Bull Durham have served as enduring examples of what movies in their respective genres should be (to varying degrees of quality) and are still imitated to this day. Cinema Paradiso and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? showed us why cinema is so important to the human experience. My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies announced Studio Ghibli as one of the best animation shops in the world. The score alone for Beetlejuice has become a blueprint in mixing songs and conventional symphonic arrangements. A Short Film About Love is a lesson in economic storytelling as the filmmaker achieves more in 90 minutes than many do in 150. Is it possible to learn all there is to know about modern cinema by just watching the films of 1988? Of course not. But it does successfully preview the 3 decades of film that would follow, if not thematically, at least technically. Filmmakers today borrow many of the techniques we see Tim Burton utilize in Beetlejuice, Penny Marshall perfect in Big and Katsuhiro Otomo revolutionize in Akira. One of those filmmakers, for better or for worse, is Tim Burton.

Blind Spots:

Of course judging the year by 15 movies (or 20, counting the ones in the intro post), is foolhardy, and I’ve missed a lot of films that most film buffs would label as essential. Ron Howard’s Willow arguably previewed the fantasy explosion of the early 2000’s. The Martin Brest action comedy Midnight Run showed how good Robert De Niro is as a comic actor. Crocodile Dundee II has some of the most memorable fish-out-of-water jokes of all time (“Hello Wendy!”). Cocktail reinforced Tom Cruise’s image as a mainstream heartthrob to the masses. And The Thin Blue Line exposed the main cause of police brutality is that good cops simply don’t snitch on the bad ones amongst their ranks. Yes, seeing those, and many more films from that year is something I would recommend. Personally though, I feel like I am ready to move on to 1989!

Ranking the Films:

If you’ve read the whole series of reviews and the letter grades I gave each film, you probably know how I would rank each one of them in a final list, but here it is for the curious in descending order:

  1. Die Hard A
  2. Time of the Gypsies A-
  3. Big A-
  4. Cinema Paradiso B+
  5. Rain Man B+
  6. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? B+
  7. My Neighbor Totoro B+
  8. Heathers B
  9. Beetlejuice B
  10. Grave of the Fireflies B-
  11. A Short Film About Love C+
  12. Coming to America C+
  13. Akira C+
  14. The Great Outdoors C+
  15. Bull Durham C

Next time I will introduce the year in cinema that was 1989, the 5 films that just missed being covered as part of the series, and the first film up for review. See you in 2019!

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