best film: As much as I liked she’s gotta have it, spike’s debut film, and there’s some interesting stuff in 1988’s school daze, there was no predicting the brilliance of Spike Lee’s 3rd feature. Do the Right Thing is my #4 film of the 1980’s behind only raging bull, blade runner and blue velvet. Spike starts early hitting you like a ton of bricks with an opening credit sequence that includes his dazzling use of color, the booming Public Enemies’s “fight the power” over the soundtrack and Rosie Perez’s nearly violent dancing. The score by Bill Lee and the photography by Ernest R. Dickerson are both luminous. The cast, from perez to lee himself to ossie davis, ruby dee, john turturro, Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel l jackson and others are all perfectly cast. It’s a color explosion and has a strong narrative one-day ride set up. It has Spike’s trademark reverse POV head shot while tracking (he’d use this in almost every film since) and of course the 4th wall breaking racist insult editing sequence is stylistic transcendence.

 most underrated: I do think tim burton’s batman is wildly underrated but if I had to pick one film it would certainly be Peter Greenaway’s the cook, the thief, his wife & her lover. It’s in my top 100 of all-time and it can’t be found on the TSPDT top 1000. This may be the single greatest discrepancy between me and the consensus. It’s loud, bold and captivating. Greenaway’s masterpiece is a visual high-wire act with content and characters (michael gambon’s albert is an all-timer) that are memorable and usually highly offensive. The use of color is like out of Argento’s suspiria but there’s an even more rigorous formal structure to the camera movements here.

 most overrated  Peter Weir’s dead poet’s society doesn’t belong in the TSPDT top 1000 (it’s at #991 currently) or #7 of 1989 but this is one of those “overrated” films that I still would like to stop and praise. It’s Ethan Hawke’s archiveable debut and Robin Williams is splendid in the lead. Weir doesn’t belong in lofty company with like Lynch or Cronenberg from this era but since his debut archivble film in 1975 he’s given us 7 archivable films to date in 1989 including 5 in the 1980’s. His films are largely fish out of water stories and dead poet’s society is amongst his finest. I love revisiting the film.

gem I want to spotlight: Jim Jarmusch’s mystery train does not get enough credit amongst cinephiles for being a non-linear precursor to tarantino, reservoir dogs and pulp fiction. It’s jarmuscian deadpan and wit and has three engaging interconnected narratives. These are characters and places with texture.

trends and notables:  1989 is a spectacular year and a great capper to the decade. If Woody Allen’s crimes and misdemeanors is your 4th best film you have quite a good year indeed. There aren’t 40 total archiveable films like 1987 and 1988 but the quality, particularly at the top, is much higher. It’s not his debut but to see Spike Lee deliver a masterpiece of this magnitude at age 32 is quite a notable indeed. It won’t be noticed because one of them was on polish television but 1989 is a big year for television as cinema. We have both the mini-series lonesome dove in the archives but also the work of Kieslowski with Dekalog. No other year before or since in 1989 has two television entrees that are worthy of the archives. It’s a big year for Disney as they were reinvigorate their animation department with the box office smash little mermaid. This film would open the door for artistically rich period of animation musicals that include beauty and the beast, Aladdin, and lion king. Burton’s batman is far and away the biggest box office hit of 1989. Steven Soderbergh also made a splash, albeit on the indie cinema scene, with sex, lies, and videotape. This film is often cited as the beginning of the true American indie film movement of the 1990’s (it’s hard to pick any one film with spike lee and jarmusch doing great work already) but certainly it would be a natural transition to Linklater and Tarantino and others in the 90’s. Jane Campion had her first archivble film with sweetie and Cameron Crowe comes onto the scene with his first archivable film as a director: say anything. It’s a very big year for actors breaking through for the first time into the archives. We have Tony Leung in city of sadness and Nicole Kidman in dead calm. I already mentioned Hawke in dead poet’s society and a young Joaquin Phoenix in parenthood. Steve Buscemi would be a major fixture in indie-cinema for the next few years and he got his start here in mystery train.  A Emma Thompson got her archivable start in henry V and lastly, john c reilly got going with de palma’s casualties of war.

best performance male:  This is a tough year for the category. Denzel Washington and Daniel Day-Lewis, two actors I love, won Oscars for solid performances in good but not great films. For me that’s not what this category is for. If you score 30 points a game in the NBA for a team that wins 40 you can’t win MVP. It almost has to be in a top 1000 all-time film. The MVP for 1989 is Martin Landau for his fantastic work in crimes and misdemeanors. His “Judah” character has such nuance. Michael Gambon is a tour-de-force in greenaway’s masterpiece. Gambon is absolutely barbarous. Behind those two I have to acknowledge Danny Aiello in do the right thing. The film is really an ensemble piece so it’s hard to single out just one performance- but if I had to I do think I’d give the slight nod to Aiello (over turturro, perez and Esposito close behind). My last mention for 1989 is Nicholson in Batman. Nicholson is perfectly over-the-top and exactly what the role and movie called for.

best performance female: Meg Ryan’s performance in when harry met sally is justifiably iconic. Of course her orgasm scene is what puts it in iconic status but if you go back and rewatch it closely Ryan really carves out such a true character here—it’s part of what gives the film lasting power. I may actually give the best female performance of the year honor here though to Helen Mirren in Greenaway’s the cook, the thief, his wife & her lover. Mirren has never been better and certainly never in a film that brilliant.  You cannot take your eyes off Rosie Perez’s superb performance in the year’s best film so she gets a slot. I also think Andie MacDowell’s work in sex, lies and videotape is worthy of praise as is Anjelica Huston’s thankless and desperate turn in woody’s crimes opposite landau.

top 10

  1. Do the Right Thing
  2. The Decalogue
  3. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
  4. Crimes and Misdemeanors
  5. Batman
  6. Drugstore Cowboy
  7. Mystery Train
  8. Field of Dreams
  9. Sex Lies and Videotape
  10. When Harry Met Sally

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Dry White Season R
Batman- T. Burton HR
Black Rain- Inamura
Born on the Fourth of July- Stone R
Casualties of War- De Palma R
City of Sadness- Hsiao-Hselen
Crimes and Misdemeanors- Allen MP
Dead Calm- Noyce R
Dead Poet’s Society- Weir R
Do the Right Thing- S. Lee MP
Driving Miss Daisy- Freeman R
Drugstore Cowboy- Van Sant HR
Field of Dreams HR
Glory- Zwick R
Heathers R
Henry V- Branagh R
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade- Spielberg R
Jacknife R
Jesus of Montreal R
Kiki’s Deliver Service- Miyazuki R
Lonesome Dove R
Monsieur Hire- Leconte HR
My Left Foot- Sheridan R
Mystery Train- Jarmusch HR
Parenthood- R. Howard R
Santra Sangre- Jodorowsky R
Say Anything- C. Crowe R
Sea of Love R
Sex, Lies, and Videotape- Soderbergh R
Sweetie- Campion
The Abyss- Cameron R
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover- Greenaway MP
The Dekalog – Kieslowski MP
The Killer- Woo R
The Little Mermaid R
The Package R
War of the Roses R
When Harry Met Sally- Reiner HR


*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives