best film: A Short Film About Killing from Krzysztof Kieslowski
- A severe 84 minutes shot through a hazy green/yellow filter with heavy shadows. It is some of the best 84 minutes of cinema in the 1980s—pure and perfect.
- This is episode V in Kieslowski’s Dekalog series. It and episode VI (A Short Film About Love) were made into longer films. They work both as standalone films and as part of the greater context of the whole.
- The grisly murder is half-way through the film- which is no accident. Kieslowksi has the precision and formal rendering of Kubrick here. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Largely a silent film, the story of three men, the murder, victim, and the lawyer.
- Another jaw-dropper of a frame when Piotr is talking to the judge with the green pouring in from the windows
- The harsh ugly oppressive prison in the second half mirrors the sky in the first half. And of course, Kieslowski changes Jacek- 180 degrees—he talks about the devastation of losing his sister and wanting to be buried next to her. This is a film about two killings—both involving Jacek and again- that is precisely the point.
- It is both rendered with a staggering amount of cinematic beauty—and a punishment to watch at the same time
most underrated: A Short Film About Killing is at # 762 on the TSPDT consensus top 1000 list and that is wrong- this is one of the greatest works of the 1980s. However, because of its relationship to Dekalog (is it one film?, etc) you can forgive the consensus. Who Framed Roger Rabbit needs to be somewhere on the top 1000 at least and it isn’t. From the great David Thomson and his “Have you Seen… ?” book- “one of the last great works of wit and beauty, magic and terror, to come out of the Hollywood studio” https://www.amazon.com/Have-You-Seen-Personal-Introduction/dp/0375711341 Also, it isn’t Brazil, but add The Adventures of Baron Munchausen to the list of highly ambitious follow-up films to masterpieces that are now underrated (Juliet of the Spirits is another like this- and these two films have a ton in common).
most overrated: I have still only seen Cinema Paradiso once (never enough for any great film) so it is not shocking that I am much lower than the consensus TSPDT #267. Upon first viewing, I found it to be irresistible for lovers of film and certainly sentimental- but not sure it has the artistic brilliance to warrant a ranking in the top 300. Also, though I am a great admirer of Hayao Miyazaki, his My Neighbor Totoro sits at #227 on the consensus top 1000 list and that is at the masterpiece level—and good enough for #2 of 1988. I can’t quite find a spot for it in an admittedly strong top 10 of the year below.
gems I want to spotlight: For a break from the norm, and a good laugh, try either Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or A Fish Called Wanda (or both!). Scoundrels features excellent script and lead performances from Steve Martin and Michael Caine. Wanda is more of an ensemble film, but Kevin Kline won the best supporting Oscar for his work. Ultimately though, if you have yet to see Stephen Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons it is the gem to seek out. It is so deliciously wicked. I am not sure Lanthimos’ The Favourite (2018) exists without this film.
trends and notables:
- Kieslowski is the biggest story in the world of cinema in 1988 and bleeding into 1989 when Dekalog appears on Polish television. A Short Film About Killing debuts at Cannes in May of 1988 and A Short Film About Love debuts in the fall.
- 1988 marks an important year for animation, Japanese animation, and, specifically, Studio Ghibli. Three of the best fifteen or so films are Japanese animation—Akira and then both My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies are from Studio Ghibli.
- 1988 marks the third top 10 film in six (6) years for David Cronenberg
- Zemeckis has his second major hit on his hands following Back to the Future in 1985—Who Framed Roger Rabbit is actually the biggest box office hit in the US in 1988.
- 1988 is a strong year for directors’ firsts. Terrence Davies (Distant Voices, Still Lives– a sneaky good candidate for greatest debut film ever made). Tarkovsky’s lineage is picked up by Bela Tarr here in 1988 with Damnation– his first archiveable film. Tim Burton also made his maiden voyage into the archives with Beetlejuice—certainly a great blend of expressionism and Hollywood filmmaking. Chinese auteur Yimou Zhang comes onto the scene here with Red Sorghum. With him he would bring the talented Gong Li who would be his muse for a total of six archiveable films including Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou, and Shanghai Triad.
- 1988 would mark the arrival of Tom Hanks in Penny Marshall’s Big. It is a star-making role. Bruce Willis would probably become an even bigger star in 1988 with Die Hard– his first archivable film. Both Hanks and Willis got their start on television earlier in the decade. Kevin Spacey has a very memorable scene in the limo with Melanie Griffith in Working Girl– his first foray into the archives. It would be another eight years before he would be in Breaking the Waves but Stellan Skarsgård gets his first archiveable film in Philip Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Winona Ryder gets her start in Beetlejuice and Uma Thurman has two films that break her into the archives (Dangerous Liaisons and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen). They are both extremely young here but would go on to become some of the bigger actresses and “It”-girls of the era in the early 1990s.
best performance male: As revelatory (such command and presence for a newcomer) as Bruce Willis is in Die Hard, he is the runner-up to Jeremy Irons’ tour de force in Dead Ringers. Irons depicts such rich complexity in his portrayal(s) of the Mantle twins. Pete Postlethwaite cuts through architypes playing simply “father” as the most indelible character in Davies’ masterpiece. John Malkovich is one-half of the greatest acting tandem in 1988 opposite Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons. Their verbal jousting is a pleasure to watch. Bob Hoskins has a very tall task here in Who Framed Roger Rabbit acting alongside cartoons along with tacking the 1940s Los Angeles accent and comes away from it all standing tall in one of the year’s best films. There is also room aboard the top performances of the year for two very notable diabolically performances. Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is a more than worthy adversary for Wills’ John McClane. Lastly, Christopher Lloyd (excellent in a pair of Zemeckis films at this point- also playing Doc Brown in Back to the Future) is a clear standout in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
best performance female: Glenn Close does the best work of miraculous career in 1988. She is a viper in Dangerous Liaisons and she is due here after Fatal Instinct in 1987 here anyways. Her 1982-1988 run includes five Oscar noms (she has eight now total as of 2021). Carmen Maura is wonderful in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. She won the best actress awards at many of the international awards and rightly so. This is just the first of many Almodovar’s muses to get mentioned or praised in this category.
- A Short Film About Killing
- Dead Ringers
- Distant Voices, Still Lives
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
- Die Hard
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit
- Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
- Grave of the Fireflies
- Red Sorghum
- Dangerous Liaisons
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Cry in the Dark- Schepisi||R|
|A Fish Called Wanda- C. Crichton||R|
|A Handful of Dust- Sturridge||R/HR|
|A Short Film About Killing – Kieslowski||MP|
|A Short Film Above Love – Kieslowski||HR|
|Akira – Ôtomo||R|
|Another Woman- Allen||R|
|Ariel – Karismkai||R|
|Big- P. Marshall||R/HR|
|Bull Durham – Shelton||R|
|Cinema Paradiso – Tornatore||R|
|Dangerous Liaisons- Frears||HR/MS|
|Dead Ringers- Cronenberg||MP|
|Die Hard – McTiernan||MS|
|Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Oz||R|
|Distinct Voices, Still Lives- Davies||MP|
|Drowning By Numbers- Greenaway|
|Eight Men Out- Sayles||R|
|Grave of the Fireflies – Takahata||HR/MS|
|High Hopes – Leigh||R|
|Landscape in the Mist- Angelopoulos||R|
|Married To the Mob- Demme||R|
|Midnight Run- Brest||R|
|Mississippi Burning- A. Parker||R|
|My Neighbor Totoro- Miyazaki||HR|
|Patty Hearst – Schrader||R|
|Pelle the Conqueror-August||HR|
|Police Story 2 – Chan||R|
|Rain Man- Levinson||R|
|Red Sorghum-Yimou Zhang||HR/MS|
|Running on Empty- Lumet||R|
|Salaam Bombay! – Nair||R|
|Stormy Monday- Figgis||R|
|Talk Radio – Stone||R|
|The Accidental Tourist- Kasdan||R|
|The Accused- Kaplan||R|
|The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – Gilliam||MS|
|The Chocolate War – Gordon||R|
|The Last Temptation of Christ – Scorsese||R/HR|
|The Story of Women- Charbol||R|
|The Unbearable Lightness of Being-P. Kaufman|
|The Vanishing – Sluzier||HR|
|They Live – Carpenter||R|
|Tucker: A Man and His Dream- F. Coppola||R|
|Who Framed Roger Rabbit- Zemeckis||MS|
|Willow – Howard||R|
|Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown- Almodovar|
|Working Girl- M. Nichols||R|
*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