best film: Blue Velvet from David Lynch
It would take an artist like David Lynch and film like Blue Velvet to knock of Tarkovsky’s swan song and Woody’s best film of the 1980s as the cinematic event of the year.
most underrated: The TSPDT consensus is about 400 slots off on Hannah and Her Sisters (they have it as #527), but also both Manhunter (Michael Mann) and Platoon (Oliver Stone) are omitted completely from the consensus TSPDT top 1000 list. In particular, I do not understand get how Platoon continues to be so overlooked. Stone could become a far superior montagist and stylist in the 1990s with JFK and Natural Born Killers, but Platoon is a brilliant narrative with some memorable sequences including the killing of Willem Dafoe’s Elias character and the “Tracks of My Tears” needle drop scene.
most overrated: There is not much to choose from here- the consensus, by and large, does a great job in 1986, but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off lands at #8 of the year and that seems at least a tad overrated given the ten superior films listed on my top 10 below. Still, nothing crazy here for this category in 1986.
gems I want to spotlight: See Hoosiers get some of the slow-motion with a great score treatment Chariots of Fire got in 1981 but here with basketball instead of track. Also, a film every cinema has to see is Tarkovsky’s last film The Sacrifice. If you’re an admirer of beautiful compositions and muscular tracking shots (shot by long time Bergman director of photography Sven Nykvist) you’ll swoon over this film. Lastly, check out At Close Range from James Foley. It is a gripping crime drama, Foley is no slouch behind the camera, and Christopher Walken and Sean Penn are both just awesome duking it out.
trends and notables:
- 1986 is another rock solid year. There is the big masterpiece (Blue Velvet) and a top ten that is pretty impossible to find a weakness in.
- Top Gun is the biggest hit of 1986- Tom Cruise is now a massive star, and Tony Scott (actually a marvelous stylist) has the “MTV aesthetic” used often to describe it.
- There is just a new crop of this eras leading filmmakers: Mann, Lynch, Cronenberg, Jarmusch and Cameron all have their second (at least) top 10 film – solidifying their greatness.
- With Blue Velvet and Something Wild we have auteurs attacking some of the 1950s American dream and suburban Reagan 1980s nostalgia.
- As I mentioned above in the gem section 1986 would bring us both the last film from Tarkovsky and his death (at the young age of 54).
- 1986 is another fantastic year for first time archiveable filmmakers. John Woo makes A Better Tomorrow, Spike Lee lands with She’s Gotta Have it, sought after screenwriter Oliver Stone directs (and writes) both Platoon (Best Picture Oscar winner) and Salvador. Aki Kaurismaki from Finland would arrive on the scene with Shadows in Paradise… wait… there’s more… future king of the melodrama genre Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar has his first archiveable film with Matador and French iconoclast Leos Carax assembles Mauvais Sang. That is six superb auteurs making their first archiveable films in 1986.
- 1986 would be the debut archiveable year for the young River Phoenix who would make a very loud name for himself with both Stand By Me and The Mosquito Coast. John Goodman gets his first in the archives with The Big Easy.
best performance male: He is not the main character or given the most screen time in the film, but Dennis Hopper owns 1986 with his performance in Blue Velvet. He is absolutely shocking and impossible to turn away from. He is the easy choice here and though neither other performance would warrant a mention here alone he is also great in Hoosiers and has a third archiveable film from 1986- River’s Edge. Ray Liotta plays a similar version of Hopper’s Frank Booth (a suburban nightmare) in Demme’s Something Wild. Liotta is so dangerous. He shows up halfway through the film and just takes over from that point on. It must be the year of the supporting actor here because Michael Caine won the Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters and he’ is wonderful. My fourth mention for 1986 is yet another supporting role- Tom Berenger in Platoon. Berenger plays the devil sitting on Charlie Sheen’s right shoulder in opposition to Dafoe’s angel on his left. I hate dipping outside of the top 10 for a mention here but every few years a performance warrants an exception and Gary Oldman’s singular work in Sid and Nancy fits the criteria for the breaking of that rule. Jeff Goldblum gives the best performance of his career as Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg’s The Fly to round out this category in 1986.
best performance female: There are five extraordinarily strong choices here in 1986. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in James Cameron’s Aliens stands tall above the rest. Hers is an action role for the ages and Weaver is given much more to do here than in the 1979 Ridley Scott masterpiece that is closer to a horror film than an action movie (both obviously sci-fi). Behind Weaver, Isabella Rossellini’s brave, fragile performance in Blue Velvet finishes in second place. Melanie Griffith (future co-star of Weaver’s in Working Girl in 1988) is mesmerizing in the first 25 minutes of Something Wild and though she yields much of the floor to Liotta halfway through, she continues to flesh out her character and give her depth. My last three slots are for Barbara Hershey (also great in 1986’s Hoosiers), Dianne Wiest, and Mia Farrow in Hannah and Her Sisters. Wiest won the Oscar, but it could have gone to Hershey. Both share exceptional scenes with Farrow and Hershey’s work with Michael Caine are amongst the film’s most tender, while Wiest’s with Woody are amongst the films funniest. Farrow’s work is a little less worthy than Wiest and Hershey but she is absolutely rifling off great films with Woody during this era and that deserves to be praised– it seems unfair to omit her.
- Blue Velvet
- The Sacrifice
- Hannah and Her Sisters
- Down by Law
- The Fly
- Something Wild
- Mauvais Sang
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Better Tomorrow- Woo||HR|
|Aliens – Cameron||MS|
|At Close Range- Foley||HR|
|Big Trouble in Little China- Carpenter||R|
|Blue Velvet- Lynch||MP|
|Castle in the Sky- Miyazaki||R|
|Children of a Lesser God- Haines||R|
|Down By Law – Jarmusch||MS|
|Dust in the Wind – Hsiao-Hsien Hou||R/HR|
|Ferris Bueller’s Day Off- Hughes||R|
|Hannah and Her Sisters – Allen||MP|
|Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – McNaughton||R|
|Jean de Florette- Berri||HR|
|Manhunter- M. Mann||MS|
|Mauvais Sang- Carax||HR|
|Mona Lisa- Jordan||R|
|Mosquito Coast- Weir||R|
|Peking Opera Blues – Tsui|
|River’s Edge- Hunter||R|
|Round Midnight – Tavernier||R|
|Shadows in Paradise – Kaursmaki||R/HR|
|She’s Gotta Have It- S. Lee||R|
|Sid and Nancy- Cox||HR|
|Something Wild – Demme||HR/MS|
|Stand By Me- R. Reiner||R/HR|
|That’s Life- Edwards|
|The Big Easy- McBride||R|
|The Color of Money – Scorsese||R/HR|
|The Fly- Cronenberg||MS|
|The Green Ray- Rohmer|
|The Horse Thief- Zhuangzhuang Tian||R|
|The Mission – Joffé||R/HR|
|The Morning After- Lumet||R|
|The Sacrifice- Tarkovsky||MP|
|The Terrorizers- Yang||R|
|Top Gun – T. Scott||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