best film:  The Belly of An Architect by Peter Greenaway


  • Greenaway’s go-to DP and most important collaborator is Sacha Vierny — Vierny worked with Resnais on Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad
  • Shot on location in Rome—Greenaway is clearly in absolute love with the architecture (he made The Draughtsman’s Contract in 1982 so he’s just as interested in this as he is in cinema)

most good films have maybe one shot like this– at most a few- there are 40-50+ worthy of praise- certainly one of the strongest here

smack dab in front of the Pantheon here- the film features countless tableau / da Vinci’s Last Supper compositions  (Pasolini, Bunuel) as much of Greenaway’s future work would (especially The Cook, The Thief)—always symmetrical – impeccably designed frames– maybe only Wes Anderson matches him here

proudly esoteric -few auteurs worked with this kind of ambition with this tiny of a target audience… maybe Bela Tarr?

  • Brian Dennehy plays the architect- he’s an arrogant American (the doctor says he’s suffering from “egotism” at one point). He is paranoid (turns out for good reason) and fatalistic. The film starts with him at the absolute top of his profession and what follows as far as the narrative is concerned is really the tragic, almost Biblical, tale of his demise.

Greenaway will put the characters in discussion (via dubbing) in the very back of the of the frame here through a doorway

  • Dennehy is a decent get for Greenaway (never a box office champion) after First Blood and Cocoon. Chloe Webb isn’t half as strong—she’s miscast (but no doubt a pretty decently-sized star after her work the year before in Sid and Nancy -which she is just much better suited for).
  • The film is filled with an unmatched visual bravado in 1987- even Kubrick with Full Metal Jacket does not come terribly.  Greenaway’s trademark medium-long shots with immaculately designed furnishings are in abundance. There are hardly any closeups. Reoccurring visual motifs of flowing curtains, a great set piece of the roman columns in the grass (a shot that would make Tarkovsky proud), set shots with three distinct windows, shots through doorways at very long distances—Roy Andersson’s cinematic paintings would be a good comparison

like say Kurosawa or Wes Anderson- Greenaway seems to always take specific measurements for each frame

  • Dennehy provides the voice-over- he’s writing letters to an 18th century French Architect (Étienne-Louis Boullée). You can almost feel Greenaway (who also wrote the screenplay) nodding to himself here as the architect laments how underrated and underappreciated an artist Boullée is/was).
  • Like all of Greenaway’s work, it is defiantly intellectual (more referential than a Woody Allen film) and proudly esoteric (few auteurs worked with this kind of ambition with this tiny of a target audience).
  • I’ve mentioned the skill Greenaway has with proportion (like that of an architect)—but there are 40-50 prime-for-the-wall-in-a-museum arrangements- including the baths scene, the bedroom with Dennehy in the doorway, the giant bowls of green figs table setting, the tableau in front of the Pantheon, the red room with the flowing red curtains—these on the page are just a few…

countless cinematic paintings– leaving every other film from 1987 in its wake…

  • a dogged approach to both background and décor
  • countless cinematic paintings– leaving every other film from 1987 in its wake…


most underrated:   There is a lot of space above dedicated to Greenaway’s The Belly of An Architect and that would be the easy choice here (it does not land on the TSPDT top 1000) but let us spend some time praising John Sayles’ peak, 1987’s  Matewan. Matewan should on the consensus top 1000 and it is not. De Palma’s The Untouchables should be there, too. The Odessa Steps-homage train station sequence is technically brilliant but De Palma’s film also includes a very memorable Morricone score and exquisite costumes by Gorgio Armani.

Sayles is an Altman acolyte in many ways with the communal group as his protagonist

two very memorable shots from Matewan

when De Palma goes to the overhead shot he does not forget that the floor now becomes the background– stunning here

De Palma with a shot and sequence that would make Wyler, Kurosawa and Welles proud here in The Untouchables

depth of field– De Palma’s trademark split diopter


most overrated:   Evil Dead II is the fifth ranked film of 1987 on the TSPDT consensus list. That’s ahead of Full Metal Jacket. There are at least fifteen (15) films from 1987 that should be there ahead of Sam Raimi’s film.


gems I want to spotlight:  1987 is a weak year at the top but there is depth here. Radio Days, Barfly, Fatal Attraction, The Dead, Law of Desire, Cobra Verde and Wall Street would all have certain years where they could eek onto the top 10 of the year list (1983). Among these gems that slid off the top 10 of the year is John McTiernan’s Predator. This testosterone-induced sci-fi action blend is a great reprieve for a the cinephile who needs a break from more artistically ambitious (but dryer) films.

after decades of calling this a guilty pleasure, I don’t mind now saying that Predator is just a good film



trends and notables:

  • It has already been mentioned above that 1987 is a weak year at the top. That said, 1987 has depth both with the films that are from about #10-20 of the year, and the fact that we have 53 total archiveable films.
  • Like 1975 and 1980 this is a Kubrick year and the longest wait we’ve had for one to date

Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket from the opening haircut montage, to the tracking shot of R. Lee Ermey verbally undressing his recruits, to the clinical and formally sound two-part structure this work includes an opaque ending, dark humor and Kubrick’s trademark clinical style.

  • 1987 is certainly notable for Abbas Kiarostami ‘s first archiveable film. His take on neorealism with Where is My Friend’s Home? would announce him as a major international auteur. Kathryn Bigelow also gets her start in the archives with Near Dark

the story of cinema in 1987 cannot be told without this immaculate shot from Kiarostami’s breakthrough effort

it would take more than another twenty years for Kathryn Bigelow to get some of the accolades and credit she deserved, but from the very outset with Near Dark (here) she displayed a clear eye for outstanding visual cinema


  • Beverly Hills Cop II is the biggest domestic box office hit in the US—and Eddie Murphy is a massive star at 26-years young.
  • 1987 marks the first archiveable film for the great Morgan Freeman. Many forget that he was 50-years old when Street Smart (another borderline archiveable film pushed over the archiveable edge by a great performance) came out. On the total opposite side of the age spectrum here child actor and future all-time great Christian Bale would get his start at age 13 in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun. It’s a big year for firsts. Holly Hunter would explode on the scene with a total of three archiveable films from 1987 (A Gathering of Old Men, Broadcast News and Raising Arizona) and two of the best single female performances of the year. Kevin Costner is not on the level of Freeman, Bale or Hunter in terms of acting talent but for a seven year stretch from 1987-1993 he would be the biggest star in Hollywood and certainly his work in 1987’s No Way Out and The Untouchables are a big reason for that. He is damn good in them.

The great John Huston would give us The Dead in 1987 which would be his nineteen (19th) and last archiveable film.

  • Wim Wenders is on a roll- 1987 marks his fourth (4th) top 10 film since (and including) 1977. This is De Palma’s fourth as well since 1980.

a breathtaking shot from Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire


best performance maleRichard E. Grant gives the best performance of 1987 in Withnail & I. He is as dynamic as Michael Douglas in Wall Street but Grant is in the better film and is on screen much more. Douglas still lands a spot here as he should—it is just a huge year for Douglas with both his tour de force turn as Gordon Gekko and his work in Fatal Attraction. Brian Dennehy is here for The Belly of an Architect. Don’t get me wrong, and no offense to Dennehy, but I’d love to to see the early 1970s Brando or like Rod Steiger during his Pawnbroker-era best have a crack at this role instead instead– but still- give the man his due. Dennehy was quoted to have said “I’ve made lots of movies but only one film” when talking about The Belly of an Architect – this had to tickle Greenaway. So The Untouchables helped catapult Kevin Costner to stardom, and Robert De Niro chews up every scene he’s in (maybe inspired by his rival Pacino in Scarface a few years before- also with De Palma) as Al Capone, but it is Sean Connery who walks away with easily the best performance in the film. R. Lee Ermey was an actual marine, and a hell of a find by Kubrick for Full Metal Jacket. The joke is that the film is half a masterpiece … the first half…and there is some truth there- and that is the half that Ermey dominates. It does not seem coincidental that the film loses momentum when he’ is absent.


this is from Withnail & I- a very Barry Lyndon-like art gallery worthy composition


best performance female:   It is only Holly Hunter here for this category in 1987. She gets the nod with the combined work of Raising Arizona and Broadcast News. The 5’2 Hunter gets the chance to show off both her comic and dramatic chops.


top 10

  1. The Belly of an Architect
  2. Full Metal Jacket
  3. Withnail & I
  4. Wings of Desire
  5. The Untouchables
  6. Matewan
  7. The Last Emperor
  8. Where is the Friend’s Home?
  9. Raising Arizona
  10. Daughter of the Nile


Raising Arizona was a tonal shift for the Coen brothers in their second effort, but certainly good enough to prove to be no sophomore slump

Bertolucci was often a part of these annual updates in the 1970s, but 1987 but a big return return to form for him in The Last Emperor

It is a overwhelmingly handsome epic.

sumptuous colors- and lovely costume and décor


Archives, Directors, and Grades

84 Charing Cross Road- Hugh Jones R
A Gathering of Old Men-Schlöndorff R
Angel Heart- A. Parker R
Au Revoir les Enfants- Malle R
Babette’s Feast- Axel R
Barfly- Schroeder HR
Boyfriends and Girlfriends- Rohmer
Broadcast News- J. Brooks R/HR
Cobra Verde – Herzog R/HR
Cry Freedom- Attenbourogh R
Dark Eyes- Mikhalkov
Daughter of the Nile – Hsiao-Hsien Hou HR
Empire of the Sun- Spielberg R
Evil Dead II – Raimi R
Family Viewing – Egoyan R
Fatal Attraction- Lyne R/HR
Full Metal Jacket- Kubrick MS
Hamburger Hill- Irvin R
Hope and Glory- Boorman
House of Games- Mamet HR
Housekeeping – Forsyth
Intervista- Fellini R
Ironweed- Babenco R
Lethal Weapon- Donner R
Matewan- Sayles HR/MS
Maurice – Ivory R
Moonstruck- Jewison R
Near Dark- Bigelow R
No Way Out- Donaldson R
Pathfinder – Gaup
Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Hughes R/HR
Predator- McTiernan HR
Radio Days – Allen HR
Raising Arizona- Coen HR
Robocop- Verhoeven R
Roxanne-Schepisi R
September – Allen R
Street Smart- Schatzberg R
The Believers – Schlesinger R
The Belly of an Architect – Greenaway MP
The Dead- J. Huston HR
The Last Emperor- Bertolucci HR/MS
The Law of Desire- Almodovar HR
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne – Clayton
The Princess Bride- Reiner R
The Untouchables- De Palma HR/MS
Tin Men- Levinson R
Walker- Cox
Wall Street– Stone HR
Where Is My Friend’s Home?- Kiarostami HR
Wings of Desire- Wenders HR/MS
Withnail and I- Robinson HR/MS
Yeelen – Cissé 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