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)
- 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.
- 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
- 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…
- 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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
best performance male: Richard 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.
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.
- The Belly of an Architect
- Full Metal Jacket
- Withnail & I
- Wings of Desire
- The Untouchables
- The Last Emperor
- Where is the Friend’s Home?
- Raising Arizona
- Daughter of the Nile
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|
|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|
|Lethal Weapon- Donner||R|
|Maurice – Ivory||R|
|Near Dark- Bigelow||R|
|No Way Out- Donaldson||R|
|Pathfinder – Gaup|
|Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Hughes||R/HR|
|Radio Days – Allen||HR|
|Raising Arizona- Coen||HR|
|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|
|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
No The Lost Boys. Joel Shumacher is a shitty director, but Lost Boys is a very good film.
I’m surprised that Good Morning Vietnam didn’t make the cut for 1987, considering it’s a classic and features one of Robin Williams best performances.
Understandable, glad to hear you’re considering putting it in the archives after another viewing as it is worthy in my humble opinion.
No Gardens of Stone(1987) by Francis Ford Coppola?
@MASH – love this role, who’s better, r lee ermey or JK Simmons in Whiplash?
Both fast talking and come up with hilarious insults at lightning speed
Hmm. It’s a hard question. Simmons is in the full duration of Whiplash so he gets more time to show off, yet Ermey may be better on a per-minute basis and he comes off as less of an “actor” and more of naturally embodying his character than Simmons does, probably in large part due to actually having been alike the character he played in real life.
“HE gets the nod with the combined work of Raising Arizona and Broadcast News…”
I believe you mean SHE gets the nod.
@Graham- yes of course- thank you
Interesting to me why full metal jacket isn’t as critically acclaimed as every other one of his films from 1964-1999. What is it about full metal jacket from a critics perspective that puts it just under that masterpiece level?
@James Robbins- well the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, but the dissenters seem to say the film 1. has nothing to say 2. only has a half a film. I’m generalizing but that seems to be it.
This is from Ebert- “But “Full Metal Jacket” is uncertain where to go, and the movie’s climax, which Kubrick obviously intends to be a mighty moral revelation, seems phoned in from earlier war pictures. After what has already been said about “Vietnam” in the movies, “Full Metal Jacket” is too little and too late.”
I guess that’s pretty much what you said in your review basically saying it loses its way in the middle of the film. I guess I agree that it has nothing to say but I don’t know that a movie necessarily needs to have something to say. For example, Blow Out, which you rate as a masterpiece and I absolutely agree isn’t saying much that hadn’t already been said in earlier Hitchcock films or in the conversation, yet that doesn’t take anything away from it.
@James Robbins- agreed on the “nothing to say” criteria. I was just quoting Ebert who seemed to share that sentiment along with a few of the other (again, very few overall) dissenters.
@James Robbins @Drake – I would 3rd that regarding “nothing to say.” Perhaps to some people War films should have something to say just based on the fact that they are War films whereas a film like Blow Out can be accepted as an exercise in style and something that is just entertaining without requiring any deeper meaning; I do not agree with this point of view but I think some people may feel this way.
But I think you’re on target with the criticism of its relatively weak 2nd half which I agree feels somewhat anti-climatic. Further more the 1st and 2nd halves feel disconnected, like they are from 2 separate films whereas with a film like High and Low (1963) the 2 halves are cohesive.
No Dunaway/Rourke in acting category forBarfly ?
@KidCharlemagne — no, and it pained me a little to leave them off.
Does Glenn Close deserve a nod for best female performance? Alex Forrest is definitely one of the best and most iconic female villains of all time. I’ve seen Fatal Attraction at least 7 or 8 times and she is absolutely chilling each time. The lamp scene..my god
@James Trapp- I try to recognize her in 1988 for Dangerous Liaisons– she’s amazing as Alex in Fatal Attraction I but I don’t know if it is that otherworldly in a film that lands that far down the 1987 list
@Drake – I have not seen Dangerous Liaisons, will need to check out. Fatal Attraction is one of those films I love but do not think its necessarily an amazing film but it is so much fun. I know some people refer to those as guilty pleasure movies, I’ve never really used that phrase but if I did this would be one of them. It has 2 great performances, especially Close who becomes practically demonic by the end, like I said above the lamp scene and the tape scene are bone chilling.
@James Trapp- We’re on the same page here. I’ve seen the film at least a half dozen times- maybe more.
What will you say to someone who, in the name of “personal opinion” believes that John Lone in The Last Emperor is better than De Niro in Raging Bull.
@M*A*S*H- I mean everyone is entitled to their opinion of course- but all opinions are not of equal worth. It may make me hesitate the next time that person recommends a film to me or tells me about a great performance in a film.
@Drake- Thanks for a cathartic reply. Much appreciated.
P. S. I’m loving your ongoing Almodovar study. I agree with every other verdict of yours but Broken Embraces. It’s a rock solid MS for me and one day I may call it a MS/MP. I hope your recent viewing changes few things.
@M*A*S*H- Thanks for saying that Almodovar! Some of his films are still frustratingly hard to find– but I will get to every one I can- including Broken Embraces. Look forward to it.
I just noticed you seem to have forgotten Law of Desire on this page?
Nevermind, I just checked it again and it’s written as “The Law of Desire.” I should mention there are countless films on the site that have the mistake of an article being added to the beginning of their titles that are not actually part of the titles.
@Zane- Countless huh? Thank you… I think.
I just watched Withnail & I, and if you are a fan of it you will probably really enjoy The League of Gentlemen. It`s a cult british sitcom, and is as dark as dark comedies can get. It`s also just around 15 episodes so you could technically count it as a miniseries. It`s incredible funny and some opening shots are actually very well done (green and brown colors, similar to Withnail & I).
Has anyone seen Rouge? It is a Hong Kong film starring Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui. Tragically and interestingly this is a tragic love story and both these stars died in 2003 (Mui from cancer and Cheung from suicide) I noticed it on the list of upcoming Criterion films.
@James Trapp – I have not had the opportunity yet here. Keep me posted if you see it if you could.
Chloe Webb was doing exemplary work during this time. She was TERRIFIC in Sid & Nancy and here in The Belly Of Architect as well. A case can be made for her getting seperate mentions but a combined mention is more than well-earned for her.
What are your thoughts on her performances? Especially Sid and Nancy.
@M*A*S*H- Terrific in Sid & Nancy but a casting miss from Greenaway in The Belly of an Architect.
Tonight I watched Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (my first viewing) and I must say it is a rather substantive omission from the archives; it boasts, among other virtues, at least one transcendent parallel editing sequence, a noble degree of formalistic ambition (the nature of which I will not reveal, lest you haven’t seen it), endlessly original practical effects creating a host of grotesque aberrations that are as symbolic and thematically pertinent as they are nightmarish; and exceptional pacing that, alongside an inspired Christopher Young score, wracks the mind with lacerating anxiety and tension as the film gradually descends through through its eldritch machinations towards a devilishly ironic conclusion. Also, it has Garak from Deep Space Nine, which naturally should earn it a comfortable place in the top ten in itself.
@Max- Thanks for sharing this- I’ll have to revisit it at some point- I have seen it- but only once.
What is the grade of Dark Eyes(1987)?
@Malith- No grade for Dark Eyes here
Have you seen Hollywood Shuffle? I saw its got a Criterion Release later this month
@James Trapp- I have, caught it last March for the first time. Solid recommend.
What about De Niro starring in The Belly of an Architect?
@M*A*S*H- For sure- I could see that.