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
“It is almost unbearably tragic”. That’s why I find it so hard to rewatch war films like come and see, paths of glory etc. They are devastating films. Anyways great review for the best animated film (in my opinion).The film received universal critical acclaim. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times considered it to be one of the best and most powerful war films and, in 2000, included it on his list of great films.It was also ranked at #10 in Time Out’s “The 50 greatest World War II movies” list. Empire magazine ranked the film at #6 in its list of “The Top 10 Depressing Movies”. The film ranked #19 on Wizard’s Anime Magazine on their “Top 50 Anime released in North America”
USA today (famous critic website) ranked this as the number 1 best animated film ever made according to critics and audiences. You reviewed the film really well. What would you consider as the best animated movie ever made? Walle?
Hey Drake, I have now decided to rank movies in a mix between your ranking system and Roger Ebert’s.
I have a ‘great movies’/ MP, MS, HR, R tier-like way of ranking movies but I do not have a top 500 like you, instead, I will only have a top 10 of all time and the best-of-the-decade lists and my tier-list ranking. I changed the way I rank movies because it is difficult to choose between 2 great movies that are virtually tied. Also I needed a new and more fun way of making lists.
I have a question though. Why are Die Hard and Who Framed Roger Rabbit both MS’s but Die Hard is above WFRR?
Also I’m thinking of watching one of these. Which would you recommend? I was thinking about WFRR since I haven’t seen an animated movie for a long time. What’s so good about it that you have it as a top five? What aspects of the movie do you like?
You’re right. There will be problems/issues even with grade ranking. But it’s still somewhat easier. For example I’m not really sure which godfather is better so I ranked both of them as MPs. No hassle. I know that I prefer the 2 godfathers more than Pan’s Labyrinth but I love PL so I just ranked that as an MP too. I have 5 tiers and I rank accordingly. I have no doubt that your system is superior and more accurate than mine if you were a machine and you saw every movie(and rewatched) in order. However since your human, there will always be a factor of recency bias or a movie you haven’t rated quite as highly because you need to see it again.
Both systems are very good, maybe yours is better, but I just want a different way of ranking movies for a change.
Just saw who framed roger rabbit. Very entertaining but most of all unique. I’m tired of all the cliched live-action-animation movies we have today in Hollywood. (marvel etc).Roger Rabbit is one of the best comedies I have seen and also one of the best crime/mystery movies of all time. I would highly recommend this movie to most people. MP for me. (I have seen fewers movies than you so my MP ranking would probably be a MP/MS for you.)
So after watching Roger Rabbit (which I loved by the way), I decided to watch cinema paradiso. I’m not going to talk about artistic value – like I do. I want to comment about my experience and emotion watching this movie. I just want to say this. I’ve seen people murder brutally in war movies, I’ve seen very emotional- slow dramas, pure artistic/transcendent movies of genius (Tarkovskian/ Malickian cinema). I’ve seen the most romantic, blissful movies about longing. No movie has ever made me cry except for the final 25 or so minutes of Cinema Paradiso. The ending of tree of life comes close, I even almost cried in It’s a Wonderful Life but I was properly crying in cinema paradiso. The only other movie-going experience/emotion that has come close for me is the feeling of pure awe and amazement I get when watching 2001.
Most critics adore this movie because they can relate to the feelings of love and emotion they have when watching the movie. It is also decent artistically. That’s why it’s so highly regarded by critics.
Anyone who loves cinema and the emotion of love, happiness, joy and pure amazement the screen provides will appreciate Cinema Paradiso and especially the final scene which captures those emotions perfectly.
“the screen is a magic medium” – Kubrick
I think that “A Fish Called Wanda” deserves more love looool. But maybe it’s that I’m not looking at it objectively enough because it is more of a personal favourite- I get the same with 2000’s “Chcolat”. Idk
Have you seen Time of the Gypsies(1988) by Emir Kusturica(the director of underground)?
Have you seen Arizona Dream(1993) starring Johnny Depp?
If I say Jeremy Irons should have won the academy award for best actor for Dead Ringers in 1988 instead of 1990(Ray Liotta should have won the academy award for best actor in 1990).Do you agree?
Why does the academy always get it wrong?Jeremy Irons and Ray Liotta weren’t even nominated in 1988 and 1990 respectively let alone winning.These guys(The Academy)are supposed to know what they are doing.
There is a film that actually can challenge Dead Ringers for the top spot.It’s name is Au Revoir Les Enfants.The highest rated film in 1988 on Metacritic
I have never seen The Alien Nation(1988) but it just sounds interesting.Why has it developed a cult following?
So have you seen Alien Nation(1988)?Is it worth seeing?
@Anderson i’ve never heard of alien nations but if you are interested in sci fi cult films watch tim burton’s planet of the apes film. it is on hbo and it is a masterpiece that has been overlooked by critics who prefer series like kill bill, alien, or die hard to the biting satire of the apes films. not as interesting as the very good film with james franco and the satire doesn’t quite compare to the charlton heston film but the visuals and subversive love story make it great and attention to the greater attention this film gives to religious tradition that the apes were able to develop in their reign. some shots recall the beauty of lawrence of arabia or dead ringers.
But Alien Nation has more good reviews and definitely become a cult classic.Critics say the two leads are great.This one won the Saturn award for best science fiction film as well.Is it worth seeing?
I will look out for Planet of the Apes as well.
Just watched Kar-Wai Wong’s debut As Tears Go By, and I can only assume you haven’t been able to track it down as it isn’t in the archives. It’s got some real “Wong’s Mean Streets” vibes. It’s a Hong Kong gangster film but suffused in Wong’s indelible style with a healthy dose of doomed tragic romance to go with it. It’s a little rough around the edges compared to his later masterworks, and has a really dated 80s style electric score, but it shows all the signs of the genius that was emerging. Great early Maggy Cheung and Andy Lau (Jackie Cheung is pretty impressive too). I’d probably rate it an HR and slot it into the back half of the top 10 you’ve listed here.
Just got back from watching Akira’s new 4k restoration in theatres last night. Was curious as to why you only have it as a R? To me I feel visually it is superior to almost every other animation movie ever. Even though the story falls flat in the final 15 minutes or so the opening gang bike sequence and the fight between Kaneda and Tetsuo near the end make for some iconic moments. The world building also goes into such great detail in the mise-en-scene I feel that it is at least an HR for me.
Also side-note: I’ve noticed that the grading of animated films in general are a lot tougher than live-action. For example I think you only have a few MP animations with the highest rated being Pinnochio. Is there a reason for this?
@Joel. You ask very interesting questions, i’ll also answer here.
Drake we had already talked about this before, you seem to have a much lower standard for animated films, as is the case with Spirited Away, out of curiosity, what is the reason why you think it is overrated?
Many have Spirited Away as one of the top 10 movies from the 2000s cinephiles and critics, you don’t rate it as high as they.
For example Matt Harris has two animated movies in his top 10 from 2000s including Spirited Away to which you respond to a person who calls it top 5 of the decade with “Many would agree with you but i just saw “Spirited Away” in 2018 and it is simply not on that level”
To add another example he also has Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as MP # 2 only behind Roma, you do not have it archived.
The Vanishing has one of the greatest and most terrifying endings I’ve ever seen. It’s quite surprising that the same director would remake his own film and butcher it so badly, Roger Ebert’s review of the American remake is hilarious as he states he’s offended as an American since he interpreted Sluzier changing the ending as him assuming American audiences requiring a happy ending. What do you think about this? Does Ebert have a legitimate point?
Drake, I cannot wait for when you finally get a second look at Greenaway’s Drowning by Numbers. It is simply so amazing.
Shouldn’t there be some note about how many archivable films are there in 1988? There are 53. In 1987 there was a note(again 53 archivable films).
Why is Kevin Kline not mentioned in best male performances of the year? He is so magnetic, funny and unforgettable that is easily of the best comedy performances of all time.
@RujK- I think it is quite possible that Kevin Kline is not in the of the 20-25 best films of 1988. That sort of makes his work in the film ineligible for this category.
@Drake-Have you seen Emir Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies(1988)? I don’t remember exactly where it was but it was included in the TSPDT top 1000.
@Malith- I have not been able to find a good copy
So, do you think that Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is Christopher Lloyd`s best performance, because he wasn`t mentioned in 1985 for Back to the Future?
I think that even if he plays pretty similar (over-the-top) characters in both films, his performance in Back to the Future is still better, and in my opinion as good as Michael J. Fox`s work in the same movie.
@RujK- Not necessarily, I think this is sort of a combined effort mention here.
Curious as to the last time you watched The Vanishing? I thought it was fascinating from my very 1st viewing but upon a recent viewing I was really impressed by the directing as well. I will post my notes.
The Vanishing (1988) George Sluizer
– Haunting score, great use of foreshadowing within first few min with Saskia’s dream
– 7:08 shot of tunnel with light at end
– 8:30 is 1st shot of villain, Raymond
– 24:15 close range shot of Rex in the car smoking cigarette after failing to convince the store clerk to collect coins for fingerprints, creates claustrophobic feeling
– 29:07 Raymond during the daylight chloroforms himself, effective use of lighting putting Raymond in a shadow
– Internal dialogue with Raymond around 30 min mark
– 40:08 masterful shot of Saskia’s reflection in Raymond’s glasses and then we have elliptical editing jumping forward 3 years and we know it is 3 years later due to a Missing person sign of Saskia indicating she has been missing for 3 years
– Great cat and mouse action 45:25 to 45:43 great camera movement aligning the 2 main characters
– Immaculate framing at 45:44 using Raymond’s left arm and body creating a triangle with Rex and his new girlfriend in the middle
– 46:18 shot where Raymond is (unknowingly to Rex) moves to a spot a table behind Rex and his new girlfriend at the same café, in shallow focus Raymond is in between Rex and his new girlfriend which has narrative significance as Raymond is preventing Rex and his new girlfriend from being to move on with their lives
– 52:08 overhead shot of Rex screaming in the city square with Raymond looking on amused
– 56:02 shot with Saskia poster separating Rex and his new girlfriend who seems to realize he won’t move on
– 58:55 foreshadowing with dream
– Around 1:08:00 mark Raymond tells Rex his story and bizarre beliefs regarding a lifetime obsession with testing free will
– 1:15:40 shot of Raymond and Rex in a park having a casual conversation about cycling while taking a quick break from driving, Raymond is at ease while Rex is still conflicted about what to do
– 1:29:00 by this point we have most of the information we need to figure out where Saskia’s conversation with Raymond will lead to by 1:32:38 we have all we need
– The final conversation between Rex and Raymond starting around 1:35:00 is haunting, great use of close-up shots of both men
The lighting and use of shadows is masterful in the scene right before and during when Rex drinks the concoction
The cutting back and forth between the protagonist, Rex, and Villain, Raymond is effective is setting up their eventual meeting as inevitable/fate. Predestination and fate are discussed by the Villain and in a way serve as his motive. Showing us the Villain early alters the film from a who done it to a why and how done it.
Film juxtaposes tight/enclosed spaces with open spaces, Rex has multiple opportunities to move on with his life.
Undoubtedly one of the creepiest and most original movie villains, an everyman with a seemingly stable but boring life who is able to hide that he is actually a sociopath. The fact that he is driven not by anger or sexual perversions actually makes his character even more chilling, he commits evil as a sort of experiment.
One of the areas where I think this film really succeeds is the way it puts its audience in Rex’s position, we, like Rex basically know what fate awaits us if Rex takes the drink but the desire for closure is too powerful
Stanley Kubrick called this the most terrifying movie he’s ever seen, and I am going to have to agree with Kubrick here, I have always been far more scared of a Villain like Raymond than anything supernatural
What is the grade for Polanski’s Frantic? The grade appears to be missing here (could be an error on my side)
@Matthew- No grade here. For a few films in the archives there are no grades until I can get to them again as it been too long.
@Matthew – I watched that one during my Polanski study, it is not one of his stronger films and is a fairly run of
the mill thriller. Emmanuelle Seigner is the best reason to watch in my opinion. There is nothing really wrong with it exactly it’s more that it just offers nothing really new.
Unfortunate. Looking for some Harrison performances outside of the franchises
@Matthew- https://thecinemaarchives.com/2018/06/18/the-43rd-best-actor-of-all-time-harrison-ford/ How about The Fugitive? He is in Witness as well.
I dropped a comment on that page a minute ago saying I haven’t seen the fugitive (I plan on getting to it soon). I’ll also write down Witness as well
@James I actually have seen (or some of it) What Lies Beneath awhile ago. I walked in on it about halfway through probably 6 or so years ago. Pretty shocking revelation at the end. I’ll also give Frantic a shot, it’s Polanski and Ford, it deserves a look
@Matthew – The Fugitive is one of those incredibly rewatchable films from the 90s and Frantic is worth a viewing.
What Lies Beneath came out when I was 11 or 12, I saw it with my parents and they were stunned to learn that Harrison Ford was the movies villain given his reputation
@Matthew – just my opinion some may disagreel, funny enought there are actually 3 movies where Harrison Ford is accused of killing his wife and in 2 of the 3 he plays a Doctor with the first name Richard
Presumed Innocent (1990)
The Fugitive (1993)
It’s not a great film but What Lies Beneath (2000) is an interesting performance for reasons I won’t mention in case you ever decide to watch it