Driving Miss Daisy won the Best Picture Oscar, Do the Right Thing was the cause celebre, Batman was the top grosser. These titles are not on my list of the ten best movies of 1989, a fact which makes me feel no guilt whatsoever. A certain amount of disbelief, perhaps — Jack Nicholson’s Joker was twenty years ago?!? — but no guilt.
Topping my list is a film that has only gotten better over the years, and that still stands as the most complete effort by its director: Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy. From its gloriously zonked dialogue to its carefully-built structure, this movie balances a delicate blend of the sympathetic and the satiric, dropping us non-judgmentally into the world of a small-time band of dope fiends and thieves. It is, in its own way, a film about faith, about belief systems; the movie is rife with signs, hexes, and the various superstitions so dear to the spirit of Bob (Matt Dillon): “You gotta know how to read the signs.”
Beautiful film, all of a piece. Even if the year weren’t light on masterpieces, it would be near the top. The best of 1989:
1. Drugstore Cowboy (Gus Van Sant)
2. Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies)
3. Say Anything… (Cameron Crowe)
4. sex, lies, and videotape (Steven Soderbergh)
5. Monsieur Hire (Patrice Leconte)
6. High Hopes (Mike Leigh)
7. Mystery Train (Jim Jarmusch)
8. Born on the Fourth of July (Oliver Stone)
9. The Killer (John Woo)
10. The Fabulous Baker Boys (Steve Kloves)
A soft year in most senses, although promising in the wealth of new talent from young Americans (Heathers would also be included in that group). Just missing the cut: Jane Campion’s Sweetie and Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot; also, mention should be made of Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future Part II, a truly perverse exploration of the American self-image.
Next week: 1929. You didn’t think we’d ignore the Twenties?