I began the weekly listings of year-by-year Ten Best Movies a year ago, which (although I am no Einstein) I reckon means there are 52 entries at this point. Since the earliest year I’ve done is 1919 and I probably won’t be able to go much earlier than that, I will run out of movie years before the end of 2010. What will I do with my Sunday mornings after that? Nothing involving lists, probably.
Like most of the other years, 1988 is affected by seemingly whimsical dating methods: is a TV series first broadcast in ’88 a 1988 “movie,” or should it count in a 1989 tally because it was released to theaters in that year? What if it was a TV-only phenomenon? Who the hell cares?
What I do know is that two long-form television projects from brilliant filmmakers went on the air in 1988, and both figure strongly on the list. Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ten-part Dekalog took on the ten commandments for a ten-part series that became an ideal vehicle for exploring KK’s densely-connected world. (It’s a good thing Mel Brooks’s Moses dropped the other tablet, because fifteen episodes would have been unbearably long.) And Robert Altman, Garry Trudeau & Co.’s Tanner ’88 managed to spin a number of hours out of a fictional candidacy for the White House that year, an on-the-fly moviemaking experiment that overlapped with the actual campaign in a variety of crazy ways – as if there had been any doubt about the co-mingling of fiction-making with politics. The ten best movies of 1988:
1. Dekalog (Krzyszof Kieslowski)
2. Landscape in the Mist (Theo Angelopoulos)
3. Tanner ’88 (Robert Altman)
4. As Tears Go By (Wong Kar Wai)
5. Ariel (Aki Kaurismaki)
6. The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese)
7. The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris)
8. Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears)
9. Little Dorrit (Christine Edzard)
10. The Moderns (Alan Rudolph) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Philip Kaufman)
The last rung is for two flawed films that meant something to me at the time; among other things, they’re both dream-films about European cities. Little Dorrit is a remarkable experience from a director who hasn’t made many movies: a six-hour Dickens adaptation split into two: the first three hours is the story told mostly from one perspective, the second half told from another, more or less. It’s fallen out of the collective movie memory, but it’s terrific. As for Last Temptation, I watched it again recently, and appreciated again Scorsese’s use of deliberately echt-American actors (the sequence with Harry Dean Stanton is particularly great).
Some excellent directors were getting going then, including Wong Kar Wai, Claire Denis (Chocolat), and Catherine Breillat (36 Fillette). Bull Durham augured well for Ron Shelton, but one wishes his output had been busier.
Some very good films just missed the list, including Clint Eastwood’s Bird, Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies. Claude Chabrol’s Story of Women and Fred Schepisi’s A Cry in the Dark were rigorously made and great vehicles for actresses (Isabelle Huppert and Meryl Streep). I never really warmed up to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but can’t argue with the technical feat (Beowulf, though, that’s a Zemeckis humdinger). And in the pulp-classic department, John Carpenter’s They Live surely deserves to be a representative film of the 1980s, a devious survey of life in these United States circa Gipper.