By 1988 I was in full swing with my movie viewing. Lots of HBO, Cinemax, and trips to the video store, watching lots of films way beyond my years. It definitely shaped my love for sci-fi and horror films and also gave me an appreciation for action flicks and even the occasional drama or rom-com. I’d say this year’s top ten choices are probably the most diverse out of all the ones I’ve selected for my Lifetime of Film series, as some really well done films just didn’t make it. There is a bunch of animation this time around and for anyone poo-pooing my love of animated films, go do that elsewhere! Animation is just as adept at telling an amazing story as live-action is, and sometimes even better. At the time I’m putting this together I’ve seen, or at least remember seeing, around 66 films from this year. I’m sure I’ve forgotten if I’ve watched a number of them. Some honorable mentions include: Child’s Play, Heathers, Big, Twins, They Live, The Naked Gun, The Great Outdoors, Scrooged, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Hellraiser II, Pumpkinhead, and Alien Nation.
10. Young Guns (Christopher Cain)
While probably not the most historically accurate western out there, Young Guns and its sequel is still a fun blast of fresh air in a genre that can, and often does, take itself way too seriously. There are some great actors in this film with a fun script and lots of action set pieces and humor abound. It’s really hard not to walk away from it without a smile on your face and spouting some of the better lines from the film. Young Guns II is a bit more quotable, but goes ever further outside the envelope than the first film does, and this one benefits a bit from keeping a tighter hand on the reigns.
9. Rain Man (Barry Levinson)
While I really question Tom Cruise’s faith choices, the man does know how to make a great film. If I’ve seen a terrible Tom Cruise film, I don’t remember it off the top of my head, and pairing him up with Dustin Hoffman in this kind of self-discovery and redemption film really works amazingly well. There are a lot of great moments in this film, the script pops, the scenes play out amazingly well, and by the end of the film you really feel for both main characters and what they’re going through. This one still resonates with me today and I haven’t seen it in awhile. That’s great filmmaking.
8. The Land Before Time (Don Bluth)
Before it got a bunch of unnecessary sequels The Land Before Time was a really well done film about a bunch of young kids trying to survive in a world after getting split off from their parents while moving to a new home. Granted, they’re all dinosaurs, and yes, that does skew my love for this film a bit, but the characters are wonderfully fun. There’s also some great tear-jerk moments and the animation is top-notch, as always with a Don Bluth film. While I have to admit I’ve not seen the sequels, or at least that I remember, this one will always hold a soft spot in my heart.
7. Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata)
I actually only saw this one a few years ago and thought it was a much more recent release. In the US home video scene, yes, but this film really came out way back in 1988, and looked to me like a far more recent anime outing. This is a tear-jerker through and through, and if you’re looking for something hopeful, look elsewhere. Grave of the Fireflies will leave you a broken mess and have you marveling at the gorgeous film it is at the same time. Fantastic animation and believable, broken characters make this one stand out, and really broke me in a good way when I did watch it.
6. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis)
To this day I still have a huge crush on Jessica Rabbit. This was, and still is, an amazing blend of live-action and traditional animation weaved around a classic noir plot that would have worked even if you re-wrote just a small portion of it to exclude the animated characters. On top of that, some great character cameos abound within from all walks of animation through the forties as well as some classic slapstick and scripted humor. Geared as an all ages film, some of the jokes and scenes are a bit more adult, but this one was always a blast for me. I really need to re-watch it, and soon.
5. Willow (Ron Howard)
While I do think this film would have done from a little fleshing out in the script, or the dialogue that made it into the film so that some events hold more meaning – and if you’ve read the book you know what I’m talking about – this still ends up being a fun ride as an action and adventure film crated around a classic fantasy tale. It just happens to focus on a character that’s not a human lead. We’ve seen the farmer go from nothing to hero before. This is just another take on that with a lot of different things surrounding it. A fantastic score, some decent effects work which were ground-breaking for the time, excellent actors, and that charm that Val Kilmer oozes as Madmartigan really make this one stick out even if it wasn’t as successful at the time.
4. Die Hard (John McTiernan)
My first real introduction to Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, Die Hard was also my first real introduction to the summer action flick, with its explosions, foul language, great fight scenes and quotable dialogue. Die Hard has all the staples that we still see in a lot of action flicks today, even if they have changed their focus to other-worldly invasions and comic books rather than bank heists or cop dramas. Die Hard is also one of my favorite Christmas movies that I keep forgetting to add to my yearly watch list. There’s a lot to love here, from the relatable characters to the over-the-top bad guys and situations.
3. A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Chrichton)
One of my favorite comedies of all time, A Fish Called Wanda is right up there with Clue. It is smart and has fantastically amusing dialogue, coupled with some outrageous slapstick scenes that don’t beat you about too much to sell them. It also has two of the Monty Python crew doing what they do best, Kevin Kline being, well Kevin Kline, and a great bank heist where they’re all at each others throats on top of it. I loved this movie even when I only got half the jokes and loved it even more when I was finally old enough to clue in. Everyone who likes to laugh needs to see this one.
2. Akira (Katsuhiro Ōtomo)
While the story can be a bit out there and hard to grasp, one thing that’s abundantly clear watching this film is that they really know what they’re doing with their technical and character animation. Akira is incredibly detailed and amazing to watch visually. The story is a bit muddled if you’re not paying attention as there are a lot of subtle clues that really drive the story; Kubrik would be proud. The soundtrack fits every scene within, driving when it needs to, and completely haunting in others. Akira is one of those bar-setting films and there’s a reason anime fans have been loathing a live-action remake, apart from Hollywood casting decisions, and that’s because it will never live up to what we get from the animated film.
1. Beetlejuice (Tim Burton)
While only in a smaller portion of the finished film, the title character, played masterfully by Michael Keaton, leaves an incredible impression long after the film is finished, leaving the actual protagonists played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis kind of in the dust. Beetlejuice is an amazing film that takes a very different outlook on life after death. It’s all very personal, and there are some great moments in this comedy that work oh so well. Winona Rider has a great performance as the soon to be future of goth, and the lost girl looking for answers with some kooky parents, and the two ghosts living in her house. Danny Elfman’s score is bombastic and fun and is an instant classic that is easily recognized by pretty much anyone, even people who haven’t seen the film. I love this movie and the characters, and it is definitely one of my all-time favorites.