Greatest Films of the 1980s
Greatest Films of the 1980s


Greatest Films of the 1980s
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1989

Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

The Abyss (1989), 140 minutes, D: James Cameron

Batman (1989), 126 minutes, D: Tim Burton
See Batman film series.

Born on the Fourth of July (1989), 145 minutes, D: Oliver Stone
The second of director Oliver Stone's Vietnam War-era trilogy of films, including Platoon (1986) and Heaven & Earth (1993). It was a biography of real-life veteran Ron Kovic (portrayed by Tom Cruise) - according to its tagline "a story of innocence lost and courage found." Kovic had been paralyzed during the war from a spinal injury, and he barely survived. In his youth, he was a physically fit athlete who had pride in his country, but that disappeared with his debilitating injury. His disillusionment was heightened by time spent in a Bronx veterans' hospital and his troubling reintroduction to society. He became a staunch anti-war and pro-human rights political activist. Still highly relevant material for today.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989, UK/Fr.), 124/98 minutes, D: Peter Greenaway

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), 107 minutes, D: Woody Allen
Perhaps Woody Allen's darkest, most somber movie, Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) takes a long, provocative, and ultimately downbeat look at morality with its ensemble cast. Dual stories about Manhattanites, each composing about one-half of the film, are interwoven together, and interconnected by the character of a mutual friend - a lone holy man and rabbi named Ben (Sam Waterston) who is going blind. The first story deals with Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), a wealthy, law-abiding, married (to Claire Bloom, as Miriam), well-respected ophthalmologist who is successful in nearly every way. However, an enraged and obsessed flight attendant and ex-lover Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston), with whom he has been cheating on his wife, threatens to divulge the scandal and ruin his life. With this dilemma facing him, Judah is forced to take extreme measures - the contemplation of murder of his mistress by contacting his seldom-seen brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) with Mafia connections. His guilt forces him to revisit his past and ask basic questions about his own values, the unfairness of life, virtue, 'the eyes of God,' a god-less universe, justice for evil-doing, and unequal punishment of the wicked. Meanwhile, in the lighter-spirited other half of the movie, Cliff Stern (Woody Allen), a dedicated but struggling, serious documentary filmmaker (who is married but in the process of separating from wife Wendy (Joanna Gleason)), is reluctantly forced to direct a film of his despised rival - his superficial, vain but extremely successful brother-in-law and TV sit-com producer Lester (Alan Alda). Complicating matters, Stern must compete with Lester over the object of his impossibly-romantic affections - the documentary's attractive production assistant named Halley Reed (Mia Farrow).

Dead Poets Society (1989), 128 minutes, D: Peter Weir

The Decalogue (1989-1990, Pol.) (aka Dekalog: The Ten Commandments), 584 minutes, D: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Do the Right Thing (1989), 120 minutes, D: Spike Lee
An even-handed, complex and disturbing work about racism, intolerance and violence, this controversial film is about a riot that eventually erupts on a sweltering summer day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. During the opening credits, Public Enemy performs the film's hard-edged anthem and title song, "Fight the Power." The multi-ethnic cast of the film provides three-dimensional characters, and features the early career work of Samuel L. Jackson (as DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy) and Rosie Perez. The tension begins to escalate in this slice-of-life film because of a complaint by a militant patron named Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) that there are no pictures of 'brothers' on the "Wall of Fame" in a white-operated, Italian pizza restaurant owned by Sal (Danny Aiello). This was the third (and breakout) feature film for African-American writer/director Spike Lee (who also stars as the pizzeria's delivery boy Mookie), whose resume already included: She's Gotta Have It (1986), and School Daze (1988).

Driving Miss Daisy (1989), 99 minutes, D: Bruce Beresford

Drugstore Cowboy (1989), 100 minutes, D: Gus Van Sant, Jr.

Enemies, A Love Story (1989), 119 minutes, D: Paul Mazursky

Field of Dreams (1989), 107 minutes, D: Phil Alden Robinson
Just one year after playing catcher "Crash" Davis in Bull Durham (1988), Kevin Costner appeared in this - another baseball-themed film coupled with the religious themes of faith and redemption. This sentimental, modern fantasy classic became a smash hit in its unique depiction of Americana. Idealistic Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), a transplanted city boy-turned-Iowa corn farmer, hears a ghostly Voice telling him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field, to "ease his pain". His wife Annie (Amy Madigan) is semi-supportive but worried about their finances. No one but those who believe can see the ghostly ballplayers who begin to appear. This Capra-esque film recalls Harvey (1950), a film in which its main character believes he is befriended by a giant rabbit that no one can see. (Ray's daughter Karen (Gaby Hoffmann) is watching Harvey on T.V. at one point in the film, to emphasize the connection.) Adapted from W. P. Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe, the film is almost dreamlike (aided by the mystical score by James Horner), as Ray meets with various sad and wistful icons, including the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) who was banned from baseball for life after the 1919 Black Sox scandal, a disillusioned, reclusive J.D. Salinger-like writer in Boston named Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), and a small-town doctor named Doc "Moonlight" Graham (Burt Lancaster) - a rookie player who years earlier yearned to make it into the major leagues. The film reaches its climax with Jones' famous monologue on the place of baseball in American history: "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."

Glory (1989), 122 minutes, D: Edward Zwick
One of the very best, fact-based Civil war films, and based upon the historical novels Lay This Laurel by Lincoln Kirstein and One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard. It depicts the overlooked but brave and distinguished participation of all-volunteer, African-American soldiers on the side of the Union in the first all-black 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (composed of runaway slaves and northern "freemen"). The film was based on the letters of the 600-man regiment's idealistic, 25-year old white commander, Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) from a privileged, abolitionistic family in Boston. The film focuses on the hard training and the troops' battle to earn credibility with prejudiced military authorities to actually demonstrate their courage and determination during combat. The movie climaxes with their final, suicidal assault in 1863 on the impregnable Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina - it fails but ultimately turned the tide of the war. The film also features strong performances by Denzel Washington (in a star-making role) as bitter, ex-slave recruit Pvt. Trip, Morgan Freeman (as Sgt. Major John Rawlins), and Cary Elwes (as Major Cabot Forbes), as well as a Grammy-winning, powerful score by James Horner accompanied by The Harlem Boys Choir.

Henry V (1989, UK), 138 minutes, D: Kenneth Branagh
An adaptation of William Shakespeare's timeless, epic play Henry V - about young, 15th century British King Henry's invasion of France, and his victory at the crucial Battle of Agincourt against a larger French force. The story is told by powerful actor/director Kenneth Branagh (with his debut as both screenwriter and director). Branagh's revisionistic film is dramatic, grandiose, passionate and darkly serious. His wife Emma Thompson stars as French princess Catherine of Valois, whom Henry takes as his bride. A play chiefly about royal responsibility, war and its effects, the nature of the film was deeply affected by the historical context in which it was created -- Branagh's film debuted during a post-Vietnam era when there was great cynicism about war. The film's highlights are -- Henry V's pre-battle speech to his troops at the siege of Harfleur, from Act III, Scene 1, beginning with the stirring line: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our English dead," and his St. Crispin's Day address to his battle-weary men, from Act IV, Scene 3, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother."

The Killer (1989, HK) (aka Die Xuet Shuang Xiong), 111 minutes, D: John Woo

The Little Mermaid (1989), 83 minutes, D: Disney Studio

My Left Foot (1989, UK), 98 minutes, D: Jim Sheridan

Roger & Me (1989), 91 minutes, D: Michael Moore

Say Anything... (1989), 100 minutes, D: Cameron Crowe

sex, lies and videotape (1989), 101 minutes, D: Steven Soderbergh

When Harry Met Sally... (1989), 96 minutes, D: Rob Reiner
This witty and likeable, lightweight, old-fashioned romantic comedy was intended to answer the sexual politics question, "Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?" Director Rob Reiner directed this smart, modern-day 'screwball comedy' (his fifth film) of the semi-autobiographical tale - it was compiled from the shared recollections of actual romances, and sometimes resembles a sitcom. The engaging, episodic film keenly observes romance, relationships between males and females, friendship and sex. Two long-time acquaintances, often pessimistic, fast-talking and controlling Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and bubbly Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) grapple with this question over a 12-year period (beginning in the spring of 1977 as students when they share a drive to New York from Chicago), as their relationship grows and matures. Their love is not "at first sight" but takes years to develop as the reluctant two often bump into each other and reconnect. The leads' best friends, Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby), help Harry's and Sally's friendship to evolve, and actually fall in love and get married themselves. The summer of 1989's 'sleeper' film has a number of startling resemblances to Woody Allen's witty, urban romance Annie Hall (1977): the black and white titles and the film's title song "It Had to Be You" (sung by Diane Keaton in Allen's film), direct camera interviews-testimonials, split-screen techniques, the Manhattan backdrop, evocative George Gershwin tunes, obsessive talk about sex and death, and Harry and Sally's first meeting in 1977 - is the year the similar film was released. The film's ending parallels Allen's Manhattan (1979). However, the two films also differed: When Harry Met Sally... illustrated how friends can ultimately realize that they're better as lovers, while Annie Hall showed how lovers may end up better as friends. With the famous "I'll have what she's having!" punchline.


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