The 10 Best Films of 1987
By Jack Sommersby
Posted 10/24/03 02:57:41
From corporate raiders to barflies to stakeouts to some fine Cajun cookin', the 1987 cinematic terrain was wonderfully widespread.
1987 was quite a good year for films. Indeed, I had the rare misfortune of actually having to trim candidates off this 10-best list, as opposed to my usual dilemma of having to include titles that merit no more than three stars. Oh, sure, 1987 had its share of cinematic atrocities (Teen Wolf Too, Superman IV, Creepshow 2, Wisdom), but, oddly, most of the big-budget Hollywood products didn't flat-out stink -- they merely came off as artistic miscalculations, as opposed to the majority of the A-list crapola we get these days like Signs, Panic Room, and Terminator 3.
Though these didn't make the list, Curtis Hanson's The Bedroom Window was an awfully good serial-killer thriller, Charles Shyer's Baby Boom was a perfectly charming romantic comedy, John Irvin's Hamburger Hill was far superior a Vietnam tale than Stanley Kubrick's clunky Full Metal Jacket from the same year, Joseph Ruben's The Stepfather was a taut and beautifully realized domestic horror pic, and even considerably flawed films like Jerry Belson's sometimes-uproarious Surrender, Norman Mailer's perversely fascinating Tough Guys Don't Dance, Jerry Schatzberg's gritty Street Smart, and Bruce Pittman's enjoyably campy Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II managed to shine in places.
Two Burt Reynolds star vehicles, Heat and Malone, didn't exactly wow critics or audiences yet managed to serve up a pair of excellent performances by its star nevertheless. Ditto: Lady Beware, a ludicrous stalker thriller with an outstanding (and agreeably nude) Diane Lane; Weeds, an uneven prison drama with a galvanizing complex turn by Nick Nolte; A Prayer for the Dying, a muddled-yet-affecting character study with an emotionally accessible Mickey Rourke as a conscience-stricken IRA terrorist; Planes, Trains and Automobiles, with Steve Martin contributing the most hilarious exasperated looks ever committed to film; Robocop, with Peter Weller giving an amazingly creative physical performance as the title character; and Fatal Attraction, which, before self-destructing with a palpably absurd violent ending to appease mindless target audiences, displayed a compassionate, well-etched performance by Michael Douglas as a cheating husband who gets the tables turned on him by jilted lover Glenn Close.
And now, The List...
10. The Big Easy
Though the final shootout is a botch, this blazingly colorful and energetic tale of police corruption in New Orleans makes for simply dazzling entertainment. Dennis Quaid is the crooked cop, Ellen Barkin is the federal prosecutor he romances, and a grade-A supporting cast (consisting of John Goodman, Ned Beatty, and the late, great Charles Ludlam) provides them with ample underpinnings. Expertly mixes action with humor, and the sexual chemistry between the sensational Quaid and game Barkin is palpable. Add to this some great location shooting, rollicking Cajun tunes, and excellent dialogue, and you've got all the fixings needed for a surefire time at the movies.
9. The Believers
One of the scariest films ever made, this John Schlesinger-directed horror-fest serves up a first-rate Martin Sheen as a widowed police psychiatrist whose consultation with a possessed NYPD detective (a riveting Jimmy Smits) gets him and his young son (a remarkable Harley Cross) into the unfortunate crosshairs of a Carribean voodoo master, who has come to the United States to partake in a human sacrifice. Grindingly unpleasant and nerve-jangling from start to finish, The Believers isn't for everyone -- imagine the tooth-torture sequence in Schlesinger's Marathon Man extended for 114 minutes -- but for those interested in enduring a flawlessly manipulative cinematic experience, it's well worth the nightmares you're sure to experience soon thereafter.
Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez play Seattle detectives assigned to do surveillance on sexy waitress Madeleine Stowe in the hope of nabbing her viciously violent ex-boyfriend (Aidan Quinn) who's just escaped from a federal prison. Director John Badham stages the action with his usual flair, but it's the ingratiating interplay between the cops and the sultry chemistry between Dreyfuss and Stowe which give the film its true underpinnings. The dialogue is unexpectedly above par for the course ("I must face up to my heterosexuality, but don't worry -- you'll be well provided for."), the cinematography by Oscar-winning John Seale is stupendous (dig those Vancouver pictorials), and there's a bountiful array of big laughs (Dreyfuss realizing he's engaging in a bugged conversation is a scream!). The film errs, though, in being anti-climactic and in failing to succinctly mesh the violence with the humor, and perhaps a giant plot hole (like relying on someone never to throw away a piece of furniture after three years) could have been ironed out. Still, the vivid characters, first-rate performances, and well-sustained narrative drive make this a definitive must-see. This still contains Drefuss's career-best performance; he's flawless and positively bursting with acting imagination and well-honed technique.
7. Summer School
Freddy Shoop is freewheeling, laid-back, and responsibility-challenged. He also happens to be a Malibu high-school gym teacher who has his trip to Hawaii squashed after he's blackmailed into teaching summer school to an array of underachievers. In his first starring role, Mark Harmon is simply sensational, undeniably sexy, and irresistibly charming as a man who "got into this teaching gig to get my summers off"; rather than straining for laughs, Harmon milks his lines with uncommon modesty and underplays nattily. The students are three-dimensional and bereft of gooey pathos (with a couple of teenage Ebert-and-Siskel wannabes who are worth the price of admission), the soundtrack chock-full of bouncy pop tunes, the comic situations ripe with promise, the chemistry with love interest Kirstie Alley spot-on, and the film pleasingly convinces of the difference a teacher can make on a student. Directed (with a great deal of agility) by Carl Reiner.
Screenwriter/star Steve Martin's stupendous updating of playwright Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac ranks as his career capper. Martin plays C.D. Bales, a small-town firefighter in Washington state who also happens to be adorned with a six-inch nose. Self-conscious some of the time, amazingly not so for the most part, C.D. is an intelligent, caring man who has learned to use humor as an everyday pick-me-up, as well as a weapon against detractors (a verbal-showdown scene in a bar between him and a blowhard bully with a bully is a keeper); and Martin, in a beautifully modulated performance, lets us see that C.D. is lonely and worthy of love without ever straying into didactic obviousness. Daryl Hannah is uncommonly winning as the woman of his dreams, with Rick Rossovich hilarious as a hunky stud of quintessential shyness. Seamless and near-perfect (though the middle section kinda drags). And, once again, Australian director Fred Schepisi proves he has no equal when it comes to composing shots for the 2.35:1 widescreen frame.
Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway are magnificent as drunken skid-row poet Henry Chinanski and down-on-her-luck fellow drunk Wanda Wilcox in director Barbet Scroeder's enchantingly intoxicating bio-pic of real-life poet Charles Bukowski. Most of the action takes place inside a seedy Los Angeles bar, the Golden Horn, where Henry's daily ritual is bumming free drinks from a homely bartender he likes (a sturdy J.C. Quinn) and picking fights with the womanizing one he despises (an appealingly loathsome Frankl Stallone). The film's sense of dailiness and textured milieu (which is enhanced through the great Robby Muller's lighting) are its greatest strengths, with Rourke and Dunaway convincingly occupying space in it; they mesh with the atmospherics yet are daring enough to take the kind of artistic chances most thespians would shy away from. Lots of big laughs, a few genuinely affecting moments, and a giddy sense of fun in rooting for a protagonist who's more than a little bit of an ass. Considerable demerit: the subplot involving the gorgeous Alice Krige as a rich magazine owner who "discovers" Henry; it's too overly literal and spells out what was better left implied.
4. Angel Heart
Mickey Rourke is (again) magnificent as Harry Angel, a 1950s private eye hired by a mysterious client (a show-stopping turn by Robert De Niro) to locate a once-famous crooner who disappeared right before WWII. Harry's search takes him to the slums of Harlem, the beaches of Coney Island, and eventually to the bayous of Louisiana. Yet there's a considerable problem to the case: everybody Harry interviews soon ends up dead in spectacularly grotesque fashion, with the local cops fingering him as the number-one suspect. The eclectic British filmmaker Alan Parker has written a satisfying adaptation of William Hjortsberg's brilliant novel Falling Angel (though the adding-on of Louisiana as a locale is a mistake) and directed it extraordinarily well (like Blue Velvet of the previous year, it has a palpable nightmarish intensity). And, unlike the overpraised The Sixth Sense, this is a supernatural horror film with a surprise ending that is both jaw-dropping and contextually sound. As the fallen Angel, Rourke is mesmerizing, riveting, and, in the end, considerably touching; his cry of anguish when Harry finally discovers his true identity is emotionally devastating and will very likely haunt you for days.
3. Lethal Weapon
Mel Gibson and Danny Glover -- outstanding.
Action -- breathtakingly staged by director Richard Donner (a shootout in a Christmas-tree lot is a small classic).
Dialogue -- gut-funny stuff by screenwriter Shane Black ("Where the hell did you get him? Psychos 'R Us?").
Villain -- grade: A (the ever-eccentric Gary Busey is a
marvel as a bleach-blonde mercenary).
What more do you need?
2. Blind Date
Like Lethal Weapon, this is the case of a talented screenwriter (Dale Launer) and director (Blake Edwards) being a match made in cinematic heaven. In his first feature-film starring role, Bruce Willis plays harried, overworked yuppie Walter Davis, whose career is singlehandedly destroyed one fateful night when his luscious blind date (an excellent and sexy Kim Basinger) -- who's not supposed to drink alcohol -- gets soused at the company business dinner, humiliates Walter's boss and potential clients, and gets him quickly terminated. But that's just for starters. Add in the reliably goofy John Larroquette as Basinger's insanely jealous ex-boyfriend who terrorizes Walter, along with an uproarious comic centerpiece at a Bel Air mansion involving a guard dog named Rambo, loose door knobs, and injury-inflicting golf balls, and you've got all the ingredients for a comedy classic that has (unlike most of its ilk) stood the test of time. Edwards's widescreen compositions are more varied and interestingly blocked than usual, and he's learned to milk a gag rather than continuously pound the audience over the head with one. Side-splittingly hilarious and romantically enchanting.
1. Wall Street
The controversial Oliver Stone's best film. Set in New York in 1985, Wall Street serves as a cautionary fable on greed and a reaffirmation of the need for moral values. While preachy and more than a bit overstated in places, it's far and away the most sensationally entertaining film of the year; it manages to give off a filmgoing high, where we're moved by an artist's vision and astounded at their phenomenally adept ability with the camera. Charlie Sheen stars as a talented-but-overeager Wall Street account executive who hungers to do business with the big power brokers; he's not interested in "getting by" but having the "liquid" to possess everything he so desires. Enter corporate raider Michael Douglas (in a smashing, Oscar-winning performance), who takes Sheen under his tutelage; soon, he finds himself (with no kicking and screaming) violating insider-trading laws and indulging in soulless materialism. As you've probably thus far discerned, the dramatic arc is fairly limited, but the innate nature of greed is so well captured by Stone's writing and Douglas' bravura star turn that Sheen's unsurprising character (not to mention, his just-passable acting) doesn't really deter matters; Douglas' ruthless Gordon Gekko is so magnetic and intelligent that it's difficult to see how any young up-and-comer wouldn't be seduced by him. What's amazing about Wall Street is that it mostly consists of taking heads yet is both dynamic and exciting, and Stone deserves kudos for making the interworkings of the stock market comprehensibly lucid and admittedly interesting to the common filmgoer. It's a refreshingly smart film about smart people that contains more energy and narrative drive than ten typical Hollywood action flicks.
Best Picture: Wall Street
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke (Angel Heart, A Prayer for the Dying, Barfly)
Best Actress: Faye Dunaway (Barfly)
Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman (Street Smart)
Best Supporting Actress: Jill Schoelen (The Stepfather)
Best Director: Oliver Stone (Wall Street)
Best Screenplay: Steve Martin (Roxanne)
Best Cinematography: Robert Richardson (Wall Street)