1987 – My Favorite Year for Movies
Article by Paul Preston
Seems impossible to do, pick a favorite year for movies. I know that in 1997 I couldn’t pick a Best Picture of the year out of a dozen quality contenders (it remains a three-way tie between Titanic, Boogie Nights and L.A. Confidential), so how could I pick a favorite year when there have been a hundred to choose from? I finally landed on a favorite movie of all time (Raiders of the Lost Ark), so I convinced myself I could come up with a favorite year.
In the end, it’s all about timing and it’s totally personal. The ‘70s movies were maverick events, taking risks and changing the filmmaking scenery with pioneers like DePalma, Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese, but I’m a child of the ‘80s. I had endless exposure to the 1980s films, plus I worked at a movie theater where I could watch the films again and again and again. The ‘80s gets a lot of crap for being cheesy – the TV shows and music ate it for being weightless in the safe years of the Reagan era, but the ‘80s were a high point for comedies. The Zucker Brothers, John Cusack, John Hughes, Eddie Murphy and Rob Reiner all hit career highs. And much like my favorite movie of all time was crowned partially due to its longevity, so does the favorite year, as we hit the thirtieth anniversary of 365 days of some films that have gone down as legendary, some Oscar winners & blockbusters and mostly films I could put on at any time and be IN until the closing credits. Here are some highlights from the films of 1987:
– BROADCAST NEWS. At the time, the writing in James L. Brooks’ masterpiece take on the news industry was what impressed me most – three distinct and complicated characters in a love triangle set in a TV news station in Washington DC. But what resonates is Brooks’ prescient vision of what was to come in the news industry, that it would become entertainment, style over substance. Sadly, this movie doesn’t have the wide-spread appeal to make it legendary, but I’m leading with it because it’s not just my favorite 1987 movie, but in my top five of all time. Albert Brooks gives the performance of his lifetime, toppling you over with laughter and breaking your heart at the same time, and Holly Hunter’s wound-so-tight-she-cries-at-designated-times-of-the-day producer is her finest hour. Leading with Broadcast News also gives me hope you’ll seek it out as you read this and fall in love with Aaron, Jane and Tom like I did. That’s a thirty year love affair. Pretty good for Hollywood.
– THE PRINCESS BRIDE. OK, this one’s legendary. I risked my job at the movie theater because I would, nearly every screening, leave the lobby unattended to wander into the theater during the biggest laughs to take in the crowd soaking up Miracle Max, “Inconceivable” or the iocane powder trick. The Princess Bride is a fantastical adventure of a princess kidnapping and the farm boy who sets out to rescue her, but there’s equal magic to be had in the story-outside-the-story of Peter Falk’s grandfather character sharing the book of The Princess Bride with his grandson. Director Rob Reiner somehow finds the perfect balance in telling the story with honest-to-god emotion and a loose comedy spirit and although there aren’t many box office sure things in it – you couldn’t ask for a better cast.
– LETHAL WEAPON. A total game-changer in the action movie genre. Richard Donner’s film of Shane Black’s script about a suicidal LA cop and his close-to-retirement partner had many aspects that broke new ground. The crux of the whole movie is Riggs’ contemplation of suicide, early in the story. Mel Gibson brings such depth and intensity to that scene, his pain drives the whole movie. Besides just kick-ass action, Roger is something Riggs needs. He’s lost and a danger to himself, but finds a family in the Murtaughs. Sounds lofty and it is, but Lethal Weapon doesn’t wear this theme out front and that’s why it works. It’s entertaining as hell while the stronger themes work on you from underneath. Gibson and Danny Glover’s chemistry is iconic.
– RAISING ARIZONA. Quite simply one of the funniest movies ever to hit theaters, The Coen Brothers have packed an ungodly number of jokes into ninety-four minutes and, as ever, they master a tone COMPLETELY different than every one of their other films. Irish mob period-speak, turn of the century Southern U.S.A., big city ‘30s slapstick, Midwest nice, it doesn’t matter the setting, location and atmosphere, the Coens bring virtuoso control and detail to every aspect of the film. Lazy, loose Arizona redneck is NAILED in Raising Arizona from the spot-on performances to the banter and hayseed supporting cast. Barry Sonnenfeld’s cinematography is also as loopy and frenetic as the film’s chase sequences, which rival the best serious action movies of any year.
– MOONSTRUCK. Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley was born in The Bronx, and Moonstruck remains one of the best movies about relationships in New York, but for a man of Irish heritage in a film directed by Canadian Norman Jewison, they bring gallons of authenticity to this story of Italians in love. Cher won an Oscar for her performance as a widow caught between two brothers, one of whom is played by Nicolas Cage during his improbable ‘80s run of great performances (see Raising Arizona). The food, the opera, the moon, this is one of the most romantic and funny movies ever made.
Well, there’s a top five, but how could I leave these out?:
FULL METAL JACKET. If you want to know how Stanley Kubrick makes a movie his own, watch any movie about The Vietnam War, then watch Kubrick’s pressure cooker of a film.
FATAL ATTRACTION. Probably the best movie of all time about adultery and all its complexities and suffering. Say what you will about the ending, the majority of this movie is provocative without acting that way. It just IS uncomfortable.
THE UNTOUCHABLES. Costner in top form, an Oscar-winning role for Sean Connery, Brian DePalma returning to form helming a script by David Mamet with Ennio Morricone providing the score. It’s a convergence of excellence.
WALL STREET. Oliver Stone’s drama has the classic line, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed works.” Stone called it out and it’s been nothing but more of the same from Wall Street ever since. Outstanding performance not only from Michael Douglas, but also Martin Sheen in a supporting role.
ROXANNE. Steve Martin was robbed of an Oscar nod in a film that could be used as a “Best Of” for his career.
THE BIG EASY. Dennis Quaid was also overlooked for his sizzling role as a New Orleans cop caught in a plot of crooked partners. His scenes with Ellen Barkin are hotter than the temperatures in NOLA itself.
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES. Watch this every Thanksgiving and laugh your ass off while the John Candy performance grows more and more on you until your heart breaks.
STAKEOUT. There may not be a more entertaining, good time cop movie than Stakeout.
Let’s not forget the movies that have embedded themselves in film lore forever – Predator, Robocop, Dirty Dancing, The Lost Boys, Spaceballs, La Bamba, Three Men and a Baby, Good Morning, Vietnam and Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn.
While making this list, I realized 1987 saw a doubling up of some of its best actors – Holly Hunter (Broadcast News, Raising Arizona), Nicolas Cage (Raising Arizona, Moonstruck), Steve Martin (Roxanne, Planes, Trains and Automobiles), Michael Douglas (Wall Street, Fatal Attraction) and Kevin Costner (The Untouchables, No Way Out). If you haven’t seen these excellent performances, use this article as a to-do list for next time you sit down to stream something.
Oh, and the Best Picture that year, The Last Emperor, is also good, but in this company, of course it’s been forgotten!