Wednesday, May 30, 2018

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Top Ten of 1987

A difficult top ten to make, but here we finally are! In alphabetical order, here were my favorites of the 71 films I screened for the 1987 retrospective.

La Bamba
dir/scr: Luis Valdez
pr: Bill Borden, Taylor Hackford
cin: Adam Greenberg

A biopic of the short-lived teenage singer Ritchie Valens, La Bamba surprises with the equal weight and focus it puts on his whole family: Esai Morales as ne'er-do-well brother Bob, Rosanna De Soto as loving and shrewd momager Connie, and Elizabeth Peña as Bob's baby-momma Rosie. I love the way the film handles cultural identity - Ritchie doesn't speak Spanish and has never been south of the border, but he's still classified as a Mexican...even though his label has him change his name from Valenzuela to something more mass-palatable! Mind, that's just one part as experienced by Ritchie; it's through Bob's experiences that we see the vicious cycle that both keeps Mexican-Americans down and vilifies them for not "trying harder". A keenly-observed, intelligent film, politically and musically. And if you don't fall in crush with Lou Diamond Phillips here, I don't understand you, and I'm not sure I want to.

Broadcast News
dir/scr/pr: James L. Brooks 
cin: Michael Ballhaus

I've written quite a bit about what Broadcast News means to me personally, as well its strengths as a movie in general. So it should be no surprise that it winds up here on my Top Ten. It's great!

The remaining eight after the jump...
dir: John Huston
pr: Wieland Schulz-Keil, Chris Sievernich
cin: Fred Murphy

I always find parties fascinating. A large group of people brought together, related by various means, friends and strangers all, each with their own shit going on, the conversation sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, sometimes including everyone, sometimes between two people in the corner. There's an electricity to these gatherings, a mix of the intimate and the grand. Set at an annual party given by spinster singing sisters in early-20th century Dublin, The Dead is the only movie I've seen to so perfectly capture that magic. It's very much in tune with its time and place, with one character a nationalist on her way to a political meeting and another wishing to return, if just for a moment, to her childhood home in Gallway. There's a great sense of loss throughout - loves long gone, opportunities missed, a way of life ceding its place to the new - in between bouts of dancing, singing, and blushing, drunken laughter. Honest and haunting.

Empire of the Sun
dir: Steven Spielberg
scr: Tom Stoppard
pr: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Steven Spielberg
cin: Allen Daviau

One of Spielberg's best, and considering that filmography...

The Funeral
dir/scr: Jûzô Itami
pr: Seigo Hosogoe
cin: Yonezô Maeda

Itami made his debut as a filmmaker with this comedy about death and the ceremony that follows. Presumably more hilarious if one is more intimately acquainted with Japan, as a Westerner, I got quite the kick out of it: the awkwardness of conversation, the sudden deluge of strangers you're meant to know, the paradoxically giddy atmosphere. There's a moment where the adults are paying due respect to the recently-deceased, on their knees, while the children go about unattended, free to run wild while their parents mind the customs - honey, I've seen it, I've lived it, I know the truth of it! And because Itami disarms us with the truth of his comedy, he has somehow readied us for the more surprisingly serious moment, culminating in a moving eulogy by the deceased's widow, played by Kin Sugai. It is because he is so empathetic that Itami can get away with his wry observations; there's a real love of people to be felt.

dir: Ethan Wiley
scr: Ethan Wiley, original story by Fred Dekker
pr: Sean S. Cunningham 
cin: Mac Ahlberg

Fans of the original House, be warned: the only relation between the two is the title and the inclusion of a Cheers castmember. Where the previous chapter used horrifying demons and zombies to address PTSD and losing a child, this story is more of a family-friendly fantasy about crystal skulls, Aztec treasure, and zombie grandpas of the Ol' West. A favorite of mine since college, I'm happy to report that this one has aged extremely well, a good-natured romp with genuinely funny jokes, creative set-pieces, and unexpectedly affecting messages about family and friendship. Like Xanadu, it proudly wears its sincerity and optimism on its sleeve, refusing to apologize for believing that hey, maybe there is some good in the world. And maybe that good is in the heart of a drunk-driving zombie grandpa who plundered ancient burial sites.

The Last Emperor
dir: Bernardo Bertolucci
scr: Mark Peploe and Bernardo Bertolucci, initial screenplay collaboration by Enzo Ungari
pr: Jeremy Thomas
cin: Vittorio Storaro

I've written plenty about this one already - the script, the score, the directing, the film as a whole - but I do want to add that the performances from this film do not get their due. John Lone finds exactly the right notes of arrogance and humility, Vivian Wu (here known as Wu Jun Mei) brings a spark to a role many other actresses might have found limiting, Ying Ruocheng provides a sturdy dignity for the face of Mao's China, Wu Tao possesses a genuine curiosity, and Peter O'Toole...well, surely I don't have to convince you of his talents! These are just my personal favorites in a strong ensemble that includes Joan Chen, Lisa Lu, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, Dennis Dun, and the great Victor Wong. What a movie!

dir: James Ivory
scr:  Kit Hesketh-Harvey and James Ivory
pr: Ismail Merchant
cin: Pierre Lhomme

Maurice doesn't think it's a revolutionary movie. It doesn't act like a revolutionary movie. Yes, it's about homosexual love in a time when British law would have you jailed for it, and while that very real threat is for the characters, the foremost thing on each of their minds is how to be with the man they love. For some it's an impossibility; some settle for the eternal platonic; some have no loved one, just a series of cruises; and some would rather just be honest. I've always loved how straightforward Merchant-Ivory films are, their lack of fussiness a sign of confidence - in the craft, in the material, in the audience. Maurice is no different. It is what it is and proud of it, and if that's not your thing, your loss. But my God, if passion and wit and humanity aren't your thing, I'm sorry for you.

dir/scr: John Carpenter
pr: Larry J. Franco
cin: Gary B. Kibbe

One of the most disturbing and profound meditations on the connections between and shortcomings of faith and science. I went in not knowing a thing about it except that it was John Carpenter. I highly recommend doing the same. (I did give a fuller review, so feel free to refer to that)

dir/scr: Jûzô Itami
pr: Seigo Hosogoe, Jûzô Itami, Yasushi Tamaoki
cin: Masaki Tamura

Itami continues his satirical yet affectionate view of everyday life with this vignette-filled film about man's relationship with food. Witness the Japanese hierarchy and culture of "saving face" as a fancy business luncheon is dominated by the continental tastes of a subordinate! Thrill at an etiquette lesson upended by a neighboring diner! Chortle as a woman dying from exhaustion gathers the strength to make one last meal for her family! Feel strange stirrings via the erotic adventures of a well-dressed gangster and his orgasmic eating habits! And throughout - Tampopo, the widow with the ramen noodle shop, who with the help of a handsome stranger riding through town, will discover the secrets of the heart...and the noodle. A remarkably transcendent film, spiritually nourishing.

By noon PST (3 EST)...the nominees for the 1987 Retro Hollmann Awards. Find out which of these ten are up for Best Picture of the Year! See you right back here in just a few hours!

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