Shyamalan Week: The Spiritual Trilogy

Introduction

With After Earth being released this week it struck me that the timing was good to revisit not only some of M. Night Shyamalan‘s films but also some old pieces I wrote about him or his works that have not yet made their way over to this site.

This particular piece is brand new, however, and the thought occurred to me after having revisited Wide Awake/em>.

Wide Awake and The Spiritual Trilogy

Wide Awake (1998, Miramax)

Wide Awake was released in in 1998, and was a film I was looking forward to seeing at the time. This was based on both the trailer and the fact that I was a fan of Rosie O’Donnell’s at the time (Granted her involvement was slightly oversold, but that’s marketing). Indie films, even ones distributed by Miramax, were not as easy for me to get a hold of so it had to wait until its home video release, but I recall being very taken with the film then. I had not revisited it many times since but still had fond memories of it.

Wide Awake garnered 7 BAM Award nominations, which are my personal year-end picks. Mind you that M. Night Shyamalan would not be a director I knew anything about, or someone most people knew, until The Sixth Sense took off; it was just a reaction to what I saw, no hype, nothing.

Wide Awake is about a grade school boy (Joseph Cross) not only coping with the loss of his grandfather but dealing with very big questions because of it. He is concerned for the fate of this grandfather’s immortal soul, questions his own religion, the existence of God and more things that are not usually the purview of one so young.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

With The Sixth Sense Shyamalan takes a turn towards the supernatural but many of the same answers are being searched for by the young protagonist. Cole Sear, played by Haley Joel Osment, the protagonist of The Sixth Sense has this unique ability to see the dead, he doesn’t know what they want, why they come to him, why they won’t leave him be and what it all means. All he knows for sure is that he’s terrified and trying to understand what the meaning of death is and by inference the meaning of life.

Moving Forward

Praying with Anger (1992, Cinevista)

For many who seek to trace the career of Shyamalan they erroneously trace it back just to The Sixth Sense. However, even my analysis will only go so far. I can assert through an educated guess that The Sixth Sense closes out a thematic trilogy, a period of work Shyamalan had not unlike a painter. His first feature Praying with Anger was filmed in India while he was still an undergraduate.

According to the synopsis it tells the tale of an “Alienated, Americanized teenager of East Indian heritage sent back to India where he discovers not only his roots but a lot about himself.” Praying with Anger has never been readily available on video in the US, or at least it hasn’t been for some time, though it does seem it had one week in one theater in 1992. Myself and many others have been unable to see it, and that is probably by design, it seems rather clear that there was a spiritual, soul-searching phase that kicked off Shyamalan’s career.

The next phase wherein he discussed wanting to make what amounted to feature-length Twilight Zone episodes, would spin-off from The Sixth Sense, but the that film stands a bit apart from the others. Interestingly, while it caps the first theme it also acts as a transitional film to the titles that come. If one is to look at the next three films (Unbreakable, Signs and The Village) there are certainly more commonalities in those three films when removing The Sixth Sense from that grouping.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

This phase notion is one I never really considered, but what I do know is that it can get you pegged. It turns out that the similarities that The Sixth Sense did bear with the next three set some people up. However, I recently mentioned that one of the pitfalls of auteur criticism is just that. You expect things too readily and I never even thought of grouping his first three films. Steven Spielberg tried to dodge pidgeonholes people tried to keep him in for as long as he could. He attempted to avoid films too similar to one another back-to-back until later on in his career with two straight dramas (The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun) or his dark futures (A.I. and Minority Report). Yet, even he had associations dog him. Aliens, for example.

I’m not comparing the two filmmakers, but rather finding one point of comparison: both broke through with a massive hit at a young age that put them under the microscope. Both Shyamalan and Spielberg have had their missteps and their big early hits, and both have had to contend with people attempting to define them. One of the things that Spielberg benefitted from is that he was at the vanguard of director-as-star. With Shyamalan it was an accepted notion that he was lumped into due to his being the creative force behind a worldwide box office smash.

Conclusion

Wide Awake (1998, Miramax)

Essentially, what I am seeking in this series of writings is to merely examine the works more closely. I am not writing a persuasive essay. His films don’t work for some and that’s fine, but I am also not coming from an over-rationalizing fanboy’s perspective either. I later on connected Wide Awake and The Sixth Sense. All I knew about The Sixth Sense as it was looming was that it looked good and I wanted to see it. After I had I recognized that name in the credits, and checked the IMDb. So in some ways I was a lot like other people discovering who he was and what his voice at the time was. I just already had a track record with his work is all.

Essentially, if you’re going to look at the trajectory of his career his first three films, the actual first three films and I believe have to be looked at as one unit. Call it a cinematic coming-of-age if you will. In the next three he’s exploring a particular milieu and genre. From that point on he’s been branching out and we will get to those in due course.

Advertisements

Children in Films Blogathon: A Revisionist Look at the Juvenile Award

When I learned of the Child Actor Blogathon at Comet Over Hollywood, I had two ideas for it almost right away: the Jackie Searl spotlight and this one. Not too long ago I argued for why the Juvenile Award should be re-instated. In this post I will follow up on that notion to augment my case. It’s one thing to quickly cite who won while it was around and state it never should have left, it’s quite another to show you who would have had they never gotten rid of it. Now I have decided to illustrate that in three ways, including some omissions found when it was instated (it’ll make more sense when we get there, trust me). First, I will list the young actors who since the end of the award (after 1961) were nominated for an Academy Award.

These actors obviously, had there still been a Juvenile Award, would have won that. While on occasion they were awarded the prize, more often than not they didn’t have a realistic chance. Regardless, their nomination was deemed prize enough it would seem, but I disagree and as you will see there have been plenty of instances where the Juvenile award could have been handed out either in addition to or in place of the nomination.

Based on Academy Award nominations from 1961-Present:

Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Fox Searchlight)

2012 Quvenzhané Wallis Beasts of the Southern Wild
2010 Hailee Steinfeld True Grit
2007 Saoirse Ronan Atonement
2006 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine
2002 Keisha Castle-Hughes Whale Rider
1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense
1993 Anna Paquin The Piano
1979 Justin Henry Kramer vs. Kramer
1977 Quinn Cummings The Goodbye Girl
1976 Jodie Foster Taxi Driver
1973 Tatum O’ Neal Paper Moon
1968 Jack Wild Oliver!
1962 Patty Duke The Miracle Worker
Mary Badham To Kill a Mockingbird

Personal Selections

Super 8 (2011, Paramount)

In 1996, when I was 15 and the young actors of the day where my contemporaries, I started making my own award lists. Being young myself at the time I wanted to recognize young actors where most awards excluded them more often than not. These selections reflect those that were my among my BAM award selections that were eligible and the Academy bypassed. Prior to 1996, I thought of significant performances that were worthy of noting and would’ve had a strong case for the Juvenile Award had it been around.

2012 Rick Lens Kauwboy

This one is highly unlikely as Kauwboy wasn’t shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film prize. However, the fact that it was the official selection for The Netherlands did make it eligible.

My young actress choice last year, Sophie Nélisse, was a year off from the Oscar calendar but also a strong possibility for Monsieur Lazhar.

2011 Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Riley Giffiths Zach Mills, Gabe Basso Super 8

It figures that both the best young ensemble, and perhaps individual performance, of the past 25 years got overlooked. So they are all honored here.

2009 Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

2008 Bill Milner and Will Poulter Son of Rambow

A slight wrinkle here from my original selection. Since the Academy set precedent of awarding tandems, why not do so here as well?

2005 Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds

2004 Freddie Highmore Finding Neverland

My 2004 winner was one where I was awarding a film from 2003, due to my stand on release dates, which is different than the Academy’s. Having said that I then had to factor in both my nominees and who the Academy would be more likely to pick and decided if they chose anyone it would have been Highmore.

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Haley Joel Osment Pay It Forward

1998 Vinicius de Oliveira Central Station

1997 Joseph Ashton The Education of Little Tree

Here’s another interesting case: my winner was in a TV film which the Academy would never honor. Then two more nominees were either shifted due to my interpretation of release date rules and one erroneously in my revisionist phase. That leaves two eligible: Dominic Zamprogna in The Boy’s Club and Joseph Ashton in The Education of Little Tree. Some people besides me actually saw the latter so I’d put that one up as a winner.

1996 Michelle Trachtenberg Harriet the Spy
Lucas Black Sling Blade

Michelle was my actual winner in 1996. Sling Blade in my awards was shifted to 1997 due to its release date. It being an Oscar nominated film make it a more likely retrospective candidate.

My Girl (1991, Columbia Pictures)

This section marks personal selections prior to my picking extemporaneous year-end awards.

1994 Elijah Wood The War

I recall watching E! and hearing there was some buzz being stirred by the cast/studio for Elijah. I knew it would never happen, but it was deserved buzz.

1992 Maxime Collin Leolo

I have since expunged them but for a time I did backtrack BAM Award to back before they started. Some of these picks reflect those findings.

1991 Anna Chlumsky My Girl

1990 Macaulay Culkin Home Alone

Say what you will, but you know if the award was around that this would have happened.

1988 Pelle Hvengaard Pelle the Conqueror

1987 Christian Bale Empire of the Sun

1986 River Phoenix Stand by Me

1983 Bertil Guve Fanny and Alexander

1982 Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

1979 Ricky Schroeder The Champ
David Bennent The Tin Drum

1972 Nell Potts The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

Who Should Have Gotten One But Didn’t

No Greater Glory (1934, Columbia Pictures)

I honestly almost scrapped this section. However, looking back through young nominees I noticed the discrepancy that some young nominees did not get a Juvenile Award while there was one. So I figured while I was at it I’d list a few notable performances that didn’t get recognized. Those that “didn’t need one” since they were nominated as in their respective categories against adult competition have denoted those with an asterisk.

1956 Patty McCormack The Bad Seed*
1953 Brandon deWilde Shane*
1952 Georges Poujouly Forbidden Games
1941 Roddy McDowall How Green Was My Valley
1936 Freddie Bartholomew Little Lord Fauntleroy
1934 George Breakston No Greater Glory
1931 Jackie Cooper Skippy*

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: The Directors (Part 8 of 17)

This is a recapitulation of a paper I did in college. This is part eight in the series to read other parts go here.

When discussing the 1980s no director stands out more prominently than does Steven Spielberg. Just looking at his repertoire of films from the decade and we can see his artistry was ever-expanding. He had blockbusters in the Indiana Jones trilogy and also with the incredibly sensitive and heart-felt E.T. He also started to venture into uncharted territory. I truly admire directors who are always looking to change to make a departure so to speak, and Spielberg was always willing to do that. Even while E.T. was a success he had Poltergeist in general release, which was a supernatural horror film. It was E.T. that did it for him. It was his biggest hit to date and it allowed him to create his own production company, Amblin Entertainment.


After his second Indy film he started work on his first drama and it’s one of his better efforts called The Color Purple. There was much critical uproar over Spielberg handling a story about African-Americans. Regardless of that it’s a great film that works beautifully and like most of his films has a triumphant theme. His next film was also a drama but here we saw World War II from a difficult angle. In Empire of the Sun Spielberg beautifully documents the travails of a lost British child. This is Spielberg’s first wartime opus and the war is less involved in the events of this film than in other films and it works fantastically. The film received much critical praise including in the international media, which called this his most European film. After the third and final Indy film, for the time being, he did a remake called Always. Spielberg would continue to change from film to film doing whatever he wanted. He then went on to the much maligned but absolutely magical Hook in ’91. Then came Jurassic Park, which was in all likelihood what helped him start up DreamWorks.


Steven Spielberg was the ideal director for the 1980s. Most of the films I’ve talked about were Amblin Productions. Spielberg was producer of Young Sherlock Holmes, The Money Pit, An American Tail, Harry and the Hendersons, Innerspace, *batteries not included and Back to the Future Part II amongst others. All of these films are adventurous, family-oriented and fantastical in some way or another. Steven Spielberg’s worked has only improved and multiplied in the 90s. He was also the standard setter in the 80s whereas everyone was trying to emulate his style but none really could.

Beetlejuice (1988, Warner Bros.)

Lucas’ impact has already been noted with the Star Wars films and co-authoring the Indiana Jones series but stylistically few directors were more noticeable than Tim Burton. His first break into the big time was directing Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, a quirky film about a child-like adult’s search for his lost bike. The film surprised everyone and spawned a Saturday morning program. Burton’s flair for the quirky and unusual and his visual sensitivity got even more free-range in his next project, Beetlejuice. Not only is this one of the most original films I’ve seen but the cinematography, particularly in the after-world sequences with the sandworms, is fantastic. In Beetlejuice we follow the tale of a couple that has recently died and they try to scare the new residents of their house out. Michael Keaton delivers one of his best performances as the gross and irreverent title character and this film too was spun-off into a cartoon.

Wall Street (1987, Columbia/Tri Star)

Oliver Stone is one of the best directors out there right now [as of this writing]. He’s very different from most directors at any point in time because he’s more willing to be political than most American directors. The film that put him on the map was Salvador, which deals with Panama at a time when Reagan looked upon all of South and Central America as his toys. He then had his two anti-Vietnam films being Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, which are powerful and stirring accounts. I do believe that every good director has a bit of good fortune in their timing every once in a while. Spielberg released Minority Report when privacy and surveillance are big issues, and Oliver Stone came out with Wall Street a year after Ivan Boesky and Dennis Levine plead guilty of insider trading and just a few months after the stock market crash of 1987. Daryl Hannah’s pathetic performance aside, this one of his best films and it’s the most emblematic of the 80s, in a negative Oliver Stone-like way. Money leads to these characters downfall and it practically tears a family apart. We get Michael Douglas playing one of his most memorable characters, Gordon Gekko, delivering that fabulous speech, which Stone seems to know how to write, starting off “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Gordon Gekko is the 80s captain of industry. Combine him and Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl and you have the ultimate cold-hearted capitalist.


The 1980s was more a decade of individual films than of directors. There weren’t a bunch of auteurs walking around but there were plenty of movies coming from all over the place. There were but a handful of powerful filmmakers, these were the foremost.

Work Cited and Footnotes: Otavio Frias Filho “Spielberg” pp. 214-220. Folha Conta 100 Anos de Cinema. Ed. Amir Labaki. Imago Editora: Rio de Janeiro, 1995.

-“Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” had probably the best set design I’ve seen on television.

-Despite the quality of the film, Beetlejuice, the cartoon series is one of the worst piece of junk I ever saw all the jokes were in pun form, who wrote that?

Best of Spielberg

Here’s a second installment of a list idea I’m borrowing from Brian Saur. Here I will discuss the films of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is probably my favorite director of all time. I did an Ingmar Bergman list first, in part to track what I still needed to see. With Spielberg my impetus was to finally be up to date on his narrative features, which sadly I wasn’t.

As with any list, rankings may make thing seem worse than they are. There are 30 films on this list. Make no mistake I like 28 of them and am a snarky fanboy on one, and three have at one point been my all-time favorite, including my current number one (if pressed to answer). Here goes…

30. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World (1997, Universal)

This is the sequel Spielberg supposedly gave Universal so they’d leave E.T. alone. That’s almost enough to bump it past last place but I can’t. Even though I loved the score and effects it was still one of the worst, most confounding thing I saw that year. The third film and news of a fourth have softened that hurt, but seeing newly-introduced annoying character and the follow-up to my then favorite film of all-time relegated to a Godzilla/King Kong knock-off hurt.

29. 1941 (1979)

1941 (1979, Universal/Columbia)

I did try to like this. My professor tried to get me to like it. I just don’t. Spielberg doesn’t care much for it either and has moved on to bigger and better things.

28. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, Paramount)

Nuking the fridge only happened in one scene people, Shia LaBeouf had many more scenes than that and Cate Blanchett seemed uncomfortable. Spielberg has since honestly confessed what his reservations were about this film. Hopefully that molds a better fifth film should it occur, though he certainly doesn’t need there to be one.

27. Amistad (1997)

Amistad (1997, Universal)

As oddly engaging as Spielberg’s restraint in Lincoln is, if memory serves, there was an attempt at such here too that doesn’t work quite as well. I remember Honsou and Hopkins impressed but not much else.

26. The Terminal (2004)

The Terminal (2004, DreamWorks)

Unlike Catch Me If You Can, which appears shortly, I wasn’t even compelled to go out and see this one theatrically. It’s an interesting and well-handled idea that I can indentify with on a few levels but it’s just not one of his best.

25. Twilight Zone: The Movie (segment 2) (1983)

The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983, Paramount)

I saw this recently also and Spielberg’s segment fits him to a tee (residents of a retirement home become young again) and is the second best in the anthology in my estimation behind Joe Dante’s zany one.

24. Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist (1982, Paramount)

One can debate the nuances and politics of whether Spielberg really directed this. To be brief: I have it on good authority that he directed most of it and just didn’t take the credit because he couldn’t per DGA rules at the time. This is a title where I could rant and rave childishly about how “My opinion is different than yours!” but I won’t. Poltergeist is fine, it just never had a tremendous amount of impact on me.

23. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, Paramount)

To address the white elephant in the room: I do not have any issue with the character of Shortround whatsoever. Temple of Doom lands here more for being the third best in the series and Kate Capshaw than anything else.

22. Catch Me if You Can (2002)

Catch Me If You Can (2002, DreamWorks)

This is one of those that falls into the category of “There’s nothing really wrong with it, I just can’t get into it.”

21. The Sugarland Express (1974)

The Sugarland Express (1974, Universe)

This is an unusual but involving one with a great turn by a young Goldie Hawn.

20. Always (1989)

Always (1989, Universal)

This one film I finally saw last year so as I could finally create this list. I had avoided it because in clips and trailers you could not get a sense of the totality of the film. It is Spielberg’s first remake, but it’s a fairly well modernized one that features Audrey Hepburn‘s final performance.

19. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Columbia)

Spielberg has said that the end of this film dates him as a filmmaker. I understand his point entirely but he does set it up very well. Also, in a bit of fanboy wish-fulfillment, I’d suggest the end of this film and the end of E.T. swap, but it is a very visual and evocative film with the added bonus of an acting-only participation by François Truffaut.

18. Hook (1991)

Hook (1991, Columbia)

The mark of a great director is making something that seems illogical, that shouldn’t be able to work, work. This is his best example ih that regard.

17. Minority Report (2002)

Minority Report (2002, DreamWorks)

If Robopocalypse, or something like it, ever comes to fruition it would complete a Dark Future Trilogy for Spielberg, which may seem antithetical to his ethos but something he said he’s not averse to when discussing A.I.

16. Munich (2005)

Munich (2005, DreamWorks)

I welcome departures from directors. Spielberg is perhaps more underrated in terms of his diversity than any other director. His hits and classics have commonalities to them such that it makes people think he repeats himself constantly. These two selections shake that notion massively. Munich is a dark film, where there can be no happy endings. It’s a chillingly rendered tale of an ugly incident in history that cannot be buried.

15. Lincoln (2012)

Lincoln (2012, DreamWorks)

Lincoln almost isn’t a Spielberg film, it plays with such classical restraint and removal that it’s almost anti-auteurish, but it’s still very engaging and convincing.

14. War of the Worlds (2005)

War of the Worlds (2005, Paramount)

I think this film might get overlooked in part because it stuck close to the source material, but also because it’s the kind of film Spielberg “should” take on. However, when you consider how often he’s made aliens benevolent a surviving an alien apocalypse tale is a little different for him. That and it’s another rather imperfect family.

13. Jaws (1975)

Jaws (1975, Universal)

Here’s where rankings can get you in trouble. Jaws is great. I have nothing I can say against it, except the intangible “I like other works in Spielberg’s canon a lot better.” I have and can see Jaws many times over. It’s just a matter of preference when you start slotting them.

12. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Paramount)

Yes, the Indiana Jones and the was later tacked on. Spielberg and Lucas have combined perfectly three times in this series. They take a serialized approach to a feature and update classic tropes very well and memorably.

11. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

The Adventures of Tintin (2011, Columbia/Paramount)

When Spielberg is at his best he combines technological innovation with great stories. Although I fell under the spell of seeing motion capture for the first time in The Polar Express, it was imperfectly ahead of his time and didn’t make a jump toward verisimilitude until this film. It’s a very viable tool other animation properties should and could use. Not only that it’s a great take and a global re-introduction of a beloved character. Not many directors go from live action to animation or vice versa, this is a seamless jump.

10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989, Paramount)

I am a fan of the Indiana Jones series, albeit a Johnny Comelately to it, and this is my favorite one. More explanation can be found in the link above.

9. Duel (1971)

Duel (1971, Universal TV)

If there was ever a made-for-TV movie that prove that it’s a meaningless distinction, it’s this one. I have to remind myself it is one. Only once in a hundred times when I think about this movie do I recall that. It’s taut, brilliantly suspenseful and relatably frightening.

8. War Horse (2011)

War Horse (2011, DreamWorks)

War Horse is one I need to revisit, but this one vaults up the list due to improbability. Spielberg is one of the directors I go out and see regardless, however, I didn’t expect much here. I was anxious for Tintin, but this one shook up my whole best of the year list. Very surprisingly emotional and engaging.

7. The Color Purple (1985)

The Color Purple (1985, Warner Bros.)

One of the most embarrassing moments in Oscar history is perhaps the fact that this film is the biggest oh-fer, garnering eleven nominations and no wins. Spielberg created some controversy by even taking this film on. I think the end result proved he could do it and paved the way for his more mature dramatic works later on.

6. Empire of the Sun (1987)

Empire of the Sun (Warner Bros.)

I saw this in 2002 just after having taken my Spielberg course. I hadn’t really heard of it ’til then. It was referenced as Spielberg’s “most European film” by my professor and one that I began anticipating in A.I.-like fashion, which should’ve set me up for disappointment, but didn’t. It’s dense and takes some wading but when you get there it’s special. Not to mention there’s a brilliant performance by a young Christian Bale.

5. Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler's List (1993, Universal)

The next two films are ones that I really admire, have great affection for, but am leery to revisit because they are taxing experiences. However, they’re important and I hope their legacy continues through oncoming generations. A while ago, I recall I saw a kid picking up Schindler’s List at a video store and it was heartwarming, as I saw a burgeoning cineaste.

4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan (1998, DreamWorks)

It took me a while to see this one. The tale of saving the last surviving brother is the MacGuffin, a very Spielbergian one. However, the reaction I had to this film, though very different than many of his works, was one of the strongest I had. It was a new aesthetic for him and in many ways a revolutionary work.

3. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Nearly any child of the 80s grew up on Spielberg films. I will be doing a focus on Disney, which I surmise that unless you saw re-releases and VHS tapes you weren’t getting the golden age of that studio. However, if you grew up in the 80s, regardless of who you were, odds are every few years Spielberg changed your life. E.T. is an imaginary friend come true, it’s not necessarily always an alien, but many of us were Elliot, which is what makes it resonate.

2. Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Suffice it to say that upon its release, when I was still quite young, this was probably the most amazing theatrical experience I’d ever encountered. I’ve found myriad great films since then but this one has not lost its luster in the slightest. When I first saw it, this was the greatest film of my lifetime. It was the dream of every dinorsaur-loving child brought to life for better and for worse.

1. Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (2001)

Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (2001, DreamWorks)

I’ve already written a tome about this film, which I have posted on this site in installments. Making a new or different case for it would be nearly pointless.

My Year in Film: 1987

So here’s another retroactive list from me. I think it’s safer to assume that this one is more tinged with nostalgia than the 1994 one. In this case, I believe a majority of the films included are ones I saw during or shortly after the year for the most part. Well, in terms of the American releases. Now, in 1987 I was five and six years old, meaning I was just starting my schooling.

I believe most of the films I saw were video or HBO selections. I specified American films above because there are some great foreign titles, that need no disclaimer, which I discovered later on that were released in this year. As for the disclaimer: you see what my relative age was when the films came out or when I got to see them, therefore that is your grain of salt. Again, as I did before, I will stress that the way I assemble this list is usually based on its noteworthiness in my estimation and not necessarily its impeachable quality. However, I will discuss that a bit with each film that’s included.

One thing that’s interesting to note is that this post serves a function as a replacement (and possible prelude) to a series I wanted to do this year. If you take 25 years of age as the youngest a film can be to be considered a classic then the film class of 1987 would be eligible this year. It’s interesting to examine what holds up and what doesn’t after all that time.

Some personal entertainment-related milestones for the year include: my favorite thing in the world was ALF (such that I had a lunch box and much more) and if memory serves I was a year away from my first theater-going experience. For I seem to recall that being Bambi and per the IMDb the only re-release I would have memory of occurred in 1988. Also, I don’t think I watched the Super Bowl for another few years but I knew that the Giants had won.

Without further ado, the list, which is in no particular order:

1. Blind Date

Blind Date (TriStar Films)

Of the 80s movies that made Kim Basinger a star, and for a time one of my favorite actresses, I’m not sure I like this more than something like My Stepmother is an Alien, however, both that and this are so hazy in my memory I can’t honestly tell how they hold up, but I remember adoring them at the time and it’s definitely a marker for the year.

2. Amazing Grace and Chuck

Amazing Grace and Chuck (TriStar Pictures)

In a paper I wrote about the 1980s I discussed this film at great length. It was a truncated repost on this site that I’ll start over, however, suffice it to say I think there are few films that are as resoundingly a product of their times than this is. I discovered it much later and love it.

3. Innerspace

Innerspace (Warner Bros.)

I’m not sure it’s possible to chronicle a year in 1980s without including a Joe Dante film. As is the case with a lot of films on this list I haven’t seen them in a while but I think this film, for quite some time, has been overlooked and dismissed unjustly.

4. Roxanne

Roxanne (Columbia Pictures)

This is one of Steve Martin’s best balancing acts between his comedic and dramatic talents. His put-down monologue is fantastic and I still quote: “It must be great to wake up in the morning and smell the coffee…in Brazil” often.

5. The Lost Boys

The Lost Boys (Warner Bros.)

I was a late-comer to the horror genre so I didn’t discover this film until later on. And as if to underline my point, few and far between are those who dislike this film, therefore when I can defend Joel Schumacher I do. You can knock some of his films but not all, not even close.

6. The Monster Squad

The Monster Squad (TriStar Pictures)

The rise to cult status of The Monster Squad is truly amazing and practically unprecedented and I’m a small part of the years later surge in its popularity. I saw it many years after its release on VHS and loved it. I now have it on DVD and I get why it’s adored and also why it flew under the radar in its initial release.

7. The Curse

The Curse (Trans World Entertainment)

As I’ve mentioned previously, few films exemplify the alchemy of horror better than this film. It’s got a lot going against it but it still works very, very well.

8. Hellraiser

Hellraiser (New World Pictures)

I was first introduced to this film in a horror class I took in college. It just keeps getting better with age like a fine wine. It also stands as one of two films that have gotten me literarily smitten with its writer, in this case Clive Barker. I immediately started chasing down his books after seeing this and Candyman in the class.

9. Baby Boom

Baby Boom (United Artists)

Here’s another I’ll admit is cloudy but I do remember watching it quite a bit on HBO back in the day, and I believe that many of the Diane Keaton films I saw were partially a result of this film. Not to mention that as silly as it may be it is also a sign of the times. Women still had some strides that needed making in terms of equality, and this was one of the films and/or shows that was broaching that subject. Perhaps, not the best or most serious but noteworthy nonetheless.

10. Hope and Glory

Hope and Glory (Columbia Pictures)

This is another film I discovered later on and it is also a film that is exponentially better on the big screen. I discovered it on video. I was fortunate enough to see it introduced by John Boorman at BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn. The viewing was very memorable but I’ll be eternally thankful for the response he gave my question about casting a young lead. It helped me a great deal in preparing for an upcoming production.

11. Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (Paramount)

This one is a favorite for so many. As I often say John Hughes created innumerable new templates for story that were used in film and television alike. This one is no exception, while many avoid the twist in the tale the framework has been re-used several times as has The Breakfast Club, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles and so on.

12. Au Revoir Les Enfants

Au revoir les enfants (Orion Classics)

I can’t say I’m a completist with his work but I love Louis Malle. In this film he tells a very personal story and you can feel that throughout the film it’s really its most remarkable quality.

13. Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun (Warner Bros.)

I saw this film many years after its release. I saw it sometime in the summer of 2001. I remember the date specifically because after multiple viewings my opinion of Artificial Intelligence: A. I. had solidified and having had a Spielberg class and hearing things like “this is his most European film” but not being able to see it I was very anxious. Being properly prepared for it in all regards it blew me away. I love it.

14. Wall Street

Wall Street (20th Century Fox)

This film I remember viewing in a high school economics class the first time around. Now there was a slightly more cynical, realistic approach that the teacher employed when discussing it, and he had his motives for showing it but not only was it a victory for me against an attempt pedagogical indoctrination, but I still really enjoyed the film a great deal. That is not surprising as it was during Oliver Stone’s heyday.

15. Throw Momma from the Train

Throw Momma From the Train (Orion)

This is another one I’m far removed from seeing but the premise is outlandish and it’s made to work thanks to the casting of Momma, but then you also have Billy Crystal and Danny Devito working together, so my childish sense of humor (which for the most part remains in tact) adores it.

16. Overboard

Overboard (MGM/UA)

Amnesia it seems was big in the 80s, at least I think it was I can’t remember (I’m so sorry). It was an oft-used theme then it seems but this was the best take. There aren’t many great tandems anymore but this one was a match made in cinematic heaven regardless of material and cheesy posters.

17. The Grand Highway

The Grand Highway (Miramax)

This is a film I discovered quite some time later. I think it’s likely the most overlooked of them all. This film did get a US remake, which I discuss here. I think this is a really great film that more people should see. I wrote about the remake of this film and will re-post that series here.

18. Um Trem Para As Estrelas

Um Trem Para As Estrelas (FilmDallas Pictures)

Another staple on these lists, when I can find one, will be a Brazilian film. This was a pivotal time in Brazil politically as the country was making the always difficult transition from a dictatorial government to a democracy. That serves as the backdrop for this coming of age tale. The film also portraits Brazil’s vibrant pop music scene of the era with many performances by popular artists included. I remember I rented this from Movies Unlimited back when they had a physical location, and while deliberate in pacing I enjoyed it a great deal.

19. Mio in the Land of Faraway

Mio in the Land of Faraway (Miramax)

A lot of funny things and parallels come to mind when there’s mention of this film. First, this seems to be my obligatory Christopher Lee title. Second, here’s Christian Bale’s second appearance on this list, in his neophyte, pre-bad press phase. It’s also strange in that it’s an all English-speaking cast enacting a foreign fairytale, similar to the The Neverending Story with much less press in the US. This one also only was released in the US in 1988. I really do like this film for the narrative, the lead performances, and because it’s good cheese. I can’t argue there’s none here.

20. Pelle the Conqueror

Pelle the Conqueror (Miramax)

In my retroactive BAM days I placed this film as an ’87 release even though it made its splash globally the following year, seeing as how this list is in retrospect I’ll place it here. Not only is this a great film wherein Bille August burst on to the scene but it’s yet another great performance in the career of Max von Sydow. It’s also an incredibly moving film.

21. In a Glass Cage

In a Glass Cage (Cinevista)

If there was ever a director to which the term no-holds-barred applied without question it’s Augusti Villaronga. There are likely synopses that give away only what is necessary to discuss the film, I’d rather spoil nothing about this film except to say this film is not for the faint of heart or the queasy. Even if you’ve seen many films, few are this dark and disturbing. It relishes in making you uncomfortable. It’s likely not a film you’d want to see more than once but perhaps what’s most effective is that it pushes your buttons regardless of what’s happening.

22. Bad

Bad (Epic Records)

Two things straight off the bat: If I could’ve included Madonna I would have but “Open Your Heart” as a video came out in December 1986. As for what a music video is doing on this list, I had a short film in my 94 list and I did write (not yet reposted here) after Jackson’s passing about how his videos were more cinematic than most and in the 80s they were more story-based in general. It may not be quite the production that Thriller is but there’s no bothersome disclaimer at the front and this one was directed by Martin Scorsese so it has more than enough merit to it.

23. La Bamba

La Bamba (Columbia Pictures)

I was, as were many of my classmates, quite literally obsessed with this movie and Richie Valens for quite a long time after it came out.

24. Ernest Goes to Camp

Ernest Goes to Camp (Buena Vista Pictures)

Writing a blurb for a Ernest movie is simple: either you like this character of the late Jim Varney or you don’t. I always liked him even though I saw this film later on.

25. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (Atlantic Releasing Corporation)

Here’s a film that will fall under the memorable category. I fall neither in the cult following of this movie nor the rabid hatred thereof, but I have seen it twice and do recall it was the quest of a friend of mine’s in junior high to obtain this film. It may well have been the seed for my loathing of the concept of something being out of print.

26. Masters of the Universe

Masters of the Universe (The Cannon Group)

Another big deal for me when I was young was He-Man. More so the animated series than this film. Now, I loved it at the time but I have since revisited most, if not all of the series, and the fish out of water approach to the movie while amusing is certainly not why we kids adored the show. It was Eternia and the characters and landscape there. It certainly wasn’t as the quote at the bottom of this poster states the Star Wars of the 80s, I think that was still Star Wars.

27. Dennis the Menace Dinosaur Hunter

Dennis the Menace Dinosaur Hunter (LBS Communications)

There are some things I really loved as a kid that I would come very close to forgetting and then through some nearly miraculous happenstance be reminded of in a very powerful way and my affection would be rekindled. The more notable cases are musical but this film fits that bill. It was a TV project that I know I’ve seen many times but each after nearly having forgotten it existed. I liked, and still do like, Dennis the Menace as a character and I was obsessed with dinosaurs so this film is one I’d naturally gravitate to.

28. Flowers in the Attic

Flowers in the Attic (New World Pictures)

Here’s one that I nearly forgot about as I used the IMDb to jog my memory and somehow I hadn’t voted on this one though I viewed it when I was a rather anal-retentive voter. I saw this film later on and it’s definitely a cult favorite. You either love it or loathe it but perhaps what’s most notable for me is that after having seen it I considered reading V.C. Andrews but when I discovered the author’s name had become and overly-exploited brand name posthumously, I shied away. Perhaps, with an even better interwebs than ever before, I’ll look into her again and see what she actually wrote and what is just attributed to the name.

Thus concludes my journey through 1987 what year I’ll revisit next I know not but may it be as memorable as the first two.