The Accidental Tourist (1988)

accidental

Starring: William Hurt, Geena Davis, Kathleen Turner, Bill Pullman, Amy Wright

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Summary: An emotionally distant writer of travel guides must carry on with his life after his son is killed and his marriage crumbles

Other Nominations: Supporting Actress (Davis)*, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score

A very low-energy movie, although its themes about how you can organize and plan everything to precision, but it will either lead you into a rut, being unable to deal with unpredictability in life and also unable to see the forest for the trees are well-executed although the whole presentation feels tedious at time. Hurt exhibits the same level of passion for most of this film as he does in Lost in Space (https://youtu.be/nTIA3yuHmKM?t=14s), except this time it’s intentional. However, I would say at times he looked more sleepy than depressed and this was the weakest of his streak of Best Picture nominee performances. Davis is the lead actress and shouldn’t have been nominated for lead; that is, if she were to be nominated at all, which I don’t think she should have. Davis didn’t get nominated for a Golden Globe, nor for any other awards, yet won here. After watching the other movies, I probably would have given to Frances McDormand for a film we’ll look at later. The big highlight for me is the score (from John Williams in an unusual assignment), which has a richness and depth that’s lacking in most romance-oriented dramas. Skippable, especially because of the first half which didn’t do a lot for me.

Rating: C

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Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

dangerous

Starring: John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman, Keanu Reeves, Swoosie Kurtz

Director: Stephen Frears

Summary: Rich and bored aristocrats in Rococo France play high-stakes games of passion and betrayal

Other Nominations: Actress (Close), Supporting Actress (Pfeiffer), Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score, Art Direction*, Costume Design*

A lot of the movie is smutty, but it’s themes and main characters (in addition to its high-art aesthetic trappings) elevate it to something more. It does a nice job of delving into gender roles (on a historical level, but still relevant today) and power plays between men and women that devolve into nothing but one upmanship and ultimately self-destruction. Close and Malkovich are entertaining and charismatic bastards, both with good performances and even Keanu Reeves (in a pre-”Bill and Ted” performance) isn’t that bad-you would expect the worst for him in a period piece, but the role calls for him to be awkward and out of his element in comparison to his peers and does that perfectly for obvious reasons. The movie finishes on a strong note with Close earning her nomination in those scenes alone, and it ends up being a quality effort overall.

Rating: B

Mississippi Burning (1988)

mississippi

Starring: Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey

Director: Alan Parker

Summary: FBI agents investigate the murders of civil rights workers in 1964 Mississippi

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Hackman), Supporting Actress (McDormand), Film Editing, Sound, Cinematography*

This is a very white-centric civil rights movie-I can’t name a single definable character trait or even the name of a black character in the movie. To a degree, it loses sight of whose rights, freedoms and safety were at stake since none of the oppressed have a voice in the movie and everything is about the white FBI agents coming in and solving their problems. The other big issue is that the movie is almost nothing but bombast: the movie is a relentless stream of houses and churches being burnt down, people being beaten, lynched and/or killed, big dramatic marches and courtroom scenes. The score really doesn’t help here, as it’s constantly pounding and dramatic. As a result, we have scenes that would be centerpieces in a more restrained film instead not standing out at all.

For the positives, I will say that as a by-product of all that bombast, it wasn’t boring and reasonably held my interest throughout. Also, I liked Hackman a lot-he’s charismatic and reminds me of Popeye Doyle with his some of his roughest edges sanded down and not as dark a heart. This was also a breakout performance for McDormand, who exudes a quiet dignity throughout as one of the few decent people in the town who is willing to put something on the line because it’s the right thing to do. This is hard to rate, as I put a lot of value in not being bored, but it’s problems are too substantial to overlook and it’s insights on racial hatred are purely surface level.

Rating: C-

*Rain Man (1988)*

rainman

Starring: Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, Valeria Golino

Director: Barry Levinson

Summary: A con artist discovers he has a wealthy, autistic brother

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Hoffman)*, Original Screenplay*, Film Editing, Original Score, Art Direction, Cinematography


It’s clear that Hoffman put a lot of thought and effort into his performance and he deserved his Academy Award. Based on my experiences with autistic children at least (although none were autistic savants), it feels plausible and authentic as someone on the autism spectrum. Cruise also plays his role as a frustrated and detached man abily and knows that he shouldn’t try to upstage Hoffman who has the showcase part, and he has to provide the whole emotional core of the movie. On the other hand, despite the performances themselves being great, I didn’t feel a lot of attachment to the characters until near the end and that’s probably the film’s biggest failing.

This is very much a road-trip movie with a series of situations (most of which weren’t all that important to the story individually) rather than a real linear plot. While this isn’t inherently bad, there were a lot of scenes in the middle that didn’t feel like they needed to be there-that they either advance the plot or build the characters and their relationship in some appreciable way. I will say that the last act of the movie was by far the strongest and wrapped up the film nicely. Overall, there’s some memorable performances here and it finishes strong, but a better screenplay could have made this a classic instead of just good.

Rating: B

Working Girl (1988)

working

Starring: Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack, Oliver Platt, Kevin Spacey, Olympia Dukakis

Director: Mike Nichols

Summary: An ambitious secretary climbs up the corporate ladder by taking over when her boss breaks her leg

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Griffith), Supporting Actress (Cusack), Supporting Actress (Weaver), Original Song (“Let the River Run”)*

Good rom-com-dram about the difficulties of women trying to climb the corporate ladder in the (even more in the 80s) male-dominated corporate ladder. The basic plot feels like something out of a 40s screwball comedy, it’s just played a little more serious. The screenplay works really well from a structural level-every scene feels like it’s necessary, either moving the plot forward or telling us more about the characters and the world/culture they inhabit; the only downside is that everything plays out exactly how you expect 95% of the time. The cast is strong (although Platt, Spacey and Dukakis all only have one-scene roles, with Spacey’s being particularly memorable), and Griffith gives what is almost certainly the best performance of her career. She really makes great use of her voice and speaking style to indicate where her character is at in a given scene and is wonderfully likeable throughout. While there’s nothing truly exceptional here, this was a very easy and enjoyable watch.

Rating: B

1988 in Review

One Notable Film from 1988

Grave of the Fireflies is an amazing and draining movie that’s hard to watch more than once; My Neighbor Totoro is pure charm; however, since I recently highlighted a Studio Ghibli film in 1984, I decided to go in a different and talk about a film by one of my personal favorite filmmakers: it’s Errol Morris’ classic documentary, The Thin Blue Line.

It tells the story of Randall Adams, a hitchhiker who hoped in a (unbeknownst to him, stolen) car that ended up getting pulled over by cops for the headlights being off at night, and one of the men in the car ended up murdering an officer. Adams was charged with murder despite there being far more evidence pointing to the 16 year-old driver being the killer, likely because Adams was an adult and could be charged with the death penalty whereas the driver could not. Adams was convicted, but due in large part to this film’s searing indictment of the investigation and prosecutorial misconduct, he was released from prison after serving for 12 years. Morris’s documentary was one of the first to look at the seedy underbelly of the justice system, and in a way few have investigated since-not from a racial aspect, but from a vengeance perspective: the idea that someone “needs to pay” for a heinous crime, even if there are serious doubts about the guilt of the person the police has presented to the jury. This is why the prosecution will always emphasize how grisly the nature of the crime was in a murder case-even though it has nothing to do with whether the person is innocent or guilty, it’s an attempt to convince the jury that there needs to be retribution and if they find not guilty, then it’s likely no one will pay for this heinous act.

Despite it getting immediate acclaim and now being considered one of the greatest documentaries of all-time, it was not nominated for an Academy Award because it contained a couple of reenactment scenes; yeah, the Oscars can be stupid about these kinds of things a lot of the time, and the Academy changed policy as a result of its non-inclusion. Morris would eventually get his due in 2003, when he won an Oscar for his equally excellent The Fog of War: Eleven Lesson from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.

Other Notable Films from 1988

Stand and Deliver

A Fish Called Wanda

Distant Voices, Still Lives

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Die Hard

Beetlejuice

Big

Akira

Bull Durham

Cinema Paradiso

Grave of the Fireflies

My Neighbor Totoro

The Naked Gun

They Live

1988 Nominees in Review

Working Girl: B

Rain Man: B (Won Best Picture)

Dangerous Liaisons: B

The Accidental Tourist: C

Mississippi Burning: C-

I wouldn’t have had a problem with Rain Man, Working Girl or Dangerous Liaisons winning Best Picture, as they’re all of similar quality, although in very different ways, with Working Girl being the most consistent but having the least exceptional qualities, to Rain Man which hit the highest highs in different departments, but was the most uneven. Regardless, nothing stood out to me as exceptional in 1988’s field, and the other two nominees weren’t movies I wouldn’t ever have an inclination to watch again.

To close out the decade, we’ve got the following slate of films: This film’s star was actually born only a day away from making the film’s title accurate; Liam Neeson was originally cast in the lead, which would have made for a very different movie than the one we got starring Robin Williams; One of only two movies since 1933 that won Best Picture despite not getting nominated for Best Director; Burt Lancaster’s final film; and the first appearance of “Daniel-Day Lewis, crazy method actor”, this time resulting in two broken ribs and people having to feed him during production.