The film year we've just concluded could, in some ways, try the patience of an oyster. It was marked by a deluge of films, enough to make banner Variety headlines, but probably a quarter of those films, and maybe more, were the sort that you forget before you're out of the parking lot, with any luck.
The good films came in waves, and in the early part of the year some of those waves came from Britain. To these eyes the very best from Britain is the film in the No. 1 slot below; but there were also such strong personal movies as "Rita, Sue and Bob Too," "Withnail and I," "Wish You Were Here" and, for some, "Prick Up Your Ears" and "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid." The year also marked a first-to-my-memory Welsh film, "Coming Up Roses," in a mysterious-sounding, quite wonderful language which resembles someone gargling in Russian.
The American independent movement, which flexed some very impressive muscles last year, seemed more to be marking time than forging ahead in 1987. However, there were some exceptional memories: "Waiting for the Moon," "Working Girls," "Sherman's March," "Matewan" and that starry curtain call, "The Whales of August." Among the forces that shape the films in our future, 1987 marked the end of David Puttnam's short-lived and adventurous studio regime and an unprecedented scattering to the winds of all the people connected with him. Retribution of that kind can't help but make one worry for the talents and the eclectic projects that may have been lost in its wake.
International politics touched the film scene as glasnost became manifest in such Soviet-made eye-openers as the widely heralded "Repentence" and the less splashy but equally outspoken "My Friend Ivan Lapchine" and "Scarecrow." And Richard Attenborough used the power of the screen to register a cry of outrage at South Africa's policies of apartheid in "Cry Freedom," a film more heartfelt than thought-out.
Sexual politics had their day too, as "Fatal Attraction" became the buzz-movie for far longer than its shrewdly calculated characters warranted. Shrill and silly, filled with oddly twisted righteousness, it preyed on subliminal fears about what career women really are: insatiable predators. In the rush to see this one, a more thoughtful and better-acted variation on the same theme, "Someone to Watch Over Me," got lost in the shuffle.
It was also a big year for the big film. "Cry Freedom" certainly didn't limit any of its horizon-filling crowd scenes and "The Last Emperor" and "Empire of the Sun" probably put more Chinese bodies in motion than any event since The Long March. Bigger was perhaps more eye-filling but not necessarily better. John Huston used only 83 minutes and a cast of less than two dozen to make a masterpiece of James Joyce's novella, "The Dead."
Oddly enough, in the face of all this hyperinflation, some of the very nicest films were small scale, singular and without precedent. And they were literate. If these best films of 1987 proved anything, they underlined the power of words, and in a great many cases, those words were by writer-directors (from the list below, try Woody Allen, John Boorman, James Brooks, Lasse Holstrom, Stanley Kubrick, Barry Levinson, Louis Malle) or even writer-director-producers. That would seem to suggest--in addition to an outrageous concentration of talent in one person--a certain steely desperation on the part of writers who realize that the only way they can protect their words is to escort them onto a sound stage themselves.
If I had any wish, it would be for another position in my list of 10 best pictures, in order to squeeze in a film which probably provided more people--me included--more pure pleasure than any movie I can remember in decades: "Dirty Dancing." But the rule of 10 has to stand, or we'd find ourselves with a Best 40, and rising.
So--to the list, intensely personal, as always, in order of preference:
1--"Hope and Glory"--John Boorman's look at World War II through the eyes of the 7-year-old he had been at that time, really seemed to have it all: humor, heart, irony, performances, scenes of the purest cinema, an extraordinarily calibrated sense of time, place and Empire and an elegance of structure that is underlined at the close when the family string quartet tackles a little Mozart.
2--"The Dead"--For John Huston at 81 to have left this subtle, ribald, soaring magnificence as his final legacy seems unprecedented. Rich with a sense of the real Ireland and the depths of the James Joyce novella on which it's based, "The Dead" had a sterling cast of great Irish actors, as well as two lucid bits of invention which made it work even more powerfully on the screen.