Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The 100 Project: The Top 10 Movies of 1989

1989 ...
the number another summer (get down!)
Sound of the funky drummer
Music hitting your heart 'cause I know you got sooooooooul
(Brothers and sisters, hey)
Listen if you're missin' y'all
Swingin' while I'm singin'
Givin' whatcha gettin'
Knowin' what I know
While the Black bands sweatin'
And the rhythm rhymes rollin'
Gotta give us what we want (uh)
Gotta give us what we need (hey)
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be

- The opening verse to "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy

That's all I've got. That's all I need.

My Top 10 Movies of 1989

  • According to my Letterboxd account I've watched 50 films released during 1989.
  • Of the 10 movies I saw in theaters that year, 4 made my top 10.
  • 3 of my top 10 movies are sequels.
  • 3 movies have a person of color as a protagonist.
  • Unfortunately, none of them are women.

10. Pet Sematary
I first saw this on its opening weekend in a packed theater and had an amazing experience. I've seen at least a half dozen times since and I still have a blast with it. Did I see other "better" movies from 1989 that are not on this list? Sure. Do I have more fun with any of them? Nope. Not at all.

9. Back to the Future II
This might be the most polarizing choice for this year. I've found that people either hate this film with a passion, or believe that it's every bit as good as the original, if not better. I'm among the latter. I love how dark it gets and how it seamlessly weaves in strands from the first movie. It gets bonus points for predicting a good number of things in that part of the future we now call the past.

8. Major League
This is one of my favorite baseball films of all-time. I'm in stitches every time I watch it even though it sticks close to sports movie conventions. That doesn't matter when something is just funny as hell. Of course, whenever I hear the song "Wild Thing" I can't help but picture Charlie Sheen walking out of the bullpen rocking a pair of nerdy looking black specs.

7. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
I'll start by saying that I liked Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but it was a far cry from Raiders of the Lost Ark. For this one, they introduced Sean Connery, went back towards a lighter tone, and voila, got something that might be better than Raiders.

6. Glory
The obvious appeal for me is that it touches on a much under-reported aspect of the Civil War, the involvement of Black soldiers. That was only enough to get me to start watching it. The story and the emotion the cast brought to it is what drew me in. Then, when Denzel defiantly takes a whipping, eyes welling up with every drop of pride and anger built up by all his ancestors and concentrated all of it into a single tear, it became my movie.

5. Harlem Nights
As a young'un I would wait until Mama Dell wasn't home and listen to her comedy albums. Among them were several by Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. Then Eddie Murphy hit it big with albums of his own, the now legendary Delirious special on HBO, and his stand-up film Eddie Murphy Raw. And I had just discovered Robin Harris. All of them are in this movie and make me laugh right from the start. And none of them stand a chance whenever Della Reese is on the screen.

4. Lean on Me
Joe Clark hit the news a year or two earlier, so I was aware of him as I walked into the theater that night. By the time I left, Morgan Freeman was Crazy Joe, er uh Batman, I mean Joe Clark. Throw in a theme song by all-time great Big Daddy Kane, and I couldn't help but love it. Fun fact: this movie introduced me to the word expeditiously.

3. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
The franchise movie before this one, National Lampoon's European Vacation, was great (the Griswolds stuck in a roundabout will forever be funny). The movie before that one, National Lampoon's Vacation, was even better (whose heart didn't break when they got to Walley World?). But when Christmas falls apart? That's the funniest/saddest/funniest thing ever.

2. Batman
This was THE movie event of the year. Period. The Bat Symbol started going up all over New York City, and probably the world, about a year prior. I walked by at least two of them almost every single day. I was already a Bat-fan, and this was amplifying things to unhealthy levels. Thankfully, when I saw it, it did not disappoint.

1. Do the Right Thing
This movie came out 2 weeks after I had left for the Army. By the time I had enough time to see it, a year passed. I loved it, but didn't fully grasp it because I watched it in my company's game room, a room full of drunken soldiers trying to shoot pool, play ping pong, Galaga, and/or get laid while this was playing in the background. A couple more years passed before I finally got to see it in much better conditions. It completely blew me away. Along with all the things this movie is famous for, what made it stick to me more than anything is that this is New York, almost exactly as I experienced it. Every person with any screen time is exactly like someone I remembered vividly. No exception.

Honorable Mentions (alphabetically listed): Dead Poets Society, The Little Mermaid, Road House, sex, lies, and videotape, Tango & Cash, UHF, The War of the Roses


  1. Do The Right Thing is definitely the #1 movie of this year! One of my favorite Bluth films, All Dogs Go To Heaven was released this year too. A lot of nostalgic films for me were, apparently.

    1. Yaaaaaaaaayyy!!!! Don't tell anybody but I haven't seen All Dogs Go To Heaven.

  2. Of the films in the top 10, there's four films in my top 10 based on my list though my #1 pick is sort of a cheat since it's really a TV miniseries that was also featured two segments released as expanded feature-length films. It's amazing that there was so many great films that year and some damn good ones (I liked Back to the Future Part II despite its flaws) in that year yet the Oscars chose one of the dullest films ever made for Best Picture.

    1. You can't leave me hanging! What miniseries was it?

    2. The Decalogue by Krzysztof Kieslowski. 10 stories all based on the ideas of the Ten Commandments.

    3. Wow, haven't heard of that one. Sounds intriguing, but also sounds like a commitment. I'll have to carve out time for that.

  3. Wow you’re blowing right through these years!!

    Not as good a year as 1988 but there were still some fine films released. We share two in our top ten and your number one is in my runner-ups.

    Our two matches-Indy and Glory-could not be more different but both are remarkable in their ways. Indy is an exhilarating thrill ride with a perfectly matched Harrison Ford and Sean Connery (though I always miss Karen Allen’s spunky Marian in these sequels). Glory is profound and enrapturing and far away from the history lesson I had expected when I sat down to watch it the first time. FYI Glory is returning to theatres this weekend via TCM and Fathom events for special showings to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

    You know I’m not a horror guy so Pet Semetary did nothing for me.

    I don’t hate it with a passion but Back to the Future II is my least favorite of the trilogy by many miles.

    Major League was dumb fun but to be honest I don’t think I’ve watched it since that first time in the theatre.

    I found Harlem Nights merely adequate but I’ve always loved Della Reese so I was delighted to see her turn up in it.

    I remember liking Lean on Me when I saw it in the theatre but I have only vague memories of it. I should give it another look, Morgan Freeman is always worth it.

    I don’t love the Vacation movies as much as everyone else seems to. I found them pleasant when I watched them but once was enough for each of them. I do love Beverly D’Angelo.

    You’re right Batman was IT the summer of ’89 and probably the entirety of the year leading up to it. The film is diverting and much closer to the original concept than the TV show but perhaps because I was indoctrinated on Adam West & Burt Ward I wasn’t a major fan of the movie. It’s certainly the best of the Batman films but when it comes down to it I’m more a Spider-Man fella.

    Do the Right Thing is my most recent watch of all your picks. It had been on my list pretty much since its release but with one thing and another I just never got around to it. I came across it just as it was beginning last month and I was able to stop and see it all the way through. A powerful statement immensely well-acted.

    1. I figured I better get a move on if I ever wanted to finish.

      My island seems to be drifting further away when it comes to Back to the Future II.

      I'm a big baseball fan so along with being dumb fun, Major League ticks all my boxes.

      I grew up on the Adam West show, too. I loved the show but was affected in a different way. I was dying to see a darker version of Batman.

      Glad you finally got around to Do the Right Thing and it sounds like you took something from it.

  4. The diversity of our lists shows there was a wide array of choices.

    Steel Magnolias-In a small Southern town a group of longtime friends M’Lynn, Ouiser and Clairee (Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine & Olympia Dukakis) gather regularly at Truvy’s (Dolly Parton) beauty salon sometimes joined by M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby (Julia Roberts) and Truvy’s assistant Annelle (Daryl Hannah) to share the joys, sorrows and gossip of each other’s lives.

    Longtime Companion-The AIDS epidemic is viewed through the prism of its impact on a small group of friends and the loyalty, love and humanity that is forged and strengthened as the group is slowly decimated by the disease. As the government remains indifferent to its spread the gay community bands together to offer support in whatever way they can. At times searingly sad but also balanced with humor and affectingly acted it’s an emotional rollercoaster of a movie but so worth it. Bruce Davison was deservedly nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

    Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-Indy and his dad search for treasure, strengthen their at times rocky bond and give the audience a hell of a good time.

    Field of Dreams-Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is walking through his corn field and hears a voice tell him “If you build it he will come” inspiring him to clear the field and build a baseball diamond which draws the ghosts of many of the greats of the game but Ray feels there is still something unrealized. While it stretches credibility to the limit this has a nostalgic charm and feel good appeal.

    Parenthood-Ron Howard directed comic drama of a group of siblings-Gil (Steve Martin), Helen (Dianne Wiest), Susan (Harley Jane Kozak) and the ne’er do well Larry (Tom Hulce)-their parents (Jason Robards & Eileen Ryan), their somewhat dotty grandmother (Helen Shaw) and their various spouses and offspring (including Mary Steenburgen, Rick Moranis, Martha Plimpton and a very young Joaquin Phoenix) as they navigate the big and little issues of child rearing.

    When Harry Met Sally-Fresh out of college Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) share an argumentative ride from Chicago to New York and gladly split when they arrive. Ten years later they bump into each other by chance and strike up a deep platonic friendship. But can they maintain it?

    Music Box-Successful lawyer Ann Talbot (Jessica Lange) has a close, loving relationship with her émigré father Mike (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Suddenly after nearly 40 years in America the father is accused of horrendous Nazi war crimes. Sure of his innocence she represents him but as the case progresses she begins to wonder if there is more to it than she knows. Slowly their relationship starts to unravel. Jessica was Oscar nominated for her role.

    In Country-Samantha Hughes (Emily Lloyd) lives with her uncle Emmett (Bruce Willis) a vet suffering from both physical and PTS problems in the hope of learning more about her father who was lost in Vietnam. Things progress slowly until they take a fateful trip. A bit rough around the edges but packs an emotional wallop at its resolution.

    Glory-Gripping, intense tale of an all-black regiment during the Civil War. Awesome performances all around.

    An Unremarkable Life- Two elderly sisters, Frances (Patricia Neal) a friendly and sweet self-described maiden lady school teacher and Evelyn (Shelley Winters) a bitter, prejudiced widow have shared a home for 20 years. Having settled into a rhythm of memories and companionship with Evelyn the domineering, decision maker their life is in a steady pattern until Frances meets kindly Asian mechanic, Max (Mako). They slowly fall in love which sends Evelyn, already resentful of Max’s ethnicity, into a combative tailspin and she sets out to end the relationship regardless of her sister’s happiness. Finally a confrontation between the sisters reveals long suppressed resentments and a degree of understanding.


    Do the Right Thing, Gross Anatomy, The Package, Crimes & Misdemeanors

    1. I watched Steel Magnolias at completely the wrong time during my existence. At that time I could not appreciate a film about regular everyday women dealing with life. It bored me. I've grown up a lot since then, but haven't gone back to it yet. Nor have I seen the remake. Both are on my to-do list.

      I have a complicated relationship with Field of Dreams. Despite being a huge baseball fan it wasn't until a couple years ago that I watched it for the first time. And I didn't like it. There were some things I felt didn't quite work together. along with being too schmaltzy for words. I have not revisited yet, but I will eventually. Maybe I'll turn the corner on it.

    2. I have such a soft spot for Steel Magnolias. I saw the original production off Broadway in a tiny theatre called the Lucille Lortel (she was a famous Broadway actress, producer/director and patron of the arts) and though the movie is quite different it's emotional resonance remains intact. The Lifetime remake was A-W-F-U-L!

      Admittedly Field of Dreams has many "Oh come on!" moments and falls on the sugary side but it worked for me, but I've known others for whom it didn't. I do want to give a special shout out though to Burt Lancaster's small gem of a performance as Doc "Moonlight" Graham. It was his final theatrical feature and what a great grace note to close out his career with.

      I couldn't help but notice you didn't mention anything else from my list so I'm guessing you haven't seen any of the rest....not even When Harry Met Sally?

    3. When Harry Met Sally is one I've seen enough bits and pieces of to constitute the entire movie, but I've never sat down and given it a proper watch. I definitely need to do that one of these days.

  5. Have you tried FaceApp? It worked for Anthony.

  6. Gosh I still have to see Do The Right Thing-shame on me! I love Glory and I am not an Indiana Jones fan but I do love this 3rd entry. I didn't care for was ok although Michael Keaton was great in it. It just shows how many films I have not seen. I have my top 10 and, Joel I forgot about Musicbox and I must see this. Here is my list of favourite films-
    Uncle Buck-John Candy Rules!
    Lethal Weapon 2. I don't know why I like these films but I do despite disliking Mel Gibson which I always did(I remember his Barbara Walters interview when he made Hamlet and he didn't like a question she asked so he responded by using a quote from the movie and his eyes were daggers-jerk).
    Cousins-a remake of a french film but I really enjoyed this film.
    Steel Magnolias which i didn't want to see when it came out but, years later, I caught it on TV and enjoyed it.
    Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade which I think is the best of the bunch.
    War of The Roses-Biting nasty comedy that I enjoyed, surprisingly so.
    Christmas Vacation-I am all for dumb ass comedies and this family are kings. "SQUIRREL!"
    Field of Dreams-Schmaltz-A bit but it makes me feel good so what's wrong with that?
    Adventures of Baron Munchausen-Bombed at the box office and a film I adore since I love all things fantasy
    Glory-Dell, you said it with that one scene and this film deserved much more accolades

    1. I love the Lethal Weapon franchise, but 2 is the weakest of the bunch for me. It might be blasphemous to say this but John Candy generally doesn't do it for me. I was not a fan of Uncle Buck. I need to revisit Steel Magnolias sooner rather than later.

  7. My top for this year will always be Field of Dreams.

    Do the Right Thing would absolutely be in my top-5 along with Branagh's Henry V. Roger & Me would get some love as well.

    1. Yeah, most people love that film to death. It's just not my cup of tea.

      Haven't seen Henry V or Roger & Me.

  8. My two favorite movies from 1989 haven't been mentioned yet. Drugstore Cowboy and The Killer.

    1. I've only seen bits and pieces of Drugstore Cowboy and none of The Killer. Both are already on my watchlist. Thanks!

  9. The year I graduated high school (ummm, did I just date myself?). So glad you mentioned Batman. I will never forget the crazy hype for that film. Huge line on opening weekend, batman posters, joker shirts, etc. I had so much fun and you could say it was a taste of the type of fanfare a superhero movie could generate. Great memories.

    1. It's okay. I graduated that year, too. Batman was everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE. It was nuts. Great memories, indeed.

  10. Do the Right Thing is such an incredible movie. Fitting I'm reading this today as it's the hottest day of the year.

    1. Very fitting. This weekend was also the film's 30th anniversary.