Die Hard - The quintessential action movie of the decade. Die Hard exploded the careers of Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman and director John McTiernan, who only a year prior made a huge splash with Predator. Die Hard balances a good sense of humor and raw emotions on top of a solid action base and really leans into the humanity of its characters, particularly Willis's John McClane, Reginald Veljohnson's street cop Sgt. Powell and Alan Rickman's brilliant villain Hans Gruber. If I have one complaint with the film, it is that the authority figures get progressively stupid as you go up the ladder, but I feel that was a on-the-nose point the film tried to make. It is the only thing that really feels inauthentic with the movie. That said, this film has stunning action, incredibly strong and relateable characters, and launched a whole new genre of action movie. I mean, look at your DVD shelf and see how many movie are marketed as 'Die Hard on a...' Speed was 'Die Hard on a bus.' Under Siege was 'Die Hard on a train.' Cellular was 'Die Hard on a phone.' Skyscraper was 'Die Hard in a..." Alright, so Skyscraper was just Die Hard, but with The Rock.
Grave of the Fireflies - From Studio Ghibli, Grave of the Fireflies is the most effective antiwar film ever made. This stunning film pulls absolutely zero punches and chronicles the lives of two young children in 1945 Japan, as they try to survive the war efforts going on around them. These children have no allegiance to the war. These are merely two children who struggle to survive as bombs are going off around them and are unable to feed themselves. The opening line of this film is the single most heart-wrenching opening line in any movie I have seen. It is an effective line that sets up the viewer for the experience they are about to endure, but nothing can compare to the realities of war, famine and life in a loveless world.
The Land Before Time - Director Don Bluth and producers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg bring life to dinosaurs in this whimsical family adventure film. With a hauntingly beautiful score and some solid voice work, Bluth brings life to dinosaurs in a way that they had not been portrayed in children's animation since Fantasia in the 1940's. The film does not shy away from allowing its child audience to experience loss, but also imbues the film with a sense of hope and the necessity to carry on when life feels like it is not worth living. What this film ultimately becomes is a meditation on family, friendship and the need to surround yourself with those you love even if they are not family in the traditional sense. What really elevates this film, though, is its wonderful animation. The film has excellent use of color and attaches it to mood scenes with delightful flourish. There are many shots in this film that are genuinely emotional and awe inspiring.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - 1988 was the year of animation, I guess. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a wonderful noir/comedy from Robert Zemeckis. It is about a hard boiled detective who must investigate a murder in Toon Town, and it looks like plucky Roger Rabbit is behind it. This film wonderfully plays with genre tropes, has a wicked sense of humor and excellent live action performance work from Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd, not to mention the pitch perfect voice performance by Kathleen Turner as sultry Jessica Rabbit. Beyond the delightful screenplay and performances, it is the execution of the film that really delivers. The marrying of live action and animated elements succeeds here in way never before seen, and having the worlds of the Looney Tunes and Disney animated characters interacting with each other as well as the original characters from this film is icing on the cake. One of the finest film achievements of the decade.
Working Girl - Mike Nichols directed this strong dramedy that has some powerhouse performances from Sigourney Weaver, Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford (most of whom are acting against type, which adds an extra layer of appeal). The film follows Tess, a secretary, who gets her idea stolen from her by her boss, so she in turn pretends to seize her boss's job. The film feels convoluted, but in a way that kind of works for it and the characters are all rich and worthy of exploring within the film. It has several Mike Nichols touches that are woven in thematically into the story and does feature the uncertainty of resolution that comes standard in his works.
Best Picture & Biggest Box Office : Rain Man - The biggest movie of the year also took home Oscar gold in this drama that speaks to the human heart. Rain Man has some fine performances, particularly from Dustin Hoffman who plays a man who is a genius but everyone merely sees him as a man with special needs.