When the Motion Picture Academy looked at 1988, it gave its Best Picture award to a feel-good formula flick called Rain Man. Which isn't a bad movie, as such films go -- I've always liked the scene when Dustin Hoffman blithely confesses to counting cards -- but it also isn't as good as any of these:
1. The Decalogue Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski Written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
The 10 episodes of this Polish miniseries were allegedly inspired by the 10 commandments, though I've never seen a compelling attempt to match Kieslowski's individual stories to Yahweh's individual instructions. At any rate, you shouldn't get hung up on the concept; take each entry on its own terms, and you'll see some of the most morally nuanced storytelling ever made for the screen.
2. A Fish Called Wanda Directed by Charles Crichton Written by John Cleese, from a story by Crichton and Cleese
Ealing meets Python.
3. Apartment Zero Directed by Martin Donovan Written by Donovan and David Koepp
"If that's a mask, either take it off now or leave it on forever."
4. Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser Directed by Charlotte Zwerin
Genius wrapped up in madness.
5. Paperhouse Directed by Bernard Rose Written by Matthew Jacobs, from a novel by Catherine Storr
Rose's early horror/fantasy movies are so much richer than his later, self-consciously arthouse-oriented Oscar bait.
6. My Neighbor Totoro Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
My daughter likes it, too.
7. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Directed by Terry Gilliam Written by Gilliam and Charles McKeown, from a novel by Rudolph Erich Raspe
"Have him executed at once. This sort of behavior is demoralizing for the ordinary soldiers and citizens who are trying to lead normal, simple, unexceptional lives."
8. The Naked Gun Directed by David Zucker Written by Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Pat Proft
In addition to featuring O.J. Simpson's finest performance outside a courtroom, this is the best baseball movie ever made.
9. Cane Toads: An Unnatural History Directed by Mark Lewis
Frogtown goes to hell.
10. The Thin Blue Line Directed by Errol Morris
It's on this list because it's an artful piece of filmmaking and an accomplished piece of journalism, not because it can credibly claim to have gotten an innocent man freed from prison. But that's a nice bonus.
11. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodovar) 12. The Vanishing (George Sluizer) 13. Alice (Jan Svankmajer) 14. Miracle Mile (Steve De Jarnatt) 15. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Philip Kaufman) 16. Running on Empty (Sidney Lumet) 17. Virile Games (Jan Svankmajer) 18. Walker (Alex Cox) 19. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Robert Zemeckis) 20. Tanner '88 (Robert Altman)