When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1989, it gave its Best Picture award to the plodding and patronizing Driving Miss Daisy. You won't find that one here:
1. Drugstore Cowboy Directed by Gus Van Sant Written by Van Sant, Daniel Yost, and William S. Burroughs, from a novel by James Fogle
An old junky priest prophecizes in that gravelly Bill Burroughs voice: "In the near future right-wingers will use drug hysteria as a pretext to set up an international police apparatus."
2. Motel Directed by Christian Blackwood
A movie about three American motels. It is -- no lie -- one of the greatest documentaries ever made.
3. Santa Sangre Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky Written by Jodorowsky, Roberto Leoni, and Claudio Argento
I never cottoned to the cult around Jodorowsky's most famous feature, El Topo, but I love this wild and disturbing phantasmagoria that he made 19 years later.
4. Do the Right Thing Written and directed by Spike Lee
Back in the day, there was a big debate over which was the better movie about race relations, Do the Right Thing or Driving Miss Daisy. Is anyone still willing to take Daisy's side of the argument? Spike Lee's angry yet ambiguous film was the sort of thoughtful picture that people like Stanley Kramer wanted to make back in the '50s and '60s but didn't have the talent to pull off. Twenty years after the fact, it is still the high point of Lee's career.
5. Monsieur Hire Directed by Patrice Leconte Written by Leconte and Patrick Dewolf, from a novel by Georges Simenon
A crime film whose mysteries are more about its characters than the murder in their midst.
6. Life and Nothing But Directed by Bertrand Tavernier Written by Tavernier and Jean Cosmos
Some of the best war movies take place after the war is over.
7. Crimes and Misdemeanors Written and directed by Woody Allen
Alan Alda proves the Fred MacMurray rule: It's more fun to watch a man play a villain when you've spent your life thinking of him as a goody-two-shoes.
8. Kiki's Delivery Service Directed by Hayao Miyazaki Written by Miyazaki, from a novel by Eiko Kadono
"You'd think they'd never seen a girl and a cat on a broom before."
9. Say Anything... Written and directed by Cameron Crowe
One of the best teen movies of the '80s. Much of the credit for that goes to the cast, especially John Mahoney, but it's also a solid directorial debut for Crowe, who wouldn't surpass this until he made Almost Famous 11 years later.
10. Mystery Train Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch
Part of a brief spate of flicks in the late '80s and early '90s that feature cameos by the ghost of Elvis. OK, it's just this one and True Romance.
11. Creature Comforts (Nick Park) 12. Isle of Flowers (Jorge Furtado) 13. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (Peter Greenaway) 14. Jesus of Montreal (Denys Arcand) 15. Darkness, Light, Darkness (Jan Svankmajer) 16. Leningrad Cowboys Go America (Aki Kaurismäki) 17. Kitchen Sink (Alison Maclean) 18. The Hill Farm (Mark Baker) 19. Sweetie (Jane Campion) 20. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (Alan Wareing)
Of the films of 1989 that I haven't seen, the one that interests me the most is Frederick Wiseman's epic documentary Near Death.