When the Motion Picture Academy looked at 1987, it gave its Best Picture award to The Last Emperor, an opulent but bland biography with a moderately Maoist message. You won't see that one here:
1. Full Metal Jacket
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Kubrick, Gustav Hasford, and Michael Herr, from a novel by Hasford
I was watching one of those Siskel and Ebert ripoffs—I think it was the one with Michael Medved, but maybe it was the one with Rex Reed—when they preceded their reviews of this terrific black comedy with the film's funniest clip: the one where a drill instructor brags that Charles Whitman and Lee Harvey Oswald learned to shoot in the Marines. I was still laughing uncontrollably as one of the hosts gazed gravely from the screen and announced that the scene had sent a chill down his spine. Not for the last time, I realized that many critics are full of shit.
2. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
Directed by Todd Haynes
Written by Haynes and Cynthia Schneider
A 16mm biopic performed by Barbie dolls. A deeply disturbing movie, it ran into trouble with both Mattel and the Karen Carpenter estate; it's still under a legal cloud today, though you can find it easily enough online.
3. Raising Arizona
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
I was watching one of those Siskel and Ebert ripoffs—I think it was the one with Rex Reed, but maybe it was the one with Michael Medved—when one of the hosts announced that he couldn't understand why this comedy about kidnapping had gotten such a positive reaction. After all, he explained, kidnapping is a felony. Not for the last time, I realized that many critics are full of shit.
4. House of Games
Directed by David Mamet
Written by Mamet, from a story by Mamet and Jonathan Katz
Unlike many stories that rely on plot twists, this paranoid tale's sudden shifts are unpredictable without being unbelievable.
5. Law of Desire
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Someone once called this the gay Fatal Attraction, which is far too kind to Fatal Attraction.
Written and directed by Souleymane Cissé
The deep, authentic strangeness of real folklore.
7. Hope and Glory
Written and directed by John Boorman
From the screenplay: "...he is astonished to see hundreds of children in a state of delirious celebration. Boys fling their caps in the air. They cheer. They whoop. They run amok. Behind them lie the smouldering ruins of the school."
8. Tin Men
Written and directed by Barry Levinson
It's the best of Levinson's Baltimore movies, which is another way of saying it's the best Levinson movie, period. I like formstone, by the way. I don't understand why those yuppies insisted on peeling it off their houses.
Directed by Bill Forsyth
Written by Forsyth, from a novel by Marilynne Robinson
"Silvie had no awareness of time. For her, hours and minutes were the names of trains."
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner
The fake ads alone are enough to earn it a place on the list.
11. Barfly (Barbet Schroeder)
12. Red Sorghum (Zhang Yimou)
13. Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson)
14. Roxanne (Fred Schipisi)
15. Alice (Jan Švankmajer)
16. Walker (Alex Cox)
17. Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle)
18. Siesta (Mary Lambert)
19. The Dead (John Huston)
20. Moonstruck (Norman Jewison)
I swear I didn't do the "Alice Walker" thing on purpose.
Of the films of 1987 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in From the Pole to the Equator and Evil Dead 2.