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In Case You Missed It - The Summer of '88


A few weeks ago I celebrated the 30th anniversary of Die Hard with an extensive look back at the action masterpiece and it made me think more about my film upbringing. Specifically, it made me think more about the magical and bountiful cinematic summer that was 1988. I thought I would take this week to take another look back at one of the truly blockbuster summers, not only in revenue but quality. Summer movie seasons come and go but the class of 1988 was truly unique.

Big – The film that cemented Tom Hanks stardom and earned him his 1st Oscar nomination, told the whimsical tale of a teenage boy who makes a wish and wakes up in his own 35-year-old body. Director Penny Marshall created many classic cinematic moments from Hanks and Robert Loggia “dancing” their way through "Chopsticks" to a teenage boy discovering caviar to the trampoline scene with Elizabeth Perkins.

Bull Durham – Still the best baseball movie in my book, Ron Shelton’s hilarious behind the scenes look at the day-to-day lives of minor league ballplayers is a true American classic. There are too many hilarious one-liners to quote from this Oscar-nominated screenplay and arguably it’s the best work of Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins.

Coming to America – Eddie Murphy’s box office reign in the 80’s culminated in this comedic journey of an African prince searching for a worthy bride in Queens. Murphy and longtime pal Arsenio Hall have lots funs as lots of characters in this surprisingly romantic tale. Bonus points for the priceless cameos of Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy.

The Dead Pool – Dirty Harry’s swan song found our infamous San Francisco inspector chasing down a fame-seeking celebrity killer. The film is a surprisingly astute look at fame and journalism and contains a brilliant, if improbable, satire of the renowned car chase from Bullitt involving Callahan trying to evade a remote control car packed with explosives.

A Fish Called Wanda – John Cleese garnered a whole new generation of fans as the writer and star of this mad cap, screwball comedic heist. The film also features a scheming and sexy Jamie Lee Curtis, fish-loving Michal Palin, and a psychopathic gun-for-hire Kevin Kline in a well-deserved Oscar award-winning role.

Married to the Mob – Before winning an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs, director Jonathan Demme struck comedic gold with this mob comedy centered on Michelle Pfeiffer as a Mafia widow trying to make a better life for herself and her son. Along the way she attracts the attention of a resourceful undercover FBI agent (Matthew Modine) while trying to fend off the unwanted advances of dapper Mob boss Tony Russo (Dean Stockwell) and the violent jealousy of Tony’s wife (Mercedes Ruehl).

Midnight Run – Robert DeNiro flexed his comedic chops as an ex-cop turned bounty hunter trying to score one last payday when tasked with returning a mob accountant (Charles Grodin) from NY to LA. The verbal sparring between DeNiro and Grodin is worth its weight in gold and the excellent supporting cast of Dennis Farina, Yaphet Kotto, Joe Pantoliano, and John Ashton rounds out this timeless action-cross country comedy.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit – Robert Zemeckis was ahead of his time with this seamless mixture of live action and cartoon characters. Set in a fictional 1940’s Hollywood where “toons” are real, the title character (voiced by Charles Fleischer) pins his hopes for survival on washed-up private eye Eddie Valient, played on the nose by Bob Hoskins. Throw in Kathleen Turner as the voice of Roger’s betrothed, Jessica Rabbit, and the film is pure zany fun and a visual feast.

Willow – Although director Ron Howard’s action-fantasy didn’t become the blockbuster success that many had predicted, it has gained in admiration over the years. A reluctant dwarf (Warwick Davis) must protect a special newborn, who is destined to be a powerful force of good, from an evil queen (Jean Marsh). Val Kilmer joins the fun as the swashbuckling Madmartigan in this charming tale of full of fun and wizardry.

Young Guns – The Western genre got a much needed infusion of new blood with this old west origination story of the early days of Billy the Kid and his first gang. The cast includes Emilio Estevez (as Billy the Kid), Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, and Casey Siemasko as they seek justice when their benefactor, played by Terrance Stamp, is gunned down in this solid box office success for the Tiger Beat set.

I’m not sure too many summers can stack up to the depth on display from 1988 but maybe more time and perspective is needed. Or maybe I am just biased because these are the films of my youth. But be honest, can you really find any significant gripes with the majority of the films I’ve listed? 1988 was a special time to be a burgeoning film lover like myself and I had plenty to learn from and appreciate.

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