From King Henry V leading his army to conquer France in 1415, to Batman terrorizing criminals with his domineering force, to John Keating inspiring his students through poetry, to Christy Brown breaking all odds and spearheading to unimaginable success – 1989 saw directors venturing into a variety of themes, concepts and ideas. While some flicks broke into the box offices, others earned the critical hurrah.
For this list, I have taken in account films on the basis of the writing, direction, acting and artistic creativity. Some brought in new life into established genres and some spawned innovative creativity. However, despite their visual, aesthetic and conceptual differences, every film on this list made 1989 a memorable year for cinema with their artistic and technical chef-d’oeuvre. So, here’s a list of top movies of 1989.
14. Dead Calm
One of the under-appreciated films of its time. The film follows John Ingram and his wife Rae who are spending some time isolated at sea, when they come across a stranger who has abandoned a sinking ship. ‘Dead Calm’ surprises you with its twists and turns. A must watch psychological thrillers.
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13. The Seventh Continent (1989)
Inspired from true events, ‘The Seventh Continents’ chronicles a European family who, amongst a mundane urban middle-class life, attempt to escape to Australia to start a new life. However, things turn bizarre when they suddenly decide to destroy themselves without any apparent reason. A movie with such an absurd plot is ironically structured with intellectual logic and reason. Directed by debutant Michael Haneke, this Austrian drama flick is a remarkable comment on human psyche and the tumbling humanity. Written by Michael Haneke and Johanna Teicht, the film is assembled with articulate writing and point perfect direction. With a simplistic cinematography by Anton Peschke, the film employs horrific drama with an unsettling squall of peace.
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12. Henry V (1989)
Considered as one of the best Shakespearean adaptations, ‘Henry V’ chronicles the conquest of the young King Henry V of England to conquer France in 1415. The film is seething with the magnificent aura of a Shakespearean creation and reflects the celebrated playwright’s sensibilities with grandeur. The magnum opus illuminates with awe-inspiring visuals and prolific cinematography. The intrinsic detailing of the events, costumes and characteristics catapulted the film into critical and commercial success. The debut film of Kenneth Branagh showcased his nimble understanding of classics. The colossal efforts of the crew helped the film win an Oscar for “Best Costume Design”, and the “Best Direction” awards at the BAFTA and National Board of Review, to name a few.
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11. Parenthood (1989)
Directed by Ron Howard, ‘Parenthood’ traces the Buckmans – a mid-western family dealing with their lives amongst estranged relatives, raising children, pressures of the job, and learning to be a good parent and partner. A film built upon the experiences of producer Brian Grazer, director Ron Howard, and writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, the film is the perfect piece of education for every family. With power-packed performances by Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen and Dianne Wiest, the movie is an adroit incorporation of classic rib-tickling comedy and compassionate care.
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10. Batman (1989)
“I was never a giant comic book fan” – is what Tim Burton said in one of his initial interviews when the world got to know that he was the new creator of the caped crusader on the big screen. Adding to this, Burton selected an actor who was primarily known to do comic roles to don the iconic character. Naturally fans were not happy. However, every cloud of doubt disappeared once it was released in theatres. Starring Michael Keaton as the World’s Greatest Detective Batman, Kim Basinger as Batman’s romantic interest Vicki Vale, and Jack Nicholson as the arch nemesis The Joker, ‘Batman’ hit the right spot with both audiences and critics. The director employed dark humour, comic-book corresponding visuals and despicable villains to create an apt superhero movie. The gothic music combined with a tinge of superhero inspiration by Danny Elfman elevated the film’s success. The brilliant work of thoughts and ideas between the director and the screenplay writers, Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren, produced a tremendous story and spawned a fitting sequel which is a work of brilliance in its own right.
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9. Say Anything… (1989)
The directorial debut of Cameron Crowe follows the story of an average student, Lloyd Dobler and a beautiful valedictorian, Diane Court, who fall in love the summer before she goes off to college. Rated as one of the best high school movies, ‘Say Anything’ boasts of the glimmering performances by leads John Cusack and Ione Skye, who transcended their inner “high school bubbliness” into radiating maturity. The movie’s strongest foundation is the writing though, where Crowe perfectly understood the most inherent and distinctive conscience of the Gen X, and brilliantly transformed it onto the big screen.
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8. Dead Poets Society (1989)
“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” – A line which millions abide by, ‘Dead Poets Society’ defined an entire generation with its brimming charm, passion and heart. Directed by Peter Weir, this 1989 flick chronicles John Keating, essayed by the adorable Robin Williams, an English teacher who encourages and inspires his pupils to comprehend poetry with the perspective of authentic knowledge and feelings, and connects with a heart-to-heart compassion. Winning the BAFTA Award for Best Film, the César Award, David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Film, the film has originality and more importantly, love and compassion to the core. Perhaps the most important contribution to the film is of writer Tom Schulman, who carved a beautiful on his experiences in at the Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville. Basing Williams’ character on the inspirational and unconventional teacher Samuel Pickering, the movie is the perfect unification of a moving direction, motivational acting and devoted screenplay.
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7. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)
‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover’ was a shock to critics and audience with its gritty portrayal and brazen imagery. The film is still considered a creation ahead of our times. Directed by British-French filmmaker Peter Greenaway, the movie builds its foundation on a seemingly simplistic story of a wife of an abusive English gangster and criminal, who finds solace in the arms of a kind regular guest in her husband’s restaurant. A masterpiece in the making, the film applies black comedy with cerebral symbolism, motifs and imagery. Drawing a parallel image between the classy and chick appearance and the grotesque mentality of the classy society, the film employed extravagant cinematography. Greenaway based his ideas on a technically sound knowledge of “Film formalism” where he paid intrinsic attention on lighting, scoring, sound and set design, use of colour, shot composition, and editing which shaped the modern era of filmmaking. The deft craft work of the director with cinematographer Sacha Vierny luminously covered the graphic scatology, violence, and nude scenes which could have easily derailed the film from achieving critical stardom.
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6. Glory (1989)
‘Glory’ established a tale based on the intrinsic take on human emotions and vulnerability. Directed by the ever charismatic Edward Zwick, ‘Glory’ is an American war film about the military unit of the Union Army, during the American Civil War. Tracing the theme of racism, the film is narrated by Colonel Shaw, the white commanding officer, played by Matthew Broderick who recounts the turmoil and adversities in a unit consisting entirely of African-American men. With the screenplay crafted by Kevin Jarre, the film is an adaption of ‘Lay This Laurel’ and ‘One Gallant Rush’. ‘Glory’ is a complete and fulfilling portrayal of a man’s will power, emotional clout and psychological susceptibility; with every nuance charged by soul and heart.
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5. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)
Twisted to its core, ‘Sex, Lies, and Videotape’ revolves around a sexually suppressed woman’s husband, who is in an affair with her sister. The arrival of a visitor with a fetish of videotaping women and discussing their lives and sexuality, changes their lives forever. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film propelled independent filmmaking into the mainstream scene and revolutionized the movement forever. The debut film of the director, ‘Sex, Lies, and Videotape’ was screened as the Moscow Film Festival, and was met with unanimous praise and applauds. Winning the Palme d’Or at the “Cannes Film Festival”, the film enthralled the viewers with a certain uncomfortable impression, which aptly suited the title.
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4. Mystery Train (1989)
A part of the rising independent film circuit, ‘Mystery Train’ is an anthology film set in Memphis, Tennessee; sketching three stories involving foreign protagonists, which are connected by a Memphis hotel and the spirit of Elvis Presley. Directed by Jim Jarmusch, the flick enjoyed humongous critical acclaim in the film festival circuit for its innovative take on a seemingly simple storyline. A cerebrally artistic film, ‘Mystery Train’ holds racially diverse characters – an element which works wonders for it. Premiering at the New York Film Festival, the film, as mentioned above went on to gain the critical claps in the independent scene. The striking narrative structure and humour earned it 6 Nominations at the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the award for “Best Artistic Contribution” at Cannes Film Festival.
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3. My Left Foot (1989)
A biographical drama based the inspirational Christy Brown, an Irish writer and painter suffering from cerebral palsy, who broke all odds by learning to write and type only with the toes of his left foot. Directed by Jim Sheridan, ‘My Left Foot’ is teeming with artistic and technical brilliance, where actor Daniel Day-Lewis transformed his innate acting prowess into an Oscar-winning performance. With a solid support by actors, especially Brenda Fricker, the film was catapulted into critical and commercial success. While ‘My Left Foot’ has received some flak for its moulded ending, the performances completely overshadowed any fault the film had.
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2. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Written and directed by Spike Lee, this 1989 movie is set around the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where hate and seething racial tension culminates with tragedy and violence. The film explores the themes of race and its surrounding peace and conflict. An artistic inspection of prejudice, ‘Do the Right Thing’ plays on its title, i.e. “…what is the right thing?” The film holds a strong grasp in the direction, writing and editing. Each of these essential elements united to produce a brilliant piece of work. Embroiled in contentious controversy, the film glacially rose in critical prominence, and earned the appreciation of veteran critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who called it ranked it the best film of 1989 and one of the best of the decade.
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1. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
A crime drama, this 1989 flick is the story of a pharmacy-robbing dope brute and his crew’s efforts to evade the law under heave drug-dose. The film detours from the clichéd portrayal of drug abuse, and takes on an observational approach towards the issue. Director Gus Van Sant brought out a brilliant and innovative side of the genre by looking at the characters from an outsider’s perception and stayed away from the prototypical character study. Adapted from James Fogle’s novel of the same name, the film opted for a typical bookish narrative to churn out a thorough detailing which outlined the entire plot. Among the scathing critical hurrah it received, ‘Drugstore Cowboy’ holds an exceptional 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and won 4 “Film Independent Spirit Awards”, a “Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award” and a “New York Film Critics Circle Award”.
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