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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Favorite 80s Movies

Okay, this is big ground to cover. I base this list on what I think was memorable and entertaining; information from my youth, and from my subsequent education.

Dead Ringers (1988)
I know what you're thinking. Why put Dead Ringers on the list instead of Videodrome? Well, Videodrome is a great film. But I have my reasons. First, Jeremy Irons is a better actor than James Woods. There, I said it. Second, I think Dead Ringers has a dramatic heft that Videodrome never achieved, if only because Videodrome was too busy satirizing MTV. MTV was pretty good at satirizing itself, in my opinion. Sure we had Michael Jackson, The Talking Heads, Squeeze, and Peter Gabriel (or as I know him, "Genesis"), but it was all basically a bunch of pablum for teenagers. So this brings us to Dead Ringers, which made me both cry and throw up a little in my mouth. David Cronenberg's intensely complex relationship with female genitalia never gets more vivid than it does in Dead Ringers. The Brood was only a rough draft. What Irons achieves playing twin doctors is simply remarkable, tragic, disgusting and tear-jerking. Why do I love it? In addition to the direction and performances, I like the idea of it being pitched. "I want to make a movie about twins who fall in love with the same woman and enter a downward spiral of drug abuse while experiencing delusions about mutated uteri." Oh, sure, that was an easy sell.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Director Sergio Leone (A Fistfull of Dollars, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) turned down the chance to direct The Godfather so that he could make this movie. Like The Godfather and Goodfellas it features characters (leads played by Rober DeNiro and James Woods) who rise in the organized crime world. It is beautiful and, in my opinion, seriously overshadowed by The Godfather Trilogy.

Tootsie (1982)
Sydney Pollack made this wonderful film. I never thought a drag comedy could be so insightful and gut-bustingly funny (except for Some Like It Hot but people don't watch that anymore, tragically), but Tootsie is. Terri Garr, Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray, Jessica Lange, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning and Geena Davis make this movie worth watching over and over. When people see this movie they're going to say..."What happened?!"

 The Shining (1980)
This is cutting it close, since Kubrick started shooting The Shining in the 70s, but I couldn't help myself. The Shining is one of my favorite horror films.  One of the scariest things I've ever seen is Shelley Duvall looking at the novel and seeing that her husband is totally insane.

Blue Velvet (1984)
David Lynch made a real statement about small-town America, film noir, and spoiled innocence with Blue Velvet. I hate to show the Dennis Hopper oxygen-fueled sex scene, but....I just have to

Coming To America (1988)
Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Madge Sinclair, James Earl Jones and John Amos (and Samuel L. Jackson), all at their best. This movie has its problems, and parts are painful, but the funny spots shine (anyone who loved Purple Rain  will appreciate the awfulness that is "Sexual Chocolate"). It stands out in my memory as one of the bright bits of late 80s comedy.

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
This is a great crime comedy. There are a lot of crime comedies out there, but John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin and Jamie Lee Curtis make this one particularly fantastic. This is Fawlty Towers reigned in, with a proper script and direction. Not that I'm knocking Fawlty Towers, just saying a feature film needed more structure and benefited for it in this case.

Trading Places (1983)
This is a sharp comedy aimed at the economic machinations of the 80s (and of today) but it also features Eddie Murphy in full form, and Dan Aykroyd eating salmon in a Santa suit. It's awesome.

Broadcast News (1987)
Holly Hunter, William Hurt and Albert Brooks in a comedy that illustrates the dramatic aspects of news production, anchoring and reporting all while delivering a realistic love triangle. This was my first real romantic comedy, and it taught me that you don't have to end up with anybody to be happy. The fact that it lacks a fairytale ending makes it even more wonderful. Fucking Aaron "misogynist cokehead" Sorkin tries this shit every month without success.

Stand By Me (1986)
Three of the four tales in Stephen King's Different Seasons have been turned into films. We have seen The Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, and Stand By Me (based on King's novella The Body). What really makes Stand By Me great is the performances. River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, Kiefer Sutherland and Casey Seimaszko. Also the direction by Rob Reiner, who understands how to balance comedy with drama in a way few directors can (as long as he has a decent script).

This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Here is another Rob Reiner movie, featuring Christopher Guest, Michael McKeane and Harry Shearer, about a fictional band that first premiered as a send-up of heavy metal on a 1979 episode of The TV Show. I love a good mockumentary, and This is Spinal Tap, coupled with The Rutles, started it all.

Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel is notable for its ambiguity and saturnine aesthetic. It's also notable for being incredibly influential on all of the sci-fi films and many of the novels that followed. There would be no Terminator without Blade Runner.

Brazil (1985)
 In addition to its all-around prescience, Terry Gilliam's Brazil is amazing because it is fanciful, dark and funny all at the same time. This movie made me believe my dreams and made me absolutely terrified of plastic surgery. I liked it better than Time Bandits  but liked Baron Munchhausen a bit more, probably because I was a child and thought slapstick was better than true satire. As an adult, I can tell you that Brazil is true satire, and it is to be revered as much as 1984 and almost as much as Brave New World.

Ran (1985)
 The title of Kurosawa's great 1985 film means "rebellion." At the time, it was the most expensive Japanese film ever made. The plot bears similarities to King Lear, though Kurosawa stated it was not intentional. The cinematography by Asakazu Nakai, Takao Saitō and Masaharu Ueda is unparalleled. When I was in college, my Chinese history professor was adamant about my seeing Ran. I told him I had. He insisted I see it again. I'm glad I did. Although it is not my favorite Kurosawa film (that goes to Rashomon), it definitely makes the list as one of the greatest films of the 80s, if not the century.

The Princess Bride
Here is a case of a film that is equally as good as its source material. The novel The Princess Bride by William Goldman, is one of the first fantasy novels I read along with Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander. It helped that Goldman also wrote the screenplay, and that he was a screenwriter in general. He understands how to write a tight film. Also Rob Reiner is a good director! Wow, three out of the list come from Rob. Well done, indeed! The Princess Bride has no spare scenes and nothing for the cutting room floor. The performances are spot on. Everything about it makes me smile, and I can't think of a person who doesn't like it.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
I saw this in the theater, as many kids did, and I absolutely loved it. As I grew older, I learned about all of the little details in the film, and all of its influences. Zemeckis successfully combines Tex Avery, Mel Blanc, Bob Clampett,, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler into one film. To give credit where credit's due, however, the film is based on the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit by Gary Wolf. We have seen a few films in which humans interact with animated characters, such as Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Mary Poppins and the unfortunate Cool World, but this was the first one to make the animated characters realistic and the human characters cartoonish. It's full of laughs, arcane references, cameos, and fun.

Airplane (1980)
The first time I saw a topless woman in a movie was in Airplane, followed by Dressed to Kill. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, Airplane is an example of the Zuckers at their finest. Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Julie Hagerty, Robert Hays and yes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, all in one movie, all being awesome.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Tornatore's love letter to the movies is touching, beautiful and very well directed, edited and acted. I don't want to say anything that will spoil the film. You simply must watch the ending without pretense.Yes, it's romantic. Yes, it's maudlin in parts. But as far as movies about film go, its one of the better entries.