Tuesday, January 26, 2010

30 Years Ago: My Favorite Movies of 1980

Ah, the eighties. Here we are well within my wheelhouse. Of course I could come up with ten entries. These ten may or may not be surprising, lets see:

10) Airplane!

When I was 10, I thought nothing would ever be as funny as Airplane! I saw it recently and it still holds up today. Probably due to so many repeat viewings. I will probably say much the same about a lot of movies on this particular list. People my age are famously fond of conversing by quoting its favorite movies and TV shows, and I got my childhood practice saying things like, "I speak jive!" Also interesting to find out recently that its actual a remake of an old movie that the Zuckers bought the rights to, not just a spoof.

9) Dressed To Kill

Ah, Brian De Palma. Few directors divide people like De Palma. To me, I think his best stuff was most definitely his early stuff, from the late seventies to the late eighties. This homage to Hitchcock has Michael Caine as a psychologist, Angie Dickinson as a housewife looking for a good time that meets a bad end, and Nancy Allen as a call girl who witnesses her murder and might be next in line. All the while a cross-dressing killer is stalking them all There are obviously plenty of campy elements in this thing. But what stays with me from Dressed to Kill is that it scared the hell out of me. Scariest, in particular, is a twisted sequence near the very end. It’s a movie that’s not easy to talk about without spoiling surprises. It’s also a movie about which you can say that both its critics and its fans have a point. I also remember discovering the vast world of film criticism even more deeply in college and seeing films from different vantage points I took a course on "Women and Pop Culture" and reading and discussing a whole section/chapter of feminist critics who were furious about the portrayal of women and the transgendered in Dressed To Kill. In more ways than one, it became a part of my film education. You win this round, De Palma!

8) The Fog

John Carpenter, like Brian De Palma, was really hitting his stride in the late 70's/eighties, cranking out some classic genre fare. This was, as we will see, a pretty good time for that sort of thing. (The John Sayles-penned Alligator was in contention for this spot. Seriously, as Jaws rip-offs/Nature Strike Back movies go-its pretty great) The Fog is probably seen as a lesser entry in the Carpenter canon, and I can see that. But it does have some great sequences, a pretty great setting and premise, and even Adrienne Barbeau, who is just awesome here.

7) The Long Good Friday

This was probably my first foray into any sort of English gangster film, besides maybe movies from the 50's or so that may or may not qualify. But this is a doozy. I saw this, of course, after I saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I remember at 10 or 11 being blown away first of all by the fact that Bob Hoskins was actually British. Fast forward a few years later and I see Bob Hoskins from Roger Rabbit playing a ball of barely (and sometimes not so barely) suppressed rage as he tries to find out, throughout the course of the day, who is trying to kill him. For some of the best silent acting this side of Michael Kitchen, check out that last scene where he gets caught, and the camera just lingers on him as his fate draws ever closer. Just amazing stuff.

6) Superman II

To be honest, the first two original Superman movies, to me are really good. It has both its fans and detractors and both sort of have a point. But I have to be true to myself here. This was originally filmed by Richard Donner at the same time he was filming the first Superman movie. Much later, of course, I would learn about all the drama and behind the scenes machinations that made the producers, the Salkinds fire Donner and replace him with Richard Lester. Lester might lean too much comedy, since thats the world Lester comes from, but overall this, along with the first have an epic feel. It, of course has ridiculous parts, its a comic book movie about a flying man. And, when you are older you notice how the Lester footage he reshot doesn't quite match up with the Donner footage. (I still haven't seen the Donner cut) and certain parts don't make sense upon reflection (he just GETs his power back? After walking apprently to the North Pole? Best not to dwell on it.) Eh, its a sentimental favorite which works for me. It gets me amped! Also, Terence Stamp as General Zod is just awesome, a great villain.

5) Caddyshack

This is one of three "wacky" comedies on this list. Like the other two, it is endlessly quotable, and was a staple as I was growing up. It earns its spot on this list because I'll still stop and watch it whenever its on.

4) The Blues Brothers

And here's the third one. Much for the same reasons as above. Roger Ebert once said that very few big budget comedies, particular ones with huge car chases and car wrecks, don't usually work. I forget but he really could have been talking about The Blues Brothers. I think he feels like it goes off the rails too much. In this instance it might be nostalgia as much as anything else, but it works for me. John Landis continues upping the ante until the last part of the film where said car chase is drawn out to an absurd degree. It might be both because it is funny, perhaps not as funny as I once thought it was, and somewhat exciting. Also, its interesting because this is essentially a musical too, and the music is really pretty great as well. It shouldn't work, but I think it does.

3) The Shining

The old criticism might be true: that Jack Nicholson shows his hand early on, that he looked crazy from the beginning so his eventual descent into madness is not surprising. How much that bothers you may or may not detract from how much you enjoy this. To me I think it is one of the top five scariest movies of all time. Its so creepy. Kubrick creates an atmosphere of relentless foreboding and isolation. This combines with a phenomenal score to create a truly strange and scary movie.

2) Raging Bull

Speaking of innovation, this movie is not only brutal but kind of oddly beautiful to look at. Scorsese obviously likes focusing on severely flawed human beings, and you might not find someone who fits that description better than De Niro's Jake LaMotta. From the black and white cinematography to the way the fights were staged, it is just amazing. I know it's an old argument that doesn't need to be rehashed, but it was most definitely robbed at the Oscars. Without a doubt one of the best of the eighties.

1) The Empire Strikes Back

Wow, I can't believe this is 30 years old. Time marches on. Anyhow, I know how this makes me look, like a big ol' dork, but I can't help it. Soooooo good. The absolute best Star Wars movie, even with the cliffhanger. Has also one of the best twist or surprise scenes ever. I mean, I guess you have to be invested in it for that to be true-but to me it is. In fact I have been known to watch (30 year old spoiler ahead!) the scene where Vader reveals he is Luke's father more than once when watching this. In fact, one of my earliest memories was going to see this with my Mom, my brother and sister. Just awesome.

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