Saturday, October 15, 2016

80 Films From the '80s

Somehow, the numbers worked out just right. As part of my Top Ten Project, I watched eighty films from the 1980s this year, to fill my quota of watching at least fifty films from each year before making my lists. And there were a lot of disappointments, a lot of surprises, and just a lot to think about in general. I wanted to put down some thoughts before moving on to the films of the 1970s.

I had a lot of fun filling in some gaps in my pop culture awareness, like the Timothy Dalton 007 films, "Flashdance," and "Risky Business." There were quite a few nostalgic favorites like "Buckaroo Banzai" and "The Howling," that I thought were pretty awful. On the other hand, I was surprised at how much I liked "Battle Beyond the Stars," "The Fourth Man," and "Yentl." I expected, and was consistently happy to spot younger versions of familiar faces in many films - Benicio Del Toro playing a henchman in "License to Kill," David Strathairn cat-hissing at people in "Brother From Another Planet," and Michael McKean up to no good in "Used Cars." What I wasn't prepared for were the resurrections. One of the first titles I watched was Steven Spielberg's "Awakenings" from 1989. It was a mediocre film, but I was absolutely bowled over at the sight of Audrey Hepburn, as lovely as ever, in her last film appearance as an angel. And then came Sammy David Jr. and Dean Martin (and Jackie Chan!) in "Cannonball Run." And then Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda in "On Golden Pond."

The stars were very differently aligned thirty years ago. I expected to be watching a lot of Burt Reynolds movies, since he'd topped the charts for most of the early eighties. Instead, I found myself watching a lot of Steve Martin movies: "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," "Pennies From Heaven," "All of Me," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," and "Parenthood." Other recurring faces included Nicholas Cage, Michael Caine, Kurt Russell, Jeff Bridges, Diana Scarwid, Melanie Griffiths, and Karen Allen. I should note that my viewing choices were influenced by my efforts to find titles that I suspected might have fallen into my cinematic blind spots, and I looked to Icheckmovies lists for suggestions. While I did watch the obvious classics like "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Gallipoli," and the infamous stuff like "Cannibal Holocaust," and "Cruising," I also wandered off the beaten path for auteurist titles like Ann Hui's "Boat People," Carlos Saura's "Bodas de Sangre," and Peter Greenaway's "The Falls." I was also more likely to pick movies from directors I knew, especially their debuts, like Luc Besosn's "Le Dernier Combat," Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It," and Wayne Wang's "Chan is Missing."

Getting lost in the '80s was a nice change of pace from modern films. While the auteur age was over, the era wasn't nearly as crassly commercial as critics liked to make out. The pace of filmmaking was slower, ordinary people were generally seen in much more rural environments, and there was more care and attention given to human dramas and romances. I found the 1988 film "The Accidental Tourist" with William Hurt and Geena Davis a real slog, but I was impressed that such a mature, even-handed romantic film had found success with audiences at the time. Vietnam was still on everyone's mind, and I kept coming across film after film that either referenced the war directly ("Birdy," "Cutter's Way," "The Ninth Configuration") or indirectly ("Southern Comfort," "Breaker Morant.") And there absolutely were brilliant, daring, original films being made. Some of my favorites include "Pennies From Heaven," "Coal Miner's Daughter," Jerzy Skolimowski's "Moonlighting," "Sid and Nancy," and "The Mission." But more on that in a few months.

I ran into trouble a few times trying to find certain movies, but I never ran short of titles to watch. I'm leaving the '80s for now, to start digging into the '70s, but I'll surely be back. Though there were a few that I regretted sitting through, like "The Star Chamber," I managed to take something interesting away from just about every movie. My biggest complaint is really with the quality of some of the prints and the videos that I watched. Several of these films are in desperate need of restorations, or just decent releases. There's an awful lot of good cinema to rediscover and enjoy.

And the final tally:


The Ninth Configuration
Cannibal Holocaust
Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers
The Gods Must Be Crazy
Coal Miner's Daughter
Forbidden Zone
Battle Beyond the Stars
Dressed to Kill
Breaker Morant
Melvin and Howard
Used Cars
The Falls


The Howling
The Cannonball Run
For Your Eyes Only
Southern Comfort
Vernon, Florida
On Golden Pond
Absence of Malice
Pennies from Heaven
Modern Romance
Bodas de Sangre
Prince of the City
Cutter's Way
Mommie Dearest


Chan is Missing
The Atomic Cafe
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid
An Officer and a Gentleman
My Favorite Year
The World According to Garp
Boat People
Le Beau Mariage
The Year of Living Dangerously
Un Chanbre en Ville


The Keep
Never Say Never Again
Risky Business
Sudden Impact
The Dresser
Rumble Fish
The Star Chamber
The Fourth Man
Le Dernier Combat


All of Me
The Brother From Another Planet
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
A Soldier's Story
Stop Making Sense
Places in the Heart
A Passage to India
Body Double


A View to a Kill


Peggy Sue Got Married
The Mission
Sid and Nancy
She's Gotta Have It
Ruthless People


The Living Daylights


Working Girl
Mississippi Burning
The Accidental Tourist
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels


Dead Calm
Drugstore Cowboy
License to Kill
The Fabulous Baker Boys


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