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Monday, July 16, 2012

The Movies That Defined the 1980's: 10-1

Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet"
 courtesy of
And we've come to the end. Want to have a marathon of 80's movies that will bring you into the psyche of the decade? These are your ten. We have some installments from film franchises, a number of iconic comedies, and a few career defining turns from actors and directors. It's been a fun countdown - looking back at all these movies has been a joy, though it's jarring to realize that the 1980's ended over 20 years ago. Either way, it was a nice trip down memory lane. I'm done stalling, so enjoy number 10 through 1.

#10. A Christmas Story (1983)

Holiday movies come and go, but a few stick for all eternity. It's certainly not a movie about the 80's - it doesn't even take place in the 80's. But, A Christmas Story captures the childhood dream of the winter holiday in a way that relates to all children, from all decades. An episodic view of poor Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and his dysfunctional, but loving family in the weeks leading up to Christmas is one of the most beloved classics, eventually earning its own 24-hour stint on TBS, starting on Christmas Eve. Based on a book written by Jean Shepherd (who also narrated the film), this heartwarming, hilarious story helps all of us recapture the beauty of the season, even if we end up shooting our eye out.

#9. Do the Right Thing (1989)

Never has a film used the weather as a plot device so brilliantly. Spike Lee's visceral Do the Right Thing takes place over a 24-hour period in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year; that's not even the steamiest thing in the film, as racial tensions build and result in unspeakable violence. Though Lee grabbed an Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay and Danny Aiello grabbed a nomination for Supporting Actor, the film's Original Song "Fight the Power" from rap group Public Enemy helped expand the reach, pairing with the motion picture to shine a spotlight on the race war that had been mostly ignored up to that point (not to mention helping rap earn a little more legitimacy). Racism will always exist and films will always be made that tackle the issue, but Spike Lee's films - specifically this one - tend to be on the cutting edge of the topic.

#8. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

It's the best of the original trilogy (yeah, I said it) and it won the Oscar for Best Sound. It's the middle piece of what may be the greatest movie trilogy of all time. It featured one of the biggest twist endings ever seen on film. While Return of the Jedi may have felt like more of an 80's film (with all the puppets and stuff), The Empire Strikes Back took the storyline of the first film and blew it out of the water, providing audiences with the best sequel since The Godfather Part II. The film follows Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as he trains with Yoda to become a Jedi master, his friends do their best to evade Darth Vader and the Imperial forces. It provided the audience with a twist ending, it deepened the mythology of an already established world, and it brought fringe fans into the fold. You know the rest, so I'll stop while I'm ahead.

#7. Top Gun (1986)

Two years after his big starring role in Risky Business, Tom Cruise co-starred with Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Tim Robbins, and Kelly McGillis in Top Gun, a look inside the Top Gun Naval Flying School and its testosterone-fueled enrollees. When Maverick (Cruise) is promoted to join after his wing-man is out-flown and has a breakdown, he enters a world where he feels the need (not for speed) to both impress and succeed above and beyond his classmates, no matter how toes he steps on along the way. Throw in the love story and you have a movie that, while a little over dramatic, is still a fun watch from start to finish. It won the Oscar for Best Original Song but, more importantly, gave Cruise even more ammunition to continue his reign as box office champion. Food for thought: Maverick led his partner into that no fly zone...what if Maverick is actually the villain? Think about it...

#6. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

And now, on to a good (from a critical standpoint) action film, Steven Spielberg's fantastic Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was a box office behemoth, made archaeology cool (though, I'm not sure why Indiana Jones was so good with a whip), and turned Harrison Ford into more than just a talented character actor. Following Indiana Jones (Ford) as he embarks on a US mission to find the ark of the covenant before the Nazis do, this film has exponentially more memorable moments than most films, from a rolling boulder to the last second rescue of a hat. Spielberg's gem led to two legitimate sequels and one train wreck (Crystal Skull), but served as a model for plenty of films to follow in its footsteps. Part adventure, part action, part comedy, and part mystery, Raiders had it all...even snakes...why did it have to have snakes?

#5. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

The simplest story you could dream up: a smart-ass kid decided he wants to skip a day of school. Throw in Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sera, and writer/director John Hughes and you get one the funniest, most entertaining movie of the decade, possibly of all time. Faking sick, heading to Wrigley Field, leading a parade, taking a Ferrari for a joy ride: all in a day's work for a teenager who just wants to live by his own rules before he has to grow up and have responsibilities. While on the run from the school principal (Jeffrey Jones) and hoping to keep his sister (Jennifer Grey) from ratting him out, Ferris Bueller proves himself as one of the best movie con artists of all time, providing every man, woman, and child a sense of escape as they watch one of slickest kids of all time slither his way around Chicago on a school day. Just remember: life moves pretty fast. Try not to miss it.

#4. The Breakfast Club (1985)

The brat pack and John Hughes ruled the 80's, finding ways to tell the story of the decade's youth through inventive films and well-written scripts. Their best combined effort came in a simple film about a group of mismatched high school students stuck in Saturday detention. Want to design a cast that encapsulates the 80's perfectly? You can't do much better than this: Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, and Ally Sheedy. Throw in a gleefully controlling Paul Gleason and you get a patchwork of 80's style, teenage angst, and a weird sense of found community from some of the most obvious stereotypes we've ever seen on screen. But it's all worth it in the end to watch them "come of age." 
Sincerely Yours, 
The Breakfast Club

#3. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Porky's. Dazed and Confused. Road Trip. American Pie. Superbad. They all owe part of their success to the Amy Heckerling directed, Cameron Crowe scripted Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the most important film of the past 40 years about teenagers and sex (that may be a bit of an overstatement, but still). Starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, and Phoebe Cates, Fast Times defied censors by presenting a world where teenagers thought about sex and pretty much nothing else (not too far from the truth). It was a breath of fresh air in an industry that had never handled the topic so loosely and paved the way for some good (but mostly bad) copycats as years went on. Now it's pretty much all we get at the movie theaters - mostly thanks to Mr. Hand, Jeff Spicoli, and Phoebe Cates emerging from a swimming pool.

#2. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Forget The Artist. Forget Hugo. Want to watch the one film that best represents how movies can take your breath away, touch your heart, and make magic? Steven Spielberg's family drama about an alien who comes to Earth and his special connection with a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas) is everything you need to fall in love with the industry. When Elliott finds a stranded alien, he decides to bring him home and help him find a way home. What results is a touching story of companionship, isolation, and love, even if it means breaking some rules. Also starring a young Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, and C. Thomas Howell, ET is the perfect family film (only approached by The Wizard of Oz in that respect, I believe), stands as one of the landmarks of the great Spielberg's career, and proved that even the unlikeliest of friendships can become defining ones.

#1. Back to the Future (1985)

And then there was one. If there was one film to define what the 1980's were to cinema, this is it - a story about a wild-haired doctor (Christopher Lloyd), an American teenager named Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), and an accidental trip back in time to the 1950's that could jeopardize Marty's very existence on this planet. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Back to the Future used the style of the time to clearly define eras and paint major differences between the "hip" 1980's and the "square" 1950's. Also starring Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover as Marty's young, star-crossed parents, it becomes his mission to assure they eventually come together, no matter how many bullies he must face or guitar solos he must perform. We'll all remember the image of DeLorean, the flux capacitor, and some good old "Johnny B. Goode." But mostly it's the ingenious writing, the wonderful performances, and "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads." Want to 1980's in a nutshell? Look no further than Back to the Future.

Well, that's all folks. Hope you enjoyed the list and hope you have your own opinions. Below I listed some films that just missed the cut and I explain why.

Sins of Omission

Raging Bull - It premiered in 1980, but it's really more of a 1970's auteur movie.
Hoosiers - This movie feels timeless - it doesn't even occur to me that it came out in the 1980's.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - Though it was groundbreaking in terms of animation, it feels more like a 90's movie, though it premiered in 1988.
Blue Velvet - Though David Lynch's twisted film noir is quite a film, its style feels too attached to Lynch. Any of Lynch's films could really premier at anytime and fit (or stand apart, depending on how you look at it).
The Shining - You didn't even know this came out in the 80's, did you? Exactly.

1 comment:

  1. This is a terrific list. I agree with your analysis of Breakfast Club - these kids are SO stereotyped but the effect really works. Now I'll be humming "Don't You Forget About Me"...