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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Movies That Defined the 1980's: 20-11

Scene from "Poltergeist" courtesy of
Some classic comedies, some quality science fiction, a quintessential horror film and an Oscar winner make up this portion of the list, as we barrel down onto the top ten. As we move forward, the movies become harder to order, as it's tough to say if #11 shouldn't be in the top ten or if #15 is really less definitive than #14. But, in my expansive knowledge and research (tongue in cheek, of course), I've determined that this should be the order. I'd hate to hear your thoughts about the top ten. But, here we go with #20 through #11.

#20. National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)

In 1983, writer John Hughes and director Harold Ramis introduced the world to Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family, and the world was never the same. As the father who feels the need to force his family into a good time, Chevy Chase proved that a dad is only as good as the family by which he is surrounded. In National Lampoon's Vacation, he takes his clan on a cross-country trip to Wallyworld, catching quite a few bad breaks along the way. His wife (Beverly D'Angelo) repeatedly loses patience and his kids (Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron) are perpetually embarrassed. Even compared to Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid), Clark looks unhinged. But there's something to be said about a dad who just wants his family to have a good time and this film is the perfect example of a man pushed to the brink, but never giving up on his dream of vacation relaxation.

#19. Platoon (1986)

War movies come and go, but take this repeatedly filmed topic and spin it on its head. Oliver Stone's Platoon isn't necessarily un-American, but it's certainly an attack on American war tactics in the much maligned Vietnam War aggression. Starring Charlie Sheen as a rich kid who decides to enlist, this backwards view of the horrors of war won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director. It's Sheen at what I'll call his "limited best" and featured a list of great supporting performances. While Sheen interacts with the other members of his outfit (Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, a young Johnny Depp), he begins to see what war can do to people, what some men will do to keep from going insane, and just how constant exposure to murder, rape, and pure evil can destroy the soul of what may have been a good person. War is Hell, after all.

#18. Airplane! (1980)

From an intelligent look at the evil of war to what is still the greatest parody movie of all time, Airplane! took aim at the bevy of disaster films of the 70's and succeeded beyond expectations. With a plotline borrowed directly from a little known film called Zero Hour, this pun-tastic film is built for multiple viewings. When Ted Striker (Robert Hays) is dumped, he hops a plane on which his ex (Julie Hagerty) is a stewardess; hijinks and danger ensues. Starring a laundry list of talented actors (Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack) and a few odd additions (Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, Barbara Billingsley), this classic parody made fun of everything - commercials, TV shows, movies, etc. - and surely gave us one of the most quotable films of all time, but don't call me Shirley.

#17. The Karate Kid (1984)

If you were stuck on a deserted island and needed one movie to motivate you to do escape from the island through hard work and patience, you couldn't do much better than John G. Avildsen's The Karate Kid. The same guy that directed Rocky delivered another underdog story here and infused it with a more youthful guise. Starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel-son, a boy who is constantly bullied and his (at first) reluctant mentor Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), The Karate Kid introduced America to the world of martial arts in a way that wasn't so focused on the fighting part. Instead, Mr. Miyagi taught patience, control, and meditation. Morita was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the role, while young William Zabka had yet another turn as the teenage antagonist he did so well in the 80's. When it comes to 80's sports-themed movies, this may be the best around - nothing's gonna ever bring it down.

#16. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Wes Craven made his mark on the horror genre in the 1970's with low budget successes The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. In 1984, he brought terror to the mainstream with A Nightmare on Elm Street, creating one of the most menacing, memorable movie villains of all time. Freddy Kruegger - a child murderer and rapist - begins to haunt the children of the lynch mob that killed him one by one, but only when they fall asleep. Armed with gloved hands with blades coming out of them, Freddy's sinister appearance only in dreams makes no one safe. Among his victims is a young actor named Johnny Depp, murdered in an amazing "bed eating" incident. Craven's film followed in the footsteps of such successes as Friday the 13th and Hallloween, by making the villain the star, and eventually was followed by a bevy of unnecessary sequels. Unfortunately for poor Robert Englund, he would have trouble avoiding typecasting for the rest of his life.

#15. Dirty Dancing (1987)

Moviegoers had the time of their lives in 1987, following Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) as she slowly falls for the dance instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) from the camp where her family is staying. Obviously, since he's a low-level staff member, Baby's father (Jerry Orbach) doesn't approve, and so begins the love story. The Catskill Mountains have never appeared so magical, as we watch Johnny and Baby fall in love while he teaches her a dance routine when his partner falls ill. Dirty Dancing took on a weird life of its own and still remains one of the most beloved "chick flicks" ever made. But, despite all that brazen femininity, the movie won the Oscar for Best Original Song. The movie absolutely drips with cheese, but it's not a film can you just forget. After all, nobody puts baby in the corner.

#14. Blade Runner (1982)

Among all the dystopian science fiction films in the 1980's, Ridley Scott's brilliant film noir may be the most layered and the one that still stands up in today's cinematic landscape. Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a cop who specializes in terminating replicants - androids the human race has created to serve colonies outside of Earth. Not long after his retirement, he is called back in to track down six replicants that escaped. While Blade Runner didn't receive the immediate accolades it eventually had bestowed upon it, this cyberpunk version of the future has since received new life after re-releases and a rebirth through more recent films paying homage to its brilliant storytelling. Also starring Daryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Edward James Olmos, this adaptation of a classic Philip K. Dick novel is still one of the greatest science-fiction films ever produced, though I would argue it falls into the film noir genre much more squarely.

#13. The Terminator (1984)

Not long after Arnold Schwarzenegger made a name for himself with Conan the Barbarian, he and James Cameron teamed up for one of the most ambitious, but successful independent films ever made, The Terminator. When a future war breaks out, a seemingly unstoppable cyborg is sent back in time to1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose life directly shapes the future world. Meanwhile, another soldier is sent to 1984 to serve as Sarah's protector (Michael Biehn) and a chase and subsequent battles result. While the world of James Cameron has changed significantly nowadays, his first major success as a director came here and, obviously, led to bigger, more expensive things. That being said, The Terminator still stands as one of his best and gave Arnold Schwarzenegger a role that he fit into like a glove. It was followed by what I would argue is a better sequel, but I still would push you to watch the original and behold its low-budget intelligence.

#12. Scarface (1983)

The movie poster now found in every rapper's house was actually a semi-remake of a classic Howard Hawkes films starring Paul Muni. Brian De Palma moved the gangster film to Miami, focused it on the drug trade, and told the American success storythrough the lens of violence, drug use, greed, and sex. Starring Al Pacino as Cuban (yes, Cuban) immigrant Tony Montana and his masterful ascent up the drug cartel ladder is loud, stylish, and a lot of fun, as egregiously overacted as it may be. Also starring F. Murray Abraham, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Scarface turns up the camp, piles on the cocaine, and delivers one-liner after one-liner. It's honestly not a great movie when you strip it down, but it's still some of the most fun you'll have with an Al Pacino performance - one of his best loose cannon turns to watch.

#11. When Harry Met Sally... (1989)

It almost made the top ten, purely out of respect for the late, great Nora Ephron, but I ended up leaving it just short. Rob Reiner's film is a brutally honest (and hilarious) story about two people who fall in love, but only after taking the long route. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan play the title characters who have a wonderful friendship, but always wonder if "the next step" could jeopardize their relationship or make it better than they could imagine. Romantic comedies aren't written this well anymore, and Ephron defined the way to paint a love story on screen. She may have followed it up with Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail, but When Harry Met Sally... will always stand as her best, as one of Reiner's best, and quite possibly the best romantic comedy of all time.

Ooh boy...finally have the top ten coming next. Do you have any idea what it's going to be? Do you have any thoughts? Arguments? Suggestions?

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