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Friday, July 6, 2012

The Movies That Defined the 1980's: 40-31

Robert DeNiro in "Raging Bull"
courtesy of
In this section of the list, we see a few classic comedies, a couple science-fiction films, some horror, and two Best Picture winners. It's a nice motley crew of films, all from different genres and stars. If anything, it paints a picture of how much variety came out the 80's, whether we remember it or not. As I go through, I realize how many really good films won't be on the list. But, that's the way it goes when your list isn't actually "best of." So, here's #40 through #31.

#40. Evil Dead (1981)

Long before Sam Raimi made a couple good Spiderman movies and began production of the Wizard of Oz prequel, he made a name for himself with a horror-comedy hybrid called Evil Dead, an insane independent film starring the ever-campy Bruce Campbell. When five friends find a book called the Necronomicon, they release evil at a cabin in the woods and Ash (Campbell) has to fight to survive the night.  This film is bloody, hilarious, and ridiculous, but it's worth it. Followed by two sequels (Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness), Evil Dead kick-started a talented director's career and helped define a weird sort of horror that doesn't take itself too seriously. Plus, it's the only film I've seen with a scene that paints trees as far...

#39. Beetlejuice (1988)

Tim Burton's 1988 Oscar winner for Best Makeup (seriously) was his second feature film effort after Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and showed the type of director he would be for years after. As strange as Pee-Wee was, it didn't slide into the darker, morbid humor Burton would eventually display with Beetlejuice and subsequent projects. Starring Michael Keaton as the title ghoul, the film tells the story of a young couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who die and are stuck haunting the house they so lovingly built. When a new family moves in, they are connected with the daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) and work to rid the family by whatever means necessary, even if it means summoning the evil (but rambunctious) title "bio-exorcist." It's a fun, Burton-esque look at the afterlife and gave Keaton a platform to camp it up to the nines.

#38. Aliens (1986)

Ridley Scott's 1979 blockbuster Alien still stands as one of the best horror films of all time, adding a sci-fi flare to the genre. In 1986, director James Cameron was tapped to direct a sequel and gave the world arguably a better movie, amped up with more action and suspense. Aliens took the heroine from the first film Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and made her a full on action star, fighting the same aliens who have since colonized. Nominated for seven Oscars (including Best Actress) and winning two (Best Visual Effects and Sound Editing), Aliens is a rare gem that, while many argue is not as good as the first, is still a worthy sequel to a fantastic original. And, in an editor's note, Prometheus is still a disappointment.

#37. Caddyshack (1980)

Writer/director Harold Ramis jumped into feature films with this comedic gem, a near plot-less story of a country club caddie, his attempts to win a college scholarship, and the crazy characters that inhabit the course. Caddyshack served mostly as a platform for some wonderfully gifted comedic actors to eat up screen time, including Chevy Chase, Ted Knight, Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray. Jam-packed with memorable quotes, hysterical situations, and some of the funniest people you'll ever see on screen, Caddyshack remains one of the funniest films ever and certainly ranks high on the all-time best sports films. It was a Cinderella story...coming out of nowhere.

#36. The Thing (1982)

Long before it had a sub-par prequel by the same name, director John Carpenter's The Thing stood out as one of the scariest, most suspenseful films of the decade (and of all time). When a group of scientists go to Antarctica, they are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that takes on the appearance of its victims. The claustrophobia that Carpenter uses to jack up the suspense and terror is unimaginable. Yes, the visual effects when we see the alien are pretty graphic, but it's the waiting and worrying that really baits the audience in. It's been parodied and, like I said, re-imagined as a prequel, but 1982's The Thing is still the gold standard for 80's intelligent horror.

#35. Batman (1989)

Comic books were never really taken seriously as source material (well, they were, but in a cheesy sense) until Tim Burton got the rights to the DC Comics behemoth "Batman." Burton directed the first of a string of Batman films that slowly got worse and worse, but the first one out of the gate was a nice template for 90's comic book films; whether they followed it or not was pretty hit and miss. Starring Michael Keaton as the caped crusader and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, Batman was what you'd expect from a Tim Burton comic book film, with an underlying theme of the macabre. For years, Nicholson's performance as the titular villain stood up as the greatest comic book movie "baddie," until the late Heath Ledger sunk his teeth into the same role, re-imagined by Christopher Nolan. But, this Oscar winning (for Art Direction) film still stands as one of the earliest examples of how to adapt comic books correctly.

#34. Stand By Me (1986)

Two years after director Rob Reiner unleashed Spinal Tap, he pulled back into a short story by Stephen King about a group of kids looking for a dead boy near their town. Starring River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Will Wheaton, and Jerry O'Connell, Stand By Me is a beautiful picture of childhood bonding in terrible circumstances and how retreating to those memories can bring both happiness and pain. Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Stand By Me had everything that various other "coming of age" stories couldn't accomplish: it had talented child actors, a competent director, an intelligent script, and a believable villain, played by Kiefer Sutherland. It's still one of the best films about growing up you'll ever see and will be for a long time.

#33. Amadeus (1984)

Director Milos Forman has plenty of brilliant films under his belt and this one may very well be the best. Peter Shaffer adapted his own stage play for the screen, winning the Oscar and helping the film win seven other Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, and Actor. The story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the young, uncultured genius and his rival Antonio Salieri is a brilliant look at jealousy, hatred, and how someone else's success overshadowing you can not only make you question yourself, but question God and life itself. Beautifully designed, directed, and acted, Amadeus is one of the best films to come out of a decade where science-fiction, romantic comedy, and action seemed to rule. Editor's note: Tom Hulce deserved the Oscar for Lead Actor over F. Murray Abraham. I'm just saying.

#32. Rain Man (1988)

This beloved Best Picture winner was directed by Barry Levinson, his follow-up to 1987's Good Morning Vietnam. Tom Cruise plays as a selfish man who finds out his father left a fortune to his brother Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman, whom he had never even known existed. The catch: Raymond is an autistic savant and needs constant care. In an effort to get the money, Charlie (Cruise) kidnaps Raymond and takes him on a road trip. When he learns about Raymond's gift with  numbers, their trip detours to Las Vegas. While many identify the story as a heartwarming one where two brothers come together, the edge that Charlie is really just a horrible person still exists. What's more, while Hoffman won the Oscar for his work, Cruise proved he could be more than a one-dimension sex-symbol actor with a nice, layered performance that really anchors Rain Man.

#31. Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

Who doesn't love an underdog story? Well, director Jeff Kanew delivered one of the best with 1984's Revenge of the Nerds, an homage to all those kids that were bullied with a picture of what could happen if they fought back. Starring Anthony Edwards and Robert Carradine as Gilbert and Lewis, incoming freshmen at the fictional Adams College, they face plenty of tortures at the hands of the jock-filled Alpha Beta fraternity. Eventually, they realize the only way to get revenge is to form their own fraternity, affectionately called Lambda Lambda Lambda (Tri-Lams). It's the fairy tale of brains besting brawn (though brawn is nearly illiterate here), but it's done in hilarious fashion. It may be another sex-fueled teenage comedy, but it has plenty of redeeming qualities to make it worth your while.

Well, next up is the halfway point. See your favorite yet?


  1. As a child of the 80s, I'm getting a big kick out of this list... so far, everything you've listed (except Cinema Paradiso) is a film that I've either seen and enjoyed, or it's one I've got jotted down on my "need to see" list. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  2. only gets better from here! Thanks for reading...