|David Bowie in "Labyrinth" courtesy|
1. When you have two children under the age of two, a full time job, and more than a few part time jobs (not to mention this blog to keep current), you don't get time to see films as regularly, so, what would normally be filled with reviews/synopses, I fill with these features to keep my site from being stagnant.
2. I like lists. I like ranking things. And I like arguing/debating about lists with other people. So, bring it on.
Anyway, this time we'll look at the 50 definitive films from the decade of excess, the 1980's. Easily the most nostalgic of my definitive series so far (probably because I was born in 1983), this was easily the most difficult to separate from my own tastes. But, I did my best. One more reminder that this is a definitive list, not the "best of." Good films are interspersed with bad ones on this list. Enjoy numbers 50 through 41.
#50. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Seven years after giving the gift of The Shining to the world and twelve years before confusing the same world with the baffling (though underrated) Eyes Wide Shut, iconic director Stanley Kubrick delivered one of the most manic and brutal looks at war with Full Metal Jacket. Memorable for the "colorful" quotes and a young Vincent D'Onofrio's incredible physical transformation in the film, Kubrick's vision grabbed him and co-writers Michael Herr and Gustav Hasford an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Eventually, the film slid into cult status, but it still stands as a Kubrick classic and introduced us to the man who would embody "drill sergeant" in the decades to follow, R. Lee Emery.
#49. Tootsie (1982)
Dustin Hoffman will go down in history as one of the most gifted actors our country has ever produced. Though his resume includes Midnight Cowboy, Kramer vs. Kramer, and All the President's Men, it may be Tootsie that showed us the kind of range he was truly capable of. The story of an actor who, when he can't find work, decides to audition in drag is a callback to the gender-bending success of films like Some Like It Hot. A film that says - though rather obviously - a lot about feminism and the machismo that still ran the media industry, Tootsie picked up ten Oscar nominations - its only victory came in Supporting Actress for Jessica Lange. But, in the end, Dustin Hoffman in a dress may be better than 99% of any other actor in anything.
#48. The Abyss (1989)
Long before James Cameron created the world of Pandora or even sailed on the ship Titanic, he mixed the two with a tale of civilian divers who encounter an aquatic alien species while searching for a nuclear submarine at the bottom of the ocean. Cameron had written and directed films before (you'll see later), but this was the first he wrote completely on his own with a studio giving him a substantial budget. Nominated for four Oscars and winning for Best Visual Effects, The Abyss was the first look at what this director could do if you throw money at him, give him free reign, and let him tell an actual story, as opposed to covering all the film's shortcomings with pretty blue people.
#47. Raising Arizona (1987)
In 1984, a team of brothers broke out with a Sundance hit call Blood Simple. But, three years later, the Coen Brothers made their first major mark on the industry with one of the decade's best comedies, Raising Arizona. It's an insane premise - a lifetime criminal falls in love with a local police officer. They can't have children and see a wealthy local couple are having quintuplets. In a decision that makes total sense, the husband H.I. McDonough (Nicholas Cage) decides to kidnap one of the children to keep for themselves. Also starring Holly Hunter, John Goodman, and Randall 'Tex' Cobb, Raising Arizona still stands as one of the Coen Brothers' funniest films and proved these brothers could do just about any type of film they wanted.
#46. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, the 1988 won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and developed a bit of a cult following ever since. Martin Scorcese's Hugo may not have borrowed techniques or even told the same story, but it certainly owes a little bit to Cinema Paradiso in its overall message. The film revolves around a filmmaker and his recollection of a childhood spent at his village theater, forming a deep bond with the projectionist. Upon his return there, he reconnects with a lost love. For fear of using the phrase a little too often, it's truly a "love letter to the movies." When we have a strong connection to something - whether it's an activity, a person, or a place - returning to that love brings it all back. Cinema Pardiso showed that not only can movies evoke emotion, but can drive otherwise silent men to bask in a love that knows no bounds.
#45. This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Christopher Guest may now be the undisputed champion of the mockumentary, but his first foray into the genre came in 1984 as a writer and star of Rob Reiner's This is Spinal Tap, a hilarious send up of hair metal bands and the pressures of touring for the "loudest band in the world." Reiner plays documentarian Marty DeBergi has he follows Spinal Tap on an American comeback tour filled with a bevy of issues. The band - comprised of Michael McKean, Guest, Harry Shearer, and a rotating door of drummers who keep dying for various ridiculous reasons - are legendary, thanks to "insightful" lyrics and what can only be classified as a "thirst" for stardom, paired with artistic integrity. All of Guest's comedic successes of the 90's and since owe quite a bit to this genius piece of comedic filmmaking, and he would be the first to say so.
#44. Say Anything... (1989)
Cameron Crowe had major success as a writer early in the 1980's (you'll see later on the list), but his first turn behind the camera, filming a script he wrote, would add up to one of the strongest, most honest looks at young love in the last 30 years. Say Anything starred John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler, a teenager adrift in indecision and kick-boxing and his new found love for popular girl Diane Court (Ione Skye), who, as his exact opposite, still seems to be the perfect match for him, especially when he stands by her when no one else will. A beautifully simple story played to perfection by Cusack, the film put Crowe on the map, leading to plenty of other "coming of age" stories from the man who used to write articles for "Rolling Stone" at age 15.
#43. Flashdance (1983)
Sometimes, all you want to do is dance. In the first "cheesy" entry on our list, Jennifer Beals stars in Flashdance, the story of a Pittsburgh area welder and exotic dancer who works to get into ballet school. Now, despite the overdone story, sub-par acting, and ridiculous premise, Flashdance found its audience, standing still as one of the nostalgic favorites, thanks to a memorable soundtrack and a collection of extremely noteworthy moments, despite the fact that Beals had a male body double for some dance scenes. Nominated for four Oscars and winning Best Original Song ("Flashdance...What a Feeling"), this karaoke-style pseudo-musical was directed by the same man who gave us Jacob's Ladder, Fatal Attraction, and Unfaithful, so I can't bury it too much.
#42. Less Than Zero (1987)
Long before the age of Facebook and the Internet, the only way we could keep in touch with our old friends was with phone calls and visits home for the holidays. Marek Kanievska's adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' first novel (written at age 21 when still at Bennington College) is a stylish tale of a college freshman who comes home to Los Angeles only to find his former best friend is a train wreck of a drug addict. Starring Andrew McCarthy, James Spader, and Jami Gertz, what Less Than Zero did more than anything was introduce us to "full-on" Robert Downey, Jr., coincidentally in the drug-addled fashion that would dominate his life for years. Ellis hates the film and, while it suffers from a number of issues with plotting and melodrama, the film still stands as one of the few offerings involving the "brat pack" that isn't overly saccharine.
#41. The Lost Boys (1987)
Other than the brat pack, the 1980's were dominated by a number of other actors from the "other side of the tracks," specifically Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, and Kiefer Sutherland. Director Joel Schumacher followed up 1985's St. Elmo's Fire with The Lost Boys, a story of two brothers convinced their new home is infested with vampires. Featuring Jason Patric, Dianne Wiest, and the three actors listed above, the film caught a visceral angle of teenage angst and the frustration of starting over in a new place. It's a little campy (as Schumacher usually is) and a little scary, but it's a solid showcase for all the actors in the cast and an important step in the careers of all involved. Plus, it's just a pretty cool movie.
Onward and upward...40 through 31 coming up next.