Ah, the VHS Era! What a great time to be a kid. Here are the films of the 80s that resonate the most with me in 2017. I warn you up front - my choices are fairly conventional. And you'll see a lot more "As a Kid" entries this time around.
Great year for movies (The Fog, The Empire Strikes Back, Altered States, The Long Good Friday, The Changeling) but my heart belongs to:
Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Written by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson.
Too much internet vitriol on the topic has hardened my stance on whether or not it's an effective adaptation of the novel (answer: it is), but there are even some baffling dingbats out there who insist it isn't even a good movie. Kubrick movies can sometimes take a few watches to reveal their many levels of genius, it's true, but even a cursory glance at this one should be enough to clue the viewer in that this is no ordinary ghost story. I don't refer to any of the fanciful interpretations re: its underlying themes, just its extraordinary look, feel, and sound.
I've read such crazy things about it over the years that perhaps I champion it more than most. It's not about sticking up for a personal fave, though, or for Kubrick (who certainly doesn't need little old me to rise to his defense) - it's about... correcting such an outrageous misconception whenever and wherever it arises.
Honorable Mention: Flash Gordon. With each year that passes, this one gets better and better. You can almost see the alternate timeline where America kept making movies like this until the singularity was at hand. This is a film I loved purely as a kid, then outgrew or thought I outgrew, then loved ironically, and now am back to loving purely.
Also The Apple. Because wtf.
Foreign: The Last Metro. My favorite Truffaut is Day for Night, but this might be my second.
As a kid: 9 to 5, Xanadu, The Last Flight of Noah's Ark, My Bodyguard, and The Private Eyes. I've seen 9 to 5 since then but the others not since the 80s. I have had occasion to watch Bon Voyage Charlie Brown, though, a few dozen times over the past couple of years with my girls:
|Still holds up.|
Another banner year for movies: An American Werewolf in London, Nighthawks, Escape from New York, Excalibur, Time Bandits - all classics that have stood the test of time. Excalibur is a little wonky, but wonky King Arthur works surprisingly well. Also? The greatest movie ever made:
|Raiders of the Lost Ark|
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Lawrence Kasdan (with George Lucas.)
As with Jaws, I mean, what more can be said? This is the only film to have out- Casablanca'd Casablanca. (Not counting Bloodsport.)
Sorry so brief, but what is there to say really? If you don't love this film, I'm not saying you're wrong, just that you're awful.
Foreign: Possession. I won't spoil anything, but wow. (RIP, Zulawski.)
As a kid: Many of the films I watched over and over again on VHS did not transition well to the 90s and beyond (On Golden Pond, The Cannonball Run, The Fox and the Hound, Dragonslayer, Condorman, The Devil and Max Devlin, (kind of has a creepy context to it nowadays) The Great Muppet Caper, Carbon Copy, Stripes.) I still like them (most of them - probably not Carbon Copy, but it's been a good 30 years since I saw it) just never felt the need to own them as an adult. Others (The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie, Time Bandits) did/do.
My honorable mentions for this year are some of the best films in their respective genres (Poltergeist, Bladerunner, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, Creepshow First Blood) or are awesome in their own unique ways (Quest for Fire, Rocky 3.) But as a few immortals once said, there can be only one, and it is:
Also the subject of a spot-on musical appreciation. ("You can check on your ancient computer / It's astonishing how quickly I spread. / You can pick up an axe and go crazy / But I can grow legs from my head!")
As Nerdist put it in their review of the blu-ray: "The Thing is a movie that infects your mind and imagination, the way the alien bits infect the men of the camp. It’s got the requisite big scares and awe-inspiring creature effects for an '80s horror flick without an ounce of cheesiness. Everything is treated completely seriously, and the result is a movie that was too bleak for the time, but can't be ignored evermore. It’s a classic. Buy this shit." Amen.
Honorable Mention: Tron. It wasn't particularly beloved back in the day and on more than a few occasions in elementary school I pretended not to like it when everyone in the lunch room or on the bus was ganging up on it. (I apologize, Steve and Don; I let you down.) Thankfully - as with The Thing - it found a second and enduring life on home video.
Documentary: Koyaanisqatsi, Burden of Dreams. The former is where I got the (inverted) screencap for the header for this blog. The latter is the first but not the last appearance of Werner Herzog in these posts.
As a Kid: E.T. (of course but I never connected with this quite the way everyone else did; I dig it and all, I can just take it or leave it), Megaforce, The Secret of NIMH, The Last Unicorn, Zapped! (First laser disc I ever watched), Night Shift, (largely forgotten today but great performance from Michael Keaton and the soundtrack is killer) The Beastmaster, and The Slumber Party Massacre.
Directed by John Badham. Written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes.
"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play." Amen, Joshua. One of these days some generation of human population somewhere is going to put into practice all the great advice we give ourselves in the movies.
Honorable Mentions: Zelig, The Right Stuff, Star 80, and two by David Cronenberg, The Dead Zone and Videodrome, their messages still as timely as ever.
I rewatched: Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone in prep for this blog. It didn't hold up under questioning. That brief 3-D craze of the early 80s (I say "craze" but they were all flops pretty much) produced little of value.
Yeah, It's Still Awesome: Return of the Jedi. Somewhere along the way it became popular to trash Jedi. Myself I thought it was undeserving of the contempt heaped on it even before the prequels came along and made the original trilogy shine all the brighter. Yub nub!
As a kid: The Twilight Zone: The Movie, Superman 3, Staying Alive, Mr. Mom, Max Dugan Returns (love this movie still - kinda goes for all of these), Blue Thunder (even this one, not that I've seen it in 30+ years), Something Wicked This Way Comes, Sleepaway Camp, and Krull. (Okay, these last 3 I don't love so much anymore.)
I was so gaga over Raiders in the 80s that there was no chance that anything but
|Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom|
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz.
would be my contemporaneous favorite. Same is true in 2017 pretty much. A lot of Indy fans have convinced themselves that there's something wrong with this film, or that "it's not as good as you remember." Or that Willie and Short Round (or evil Thugees) ruin it or somedamnsuch. I honestly don't know how to respond. It's not perfect, and it's no Raiders, but it's awesome and stop kidding yourselves.
Honorable Mentions: Amadeus, Romancing the Stone, (When I was a kid I thought you could grow up and basically choose Michael Douglas' lifestyle as a legit career path and I've never gotten over the disappointment, I don't think. My wife is always busting on my enduring affection for this movie. But I stand by it as a damn entertaining piece of cinema, a story well-told, with characters you care about. Horrible sequel, alas), The Terminator, This is Spinal Tap, and The Killing Fields.
As a Kid: I basically still like all of these films (Gremlins, Ghostbusters, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Sixteen Candles, Night of the Comet, Red Dawn, The Karate Kid, The Last Starfighter, Conan the Destroyer, Splash, Footloose) just not the way I did when I was 10. So it goes.
Ask My Parents... and I did because they were just in town and after telling me there's no way they could possibly remember what I was watching a lot in 1984, they then rattled off Firestarter, The Neverending Story, The Ice Pirates, Breakin', Beat Street, ("those breakerdance movies") and Cloak and Dagger. I've seen the first two within the past few years but I need to line up the last four sometime.
My favorite then and my favorite now is:
|Young Sherlock Holmes|
Directed by Barry Levinson. Written by Chris Columbus.
I can see some broad strokes at play in 2017 of which I wasn't aware in 1985, but who cares? It's too bad this didn't lead to any more movies (or some kind of reunion deal) for the two leads. I've been singing this song for years and won't stop anytime soon.
They Also Served: Back to the Future, Brewster's Millions, The Falcon and the Snowman, Fletch, Fright Night, Real Genius, Death Wish 3, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, and Better Off Dead.
Foreign: Come and See. Have you seen this? Good freaking lord. If there was a worse place to be on Planet Earth from 1939 - 1945 than Eastern Europe, I don't want to know.
|Still my vote for most effective and mind warping war movie ending ever made, no hyperbole. (Outside of In Country.)|
Klum, bless his departed heart, gave me a framed picture of the above "for my future office." I have it in the closet. That'll be a fun one for my family to explainif I kick off unexpectedly.
As a Kid: Cat's Eye, My Science Project, The Goonies, Gotcha', European Vacation (Ca Plane Pour Moi!), Rocky IV, Cocoon, Rambo: First Blood pt. 2, Ladyhawke, Explorers, Just One of the Guys, Teen Wolf, Enemy Mine, The Heavenly Kid, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.~1986~
I tend to gravitate towards those films that have a little something for everyone, or that can be conceptually reconfigured to say everything about everything. Ergo:
|Big Trouble in Little China|
Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Gary Goldman, David Weinstein, and W.D. Richter.
|It is the film all other films - from Herbie the Love Bug to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - wish to be.|
Honorable Mentions: Jesus, what a year. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Aliens, The Fly, Blue Velvet, The Color of Money, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
A Genre of One: Top Gun.
As a Kid: Stand By Me (I really wish I could still reconnect with this one, FWIW,) Crocodile Dundee, Karate Kid 2, Maximum Overdrive, Cobra, The Golden Child, Witchboard, Transformers: the Movie, Platoon, Highlander, One Crazy Summer. All classics of one form or another, just the ones above this paragraph edge them out in a liferaft scenario.
"Then let's head down into that cellar and carve ourselves a witch."
Honorable Mentions: Full Metal Jacket, Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Predator, Robocop, Wall Street, Prince of Darkness, Real Men. That last one's more or less forgotten, which is a shame. I haven't seen it in forever, but it was a very unexpected pleasure to find on cable at my buddy Jeff's house back in the day.
As a Kid: Good Morning Vietnam, Less Than Zero, The Lost Boys. Like a lot of people, I had a huge junior high crush on Jami Gertz.
|Her career faded somewhat, but she did okay for herself.|
Also: Three Men and a Baby, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Mannequin, Three o'Clock High, Innerspace, The Running Man, Hellraiser, Summer School. You probably think I'm just naming any movie I once enjoyed, but I'm only listing those films I watched at least 9 or 10 times. Innerspace I must have watched at least 50; it's difficult to see now what it was about that one that so appealed to me. Still a fun little movie, but 50 times?
Did I say that Raiders was the best movie ever made? I was wrong. Here's the correct answer:
Directed by Martin Brest. Written by George Gallo.
I can't adequately convey how perfect this movie is. Here's a good review that does it for me. Great performances (particularly the leads but also Dennis Farina and Yaphet Kotto), great characters, great script, great heart, great 80s production value (bluesy soundtrack, car chases, helicopter stunts, etc.)
Honorable Mentions: Heathers, They Live, Die Hard, Beetlejuice. In any year that didn't also have Midnight Run, these would all be tied for the top spot.
As a Kid: The Great Outdoors, Big, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Alien Nation, Bloodsport, Eight Men Out, Elvira Mistress of the Dark, Funny Farm, Scrooged, Moon Over Parador.
Couldn't decide between these two quotes so here's both of them: "There are strange things afoot at the Circle K." And "All we are is dust in the wind, dude." Genius.
|Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure|
Directed by Stephen Herek. Written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon.
If you'd told me in 1989 that I'd be listing this as my favorite, I'd have disbelieved you. I almost disbelieve myself now. In no rational universe should this be anyone's vote for favorite movie of 1989. But we do not, of course, inhabit a rational universe. Excellent.
Honorable Mentions: Roadhouse (I was too cool for this one at the time, bizarrely, so I missed out on 20 years of watching this and cackling along with everyone else), Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Foreign: Cinema Paradiso, The Killer. (More on John Woo next time.)
As a Kid: Batman, The Abyss, Sex Lies and Videotape, Tango and Cash, Always, (for some reason I really loved this movie in 1989 and even believed, weirdly, that it was his best film. I have no explanation for this) Casualties of War, Lean On Me, Lock Up. None of these had the longest shelf life with me, but in 1989 (or afterward on VHS/ Pay Per View) I was a frequent consumer.