Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Top 10 Films of the 1980s

It was the decade of excess, adventure, and consumption. But was it the age that taste forgot?...

....nope....well, maybe a little...this is hard.

Introduction- A Brief Retraction

Two weeks ago I paid tribute to my favorite era in film-the lyrical, challenging, and glorious 1990s. Oh, what a golden age! However, in doing so I may have inadvertedly taken a shot at another era, one with arguably comparible cinematic influence. Yes...I am taking about the always silly 1980s.

The 80s was, of course, an era of true excess. It was an era in which less was not more, more was more. This gave way to a total reinvention of the adventure film, with Star Wars sequels firing on all cylinders, Indiana Jones and Terminator franchises coming to be, and movies like The Goonies, Blade Runner, and The Lost Boys ensuring that 1980s adventure films would forever have a distinct visual style.

But, surprisingly, the excess disnt just help adventure movies. You see, with a taste for excess comes a greater ambition, and with greater ambition comes a more ambitious art film. As such, the indie film was essentially revolutionized in the 1980s; and many masterpieces were churned out as well.

In preparing my list I was surprised by the sheer excess of politically, philosophically, and technologically innovative films that needed to be be confined to the honorable mention list:

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)*, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)*, Blue Velvet (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1988), Back to the Future (1985), Robocop (1987), Amadeus (1984), Terminator (1984), Ghostbusters (1984),  Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Sixteen Candles (1984), Body Heat (1981), Escape From New York (1981), Batman (1989), They Live (1988), Wallstreet (1988), Pretty in Pink (1986), sex, lies, and videotape (1989), After Hours (1985), The Vanishing (1988), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Fanny and Alexander (1982)

*nope, it didn't make the list
*nope, neither did that

Yes, I have been unkind to you, 80s. I have left the 1980s with bad karma (chameleon), feeling, perhaps, like a virgin touched for the very first time....

Please accept my apology by way of my Top 10 1980s Films:

10. The Breakfast Club (1986)

A movie that looks, sounds, and most importantly, feels quintessentially 80s, The Breakfast Club is also one of the best teen films in history. Arguably the masterpiece of 80s favourite John Hughes, this is a film about the rigid boundaries of fear that represent teen cliques. Each student in detention has chosen to identify and express a different culture-princess, jock, rebel, nerd, freak. In time, however, the bond of detention breaks the cycle and friendships are formed. No matter what the future holds, we get the sense that these characters will always cherish their morning as "The Breakfats Club".

Humor, Huey Lewis, rage against the machine, this film has it all.

Best Moment: The final ten minutes has an air of romance and friendship that just has to be the unique to the 80s. Come on, who doesn't love Bender's fist bump??

9. The Shining (1980)

Kubrick's horror masterpiece may be one of only a half dozen horrors that can be considered worthy of decades of analysis. It has been theorized to be a social reflection on everything from the colonial losses of Native Americans  to a faked moon landing. One thing is for sure, however, this is one of the most masterful and visually memorable movies ever made. Bolstered by Kubrick's mood, a great score, and Jack Nicholson's iconic performance, The Shining is a grim and totally unforgettable experience. See it more than once!

Best Moment: Toss up between the iconic trike shot sequences (especially the one with those twins), and "Here's Johnny"...the line Jack Nicholson can never live down. Also, that old lady...*shudders*

8. The Thing (1982)

Sometimes a film is great simply for doing what it sets out to do without fault. John Carpenter's The Thing is among the greatest remakes of all time. More visceral and far more horrific than the refined Howard Hawks original, this is a memorable a film as one will ever see. The best practical monster effects...ever are complimented by a Morricone score, a charismatic cast, fantastic atmosphere and sense of place, visually inventive scares, and Kurt Russell's considerable beard to make this film one of John Caprenter's best and a film that will be the subject of both critical analysis and fanboy lore alike for decades to come. Horror perfection.

Best Moment: The blood scene is awesome; ditto for the ending. Also, who doesn't like the "stomach-jaws" surgery scare (you will know when you see it!)

7. Paris, Texas (1984)

A film for the lonely, the lovers, and those of us who just like to see good characters on screen. This is one of the saddest and sweetest small town takes and family and loss. The story of a call girl, her son, and a brother lost in the dessert is a film that truly has to be seen to be believed. The score alone is enough to mark Wim Wender's masterpiece with distinction.

This is the epitome of a small story with a big heart. And, it has Harry Dean Stanton...what's not to love?

Best Moment: "I knew these people...". Unquestionably the most romantic monologue ever delivered in a brothel.

6. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

If somebody was to pitch you an idea for a movie in which the life of Jesus is retold using a boy and his pet alien, you might be forgiven for a certain pessimism. However, throw Steven Spielberg into the mix and things change dramatically. In a decade of feel-good adventures for kids, this was the feelgood movie for kids. A story in which a young boy finds an alien in his backyard, kisses the pretty girl in class, runs from the 'Feds, and flies through the air on his bicycle is surely enough to both please kids, and speak to the adults who have never forgotten the first time they saw this great film.

Best Moment: The realisation that the story is semi-Biblical is quite a trip; bit the conclusion is still the film's best achievement.

5. Brazil (1985)

Many films can claim to have great production design, but Terry Gilliam's Brazil may well have the greatest prooduction design in film history. The story of a man at odds with the dystopian British future in which he lives, this is truly an ode to feeling lonely and out of place. Befriending an outcast played by Robert DeNiro, and falling in love with a woman he is trying save is clearly not enough for Sam Lowery, he also flies through the air with dazzling wings, is chased by giants and has his apartment frozen in a block of ice. This is a cult favorite for the thinking man.

Best Moment: The Icarus-esque flight scenes are still beautiful, Lowery's mother's face-lift still grotesque. I love the sequence in which Lowery does battle with a giant in a dreamworld; not to mention the terrifying conclusion in the gargantuan chamber.

4. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Here is a film so beautiful that it makes a group of mass murderers truly look like sensitive souls. Think of it as a more European Goodfellas.

Leone's final masterpiece owns the screen from the opening swell of "God Bless America...", to its conclusion in a seedy opium den...four hours of screen-time later. Guilt, misogyny, murder, drugs, and corruption are not enough to stop the humanity seeping out of every frame during scenes as simple as a young ballerina reading a love sonnet, a boy devouring eating a cupcake, and two lost friends saying goodbye.

This is one of my favorite films ever made...

Best Moment: This hopeless romantic loves the love sonnet scene between young Noodles and Deborah.

3. Aliens (1986)

If the 80s stood for excess, then this might be its most emblematic film. A furious combination of machismo, horror, wit and relentless pace, James Cameron rightly refers to his blockbuster masterpiece as a "ride." That shouldn't, however, suggest that there isn't craft involved...

Where would action be without the kind of characters like Vasquez and Hudson. Cameron's motley band became the archetype for action film scripting almost instantaeously. Also, the "bigger is better" approach of the set design (in particular the amazing Queen Alien) brought out the best from everybody in the design apartment, in particular Stan Winston.

And, then there's that Newt kid...

Best Moment: "Game over, Man!", "Get away from her you bitch!"

2. Raging Bull (1980)

Haven't seen this movie yet? Well, get ready fro film school....

Jake LaMotta- he came, he saw, he conquered, he fell, he cried...we cried with him.

To call this film impeccably executed would be an understatement. DeNiro succeeds Brando as the man who can best portray a sensitive soul within a gruff exterior, guilt and paranoia forever waiting to pounce upon him. For his part, Scorsese leads in timeless form- think of the long single-take as Jake marches towards his brother Joey's (played by Joe Pesci) house, or the darkness in LaMotta's cell as his confronts his demons. It may also be the most devastating portrayal of a marriage since A Streetcar Named Desire.

So much more than just a  boxing movie...

Best Moment: How about the horrific final fight with Sugar Ray Robison??

and, the winner is....

1. Ran (1985)

"A series of human events witnessed from heaven". This is how Akira Kurosawa chose to describe arguably his best film. I chose to describe it, personally, as one of the greatest of all cinematic achievements of an era and by anybody.

The courage to only include one traditional close-up in a two and a half hour movie is only the beginning. As Kurosawa was going blind at the time of making this film, he storyboarded every frame by hand with water color paint (which explains the film's dazzling use of color). Oh, and he also had the audacity to change the ending to Shakespeare's "King Lear". Wow.

In case the idea of a samurai King Lear isn't enough of a sell unto itself...I can testify to fact that the film provides both artsy symbolism and blood-drenched action in abundance to satisfy fans on both sides of the fence. Oh, and then there's Lady Kaede- a must see character!

You will rarely see better.

Best Moments: The battle sequences, and Lady Kaede's amazing exit.


So, there you have it. Another decade evangelized, another blog churned out (number 29, actually!)


1. Soon enough, I will have chosen a favorite film from each of the 10 completed decades of narrative film (not counting this decade).

2. Once that is done, I will be ready to compile a top ten list of the ten filns that topped each decade list.

3. When I have decided on my number one from that list- that film will be THE OFFICIAL KINO SHOUT! PICK FOR GREATEST FILM EVER MADE!

But, why should you need to worry about all that?...

Thanks for reading,

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