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Top 50 of 1980s January 27, 2009

Posted by clydefro in : Classic Films, 1980s , trackback


My lists of Top 50 films from each decade seem to be quite popular and I’m happy to continue with them. They are compiled for the purpose of submission at the Criterion forum (.org), in the Lists Project. I then put together an attempt to justify my selections via a few sentences, as well as adding links whenever I’ve written about a particular film. This decade, the 1980s, is a particularly difficult one for multiple reasons. Foremost, I don’t like it. The ’80s in general just don’t interest me. I don’t really like the movies, the music, the television, anything. There are, of course, exceptions and all 50 of these films listed below are ones I do enjoy on some level. The additional snag is that I’ve probably seen less movies of merit from the ’80s than any other decade since the ’30s, or maybe even the ’20s. I tried to fill in a lot of the more obvious gaps (I’d never seen Blade Runner before this project, for example), but some things still eluded me.

Another problem is the multiple versions for so many of the important films of the decade. There’s a director’s cut for this and an extended cut for that. Who can see all of these different iterations? Mostly, I found a version that seemed definitive and used it. Thus, The Big Red One is really the Reconstruction from 2004 and Fanny & Alexander is the longer television version. I don’t even know which Manhunter my vote is for, though. The simple idea of so many versions and so many extended cuts makes for additional anxiety. I cheated with Fanny & Alexander since it has a television and a theatrical cut, but I didn’t feel right about including mammoth productions like Berlin Alexanderplatz or Kieslowski’s The Decalogue. How do you begin to weigh a program that lasts hours upon hours against a simple 90 minute picture? My decision was to stick to theatrical features.

The list itself is one of my more eccentric offerings. There are things you won’t see and will wonder where they are, and there will probably be others that you’ll fail to understand how they either made the list at all or received such high placement. I can only say that this is what felt right at the time and I’m sure it’ll change or improve eventually. Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

1.) Blue Velvet (Lynch, 1986) - A film full of disorienting playfulness hidden behind suburban America. Lynch is so good at turning the sense of what makes us feel safe completely on its side and resulting in something terrible and horrific. I’m not a fanatic of Lynch’s films, but absolutely no one in American cinema has been able to so successfully peel back the scab of suburbia. I think this is still his best film and I’d be extremely disturbed to encounter either Dennis Hopper or Dean Stockwell in the darkness of night. Virtually every film (plus Twin Peaks) that Lynch has made since owes some debt to Blue Velvet.

2.) After Hours (Scorsese, 1985) - Better than Raging Bull?? I don’t know. I do know that I’d rather sit down with After Hours. I absolutely love movies that veer off into unpredictable and odd directions with the protagonist in tow. This is, in my opinion, the best of that sort of film. Griffin Dunne plays a guy who has the night of his life in New York City, all while simply trying to get back home. You get a sense of the frustration and the strange exhilaration he experiences in the process. Scorsese is one of my favorite directors, and I’ve seen virtually all of his films, but this may actually be my favorite. When I met him a couple of years ago, this was the DVD I asked to have signed.

3.) Wings of Desire (Wenders, 1987) - The idea of the “life-affirming” film too often gets relegated to a ghetto full of junk. This is different. This is nearly perfect in its insistence on gathering everything we know about the human experience and reminding us how privileged we are. We’re privy to the idea that our emotional treasure chest is greater than most anything the world has to offer. I’ve not seen all of Wenders’ work by any means, but it’s nonetheless surprising to find him having made this particular film. It is far from being overly sentimental or treacly. It is, however, entirely life-affirming.

4.) Raging Bull (Scorsese, 1980) - Brilliant indeed, but what turns me off slightly from Scorsese’s mammoth achievement is the sheer brutality of the whole thing. There is no redemption. There is no sense of any warmth being exuded at all. I don’t feel that even Scorsese likes Jake La Motta. De Niro probably does, but not screenwriter Paul Schrader or Scorsese. Otherwise, this is a high point in the film biography for its unflinching desire to reveal the unsympathetic reality of celebrity. There’s no one in the film I feel any emotion for, but like a car crash, I’m still completely enthralled.

5.) Videodrome (Cronenberg, 1983) - I was a latecomer to the Cronenberg parade. It took actually hearing him speak and then trying to understand his point of view before being sold, but I think I’m there now. I watched Videodrome one night and couldn’t believe my eyes. Where Cronenberg excels is by inventing these situations seemingly indebted to the science fiction genre while still maintaining a more intellectual stance that allows for separate consideration apart from stomach cavities. This is, for me, his peak thus far and just about as compelling as cinema gets. If you can get past the muck and ooze of the make-up, there’s an important cautionary tale about technology and obsession. And, of course, some people enjoy the muck and ooze.

6.) Do the Right Thing (Lee, 1989) - Incendiary statement against racism, certainly. Powerful announcement of a new voice in American cinema. Spike Lee is another of my favorite contemporary directors. This is simultaneously loud and aggressive, truly the work of a master filmmaker with strong opinions. He’s since managed to alienate a great deal of the moviegoing public, making his name almost a liability on a picture, but very few directors from Lee’s generation have branded themselves to such a degree on the public at large. Do the Right Thing is special because it was clearly made for a select few who might understand the intentions of a simmering racial divide in the midst of what is supposed to be one of the most diverse areas in the country. The film was slightly misunderstood, but has never abandoned its reputation of being, foremost, an important work of its time.

7.) The Verdict (Lumet, 1982) - Unfortunately, this didn’t even rank in the final tally, but it’s very nearly Paul Newman’s best performance, rivaled by The Hustler and, possibly, Hud. I particularly like Sidney Lumet’s films because they seem free from so much of the superfluous nonsense actors often try to inject. Lumet got great performances from his actors time and again. The work here from Newman and the script from a young buck named David Mamet are extraordinarily balanced and distressing. The film does well in highlighting one man’s attempt at redemption and the constant force he seems to be struggling against. It’s not a movie about alcoholism or, really, the judicial process, but the idea of a last chance where failure really means the end.

8.) Something Wild (Demme, 1986) - Proof that the studio system didn’t take a break the entire decade. Jonathan Demme’s outrageous and entertaining tribute to both film noir and screwball comedy is a marvel of the unexpected. You think one thing and the film does another. It’s two very separate halves that form an impressive whole. Melanie Griffith has never been better and Ray Liotta has rarely been as psychotic, though the competition is a bit fierce there. Yet, it’s Jeff Daniels who holds it all together as the suburban geek whose home life is shot to hell. Griffith’s Lulu is using Daniels no more than he’s benefiting from her.

9.) The Purple Rose of Cairo (Allen, 1985) - Jeff Daniels once again, this time in an effective dual role as both a 1930s film character who emerges from the screen and the worried actor who portrays him. Mia Farrow seems to basically be imitating Woody Allen with her mannerisms, but it’s somehow okay this time. If you love film in general, especially watching old movies in the cinema, this should resonate. There’s a perfection via Allen’s reluctance to go overboard that he rarely achieves in his films. The only complaint is Danny Aiello’s character, who may be necessary but still comes across as a stereotype.

10.) Veronika Voss (Fassbinder, 1982) - Such beautiful black and white cinematography that the rest almost seems beside the point. Inspired by the tragic life of Sybille Schmitz, Fassbinder finds an affecting plot to complement the aesthetics and ends up with a film that’s both engrossing and deeply unsettling. The character of Veronika Voss may have been modeled after German actress Schmitz, but here she also resembles Norma Desmond from Sunset Blvd. and I think that elevates the film into something beyond simply the fictional biography.

11.) Fanny & Alexander (Bergman, 1982) - A richness of character and setting permeates the film, especially in the extended television version. The title is almost misleading because it becomes less about the children than about the families and their various struggles, which Bergman combines for an utterly real and still fantastic open door. That’s what the film really feels like, an open door, because every scene manages to build on something else while often still establishing additional ideas and furthering the narrative in regards to this family. It’s that rare lengthy work that’s layered well enough so as to never seem trying or forced.

12.) Paris, Texas (Wenders, 1984) - Vintage, or perhaps definitive, Harry Dean Stanton seemingly possessed by the spirit of a wandering oddity injected with devastating depth by the actor. I’ve never seen Stanton better used and I’ve only rarely witnessed a film so obsessed with finding the fictional truth behind an emotional disintegration. Dean Stockwell makes an impression also, if nothing else then as a meaningful contrast to his Blue Velvet performance. Wenders seems to enjoy making films concerned with being on the road, but the real surprise is how this movie seems ingrained in the American myth on a level far above almost anything else of the decade.

13.) Crimes and Misdemeanors (Allen, 1989) - You can feel the echoes of previous films from Woody Allen here, and he definitely continued to use some of these same elements later on, but this is another of the near-perfect dissections of upper middle class neuroses from Allen. Martin Landau is on the nose and Alan Alda is nearly his equal. It’s in these less obvious films that Allen is able to best explore his influences, I think. The more overt homage films often tend to imitate to the point of distraction. This film, though, avoids employing a too dark tone and still manages to leave a deeply acrid taste.

14.) Stranger Than Paradise (Jarmusch, 1984) - It took a second viewing to even like, much less appreciate, Jarmusch’s impressive film. What I found after giving it another chance was something extremely controlled and still vibrant. He uses long takes followed by extended shots of black between scenes, creating a slide show effect with moving pictures. This style can be difficult to warm to initially and the layabout characters may not help. After giving in, though, I realized that the three mainstays in the film have their own individual charms. The two New Yorkers are textbook slackers doomed to beautiful loserdom while the Hungarian immigrant embodies how outsiders view the American experience.

15.) Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) - As neither a Ridley Scott admirer nor a science fiction person, I was very much engaged, deeply so, with Blade Runner. Harrison Ford has rarely been better despite not having to give himself over too emphatically to the character. I put the film this high because I felt it had something to say about where the line between being human and being “human” is drawn, and also because I enjoy the complicated machinations of these sorts of plots where answers are either a premium or an impossibility.

16.) The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980) - Superior to Star Wars and easily the best entry in the series, though I enjoy aspects of each of the films. This was before Yoda became a near-parody and prior to Darth Vader losing some of his menace. Also, importantly, pre-Ewok and prior to the introduction of Jar-Jar Binks. The building mythology of the Star Wars world is filled with excitement here and given a great story that doesn’t lag or feel repetitive or come across as ridiculously complicated. The performances are possibly the best in the series, also. And none of that Episode V stuff here. You don’t change a title twenty years after the fact and expect people to universally play along.

17.) Prince of the City (Lumet, 1981) - Gritty and determined to give off a feeling of authenticity. Treat Williams is impeccable as a cop who turns and cooperates with prosecutors after some pained soul searching. Lumet’s assured but tense direction here is among the best of his impressive career. It’s a long film that plays out like a fascinating novel, likely owing to its source material. Time hasn’t dulled the storytelling or the power of the narrative one bit.

18.) House of Games (Mamet, 1987) - Dialogue with a snap and a pacing sleek enough to gloss over the flaws. David Mamet transported the thrillers of the ’40s into the ’80s and inserted a twisty narrative to go with some brilliant lighting. The con is always on you.

19.) Eight Men Out (Sayles, 1988) - If you love baseball, there’s a good chance you’ll cherish John Sayles’ film about the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal. The detail feels right, the reverence is there, and the entire thing is fully believable. It’s also a fine film by cinematic standards, brilliantly building on ideas of conflict and character.

20.) Matador (Almodóvar, 1986) - A rough gem in the director’s career, and one I seem to admire more than most. Almodóvar here is less daring than he would be in a later film like Kika, but still fully committed to an irreverent point of view, even painting his deviant protagonists with a somewhat loving brush. The movie works well as both a metaphorical mess and a compelling thriller, with the playful tribute to King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun cinching it.


21.) My Neighbor Totoro (Miyazaki, 1988) - Few filmmakers display such a keen appreciation of hope amid longing as Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. That he’s repeatedly done this with feature-length cartoons is especially impressive. There’s another of Miyazaki’s films that I prefer, but Totoro is such a delicate little picture of childhood fantasy that it absolutely ranks with the best of this decade. And the Totoro Bus is an absolutely ingenious creation.

22.) Black Rain (Imamura, 1989) - Though it’s a Japanese film made by a unique and steadfast Japanese director, Black Rain sometimes feels like its primary audience should be those outside of Japan. Imamura takes a cold, hard gaze at the effects of the atomic explosion on Hiroshima. The director never flinches in portraying both the horrors and the more mundane activities of daily life in the bomb’s aftermath. My guess, though, is that those outside of Japan will be the ones most affected, ashamed and confused.

23.) Au revoir les enfants (Malle, 1987) - Louis Malle’s partially autobiographical depiction of life at a French boys school during the German occupation rises far above what viewers have come to expect from such material. In a film like this where the circumstances sound almost familiar, it’s impressive that Malle doesn’t manipulate his audience or provide any answers at all. The weight of what plays out on screen speaks for itself, allowing the director to display his skills at deftly handling the harshest of scenarios with understated delicacy.

24.) Ran (Kurosawa, 1985) - The castle burning as Tatsuya Nakadai calmly emerges. Kurosawa’s King Lear-inspired explosion of color and familial tension attains its epic feeling honestly. Nakadai masterfully conveys madness and paranoia while everything around him crumbles. An aspect of Kurosawa’s longer films that always impresses me is how well he was able to maintain a sense of pacing even without resorting to big action sequences every few minutes. With Ran, the Japanese director keeps that palpable tension throughout just by implying constant chaos inside the family.

25.) She’s Gotta Have It (Lee, 1986) - Ernest Dickerson’s black and white cinematography (with one scene in glorious color) is simply stunning here. Beyond that, the film is a significant debut for Spike Lee, though the often discussed central idea that a woman is substituted for a man in terms of approach to sex doesn’t particularly interest me on its face. I also don’t entirely agree that’s what we really have here since the three male suitors are all separate facets of the male perspective. The main character, Nola Darling played by Tracy Camilla Johns, is interesting enough on her own as a female without trying to inject gender-specific traits. Johns has a real presence in this film so it’s unfortunate that she’s not had any movie roles for almost twenty years now.

26.) Rain Man (Levinson, 1988) - I don’t consider myself a huge Barry Levinson fan and his presence twice on this list, in films no one else voted for, is more coincidence than anything else. That being said, both movies on the list are almost perfect reflections of American populist moviemaking. Levinson pushes the right buttons at the right time without giving way to sentimentality or soggy zeitgeist concerns. I’d take Levinson this decade over someone like Oliver Stone, who won two Oscars for directing within a four-year span. Rain Man, for all its popularity, is still, I’d argue, a highly entertaining and almost profound exploration of dependency and young male maturation. It’s really Tom Cruise’s film, and he’s never been better.

27.) Brazil (Gilliam, 1985) - I’m a one-time visitor to Brazil and reality has almost improbably managed to intervene so that the film no longer holds sway as complete fantasy. I also love Orwell’s 1984, which probably made this movie possible. Nonetheless, Gilliam’s imagination seems in full swing here and Tom Stoppard’s English influence, with the toils of lowly bureaucrats, is well played.

28.) Down by Law (Jarmusch, 1986) - More black and white photography, one unofficial attribute of the ’80s that I love. Jarmusch’s follow-up to Stranger Than Paradise shares some of the earlier film’s passion for non-conformity while leaving behind a bit of the amateurish quality. It may not be possible to dislike Tom Waits and, every time I see this, Roberto Benigni is forgiven a little more for later winning that Oscar he didn’t deserve.

29.) Bad Timing (Roeg, 1980) - Art Garfunkel has no business starring in a movie like this, but the combination of Theresa Russell’s searing performance and Roeg’s rapidly flickering creative light allow Garfunkel’s stiffness to almost work in the film’s favor. The singer has zero charisma, yet he’s also meandering through the film with a sense of detachment absolutely perfect for the role. In many ways, Garfunkel adds to the puzzling nature of the movie by appearing so blank and devoid of presence. Where Roeg’s film reveals some sort of genius is in keeping the viewer so confused and mystified as to suddenly understand the obsessive nature of the characters.

30.) Manhunter (Mann, 1986) - Speaking of obsession, the depths shown by William Petersen’s Will Graham are more impressive than Petersen’s performance, which struggles with the especially intense spots, but the character’s determination is almost eerie in terms of motivation. Part of what makes the film so compelling is wondering why Graham would even bother with this case, putting both himself and his family in jeopardy for no good reason except for the fact that his burden of profiling makes him do it. Sometimes it seems like Graham gets the same release from finding killers as the killers do committing their crimes. Few films feel as creepy as this one. One of the things the equally impressive The Silence of the Lambs has in common with Michael Mann’s film is that both are capable of emitting completely unnerving terror without any real gore.

31.) Sherman’s March (McElwee, 1986) - A documentary about General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Civil War march through the South, burning much of what was in his path, was the intended subject but not really the final one, despite the title. What results is more of a painfully funny look at the documentarian’s pathetic love life. Watching the film left me thinking how sad McElwee’s unnatural pursuit of a companion was, but it certainly made an impression - for days after viewing actually. It’s my own nature that caused me to judge McElwee’s experiences that way, though the idea of presenting it all for anyone in the world to view in perpetuity seems either delusional or even more sad than the film itself.

32.) Stardust Memories (Allen, 1980) - Obviously a self-referential effort akin to Fellini’s from Woody Allen, but still filled with attributes distinctly owing to Allen’s other films. The cinematography (black and white, again) from Gordon Willis almost rivals his work on Manhattan, which this film immediately followed. I’ll admit that, as with several of Allen’s films, Stardust Memories doesn’t entirely work from first frame to last, but I was intrigued by the ideas Allen was already playing around with so early in his career.

33.) Sans soleil (Marker, 1983) - An experience more than a film, really. Chris Marker’s mixing of documentary, travelogue and first person correspondences, with some Vertigo ruminations thrown in for good measure, is a marvel of concise, calculated filmmaking that may seem deceptively easy. The reality is more that the film can be as complicated as the viewer will let it. Though a French version also exists, the English language narration is simultaneously profound and hypnotic, allowing for audio to truly combine with visual versus simply watching and reading subtitles.

34.) Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1983) - I like E.T. also for what it is, but I felt like it was one or the other here. Even though Spielberg is not a particular favorite of mine, I think he got it right with this film. It’s fun, it moves and you can watch it every few years without it feeling repetitive. There’s a definite childlike element to be enjoyed while viewing also. The sequels don’t really the hold same appeal for me.

35.) Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Schrader, 1985) - Yukio Mishima’s final day slowly unfolds as four of his stories are acted out in between the author’s preparation and siege of a military office building. Schrader’s storytelling is extremely cold and matter of fact, denying the audience any opportunity to empathize with or understand Mishima’s actions. The result simmers with unlikely suspense and mystery, but it’s also the way Schrader chooses to define Mishima equally by his work and his enigmatic death. It’s not a film with answers, which may turn some away, yet I think the viewer does exit with a real sense of how complicated Mishima must’ve been.

36.) The Killer (Woo, 1989) - There’s a lot of Jean-Pierre Melville in here, specifically Le samouraï. It’s done so compellingly and with enough conviction that you tend to think of the film as an homage more than a copycat. Also helping matters, Chow Yun-Fat is one of the few actors worthy of following in Alain Delon’s footsteps. And it’s perhaps important to keep in mind that The Killer is prime John Woo, when his affection for doves and men holding guns in both hands didn’t yet feel cliched.

37.) Blood Simple (Coen, 1984) - Most of the Coens’ best films can be traced directly back to their debut feature, which is imperfect but shows flashes of violent brilliance. If film noir had still been alive in the 1980s this is probably what it would’ve looked like.

38.) Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Almodóvar, 1988) - That whiff of commercial appeasement overcame Almodóvar here, but I think he still made a lively and often hilarious movie. It put him on the international map if nothing else. Armed with a gazpacho sequence that’s one of the funniest things from this decade, the film steamrolls through screwball chaos while never entirely losing the melodramatic center.

39.) Body Heat (Kasdan, 1981) - It’s a Double Indemnity rip-off, but done so well that Kasdan’s directorial debut merits some praise on its own. William Hurt is more impressive here than in some of his more actorly roles and Kathleen Turner certainly gives an eyebrow-raising performance. And Mickey Rourke! Those Brando comparisons started with Body Heat. Kasdan nails the spirit of classic film noir perhaps better than any other film has since those pictures ended.

40.) The Big Red One (Fuller, 1980) - A war movie in starts and stops, nightmares and dreams that begin uncontrollably. Sam Fuller was there, entrenched for the story and lucky to have made it out. From reading his autobiography, I assume much of this film is the Fullerized truth. He deserves heavy credit for showing the side of combat very rarely explored on film at that point, one which is just as concerned with mentally staying alive as physically doing so. Praise also to giving Lee Marvin a final great role.


41.) Dead Ringers (Cronenberg, 1988) - You could say Jeremy Irons won a belated Oscar for this film more than his work on Reversal of Fortune. Certainly few features utilizing the idea of a single actor playing twins have ever emerged with a central performance of Irons’ caliber. His two gynecologists are halves of the same creepy whole and David Cronenberg is probably the only director who could’ve done full justice to such an odd, somewhat disturbing story.

42.) The Vanishing (Sluizer, 1988) - More terrifying than any number of slasher films because the events here seem entirely plausible and just as frightening. Few movies better plant that seed of forcing the viewer to think about what he or she would do in a particular situation. Yikes. Watch out for rest stops. After seeing this, you’ll want to keep your loved ones in sight at all times for days if not weeks.

43.) The Natural (Levinson, 1984) - Baseball as a higher calling, the mythology of a game, and the nagging idea of fate. In Bernard Malamud’s novel, these things mean different results than in Levinson’s film, but both work on their own. The movie deals more in fantasy and it’s perfectly okay with its particular form of mythmaking. You have to separate the main idea of failure contained in Malamud’s book from the more audience-friendly direction the film takes. Roy Hobbs may have finally learned his lesson.

44.) Chameleon Street (Harris, 1989) - When you wonder where interesting and creative American independent film has gone, think about Wendell B. Harris, Jr., who still hasn’t made a real follow-up to his debut feature after twenty years now. His Chameleon Street, about a Detroit man who impersonated bigger and brighter professionals, usually without the training, shares only a thumbnail plot sketch with Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. Harris’ film is both brilliant and frustrating. At the very least it needs to be seen by a much wider audience. There’s genius in there even if it is somewhat muddled.

45.) Ballad of Narayama (Imamura, 1983) - Shohei Imamura’s gift for denying sentimentality works well in the film’s favor. He alludes to the elderly drop-off point of Mt. Narayama throughout the film, but when we get there it’s emotional chaos. Imamura made films about rapists, pimps, prostitutes, serial killers, murderers and any number of seemingly horrible people, but this may be his most unsettling and, thus, most difficult to watch. At least four or five images from the movie are embedded inside my head not out of choice but from involuntary discomfort. It makes you want to be especially nice to the elderly.

46.) Time Bandits (Gilliam, 1981) - It’s a spoiler, but any movie that ends with a child’s parents literally getting blown up gets an automatic recommendation for sheer gutsiness. The ending isn’t the only thing worth enjoying either, as Gilliam’s entire film is a fantasy torn apart at the seams with demented aspects not typically found in children’s storybooks. David Warner’s Evil Genius is such a ridiculously entertaining and fun character.

47.) Field of Dreams (Robinson, 1988) - “It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.” Costner is a pretty decent everyman, but James Earl Jones sells that monologue and the film as a whole with his performance. I have three baseball films on this list and I’m adamant about the value of each. Eight Men Out is for the purists. The Natural is for those who cherish the mythology of the game. Field of Dreams is for the dreamers who believe in the game as something more, something almost profound in its simplicity and resistance to time and the outside world.

48.) This Is Spinal Tap (Reiner, 1984) - Though it was funnier before most of the best bits entered the pop culture lexicon, there’s still some gold left to mine on new viewings of this most classic of fake documentaries. It can also be a sad reminder that Rob Reiner once at least had pretty good taste in the scripts he directed. This was Reiner’s first feature directing job and he followed it up with John Cusack in The Sure Thing, then Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally…, Misery and A Few Good Men. He then stumbled with North, but regained the spirit on The American President before falling into a canyon he still hasn’t left.

49.) Police (Pialat, 1985) - A film that sort of answers the question of how a French director who had no interest in a police procedural would make that kind of movie. You can look at Maurice Pialat’s career and see how little he must’ve cared for adhering to the somewhat strict guidelines of the policier. So instead we get a difficult character study of a difficult character that does an adequate job of passing itself off as crime-related drama.

50.) A Fish Called Wanda (Crichton, 1988) - The Ealing spirit was revived a bit in this very funny, sometimes cruel ode to bumbling criminals. Comedic performances completely absent any pathos almost never win Oscars, but Kevin Kline found whatever the necessary combination was and rode it like a rented mule. His character’s treatment of Michael Palin’s K-K-K-Ken is so repulsively wrong that you almost feel bad about laughing uncontrollably.


1. Mike Sutton - January 27, 2009

Interesting list and I don’t agree with a lot of it. But as ever, you explain yourself very well.

My own top 20 of the 1980s would be as follows:

1. Dressed To Kill (De Palma)
2. Dead Ringers (Cronenberg)
3. Heaven’s Gate (Cimino)
4. Salvador (Stone)
5. Cutter’s Way (Passer)
6. The Long Good Friday (Mackenzie)
7. Mona Lisa (Jordan)
8. Missing (Costa-Gavras)
9. Blow Out (De Palma)
10. Tootsie (Pollack)
11. From The Life Of The Marionettes (Bergman)
12. Under Fire (Spottiswoode)
13. Excalibur (Boorman)
14. Thief (Mann)
15. The Last Temptation Of Christ (Scorsese)
16. Hannah And Her Sisters (Allen)
17. Dangerous Liaisons (Frears)
18. Lost In America (Brooks)
19. The Untouchables (De Palma)
20. Gregory’s Girl (Forsyth)

If I were to extend the list to 50, I’d salve my guilty conscience and add some more foreign language films - Fanny and Alexander, Babette’s Feast. Let’s Hope It’s A Girl maybe - and some more from my favourites.

I was quite surprised by the absence of “Cutter’s Way” Clydefro. Seems like exactly the sort of film you would enjoy.

2. clydefro - January 27, 2009

I was actually surprised that I didn’t much enjoy Cutter’s Way Mike. There was no entry point for any of the characters or situations for me. Even Jeff Bridges, whose roles I almost always find interesting, didn’t make much of an impression. I’m sure I’ll give it another chance at some point down the road.

The thing in those twenty films you listed I’m most surprised about is probably having The Last Temptation of Christ instead of After Hours, Raging Bull, or The King of Comedy.

3. Mike - January 27, 2009

I love Woody Allen’s 80s movies, especially Crimes and Misdemeanours and I’m really pleased to see it make the list, as I am the splendid Purple Rose. They’re both close to perfection (within their own limits) as far as I’m concerned. The chat between Allen and Landau at the close of C&M tragic and sublime.

Superb list as always. Yet more titles for me to catch up with (groan)!

4. desktidy - January 27, 2009

A fascinating read as usual.
I’ve seen all but seven of the films so not too much homework to do.
What interests me most on these lists is when I share a passion for a particular director but differ so completely on which films are their best. Your top rated Scorsese and Allen films would never have occurred to me for example.

My own list would have included most of the films Mike Sutton listed but re-ordered a bit and with ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, ‘Brazil’, ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Fitzcarraldo’ stuck on top of it.
‘Heaven’s Gate’, ‘The Long Good Friday and ‘Salvador’ would still have to be in my top 10 though.
Not sure at all about what else would fill it out to 50 but ‘Die Hard’, ‘Robocop’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ would need to be in there.
Oh yes, and ‘Airplane’ and ‘The Man with Two Brains’ to lend the list some class. :D

5. Byron Law - January 27, 2009

Very interesting list. Your reasons are also sound. My list is far more popcorn as these are the type of films I grew up watching. I will try out all the films on your list I have not seen however.

Ps Although Empire Strikes Back was billed as such the Episode V title was at the start of the film even back in 1980. There is also footage from the time of the cast talking about Episodes I,II and III saying they would not been them as they would be either not born or babies. However with regards the re-naming of Star Wars to A New Hope I agree with you.

I was born in 1983 and grew up with a lot of the films on my list on video, TV or even a cinema trip as a youngster. I love the TV shows of the decade and the music.

My list would be very different.

Top 20 films of the 80s.

1. Blade Runner (1982)
An masterpiece that looks at the question of what exactly does it mean to be human. Pure class acting and amazing visuals.

2 Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Grim and dark fantasy action. Also one of the best film scores ever. The Vader Luke saber fight is a joy to watch.

3 Ghostbusters (1984)
Great score, very funny quote worthy lines and top special effects that in many cases hold up.

4 Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981)
Adventure at its very best. Likeable hero, great supporting cast and what a score.

5 Akira (1988)
Not as good as the manga its based on but still top class science fiction that should be seen by all fans of sc-fi.

6 Laputa Castle In The Sky (1986)
Amazing score, top animation and a lovely story. I first saw this on ITV years ago,(found out later it was cut for time) and that battered VHS was my own copy until I picked up the Japanese DVD a few years back.

7 Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Khannnnnnnnnnn. Kirk and co’s greatest film as they take on Khan one of the best villians from the original series.

8 Star Trek IV The Voyage Home (1986 well 1987 UK)
Star Trek meets the 1980s as Kirk tells a guy “well a double dumbass on you”.

9 Commando (1985)
People will not agree with me here but Its my list damn it lol.
Over the top action film in which Arnie blows away wave after wave of troops to get to his daughter. The scene where he is told he has to do as he is told is a class. “Right ” “Wrong”

10 The Terminator (1984)
Horror classic in which Sarah Connor has to run from an killing machine. A great pace to this film as well as a great score.

11 Aliens (1986)
Last time it was a tense horror, this time its an all out war. The original cut is good but must say the argument about lots of different cuts for 80s films is valid as the 1991 cut is far better.

12 Police Story (1985)
Jackie Chan stars as Ka-Kui a top cop in the Royal Hong Kong Police force. Watch as Chan and his team do crazy stunt after crazy stunt. Also a great theme song sung by Chan. Various hollywood films would copy the stunts in these film.

13 Brazil (1985)
Caught this on BBC 1 a few years ago late. Loved it, very good acting and an story that kept you watching no matter what time in the morning it was.

14 First Blood (1982)
War hero John Rambo gets treated like crap for just passing though. Far more intelligent than the other 3(although I love the latest film Rambo) in terms of the plot and better acting than most will give credit for.

15 Police Story II (1988)
Chan is back in another action masterpiece. More crazy stunts and more comedy with the lovely Maggie Cheung.

16 Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Eddie Murphy used to be funny. Murphy is on top form as Axel Foley and never quite reached this height again. Number 4 could fix that however.

17 Lethal Weapon (1987)
Glover and Gibson star in this great buddy cop film. Gibson is great as Riggs a man so grief stricken he wants to end it all. He takes insane risks and is put with family man Roger Murtaugh who is worried about if he can still cut it now he is 50. Great chemistry between the two and a fun film I love to watch every Christmas.

18 Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
The whos who of cartoon stars come together in this fun crime comedy. Bob Hoskins is on top from here really making the cartoons come to life. No CGI at all yet it looks so real, far better in fact than the likes of Episode I. Its also got a good story to back up the effects.

19 Back To The Future (1985)
Michael J Fox goes back to the 50s in the second coolest automoblie of the decade(A-Team Van being the coolest). Very funny and one that can be watched again and again.

20 Die Hard (1988)
John is having a very bad day in this action thriller from 1988. Again a film that does not get old at all for me. Rickman as Hans Grubber is first rate and Wills as the likeable cop shines too. Also William Atherton as the reporter is fun.

6. Mike Sutton - January 28, 2009

The thing in those twenty films you listed I’m most surprised about is probably having The Last Temptation of Christ instead of After Hours, Raging Bull, or The King of Comedy.

I’m not a big fan of Scorsese’s 80s work really. I respect “Raging Bull” a good deal and think it’s a superb piece of filmmaking but it’s just so damned bleak that I can’t watch it more than once every ten years or so. “King of Comedy” and “After Hours” never really appealed to me and I haven’t seen them since I first watched them in the cinema. “Last Temptation” captivates me though; its intellectual muddle and spiritual thrashing about keep me enthralled and the look and sound of the thing are extraordinary. If my favourite Scorseses are “Mean Streets”, “Taxi Driver”, “The Age Of Innocence” and “Casino”, this isn’t far behind.

“Cutter’s Way” breaks my heart every time and Stephen Elliott’s all important final line is deeply chilling.

7. anephric - January 28, 2009

John Heard is simply magnificent in Cutter’s Way and it’s a testament to a career that could have been, because he never made anything like that impact again.

I never tire of watching that film. Every time I watch it, it seems to play out differently: is it all Cutter’s paranoid, embittered fantasy? Or is he simply right? It’s wonderfully ambiguous and I change my mind on each viewing.

8. Brianc - March 16, 2009

Top 5 eighties movies that changed me to a lover of film as art:
1. Raging Bull
2. Blue Velvet
3. Do the Right Thing
4. Sherman’s March (being from Georgia, perhaps a bit of personal bias)
5. Kagemusha

80’s movies I never tire of watching
1. Hannah and Her Sisters
2. Crimes and Misdemeanours
3. Die Hard
4. Stop Making Sense
5. Trading Places

Foreign (non-English)
1. Fanny and Alexander (long version)
2. Au Revoir Les Enfants
3. Ran
4. Cinema Paradiso
5. The Vanishing

1. Evil Dead
2. Aliens
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street
4. Videodrome
5. The Howling

Best Picture Oscar Winners
1. Amadeus
3.Terms of Endearment
4. Ordinary People
5. Tender Mercies (I cheated on this one;it didn’t win, but Duvall won best actor).

1. My Bodyguard
2. Over the Edge
3. Pixote
4. Down and Out in Beverly Hills
5.Pathfinder (Norway)

1. Rain Man
2. Wings of Desire
3. Chariots of Fire
4. Lost in America
5. Platoon

Movies I used to like, now deplore
1. Angel Heart (in fact, pretty much the entirety of Alan Parker’s oeuvre)
2. Lethal Weapon
3. Stripes
4. Scarface
5. Risky Business

Quintessential 80’s (style, music, humor, etc.)
1. Sixteen Candles
2. Valley Girl
3. Repo Man
4. The Breakfast Club
5. Something Wild

Five I have never seen but will now thanks to this posting

1. Blade Runner
2.Cutter’s Way
3. Heaven’s Gate
4. Sans Soliel
5. Prince of the City

9. Daniel Stephens - March 23, 2009

Although my Top 50 films from the 1980s would be quite different I like this list because of two films that feature in your top 10. After Hours and Something Wild are quintessential American films of the period – if you didn’t know who the actors were you’d still be able to put the films firmly in the 80s. They’re both fantastic films (my favourite Scorsese films were both made during the 80s – AH and of course The King of Comedy).

10. futurestar - March 29, 2009

Kudos and props to whomever added Cutters Way which has been on my list of top films from the 1980’s since day one. It did take me forever to finally find a DVD copy. A mistake in pricing the last day of my favorite video store at $3.99. Lucky me. I would also include:

A Room With A View,
The Stuntman (on the cusp)
To Live and Die In LA,
The Sacrifice,
Runaway Train,
The Navigator,
Mystery Train,
sex, lies, and videotape (filmed in the 1980’s, released 1990)

11. Brianc - April 15, 2009

sex, lies, and videotape seems appropriate to me as a marker for the end of the eighties and beginning of the “nineties film” period.
I would name Raiders of the Lost Ark as the beginning of the “eighties films.”

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