The past is a foreign country: 80s Movies

The past is a foreign country: 80s Movies

Before I get down to my movie list I wanted to shout a quick but loud hurray! Yesterday is YA Reads Book of the Month. Head on over to read their review. I'll also be guest blogging there during the month.

Continuing on with my 80s series (see previous posts on 80s TV and intro to the 80s) today I want to focus on my favourite movies from the first half of the decade. My family bought their first VCR in 1986 and while we were fairly late in getting a machine there were plenty of other people who didn't have a videocassette recorder until then either. In the early 80s people usually watched movies in a theatre or on TV (full of commercials and usually quite awhile after a movie would've finished its theatre run). Theatre runs were also longer than they are today, probably because there was less competition from other types of entertainment which had yet to develop (videogames were in their infancy, the Internet as we know it today wouldn't be born for years to come and in Canada dedicated movie channels were brand new and had few subscribers in the early 80s).

For the first few years of the decade one of my major problems in movie-going was getting the box office clerk to sell me a ticket for movies with an AA rating while I was underage. The Canadian rating meant adult accompaniment was required for viewers under the age of 14 and was usually applied to PG-13 type material. In grades 7 and 8 I was the youngest of my friends but also the tallest and as the majority of the movies we wanted to see fell under the AA rating we'd generally slather on the makeup and try to appear as blasé as possible while approaching the ticket counter. Mostly it worked and like millions of other Canadian kids I saw oodles of AA rated movies well before I turned 14. However, some of the movies listed below I caught up with when they were shown on TV, when our VCR showed up on the scene or when my parents subscribed to the movie channel. You'll see from a few of the groupings I've done here that my top twenty list is a bit of a cheat and even with the groupings comes in at 24. But hey, there were so many movies I loved during that period that making a true top twenty list was pretty impossible. It's also important to note that this is time capsule type list—the movies from the period I would'e called my favourite then, but not necessarily now.

Top 20 + personal film favs from 1980-1985 in no particular order:

E.T. (1982, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore) This is a movie that totally wears its heart on its sleeve. I went to see the tale of a lost, Reese's Pieces loving alien at the theatre numerous times when it was originally released and I cried at E.T.'s demise on every occasion.

Gorky Park (1983, directed by Michael Apted, starring William Hurt, Joanna Pacula, Brian Dennehy, Lee Marvin and Ian Bannen) /The Big Chill (1983, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, starring William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams and Tom Berenger)/Body Heat (1981, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner)/Altered States (1980, directed by Ken Russell, starring William Hurt and Blair Brown). You can see by this William Hurt grouping I was a big fan and if Children of a Lesser God had been made a year earlier I would've squeezed it in here too. In Gorky Park Hurt plays a Moscow police detective investigating a triple homicide. The Big Chill centres on a large group of college friends reunited for the weekend by the death of one of their friends. Body Heat sees Hurt paired with Kathleen Turner who wants him to murder her husband. The film was considered super hot in its day. Altered States, where Hurt plays a scientist conducting experiments that cause him to regress genetically was every bit as trippy as Body Heat was sexy. But personally I like it best when Hurt plays angst which puts Gorky Park at the head of the pack.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Harrison Ford and Karen Allen). Snakes, Nazi bad guys, the Ark of the Covenant and Harrison Ford as our archeologist hero, but then, I don't really need to tell you about this movie, do I? In my opinion it remains one of the best adventure films ever made.

After Hours (1985, directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr and John Heard). Griffin Dunne plays a word-processor unlucky enough to run into Rosanne Arquette in a coffee shop one evening. Soon he's having the worst night of his life in an after-hours New York not unlike an adult version of Alice's 'Wonderland.'

Blade Runner (1982, directed by Ridley Scott, Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young). It's bizarre to think this wasn't the runaway hit it should've been (a victim of bad timing, it seems, as it was released the week after E.T.) but this sci-fi thriller only looks and feels better as time goes by. Rutger Hauer, as the replicant Roy is mesmirizing, but then so is everyone in this movie, which carries with it an aura as thick as smoke but cool as granite. I'm dying to see what Ridley Scott does with the coming sequel.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980, directed by Irvin Kershner, starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher)/Return of the Jedi (1983, directed by Richard Marquand starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher) My favourite Star Wars movie remains The Empire Strikes Back. Ending on that dark note, with victory uncertain, left us all wanting more. But who can frown at celebrating Ewoks? So I couldn't leave Jedi off the list.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982, directed by Amy Heckerling, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold and Phoebe Cates). Most 80s teen movies were so gentle that this one about a group of California young people seems comparatively hard-edged and realistic. Sean Penn is highly entertaining as stoner Jeff Spicoli but it's Jennifer Jason Leigh's naturalistic performance that you can't take your eyes off.

Letter to Brezhnev (1985, directed by Chris Bernard, starring Peter Firth, Tracy Marshak-Nash and Alfred Molina). Endearing British romantic comedy about a working class girl who falls in love with a Soviet sailer during his one night in Liverpool. Unable to forget him she writes to Soviet leader Brezhnev asking for help in allowing them to be together.

Poltergeist (1982, directed by Tobe Hooper, starring Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and Heather O'Rourke). I first went to see this film about a family terrorized by ghosts with my own family while we were visiting California and I couldn't stop thinking about the tree behind my bedroom while lying in bed that night. And who would ever give a kid a toy clown? That's just cruel. They're creepy as hell.

This is Spinal Tap (1984, directed by Rob Reiner, starring Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer). Mock documentary about a hard rock band that inspires genuine fondness for the characters while offering up classic "this one goes to eleven" moments.

The Breakfast Club (1985, directed by John Hughes, starring Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall). If, like me, you were a teenager in the 80s there's ZERO possibility you haven't see The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles. But The Breakfast Club remains the best of the bunch. The five stereotypes the film throws together for morning detention may not have been as clearcut in real life but they're not total fabrications either.

Restless Natives (1985, directed by Michael Hoffman, starring Vincent Friell and Joe Mullaney). Two Scottish friends commit colourful, non-violent hold ups of tourist coaches in the highlands and become folk heroes and tourist attractions in the process. Loveable and highly entertaining.

Reckless (1984, directed by James Foley, starring Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah)/Desperately Seeking Susan (1985, directed by Susan Seidelman, starring Rosanna Arquette, Madonna and Aidan Quinn). The Aidan Quinn grouping! I actually did an entire blog entry on Reckless in August 09) but if you want the short version it's this: High school student Tracy (Darly Hannah) falls for Rourke (Quinn) a guy from the wrong side of the tracks. Desperately Seeking Susan sees a married suburban woman (Arquette) falling into Susan's (played by Madonna) crazy life when a conk on the head gives her amnesia. Lucky for Arquette, Madonna's life comes with an attachment to cool projectionist Dez (Quinn).

Until September (1984, directed by Richard Marquand, starring Karen Allen and Thierry Lhermitte). I haven't seen this film in yonks but at the time found the romance between exceptionally blue eyed but married Frenchman Thierry and loveable but single Karen Allen extremely charming. I'm kinda surprised they haven't remade it yet.

The Terminator (1984, directed by James Cameron, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn). With all the sequels its spawned the Terminator plot needs no explanation. While this first film now feels dated it's still a damn cool idea and the spark between Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn feels genuine. The romance is my favourite aspect of this movie.

Legend (1985, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara and Tim Curry). It's been so long since I've seen Legend that I'm damned if I can remember what it was about. Some fantasy whimsy about a demons, a unicorn and a fairy princess. It had a terrific vibe about it.

Little Darlings (1980, directed byRonald F. Maxwell, starring Kristy McNichol, Tatum O'Neal and Matt Dillon). Fifteen-year-olds Kirsty McNichol and Tatum O'Neal compete to lose their virginity first while at summer camp and end up feeling differently about it than they expected. What impressed me watching this as a young person was that it didn't feel as if the movie was being didactive, although it definitely has a message. Neither was it sensationlist.

The Company of Wolves (1984, directed by Neil Jordan, starring Angela Lansbury and David Warner). These interwoven tales of wolves are a visual feast and delightfully heaven on atmosphere.

Heaven Help Us (1985, directed by Michael Dinner, starring Andrew McCarthy, John Heard, Mary Stuart Masterson and Donald Sutherland)/St. Elmo's Fire (1985, directed by Joel Schumacher, starring Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Mare Winningham/ Class (1983, directed by, starring Rob Lowe, Jacqueline Bisset and Andrew McCarthy). The Andrew MCarthy grouping. Like with William Hurt, I prefer Andrew McCarthy when he's playing angsty which he does frequently in these movies about 1) a boy's prep school 2) a group of fresh-out-of-college friends and 3) an innocent prep school boy who falls into an affair with a sophisticated older woman who just happens to be his roommate's mother.

Romancing the Stone (1984, directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner) The chemistry between the two leads makes this picture about a romance writer drawn to Columbia where she meets rough around the edges Douglas. Pure fluff, but plenty enjoyable.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984, directed by W.D. Richter, starring Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin and Jeff Goldblum)/Firstborn (1984, directed by Michael Apted, starring Peter Weller, Teri Garr, Christopher Collet and Cory Haim)/Of Unknown Origin (1983, directed by George P. Cosmatos, starring Peter Weller and Jennifer Dale)/Shoot the Moon (1982, directed by Alan Parker, starring Albert Finney, Diane Keaton, Karen Allen, Peter Weller). The Peter Weller group! These three films have nothing in common aside from Weller's coolness. He's at his coolest as Buckaroo Banzai, an almost Doctor Who like figure that battles evil alien invaders. In Of Unknown Origin he fights a different foe, rats that infest his townhouse. But in Firstborn it's Weller who's the bad guy, dragging Teri Garr into a destructive lifestyle and forcing her young son to take action.

The World According to Garp (1982, directed by George Roy Hill, starring Robin Williams, Glenn Close, Mary Beth Hurt and John Lithgow). My first introduction to John Irving's writing was via this film where Robin Williams offers a wonderful performance as the gentle but flawed Garp, son of one-of-a-kind nurse Jenny. The World According to Garp has such a warmth and perceptiveness about people that I couldn't grasp in its entirety when I first saw the movie, being as young as I was. But I knew enough to know I loved it.

White Nights (1985, directed by Taylor Hackford, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Isabella Rossellini and Helen Mirren). When a plane mulfunction lands expat Russian dancer Baryshnikov back in the Soviet Union he plots an escape, watched over by Gregory Hines, an American tap dancer who defected to Russia years earlier. The dance scenes make the movie.

The Sure Thing (1985, directed by Rob Reiner, starring John Cusack. Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Ewards & Nicollette Sheridan). Sort of an 80s remake of classic screwball comedy It Happened One Night with opposites Cusack and Zuniga finding themselves on a college road trip together. The chemistry works and it's a very gentle comedy with Cusack at the height of his boyish charm.

Other notable movies from 1980-85:

Gandhi (1982), Back to the Future (1985), Witness (1985), The Right Stuff (1983), Ghostbusters (1984), The Road Warrior (1981), Tron (1982), Footloose (1984), Flashdance (1983), Fame (1980), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Gremlins (1984), Time Bandits (1981) Superman II (1980), War Games (1984), Excalibur (1981), The Jewel of the Nile (1985), Blue Lagoon (1980), The Shining (1980), National Lampoons Vacation (1983), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Amadeus (1984), The Color Purple (1985), Ordinary People (1980), Tootise (1982), The Killing Fields (1984), Out of Africa (1985), Scarface (1983), The Outsiders (1983), Gregory's Girl (1981), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), A Christmas Story (1983), Ladyhawke (1985), My Bodyguard (1980), Starman (1984)

Read the Rest of the 80s series:
* The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there
* The past is a foreign country: 80s TV
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Toys and Technology
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Music

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