Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #4

4. Blue Velvet, 1986
Director: David Lynch

Blue Velvet is David Lynch's best film because it's the perfect representation of Lynch's vision and yet it works so well on its own. You don't have to be a Lynch fan to enjoy it and yet you will like it enough to wanna see his other films. It also has a wonderfully naive performance by Kyle Mclaughlin, as well as Laura Dern, and the very sexy Isabella Rosselini (who plays Dorothy Vallens). But their performances would mean nothing without the completely deranged, monstrous, dominating performance by Dennis Hopper. Frank Booth is easily the best character Dennis Hopper has ever played. He's so good at being so deranged, it wouldn't surprise you to know that he once told David Lynch, while lobbying for the role, that he was Frank Booth. Frank Booth's manic behavior will make you laugh as much as it will make you afraid. For every "Heinken? Fuck that shit!" quote delivered by Frank, he'd be huffing gas and calling Dorothy "mama."

But the real star of the film is David Lynch who keeps his style completely controlled, leaving enough of his surrealism on the screen to keep you guessing and yet allowing the story and the characters to grow to keep you from being confused. In fact, Blue Velvet is territory that David Lynch has never again gone back to. He's either made films that were either extremely "Lynchian" or films that only featured a little bit of his trademark style. He's made great films in both categories (Mulholland Drive and Elephant Man, respectively), but there's something to be said about a film like Blue Velvet. It's such an odd yet healthy mix of weirdness and conventional thrills. There are also some really beautiful moments and a great use of music, including Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velvet" and Roy Orbinson's "In Dreams." Both songs, for me, will always be associated with this film.

In the film, Kyle Mclaughlin plays Jeffrey, a college student who returns home to visit his father in the hospital and shortly after his visit, he discovers a severed, human ear in the middle of a field. He takes it to the local detective and that's where Jeffrey meets the detective's daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern). Sandy tells Jeffrey about the case and the woman that may be involved. As Jeffrey and Sandy seem to form a romance with each other, they both decide to solve the mystery together which ultimately leads to Jeffrey winding up in Dorothy Vallens's closet. Jeffrey is both attracted to her, or at least intrigued by her, but also terrified of the man who comes into Dorothy's apartment, huffs gas, and acts violently towards her. This dark, dangerous side of the town entices Jeffrey and he eventually gets caught by Dorothy and, ultimately, becomes seduced by her and becomes deeply involved with Dorothy's issues.

Blue Velvet is one of the darkest, strangest, oddest, and greatest thrillers of all-time. It has a little bit of everything. Trademark twisted Lynchian humor, great performances, sex, drugs, danger, graphic violence, scenes that will make you laugh, scenes that will shock you. The film was mostly critically lauded at the time it came out, but one of its most vocal critics was Roger Ebert who objected to Lynch's handling of Isabella Rosselini in the movie. Lynch used her in ways that made Ebert feel uncomfortable. While on some level, I felt what Roger Ebert felt when I first watched Blue Velvet, I didn't wind up having the same reaction as he did. I feel that Blue Velvet has moments that are truly terrifying and uncomfortable, but I completely trust David Lynch's intentions with the film.

Lynch can be a little bit eccentric and strange himself, but he's always in complete control of the films he makes. I've never gotten the sense in a Lynch film that he didn't know what he was doing, I may not have always followed or understood his films at some points, but I always had this feeling of trust when I watch a Lynch movie that whatever he's putting up on screen is exactly what he envisioned. What my reaction turns out to be is the reaction he wants from me, or anyone who watches his films. Blue Velvet, for me, elicited the strongest reactions because the fact that it is conventional in some places actually makes the surreal nature of the film feel even more surreal. Because when you're put in a normal environment and suspect that something is slightly off-kilter, it messes with your mind. This is opposed to making a film whose whole environment is surreal. Your mind just adjusts to the surreality and it's not as gripping.

Blue Velvet is one of the top five greatest films of the 1980s because as surreal and as Lynchian as it is, I also feel like it represents the '80s better than any other film to come out in that decade. Looking at the '80s from a mostly outsider point of view, there's this cold neutrality that I get from the decade. The Reagan/Bush Sr. era, the attempt to return to normal family values... but like Blue Velvet, there's that dark undercurrent to the decade which makes you feel like nothing is quite as it seems. Small towns may have been safe and happy, but the more urban areas were starting to decay thanks to the crack epidemic and the AIDS outbreak. Blue Velvet is a great film on the surface and works completely on its own, but watching it as many times as I have, I feel there is a lot to it than what initially meets the eye, hidden layers that David Lynch himself may not have known were there. Or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing, the man is a mystery.

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #5

5. Paris, Texas, 1984
Director: Wim Wenders

Paris, Texas is one of those films where I know it's a film for me, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a film for everyone. That's why it's five on the list. It's a personal favorite of mine and it's really influenced me, another film that sort of changed the way I think about movies. I didn't watch it until mid-2010 when I was starting my quest to watch as many '80s films as possible. So, it was a film that I forced myself to watch. Upon watching it, something happened to me, and the film has been in my psyche ever since. There's just this unspoken beauty and sadness within the film that just speaks to me in a way other films don't. That gave it an added flavor to a film that I already found much to admire about.

Top of my list of things to admire about this film is Harry Dean Stanton's nearly mute performance. Along the way, he starts talking, but for a good portion of the film he doesn't say anything. His character, Travis, had been wandering around the last few years of his life, drifting. He happens upon a saloon in South Texas and he collapses. His brother Walt (Dean Stockwell), who lives in Los Angeles, is eventually called in to retrieve him. Walt, much like everyone else, hasn't seen Travis in years. When he finds him, Travis is a mute, nearly catatonic. He can walk but other than that he's expressionless, emotionless. Walt tries to get Travis to lighten up and talk, but Travis remains quiet. Walt takes him back to Los Angeles.

What unfolds from there is Travis's backstory. What's great about Wim Wenders' film is that as slow as the pacing is, there is a convention to the story. The movie doesn't try to frustrate you and make you guess the whole time. There is a story to tell here, but the film takes its time. Considering the way it unfolds and how well characterized Travis is, the pacing is easily forgivable. You eventually find out that Travis has a son and Walt and his wife has been taking care of him. Travis has been gone so long that his young son doesn't even remember him. Once his son finally starts to take a liking to Travis and Travis finally starts talking, Travis decides he must take his son back to Texas so they can find his mother.

See, the film is pretty much formless until that moment. The film doesn't really have a structure for about an hour or so, the scenes just happen one right after the other and there's sort of an unpredictability to it much like how life is unpredictable. But when it does take form, the film goes to emotional heights so great that it catches you by surprise. Once we finally come across Travis's estranged wife (Nastassja Kinski), it's heartbreaking.

But the film's pacing and naturalistic form makes everything that unfolds feel so authentic and real. It may not be a film that makes you cry, but it will stir your emotions in some way. It's no surprise the film won Best Film prize at Cannes in 1984. What's most surprising is the fact that the film is set in Los Angeles and South Texas and it's directed by Wim Wenders (who is from Germany). Wenders really embraces the open atmosphere that South Texas has to offer and what we get are some really beautifully shot scenes. It's a gorgeous looking film with a melancholy tone.

Both Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire are excellent films. Wenders made some really great films in the '70s as well, but it's these two films from the '80s that he'll probably be most remembered by and it's for a good reason. They are both incredible peaks in a decade where other filmmakers were either on a decline or were just getting their start. Paris, Texas is easily one of the five best films from the '80s. After I first watched it, I thought it might be one of the best I've ever seen. That, I can't be too sure about, but it is definitely a film that means a lot to me.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

SAG Awards Results

The Help wins three SAG awards including Best Cast in Motion Picture, the top prize. What does that mean for the Oscars? Probably that Viola Davis and Octavia Spencers just majorly increased their chances at winning Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Jean Dujardin winning Best Actor is curious to me, I don't think he's gotten enough of a push to win Best Actor at the Oscars, but it's possible. Still, leaning towards Clooney. Christopher Plummer is pretty much a done deal in the Best Supporting Actor category.

But does winning Best Cast help The Help's chances? I don't think so. You got the whole Actor's Guild vs the Academy and considering The Artist was the belle of the ball at the DGA and PGA awards, I think the SAGs is just delaying the inevitable. The Help doesn't have a directing, screenplay, or editing nomination. The Artist has all three of those.

I think the main thing is that there was probably no way The Artist wins for Best Cast, I mean, it's a silent film. Obviously great acting is very possible in a silent movie, but when it comes to ensemble, a "talkie" is going to win out over a silent film.

So yeah, it's looking pretty clear that The Artist will win it all, but it's almost too obvious that it'll win. Something's gotta give, right? I hope so.


Best Male Actor in a Leading Role
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Female Actor in a Leading Role
Viola Davis, The Help
Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Best Cast in a Motion Picture
The Help

Best Male Actor, Movie/Miniseries

Paul Giamatti, Too Big to Fail
Best Female Actor, Movie/Miniseries
Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce
Best Male Actor in a Drama Series
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Best Female Actor in a Drama Series
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story
Best Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Balwin, 30 Rock
Best Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Betty White, Hot in Cleveland
Best Ensemble in a Drama Series
Boardwalk Empire
Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series
Modern Family

Best Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Best Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series
Game of Thrones

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #6

6. Brazil, 1985
Director: Terry Gilliam

Brazil is another film, like Fitzcarraldo, that is almost as famous for the drama behind the scenes moreso than the actual movie itself. Terry Gilliam and the studio behind Brazil, Universal, were constantly budding heads. Universal wanted changes, they wanted edits to the film, and Terry Gilliam was having none of it. The whole in-fighting almost resulted in the film being shelved, thankfully the film, in its intended version, was finally released in December of 1985.

Brazil, again like Fitzcarraldo, is remarkable in its persistence of vision. The main difference is that Fitzcarraldo's vision was grounded in reality and Brazil was all in the crazy mind of Terry Gilliam whose imagination just explodes all over the screen with this film. The cinematography and production design of the film is a sight to see. The towering monochromatic art design gave the future a bleak, imposing image. Combine that with the wondrous fantasy scenes and Brazil is a true spectacle to watch.

What brings it all together is both the great performances from Johnathan Pryce, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, and Robert Deniro and there's the satirical humor and tone to the film which allows it to be as bombastic and as imaginative as it wants to be while also being able to poke fun at itself and what you're seeing on screen. Brazil isn't grounded in reality, it's grounded in surreality in almost every scene.

To delve into the plot of the film a little bit... Johnathan Pryce plays Sam Lowry a government employee sent to fix a mistake that was made when a fly jammed a printer which ultimately lead to the mistaken arrest and death of Mr. Archibald Buttle, when they were really trying to arrest suspected terrorist Archibald Tuttle (Robert Deniro). In the midst of trying to fix this mistake, while investigating Buttle's death he discovers Jill Layton, the woman who has been constantly appearing in his dreams. I could keep going, but fully explaining the plot would take awhile.

Brazil has everything. It's sci-fi, it's fairytale, it's romance, it's comedy, it's drama, it's action, it's adventure, it's everything a movie could be except for perhaps western and horror. The film could be a bit much to handle the first-time around and it demands repeat viewings. Each viewing allows you to discover a different layer and a different facet to the film that you hadn't discovered previously. Brazil is Terry Gilliam's greatest film because as wild and as imaginative his vision is, he is in so much control of the style and tone of this film that it all works to an amazing degree. Brazil is a film from another planet, it's incredible.

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #7

7. Au revoir les enfants, 1987
Director: Louis Malle

Louis Malle's filmography would be the envy of any director. He started off with a classic (Elevator to the Gallows) and in the '60s and '70s made a number of great French films, both fictional narratives and documentaries. It's not so often that a director makes his masterpiece so late in his career, but that is indeed the case with Louis Malle and his film "Au revoir les enfants."

Au revoir les enfants is one of those foreign language films that must be seen by everyone, especially children because its message and its emotions are universal and can be understood by anyone and I think it's a film that would especially resonate with adolescents. The film follows a young boy who goes off to a Roman Catholic boarding school in Vichy France during WWII. Julien, the young boy, is just your average pre-teen kid who tries to act tough in school especially in front of other kids. This is especially true when Jean Bonnet, a new student arrives. Julien despises Bonnet and his awkwardness, but soon comes to realize that Jean Bonnet is actually Jean Kippelstein, a Jew. Eventually the two of them actually start to form a close friendship and Julien keeps his discovery a secret.

See, this boarding school has been secretly allowing Jewish students to hide at their school to avoid being sent off to concentration camps. Jean Kippelstein is one of those students that is hiding. If his cover is blown, his life could be at stake. Au revoir les enfants sneaks its way into your psyche because the child actors are so good and you soon find yourself watching, with joy, these kids sharing this friendship together. But then the film tugs at your heartstrings when the Gestapo arrives at the school to check and see if they are harboring any Jewish kids. What happens during this raid and the way in which it happens is so heartbreaking and unforgettable that you will know exactly what Julien feels as he tries to keep Jean Kippelstein's secret to himself.

A film like this can only be so good because of who is behind the camera. Louis Malle handles this film with ease, by now he's a seasoned veteran in the business and you can see him regaining his passion for storytelling with this film. After all, it's all based Louis Malle's own experiences as he was much like Julien, a young boy going to boarding school witnessing the Gestapo raid their school, searching for Jews. That experience comes through with this film and it gives it that extra added weight in a film that is already layered enough.

Au revoir les enfants is just a film that cannot be ignored. Of all the great WWII-related films to come out in the last 60+ years, this is one of the best.

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #8

8. Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986
Director: Woody Allen

Roger Ebert claimed in his 1986 review of the film that Hannah and Her Sisters was the best film Woody Allen ever made and I agree with him. Hannah and Her Sisters is Woody Allen firing on all cylinders. What makes this film so good are the great performances all around. It features a remarkable cast that includes Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher, Woody Allen, and the great Max Von Sydow.

Hannah and Her Sisters is everything great about Woody Allen, but what makes it even more special is that it's the rare Allen film that ends in a fairly optimistic note. As great and as memorable as Allen's other films are, there's something to be said about the one film that ends happily and actually feels right. You have three basic, intertwining storylines here that more-or-less revolve around Hannah and her two sisters.

Hannah is played by Farrow who is married to Elliot (Michael Caine). On the surface, they have an amorous relationship, but unbeknownst to Hannah, Elliot is 100% smitten with Hannah's sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey). Elliot is so smitten with her, she practically takes his breath away, he doesn't even know what to say when he's alone with her. Part of him wants to keep his lustful feelings a secret, but another part of him feels he must know whether or not she feels the same. What unfolds between Elliot and Lee winds up being some of Woody Allen's best writing in his career.

The second storyline deals with Mickey Sachs (Woody Allen) and his story provides most of the comedy of the film. Mickey is probably the most neurotic of all the "Woody characters" in any Woody Allen movie, but again, Allen is in top form as both actor and writer and he still manages to make Mickey Sachs engaging and interesting enough that his neurosis never feels out of place. Mickey is a hypochondriac who at one point believes he may have a serious disease, only to find that he's actually completely healthy. Still, Mickey's health scare causes him to start questioning his existence and he starts playing with the idea of converting to another religion. Mickey's story also includes flashbacks to when he used to be married to Hannah and his failed attempts at dating Holly (Hannah's other sister, played by Dianne Wiest in an Oscar-winning role).

The third storyline belongs to Holly. She's sort of the "rotten apple" of the three sisters, the least successful. She's a failing actress who winds up working in the catering business with her friend and acting rival April (Carrie Fisher). At one of the parties they're catering at, they wind up competing for a man played by Sam Waterston. She winds up losing that competition and quits the catering job and decides to take up writing.

I think what resonates most with me, when it comes to Hannah and Her Sisters is not just the interesting, well-written stories of these characters, but it's ultimately the conclusion of Mickey's storyline. He eventually meets up with Holly later in the film and they have a nice little reunion. While talking to each other, Mickey reveals to Holly the resolution of his own inner-conflicts with life and death. What results is one of my favorite monologues that Woody Allen has ever written:

Mickey Sachs: "One day about a month ago, I really hit bottom. Ya know I just felt that in a Godless universe I didn't wanna go on living. Now I happen to own this rifle, which I loaded believe it or not, and pressed it to my forehead. And I remember thinking, I'm gonna kill myself. Then I thought, what if I'm wrong, what if there is a God. I mean, after all nobody really knows that. Then I thought no, ya know maybe is not good enough, I want certainty or nothing. And I remember very clearly, the clock was ticking, and I was sitting there frozen with the gun to my head, debating whether to shoot.
[gun fires]
All of a sudden the gun went off. I had been so tense my finger squeezed the trigger inadvertantly. But I was perspiring so much the gun had slid off my forehead and missed me. Suddenly neighbors were pounding on the door, and I dunno the whole scene was just pandemonium. I ran to the door, I didn't know what to say. I was embarrassed and confused and my mind was racing a mile a minute. And I just knew one thing I had to get out of that house, I had to just get out in the fresh air and clear my head. I remember very clearly I walked the streets, I walked and I walked I didn't know what was going through my mind, it all seemed so violent and unreal to me. I wandered for a long time on the upper west side, it must have been hours. My feet hurt, my head was pounding, and I had to sit down I went into a movie house. I didn't know what was playing or anything I just needed a moment to gather my thoughts and be logical and put the world back into rational perspective. And I went upstairs to the balcony, and I sat down, and the movie was a film that I'd seen many times in my life since I was a kid, and I always loved it. I'm watching these people up on the screen and I started getting hooked on the film. I started to feel, how can you even think of killing yourself, I mean isn't it so stupid. Look at all the people up there on the screen, they're real funny, and what if the worst is true. What if there is no God and you only go around once and that's it. Well, ya know, don't you wanna be part of the experience? You know, what the hell it's not all a drag. And I'm thinking to myself, Jeez, I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I'm never gonna get, and just enjoy it while it lasts. And after who knows, I mean maybe there is something, nobody really knows. I know maybe is a very slim reed to hang your whole life on, but that's the best we have. And then I started to sit back, and I actually began to enjoy myself. "

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #9

9. Back to the Future, 1985
Director: Robert Zemeckis

Back to the Future is the ultimate epitome of summer blockbuster family films. It is the perfect combination of comedy, science-fiction, adventure, and thrills. It has an incredibly charismatic lead performance from Michael J. Fox and who could forget the demented Doc Brown, portrayed by Christopher Lloyd. Add Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson as Marty McFly's parents as well as Thomas F. Wilson as Biff and you have quite the colorful cast of characters. But that perfect blend of comedy and adventure allows the film to be as fun as it is exciting. The plot of time travel can often be confusing, but here the stakes are pretty clear and the way they have fun with the time travel aspects of it is endlessly amusing.

A film in which almost every scene is memorable and every other scene is iconic. The film's secret weapon is its script which is filled with so many great lines, there isn't a single moment where the film feels off. Back to the Future is everything a summer blockbuster should be. It's one of those films where it's impossible to find a single detractor. In fact, anyone who views Back to the Future in a negative manner is either insane or they have no soul.

How can you not love Marty McFly's rendition of Johnny B. Goode, a song everyone seems to be enjoying until McFly goes off on a crazy guitar solo which nobody understands. And then there's Biff who is the perfect amount of villain and dumbass. Lea Thompson, who looks incredibly beautiful in the '50s, it's no wonder why Marty McFly almost fell for her, as creepy as that sounds... it's his damn mother, after all.

Back to the Future is the reason we go to the movies in the first place, or at least it used to be. I think, deep down, we all crave to see a movie which perfectly captures our imaginations and actually goes beyond where our imaginations could possibly go. It's also a film that you can watch forever. The concept is so sound that the sequel really isn't all too bad, in fact, I would say Back to the Future II is actually pretty solid. The third one though is a bit of disappointment, but they're all worth watching because of the foundation that was left with the first film. Even now I wouldn't mind another venture into the past or the future with these great characters.

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #10

10. Fitzcarraldo, 1982
Director: Werner Herzog

Every aspiring filmmaker should see Fitzcarraldo. Of course, everyone in general should see Fitzcarraldo, but what Herzog accomplishes with this film is so amazing that it should be inspiring to anyone who wants to make a film, or better yet, wants to make something great whether it's a film or something else. Fitzcarraldo is Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, he currently lives in a small city in Peru and has been looking into becoming a rubber baron. He ultimately finds out about an area in Peru that is very rich in rubber and could make Fitzgerald a fortune. This area is practically inaccessible due to the dangerous rapids from the Amazon. But Fitzgerald discovers that if they somehow manage to take their ship upstream and then try to cut across an island, it would bypass the rapids and grant him access to the rubber. Basically what this all boils down to is a man, obsessed with gaining access to a territory filled with rubber, is willing to take his large steamship and pull it up a long, steep hill. It's a job that only an insane man would be willing to see through to the end as it is about to be extremely troublesome and life threatening to many men.

But I'm not talking about Brian Fitzgerald, the character in the film, he's not the insane man although he's portrayed as such. No. I'm talking about the film's writer and director, Werner Herzog. One thing you will come to realize as you're watching these people haul up this steamship over a steep hill is that... it is ACTUALLY happening. There are no effects, there are no camera tricks. Herzog literally had his crew haul this ship up the hill in order to properly portray this event. It's enough to drive anyone insane and it drove his crew and cast incredibly insane. He had his bouts with actor Klaus Kinski that now live in infamy. It's been said that the native extras actually offered to kill Klaus Kinski for Herzog, that's how messed up things were.

The making of the film was actually turned into a feature-length documentary entitled Burden of Dreams which documented the crew's struggle with the film. They actually shot part of the film somewhere else but had to reshoot due to inclement weather, they originally were making the film with lead actor Jason Robards but he eventually became sick with dysentery. So, they had to reshoot all of his scenes with Klaus Kinski.

While all the stories of the filming of Fitzcarraldo is fascinating in itself, the film is also fascinating to watch. Even before they wind up hauling the ship over the hill, there's the scenes before that when they encounter the natives and it gets pretty intense. Werner Herzog was already an accomplished director at this point, but with this film, he went from accomplished director to complete madman. I mean that in a complimentary way, of course. Fitzcarraldo is a work of visionary genius and an extraordinary accomplishment.

After the DGAs, The Artist looks poised to win it all

DGA Winners-

Best Director for a Feature Film
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Feature Documentary
James Marsh, Project Nim

Drama Series
Patty Jenkins, The Killing, “Pilot” (AMC)

Comedy Series
Robert B. Weide, Curb Your Enthusiasm, “Palestinian Chicken” (HBO)

Movies for Television and Miniseries
Jon Cassar, The Kennedys (Reelz Channel)

Reality Series
Neil P. Degroot, The Biggest Loser, “Episode #1115” (NBC)

Musical/Variety Series
Glenn Weiss, 65th Annual Tony Awards (CBS)

Daytime Serials
William Ludel, General Hospital, “Intervention” (ABC)

Children’s Programs
Amy Schatz, A Child’s Garden of Poetry (HBO)

Noam Murro, Ads for Heineken Premium Light, DirecTV, Volkswagen Tiguan, and EABattlefield 3

The Directors Guild of America had their awards ceremony last night. Up for Best Director was Michael Hazanavicius, director of The Artist; David Fincher, director of Dragon Tattoo; Scorsese (Hugo), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), and Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris).

Now generally speaking, when a film wins the DGA award and the PGA (Producer's Guild), it's pretty much a shoo-in that it'll win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The Screen Actors Guild Awards is tonight and if the Artist wins for Best Ensemble, it's over. But even then, the winner of the SAG awards usually doesn't mean all that much. It either cements knowledge that we already knew or it will just feel like a consolation prize for a film that will otherwise lose all other awards (like Inglourious Basterds back in 2009).

I'm surprised that The Artist is doing so well mainly because it just seems so self-serving to continually award a film that's about the Hollywood industry, it's an homage to silent films, and it hasn't been seen by very many people. Is it really that great of a movie or does it just push all the right buttons for these voting bodies? It may be a well-produced and well-directed film, but did Michael Hazanavicius really do the best directing job over Fincher, Scorsese, Woody Allen? Heck, even Alexander Payne?

Once again, I haven't seen The Artist, but I will this Friday. So maybe then I can see what the fuss is all about. It kinda sucks because I don't want to go into the film expecting greatness simply because it's winning all these awards. That's not how we should approach movies in the first place. It's not The Artist's fault that it's winning all these awards, people in the business just really like the film. Maybe it's Harvey Weinstein's fault since it always seems a film from his studio is always doing serious business during awards time. I don't know how he does it, I don't know what he does, all I know is I hope he does the same thing to either Tarantino or PT Anderson's film next year (both of their films are being released by The Weinstein Company). So, really, whether or not I like The Artist, I am willing to forgive its win if Harvey can pull the right strings so that Django Unchained or The Master wins all the awards next year. C'mon Harvey!

At the end of next week, I'm going to be going over all the 2011 movies I saw in January/early Feb that I had yet to write about (there's quite a few). So basically there'll be a bunch of short reviews posted and hopefully I can officially put 2011 movies to rest and focus on 2012.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: 20-11

20. Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1989
Director: Woody Allen

One of Woody Allen's darkest and most rewarding films is Crimes and Misdemeanors, a film that has Allen's usual mix of comedy and drama but the drama is so deep, dark, and intense that it completely takes over the film. That said, there's enough of a balance in the movie thanks to Woody Allen's performance as a documentarian forced to make a documentary about a guy (Alan Alda) that he hates, it creates some necessary layers to a movie that is otherwise pretty twisted. The other story that takes place in the film involves an eye doctor, Judah Rosenthal (played by Martin Landau, who is fantastic) who has wrapped himself up in this messy affair with Dolores (Anjelica Huston). Dolores threatens to tell Judah's wife and ruin his marriage if he doesn't commit to her. Judah finds himself completely trapped with absolutely nowhere else to go. His seeks advice from his brother (played by Jerry Orbach) who suggests having Dolores killed. Yes, Crimes and Misdemeanors goes into some dark territory, especially for Woody Allen, but he handles it all very well. The two stories eventually come together at the end as both characters talk about whether one can truly rid himself of guilt if they have done something that is especially heinous. It's a perfect conclusion to a film that comes close to perfection.

19. Withnail and I, 1987
Director: Bruce Robinson

Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann star in this smart, often hilarious UK film about two struggling, unemployed actors who decide they need a vacation so they venture out to a country cottage and the vacation winds up not being quite what they expected. The film is great in how well it defines each character and the production crew did a great job of making their apartment look at grimy as possible. Richard E. Grant is the most fun to watch as his comedy comes from a hidden layer of complete, emotional honesty. You laugh, you're disgusted, you sympathize. This film is so fun there's actually a drinking game attached to it. Written and director by the not-so-prolific Bruce Robinson, Withnail and I works because it comes from an honest place and it doesn't hold anything back.

18. Rain Man, 1988
Director: Barry Levinson

Rain Man is one of the few studio films from the '80s that has all the right touches and its Oscar win is perfectly justified. There's a lot of things that could've went wrong in this movie, but I think it works so well because Tom Cruise does such a great job of playing such a yuppie asshole. His asshole-ish performance is the perfect change-of-pace from Dustin Hoffman's precious character who has autism. Of course, we should also remember that Rain Man was made at a time when autism was not as widely known as a condition, people knew about it, but they didn't really know what it entailed. Considering that, Rain Man could also be considered an important movie. Like I said though, there is enough of a balance in this movie so that there isn't too much sentimentality attached to Hoffman's portrayal of Raymond. Rain Man caps off Barry Levinson's great run of films and is the peak of his filmography. Also noteworthy is the presence of Valeria Golino, who at the time of this movie was like the hottest actress around. Overall, Rain Man is the epitome of great '80s dramas.

17. Do the Right Thing, 1989
Director: Spike Lee

Spike Lee's 1989 joint, Do the Right Thing, is often a film I would find is the subject to a lot of ridicule by my fellow classmates whenever the movie would come in my film classes. There's quite a few people who often come away from a Spike Lee film feeling defensive and angry. What most people don't seem to get is, that anger, that defensive-ness is exactly what Spike Lee is trying to get out of you. Mostly, he wants you to try to understand the world from his point of view and you know what, it's a point of view not often depicted in film, especially American film, so it must be appreciated. Spike Lee came out at a time when there just weren't any African-American filmmakers out there. Even now, there are only a handful. There really isn't even that many roles for African-American actors either. Spike Lee was probably the most important filmmaker to come out of the American indie movement of the late '80s and Do the Right Thing is undeniably his most important film. It handles the racial issues that were happening at the time in such a spirited and honest manner that it's no wonder why people react so divisively to it. To me though, Do the Right Thing is one of those films that is impossible to ignore in an otherwise squeaky clean decade. It's one of the few '80s films to deal with the subject of race and even today it's one of the only films that deals with realistically. This is a film with a lot of strong emotions and when it all comes to its dramatic climax towards the end, it will leave an impression on you. Do the Right Thing is one of the most important films of the '80s.

16. Blade Runner, 1982
Director: Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, the height of Ridley Scott's career, the science-fiction game-changer with its densely layered art direction and cinematography that has a well-defined imagination as to what life in the year 2019 would actually be like. It's not that the technology or the look of the film wound up being accurate, it's that it's so gorgeously detailed that it's easy to get wrapped into the world that's being depicted here. Starring Harrison Ford, Blade Runner depicts a dystopian Los Angeles set in the year 2019, Ford plays an expert blade runner who is burnt out from his job but has agreed to go one last mission to hunt down bioengineerd beings known as replicants which have been banned on Earth. The reason why Blade Runner is so good is its neo-noir feel in this futuristic sci-fi world, it's an ingenious mix of genres and it changed the way people thought a science-fiction film could be like. Although, at the time of its release, Blade Runner suffered through numerous changes including the addition of a voice-over and it was ultimately received poorly by critics and audiences alike. Perhaps the film was too ahead of its time, but it eventually achieved a cult status and is now considered a classic. The director's cut is personally my preferred edition of the film as it most closely represents what Ridley Scott was trying to accomplish.

15. Platoon, 1986
Director: Oliver Stone

This raw, visceral Vietnam film, written and directed by Oliver Stone is actually based on Stone's own experiences when he served in Vietnam as a US infantryman. The great cast includes Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, and a very young Johnny Depp in one of his first roles. Platoon shows many different sides to the Vietnam War and portrays its soldiers in both a positive and a negative light. It's that duality, that mixed portrayal is what makes it the best Vietnam film to come out in the '80s and is right up there with The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now as one of the best Vietnam films of all-time. This is the film that put Oliver Stone on the map and officially launched his career, it also happened to win a couple of Oscars in the process, including Best Picture. Platoon also includes one of the most unforgettable images in any film to come out from the '80s, that image of Willem Dafoe falling to his knees as he is killed before he can be rescued by his own men.

14. The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
Director: Irvin Kershner

The best of the Star Wars movies, Empire Strikes Back manages to capitalize on the first Star Wars film in just about every way. It's darker, it's edgier, it expands on the Star Wars story, and as Dante Hicks says in Clerks, ""Empire" had the better ending. I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader's his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that's what life is, a series of down endings. All "Jedi" had was a bunch of Muppets. "

13. Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981
Director: Steven Spielberg

When you looked at Spielberg's filmography, there's his serious fare and his commercial/blockbuster fare. That's how people tend to look at it. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of his best films, period, and it's the most fun, blockbuster-y, adventurous film of all of his fun films. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, he gets everything right and what's even better is how gleeful he is with the subject matter. Then you have Harrison Ford who plays the iconic role of Indiana Jones who defeats the Nazis who are looking for the Ark of the Covenant because Hitler thinks it will make his Army invincible. Raiders is a highly enjoyable film with historical context and a fun leading character whose humor always feels right with the tone of the film. This is the film that all subsequent Summer action/adventure films had to live up to, even now. Not even Spielberg's subsequent Indiana Jones films could live up to this one, but let us appreciate the fact that he had the ability to make a film like this in the first place.

12. Wings of Desire, 1987
Director: Wim Wenders

What I love the most about Wings of Desire is its insistence in telling its story in its own way. The beginning of the film is practically plotless as it just follows these angels around in Berlin, Germany as they try to lend a hand and guide the people living in the city. It's one of those films that completely changed my perspective in what a movie could be. At the same time, there is a plot to this film and once Wings of Desire starts going somewhere, it's truly a beautiful thing to watch. German actor Bruno Ganz plays Damiel an angel. He's been an angel since the beginning of time, but he's recently been longing to become human again. The film makes the best use of transitioning from black-and-white to color since The Wizard of Oz. I really love this movie and if you allow yourself to get involved with this film, you will love it too. Within this film is a hidden political layer that I won't really get into, but considering this film was made just before the fall of the Berlin wall and it's set in contemporary West Berlin, that should tell you enough. This is a film that reflects on life and death, and I would argue that it is ultimately the most life-affirming film you'll ever see.

11. The Shining, 1980
Director: Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick was a master filmmaker because he did it all. He only made just over a dozen films, but he tackled pretty much every genre. He did film noir, war films, sword-and-sandal epic, comedy, science-fiction, and horror. Each time, he completely nailed it and the films he made would ultimately become one of the best of its respective genre. The Shining is one of the all-time best horror films because it's a perfect combination of music, atmosphere, tone, and pacing. There are a mix of horrifying images and images that are just flat out bizarre. And then there's Jack Nicholson's performance which is so menacing, so dominating. Robert Duvall, about a year ago, criticize the acting of the film and I think he's way off. The acting here is in perfect harmony with the rest of the film. What's especially great about this film are all the little bits and pieces and close attention to detail that you wind up finding with every subsequent viewing. It's easy to get sucked in while watching The Shining, it's not as easy to get sucked out. Whether it's blood flowing out of an elevator, "Here's Johnny!", or "redrum", there are so many classic moments in The Shining, but the sum has always been better than its parts.

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: 30-21

30. Ordinary People, 1980
Director: Robert Redford

Thanks to the goddamn Oscars, Ordinary People's ultimate legacy was becoming the film that beat Raging Bull for Best Picture and Robert Redford winning Best Director over Martin Scorsese. Some have found this to be a terrible offense, especially considering Scorsese's film Goodfellas had the same fate: losing to Dances with Wolves and Kevin Costner for Best Picture and Director, respectively. But, Ordinary People is a great film in its own right. Its placement over Raging Bull at the Oscars should be a moot point since the Oscars rarely ever get it right. But, if Raging Bull wasn't released the same year as Ordinary People, I would say that the Oscars did get it right in 1980. Ordinary People is a really excellent, touching drama and a strong directorial debut for Robert Redford. What was striking to me about Ordinary People was its attempt to portray its characters as honestly as possible so that Conrad Jarrett's (Timothy Hutton) emotions in the wake of his brother's death feels natural and authentic. Hutton really did a great job and he won an Oscar for his role in the film, deservedly. But what is also striking is Mary Tyler Moore's layered performance as the mother trying to cope with the loss of her son and trying to keep the family together despite the disconnect she feels between her and her son. I must say for a film coming out in 1980 and a film dealing with attempted suicide and death, there's nothing melodramatic about this film at all. All the emotions feel legitimate and nothing winds up feeling overwrought or sentimental. Robert Redford did a remarkable job handling the tone of this film. Overall, Ordinary People is an extraordinary film.

29. Full Metal Jacket, 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick

Perhaps my bias for Stanley Kubrick is in full effect, perhaps not, but Full Metal Jacket is an '80s classic in my mind. More than that, it's Kubrick. With Kubrick, you know you're getting film that's going to be masterful in every technical department. However, the most memorable thing in Full Metal Jacket is the performances, especially from R. Lee Ermey and Vincent D'Onofrio. What I love about Full Metal Jacket is the structure. The boot camp scenes are filmed in such a deliberate, objective fashion that there isn't a single wrong note in any of those scenes. While some may argue that the second half of the film pales in comparison to the first half, the second half of the film still has excellent battle scenes. And the film's final act involving the sniper is as intense as any war film that's out there. The way I look at it: the first half is indisputably brilliant, the second half is excellent/above-average. That about adds up to about no. 29 on this list.

28. The Thing, 1982
Director: John Carpenter

The Thing is the top John Carpenter film on this list because, despite the great run of movies he had in the '80s (although only one other one is on the list), The Thing is everything that's great about John Carpenter all rolled up into one movie. While They Live and Big Trouble in Little China are fun action films with their fair share of memorable scenes, The Thing was groundbreaking at the time for its grotesque visual effects that often left audiences at the time feeling sick and uncomfortable. To this day, The Thing remains one of the greatest horror films, especially from the '80s. The remake that came out last year was completely worthless, the original (which itself was a remake of "The Thing From Another World") film, The Thing, is the only version you need to see. A classic '80s film and one of the all-time best of its genre.

27. The Fly, 1986
Director: David Cronenberg

...And in that subgenre (sci-fi/horror), the only film that tops The Thing, in my opinion, is The Fly which is ALSO a remake of a '50s film. But The Fly is such a well-done remake that you can watch both the '50s version and the 1986 version and you get two great films out of it with completely different takes on the subject matter. The 1986 version of The Fly takes the original concept and improves upon while making it more relevant to the times people were living in at the time. To me, those are the best kinds of sci-fi films. Jeff Goldblum also gives a career-best performance as Seth Brundle, who created a teleportation device of which ultimately malfunctioned turning Seth into a fly in the process. But the film doesn't turn him into a fly right away, he slowly starts to deteriorate and become the fly. Initially, the transformation makes him strong, makes him feel invincible and muscular. But ultimately, he winds up looking more and more like a fly and he becomes weaker and stops looking like his regular self. The way the deterioration takes place is very well done and the second half of the film is heartbreaking. Geena Davis plays opposite Jeff Goldblum, but this is really Goldblum's show who is just fantastic in this. He's not just the nerdy scientist who knows everything, which I feel he was too often relegated to in the '90s. In The Fly, you get to see just how good Jeff Goldblum can be when he's given a lead performance in a movie like this.

26. Ran, 1985
Director: Akira Kurosawa

Ran, Akira Kurosawa's other '80s film, is another classic and in many ways is better than Kagemusha. The film basically plays out as an epic Japanese version of Shakespeare's King Lear.
An aging warlord decides to step down as ruler and leave everything up to his three sons. Unfortunately, his three sons do not like the way his father decides to split up the kingdom. Ran is an epic tale of betrayal and lust for power. It was Kurosawa's last epic and it makes wonderful use of color, there are some images in the film that look so magnificent. Kagemusha and Ran are both renown for their excellent use of color and costume design. I prefer Ran because the story, in my opinion, is ultimately much more powerful and left a bigger impression on me. Both are great films, Ran is one of Kurosawa's greatest.

25. Das Boot, 1981
Director: Wolfgang Petersen

The German epic, Das Boot, is one of the most authentic, realistic war films ever made and it's also one of the best German films of all-time. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, Das Boot takes place during WWII and tells the story of a crew inside a U-96 (a German U-boat). It's claustrophobic, it's intense, it's wonderfully shot, and feels so realistic. I prefer the 3 1/2 hour director's cut over the theatrical cut which is about an hour shorter. Apparently there's an uncut version that is a whopping 293 minutes, but I haven't dared to tackle that beast. Either way, this is a must-see film no matter what version of the film you see.

24. Ghostbusters, 1984
Director: Ivan Reitman

Of course Ghostbusters is on my top 100 movies of the '80s list. I grew up on this movie, I had Ghostbusters bedsheets when I was young. I was all about the Ghostbusters when I was young and the film had an excellent mix of humor and entertainment for both kids and adults so it is still a film that I find a lot to enjoy and it's one of those films that I've seen about 50 times. Like ET, there are parts of it that is ingrained in my memory. The excellent cast includes Dan Aykroyd, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray. Bill Murray is basically the one who truly makes the film a classic. It still should go down as one of his best comedic performance as it makes great use of his comic tone and style. The movie itself is just a thrill to watch and it's another one of those big summer films from the '80s that current summer blockbusters just cannot compare to.

23. The Elephant Man, 1980
Director: David Lynch

Fans of David Lynch may be surprised by The Elephant Man if they haven't seen it already. This film is not quite like other Lynch films, but it showed early on that Lynch could take someone else's material and do it justice while still leaving enough of a stamp on it that makes it undeniably Lynchian. For only being Lynch's second film, it's remarkable just how at the top of his game he was already. Elephant Man also has great performances all around especially with Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt. The subject matter of The Elephant Man is really tricky but David Lynch approaches it carefully and considerably and that's why it works so well.

22. My Life as a Dog, 1985
Director: Lasse Hallstrom

Lasse Hallstrom made quite a name for himself in the '90s and 2000s, always winding making a film that attracts a considerable amount of attention at the Academy Awards. But his best film will always be My Life as a Dog which is such a wonderful, touching Swedish film that tells the story of a young boy who is sent to live with his relatives. It's hard to watch this film and not get a little emotional. You will wind up leaving the film with a heavy heart, unless you are completely emotionless and insensitive. If you consider yourself a fan of world cinema, you owe it to yourself to see this film. Scratch that, if you're a fan of any type of cinema, you owe it to yourself to see this amazing film.

21. Prince of the City, 1981
Director: Sidney Lumet

Watching Prince of the City for the first time, I was struck by just how good it was and yet how little I knew about it save for the fact that it was directed by Sidney Lumet. When I think of great Sidney Lumet films, 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network pop up immediately. Prince of the City has to be included among those films because it's one of the best, most realistic police procedural dramas I've ever seen. Lumet already knocked this genre out of the park with Serpico, but Prince of the City is like an expansion and a more focused approach of an NYPD officer exposing just how corrupt the police department is. Treat Williams, somehow never got a fair shake as an actor, but he's brilliant here. He puts everything into his performance as a man who believes, in his heart, that what he is doing is the right thing to do, but it's killing him inside. Prince of the City is a long and winding film, but it's long running time allows the film to breathe and be deliberate and because of that it feels very realistic.

(I used "realistic" and "authentic" a lot for the last couple movies, I guess that's a reason why they're all on this list... lol. Sorry if I'm starting to sound repetitive.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: 40-31

40. The Blues Brothers, 1980
Director: John Landis

The Blues Brothers is the coolest movie. It has great music, it's funny, it has some of the best, wackiest car chase scenes in movie history. It features two comic actors at the height of their powers and a director who seemingly couldn't stop making highly entertaining movies, constantly pushing himself and his craft in the process. Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) are on a mission from God to save the orphanage they grew up in so they take the task of reuniting their band, The Blues Brothers. Along the way they wind up being chased by a random assortment of crazy characters. The Blues Brothers is not just a great comedy, it's a great movie that happens to be really funny as well. Featuring so many memorable cameos, most memorable may be Aretha Franklin's whose musical number brings the house down. One of my favorite comedies of the 1980s, The Blues Brothers is the only film, coming from a SNL sketch, that went above and beyond its origins. Unfortunately, John Belushi's passing made it impossible for a true sequel to the first one (we instead got the abysmal Blues Brothers 2000), but watching Belushi in this film reminds me of what a tremendous on screen presence he was.

39. Sex, Lies, and Videotape, 1989
Director: Steven Soderbergh

The movie that showed Hollywood that American independent cinema could catch the attention of general movie audiences as well, Sex, Lies, and Videotape is not just a great film, it's one of the most important films for what it did to film for the next decade. Released by Miramax in 1989, Videotape grossed $24 million in the box office which was twenty-four times its budget. The film turned Miramax into a powerhouse and paved the way for films by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater in the '90s. The movie itself is great, starring Peter Gallagher, James Spader, Andie MacDowell, and Laura San Giacomo---Sex, Lies, and Videotape is about Graham Dalton (James Spader) who returns to live in Baton Rouge after being a drifter for a number of years. He reunites with his old college friend, John (Gallagher), and subsequently becomes a subject of curiosity for John's wife (played by MacDowell) and her sister. The women will both soon discover that Graham likes to videotape women, asking them questions about their sexuality, and he uses these videos to get himself off. The film becomes an interesting examination of sexuality and relationships. Plot-wise, Videotape is a true original. Add that with the film's strong sense of tone and character and there's no wonder why Steven Soderbergh became a director on everyone's watchlist. He used that power, somewhat unfortunately, by making a series of interesting, yet uneven low budget films. It wasn't until "Out of Sight" that he became a Hollywood A-list director. Sex, Lies, and Videotape still remains one of his best films, though, because it's one of Soderbergh's few contemporary dramas and it's just a great debut where every element of the film manages to work wonderfully.

38. Kagemusha, 1980
Director: Akira Kurosawa

One of cinema's all-time great auteurs, Akira Kurosawa, proved in 1980 (his fifth decade in filmmaking), that he could still make an amazing epic at age 70. Kagemusha is a masterfully made film set during the Warring States period of Japan and involves a lower-class criminal who is taught to impersonate a dying warlord in order to stop other lords from attacking their clan. The film ultimately ends with the Battle of Nagashino. The film is beautifully shot and has impeccable art direction. Coming from a filmmaker who really didn't need to prove himself anymore with his long, illustrious career in Japan to come out with a film like Kagemusha so late in his career is just remarkable.

37. Wall Street, 1987
Director: Oliver Stone

In the late '80s and early '90s, Oliver Stone was quite the provocateur. He appeared to have a keen interest in pushing the envelope and people's buttons with uncompromising films like Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and JFK. Wall Street is just as uncompromising, but what makes it so good is just how fun it is to watch unfold. Starring Michael Douglas in his Oscar-winning role as Gordon Gekko and a young Charlie Sheen as Bud Fox. Bud is a young junior stockbroker who wants nothing more than to get to the top of his profession, Gordon is a legendary Wall Street player who Bud idolizes. When their lives eventually coincide with each other, Bud Fox will soon come to find out just how ruthless and evil Gekko really is. Wall Street is a classic tale of the dangers of greed and it's incredible just how relevant the film is today. Oliver Stone followed it up over twenty years later with Money Never Sleeps, but the sequel seems rather tame compared to the first film. Michael Douglas is so evil and yet so good, you can't help but have a part of yourself want to root for him, even if another part of yourself despises him so much.

36. Robocop, 1987
Director: Paul Verhoeven

Robocop is like The Terminator's cousin, only way more dangerous, way more reckless, way more fun. Robocop though, in my modest opinion, is one of the greatest sci-fi action films ever made. It's so incredibly solid and gleefully violent that any action fan will both love this film and laugh at its ridiculousness. Omni Consumer Products is looking for ways to create new ways to help the police force manage crime better. Their first proposition is the ED-209, a giant robot trained to kill evildoers. Unfortunately, the ED-209 malfunctions and winds up killing someone at its presentation. Luckily for OCP, Office Murphy has just suffered a terribly gruesome death at the hands of Clarence Boddicker (played by Kurtwood Smith) who is one of the most despicable, unpredictable villains in movie history. His evilness is so over-the-top and so well-portrayed by Kurtwood Smith that you can't help but laugh at how far the movie takes him.
OCP takes Officer Murphy and turns into Robocop, who is half-man, half-robot. He quickly becomes a model police officer in Detroit, taking down bad guys left and right, much to the chagrin of both Clarence and the police department who feel slighted by his success. The movie's greatest strength is its ability to never take itself too seriously, it's having just as much fun as you are watching it.

35. Blood Simple, 1984
Director: The Coen Brothers

Blood Simple is The Coen Brothers' debut film and it's their first entry into the neo-noir crime genre. It's a genre they would later master with Fargo and No Country for Old Men. What may surprise you with their low budget debut is the fact that Blood Simple is about as close to a perfect debut film as any filmmaker could hope for, they pretty much already mastered the genre on their first try. Blood Simple is so good because its plot is simple, but very carefully constructed. The simple layers of the film is laid out so deliberately that when a character screws up, everything starts to unravel and things get really intense. The film is well-shot, well-acted, and it's one of the prime examples of indie cinema of the '80s.

34. Aliens, 1986
Director: James Cameron

I just said that Robocop was one of the best science-fiction action films ever made, well Aliens is just as great, perhaps even better. The reason why Aliens tops The Terminator is that, of course James Cameron bettered himself his next time around. James Cameron is one of those filmmakers who, when a film of his comes out, the rest of the filmmaking industry has to catch up to him. His work, especially in the '80s and '90s, would often go so far beyond films of its nature that they would actually advance the genre on so many levels. What's more is the fact that Aliens is one of the few sequels from the era that actually might be just as good, if not better, than the original film. The primary reason is the way it boldly changes genres from sci-fi/body-horror to all-out, balls-out action flick. Sigourney Weaver turns into a badass heroine ("Get away from her, you bitch!") and the visual effects are excellent. All of these things are what makes Aliens such a joy to watch.

33. ET, 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg

I think anybody around my age grew up on films like ET and therefore it has a special place in my heart for being such a memorable film for me when I was growing up. Watching it again instantly takes me back to a more innocent time, it brings out the kid in me everytime. ET is quintessential Spielberg where all of his sensibilities as a director is channeled into a film that becomes a true spectacle. For every kid, the film plays right into their imagination and it's heartbreaking third act will have them all in tears. The '80s might be marked as a time when blockbuster family films started to take over, but those films were good and filmmakers like Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis made great use of the budgets they had and still managed to tell stories that felt original and timeless. ET is what all family films should aspire to be like. It has so many iconic scenes, so many images that will forever be burned into my brain.

32. Distant Voices, Still Lives, 1988
Director: Terence Davies

One of the best British films from the '80s, Distant Voices may jar your expectations a little bit as the film doesn't follow a typical plot structure and it seems to be comprised mostly of characters singing songs. But Distant Voices, Still Lives is powerful in how it accurately reflects a time in each of these characters lives. This is a film literally composed of memories. The first part harkens back to the characters as kids growing up in Liverpool during the '40s, the second part is the lives they live as adults in the '50s. There's heartbreak, turmoil, and loneliness inside of each of them, but when they get together, they're lively and are singing songs. The film's odd, atypical structure may dizzy and confuse some, but once you get into it, it's cinema at its purest.

31. The Last Temptation of Christ, 1988
Director: Martin Scorsese

A long-time pet project for Martin Scorsese, The Last Temptation of Christ could be marked as the climax of Scorsese's 80s films. It often surprises me how people don't mention this film when they mention Scorsese's best films. That might be a testament to just how great Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas are, but Scorsese also made an epic about the life of Jesus Christ. And it's a ballsy approach to a subject that is often very sensitive material for Christians. What you get from Last Temptation, though, is an honest attempt to properly imagine the life of Jesus Christ in the most realistic terms that are possible. That if he actually lived as a human being at a certain point, then he would have flaws, he would have temptations, he would have urges, just like any other human being. By attempting to humanize Jesus Christ, Last Temptation manages to make him much more relatable, more three-dimensional. Of course, this sparked an outrage to Christian groups all over America, but what they fail to realize is that Scorsese was a devout Catholic himself. In fact, there was a certain point in his life where he seriously considered becoming a priest. Taking that into consideration, you really get the sense that Last Temptation of Christ is really close to Scorsese's heart. His passion and devotion to the subject really comes through in this film which also features great acting from Willem Dafoe.

For final words on Last Temptation, I think Roger Ebert says it best:

"Scorsese and Schrader have not made a film that panders to the audience--as almost all Hollywood religious epics traditionally have. They have paid Christ the compliment of taking him and his message seriously, and they have made a film that does not turn him into a garish, emasculated image from a religious postcard. Here he is flesh and blood, struggling, questioning, asking himself and his father which is the right way, and finally, after great suffering, earning the right to say, on the cross, "It is accomplished.""

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: 50-41

50. Die Hard, 1988
Director: John McTiernan

It's hard to believe that before Die Hard, Bruce Willis was primarily a tv star. But man did he arrive with John McTiernan's classic 1988 action film. Die Hard raised the standard for all subsequent action films to come. It has the typical stakes at play here. John McClane taking on terrorists, his wife being held hostage, Bruce Willis barking out badass lines. A film so good not even McTiernan, the pioneer of the genre, could top himself.

49. Time Bandits, 1981
Director: Terry Gilliam

Perhaps one of the oddest, unsettling films directed towards children. Then again, when it's from the mind of Terry Gilliam, you shouldn't expect anything different. This is Gilliam starting to break free and come into his own as an artist after primarily being known for being a bit player for Monty Python and doing all the show's animations. What could not be predicted is just how much of a visionary he could be behind the camera. Time Bandits is a wonderful fantasy film that just gets better with age.

48. Good Morning, Vietnam, 1987
Director: Barry Levinson

This is one of those films I love to watch whenever I find it on tv somewhere. Good Morning, Vietnam is basically a platform for Robin Williams to be as zany and as wild as possible. He plays Adrian Cronauer, a DJ on Armed Forces Radio Station. His antics prove to be popular with the servicemen in Vietnam, much to the chagrin of his commanding officers who appear to have no sense of humor (Bruno Kirby does a great job as the humorless officer). Again, the late '80s seemed to have Vietnam movies come out in bundles, Good Morning, Vietnam shows yet another side, another facet to the war. But I don't mean to give the impression that it's just some Vietnam War comedy, the tone of the film seamlessly goes from comedy to quite dramatic as Adrian Cronauer's job and life winds up at risk. This is one of my favorite films featuring Robin Williams because he gets to be as funny as he can be and the movie has a lot of heart without getting too sentimental and gooey which would've been the wrong move with a film like this. Then again, credit should go to director Barry Levinson for handling the material so well.

47. Big, 1988
Director: Penny Marshall

The formula of a young teenager turning into a grown man overnight could lead to disastrous results. Then again, there's been recent films like 17 Again and 13 Going on 30 that actually seemed to get good reviews. And Big was actually the last of a bunch of age-changing films to have come out during that time. Still, there's no need to see those films when Big perfected the formula. Starring Tom Hanks and directed by Penny Marshall, Big is a film with so many memorable scenes and Tom Hanks is so committed to the role of being a young teenage boy in a grown man's body that he wound up being nominated for best actor at the Oscars for his performance (he lost to Dustin Hoffman). Big is as funny as it is sweet, the romance between Hank's character, Josh and Susan (played by Elizabeth Perkins) is handled quite well although you can't help but laugh at the idea of a character like Susan being duped into sleeping with a 13 year-old-boy. What if she got pregnant? "But he LOOKED over 18!" All joking aside, there's literally no excuse for anyone to not have seen this movie. Big is just one of those comedies where everything just clicks.

46. Say Anything..., 1989
Director: Cameron Crowe

In my opinion, the only film that could outdo the incredible run of John Hughes teen films from the '80s is Say Anything. Say Anything has the memorable characters, but there's an emotional maturity and honesty to the film that makes it a great film, not just a great teen comedy. Of course, the film also marked the official arrival of Cameron Crowe who is such a great writer (he wrote the script to Fast Times at Ridgemont High... another film worth an honorable mention), like James L. Brooks, and pays careful attention to detail with his characters. One wonders why he didn't work with John Cusack anymore after this film because I feel like Cusack is the perfect mouthpiece for Cameron Crowe's words. Lloyd Dobler is one of my favorite characters in any high school-related movie because he feels so authentic and he's so relatable. He's also one of the few characters in a high school-related movie who isn't "the popular kid" or "the unpopular geek" or "the jock." He's just an average HS student who is liked by quite few simply because he's... likable. He has an eminent charm about him which is why valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye, so beautiful in this film) is so taken by him despite her father's disapproval of him. Dobler isn't especially bright and doesn't seem to know where he's going in life, but he knows one thing: he loves Diane. The film also features one of my favorite quotes from an '80s film: "She gave me a pen. I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen." Spoken from John Cusack, you can just feel everything he's feeling in that particular scene. It's not the most poignant line or a particularly funny line, it just perfectly describes the kind of character Lloyd Dobler is. I didn't even mentioned the subplot to this film regarding Diane's father which is handled so well and just adds yet another layer to a few that's simple in its plot, but feels complex because it's so true to life, which is complex in itself.

45. Amadeus, 1984
Director: Milos Forman

A biopic of one of the all-time great composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, directed by a man with a knack for making great biopics, Milos Forman. What results is an epic 2-hours and 40-minute period drama starring F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri and Tom Hulce as Mozart that came and nearly swept the entire 1984 Academy Awards. It was another one of those '80s period epics that the Academy could not ignore (well, except for Reds... too red, I suppose). For me, the thing to watch with this film is the rivalry between Salieri and Mozart and how their lives unfold during the process. This film really is a very involving look into world of classical composers of the 19th century. A great story that was wonderfully shot by a filmmaker already well-rewarded for his work with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Considering he managed to follow that classic with this should be a reward in itself.

44. Beverly Hills Cop, 1984
Director: Martin Brest

If Trading Places marked Eddie Murphy's rise to the top, the next year's Beverly Hills Cop instantly pushed him above and beyond, becoming a huge box office star in the years to come. Beverly Hills Cop is the ultimate Eddie Murphy film at a time where he was the comic to watch, no matter what he did. He became a superstar after this movie and it's not hard to understand why. Beverly Hills Cop is one of the most entertaining films of the '80s and definitely set the standard for all action-comedies to come. One thing that could never be replicated, however, is Eddie Murphy's comic timing and big mouth. He's just so fun to watch the way he handles himself and it's quite intimidating to know that he was only 23 years old when this came out. 23 years old and already at the top of his game, when people say they miss Eddie Murphy, this film is the reason. There were two more sequels to Beverly Hills Cop, each one exponentially worse than the last. Nothing can beat the original.

43. Purple Rose of Cairo, 1985
Director: Woody Allen

I challenge any non-Woody Allen fan to not be charmed by this magical film. Purple Rose is Woody Allen at his most inventive and creative both as a storyteller and a filmmaker. Once again, a film where he decided to stay behind the camera and let Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels have the floor. Purple Rose of Cairo is 84 minutes of pure movie bliss with a fantasy plot handled so frankly that it works completely. Mia Farrow plays a lonely wife, Cecilia, who struggles as a waitress and repeatedly gets abused verbally by her oafish husband (Danny Aiello). Her only escape is the cinema where she winds up watching the film "Purple Rose of Cairo" featuring Gil Shepherd as Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) over and over again. Cecilia watches the film so often that Tom Baxter eventually takes notice and winds up literally walking off the movie screen. From there Purple Rose of Cairo is as much of a farce as it is a love story, but Woody Allen handles the farce so well and still allows the romance between Tom Baxter and Cecilia to breathe while poking fun of Tom Baxter's dimwitted-ness (since he literally only exists on that movie screen and only knows whatever the character knows in the movie). The movie is so slight in its running time that it wastes no time getting to the heart of the story even if that means Danny Aiello's character is left to be the one-dimensional angry husband. Purple Rose of Cairo still works on so many other levels and yet it feels so brief just when you don't want the movie to end.

42. My Left Foot, 1989
Director: Jim Sheridan

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Christy Brown, an Irishman with cerebral palsy who can only control his left foot. This film is a remarkable story about a person who struggles so valiantly to be more than what he is, more than that, the film is also about the mostly supportive family that tries so hard despite being in the working class. Christy Brown eventually is able to use his left foot to draw and write and watching Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown physically embody this man feels so authentic that it's almost hard to watch at times. Obviously he won the Best Actor award at the Oscars that year, there was no way he was being denied that year. We all know the stories of Day-Lewis being the crazy method actor behind the scenes, but you know, when it works, it works beautifully. My Left Foot is a great film by Jim Sheridan, but it lives and dies with the performance by Daniel Day-Lewis and he took the opportunity to show that when he comes to acting, he's a force to be reckoned with.

41. The Terminator, 1984
Director: James Cameron

The Terminator really marked two "official" debuts: the debut of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor, who had acted in films before but was never taken quite as seriously until this film; and there's James Cameron who previously directed a sequel to Piranha, but officially arrived with The Terminator, his pet project at the time. Always the one to push the limits of the science fiction genre, when James Cameron marked his official arrival, it was hard to ignore. Not only is The Terminator a great sci-fi/action film because of the visual effects, the action sequences, or the plot of a cyborg assassin sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor, the eventual mother of John Connor who, in the future, will lead a resistance against Skynet and its army of machines. Yeah, there's all that to The Terminator, but what James Cameron also did was manage to make a sci-fi film that's completely marketable towards an action star. One reason why people didn't think Schwarzenegger couldn't make it as an actor was his thick Austrian accent. Well, what better way to circumvent that then to make him a cyborg which doesn't require him to talk and yet you're still able to use his muscular frame in a way that you can believe that he really is a killing machine. The Terminator is one of the great villains and James Cameron really had fun with the character and the plot of him tracking down Sarah Connor and trying to kill her. So while there's this complex background story to The Terminator, it all boils down to a pretty simple plot line that's easy to follow and that's why it's so successful. Top that off with Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese, a human from the future sent to protect Sarah Connor from The Terminator and you have a well-rounded, kickass action film that works on so many levels.

Top 100 movies the '80s: 60-51

60. Born on the Fourth of July, 1989
Director: Oliver Stone

Born on the Fourth of July is a remarkable film about the life of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam War veteran who became paralyzed during battle and when he comes home he finds himself feeling disillusioned and out of favor with a country that he once loved and was willing to die for. He winds up joining Vietnam Veterans Against the War and along with his fellow vets fight to get their voices heard about the opposition to the war. There was a boom of Vietnam War-related films in the late '80s and this film is one of the most powerful and marked the beginning of Oliver Stone's most divisive period in filmmaking. It also finds Oliver Stone in the midst of his peak as a director. Tom Cruise also gives what's arguably his best, most visceral performance.

59. Raising Arizona, 1987
Director: Coen Brothers

Only the second feature from the Coen Brothers, Raising Arizona marked a stark contrast in tone and genre as opposed to their excellent debut film (we'll get to that one later). Raising Arizona showed everyone just how eclectic and broad the Coen Brothers could be and the film opened up their visual style a bit more. The film tells the outrageous story of a newlywed couple (a former cop and an ex-convict) who are desperate to have a child. Edwina (Holly Hunter) can't have children, and Hi's (Nicolas Cage) criminal record disallows them from adopting. So, they decide the only way to have a child is to kidnap one. The Coen Brothers's deadpan comedy coupled with their strong sense of visual style makes Raising Arizona pure joy to watch. Not all people are as receptive to their brand of comedy, but there is a lot to enjoy about this film. Nicolas Cage also gives one of his best, most controlled performances in his early career. Yet, he never wants to work for the Coens again because they weren't receptive to his ideas... go figure.

58. Broadcast News, 1987
Director: James L. Brooks

Personally, Broadcast News is my favorite James L. Brooks film and I think it is, without a doubt, his best film. I also think Broadcast News is James L. Brooks perfecting his comedy/drama formula having a perfect amount of comedy and writing characters you will grow to care deeply about. Terms of Endearment appears to have been his most successful film with critics and Awards shows, but Broadcast News manages to do everything Terms does without the maudlin third act. Plus, it's funnier, more engrossing, and the cast is sharp and full of wit. Featuring Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter, and William Hurt who all bring their A-game to this film, Broadcast News is a fascinating look at the broadcast news industry but it cares more about the lives of the people who work for the news than the actual news process itself. Still, the film strikes a perfect balance between scenes at the news station and scenes elsewhere and so it gives a very well-rounded look into these character's personal and professional lives. This is a great film, in my opinion, and it lead the way for tonally similar films made by filmmakers like Cameron Crowe, Alexander Payne, and Jason Reitman. Broadcast News is James L. Brooks at his best.

57. The Verdict, 1982
Director: Sidney Lumet

I said before that Martin Scorsese was one of the few directors from the '70s to continue to make successful films in the '80s. Well, Sidney Lumet was no slouch either. Then again, Sidney Lumet hasn't been a slouch since he started making films. His filmmaking debut is classic (12 Angry Men) and it marked a career that spanned six decades. The Verdict is a great film because it has an excellent combination of writer (David Mamet), director (Lumet), and actor (the great Paul Newman) coming together to tell this story of an alcoholic lawyer trying to better his life situation by pushing his medical malpractice case. The Verdict works because of how well-written the characters are and how authentic it feels. Then again, Sidney Lumet was the master of authenticity, he was also known for getting the best out of his actors. The Verdict is an excellent film.

56. Blow Out, 1981
Director: Brian De Palma

If you ever listen to Quentin Tarantino talk about his all-time favorite films, this is a film that always comes up for him. While I feel Scarface was his best work as a director, I ultimately prefer Blow Out because I feel it's De Palma at not only his most fun, but it's a film that also works completely on its own merits. Furthermore, its ending is perhaps one of his bleakest. Starring John Travolta as a sound effects guy for low budget horror films who, in the midst of trying to record sound, winds up recording a car crash involving a politician. Travolta's character ultimately winds up getting involved with the girl Sally who was in the crash (played by Nancy Allen), a woman he winds up saving from the accident. Jack Terry (Travolta) knows the truth behind the car accident and the apparent cover-up of the matter only makes him want to get more involved. There are some other '80s De Palma films like Dressed to Kill and Body Double that more-or-less has the same visual flare that makes De Palma so fun to watch for some film lovers, but Blow Out is a top-notch thriller. It's a very engrossing story, John Travolta is great, and John Lithgow, playing the villain, is just so fun and creepy to watch. Blow Out has all the right elements and even though its production quality is very much of its time, it's a film that you'll find yourself wanting to revisit constantly.

55. Witness, 1985
Director: Peter Weir

Peter Weir appeared to have had a great run in the '70s and '80s although I've only managed to watch a few of them. Witness was one of them though and I'm happy I managed to get to it before I made this list. Nominated for 8 Oscars, winner of 2, one of its nominations includes Harrison Ford's ONLY Oscar nomination. Some who have seen many of his other movies may wonder how he's only managed to be nominated once, I wonder that myself. But upon watching Witness, I must say this is probably his best performance. In Witness, Harrison Ford plays a detective trying to help protect a young Amish boy from being killed after he witnessed a murder. This is a well-structured, well-executed film with great performances and one of the few films from the '80s that could work in any era.

54. Reds, 1981
Director: Warren Beatty

During a time when Warren Beatty continued to garner more and more control over the projects he chose, Reds is probably Beatty at his best and most focused. Made during a time when Reagan was assuming control of White House, making Reds at the time could be considered quite ballsy. After all, it's about the life of John Reed, an American communist. I don't even know where to start with the plot of this movie only to say that it's a behemoth of a film. Clocking in at over three hours, you definitely feel the time pass. But despite a few perceived flaws, this an American epic through and through and it's an interesting look at a life and a side of politics that is often not covered from a sympathetic point of view. Reds is not quite Gone With the Wind, but it definitely evokes that feel.

53. Dead Ringers, 1988
Director: David Cronenberg

Dead Ringers is another fantastic psychological horror film from David Cronenberg. Again, when it comes to the psychological-horror/body-horror subgenre, there was no one quite like Cronenberg. A rather ingenious plot, considering the genre, Dead Ringers features Jeremy Irons playing two parts. Considering this is a film about identical twin gynecologists, the idea of both roles being played by Jeremy Irons should tell you enough. Seeing as how the identical twins often use their identical-ness to their advantage, the film winds up going into directions that you often can't foresee. The film has the perfect atmosphere and the material is handled expertly by Cronenberg and what results is one of his strongest efforts from the 1980s.

52. Predator, 1987
Director: John McTiernan

What makes Predator so fun to watch is its execution of a pretty simple plot. An elite special forces team, led by Dutch (Schwartzenegger), go on a mission to rescue hostages in Central America only to be hunted down by an extraterrestial life form, a Predator. You cast a film with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura and there's almost too much badass for one film to handle. But John McTiernan handles it all very well and Arnold Schwarzenegger cemented his status as the action film star to watch year after year.

51. The Last Emperor, 1987
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

The Last Emperor is an epic film that tells the story of Puyi, the last emperor of China. I put off this film for awhile because I wasn't sure I would be interested in the film's subject matter, but I instantly regretted putting it off for so long as soon as I started watching it. The Last Emperor is Bertolucci at his best. This is a beautifully shot telling a story that is easy to get involved in because everything about the production is excellent. It's no wonder it took over the 60th Academy Awards, winning nine Oscars including Picture, Director, Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Screenplay, Score. The film fires on all cylinders. It's not perfect, but it's definitely a must-watch.