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.