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.

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