Saturday, January 28, 2012

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.)

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