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.

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