Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Essential films of the '80s

There's an interesting project going on at Wonders in the Dark, counting down the 50 top films of the 1980s. Plentiful comments have been left, the responses delineating into a straight-down-the-middle schism: those who find it difficult to compile 50 essential films from the '80s and those who proclaim it nigh on impossible to whittle the list down to just 50 titles.

My initial reaction was to wonder if I could come up with ten decent films from the '80s. I recalled it as being, for the most part, a crap decade for music, a crap decade for fashion and a crap decade for cinema. Certainly not a patch on the decade that proceeded it. I still hold that the 1970s represent the as-yet-unchallenged high watermark for American cinema at least, possibly for cinema in general.

To put the theory to the test, and with This Distracted Globe hosting the "Class of 84" blog-a-thon on October 26, I trawled through my personal faves list and did a quick head count. I was surprised to find I'd featured 15 films from the '80s. Less, certainly, than the 21 I'd plucked from the '70s, the 18 from the '90s or the 24 from the current decade, but more than I'd realised.

I was intrigued. Maybe I'd misrepresented the '80s. I started drafting out a list. It got a little difficult after about 40 titles but I persisted. As with the personal faves list, I imposed a two-films-per-director maximum; other than that the only criteria were films I'd watch again and films I'd want to write about. There's a couple of guilty pleasures on the list, notably 'Blaze' (what can I say? I was seventeen when I saw it and Lolita Davidovich's burlesque routine knocked me out of my seat and halfway across the cinema!)

So, with asterisks to denote titles on the personal faves list and links where reviews already exist on these pages, here are my choices:

Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988)

Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)

Angel Heart (Alan Parker, 1987)*

Atlantic City (Louis Malle, 1980)

Betty Blue (Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1986)

The Big Town (Ben Bolt, 1987)

Bird (Clint Eastwood, 1988)

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)*

Blaze (Ron Shelton, 1989)

Blind Chance (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1980)

Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)

Das Boot (Wolfgang Peterson, 1981)*

Caravaggio (Derek Jarman, 1986)

Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir, 1989)*

Drowning by Numbers (Peter Greenaway, 1988)

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)

Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson, 1989)

First Blood (Ted Kotcheff, 1982)

A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988)

Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982)*

Hollywood Shuffle (Robert Townsend, 1987)*

Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa, 1980)

Kiki's Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)

The Killer (John Woo, 1989)*

Leningrad Cowboys Go America (Aki Kaurismaki, 1989)*

Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983)

Malcolm (Nadia Tass, 1986)*

Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986)*

Matador (Pedro Almodovar, 1986)*

Matewan (John Sayles, 1987)*

Midnight Run (Martin Brest, 1988)

My Neighbour Toroto (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)

Nostalgia (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1983)

Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)

Pale Rider (Clint Eastwood, 1985)

Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984)

Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)

Runaway Train (Andrei Konchalovsky, 1985)

The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986)

sex, lies and videotape (Steven Soderbergh, 1989)

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

Tales of Ordinary Madness (Marco Ferreri, 1981)

Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford, 1983)

Tenebre (Dario Argento, 1982)

Thief (Michael Mann, 1981)

The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)*

This is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Robert Zemeckis, 1988)

Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987)*

Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1987)*


Samuel Wilson said...

Neil, I've felt the same way about the 1980s. It seemed like a heroic age of cinema was over, and not just in the U.S. For that reason I've abstained from the survey, but my attention will be focused on the decade as I continue to play along with the year-by-year countdown over at Goodfella's Movie Blog. Your post will probably prove a helpful reference point for me.

J.D. said...

The '80s are actually a deceptively good decade from cinema, esp. genre cinema with all kinds of awesome horror and science fiction films coming out of this period. In writing articles for my blog I'm constantly amazed at how many films I've been writing about that have come out of the '80s.

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks for your comments, gents. I can appreciate both points of view. Great world cinema directors were doing excellent work in the '80s (Wenders with 'Paris, Texas' for instances); likewise genre films and solid mainstream work flourished (Carpenter made what is, for me, his best film in the early '80s: 'The Thing').

And yet compared with the great directors who made great films - films which have come to define their careers - with such mind-boggling regularity in the '70s, the comparison kind of speaks for itself.

Look at Scorsese's output: 'Mean Streets', 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore', 'Taxi Driver', 'The Last Waltz'; or Coppola with 'The Godfather', 'The Conversation', 'The Godfather Part II'. Friedkin with 'The French Connection' and 'The Exorcist'. Malick with 'Badlands' and 'Days of Heaven'. Cronenberg bursting redefining the low budget horror film with 'Shivers', 'Rabid' and 'The Breed'. Carpenter's unbroken run of classics that just tipped over into the '80s: 'Assault on Precinct 13', 'The Fog', 'Hallowe'en'.

There were definitely highlights to the '80s - more so than I'd previously given the decade credit for - but I can't help but share Sam's opinion: it seemed like a hangover after the wild creative ride of the decade that preceded it.