Tag Archives: Film

Movies We Still Care About – 1988 – Part 2 of 2

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Beetlejuice
  • Big
  • Bull Durham
  • Die Hard
  • Rain Man
  • The Naked Gun
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Other Notable Movies

  • They Live
  • A Fish Called Wanda

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Rain Man (Winner)
  • The Accidental Tourist
  • Dangerous Liaisons
  • Mississippi Burning
  • Working Girl

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Rain Man
  2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  3. Coming to America
  4. Big
  5. Twins
  6. Crocodile Dundee II
  7. Die Hard
  8. The Naked Gun
  9. Cocktail
  10. Beetlejuice

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (98%)
  2. Big (97%)
  3. Bull Durham (97%)
  4. Midnight Run (95%)
  5. Heathers (95%) – Note: Rotten Tomatoes lists this as a 1988 movie, even though it was released in 1989.
  6. A Fish Called Wanda (93%)
  7. Die Hard (92%)
  8. Rain Man (90%)
  9. Cinema Paradiso (90%) (This was released in the US in 1990.)

Movies We Still Care About

The Naked Gun

I was ten when Naked Gun came out, and to a ten-year-old, it was the funniest movie ever.  I’d still say it’s one of the best spoof films.  Even though most of the jokes were recycled from the short-lived series Police Squad that Naked Gun is based on.  But one original bit was the national anthem scene:

It does have the unfortunate cringe factor of co-starring a pre-murdery OJ Simpson.  But at least you get to see him get brutally maimed.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

One of the rare films that creates a pioneering visual effect and uses it to create an innovative story.  Though animation and live action had been combined before in films like Mary Poppins and Song of the South, this was the first movie to fully integrate them into a cohesive and complete world.  Also notable for working out the legal issues involved in combining classic Disney and Warner Bros. animation:

My personal favorite is the weasels dying laughing scene:

Other Fond Memories

(These are movies that fit the category of “Movies We Still Care About,” but for which I personally can’t think of anything interesting to say. Please don’t take a movie’s inclusion in this category as any sort of criticism.  You are encouraged to voice your thoughts on these films in the comments section.)

  • Rain Man

Other Notable Films

A Fish Called Wanda

Still popular as a cult movie.  It somehow finds a tone that is halfway between Monty Python and Wes Anderson.  You wouldn’t think that would work or make any sense, but somehow the film pulls it off.

They Live

I’m just including this because it contains what I believe to be the all-time cheesiest action movie line that wasn’t uttered by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

– – – – –

Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Movies We Still Care About – 1988 – Part 1 of 2

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Beetlejuice
  • Big
  • Bull Durham
  • Die Hard
  • Rain Man
  • The Naked Gun
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Other Notable Movies

  • They Live
  • A Fish Called Wanda

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Rain Man (Winner)
  • The Accidental Tourist
  • Dangerous Liaisons
  • Mississippi Burning
  • Working Girl

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Rain Man
  2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  3. Coming to America
  4. Big
  5. Twins
  6. Crocodile Dundee II
  7. Die Hard
  8. The Naked Gun
  9. Cocktail
  10. Beetlejuice

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (98%)
  2. Big (97%)
  3. Bull Durham (97%)
  4. Midnight Run (95%)
  5. Heathers (95%) – Note: Rotten Tomatoes lists this as a 1988 movie, even though it was released in 1989.
  6. A Fish Called Wanda (93%)
  7. Die Hard (92%)
  8. Rain Man (90%)
  9. Cinema Paradiso (90%) (This was released in the US in 1990.)

Movies We Still Care About

Beetlejuice

The most Tim Burtony Tim Burton movie.  It established all of the Tim Burton tropes that we know and love.

Here’s the Banana Boat Song scene:

Big

A coming of age story in the literal sense.  It works on a wish-fulfillment level for children who think that being an adult would be awesome.  At the same time, it appeals to adults that wish they could regain a childlike enthusiasm.

Bull Durham

To be honest, I just don’t care about baseball, which means that I never cared about this movie.  But I acknowledge that a lot of people consider to be one of the best ever sports movies, and I would be remiss in leaving it off this list.  Those of you who love it are welcome to discuss your reasons in the comments.

Die Hard

One of the best action movies of all time.  It didn’t invent the concept of an ordinary man in the wrong place at the wrong time having to battle an overwhelming force, but it executed it so well that ever since every other film like that has been described as “Die Hard in [context].”

Fun fact: Due to contractual obligations, the role of John McClane was initially offered to a then 72-year-old Frank Sinatra.  Thankfully he turned it down.  Otherwise, it would have been known as either an embarrassing joke, or as the film that killed Old Blue Eyes.  The lead was then offered to Arnold Schwarzenegger, with the idea that Die Hard would be a sequel to Commando.  When that didn’t work, they eventually chose Bruce Willis, who was known as a sit-com actor from Moonlighting.  And Di Hard instantly turned him into one of the biggest action stars around.

Anyway, here’s one of the best action sequences ever put on film:

And one of the best action movie lines of all time:

And because it’s okay to affectionately mock something you love, here’s the CinemaSins episode on Die Hard:

– – – – –

Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Movies We Still Care About – 1987 – Part 3 (R-Z)

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Adventures in Babysitting
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Evil Dead 2
  • (First half of) Full Metal Jacket
  • Hellraiser
  • Lethal Weapon
  • The Lost Boys
  • Moonstruck
  • Predator
  • The Princess Bride
  • Raising Arizona
  • Robocop
  • Spaceballs
  • The Untouchables
  • Wall Street

Other Notable Movies

  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles
  • The Running Man

Best Picture Nominees:

  • The Last Emperor (Winner)
  • Broadcast News
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Hope and Glory
  • Moonstruck

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Three Men and a Baby
  2. Fatal Attraction
  3. Beverly Hills Cop II
  4. Good Morning, Vietnam
  5. Moonstruck
  6. The Untouchables
  7. The Secret of My Success
  8. Stakeout
  9. Lethal Weapon
  10. The Witches of Eastwick

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. The Princess Bride (97%)
  2. Evil Dead 2 (98%)
  3. Wings of Desire (98%)
  4. Broadcast News (98%)
  5. Full Metal Jacket (94%)
  6. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (94%)
  7. Moonstruck (92%)
  8. The Last Emperor (91%)
  9. Raising Arizona (90%)

Movies We Still Care About

Raising Arizona

This has a weird quirky charm that appeals to people who like those sort of things, and was the first major success for the Coen Brothers and Nic Cage.  Its quirkiness isn’t for everyone.  A good barometer for whether or not you’ll like this movie is this scene:

 

Robocop

An iconic character that has become part of our culture, and probably the peak of hyper-violent 80s action movies.  (Which actually was intended to be even more violent, but was toned down in order to avoid an X rating.)

Here’s one of the tamer scenes, where Robocop shoots a thug in the crotch, through the skirt of a woman the thug is holding hostage.

Here’s the ED-209 malfunction scene.

I can’t explain why, but for some reason I love this brief clip of a lecherous guy saying “I’d buy that for a dollar.”

And here’s a video of little-known facts about the movie.  I bet you didn’t realize how much of the movie actually has Robocop in his underwear.

 

Spaceballs

One of the better spoof movies, back in an era where spoof movies had actual jokes that connected to the source material rather than modern spoofs which just cram in a bunch of random references.

A lot of the jokes don’t hold up, and Mel Brooks had an unfortunate tendency to overexplain the punchlines.  For example:

But a much of the humor does still work, and this is certainly a must-see for any Star Wars or late 70s/early 80s sci-fi fan. Here are some better scenes:

 

The Untouchables

I don’t have much to say about this, and would probably put it in “Other Fond Memories,” except that I want to post the baby carriage scene.

 

Wall Street

Wall Street is a message movie that ends up enduring for the exact opposite of what Oliver Stone intended.  It’s supposed to be a critique of greed-driven commerce, and Gordon Gecko is supposed to be the bad guy.

But as a writer, it is important to make villains have real reasons for their actions, rather than just wallowing in their own crapulence.  (At least, if you’re making a serious/smart movie.  You can get away with cartoonish villains in a fun dumb movie.)  Every bad guy ought to believe that he’s the hero of his own movie.

Stone and co-writer Stanley Weiser, along with Michael Douglas’s performance, did too good a job of this.  Generations of stock brokers and high-finance people went into that industry because they saw the “Greed is good” speech, and said to themselves, “He makes a good point.  I want to be like him.”

Other Notable Films

The Running Man

The second silly action movie from 1987 to feature two future governors.  This isn’t as popular as it once was.  But it’s interesting for its prescience in spoofing reality TV, a genre that wouldn’t become popular for another 15 years.

It also has a bunch of ridiculous over-the-top death scenes, that are far more creative than you typically see today.

– – – – –

Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Movies We Still Care About – 1987 – Part 2 (L-P)

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Adventures in Babysitting
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Evil Dead 2
  • (First half of) Full Metal Jacket
  • Hellraiser
  • Lethal Weapon
  • The Lost Boys
  • Moonstruck
  • Predator
  • The Princess Bride
  • Raising Arizona
  • Robocop
  • Spaceballs
  • The Untouchables
  • Wall Street

Other Notable Movies

  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles
  • The Running Man

Best Picture Nominees:

  • The Last Emperor (Winner)
  • Broadcast News
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Hope and Glory
  • Moonstruck

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Three Men and a Baby
  2. Fatal Attraction
  3. Beverly Hills Cop II
  4. Good Morning, Vietnam
  5. Moonstruck
  6. The Untouchables
  7. The Secret of My Success
  8. Stakeout
  9. Lethal Weapon
  10. The Witches of Eastwick

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. The Princess Bride (97%)
  2. Evil Dead 2 (98%)
  3. Wings of Desire (98%)
  4. Broadcast News (98%)
  5. Full Metal Jacket (94%)
  6. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (94%)
  7. Moonstruck (92%)
  8. The Last Emperor (91%)
  9. Raising Arizona (90%)

Movies We Still Care About

Lethal Weapon

This created the “Cop on the edge with nothing to lose” genre, which continues to be popular to this day.  (Note how 24 just returned to TV this week.)

I think that this is one of those movies that has been imitated so much that when you go back and watch it now, it feels very cliched.  Which is a compliment rather than a criticism.  But it does mean that it’s more popular in our memory than to actually watch.

In addition to being imitated by pretty much every cop movie or TV show from the last 27 years, it’s also frequently referenced.  There was an entire episode of How I Met Your Mother about how Ted kept a “Murtaugh list,” which was things he was too old to do anymore.

 

Predator

One of two over-the-top action movies to come out this year starring two future state governors. (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura)  This spawned a long-running franchise, and the Predator has entered our mythology.

I think there are two reasons this movie endures.  The first is the visual design of the Predator itself.  Creature designer Stan Winston managed to create a monster that was unlike anything we had seen before.  Its mouth was the stuff of nightmares. (While its dreadlocks are frequently imitated by pro athletes.)

Some factoids about Predator you may not have known: There was a joke going around after Rocky IV that, since Rocky had run out of people to fight, Rocky V would have him fighting an alien.  Some screenwriters were inspired by this joke to create a real screenplay, which eventually developed into Predator.  Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast to play the Predator.  But Schwarzenegger and the rest of the cast are so much bigger than him that this just didn’t work.  So he was replaced by the guy who played Harry in Harry and the Henderson.

The Princess Bride

This is one of my all-time favorite movies.  It’s a rare film that is frequently among the favorites of both fans of stereotypically male movies and fans of stereotypically female movies.  (Note that I’m talking about stereotypes.  Obviously real men and women like all sorts of movies.)

It’s one of those movies where it’s hard to find any commentary to make about it, because everyone already loves it and knows it by heart.  (And if you don’t, what’s wrong with you?)  So in lieu of commentary, I’ll post some clips.

Here’s a collection of Vizzini saying “Inconceivable!”

Here’s just about as perfect and as pure of a straightforward battle of wits as you’ll ever see on film, made all the more entertaining by Vizzini’s zany leaps of logic.

And of course, “Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”

Other Fond Memories

(These are movies that fit the category of “Movies We Still Care About,” but for which I personally can’t think of anything interesting to say. Please don’t take a movie’s inclusion in this category as any sort of criticism.  You are encouraged to voice your thoughts on these films in the comments section.)

  • The Lost Boys
  • Moonstruck

Other Notable Films

Planes Trains and Automobiles

Not as popular today as when it first came out.  But worth noting for the “those aren’t pillows” scene.  (Though probably a comedy scene that’s based so much on homophobia wouldn’t fly today.)

– – – – –

Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Movies We Still Care About – 1987 – Part 1 (A-H)

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Adventures in Babysitting
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Evil Dead 2
  • (First half of) Full Metal Jacket
  • Hellraiser
  • Lethal Weapon
  • The Lost Boys
  • Moonstruck
  • Predator
  • The Princess Bride
  • Raising Arizona
  • Robocop
  • Spaceballs
  • The Untouchables
  • Wall Street

Other Notable Movies

  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles
  • The Running Man

Best Picture Nominees:

  • The Last Emperor (Winner)
  • Broadcast News
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Hope and Glory
  • Moonstruck

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Three Men and a Baby
  2. Fatal Attraction
  3. Beverly Hills Cop II
  4. Good Morning, Vietnam
  5. Moonstruck
  6. The Untouchables
  7. The Secret of My Success
  8. Stakeout
  9. Lethal Weapon
  10. The Witches of Eastwick

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. The Princess Bride (97%)
  2. Evil Dead 2 (98%)
  3. Wings of Desire (98%)
  4. Broadcast News (98%)
  5. Full Metal Jacket (94%)
  6. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (94%)
  7. Moonstruck (92%)
  8. The Last Emperor (91%)
  9. Raising Arizona (90%)

Movies We Still Care About

Adventures in Babysitting

This was a fun wish-fulfillment adventure that appealed to both children, and teenagers/young adults, who could each put themselves in the place of the characters.

Dirty Dancing

In previous years, I’ve discussed several films that worked as a wish fulfillment fantasy for boys.  Dirty Dancing is just about the purest wish-fulfillment fantasy for girls.  It’s the story of a girl who’s misunderstood by her parents and maybe isn’t the most attractive.  But then she meets a sexy dream guy who sees her inner beauty.  Not only does the hunk fall for her, but he helps her find and embrace her inner sexiness.  Then she gets validation from everyone else, including her parents.

 

Evil Dead 2

In my opinion, this is the best silly horror movie ever made.  Director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell combine for some of the physical comedy to ever be put on film.

Watch Bruce Campbell get beaten up by his own possessed hand.

I think that what really makes these films endure is that Campbell is brilliant at playing a cocky jerk who you can’t help but like.  And then he retains that cockiness even as he gets continually beaten down by mystical forces that he cannot possibly handle.

We cheer his small victories, but since he’s a jerk, we also enjoy his humiliating defeats.

(First half of) Full Metal Jacket

This is an odd movie, because it’s not based on one story.  It’s an adaptation of a collection of three novellas, which leads to a disjointed film that is two entirely separate stories which happen to share a couple characters.  The second half is a forgettable generic Vietnam movie, but the first half is amazing.  It gets the audience inside the process of boot camp, and shows how the training breaks down an individual’s psychology, and then rebuilds them as a killer.

Interesting note: R. Lee Ermey, who plays Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, was initially hired as an adviser to share his experience of what boot camp is really like.  He lobbied Stanley Kubrick for his starring role in the movie by making a lengthy video of him yelling abuse at extras, calling on his real experience as a drill instructor.  Which lead us to this piece of cinematic brilliance: (Warning: Foul language including racial slurs.)

I should note that some veterans have complained that the portrayal of boot camp isn’t realistic, and that any vaguely competent instructor would have recognized the signs of severe psychosis in Private Pyle, and kicked him out of the Marines.  (Even during Vietnam, the Marines were all-volunteer, and instructors wouldn’t hesitate to remove a recruit that was unfit to serve.)

This brings up the concept of verisimilitude, which is something that seems truthful.  Sometimes what seems truthful isn’t what actually is truthful.  The shorthand we used in film school was “real vs. reel.”  (Which is a terrible shorthand when spoken aloud, but that’s beside the point.)  If you want actual realism, you can look out a window.  At their best, films are stories that can highlight human experience, and sometimes telling the best story means deviating from how things work in reality.

Hellraiser

Notable for creating a new horror franchise and monster.  Pinhead more of a second-tier monster, not as well-known as Freddy or Jason.  But these films still are quite popular among horror fans.

– – – – –

Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Movies We Still Care About – 1986 – Part 2 (L-Z)

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Aliens
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Highlander
  • Little Shop of Horrors
  • Stand By Me
  • Top Gun

Other Notable Movies

  • Back to School
  • Big Trouble in Little China
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • The Fly
  • Labyrinth
  • Star Trek IV
  • Three Amigos
  • Transformers: The Movie

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Platoon (Winner)
  • Children of a Lesser God
  • Hannah and Her Sisters
  • The Mission
  • A Room With a View

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Top Gun
  2. Crocodile Dundee
  3. Platoon
  4. The Karate Kid Part II
  5. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  6. Back to School
  7. Aliens
  8. The Golden Child
  9. Ruthless People
  10. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. Aliens (98%)
  2. Hannah and Her Sisters (93%)
  3. The Fly (91%)
  4. Stand By Me (91%)
  5. Little Shop of Horrors (90%)

Movies We Still Care About

Little Shop of Horrors

This is just a solid, well-made musical, whose performances elevate enough to pass the test of time.

It’s interesting to note that the ending of the movie radically differs from the stage play.  I saw Frank Oz, who directed the movie, speak when I was in film school.  He talked about how the original ending matched the play, only was bigger and more wacky, with the army coming in to battle Audrey II.  But the problem with the original ending is that Seymour and Audrey die. When they did test screenings, the audience clearly loved the movie right up until that happened, and then abruptly hated it.  Frank Oz said it got one of the worst scores he had ever seen a test audience give.  He argued that the reason what worked on stage didn’t work on screen was because of the power of the close-up.  He made the audience care about Seymour and Audrey, and they wouldn’t forgive killing them off.  So he hastily reshot the ending to make it happier.

There’s an interesting lesson in that: You often hear people bemoaning films being driven by test-audiences and other interference that gets in the way of the director’s vision.  But directors aren’t always perfect.  They make mistakes.  And the best directors are the ones that can recognize when they’ve screwed up and fix it.  Which is exactly what the test-screening process allows them to do.

Anyway, here’s the original ending:

 

Stand By Me

In my write up on Goonies I talked about how a lot of movies are wish-fulfillment fantasies, and what made Goonies special was that it featured ordinary kids, making it easier for the children watching it to put themselves in the characters’ place.  Stand By Me builds on this by having realistic ordinary kids face a realistic situation.  There are no bank robbers, mutants, or pirate treasure.  Just dogs, trains, bullies, leeches, and their own emotional issues – things that normal kids are likely to encounter in their normal lives.

Rather than a fun adventure, it’s more of a coming of age drama.  But through it all, the heroes discover an inner strength, which makes it really resonate with an audience that themselves feels weak and powerless.

Which is why the “suck my fat one” scene works so well.

Top Gun

Top Gun perfectly encapsulated the spirit of 1980s Cold War machismo.  It showed that America would beat the commies because we have the manliest men with the most powerful machines.

The screenwriter for Top Gun was my adviser in film school, so I’ll pass on some random tidbits that he mentioned.  (As an aside, he’s a humble guy, and was mildly embarrassed to be showing his own movie in class.  But he said that every year students asked about/demanded it, so finally he relented and made it part of his regular curriculum.)

  • He said that the main reason he took the assignment to write it was because he (correctly) thought the producer would be able to get him a ride in a fighter jet as part of his research.
  • After being taken through high-speed fighter jet maneuvers and realizing the physical toll that takes on the body, he decided to structure Top Gun as a sports movie.  If you think about it, Maverick is essentially an athlete who wins the big game.
  • While writing the film, he was picturing Tom Cruise as Maverick, even before he had been cast.  The writer had previously seen Tom Cruise in the football movie All the Right Moves, which further reinforces the sports movie theme.
  • The writer is a happily married heterosexual, and did not write the volleyball scene. (And I just now realized when looking up that scene on YouTube that the music playing is actually entitled “Playing with the Boys.”)
  • He argues that in the mid-80s, nobody noticed all the homosexual undertones to the movie.  But he does have a sense of humor about it.  Immediately after showing the movie in class, he followed it up with this Quentin Tarantino rant about how the entire movie is a metaphor for Maverick overcoming his sexual confusion and embracing his homosexuality.

Other Notable Films

Labyrinth

This is one of those movies that people loved when they saw it as a kid.  It’s mostly been forgotten by those who are either too young or too old to have appreciated it in the 80s.  But for those who are the right age, it’s still something that affects them and that they strongly care about.

Star Trek IV

I think that most people would consider the best original cast Star Trek movie to be Star Trek II.  But there is a significant minority that prefer IV.  Its plot of the Enterprise crew traveling back in time to the modern day made Trek more accessible to the masses, bringing in a new and younger audience and laying the groundwork for The Next Generation TV show/films.  Plus it has Walter Koenig running around asking for the “Nuclear wessels.”

 

Three Amigos

This was a huge movie at the time, and remained culturally relevant for a time, but has fallen out of relevance by today.  It really doesn’t hold up.  It’s full of racial stereotypes and broad slapstick humor that today’s audiences don’t find appealing.  Plus incoherent nonsensical scenes like this one, where for two minutes they establish that the rules of the world include magic, which is never mentioned again:

 

Transformers: The Movie

Another movie that had a huge impact on people who were of the right age to enjoy it at the time, but has been mostly forgotten by anyone younger or older.  This was especially impactful for kids who were into Transformers at the time, because this is where Optimus Prime dies.  That’s certainly not something you would expect, and for a child would be quite shocking.

– – – – –

Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Movies We Still Care About – 1986 – Part 1 (A-H)

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Aliens
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Highlander
  • Little Shop of Horrors
  • Stand By Me
  • Top Gun

Other Notable Movies

  • Back to School
  • Big Trouble in Little China
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • The Fly
  • Labyrinth
  • Star Trek IV
  • Three Amigos
  • Transformers: The Movie

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Platoon (Winner)
  • Children of a Lesser God
  • Hannah and Her Sisters
  • The Mission
  • A Room With a View

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Top Gun
  2. Crocodile Dundee
  3. Platoon
  4. The Karate Kid Part II
  5. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  6. Back to School
  7. Aliens
  8. The Golden Child
  9. Ruthless People
  10. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. Aliens (98%)
  2. Hannah and Her Sisters (93%)
  3. The Fly (91%)
  4. Stand By Me (91%)
  5. Little Shop of Horrors (90%)

Movies We Still Care About

Aliens

This is one of the best intense action movies of all time.  I think what’s really interesting about this is that it’s a sequel to one of the best horror movies of all time.  I can’t think of another example of a sequel to an excellent movie that completely changed genres, and ended up even better than the original.  (The closest would be the mindless action film Rambo: First Blood Part II following the psychological drama First Blood.  But neither of those are in the same league as Alien or Aliens.)

Aliens was the first time James Cameron was given a big budget to play with, and he showed what he can do with it.

It also has one of my all-time favorite one-liners:

And one of my favorite speeches.  This is a great thing to watch/listen to when you want to get pumped up. (As long as you ignore that Hudson later turns into a sniveling coward.)

And one of the best openings to an action scene:

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

This movie continues to resonate with audiences today because it perfectly captures the wish-fulfillment fantasy of absolute freedom.  Ferris is able to do whatever he wants with complete liberty and no consequences.  For both teenagers and adults, when we are at our most libertine we wish we could be Ferris Bueller.

The sad reality is that we spend far too much our lives trapped in a humdrum Ben Stein world:

And whenever we are in a situation like that, we wish we could instead twist and shout:

A few side-notes:  I was on Win Ben Stein’s Money in 2001.  It really annoyed me that one of the bonus round questions was about the Hawley-Smoot tariff.  I got it right, as did Ben Stein, but it didn’t seem fair to ask him a question that was more or less quoting one of his most famous lines.

Next side note: In the original script, Ferris talked about how he used to have a depressed friend who he tried to help, but failed.  The kid ended up dropping out of school and becoming a druggie.  This was Charlie Sheen’s character, who meets Jeannie at the police station.  It explains why Ferris was so eager to help break Cameron out of his depression.

And then there’s a fan theory saying that Ferris didn’t exist at all, and was just a figment of Cameron’s imagination.  Which makes the movie a whole lot more depressing if you buy into it.

Highlander

This isn’t a great movie and it doesn’t really hold up.  But the idea of highlanders has entered our culture, as has the phrase “There can be only one.”

And yes, I know that technically Highlander refers specifically to Connor MacLeod (and Duncan MacLeod from the TV show), who were from the Highlands of Scotland, and not to immortals in general.  But much like how Frankenstein is the scientist and not the monster, the incorrect terminology has made its way into our popular lexicon.

Other Notable Films

Back to School

This is a movie that a lot of people have forgotten about.  But it’s worth revisiting, sheerly for the comedic brilliance of both Rodney Dangerfield and Sam Kinison:

 

Big Trouble in Little China

This has more or less fallen to cult status.  It has its hard-core fans. (Including my former roommate, who runs the biggest BTiLC fan site on the internet, and will be happy to sell you a variety of t-shirts.) But most people have forgotten about it.  Which is a shame, as it’s a really fun comedic adventure of the sort you rarely see these days.  It’s certainly worth another look.

Crocodile Dundee

This doesn’t really hold up, but we all remember this scene:

I tried to find the Simpsons scene spoofing that, but my google-fu failed me.  So instead, here’s two random dudes reenacting the Simpsons scene spoofing Crocodile Dundee:

 

The Fly

A weird creepy cult horror movie that is still beloved by fans of weird creepy cult horror movies.

– – – – –

Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Movies We Still Care About – 1985 – Part 2 (N-Z)

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Back to the Future
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Fletch
  • The Goonies
  • Ran
  • Rocky IV
  • Teen Wolf
  • Weird Science
  • Witness

Other Notable Movies

  • Brazil
  • Clue
  • Commando
  • Gymkata
  • Rambo: First Blood Part II
  • Real Genius
  • Young Sherlock Holmes

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Out of Africa (Winner)
  • The Color Purple
  • Kiss of the Spider Woman
  • Prizzi’s Honor
  • Witness

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Back to the Future
  2. Rambo: First Blood Part II
  3. Rocky IV
  4. The Color Purple
  5. Out of Africa
  6. Cocoon
  7. The Jewel of the Nile
  8. Witness
  9. The Goonies
  10. Spies Like Us

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. Ran (97%)
  2. Back to the Future (96%)
  3. Brazil (96%0
  4. Re-Animator (93%)
  5. The Breakfast Club (91%)

Movies We Still Care About

Ran

Ran is Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of King Lear set in feudal Japan.  While most Kurosawa films tend to be too slow for modern western audiences, Ran is full of stunning visuals and epic battles that are sure to hold an audience’s attention.  The trailer gives a pretty good sense of the scope of the battles and the beauty of the cinematography.

 

Rocky IV

This is the true story of how Sylvester Stallone won the cold war by punching a Communist.

Okay, maybe it’s not entirely a true story.  But it came at the turning point of the Cold War, right when it seemed like the Soviets were achieving dominance, and just before things in Russia started to collapse.  Coming when it did, and featuring a scrappy American underdog overcoming the dominant Russian through sheer pluck, it really fell into a place of cultural significance.  One thing to note in the montage I posted above is the contrast between Drago’s training, which is all high tech, and Rocky’s training, which is all primitive.  That tied into the American self-image of the time – Rugged individualist cowboys against an industrial machine.

Teen Wolf

Teen Wolf is a wish fulfillment fantasy, where the unpopular loser suddenly acquires magic abilities that make him powerful, cool, and the envy of everyone who previously looked down on him.  Thus it can be a reflection of the hidden desire of every teenager who feels like an outcast.  (Which as I mentioned in my write-up of The Breakfast Club, is most teenagers.)

(It’s also an obvious metaphor for puberty, but I won’t get into that.)

Follow up question: Is Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck a teen wolf?

Other Fond Memories

(These are movies that fit the category of “Movies We Still Care About,” but for which I personally can’t think of anything interesting to say. Please don’t take a movie’s inclusion in this category as any sort of criticism.  You are encouraged to voice your thoughts on these films in the comments section.)

  • Weird Science
  • Witness

Other Notable Films

Rambo: First Blood Part II

As I mentioned in the 1982 entry, all the iconography of Rambo comes from Rambo 2, rather than First Blood.  When you picture Rambo, this is what you’re imagining.  Shirtless Sly Stallone, with the headband, killing villages full of bad guys with exploding arrows.  You know, this:

 

Real Genius

As I mentioned in the 1984 entry, Real Genius tackles some of the same subject matter as Revenge of the Nerds, but with an air of affection rather than mean-spiritedness.  Real Genius made being a nerd seem fun, and inspired a generation of kids to embrace their intelligence and weirdness rather than be ashamed of it.

 

Young Sherlock Holmes

Chris Columbus exploded on the scene as a screenwriter in 1984 and 1985, with Gremlins, The Goonies, and Young Sherlock Holmes.  He then switched to directing and more or less gave up wriitng, which is a shame considering how brilliant his first three films were.

Young Sherlock Holmes is probably the least remembered of those three, but is still highly entertaining.  I think where it runs into trouble with audiences is in how different it is from the original Conan Doyle stories.  Fans of the original were turned off by the liberties taken, while people who weren’t into the literature didn’t have interest in seeing it in the first place.

But if you ignore the Holmes connection and just think of it as two Edwardian teenagers getting wrapped up in a crazy mystery and adventure, it’s a lot of fun. (For the record, I’m a fan of the original stories, and I don’t mind how different Young Sherlock Holmes is, because all of the changes are in service of making an excellent movie.)

And it’s also interesting for its pioneering use of CGI.  (And since the CGI was supposed to be people’s hallucinations, it made sense in the film that it was so crappy looking.)

– – – – –

Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Movies We Still Care About – 1985 – Part 1 (A-M)

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Back to the Future
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Fletch
  • The Goonies
  • Ran
  • Rocky IV
  • Teen Wolf
  • Weird Science
  • Witness

Other Notable Movies

  • Brazil
  • Clue
  • Commando
  • Gymkata
  • Rambo: First Blood Part II
  • Real Genius
  • Young Sherlock Holmes

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Out of Africa (Winner)
  • The Color Purple
  • Kiss of the Spider Woman
  • Prizzi’s Honor
  • Witness

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Back to the Future
  2. Rambo: First Blood Part II
  3. Rocky IV
  4. The Color Purple
  5. Out of Africa
  6. Cocoon
  7. The Jewel of the Nile
  8. Witness
  9. The Goonies
  10. Spies Like Us

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. Ran (97%)
  2. Back to the Future (96%)
  3. Brazil (96%0
  4. Re-Animator (93%)
  5. The Breakfast Club (91%)

To get you in the mood, here’s Bowling for Soup’s song 1985

Movies We Still Care About

Back to the Future

This is one of those films that has become part of our culture.  It perfectly blends action, sci-fi, humor, and romance, all wrapped up in a sense of fun.  The theme to Back to the Future is the ringtone on my cell phone, as a reminder to myself of what movies should be and what I should aim to write.

The clocktower scene is one of the best action scenes of all time.  (One of my professors in film school actually showed it in class as an example of a perfect action scene.  True story.) It’s a reminder that action scenes don’t need fights, shootouts, explosions, car chases, or a cast of thousands.  It’s just Doc Brown trying to accomplish a difficult task before a deadline, cutting to Marty McFly, whose life is in his hands.

Here’s something that will blow your mind/make you feel old.  Marty traveled back in time 30 years to 1955, when his parents were teenagers.  If the movie were to be made today, he’d be going back to 1984, just one year before the actual movie came out.

Just for fun, here’s Tom Wilson, who played Biff, singing a song about how people always ask him the same questions regarding BTTF.

 

The Breakfast Club

This film spoke to teenagers at the time, and has continued to stick with them as they’ve grown up.  I think it’s quite common for teens to fall into certain stereotypical roles and cliques in high school, even while recognizing that the system of cliques and putting people into boxes is fundamentally messed up.  Breakfast Club shined a light on just how nonsensical those social divides really are.  That’s certainly not a unique perspective, but it’s one that had been rare in movies before this.

Only a small percentage of kids at any given school can be the popular kids.  Which means that the overwhelming majority of kids feel like outsiders of some sort.  Breakfast Club gave them the opportunity to say, “No, the problem isn’t with me.  It’s with the system that makes me an outsider.”

The Goonies

On a certain level, all fun action movies are about wish-fulfillment.  We put ourselves in the place of the hero, and use the film to vicariously escape our humdrum lives and go on an amazing adventure.

For this to work, we have to be able to imagine ourselves inhabiting the role.  But the more removed from our lives that the hero starts out as, the harder this is to do.  Sure, kids can make-believe they’re Luke Skywalker.  But this is tempered by the knowledge that they could never really be a magical space-wizard.  Maybe they can picture themselves being Indiana Jones once they grew up and learn a bunch of knowledge and how to fight (though it might be difficult to track down Nazis to punch), but it’s certainly not something a child can really imagine himself doing while a kid.

Which is why Goonies was so special.  By having a bunch of ordinary kids go on an adult cinematic adventure, it made it easy for us to believe in the wish-fulfillment aspect of the story.  When you were a kid watching the Goonies, you truly believed that you could be one of the Goonies the next day if only you happened to find a treasure map.  You don’t even have to smart, strong, handsome, or popular.  You could even be a fat loser like Chunk and still go on this adventure.

Other Fond Memories

(These are movies that fit the category of “Movies We Still Care About,” but for which I personally can’t think of anything interesting to say. Please don’t take a movie’s inclusion in this category as any sort of criticism.  You are encouraged to voice your thoughts on these films in the comments section.)

Fletch

Other Notable Films

Brazil

Terry Gilliam is a genius when it comes to unique visuals and interesting ideas.  There’s far more creativity in his films than you almost ever see elsewhere, in 1985 or today. Brazil is probably the most enduring of his non Monty-Python work.  It brilliantly takes the themes of George Orwell’s 1984, and twists them around so that instead of an all-powerful dictator that controls people down to their souls, there’s an absurd incompetent bureaucracy that has invaded every aspect of life and causes people to enslave themselves.  As exemplified in this scene where one of the few individualists remaining in society is literally consumed by paperwork, while the crowd goes about their business not paying the slightest bit of attention.

It also accurately predicted the rise of beauty-obsessed rich women getting so much plastic surgery that they fall into the uncanny valley:

However, while Terry Gilliam was marvelously creative, he was not especially skilled in developing story and character, which are the two most important factors in allowing the audience to truly care about a movie.  Because Brazil is lacking in these, it has remained a cult movie rather than becoming part of our culture.

Clue

A lot of people have forgotten about this film.  It’s probably best known for the gimmick of having three different endings, as a means to get audiences to see it in theaters multiple times. (The version released on video/played on TV includes all three endings.)  But this is an excellent madcap comedy-mystery.  See how expertly it cuts from tension to a silly murder, all in a 17 second clip:

And there’s so much zany fun in Tim Curry’s explanation of what happened:

 

Commando

This is the prototypical Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie.  I think this has faded from a lot of people’s memories over time.  Certainly there are better known Arnold movies, such as the Terminator series.  But if you like this style of hyper-violent fun action, this is worth revisiting.

It also features about eight-hundred-seventy-three mall cops getting killed at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, which was the go-to mall for movies in the 80s.  (It was in Terminator 2, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Valley Girl, Inner Space, and many others.)  (My apologies, I couldn’t find the whole scene on YouTube, so that link it to a best-of compilation that was choppily edited by a fan.)

Gymkata

I have nothing to say about this movie, except to post the pommel horse fight, which is quite possibly the single most absurd and ridiculous action scene to ever appear in a major movie.

– – – – –

Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

On the Subjective Value of Art

On a Facebook thread I was participating in, someone asked me whether I thought there was an inherent value to a film beyond the audience’s reaction.

I found this to be such a bizarre question that it merits its own blog post.

To me, it seems obvious and self-evident that there’s no such thing as an intrinsic value to a piece of art. Artwork only has value to the extent that people value it. I can’t fathom what any other definition of artistic value would even mean.

There is, of course, no standard way to measure just how much an individual cares about a given work of art. But if there were, you could hypothetically add up how much each individual cares to get the precise total of what that artwork is worth.

If a lot of people care strongly about something, then that is a more valuable, and hence better, piece of art than something that a few people only vaguely care about.*

Note that there could be a piece of art that many people simply aren’t aware of, and would care about very strongly if they were exposed to it. Those are artworks that have the *potential* to be valuable. I would argue that the role of the critic is to steer people towards those works. (Or to steer them away from works that would be a waste of their limited time/attention/money, so they can instead focus on something they are more likely to enjoy.) But until a piece of art finds a broad audience, its value is limited to the people who have seen it and are thus able to value it.

When you are discussing “great” movies, you first have to define what you mean by “great.”  This is why I started my Movies We Still Care About series with an explanation of the definition I was using.

It would certainly be reasonable for someone to include obscure movies that people would love if only they knew about them in his definition of “great.”  (Even though I didn’t in my definition.)

But there are quite a few pieces of art, and film in particular, which are beloved by critics but rejected by mainstream audiences even after the audience is aware of them. At that point, it becomes silly to call these “great” movies. Rather, they are niche movies that only appeal to a limited demographic, with that demographic being “snooty film snobs.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with niche movies. They are enjoyed by the people who enjoy them. Snooty film snobs are still people, and while their opinions shouldn’t count more than the average person, they also shouldn’t count less.

But it’s silly to proclaim that there’s something wrong with the majority of people who fail to share that niche taste.

A movie is great because people think it’s great. No other definition makes sense.

As to how you go about making a movie that people will think is great, that’s a much more complicated and difficult question. So difficult that the best filmmakers in the world will still fail most of the time.

But when they succeed, it sure is something special.

* Things get more complicated when you try to compare something that a smaller amount of people care about strongly to something that a larger amount of people care about weakly. What’s the aggregate value of an episode of NCIS compared to an episode of Game of Thrones? Without a clear way to measure how much people care about something, there’s no meaningful way to compare the 6 million people that are highly engaged with Game of Thrones to the 17 million people who are for the most part less engaged with NCIS. (Those are the US numbers for the most recent episodes.) Of course if you’re a Game of Thrones fan like me, you think Game of Thrones is obviously better than NCIS.  But it’s not so obvious why your opinion should count more than the larger number of people who watch NCIS and not Game of Thrones.