Tag Archives: Movies

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.)

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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.

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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.

Films Re-imagined as Ottoman Art

This slideshow is pretty entertaining.  Try to look at the pictures without reading the captions, and see how many you can identify.

Note that despite the title of the slideshow, these aren’t cult films.  They’re all well-known famous films, several of which I’ve already written about in the Movies We Still Care About series.

Movies We Still Care About – 1984 – Part 2 (N-Z)

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

As I mentioned previously, I am now splitting up the discussion of films for each year in order to keep the length of the posts manageable.  This post covers 1984 movies that started with the letters N-Z. The full yearly lists will be included with each post.

Movies We Still Care About

  • Amadeus
  • Ghostbusters
  • Gremlins
  • The Karate Kid
  • Neverending Story
  • Nightmare on Elm Street
  • Police Academy
  • Red Dawn
  • Sixteen Candles
  • The Terminator
  • This is Spinal Tap

Other Notable Movies

  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • The Muppets Take Manhattan
  • Revenge of the Nerds
  • Romancing the Stone

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Amadeus (Winner)
  • The Killing Fields
  • A Passage to India
  • Places in the Heart
  • A Soldier’s Story

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Beverly Hills Cop
  2. Ghostbusters
  3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  4. Gremlins
  5. The Karate Kid
  6. Police Academy
  7. Footloose
  8. Romancing the Stone
  9. Star Trek III: The Search for Spok
  10. Splash

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. The Terminator (100%)
  2. Amadeus (95%)
  3. Repo Man (98%)
  4. Blood Simple (94%)
  5. Ghostbusters (96%
  6. This is Spinal Tap (95%)
  7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (96%)
  8. The Karate Kid (90%)

Movies We Still Care About

Neverending Story

I don’t have any commentary on this, and would put it in the “Other Fond Memories” section, except that i want to post this Neverending Party skit from Robot Chicken.

 

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Another of those slasher horror franchises that have reached the level of mythology.  This was interesting in that unlike Halloween or Friday the 13th, which feature (literally) faceless killers, Freddy Krueger is a real character who is able to make threats and quips.  That makes it a lot funnier than the other franchises.  And in my opinion, it also makes it a lot scarier.

As a real person, you don’t have any reason to fear Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers.  You’ve never been in a situation where you thought they were chasing you.  But late at night, when you’re falling asleep, and your rational thought is giving way to the realm of dreams – that is exactly when you think that Freddy might come after you.  Which is what makes these movies so terrifying.  Plus the children chanting the rhyme is damn creepy:

 

Sixteen Candles

The first of the John Hughes movies that would dominate the mid to late 80s, this perfectly captured the feelings of teenaged angst and alienation that we’ve all gone through.

The Terminator

One of the best intense action movies of all time.  In fact, if you look at my glossary page, it’s actually the example I give of the quintessential intense action film.  This established James Cameron as a titan of filmmaking (his only previous directing credit was “Piranha 2: The Spawning”) and Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the biggest action stars of all time.  It’s also the origin of Arnold’s catchphrase.

It became part of our culture, and not just in art and entertainment.  As a matter of policy, people will still reference Skynet when discussing social and technological issues such as artificial intelligence and the power of tech companies such as Facebook and Google.

For a reminder of how intense this movie, just watch the final scene:

Better yet, watch the whole movie.

This is Spinal Tap

This more or less created the mockumentary genre, and is still the best example of the category.  One could even make the argument that every mockumentary since 1984 has been a futile attempt to imitate the genius of Spinal Tap.

This is also an excellent example of why you can’t necessarily judge a film’s quality by box office numbers.  There were 116 films that outgrossed Spinal Tap in 1984, and most of those have been completely forgotten.  But the legacy of Spinal Tap endures, to the point that everyone understand what “turn it up to eleven” means, even if they haven’t seen the movie or know where the reference is coming from.

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.)

  • Police Academy
  • Red Dawn

Other Notable Films

Revenge of the Nerds

This was popular in the 80s, but few people still watch it today.  I think the reason it hasn’t remained popular is because it is very mean-spirited.  The heroes of this film use chemicals to torture the genitals of their rivals, and install hidden cameras to spy on women in the shower and bathroom.  One of the heroes commits a flat-out rape, disguising himself as a woman’s boyfriend in order to trick her into having sex with him.  This rape is played off as a silly prank, and ultimately a good thing because she ends up liking it.

In the 80s, when people had a different sensibility, this worked as a revenge fantasy.  (Hence the title of the movie.) But modern audiences won’t tolerate such loathsome behavior from the heroes of a silly comedy.  Plus, in the 80s nerds were considered to be at the bottom of the social order.  But for modern adults, nerds are at the top, running businesses and becoming billionaires.  It’s a truism that people will root for an underdog who is punching someone bigger than him, but not for an overdog who is punching down.  So this abusive behavior no longer works in movies.

I know a lot of nerds, and very few of them still care for Revenge of the Nerds because of its mean-spiritedness.  But many still do love Real Genius, a movie with similar subject matter from 1985.  That treated its subject with affection, and thus has a lot more staying power.  (I highly recommend watching Real Genius if you haven’t seen it or haven’t seen it in a long time.)

Romancing The Stone

This is an excellent movie that a lot of people have forgotten.  It’s a really solid and fun movie, expertly combining adventure, comedy, and romance.  I highly recommend that you revisit it.

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

Movies We Still Care About – 1984 – Part 1 (A-M)

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

As I mentioned previously, I am now splitting up the discussion of films for each year in order to keep the length of the posts manageable.  This post covers 1984 movies that started with the letters A-M. The full yearly lists will be included with each post.

Movies We Still Care About

  • Amadeus
  • Ghostbusters
  • Gremlins
  • The Karate Kid
  • Neverending Story
  • Nightmare on Elm Street
  • Police Academy
  • Red Dawn
  • Sixteen Candles
  • The Terminator
  • This is Spinal Tap

Other Notable Movies

  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • The Muppets Take Manhattan
  • Revenge of the Nerds
  • Romancing the Stone

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Amadeus (Winner)
  • The Killing Fields
  • A Passage to India
  • Places in the Heart
  • A Soldier’s Story

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Beverly Hills Cop
  2. Ghostbusters
  3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  4. Gremlins
  5. The Karate Kid
  6. Police Academy
  7. Footloose
  8. Romancing the Stone
  9. Star Trek III: The Search for Spok
  10. Splash

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. The Terminator (100%)
  2. Amadeus (95%)
  3. Repo Man (98%)
  4. Blood Simple (94%)
  5. Ghostbusters (96%
  6. This is Spinal Tap (95%)
  7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (96%)
  8. The Karate Kid (90%)

Movies We Still Care About

Amadeus

This is kind of a weirdly structured movie, in that the protagonist is the villain, and the antagonist is the hero.  You follow Salieri in his jealous attempt to destroy Mozart, and as the audience you’re compelled by this even as you’re rooting for him to fail.

A lot of the critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning dramas of the 80s have fallen off the radar screen for modern audiences, but Amadeus has remained popular.  This is partly because being set hundreds of years ago lets it avoid becoming mired in its own time period, and partly because of the stunning visuals, sets, and music of the film.  But I think the stronger reason it endures is because of its universal theme of demonstrating just how destructive jealousy can be.

As an example of how this endures in our culture, here’s a scene from the 1993 film Last Action Hero where the kid warns Arnold Schwarzenegger not to trust F. Murray Abraham because he killed Mozart.

And just for fun, here’s Falco’s song Rock Me Amadeus.

 

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters combines the Laid-back comedy format that became popular in the early 80s with the stylings and tropes of an action-comedy, and ends up being among the best of both genres.  Written by its stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, and with Bill Murray ad-libbing most of his lines, it is hilarious while still having a compelling and original story.  Of the films to come out in 1984, this by far has the strongest cultural legacy and has achieved a level of Mythology. You can instantly visualize elements from this film such as Slimer, the proton packs, the uniforms and car, the song, and of course, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

As a testament to its legacy, it’s still quite common on the Internet for people to hold out hope that there will be a Ghostbusters 3, even thirty years after the original, when Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray are far too old and Harold Ramis far too dead for that to make any sort of sense.

Side note, my wife and I have had a years-long running argument over who would win a fight between the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and the Michelin Man. I think she’s crazy for even arguing the point.  Stay Puft is a 100-foot tall incarnation of the demon-god Gozer.  He’s basically Godzilla.  While Michelin Man is just a 7-foot tall stack of tires. But that’s beside the point.

Gremlins

If you were alive in the 80s, you remember how stuffed Mogwai were everywhere, and you can recite the three rules of caring for them by heart. The cultural impact of this has faded over time, but it’s a fun movie and worth another viewing.

Also, it contains a rather odd scene where Phoebe Cates tells the story of the worst Christmas ever.

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 Karate Kid

Other Notable Films

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

I think that this is a movie that gets unfairly maligned.  It’s nowhere near as good as the other two movies in the Indiana Jones franchise.*  But that’s not really a fair comparison, because Raiders and Last Crusade are two of the best action movies of all time.  Temple of Doom is still pretty good.  I has a lot of fun action and characters you can’t help but root for.  I’d say that it’s much better than most action movies coming out today, and is definitely worth another look.

I wanted to embed the mine cart scene, but I could only find it online set to the song Wipeout.

* I continue to insist that there are only three Indiana Jones movies, as I refuse to acknowledge the existence of that alleged film that had aliens, fridge-nuking, and Shia LeBeouf swinging from vines with apes.

The Muppets Take Manhattan

See my comments regarding The Muppet Movie.

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

Some Changes to the Movies We Still Care About Posts

As my Movies We Still Care About project has progressed into the mid-80s, there have been more and more movies per year that fit the category.

This is partially because it’s easier for a film to stand the test of a shorter period of time.  But mainly, this is a period where the craft of filmmaking was advancing, so movies were legitimately getting better.

Certainly a plethora of excellent movies is a good thing.  But it does make my task of cataloging them to be more difficult.  So I’m going to make the following changes:

1. I will start breaking up years into multiple posts.  This will help keep them at a reasonable length for you to read.  It will also keep them at a reasonable length for me to write, and allow me to post more often.  I will be breaking up my discussion of movies alphabetically, though I will keep the full lists on each post.

2. I will start including a section called “Other Fond Memories.”  This is for 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 consider a movie being placed into this category to be me passing judgement on it.  It’s simply that if I force myself to come up with commentary for everything, that will turn this project into a chore rather than something I enjoy.  And such forced commentary would inevitably be lower quality, making this blog less interesting for you to read.

This “Other Fond Memories” category is distinct from the “Other Notable Movies” category.  That is for films which don’t quite fit the topic of “Movies we still care about,” but for which I do have something interesting to say.

As readers, you are always invited to post your own thoughts regarding the films discussed, listed, or omitted in the comments.

Movies We Still Care About – 1983

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

Movies We Still Care About

  • Return of the Jedi
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation
  • Scarface
  • A Christmas Story

Other Notable Movies

  • The Right Stuff
  • Risky Business

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Terms of Endearment (Winner)
  • The Big Chill
  • The Dresser
  • The Right Stuff
  • Tender Mercies

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Return of the Jedi
  2. Terms of Endearment
  3. Flashdance
  4. Trading Places
  5. Wargames
  6. Octopussy
  7. Sudden Impact
  8. Staying Alive
  9. Mr. Mom
  10. Risky Business

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. Risky Business (98%)
  2. The Right Stuff (98%)
  3. National Lampoon’s Vacation (95%)

Movies We Still Care About

Return of the Jedi

Many people consider this to the be the least of the original trilogy, and some will even go so far as to rank it among the prequels in quality.  (Which is just plain crazy.)  But I would argue that this really has a lot going for it, and is the equal of the other two.

Yes, many people find the Ewoks annoying.  But it’s not like they’re Jar Jar.  They’re cutesy and a bit silly, but what’s wrong with that?

Moreover, the Ewoks fit into the overall theme of the movie, which is that love and respect are more powerful than hatred, fear, and oppression.  The Empire treats the Ewoks with contempt as beneath their notice.  Luke, Leia, and Han treat the Ewoks as friends, and in doing so are able to use their help to defeat the Empire.  (They do lie about C3PO being a god.  But that wouldn’t have worked if they weren’t treating the Ewoks with respect.)

Jedi also has the moment where Darth Vader, the #1 biggest and best known villain in modern mythology, is redeemed through love.  That’s the entire point of the whole series, and to dismiss Jedi is to throw that theme away.

On a personal note, Return of the Jedi is the first movie I can remember seeing in a theater.  That’s what gave me a life-long love of film.  And to this day, the Jabba’s palace/barge sequence is my all-time favorite sequence in the history of movies.

National Lampoon’s Vacation

This is one of those movies that people just like to hang out with.  It’s the sort of laugh-a-minute thing where people have such affection for it that their like for the movie becomes part of their identity.  Consider that in the Blink 182 song “Josie,” the fact that the singer’s girlfriend is up watching Vacation at 3:00 AM is evidence of how great she is.

Scarface

The quintessential tale of someone who comes from nothing, and through his willingness to break the rules and be tougher than everyone else, rises to the top.  Then he becomes a victim of his own excess and is destroyed.  It has become a favorite of rap culture, which is a bit weird considering how it turns out, in one of the all-time most memorable endings in film.  Say hello to my little friend!

 

A Christmas Story

Another of those movies that people can watch over and over again.  For many, it’s a tradition to view this every Christmas, and it brings people back to their childhood.  The fact that it can do so either through people remembering similar childhood experiences as are portrayed in the film, or through remembering watching the movie itself, is a testament to how much this has become part of our culture.

Other Notable Films

The Right Stuff

Like with biopics, movies based on well-known true events tend to have their legacy overshadowed by the legacy of the actual events.  The Right Stuff was quite popular when it came out.  But today, people interested in the story are more likely to view the early episodes of the HBO series From the Earth to the Moon, or any of the tons of documentaries about the early space program.

Risky Business

We all remember Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear to Old Time Rock and Roll.

But the rest of the movie is not so memorable.  For example, check out this clip from Tosh.0, where two girls who made a video recreating that scene admit they’ve never seen the movie, and are shocked to find out what it’s about.

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

Movies We Still Care About – 1982

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

Movies We Still Care About

  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  • Star Trek II
  • Tron
  • Blade Runner
  • The Road Warrior

Other Notable Movies

  • Tootsie
  • The Dark Crystal
  • Secret of Nimh
  • Annie
  • Gandhi
  • First Blood
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • Poltergeist
  • Conan the Barbarian

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Gandhi (Winner)
  • E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
  • Missing
  • Tootsie
  • The Verdict

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. ET
  2. Tootsie
  3. An Officer and a Gentleman
  4. Rocky III
  5. Porky’s
  6. Star Trek II
  7. 48 HRS
  8. Poltergeist
  9. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
  10. Annie

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. ET (98%)
  2. Blade Runner (91%)
  3. Star Trek II (90%)

There’s a long list of movies for this year, so I’ll try to keep the write-ups brief.

Movies We Still Care About

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial

This is another one of those movies that have become part of our culture and mythology.  I think the reason this connected so well with audiences, and continues to do so today, is that writer Melissa Mathison and director Steven Spielberg brilliantly took a (literally) alien experience that nobody has had, and used it as a metaphor for a universal experience everyone has.  Sure, we’ve never met an adorable extra-terrestrial who literally touched our heart before returning to his home planet.  But we have had similar experiences, both as children and adults, with a deceased pet or family member, or a close friend that moved away, or a lost love.

Given that Spielberg chose an image from E.T. as the logo for Amblin Entertainment, I think it’s safe to assume that Spielberg felt that E.T. was more important than his other early work, such as Jaws, Close Encounters, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

(WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD)

Before we get to the spoilers, here’s William Shatner yelling “KHAAAAAAN!!!”

This is widely considered the best Star Trek movie.  The Star Trek TV show aired at a time where episodes were independent and not part of an ongoing story, which meant that there couldn’t be any permanent changes to the recurring cast.  In contrast to modern shows like Lost and Game of Thrones which will kill off the stars at the drop of a hat, every episode of Star Trek had to end up with the main characters in exactly the same situation as they started in.  So imagine the shock of the audience of the day when at the end of Wrath of Khan, Spock dies.

Of course they undid this in the next movie, but Star Trek III will most definitely not be making this list.

Tron

Tron is a movie mired in its time.  The effects don’t hold up, the story is shaky, and it established the not-so-great tradition of completely absurd and nonsensical portrayals of computers that might as well be magic.  (Though at least Tron was meant to be fanciful, unlike the countless movies that came after it where the silly magic computers were meant to be a reflection of reality.)

But despite these flaws, it had a truly unique visual style that had never been seen before.  When I say “Tron,” you know exactly what to picture.  And it maintains a sense of fun that is quite rare for films to be able to pull off.  It’s the sort of film inspires enough affection that you look past all the problems.

Blade Runner

Blade Runner ushered in the film genre of bleak gritty (but not post-apocalyptic) sci-fi.  A product of the malaise of late 70s and recession of the early 80s, it posits a future world with amazing technology but where the lives of ordinary people are kind of crummy.  Like E.T., it uses an alien experience to highlight a common aspect of the human experience.  In the feelings among replicants and the way society treats them, we see a mirror of alienation and failure to connect among real humans.

It features a stunning production design and a vision of the future that is the most accurate of any film I can think of.  No, we aren’t likely to self-aware replicants indistinguishable from people in the next five years (the film is set in 2019), but you’d be hard-pressed to tell the cityscape in Blade Runner from modern-day Shanghai or Tokyo.

The Road Warrior

Quick, imagine how people would dress in a post-apocalyptic world.  You probably pictures a bunch of leather, chainmail, and possibly some repurposed football pads.  You know, stuff like this.

But if you really think about it, people in a post apocalyptic world would really be dressed more like modern-day homeless people, or the stereotypical castaway on a deserted island.  But because The Road Warrior has become such a part of our culture, you immediately thought of the imagery that doesn’t actually make any sense.

Other Notable Films

Given the sheer number of memorable films from this year, I’ll have to give short shrift the other notable movies in order to keep this post at a reasonable length.  Please don’t take that as me insulting your favorite movies.  If you love these films, I encourage you to write up your own thoughts about them in the comments.

Tootsie

Tootsie was a feminist movie for the time that would probably be considered mildly offensive today.  It’s based on the idea that a man pretending to be a woman can be better at it than an actual woman.  Plus the hero is trying to lie and manipulate his way into his dream girl’s pants, the dream girl is treated like a prize rather than a person, and while he’s pursuing her he’s also sleeping with/taking advantage of his emotionally vulnerable friend who’s clearly in love with him.  (The idea of lying into the pants of a woman as a prize is still a common trope, but you wouldn’t expect it to show up in a feminist movie.)  On the other hand, audiences of the day really connected with the idea of a man finding out what it’s like to be a woman.  And Dustin Hoffman turned in an excellent performance.

The Dark Crystal / The Secret of NIMH / Annie

I’m lumping these three together as movies that were beloved by children during the 80s.  If you weren’t of the right age to enjoy these when they came out or were frequently re-ran on television, you probably don’t have strong feelings about them.  But if you are of the right age, these were a major part of your childhood and you still have quite a bit of affection for them.

Gandhi

Biopics are a strange genre, because a life is not a story, and it’s hard to portray a life in a way that works on film.  That’s why most biopics end up being about substance abuse, mental illness, or a specific event.  Those are things you can wrap a story around, and get out the details of the person through that mechanism.  Gandhi is a rare biopic that avoids this.  However, when you look at a Biopic of someone who is extremely well-known, over time the legacy of the film gets overshadowed by the legacy of the person.  We remember who Gandhi is and what he did, rather than the movie about him.

First Blood

When you think of Rambo, you think of him killing bad guys by the dozen.  But that was Rambo II.  (Or III, or John Rambo).  First Blood is a drama about a Vietnam veteran who is abused and snaps after being pushed too far, taking an entire town hostage.  It’s a bit weird that this drama was followed up with cheesy hyper-violet action movies, but it was the 80s and everyone was either ten years old or on cocaine.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

This was the forerunner of the “alienated teen” genre that became popular later in the 80s.  And there’s this scene. (Not safe for work)

Poltergeist

“They’re here…”

Conan the Barbarian

“Conan, what is best in life?”

“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.”

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