The 1980s – year by year


The Shining (1980)

Way too much has already been written about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.  Whole books have been written about the symbolism, the imagery, and the production of this masterpiece; I don’t pretend to have anything substantive to add.

It’s my favorite film released in 1980, my favorite film by Stanley Kubrick, and one of my favorite films of all time.

Jack Nicholson has never been better, and it’s far superior to the book.

I was late to the party.  It was one of those films I knew everything about because all my friends had seen it years ago.  I knew the story and most of the iconic scenes, but I’d never bothered to actually watch it.  When I finally did, it was everything I expected and so much more.

Bottom line: If you say you love movies and haven’t seen this, you need to change that as soon as possible.


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

This is my favorite film of 1981.  There’s nothing groundbreaking here, just pure fun.  Beneath the surface, the movie does have something to say about faith and the supernatural, but trying to interpret an Indiana Jones movie seems beside the point, like trying to analyze the metaphysics of a roller coaster.

Bottom line:  If you don’t like Indy, I’m not sure what I can do for you, and this is Indy at his absolute best.


Annie (1982)

I unashamedly love this film.  Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters Albert Finney, directed by John Huston.

How could a movie with those elements not be awesome.

I am somewhat biased because I wore out my VHS copy as kid, literally watching it close to a hundred times.  I admit my love for this movie is tied up in childhood nostalgia and self-justification.

Carol Burnett is fantastic as Mrs. Hannigan, and Albert Finney is always one the best things about everything he’s in.

Some will disagree (Huston was nominated for a Razzie for Worst Director and Aileen Quinn won the Razzie for Worst Supporting Actress), but whenever I think of this movie, I invariably smile and think to myself that I need to see it again soon.

Bottom line: It’s schmaltzy, but it is faithful to its source material and it is infectiously optimistic.


Zelig (1983)

Zelig is a criminally underrated film Woody Allen.

The special effects is reminiscent of Forrest Gump (11 years earlier!).  The story is about identity – do we define ourselves or do we let others define us.  It’s a delightful film (one of Woody’s last earnest comedies, where his primary goal was to make us laugh).

Bottom line: One of my favorite films and one of Woody’s forgotten treasures.  High concept (maybe Woody’s most ambitious film) delivered with precision.


Ghostbusters (1984)

My favorite film of 1984 created a genre: sci-fi comedy.  Every science fiction movie since is indebted to this film.  Its crossover appeal paved the way for so many other films.

A great soundtrack, Slimer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, crossing the streams, the gatekeeper, Rick Moranis, Bill Murray: this movie is like a primer in popular culture of the 1980s.

Bottom line: One of the most popular films of all time, so the reason it’s here should be obvious.


The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Movies about movies are one of favorite motifs; movies about the original Golden Age of cinema (the late 1920s to mid 1930s) even more so.

Drawing inspiration from Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr, this film asks: what’s more important the reality or the fantasy, what we know to be true, or what we wish was.  It’s a great surrealistic comedy.

Bottom line: If you don’t like Woody Allen (or can’t separate your personal feelings for Allen from an enjoyment of his work), then avoid this.  But if you can, you should watch this as soon as possible.


Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Directed by Frank Oz, this musical remake of the 1960 film is pure energy.  It’s as chaotic as Airplane! or any of the Marx Brothers movies, as surreal as a Dali painting, and has a catchy soundtrack to boot.

It is dark and cynical (which the original ending makes abundantly clear), but the humor is so infectious and the energy so high it’s impossible not to love.

Bottom line: If you like off-kilter musicals, this is for you, it’s almost like Rocky Horror Picture Show for a younger audience.


Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin) (1987)

Wim Wenders black and white rumination on love and immortality and what it means to be human.

Remade as the much less philosophical City of Angels for American audiences, it’s about an angel that falls in love with one of his charges.  The concept is fascinating by itself, but casting Peter Falk as a fictionalized version of himself (who was once an angel himself) is a masterstroke.

Bottom line: If you liked Peter Falk before, you’ve love him after this.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

If you’ve ever dreamed of jumping into a cartoon and meeting your favorite character, this movie is for you.

The movie begins with a very simple premise: cartoon characters are real people who exist in a different dimension.  From there, it’s a straight noir story (and a sort of flimsy one at that).

Of course, with advances in technology, the effects work seems painfully dated, but at the time it was groundbreaking.  The director, Robert Zemeckis (who also directed Back to the Future and Forrest Gump) has a flair for the visually stunning.

As a kid, Judge Doom was creepy, and he was one of the toughest bosses an any video game for the NES. Beating him at the end of that game is on my video game bucket list.

The disappearing, reappearing ink bit still makes me laugh, and Baby Herman is a fantastic character who almost foreshadows the South Park kids.

Bottom line: If you like noir and classic animation, and have ever dreamed of seeing your beloved characters on screen together (Bugs and Mickey or Daffy and Donald) this is a must see.


Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

The third Woody Allen film to top my best of list in the 1980s.

Nearing the end of the second phase of his career, this movie is a wonderfully tragi-comic interpretation of Dostoyevsky.  Woody has always shows an affinity for the Russian classics (see his earlier War and Death).

The question is: can you murder someone and then go on to live a “normal” life.  Martin Landau is having an affair. When his mistress threatens to expose him, he has her murdered.

And that’s only one half of the story: the other half is about the value of art versus commercialization.

Bottom line: If you like Woody Allen you’ve probably already seen this, if you don’t and you like movies dealing with philosophical arguments in a lighthearted way, this is a great movie for you.

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