Generation Film’s Top 20 Films of the 80s
20. The Last Temptation of Christ- Martin Scorsese is an immensely spiritual man who thought about joining the priesthood at one point in his life so it would come as no surprise that he would use this personal drive to adapt Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ with the help of heavily catholic screenwriter Paul Schrader. The book, as well as the film, contemplates the duality of Christ as fully god and fully human and focuses on the latter to tap into the vast spiritual element that exists in the pain and suffering of being human. This supposedly controversial film is misunderstood on many levels and needs to be viewed with an open mind and is rewarding to those who endure the journey.
19. My Dinner with Andre- French director Louis Malle was probably the best choice to helm a subtle film that was basically just a two hour conversation about the philosophy of happiness, reason, responsibility, and life in general over one simple dinner. Not many can have deep two hour conversations themselves let alone listen to two other men talk on and on about their own points of view but that’s what makes the film so interesting and unique. Written by veteran character actor Wallace Shawn, who also stars in it, the film is tactfully handled and exceedingly witty and proves time and again why its such an endearing cult classic.
18. The Vanishing- There is something incredibly unique about Dutch filmmaker George Sluizer’s The Vanishing. To experience it once is a riveting experience following the psychological reasoning behind a sociopathic rapist and killer while also staying with the man trying to find his missing girlfriend even three years past here disappearance and ultimately to the tragic end. But to see it again brings on different connotations resulting in a deeper analytical take on the psychology and reasoning behind why our ability to resort to such drastic actions can be explored. This makes The Vanishing one of the more original takes on the psychological thriller. And remember to take the advice to never, ever, ever see the horrid American remake.
17. Die Hard- the 80s had many fine examples of action filmmaking but it was John McTiernan’s Die Hard that set a precedent for quality action cinema. While John Woo’s The Killer was another influential and quality piece of brutal action storytelling, Die Hard was a neo-western that had a charming and humorous protagonist that allowed us all to take the journey and cheer for his underdog challenges. It’s a witty script delivered with high octane bloody violence that makes for an enjoyable and suspenseful film ride.
16. This is Spinal Tap- Perhaps the most influential mockumentary that established the features and delivery for the rest to come was Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap, which was written and performed by three masterful comedians: Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean. While it wasn’t the first in history it certainly was one of the more honest in form and is a marvel in witnessing the art of improvisation. Comically genius and formulaically on the mark, This is Spinal Tap is one of the best comedies ever put on the silver screen.
15. Das Boot- They say those who win the wars are the ones who get to write the history, and while that might have been true at a time when others could force the other side from ever appearing in the modern age there is infinite access to new sides and stories. In Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot we are taken inside the depths of a German U-Boat during World War II following a group of recruits through a war they never understood. The incredible use of claustrophobia in order to accentuate the dirty atmosphere inside the submarine is a remarkable feat in itself but it’s the battle sequences and character interactions that keep us watching this epic piece of war time cinema.
14. Full Metal Jacket- It took 8 years of planning and logistics for Stanley Kubrick to conceive, write, and produce his controversial Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket that followed a group of recruits from boot camp all the way to the fray in the chaotic jungles and rummaged cities. Shot in 4:3 television format to present his film in the exact format it was captured in, Full Metal Jacket is considered Kubrick’s last strong narrative film that balances psychological subjectivity and brutal realism magnificently. Everything in Full Metal Jacket reinforces all of Kubrick’s known strengths as a unique director with a demented vision that deserves to be shown.
13. Back to the Future- Robert Zemeckis certainly had a lot of fun with his time traveling misadventure Back to the Future about a young man trying to keep his existence from falling apart after he travels back in time to the point where his parents were supposed to meet. This is where filmmaking can be highly enjoyable while maintaining experimental given the special effects capabilities of the time. It’s one of those films that will stay with you in memory as one that will always be cherished. Back to the Future is well paced, intricately written, and successfully delivered and reminds us just how fun the cinema can be.
12. Once Upon a Time in America- Segio Leone was a name that was synonymous with epic, and his mobster Oliver Twist tale about a Jewish gangster who returns 30 years after he left the life of crime to confront his regrets is remarkably impressive. Once Upon a Time in America shows off a well known cast including Robert De Niro, James Woods, Joe Pesci, William Forsythe, and Danny Aiello and has a story that is equally expansive with varying detours into the past and present of the protagonist. It isn’t Leone’s best work but it certainly was the best gangster film of the 80s that is highly referential to the classics and makes certain to remain an epic piece of mobster storytelling.
11. Wings of Desire- Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire is a methodical and intensely visual poetic journey through the secret desires, wishes, pains, and lives of angels watching over the separated city of Berlin during the Cold War. Every image is hypnotic and the acting is appropriately ranged, making this uniquely romantic film extremely memorable. While Wenders’ earlier 80s film, Paris, Texas, was also emotionally engaging it’s really Wings of Desires that showcases the director’s strengths for image, composition, depth, and character.
10. Blue Velvet- As mystery thrillers go there is none as bizarre and as surreally psychological as David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Treading deep into the dark underground of what is seemingly an innocent mid-western town, Blue Velvet is dark, intriguing, and intensely suspenseful with shining performances from Kyle Maclachlan, Isabella Rossellini, and the now late and great Dennis Hopper. It’s a thriller that is unlike any other, which is due to the disturbing but undeniably unique David Lynch who certainly knows how to weird out his audiences.
9. Cinema Paradiso- Giuseppe Tornatore’s love letter to cinema is his classic and wondrously romantic film Cinema Paradiso. Following the memories of a filmmaker recalling his childhood that involves his protégé relationship with his town’s projectionist as well as his first love. This is one of those love stories that doesn’t focus on the idealism of expectations but rather takes us on a journey through the trials and regrets that life brings us. Cinema Paradiso reminds us of everything that is wonderful about the movies and why we fell in love with them in the first place.
8. The Empire Strikes Back- The second installment of George Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy is by far the darkest and best of the three films. Perhaps it was leaving George Lucas behind in the production of The Empire Strikes Back leaving Irvin Kershner in charge with his controlled and beautiful direction. Or even the writing team of Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Leigh Brackett (Rio Bravo). Whatever it was the dramatic elements between father and son, the realization of love when its lost, and the excitement and suspense of escape makes The Empire Strikes Back the beautiful low arc in the three part trilogy.
7. Brazil- Terry Gilliam’s Orwellian masterpiece Brazil is known more for its studio struggle than for its popularity in the entertainment world. Focusing on a lone bureaucrat who is battling between his individual dreams and the government tyrannical system, the film is a parallel between Gilliam and the system he fought against to get the film made. It’s darkly humorous, satirically witty, and imaginatively original. Brazil is a testament to all aspiring filmmakers and proves that following your dreams and subsequently your nightmares, no matter what the consequences, are all that matters.
6. E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial- The charming friendship that develops between an anxious young boy and a left behind extra-terrestrial is one of those delightful family films that takes you on an imaginative journey only the movies can visually depict. Steven Spielberg’s E.T. isn’t the epitome of artistic cinema but it is the highest example of what makes quality family entertainment, involving deep relatable characters in a situation most of our inner child has imagined. Using the low angles to bring us into a childhood perspective definitely emphasizes all of the fantasies we had the potential of imagining and brings them artistically to life.
5. Amadeus- Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus was already a masterful success on the Broadway stage before it became a cinematic sensation at the hands of Czech film director Milos Forman. The powerhouse acting ensemble, including the two academy award nominated actors Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham, and the use of phenomenal music pushed Amadeus into the realm of film classics. It balanced a great deal of dramatic concepts such as jealousy, revenge, murder, and ambition and put them into a memorable piece of cinema that has engaging visuals and a spellbinding use of music.
4. Ran- Akira Kurosawa directed this masterful Shakespearean inspired epic while in his late 70s, which is surprising considering how potent and modern the violence and action sequences ended up being in completion. Using the Japanese historic landscape of feudalism as the setting for this King Lear adaptation, Ran delivers a gripping tale of aspiring royalty, family betrayal, and greedy ambitions. As exciting as it is potently visual, Ran was an achievement in engaging imagery and fascinating characters that seemed to ignite the screen with multiple reasons why we go to the movies in the first place.
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark- The combining team of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg practically reinvented the action adventure genre with an incentive tale about an archeologist trying to find the Ark of the Covenant. This iconic piece of entertainment known for its style, energy, and its infamous protagonist brought charmingly to life by Harrison Ford. It’s a film that can be experienced multiple times without losing its ingenuity, originality, entertainment, and overall charm showing that good storytelling with knowledge of history and a slight dash of open interpretation can make for a memorable film experience.
2. Blade Runner- A science-fiction neo noir expertly adapted from Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” Blade Runner is Ridley Scott’s masterpiece that uses 40s noir atmosphere with ingenious special effects forcing an incredibly atmospheric and hypnotic experience on the viewer. Science-fiction contemplates the human experience and Ridley Scott’s fine direction allows Blade Runner to challenge the perception of the human identity and experience that is unlike any other science-fiction endeavor yet. Blade Runner stepped passed the conventional bounds of its own genre and made it a symbol of how cinema can be intellectual and inventive.
1. Raging Bull- Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull is masterpiece that transcends the sports drama integrating the varying and conflicting scenarios that encompassed the life and times of boxer Jake La Motta. Utilizing the effectiveness of editing and cinematography in order to create artistic interpretations of domestic and ring violence that were part of La Motta’s life, Scorsese was robbed of a best director and best picture win with this lasting and still unique film. Martin Scorsese’s prosaic biopic about boxer Jake LaMotta, played poignantly by Robert De Niro, remains one of the defining pieces of cinema for sports dramas as well as being one of the most vastly artistic expressions of the filmmaking art in history.
Honorable Mentions: Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, The Terminator, Do the Right Thing, Platoon, Aliens, The Shining, Fanny and Alexander, Burden of Dreams, The Hit, and Raising Arizona