Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Life in Movies (1979-1989)

*This post is part of a continuing series celebrating five years of Jeremy The Critic® 

So, there was this thing going around the net a couple of months ago asking reviewers to name their FAVORITE movie from each year since they were born. Having missed the boat the first time around and thinking it was a great idea, I figured I'd present my version here. Reading other entries I laughed seeing childhood favorites like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sharing space alongside prestigious recent titles like There Will Be Blood until I compiled my list and...the same exact thing happened. Besides making me feel old this experiment proves just how strong a pull nostalgia has, as we tend to unconciously wrap ourselves in the experience we had watching a movie during a particular time in our lives. Of course, that's not discounting the fact that many of these are just that great and have withstood the test of time, some playing even better now than they did then. Restraining myself from a mini-review, I've given my picks (along with the runners-up) for each year and a brief explanation as to why I made those choices. This is the first of three parts.

1979: Apocalypse Now
Wait a minute. I was alive when Apocalypse Now came out? That's gotta be some kind of mistake. Oh, good. I just checked and it came out a week before I was born. What a relief. But I'm counting it anyway because the only two war films worth a damn are this and Full Metal Jacket, mainly because neither at any point FEEL like war movies, but rather horror movies that happen to take place during war. '79 was kind of weak but this would handily win either way. Favorite Brando performance and best use of a Doors' song in a movie ever.
Runners-Up: The Warriors

1980: The Empire Strikes Back
Much stronger year here. For my money, the greatest sequel of all-time wins in a walk-over which is no small feat looking at the competition (The Shining or Superman II would make a great #1 in ANY year). Everything about is perfect and it's the rare sequel that takes everything that worked in the first film and enhances and deepens it, along with giving us one of the most memorable scenes (and lines) in film history (you know the one). The only Star Wars film on here, and deservedly so.

Runners-Up: The Shining, Superman II, Airplane!, Popeye,

1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark
This needs no explanation. We all like to talk smack about Lucas and Spielberg now (myself included) for trying to rape our childhoods with inferior cash-in sequels and prequels, but there was a time when we got THIS. And two others. The less said about the fourth the better. Not even my favorite Indy film (that would be Temple of Doom for mostly nostalgic reasons) but arguably the best and definitively my favorite of '81 by a landslide. Nothing else even comes to mind.

Runners-Up: None

1982: E.T.
Supposedly Spielberg's favorite film to this day and it's easy to see why. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's the main (only?) reason his name carries such reverence among moviegoers and critics. He'll never be able to do anything like it again, which is both good and bad. No one will. When the bicycles fly we never even stop for a second to consider why they wouldn't or if it's cheesy. That's the expert level of control Spielberg has over the material... and us. A timeless classic.

Runners-Up: Tron, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Annie, Basket Case, The Dark Crystal, Blade Runner 

1983: A Christmas Story
"You'll shoot your eye out." The Soap. The Old Man. The bunny suit. The leg lamp. The Chinese restaurant. It's funny how when I mention to people how much I love A Christmas Story there isn't much of a reaction until I throw those phrases out there and their eyes light up remembering how much fun it all is. It's impossible to believe now that the ultimate holiday classic flopped upon its release in the fall of '83. Really does deserve its 24-hour cable marathon each year. 

Alternates: The Return of the Jedi, National Lampoon's Vacation

1984: The Karate Kid
What a year this was. Really tough choice but the victor is clear for me. What's funny is how I typically despise sports movies and this one contains just about every sports movie cliche there is, yet I don't even care. I think the difference is that this is just so earnest, fun and fully aware of what it's supposed to be, making no apologies in going all the way with it. Just look at how goofy the ending scene is....yet it's somehow still perfect and you wouldn't change a thing. A product of its time in the best possible way and still holds up great. Last year's horrific "remake" has only bolstered my appreciation for it.

Runnenrs-Up: Gremlins, Ghostbusters, The Terminator, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The NeverEnding Story, The Natural, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Police Academy, Amadeus

1985: Back to the Future
Had The Goonies come out in just about any other year it would have a top spot locked up but it came out the same year as my favorite movie of the past 32 years. Talk about a film that's grown staggeringly over time, covering every genre and appealing to all audiences, regardless of age or gender. As universal a movie experience as It's A Wonderful Life but better acted, directed, and written. I've never met anyone who saw it and didn't immediately love it. And only the first chapter cinema's greatest trilogy. Of everything on here, this is the movie that feels totally mine, to the point it's unlikely I'd even be reviewing films today without it. Just read this for 52 reasons why.

Runners-Up: The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, Teen Wolf, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Clue

1986: Lucas
I've discussed this one before, but yes, I'd even rank it ahead of Ferris Bueller's Day Off so that should tell you all you need to know. The most underrated coming-of-age movie of the 80's and proof that at one point Corey Haim (and yes, even Charlie Sheen) was an enormous talent with a bright acting future ahead of him. Keri Green is also sublime as the girlfriend that wasn't for the achingly relatable title character. While it's a shame how things turned out for the cast (with the exception of a debuting Winona Ryder), that hasn't adversely affected this movie's rewatch value one bit. How many movies perceived teen relationships as wisely as this? And that ending gets me every time. The ultimate high school classic.

Alternates: Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Little Shop of Horrors, Top Gun, Three Amigos!, The Karate Kid Part II

1987: The Princess Bride
Undoubtedly the greatest screen fairy tale of the past three decades. Every once in a while a filmmaker catches lightening in a bottle and every single aspect of the production just clicks in a way you never would have expected. When it starts we're as doubtful as young Fred Savage is at the beginning that it will amount to anything but Rob Reiner does something really special and almost indescribable with what should be a very familiar narrative. On the surface it's just your basic love story and there were no signs it could have worked this well but the performances, comedy and endlessly quotable dialogue make it one of those rare family viewing experiences that actually can be passed down from parents to their children. Fitting this stands out in such a great year for comedies.

Alternates: Full Metal Jacket, Adventures in Babysitting, Spaceballs, Good Morning,Vietnam, La Bamba, Planes, Trains and Automobiles 

1988: Who Framed Roger Rabbit
People forget just how groundbreaking this was. The idea of cartoons appearing side-by-side with human actors onscreen in a feature-length film was practically unheard of in 1988. Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis not only pulled it off, but set it against the backdrop of a terrific story that has some reality-based roots. Roger and Jessica Rabbit are better developed, more interesting characters than 90 percent of the live action ones you see on screen today and Bob Hoskins gives one of the decade's most underrated performances as detective Eddie Valiant. I'd ask for a sequel but Zemeckis would try to ruin it with his CGI/performance capture nonsense. Someone should tie him down to watch this again, hoping he regains his senses. This is how technology should be used in movies, aiding the story rather than overwhelming it.

Runners-Up: Willow, The Naked Gun, Die Hard, Big, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Beetlejuice, Rain Man, Scrooged

1989: Back to the Future Part II
Hoverboards. Mr. Fusion. Gray's Sports Almanac. And of course Biff Tannen's "Pleasure Paradise." (greatest photo I've ever posted by the way) What's the definition of a timeless movie? Just look at how ridiculous the year 2015 (through 1985's eyes) is depicted in this late 80's release, then consider how the film can somehow plays even BETTER today because of it. It's so much funnier, endearing and awesome by getting everything in the future wrong in just the right kind of goofy way, completely in line with the world Zemeckis created in the original. If this movie's vision of the future was even somewhat accurate instead of what the writers insanely thought up, you know the wouldn't have been even half as fun. It's easy to see why many claim it as their favorite in the trilogy. And what a cliffhanger ending that is, perfectly setting up the closing chapter

Runners-Up: Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Wizard, Field of Dreams, Weekend at Bernie's, Say Anything, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Parenthood, Ghostbusters II, UHF 

Coming Soon: A Life in Movies Part 2 (1990-2000)

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