Sunday, March 23, 2014

1980: The Best

Let's close out 1980 with a little class, culture and ten great movies.

10. Friday the 13th


This one has to be on the list just for sheer historical importance.  While Halloween started the slasher movie craze in 1978, Friday the 13th pushed it into high gear and truly set the template for the sub-genre.  A gritty little movie directed by Sean Cunningham, it tells the tale of a bunch of doomed camp counselors who run afoul of a mad killer in the woods when they look to re-open a long defunct summer camp.  The acting isn't much to write home about unless you feel every Kevin Bacon performance is the greatest ever, it's not even close to being scary (even the big jump scare at the end doesn't quite hold up) but the Tom Savini f/x work is still top notch and the overall mood is quite effective.  Betsy Palmer is also fine as the deranged killer.  Like the others in the series, it's essentially harmlessly cheesy fun.

9. Used Cars

I get a huge charge out of this quite funny Robert Zemeckis comedy starring Kurt Russell as a used car salesman hoping to get into politics while also keeping his dealership afloat.  The usual wacky stuff ensues with Kurt and his accomplices played by Gerrit Graham and Frank McCrae going to all possible lengths to ensure Jack Warden as the scummy rival Roy L. Fuchs (Warden also plays Fuchs car salesman brother Luke whose death sets the plot in motion) doesn't get control of the lot.  Warden is quite funny in his role and Deborah Harmon is also solid as Luke's estranged daughter who gets into the plot as well.  Zemeckis keeps thing moving at a decent clip and even the huge stunt laden finale as the good guys (relatively good, at least) try to fit a mile of cars on their lot has some really funny moments.  Al Lewis is also pretty funny in a small role as a judge.  I recommend getting the DVD too, the commentary with Zemeckis and Russell is fantastic.

8. Raging Bull

On a more serious track, we have one of Martin Scorsese's finest achievements.  The story of boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) is not exactly easy to watch at times but it is certainly powerfully acted and constructed.  DeNiro is awesome as the tormented boxer and Cathy Moriarty and Joe Pesci hold their own just fine as his wife and brother respectively.  The film is beautifully shot in black and white and the boxing scenes are some of the finest you will see outside of a Rocky movie. To be fair, though, nothing in any of the Rocky movies will make you flinch as much as the stuff on display here.  Not even Ivan Drago beating Apollo Creed to death in the fourth one.  For the sake of full disclosure, I only saw this once and decided that was enough times for me but that does not diminish the power and quality of the film.

7. The Shining

It may not be the "perfect horror movie" or "ultimate horror movie" but Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of the Stephen King novel is one of the best King adaptations out there (And yes, I know that's not saying a lot).  Blessed with some wonderfully creepy camera work (that tracking shot of the kid on the bike is one of those things that is even scarier when you know exactly what will happen) and a fantastically over the top (though wrong for the character if you go by the book) performance from Jack Nicholson that is both hilarious and chilling at the same time.  The overall tone might be a little too mechanical, but it still delivers its scares just fine.

6. Airplane

From horror we go right back to humor with the fantastic comedy Airplane!  Chock full of gags that come at a mile a minute and blessed with a great cast of performers who play the material absolutely straight, this is quite simply one of the funniest films of all time.  You really can't say much more than that about this one, really.  It, like Friday the 13th defined a sub-genre.

5. Flash Gordon

This makes it to the top five just for the sheer joy it brings me whenever I watch it.  Loaded to the gills with cheesy goodness, it's sheer pulpy enjoyment in the best way.  Max von Sydow is great as Ming the Merciless, Brian Blessed and Timothy Dalton are fun in their roles and it's just endlessly watchable.

4. Caddyshack

No best of 1980 list would be complete without this wonderfully funny gem of a comedy.  Featuring an 80's comedy all-star team in Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Ted Knight and Rodney Dangerfield with the late Harold Ramis directing, Caddyshack is still one of the most enjoyable of the big 80's comedies.  The plot just sort of hangs there while the gags come fast and furious and while Dangerfield is a force of nature, Bill Murray is even more of one as far as I'm concerned.  Just a great, great movie.

3. John Carpenter's The Fog

John Carpenter's follow-up to Halloween is a gorgeously shot, atmospheric little ghost story with a fantastic cast (Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook and Jamie Lee Curtis in the same film?  Jesus!), a fun story and a lightning-quick pace that never lets up.  This is one of the films that really made me a true movie buff.

2. The Long Good Friday

I absolutely love this underrated gem of a gangster movie.  Bob Hoskins is terrific as mobster Harold Shaund, as is Helen Mirren as his lover.  The plot is nicely inventive and Hoskins really holds the film together, pulling off something truly wonderful in the last scene without even uttering a word,.  Any other year this would be the top spot.

1. The Empire Strikes Back

The second Star Wars epic is quite simply as close as a film can get to being perfect.  Impeccably constructed, well-acted and featuring some great f/x, it gives any fan of the original all they could ever ask for while also whetting the appetite for the third movie.  It's just a monumental piece of cinema.

1980 got the decade off to an awesome start with tons of great films, some of which have become iconic.  It's a tough act to follow, but damn it if it doesn't happen at least a few times.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.