Monday, September 08, 2014
On a three episode series of the podcast, postmodcast,
Kevin Brewer (Twitter handle: @RealKevinBrewer) and I have been celebrating the pop culture of the year 1984. Our first installment, which dropped on August 19, 2014, dealt with the music of that era, including Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen, so the second in the series (Episode 5: Movies of 1984), which dropped last week on September 2nd, focuses on the films (the upcoming third entry will cover television).
Because of all this babbling about 1984, I decided to post my top 10 films of that year. A few of them I re-watched recently after not seeing them for three decades, some I've been watching over and over in that time.
So here are my 10 favorites from 30 years ago:
1. BLOOD SIMPLE (Dirs. Ethan & Joel Coen)
This one shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who follows this blog. The Coen brothers are among my all-time favorite film makers and this, their cold thriller debut, is one of their best. It's also the film debut of Frances McDormand (she and Joel Coen were married in April of '84 and are still together), who plays the cheating wife of crusty Texas bar owner Dan Hedaya. The always reliable M. Emmett Walsh portrays a somewhat sleazy private detective that Hedaya hires to kill his wife and her lover (John Getz). It's dark, twisted, and absolutely essential stuff.
2. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (Dir. Rob Reiner)
Rob Reiner's directorial debut is one of the funniest, most quotable, and sturdiest satires ever made. As if you don't know already, the film is a "mockumentary" concerning Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer as the core members of a fictional heavy metal band who are followed on an ill-fated tour by Reiner as a documentary film maker amusingly named Marty DiBergi. I've seen it many, many times over the years, and am looking to many more starting with catching one of its multiple screenings at this year's Escapism Festival at the Carolina Theatre in Durham the weekend of September 19th, and on the NC Museum of Art's giant outdoor screen in the theater park on October 4th. Oh, yeah - it will also be shown as part of the long-running Cinema Inc. series on January 11th, 2015. Definitely one that never gets old.
3. REPO MAN (Dir. Alex Cox)
Read what I wrote about this also very quotable '84 offering on its 25th anniversary after attending a screening at the Colony Theater here in Raleigh as part of their Cool Classic series. An extremely cool classic indeed.
4. GHOSTBUSTERS (Dir. Ivan Reitman)
There's been lots of hubbub celebrating the 30th anniversary of this big-time box office champ (it battled BEVERLY HILLS COP for the #1 spot of '84) lately. A theatrical re-release, a new Blu ray special edition, and even a "National Ghostbusters Day" (August 28th, though the film was originally released in June) all go to show that this film has still got it goin' on. That's largely thanks to Bill Murray as the sarcastically cocky pseudo scientist Peter Venkman, but Dan Aykroyd and the late, great Harold Ramis (who both co-wrote the movie) aren't too shabby either. Now please, Aykroyd would you please back off making another one?
5. AMADEUS (Dir. Milos Forman)
Just re-watched this grandiose Oscar sweeper (it won 8) and loved how still powerful and funny it is. It may be a bit padded with too many scenes in which composer Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) looks on with both amazement and disgust from the wings as his unknowing rival Mozart (Tom Hulce) brilliantly conducts a lavish orchestra (we get it - you hate how great he is), but it has plenty of impact and it proves that lofty prestige pictures don't have to be devoid of fun.
6. ALL OF ME (Dir. Carl Reiner)
Another Reiner (Rob's father) makes the list. Steve Martin should've been Oscar nominated for his role in this fast paced farcical comedy also starring Lily Tomlin in one of her most invested performances. I mean, who else that year pulled off a convincing performance of a man who has a woman trapped in half of his body? Nobody, that's who.
7. STOP MAKING SENSE (Dir. Jonathan Demme)
This incredibly uplifting concert film, which captures The Talking Heads onstage at the Hollywood Pantages Theater in late '83, may be the most joyous rock and roll movie ever. The boundless energy of front man David Byrne, backed by his band mates (Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, and Tina Weymouth) and a well chosen mix of back-up singers and guest musicians (including members of Parliament-Funkadelic and The Brothers Johnson) bouncing behind him through an amazing set of some of the strongest songs of the '80s makes an exhilarating experience from start to finish. This is being celebrated with a theatrical re-release in many markets, and, I'm happy to report, will also be shown at the NC Art Museum next month.
8. BROADWAY DANNY ROSE
(Dir. Woody Allen)
It may be a throwaway Woody Allen to some, but I love how this is one of his works that's unconcerned with questioning meaning, or making any statement, it just wants to tell a silly story about a sleazy talent agent who gets caught up in a series of mishaps involving Mia Farrow (with a hilarious Brooklyn accent) as the mistress of his lounge singer client (a wonderful Nick Apollo Forte), that have him on the run from mobsters. The shenanigans are enhanced greatly by the sharp black and white cinematography of Gordon Willis, who recently passed.
9. PARIS, TEXAS (Dir. Wim Wenders)
This spare, visually stunning work is probably the closest to a Foreign film on this list despite being filmed in the scenic desert locations of middle-America. German film maker Wim Wenders, via the Robby Müller's exquisite cinematography, poetically presents Harry Dean Stanton in possibly his most affecting performance as a man on a journey through the Texas desert to reconcile with his wife (Nastassja Kinski).
10. STARMAN (Dir. John Carpenter)
I was a fan of Jeff Bridges long before he became re-branded as "The Dude" and this poignant sci-fi romantic drama (now there's a neglected genre!) is his best '80s film in my book (or on my blog). Bridges got an Oscar nomination for his acute portrayal of an alien that has inhabited the body of the dead husband of the grieving Karen Allen, who's pretty terrific in it too. It also serves as a fun road trip film, which I touched on a few years back in a series of posts covering "Obligatory Road-Trip Vegas Scenes."
Other notable movies of 1984: W.D. Richter's THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI, Paul Mazursky's MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON (Robin Williams' first bearded dramatic role!), Albert Magnoli's PURPLE RAIN (mainly for its concert scenes), John Byrum's THE RAZOR'S EDGE, and Jim Jarmusch's STRANGER THAN PARADISE.