Cinematically speaking the ’80s was a big comedown decade — a time of relative shallowness, the end of the glorious ’70s, the flourishing of tits-and-zits sex comedies, the unfortunate advent of high-concept movies, a general climate of cheap highs + terrible fashion choices (shoulder pads, big hair), flash without substance plus Andrew Sarris writing that “the bottom has fallen out of badness in movies,” etc.
As we speak World of Reel‘s Jordan Ruimy is polling the usual suspects for their top ’80s picks, but I’m going to take a mad stab and pick some faves off the top of my head.
What makes a great ’80s film? Not just a relatable, well-crafted story but one that delivers (a) irony, (b) tangy or penetrating flavor, (c) the combination of intriguing characters and perfect acting, and (d) a compelling social echo factor…a mode of delivery that only portrays but sees right through to the essence of what was going on during this comparatively shallow, opportunistic, Reagan-ized period in U.S. history.
And so Hollywood Elsewhere’s choice for the Best (i.e., most arresting and perceptive) Film of the ’80s is — I’m perfectly serious — Paul Brickman‘s Risky Business. Because it’s (a) perfectly (and I mean exquisitely) made, and (b) because the ’80s was when everyone in the culture finally decided that the United States of America was a huge fucking sales opportunity and whorehouse, and that it was all about making money any way that could happen and fuck the consequences, and this movie, focused on a naive but entitled young lad fom Chicago’s North Shore and his smug, droll friends, nails that mindset perfectly. And — this is the master-stroke aspect — Brickman presents these kids as cool, laid-back and ironically self aware.
Here are the rest of my top ’80s picks, in no particular order and with the criteria being not just craft and charm but social resonsance: 2. Adrien Lyne‘s Fatal Attraction; 3 and 4. Peter Weir‘s Witness and Dead Poet’s Society; 5, 6 and 7. Woody Allen‘s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah and Her sisters and The Purple Rose of Cairo; 8. Alan Pakula‘s Sophie’s Choice; 9 and 10. Sidney Lumet‘s Prince of the City and The Verdict; 11. David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet; 12. Oliver Stone‘s Platoon; 13. Spike Lee‘s Do The Right Thing; 14. Francois Truffaut‘s The Woman Next Door; 15 and 16. Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining and Full Metal Jacket; 17 and 18. Brian DePalma‘s Scarface and The Untouchables; 19. Michael Mann‘s Thief; 20. Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner; 21. Alain Resnais‘ Mon Oncle d’Amérique; 22. Albert Brooks‘ Lost in America; 24. Alex Cox‘s Repo Man; 25. John McTiernan‘s Die Hard; 26. Martin Scorsese‘s The Last Temptation of Christ; 27. James Cameron‘s Aliens; 28. George Miller‘s The Road Warrior; 29. Steven Spielberg‘s E.T., the Extra Terrestrial; 30. John Carpenter‘s They Live.
Oh, wait, I forgot Lawrence Kasdan‘s Body Heat and The Big Chill…make it 32.
I’ve also forgotten The Hidden, Drugstore Cowboy, Raging Bull and Local Hero… make it 36.