Chronicling the '80s - Month One

As January winds to a close, I feel compelled to provide you - the faithful reader - an update on my 2018 project to chronicle the most popular movies of the 1980's. Let's dive right in, shall we?

It all started on a quiet Friday evening; the air outside was cold, but the heat was on and I had two little warmers by my side in the form of my cats. I took the time to make popcorn on the stove top, a recently discovered favourite of mine, that blows away your traditional microwave variety. It is a bit time consuming, but paired with a cold soda and a blanket, it's well worth it. I spent the previous week acquiring various movies for the project, and had a couple of false starts, but this time I knew the movie was on the list, and I was ready to ceremoniously begin the Chronicle. 

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

Yes, this would be perfect, with original Japanese audio, thereby forcing my attention to read subtitles throughout the duration. I'm not sure it mattered though, as this movie had me engrossed from the very beginning. It's so beautiful, from start to finish, that anything I could really say about it would be amateur-ish in the world of film critique. Everything about the movie, and the setting in my apartment was perfect that night, and I truly felt as though I had just watched the first five star movie of what should be many; although, I did knock it down half a star simply because I reserve those perfect scores for movies I've seen multiple times. For a movie that is ranked number 69 on this list of films, I figure the quality of the others must be astounding, and this project will be an absolute breeze.

It was not meant to be, though. Sixteen Candles proved to be disappointing. Being the directorial debut of John Hughes, I was expecting even more of something like The Breakfast Club, but what I got was a film stuck firmly in the past with an astounding amount of racism and a date-rape scenario that has no place in cinema. As other reviews have mentioned: this collection of high school moments may be a good-natured nostalgia-fueled romp, but when viewed with fresh eyes, over thirty years later, it falls firmly on the "bad taste" side of the fence. The rest of the movie is what it is, with a slew of young stars you may recognize today, but ultimately, the forced and stale romance the film revolves around never gets off the ground. A rather paltry two stars, and a quick deflation of the wind-from-my-sails high from the other films on this list.

The original Fright Night, from 1985, was a real treat. The story of a nosy teenager discovering/suspecting that his new neighbour is a vampire was pretty straightforward, and told magnificently with the ideal mix of humour, horror and gore. I rated it a respectable three stars, but can't help but think that would climb even higher as I didn't really walk away with anything negative from this movie. The same goes with WarGames, which - subjectively - was worse than Fight Night but that could simply be a preference toward the supernatural. Starring a young Matthew Broderick, I got a real kick out of the tech on display here, and a well deserved kudos for showing how he hacked into the artificial intelligence system in the first place. Unfortunately, it seems like much of the anxiety going on in the film could have been avoided if characters would just talk to one another, and if Broderick's character just co-operated a bit more than he did when apprehended. As such it falls a half star shorter to a perfectly middle of the road two and a half stars.

Having seen the cover of Criterion Collection's Repo Man around so much, I was kind of expecting some good things from this 1984 film starring a very young Emilio Estevez. But after the credits roll and weeks after, I'm still not entirely sure what I just witnessed. Clearly very low budget, and with some really interesting sci-fi elements, it's no wonder this movie has cruised along to a cult classic following and cemented its place in the league of "cult cinema." I gave it two and a half stars for my confusion and intrigue, and would just leave this quote here from a review I read: "...without a doubt the shoddiest film I've ever seen from the Criterion Collection, but somehow its poor workmanship seems to add to the film's unique anti-establishment aesthetic."Source

Raging Bull scared me. It's not the subject of the movie that does it: it's that I've never seen this film before. I'm sure my friends would be quick to mock me because of it, and frankly, they would be just to do it. Martin Scorsese's masterpiece comes in at number 23 on this list and is a real doozy. Presented brilliantly in black and white, Raging Bull is a biopic - of sorts - on the life and career of boxer Jake LaMotta, and just like Martin's other movies, you can feel the quality jump off the screen, and there is no doubt in your mind afterward why this is so great. The acting is superb, the editing is fantastic, the writing is top notch and those fight scenes inside the ring work brilliantly against LaMotta's home life. I plopped it down at four stars.

Next on the block was Child's Play, a horror slasher that I had been looking forward to seeing as part of this project. The entire Chucky franchise has eluded me over the decades, and I was not disappointed. Child's Play was basically the exact movie I needed it to be: a bloody mixture of comedy, supernatural and creepy dolls. Immediately after I put The Fog on. Even though I had seen Carpenter's classic before, I felt it necessary to watch it again, if not for anything else than to really take in his score (I had no idea he scored all his movies). I was really amazed at what they could do with so little: showing the creatures in silhouette most of the time, while keeping the suspense consistently high. 

To finish off the month, I put Rain Man on. While I want to comment that I should never have missed this classic, I am, and I'm ashamed. I'll try to focus on that sort of thing less in future posts, but damn, is that shame ever realized here. It's practically a relief, regardless of the quality of the film, to finally see where all the pop-culture references have come from, and honestly: the film did not disappoint. Hoffman is fantastic, as is Cruise. It's over-arching plot is predictable, as is the sentimentality of the ending, but that journey is worth the price. Seeing these two interact on this road trip was truly touching and interesting. I'm most surprised by how good Cruise is, and it's easy to forget that he was an actor who performed in a variety of roles (even if they were somewhat fitted for him anyway) instead of the same action movie role he does now.

And that wraps it up for chronicling the most popular movies of the 80's in this past month of January. Nine films overall push me just over 50% of the 180 needed to complete this task. Below are the top, sorted by popularity (least to highest).

9. Wargames (1983)
8. Fright Night (1985)
7. Child's Play (1988)
6. Repo Man (1984)
5. The Fog (1980)
4. Sixteen Candles (1984)
3. Nausicaaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
2. Rain Man (1988)
1. Raging Bull (1980)

Tags: chronicle80s