Retropolis: My 80s in Film: My Favorite 8 Movies of 1983

by Jim Dietz

Welcome back my friends to the continuum of nostalgia and history known as Retropolis. Please do not feed, tease or otherwise provoke the other citizens in this enclosure. Failure to follow the guidelines here in Retropolis will result in punishment by forced viewings of bad cartoons. And I’m not talking Star Blazers bad, I am talking Scrappy-Doo bad. You have been warned.

Honorable Mentions

Every single one of these lists so far has had just as many Honorably Mentioned movies as movies that made the cut. I’ll start off with a cool Christopher Walken double feature from 1983: The eerily-prescient-about-VR Brainstorm, in which he and Natalie Wood (in her last film)  {play? Portray?} scientists who develop a way to record and play back experiences, and Walken’s understated (and underrated) performance as Johnny Smith in David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone.

The goth-cool and style of Tony Scott’s The Hunger make it one of my favorite vampire films of that time.

The bravura performance of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Brian DePalma’s Scarface is rightfully legendary, but it’s neither my favorite Pacino performance, nor my favorite DePalma film. Something Wicked This Way Comes bombed commercially and thus was overlooked, but in the original cut, it is actually a fairly effective adaptation of the Bradbury classic with excellent performances by Jason Robards, Pam Grier, and Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark. And finally, although it has not aged well, John Badham’s Wargames was briefly considered for inclusion.

Return of the Jedi– Ok, I don’t have the hate for ROTJ that a lot of Star Wars fans do, and I thought it was cool as hell to see Luke finally coming into his own as a Jedi and dealing with the biggest daddy issues ever. Did I like the Ewoks? Hell no. But did they ruin the film for me? No, Dante and Randall, they did not. For me, Luke was always the lynchpin the rest of the characters and storylines revolved around so the resolution between the Skywalkers Father and Son was enough to satisfy me. I guess my bittersweet memories about this movie stems from the fact that the Original Trilogy was, in a lot of ways, a defining part of my childhood, and by the time ROTJ came out, it felt like a good way to close that chapter– not only of the SW story, but also of my life.

Twilight Zone: The Movie – For an 80s genre film fan, this was like the Justice League of America or The Avengers getting together: an anthology film by four of the best directors of that time (Joe Dante, George Miller, John Landis and Steven Spielberg), from a script written by two of the surviving writers of the original TZ TV show, George Clayton Johnson and Richard Matheson, that re-imagined classic TZ episodes. The cast is also incredible: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Scatman Crothers, Kathleen Quinlan, John Lithgow, and returning TZ veterans like Kevin McCarthy and Billy Mumy. Unfortunately, the legendary actor Vic Morrow died while filming a stunt for TZ:The Movie, and the big publicity push this movie should’ve had never happened, so it remained unseen by many until it found a new life on cable TV. Spielberg’s segment, “Kick The Can” is so incredibly Spielbergian (in the best sense possible), it remains one of my favorite things he ever did; an overlooked gem.

Get Crazy – This is my favorite teen sex comedy of the 80s; a genre that thankfully has mostly died out since, but at this time was still a fairly viable form. The story’s spine is a New Years’ Eve concert to save a rock venue (obviously based on San Francisco’s The Fillmore) from sleazy developers with plans to turn it into mall space, but the simultaneous unspooling  of several subplots are what keep the movie moving. The cast includes Malcolm McDowell as a Mick Jagger parody named Reggie Wanker; Lou Reed, Daniel Stern, Lee Ving and the band Fear; Ed Begley, Jr, Fabian, and cult movie favorite Eddie Deezen. Full of drug references, 80s tropes (montage sequence of building a set, Anyone?) and gratuitous bewb shots, Get Crazy sometimes works despite itself, and if you don’t set the bar too high, it’s a lot of laugh

The Right Stuff – One of my earliest childhood memories is watching one of the moon landings; not Apollo 11, but one of the subsequent follow-up missions, and I had read the Tom Wolfe book from which Phillip Kaufman adapted his screenplay, so I had a working knowledge of the early days of NASA and the space race. The real right stuff of this movie comes from its cast: Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn and Fred Ward are a masterful ensemble, and the narration by Levon Helm is like the Lebowskian rug that ties the whole thing together.

Christine – If you know me, you know the geek love I have for John Carpenter’s movies, especially his 80s stuff, and this movie, a fairly faithful adaptation of the Stephen King novel, is no exception. Keith Gordon (an actor who went on to direct film and TV) plays nerdy Arnie Cunningham, who falls in love with a haunted 1958 Plymouth Fury. There’s some great character stuff here from veterans Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky, but the real star of the movie is the car, and how Carpenter is able to imbue that car with menace and evil and intent. In the hands of a lesser director this could’ve been just another VHS genre flick, but in John Carpenter’s hands, Christine becomes quite a bit more.

Videodrome – I love most of the early David Cronenberg stuff (including Scanners and The Dead Zone, both of which have been selected as Honorable Mentions in these lists) but Videodrome is my favorite of his films  from this period. Maybe it’s my lifelong crush on Debbie Harry (especially 80s Debbie Harry); maybe it’s James Woods’ creepy performance as skeevy cable network operator Max Renn, or perhaps it’s  that, technologically, if you had a big enough satellite dish at that time, you really could tune in or broadcast almost anything, and Cronenberg exploits that conceit to make weirdly unforgettable statements about video, reality, entertainment, pain,  sex and where they intersect. Long live the new flesh, indeed.

The Outsiders – I was wholeheartedly against the wave of 50s nostalgia that swept in with films like American Graffiti and Grease in the 70s and kept rolling with TV shows like Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley well into the 80s. Having said that, this film by Francis Ford Coppola, adapting the famous novel by S.E. Hinton, is one of my favorite depictions of that time period. Everything is imbued with an almost poetic look and feel. Even the big fight scene, the rumble between the Greasers and the Socs, looks like it was lit and staged to resemble a painting, as if it were only a romantic ideal of reality. And in Coppola’s hands, it works. Bonus fact: This  is the go-to movie if you are playing the Kevin Bacon game, as not only is Bacon in it, so is pretty much every other young actor in Hollywood at the time.

The King of Comedy – Hands down my favorite Martin Scorcese movie, not only because of its eerily accurate take on the cult of personality, but also because, much like The Age of Innocence, it’s so unlike every other Scorcese movie. Robert DeNiro stars as Rupert Pupkin, who dreams of hosting a Tonight Show-like TV variety show so much,  he stalks and kidnaps the Johnny Carson analogue in the film (played expertly by Jerry Lewis in a rare purely dramatic role) in order to take his place. A brilliant indictment  of celebrity and what it means,  and also a brilliant portrayal by DeNiro of a very particular psychosis spawned from the pursuit of (?) fame, long before real life celebrity stalkers became a true threat.

Join me next time as I look at 1984. If you like movie discussion, then check out Out Now with Aaron and Abe at the HHWLOD Podcast Network, available on iTunes or at http://www.hhwlod.com, along with a ton of other geeky podcasting goodness.

 

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