Jan 11, 2011

Help Me, Children of the '80s, You're My Only Hope

Resolution #3 for 2011: Watch one 1980s movie per month.

I like watching movies. I wouldn't consider myself a movie junkie or geek, but I do make good use of my Netflix subscription. I'm not a reservoir of Hollywood trivia knowledge. I do like hearing the details about the who, what, why and how behind the genesis and production of particular films. I know very little about the techniques and methods behind cinematography. I'm not sure where I fall on the spectrum of movie consumption but I'm probably not that far from the average. But what I do know is there is a gaping hole in my film experience: the 1980s.

I didn't actually realize how pathetic my '80s movie background was until I married Julie. One of Julie's virtues is her willingness to point out any of my inadequacies. (God bless her.) It's a pretty regular occurrence for her to raise her eyebrows, drop her jaw and gasp, "You've never seen [insert '80s movie]?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?!" (For the record, nothing's wrong with me. She's actually the weirdo. She's just a weirdo that apparently has seen every movie made since 1979.) She really freaked out, though, when she discovered that I had never seen Footloose. This was the tipping point. It was as if I had duped her into marrying me and after five years and four kids she had suddenly found out my deep, dark secret. Her foundation had been rocked. Thanks to some personal reflection, counseling and Netflix streaming I was able to rectify the situation and save our marriage.

But she's right. Movies are a form of art and you have to see certain movies to truly appreciate other certain movies. It's like any other creative medium - your appreciation of one particular piece is actually enhanced by your experiences with other, sometimes seemingly unrelated, pieces. Just like literature, art, architecture, video games, dance and music, it's fluid. Any given movie reaches back and steps forward all at once. I mean, how can you truly appreciate Andy Samberg's breakdown in Hot Rod if you've never fully seen Kevin Bacon's iconic dance in Footloose? (You can't.) (By the way, the remake of "Footloose" releases this year.)

Skipping '80s cinema was not a deliberate choice. I think there are three reasons why I've only seen a few movies from that entire decade.
  1. I was three years old when the decade started and thirteen when it ended. It's not like I was hitting the theater that often for the first half of the decade.
  2. My parents never had cable (and still don't). I didn't get to play quick catch up as all these flicks went from the big screen to the small screen.
  3. At that time, my parents weren't readily letting me watch PG-13 and R rated movies. I blame my older cousins Doug and Curt for not hooking me up with more nefarious fare. (Though their house was an oasis of HBO and Showtime.)
So, most of the things I saw in the 1980s were family friendly options I saw when they were released or teenage boy favorites I caught up with in high school and college. Everything else is a blank.

But now the time has come to make amends. At long last, the holy trinity of art, science and my wife's badgering have serendipitously converged to give me the means to excise this monkey from my back.

With some quick research I've generated a preliminary list of 1980s movies that I need to see. (If you're looking for an '80s film fansite, this can't be beat.) It's a long list and it's one of those situations where I don't know what I don't know. I'm sure there are many more movies I'm leaving off the list. Following my resolution to watch one '80s movie per month will hardly put a dent in this list, though. I'll need to shoot for at least two 1980s movies per month this year if I hope to make any significant progress.

It's a long list, but not all of my movie deficiencies are the same. There are basically three categories of films in my missed '80s list:
  1. Movies I feel like I've seen, but haven't really. These are movies that are on TV all the time. I've maybe viewed 70% of the movie, though not in the proper sequence or in one sitting. Often they're full of iconic scenes or quotes that everyone else always mentions to the point where I'm fooled into thinking I've seen it, too. I've usually avoided picking up these movies because when you know all the actors, the key scenes and the memorable quotes, what's the point? Die Hard used to be in this category.
  2. Movies with which I'm familiar but just haven't gotten around to watching. These movies can be pop culture staples and, like movies in the first category, I may be very familiar with some of the scenes or quotes. They're sometimes iconic movies and they're referenced so frequently that I've come to understand their significance without ever seeing much, or even any, of the film. I always intend to watch these movies but never get around to it. Footloose was in this category.
  3. Movies I don't even know I need to see. I've maybe heard the title of these movies, even repeatedly, but that's about it. I know little about who acted in or directed these films. I may not even have known they were from the '80s. Or, I wasn't even aware of these movies at all. These movies are only on the list because Julie or the internet said they should be. On Golden Pond is one of these movies.
Julie says I'm not allowed to call myself a movie lover until I face these demons. Obviously I can't see every film I've missed - I mean, I am a stay at home dad with four kids, precious little free time and plenty of other things to do besides watching movies. I'm going to need your help on two parts of this challenge. First, what movies do I need to add to my list? I tried to be thorough, but I could be missing important films. And second, if I only get to watch a couple dozen of these movies this year, which ones should they be?

I need your feedback, but let me first give you the list of '80s movies I've managed to view already. (Of course some of these are only here because Julie forced me to watch them.) You'll notice that these are all mainstream movies and most of them were geared towards younger audiences.

Note: On all of the lists, I didn't (knowingly) include any series of films that began in the
'70s. For example, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are excluded because Star Wars, the first film in the trilogy, was released in 1977. (Which makes this post's title ironic!)

A Christmas Story Parenthood
A Fish Called Wanda Police Academy
Airplane Predator
Back to the Future Raging Bull
Batman Raiders of the Lost Ark
Beetlejuice Raising Arizona
Big Rutheless People
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure Short Circuit
Caddyshack Spaceballs
Clue Splash
Commando Terminator
Crocodile Dundee The Breakfast Club
Dead Poet's Society The Dark Crystal
Die Hard The Goonies
ET: The Extra-Terrestrial The Great Outdoors
Fast Times at Ridgemont High The Karate Kid
Ferris Bueller's Day Off The Neverending Story
Field of Dreams The Princess Bride
Flight of the Navigator The Three Amigos
Ghostbusters Throw Mama from the Train
Good Morning, Vietnam Top Gun
Gremlins Transformers: The Movie
Hoosiers Tron
Innerspace Twins
Little Shop of Horrors Uncle Buck
Mask Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Naked Gun Witness

This next list is made up of movies I technically haven't sat down and watched straight through, but I've seen so much of them that I probably won't waste a viewing on them this year.

Better Off Dead
Beverly Hills Cop
Blade Runner
Children of the Corn
Dirty Dancing
Full Metal Jacket
Howard the Duck
Lethal Weapon
Pee-Wees Big Adventure
Planes, Tranes and Automobiles
Rain Man
Revenge of the Nerds
Sixteen Candles
Steel Magnolias
The Blues Brothers
The Running Man
Weird Science

These last two lists are where I want to make my movie selections for the year. There are well over a hundred films on this list and I'll need to narrow it down to a couple dozen.

48 Hours A Chorus Line
9 1/2 Weeks Absence of Malice
9 to 5 Blood Simple
Amadeus Blue Velvet
Arthur Casualties of War
Back to School Cinema Paradiso
Biloxi Blues Colors
Bull Durham Crimes and Misdemeanors
Cannonball Run Das Boot
Can't Buy Me Love Diner
Chariots of Fire Eddie and the Cruisers
Child's Play Eight Men Out
Christine Escape from New York
Cocoon Fatal Attraction
Conan: The Barbarian Gallipoli
Dangerous Liaisons Gandhi
Delta Force Gung-Ho
Desperately Seeking Susan Hannah and Her Sisters
Do the Right Thing Heathers
Dragnet Heaven Help Us
Driving Miss Daisy Henry V
Earth Girls Are Easy Labyrinth
Fame My Left Foot
First Blood (Rambo) My Life as a Dog
Friday the 13th On Golden Pond
Glory Once Upon a Time in America
Iron Eagle Pale Rider
Johnny Dangerously Private Benjamin
Lean on Me Re-Animator
Moonstruck Red Dawn
Nightmare on Elm Street Roger and Me
Platoon Running Scared
Poltergeist Some Kind of Wonderful
Porky's Starman
Pretty in Pink Summer Rental
Purple Rain Terms of Endearment
Red Heat The Beastmaster
Risky Business The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Roadhouse The Big Easy
Robocop The Elephant Man
Romancing the Stone The Evil Dead
Roxanne The Killing Fields
Scarface The Last Emperor
Spies Like Us The Last Starfighter
Stand by Me The Last Temptation of Christ
Teen Wolf The Lost Boys
The Abyss The Man with One Red Shoe
The Bachelor Party The Mission
The Big Chill The Name of the Rose
The Burbs The Thin Blue Line
The Color Purple The Thing
The Fly The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Outsiders The Untouchables
The Right Stuff The World According to Garp
The Shining Tough Guys
This Is Spinal Tap Trading Places
Tootsie Wargames
UHF Young Sherlock Holmes
When Harry Met Sally
Young Guns

So there you have it - the cinematic skeleton in my closet. Now which movies do I need to see this year? Want to join in on the '80s film watching fun?


Anonymous said...

quick list that you must see...back to school(sure you quote it all the time and don't know it), trading places, scarface, 48Hrs, First Blood, The Untouchables, and Colors. If you have time, Roadhouse, Spies like Us, Risky Business, and a kids favorite Stand By Me. That would be my short list, get to work. Good luck, Walker

Trike said...

Hey, leave me out of this -- whenever you kids were over all you wanted to do was swim and play Sorry. I *showed* The Terminator to you and you fell asleep, you ungrateful 6-year-old bastage. (Bastage = Johnny Dangerously.)

I *really* can't believe you haven't seen Spinal Tap. That's like a crime against awesome.

One huge hole in your list is Terry Gilliam's Brazil. A must see. Another must-see that's missing is The Road Warrior. Also, Time Bandits. ("Don't touch that! It's concentrated evil!") And Wall Street. Oh, oh... High Risk! A must!

Skip Evil Dead and see Evil Dead 2. I really liked Looker back in the day.

The Abyss -- see the Director's Cut only. It has the ending.

Movies you need to see because lines have become staples in the daily vernacular:

Trading Places - "Karate man bruises on the inside!" (variations on this are incredibly useful) and "This happens to me every week." and "Looking good, Billy Ray." "Feeling good, Louis."

Starman - "So you won't be 'a little bit jumpy.'"

Roxanne - "We don't get much irony here."

Robocop - "Dead or alive, you're coming with me, creep." (Good line for dogs and small children.) and "They'll fix you." and "I'd buy THAT for a dollar!"

Wargames - "Would you like to play a game?"

The Thing - this is the gold standard for movie remakes because it does the impossible: it honors and includes both the original short story and the quite-good 1950s film. (Which you don't have to but should see first so that you get it.)

You DO NOT need to see: 9-1/2 Weeks, Spies Like Us, Teen Wolf, Christine, Dragnet (really, really don't), Iron Eagle (really, really, really don't), Red Heat, The Burbs, UHF, The Last Temptation of Christ (unless you have insomnia), Some Kind of Wonderful, Summer Rental and The Big Easy.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see Cocktail (although Tom Cruise is in it) or Harlem Nights (Red Fox, Richard Pryor & Eddie Murphy) on your list. Cocktail, typical corny 80's flick, but an allright flick I suppose. Harlem Nights is a must because of the three names mentioned. Scarface, Young Guns and The Untouchables are a must in my simple minded opionion. Teen Wolf is a bad movie unless you are a ten year old boy looking for your first breast shot as we Our Lady of Mercy boys were at Schwendy's birthday party so long ago. - Kuntz

stacey said...

You're much further than I, James. At least you guys had a VCR. I used to think that's all you guys did was watch movies at your house. Really. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Tough Guys is on one of your lists! Hilarious. It's horrible, but Chand, Sam and I used to watch it over and over and over. I still remember not only quotes, but also the soundtrack. I'd bet Chand does as well. .


James said...

Good feedback, guys. Thank you.

And Stacey, all we did was watch movies. It was just the same three movies over, and over, and over, and over...

Anonymous said...

I still remember getting our 1st VCR for Christmas when I was in
4th grade. We also got our 1st CD player that year for Christmas as well. What a year!!!

Hearing Aids said...

It was very nice blog and got lots of information .Thanks

wesley's mom (sue) said...

I don't even know where to start. You HAVE to watch The Untouchables and Trading Places. I love Private Benjamin and The Lost Boys. I personally think The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is a must.

I'm going to print this post and use as a guide. I think my kids need to see most of these movies before I send them out into the world....well, maybe not 9 1/2 Weeks but Porky's for sure.

Jay Ferris said...

Sweet popped collar Jesus... you've got a lot of catching up to do. If you want my opinion (which you're getting anyway) as someone who has seen almost every movie in this post, here are the only ones worth watching from your list of movies you know nothing about:

The Evil Dead
Blue Velvet
The Last Starfighter
The Thing
Red Dawn
Blood Simple
My Left Foot
Das Boot
Fatal Attraction
The Untouchables
Escape From New York

There, I just saved you from about 40 hours of bad film.

Anonymous said...

James, don't listen to anyone here, you will have to decide for yourself which movies are a must see (after you see them, unfortunately).

I used to think that Doug's taste and my taste in movies intersected half the time, and that made us opposites. But listening to everyone else? Wow, it's like I'm a Martian and they are Venusian - totally different species. Many of their "must see" movies are in my "must avoid" or "eh" category. Or even worse, my "never heard of it" category.

Keep in mind that movies we loved in the 80's were geared for kids of our age back then. Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Used Cars would normally garner a "must see", but only if you suddenly turn 16 again. (But they are GREAT for quotes.)

Warn Games impressed me as a teen, and it was exciting and cool. But, now that I actually know something about the Internet and NORAD, and have done some of that programming with the DOD, I have to laugh. (great quotes though, I'd piss on a spark plug if it'd do any good!)

Also, most older movies are pedestrian by today's standards. As you said so eloquently yourself, movies evolve. I loved Labyrinth as a teen because it was so different, strange, cookee, artsy, and geometric in an MC Esher meets The Lion Witch And Wardrobe sort of way. But if I saw Labyrinth today? Ehhh.

Another example, my favorite movie of all time is in your "never going to finish it" category. Suck my balls!

All I can say with 100% certainty that as a fan of movie making art/science in general, and special effects in particular, you must see The Abyss. YOU MUST.

If you don't, you and Julie should divorce.

- Curt

Anonymous said...

Doug's list of "must avoid" movies is spot on, except I loved Christine. It has 50's rock, horror, a hot, tall brunette, muscle cars, and a beautiful, shiny, burgundy Plymouth Fury that's as loyal and intrepid as Lassie and Benji combined.

And it does it's own bodywork after every crash... spooooky! (and great special effects, too)

This is probably a teen movie, since the hero and heroin were teens, and the plot backdrop, or "vehicles" so to speak, were teen issues. I would have to honestly rate it as a B movie (that I just happen to love, so sue me).

I'm going to join NetFlix just to see it again!

Anonymous said...

Well, if Blood Simple is an 80's flick, aren't any other Coen Bros films in the 80's as well? If so, I recommend The Hudsucker Proxy and Raising Arizona. Doesn't mean you'll like them. ONLY see them if you like that soggy bottom boys movie with George Cloomny (mmmm... WTF, brain lock). Anyway, those three movies have similar feel, pace, tone, humor, etc.

Along the lines of my earlier point about Martians and Venusians, when Jay Ferris said, " I just saved you from 40 hours of bad movies", I was thinking, "he just listed 40 hours of bad movies" (except Scarface). Not that they are bad, just that they are not must see movies (except Scarface).

BTW, I recommend Scarface.

A few people like The Untouchables. Problem is, it looked like a film noir but felt like an action movie. It should have felt like film noir, with action in it. Know what I mean?

Michele said...

Mosquito Coast. Harrison Ford, 1986. Not your usual Harrison Ford.

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