BOP 50 of the '80s: Selections 40-36
"Shall We Play A Game?"
There are films and there are movies and then are those pictures committed to celluloid that perfectly capture at a particular moment the angst of the population as a whole. In case anyone reading this forgot (or was too young to remember) 1983's WarGames not only captured our collective Cold War fears, it also predicted the new century's hacking society.
Let me take a moment to send a "Heartfelt Message" (Box Office Prophets TM Pending) to all the young, adorable computer hackers reading this. If a strange computer asks you to play a game, YOU CHOOSE "CHESS" NOT "GLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR!!!"
But I digress... Matthew Broderick plays David Lightman in this story of analog computer hacker (click here for an ARPANET Internet history lesson) stumbling across a military computer programmed with a sophisticated artificial intelligence program designed to control and predict the United Stats of America's nuclear defenses circa 1983. Not only that, it's apparently wired straight into the system.
Part parable, part "What If?", WarGames proposes a (currently) not-so-improbable future where one teenager controls the future of our society. (If he'd only chosen "CHESS"!)
On its surface, it's just another cold war fear-mongering movie, but on second look it captured our collective fears and also had the clarity to see what our world could become. It also set Mr. Broderick up for a long and very distinguished career. (Matt Kinney/BOP)
39) The Killer
With director John Woo on a long roll of horrible Hollywood action movies (now seemingly about to be extended into the Tinseltown gutter with an utterly unnecessary live He-Man flick), it might be hard to imagine that at one point in his career this Chang Cheh protégé was one of the world's great genre directors. His unquestioned late '80s masterpiece is The Killer, a modern day wu xia pian wherein the combatants ply guns instead of swords. Chow Yun-fat stars as a hit man who is being hunted by cop Danny Lee, but along the way his weapon accidentally blinds a young nightclub singer (Sally Yeh). Feeling guilty for this maiming, the assassin takes on work so that he can help pay for an operation to regain the woman's' sight -- though he never admits to her that it was he who caused the condition. What it all culminates in is a massive and gorgeous shootout in a dove and candle-filled church, an astonishing set piece that actually deserves the clichéd moniker "ballet with bullets". One of the best films to come out of Hong Kong during its decade of renaissance, The Killer undoubtedly represents the artistic apex in director John Woo's career; he's made plenty of movies (and lots of money!) since, but he's never even come close to showing the sort of cinematic genius on display here ever again. (Chris Hyde/BOP)
38) The Shining
In many ways, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining still lingers with me as possibly the scariest movie I've ever seen. Although I ultimately place a few other films higher on my list of best horror flicks, this one certainly has a spot among the best of the best. Jack Nicholson's chilling portrayal of a man descending into madness left a lasting impression that has pervaded since I saw the film in my early teenage years on HBO. The brutal murder of the Scatman Crothers character was a visceral and thoroughly impacting experience, and the downbeat ending was probably the first of its kind I ever experienced in film. The isolationist theme that dominates the story makes for a fascinating (and terrifying) psychological study. It also bears noting that this film finished at the #1 spot of our Favorite Horror Films a couple of years ago. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
37) The Right Stuff
I don't want to exaggerate here, so let me choose my words carefully: The Right Stuff is the greatest American epic, ever. Yeah, that seems about right. The film chronicles the origins of the US space program, from the breaking of the sound barrier through the completion of the Mercury program. Those were heady days in this country, as the lingering industrial boost from WWII ran headlong into the developing computer age. Anything was achievable.
And so, certainly, The Right Stuff works as a proxy history lesson for the lazy. But along the way, the audience is treated to outstanding drama, acting, visuals, and score. Everything about The Right Stuff says, "this is a big, important movie, so take notice!" Yet at the same time it manages to avoid preciousness and pretension - qualities that hurt other candidates for the title - Pearl Harbor, Titanic, Malcom X, and Apollo 13 come to mind.
The themes of Tom Wolfe's excellent novel are capably translated to the screen by writer and director Philip Kaufman: Cold war paranoia; male comradery; youth is served; America's cultural shift from substance to style; most of all the exhilaration and chaos that come from doing something that has never been done before.
The Right Stuff was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four, in minor categories. It lost a Best Picture Oscar to Terms of Endearment. (Calvin Trager/BOP)
Akira Kurosawa directed many great films during his illustrious career, but it was supposedly this one that he considered to be the best. Whether that is the case or not is of course ultimately up to the viewer, but there's little doubt that this loose translation of King Lear does in fact rank right up there with the filmmaker's most spectacular works. Moving the action of Shakespeare's play to pre-Tokugawa Japan, Kurosawa tells in grand style the tale of an aging warlord's attempt to divide his properties among his three children. Ran is filled both with strikingly choreographed battle scenes and smaller, more intimate moments that demonstrate the masterful range of Kurosawa's awesome directorial skill. A caveat, however: though many movies are easily watched on the small screen without losing a lot, this is certainly not the case for this one. To experience Ran in the way it was intended simply requires the oversize grandeur of the silver screen, as shrinking the power of the horse and flag laden scenes of conflict lessens its power dramatically. Since for most viewers these days the repertory cinema choices are scant, it may be that the only choice one has to see this gigantic epic is in fact the home theater - just be forewarned that though it's still a passable way to see this one, the minimization will lessen its impact. (Chris Hyde/BOP)
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