BOP 50 of the '80s: Selections 20-16

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20) Batman

Even all these years later, I still vividly remember the rampant scorn that greeted the news of Michael Keaton's casting in the lead role of Batman. While I loved Keaton as a comedic actor (Night Shift is still one of my personal faves), I was never quite sure about his qualifications to play the Caped Crusader. As a result, despite the fact that I was captivated by the logo that suddenly began appearing on t-shirts, mugs, and practically everything else under the sun, I skipped the film when it was in theaters.

In fact, I wouldn't see the film until I was assigned to do so. I was taking a college class in 20th Century Drama, and my professor happened to include Batman on the syllabus. And thank goodness he did - from the start of the ingenious opening credits, I was blown away.

Even all these years later, Batman still holds up for me as the perfect superhero movie and the best of the genre by far. Director Tim Burton's approach to the story was note perfect as he set a backdrop of traditional good vs. evil against a much more complex examination of the innate psychoses of both the hero and the villain. Keaton's portrayal of the tortured Bruce Wayne carried over even as he switched off to his cape-and-cowl-wearing alter ego. Under the mask, the emotion he imparted with his eyes was so striking that it remains with me to this day.

Providing the yang to Batman's yin, so to speak, was a gleefully over-the-top Jack Nicholson as The Joker. One of the most interesting characters in the Batman universe by far, the film took the duo's story a bit further by essentially having each one create the other. Though this might be stretching the truth created in the original story, it works brilliantly, as the resulting dance shared by Batman and The Joker is as flawlessly choreographed as any protagonist vs. antagonist in movie history. And the movie was very consciously about being a play itself - The Joker sees himself as creator, artist and director, providing a compelling and subtle ars poetica for the inner workings of Burton's mind.

Topped off by special effects, a dark atmosphere and Danny Elfman's triumphant score, Batman is able to succeed in part because of its focus on a single man-vs.-man storyline. The subsequent movies in the Batman franchise suffered from having too many villains and a lack of focus, which eventually led to the series moving to the background in favor of stuff like X-Men and Spider-Man. Chances are, no other Batman film will ever be able to quite capture the singular universe Burton created - it certainly set a gold standard that even a director as talented as Christopher Nolan will be hard-pressed to repeat. (Kim Hollis/BOP)

19) Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Prior to the release of this film, there had been many examples of mixing live actors with animated characters, including Mary Poppins and Song of the South. But this movie set the standard by which all future attempts would be measured. The studio and the filmmakers they hired spared no expense to create the ultimate live-action/animation movie. They spent an estimated $70 million to make the film, an amount that was unheard of at the time. But the money was well worth it. They created brand-new special effects that allowed the animated characters to interact with the human actors. The effects wizards had to be even more creative than usual to accomplish this task. When Baby Herman lifts up a live female actress’s skirt, you had to believe the toon was actually doing it. When Jessica Rabbit plays with Eddie Valiant’s tie, you *know* she is there (and every red-blooded male wishes he was, too).

But the special effects geniuses couldn’t have worked their movie magic without the actors. They had to push their acting abilities to limits they had never been to before. How do you act opposite a character that isn’t there? It was tough, but they pulled it off brilliantly. This was also the first time I had seen Bob Hoskins and I was totally shocked when I later heard his real British accent. But I guess that’s what he got paid the big bucks for.

This film has already become a classic of moviemaking magic and I think it will only become more so in the future. (Marty Doskins/BOP)

18) Raging Bull

For Martin Scorsese, the measure of a man seems to be the severity of his torment. Boxer Jake La Motta, a self-torturing loner desperate for achievement in the overstated Scorsese tradition, suffers mercilessly in the ring and out. We watch La Motta, so brilliantly portrayed by Robert De Niro, systematically ruin his life and the lives of those around him only to inarticulately strive for a redemption he can never attain.

There's a poetic transcendence to it all. The expressionistic boxing sequences, in particular, achieve a grandeur worthy of opera. Stark black and white photography, surrealistic imagery and an overall religious fervor bestow these bouts a paradoxical elegance and brutality. An everlasting testament to the artistry of Scorsese, De Niro and screenwriter Paul Schrader, Raging Bull remains steadfastly vital. (Alex Hudson/BOP)

17) Airplane!

Sometimes it’s easy to forget the impact a film has had on the movie industry and on American culture. I think it’s pretty safe to call Airplane! (don’t forget the exclamation mark) the granddaddy of all spoof films. How popular was this film and how much influence did it have? If you factor in the inflation rate for movie ticket prices, this film would have made over $190 million in box office receipts in today’s dollars. Plus, in the quarter century since the 1980 release of this film, there have been countless spoof films that poke fun at serious movie genres. For example, there are the Hot Shots movies, Top Secret, and the Naked Gun movies and television series. All of them owe their success to this classic comedy.

In addition to the gain in popularity of spoofs, many stars either jump-started their careers or switched to the comedy genre because of their participation with this project. Veteran drama and other serious movie actors such as Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Peter Graves made it known that they could handle and excel in a comedic role. The movie also gave rise to the king of spoof films, Leslie Nielsen. He went from playing the stereotypical bad guy roles to becoming one of the best comedy actors of the decade.

And if you ever wondered where the line, “Surely, you can’t be serious. I am serious...and don’t call me Shirley” came from, you can stop looking. (Marty Doskins/BOP)

16) Better Off Dead

Probably my most-watched film ever, Better Off Dead was the first film that truly allowed John Cusack to move from goofy supporting character to leading man, thereby paving the way for his career-turning roles in Cameron Crowe's Say Anything... and Stephen Frears' The Grifters. It would have been easy for Better Off Dead to be just another teen movie, but thanks to the wickedly dark humor of Savage Steve Holland, the movie skewered the genre as it existed at the time.

Cusack's Lane Myer is just delightfully angst-ridden even as he's quippy as hell. His atypical sidekick, Charles De Mar, is nothing short of hilarious in his simultaneous detest and adoration of "cool guy" Roy Stalin. And poor Monique Junot has to suffer the indignity of being a French exchange student who has been accepted into a home solely for the purpose of becoming the love interest of an anti-social nerd.

All that might be enough to make the beginnings of a fun story, but when you add in the newspaper boy who wants his two dollars, the Howard Cosell-impersonating Asian, a little brother who is able to attract skanky women simply through the instruction of a book, and a dancing hamburger with an Eddie Van Halen guitar, and the mix becomes incomparable. Holland's animation adds an element of the ridiculous to the story as well, and his script is almost completely quotable from beginning to end.

I still can't eat a TV dinner without thinking to myself, "Look! This one has corn in seasoned sauce. He likes corn." Even worse, I can never see anything to do with octopi without my brain saying, "Tentacles. N-T. There's a big difference." (Kim Hollis/BOP)

Read selections 50-46
Read selections 45-41
Read selections 40-36
Read selections 35-31
Read selections 30-26
Read selections 25-21
Read selections 15-11
Read selections 10-6
Read selections 5-1



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Wednesday, September 26, 2018
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