BOP 50 of the '80s: Selections 10-6
10) Full Metal Jacket
Stanley Kubrick bats a perfect two for two with his contributions to the decade as 1987's Full Metal Jacket joins The Shining on our list. The best of the several films of its era to tackle Vietnam (e.g. Platoon, Hamburger Hill), Kubrick elevates the genre above character studies and "who survives?" moments to say something universal about human nature. To do this he gives us Private Joker, a Kubrick trademark: the everyman, observer character who is thrust into action. Unless you have a Vision Quest fetish (hi Sports Guy), this turned out to be Matthew Modine's defining role. In addition, FMJ also introduced the world to one R. Lee Ermey, whose note-perfect portrayal of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman was informed by his 11 year Marine Corp career.
On a final acting note, Full Metal Jacket launched the "career" of Vincent D'Onofrio, who really needs to fire his agent. (Calvin Trager/BOP)
No one did more to destroy the line of thinking that you cannot make an anti-war war movie than the late great Stanley Kubrick. His Dr. Strangelove and Paths of Glory proved that a skilled director, through either satire or drama, can make a war film that effectively condemns war. His last war film, Full Metal Jacket, continued Kubrick’s examination of the hypocrisy and tragedy inherent in its subject matter, this time focusing specifically on the Vietnam Conflict. Made up of two distinct parts, Full Metal Jacket delves into the people that fought this war as well as the situation itself. What Kubrick ultimately put together is a captivating and incredibly resonant look at the nature of war and the dichotomy of being a soldier. (Walid Habboub/BOP)
9) Back to the Future
For me, Back to the Future is one of the movies you can watch over and over again. Blessed with the Spielberg 80's touch, Back to Future hit screens on July 3, 1985 to roaring approval from both moviegoers and critics. Intriguing, exciting and entertaining, Marty McFly became a household name as the family-friendly adventure-comedy earned $210.6 million at the domestic box office, and just short of $350 million worldwide. It spawned a franchise of films that grossed over $400 million at the domestic box office alone. Back to the Future was number one at the box office for eight consecutive summer weekends in 1985, a feat that is absolutely impossible today (sadly, the film that interrupted what would have been 12 straight number ones was European Vacation, one of the biggest disappointments of the '80s). It was the first of two successful '80s partnerships for director Robert Zemeckis and the Amblin Entertainment team of Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Stephen Spielberg; the team would make a huge hit out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit three years later. For Universal, the Back to the Future franchise also represented an awesome title for their library, and led to a heavily marketed DVD box set release earlier this year. Last year, there were rumors of a fourth Back to the Future flick moving ahead - this time animated - but there has been no news on that front in over a year. (John Hamann/BOP)
Back to the Future is such a simple little film on the face of it. Marty McFly, a young man with rock-and-roll ambitions, embarrassed by a milquetoast dad, a burgeoning-alcoholic mother, a sister who's the town slut, and a brother who seems the prototype of the original slacker, tries to achieve his dream of rock stardom, keeping sane through his love of his music, his girlfriend, and his friendship with the local eccentric inventor, Doc Brown. Everything starts to go south for young Marty McFly, however, the night he meets Doc Brown at the local mall parking lot for a demonstration of Brown's latest invention, a time machine built from a DeLorean. After an unpleasant encounter with some terrorist types that sees Doc Brown killed, Marty accidentally discovers that, for once, Brown was onto something. He ends up in 1955, the year his parents met, and ends up mucking up history when his mother starts to fall in love with him instead of his dad. With the help of the younger Doc Brown, Marty must fix his parents' relationship or else he and his siblings will cease to exist. And he has to do it before lightning strikes the town clock tower, or he'll never get back to his own time.
Reading the synopsis, the movie doesn't sound all that funny. But Back to the Future avoids the usual fish-out-of-water and science-fiction clichés through some quirky set pieces and, mostly, through the performances of its leads, particularly Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Neither Fox nor Lloyd had much of a feature-film track record before this; Fox only had Teen Wolf in the can, which would be released later in the year, and Lloyd's biggest film role had been as the commander of a Klingon vessel in Search for Spock. But carrying the bulk of the screen time between them, Lloyd and Fox not only make for a great comic duo, but also established themselves as viable stars. Although the two sequels suffered a bit from playing the "We have to keep this person from changing the past because it changes the future" card a few times too often, neither is so awful as to tarnish the memory of the first. And the original Back to the Future is one of those wonderful films that it's always nice to catch on cable when you're looking for light entertainment; even after dozens of viewings, it never fails to delight, and the jokes are none the worse for wear, even if they don't provoke the same level of laughter as on the first viewing. Back to the Future also spawned a sort of cottage industry in science-goes-awry comedies, but none ever approached the level of fun or the entertainment value of Back to the Future, another testament to the alchemy that is achieved when all the elements are blended together just right. (Stephanie Star Smith/BOP)
8) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Many people feel that the first film in the Indiana Jones series, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is the best of the lot. I would like to put in a vote for this, the third film. The series of three films was able to keep the main cast members together. This includes Harrison Ford in the title role, the late Denholm Elliott as Dr. Marcus Brody, and John Rhys-Davies as Sallah. When you have the power of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas working on a movie, that’s an easy task to accomplish. In addition, the casting of the late River Phoenix as the young Indiana Jones and Sean Connery as Henry Jones, Indiana’s dad, were brilliant moves that only helped the script and chemistry work.
Using the backdrop of Nazi Germany and the hunt for religious artifacts worked so well in the first film that the filmmakers used that theme again. But they didn’t let themselves get sucked into the trap of just changing names around from the first script. They added a lot of wonderful, unique elements to make this film special. We got to see how Indiana became afraid of snakes, where he got his trademark fedora, why he uses a bullwhip, and how he got the name “Indiana”, among other things. We also saw the influence his father had and still has on his life and work. And I don’t think the role of Sean Connery can be overstated. He made this film what it is and gave it its own unique identity.
If and when we ever see the promised fourth film in this series, I hope the filmmakers will think about how they made this movie special and work their magic once again. (Marty Doskins/BOP)
7) Blade Runner
Rarely do the disparate elements of cinema coalesce this strikingly. From Vangelis' ethereal score to Jordan Cronenweth's stunning cinematography to Ridley Scott's pitch perfect direction, Blade Runner placates the senses. Harnessing the urgency of noir and the awe of science fiction, Blade Runner prophetically foresees the disconnect of a plugged-in populace and the malaise of an oversaturated consumer culture - which makes the replicant struggle for extended life all the more poignant: This world isn't particularly livable to begin with. (Alex Hudson/BOP)
6) Die Hard
Die Hard revolutionized the American action genre. It’s as simple as that. If you’re a fan of action films (which I certainly am) the genre can neatly be divided into “Before Die Hard” and “After Die Hard”. Before Die Hard there were two types of action films. On one hand, we had the over-the-top blockbuster, no-brainer, star vehicles for the likes of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, indestructible cartoon heroes wallowing knee deep in body counts and one-liners that dominated the early '80s. The other films that defined the genre were the lower key, plot/character-driven action-thrillers of the '70s where the guys like McQueen, Eastwood and Hackman tended to play slightly out-of-their-depth cops arguing with their superiors and doing all sorts of boring legwork - until the budget permitted a brief glimpse of explosive action.
Die Hard bought the two together to give us a likable everyman protagonist who even though perpetually out of his depth manages feats the likes of which put Schwarzenegger and Stallone to shame - all to the surprise of himself, his enemies and the audience. You never once get the feeling that the holidaying New York cop John McClane is indestructible; in fact, it's quite the opposite as he get progressively more beaten and bloody as the film progresses. It sounds corny, but unlike the cartoon heroics of preceding blockbusters, McClane is a hero we can believe in.
But it didn’t stop there. As well as the seamless merging of these two action traditions, Die Hard threw plenty more elements into the mix. While the violence was on the scale of the cartoon blockbuster, it was carefully tweaked to be more realistic. It was bloody and it was nasty. Throw in jaw-dropping action and set pieces, again tweaked for realism, a neat and simple plot, and a megalomaniacal villain straight out of a James Bond film and you have a landmark movie that in my eyes has never been bettered in the genre. (Ash Wakeman/BOP)
When Officer John McClane burst onto the action movie scene in the late '80s, he gave a much-needed boost to the genre. This movie also used terrorists as bad guys before terrorists were “cool”. I think this film was so successful because of the parts came together as a brilliant motion picture. The directing of John McTiernan keeps the film moving and never lets you rest. The screenplay comes up with some unforgettable lines for the characters. And who can forget the acting? Bruce Willis has never been better as he breathes life into the hero role. Reginald VelJohnson plays a great supporting role as McClane’s “eyes on the ground”. And you can’t talk about this film without mentioning Alan Rickman as the evil Hans Gruber. What perfect casting!
This story of a regular cop basically becoming a super hero has always been one of my favorites. And even though I know that Bruce Willis will save the day once again, I never hesitate to watch this film when I get a chance. If you watch it on broadcast TV, you get a special treat when they do the dubbing to cover up the foul language - “Yippee-ki-yay, Mister Falcon.” (Marty Doskins/BOP)
Probably the most astonishing thing about Die Hard is how well it works as a character study. Oh, sure; there are enough explosions and macho posturing to please even the most testosterone-poisoned moviegoer, but there are also a fair number of little character touches that, while most set up events later in the picture, aren't that necessary.
The other remarkable thing about Die Hard is how good a film it is, especially in light of the sequels that followed it. In fact, Die Hard may be the only franchise that began in, or had its first sequel in, the '80s that saw the succeeding films exponentially decrease in quality as the franchise continued. There are many reasons for this. It certainly is difficult to imagine a villain that could begin to compare to Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber. But the most important reason is that the makers of the two Die Hard sequels seemed to forget the main element that made the first Die Hard so good: You can believe that John McClane was just a regular guy who, through his training and natural wit, could accomplish some pretty amazing things when he had to. In the sequels, McClane was turned into a combination of every John Wayne cliché and borderline superhero; no one could imagine a normal human being performing any of those feats outside of a movie set. But in the first Die Hard film, while there were a couple of things that pushed the envelope a bit, there was never anything so outrageous that the viewer couldn’t believe a policeman - especially a member of the NYPD - could pull it off. Likewise, the heist planned by Gruber and executed by his gang also seemed plausible.
And that is, perhaps, the best thing about Die Hard, and the one thing that the sequels, as well as most action/adventure films miss: the film is plausible. You can believe that a lone man with enough courage, street smarts, and something important enough driving him would put himself through the trouble and trauma of trying to outwit a bunch of very smart criminals in order to save a group of hostages, one of whom just happens to be his ex-wife. That - and a heaping dose of Hans Gruber - would make Die Hard a standout in any year, and certainly qualifies it as one of the best films of the '80s. (Stephanie Star Smith/BOP)
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