BOP 50 of the '80s: Selections 5-1
5) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
You can't talk about movies in the '80s without mentioning John Hughes. For better or for worse, he defined movies for teenagers in the decade, whether as a director, writer or producer. Ferris Bueller was his masterwork in this regard, as it was less an examination of teen angst and social class structure (though it's there) and much more of an affirmation and celebration of youth.
In fact, the film doesn't make much sense without this interpretation, or at the very least, it would be dismissed as a shallow 'caper' film. The end of high school is often viewed as the start of freedom but we instinctively know it's the opposite. Real Life and responsibility beckon, and the ability to just blow off a day, steal your friend's dad's Ferarri and drive around Chicago just doesn't exist anymore. It's a last grab at true freedom. It's very significant that the film ends with the characters fighting over who get to accept responsibility.
But that's enough philosophizing; we'll leave that for the AP kids. There's also the pure joy of the film. Not merely one of the most quotable films I know, it's a masterstroke of characterization and plotting. Matthew Broderick's performance (strange to think of him as an idol now) established a role model for smart-asses for generations to come, including yours truly. And it's a rare film that can simply throw in an unrelated bit like the Twist and Shout sequence and make it work and be an integral and memorable scene.
An unmitigated classic, Ferris Bueller's Day Off should be mandatory viewing for high school students; in the frames of this film are more insights and revelations about life than they could ever receive in aclassroom. (Reagen Sulewski/BOP)
4) The Princess Bride
There are many things The Princess Bride is not: It is not your usual romantic comedy, it is not your run-of-the-mill fairytale, and it certainly wasn't aimed at kids. What The Princess Bride is, however, is one of those magical films where the whole is greater than sum of its parts. Rob Reiner was on a directing roll when he helmed Princess Bride, having helmed the critically-acclaimed Stand By Me the year before, and the classic mockmentary This is Spinal Tap two years before that. Our star-crossed lovers, Buttercup and her Westley, were played by actors with few credits and little recognition. In fact, it's fair to say that the supporting cast, which included Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Chris Sarandon and Mandy Patinkin, were far more recognizable than the leads. Even the cameos were by better-known actors than Robin Wright and Cary Elwes, who played the princess bride and her beloved. But none of that mattered, because it was the alchemy of a brilliant script, a seasoned comedy director, and a cast with phenomenal chemistry that made The Princess Bride unique and has turned it into a bona fide classic. Never veering too far into either comedy or romance, never settling for fairytale stereotypes over intriguing characters, and providing enough obstacles to true love to fill 17 fairytales whilst still not leaving the ultimate outcome in doubt, The Princess Bride is that rare film that improves upon repeat viewings. You always see something you missed before, or appreciate anew a scene that impressed itself on your memory, or perhaps find hope of deliverance from a lackluster love life within its whimsical universe. The Princess Bride is not constrained by its genre, but instead eclipses it; it's not merely a label, or even a series of labels, but a fully-realized vision filled with vivid characterizations as full of life as the ordinary people it's impossible to meet in one's day-to-day existence. The Princess Bride has attained its status as a classic the old-fashioned way: it earned it, through repeat viewings by those who discovered it in the theatres, and by being shared with those who have yet to experience its joys, including one's children.
After they get fair warning about all the kissing stuff, of course. (Stephanie Star Smith/BOP)
3) The Empire Strikes Back
The Empire Strikes Back is widely regarded as the best of the Star Wars films. It took the core cast and conflict from the popular but flawed Star Wars and expanded the universe in which the action occurred to an unprecedented scale. Empire, rather than the original film, is the genesis of today’s multimedia-spanning “Star Wars Universe”.
It is also a much more mature film, expanding on the simple melodramatic good-versus-evil plot of the first to become not just an action film, but a war film, a romantic comedy and a tragic coming of age drama. Quite aside from the breathtaking special effects and one of the most famous revelations in movie history, it is a true epic in every sense of the word.
On a personal level can I just say that the sound of the approaching Imperial Walkers and the first sight of them through the binoculars of the hopelessly outgunned Rebel troops still sends shivers down my spine. (Ash Wakeman/BOP)
2) Raiders of the Lost Ark
With Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg (with a little help from pal George Lucas) took the classic Hollywood adventure serial and reinvented it for the modern cinema audience. What results is two hours absolutely packed with kinetic action, stunts and danger in a film that zips from one set piece to another with audacious pace. It was a genuine and well-deserved blockbuster and catapulted both lead (a career best Harrison Ford) and director (the up-and-coming Spielberg) to superstar status.
The film is made up of pure, unpretentious, old-fashioned fun and thrills polished to a gleaming, audience-pleasing shine. It’s the sort of film cinemas were made for. This is apparent from the start in a tremendous opening sequence - one of the most memorable in movie history - that makes Spielberg’s intentions clear. It also demonstrates the film’s most important sleight of hand. Indiana Jones already has a history; he is a defined character with his own quirks and trademarks that give him a comforting aura of familiarity. We’re not watching from the beginning, rather just another chapter in a long running. Friends are old friends, enemies are old enemies and girlfriends are pissed off because he never called. Even when the first movie starts, Indiana Jones is already a franchise because he is an amalgam of every square-jawed hero that has come before him. This totally negates the need for back-story and a slow introduction and allows us to hit the ground running and never look back. (Ash Wakeman/BOP)
When George Lucas approached his good friend Steven Spielberg with the idea of creating a feature-length version of the movie serials that were popular in the '30s and '40s, adding in all the gee-whiz effects that were possible in the latter half of the 20th century, it was the Hollywood equivalent of a marriage made in heaven, not only of writer/producer and producer/director, but of material as well. Spielberg was coming off the twin successes of Jaws and Close Encounters (and the critically-panned and box office-shunned but still very funny 1941); Lucas, of course, had just seen the second chapter - or fifth, if you want to get technical about it from today's perspective - of his Star Wars saga hit the screen in a big way. And the man they chose to embody Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford...well, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back had made him a household name and a mega-star in that special Hollywood over-the-top wattage kind of way.
Indiana Jones, archeology professor and adventurer, who enjoyed chasing down artifacts with feats of derring-do as much as - if not more than - he enjoyed teaching undergrads the mysteries of archeology, was tailor-made for iconic status, although none of the men involved could have foreseen just how much a part of the culture Indy would become. Nor could any of them have foreseen that Raiders of the Lost Ark would spawn two sequels, and give all involved another franchise for which moviegoers everywhere would forever venerate them (not to mention to which the three could return when career vicissitudes necessitated it).
Of course, as with all great classics, it's not the special effects, or the commercial success, or even the career heights to which those involved soared later on, but it's the story. Part action/adventure, part romance, part mysticism, all wrapped up in the nice bow of good (the Americans and their British and Egyptian allies) versus evil (Nazis, of course), a simple tale told in anything but a simplistic way. Indy wasn't just a great archetype, he was a great character, written in three dimensions and imbued by both his creators and his portrayer with all the complexities of the best figures of literature. And with a supporting cast of characters as wonderfully fleshed out and as ably embodied as Indiana himself, and actors both familiar and new that matched Harrison Ford's talent and charisma, it seems, in retrospect, that Raiders of the Lost Ark could hardly have been anything but the blockbuster it became. But nothing was assured when it hit theatres in 1981; with all the credits behind them, the three major talents on this film were still at fledgling status in their Hollywood careers, and even though the old saying, "You're only as good as your last film" meant all were golden at that moment, Paramount wasn't 100% sure it was going to get sufficient return on what was, for the time, a huge investment.
That they greenlighted the project anyway is something for which lovers of good popcorn movies everywhere should thank their lucky stars.
And that, perhaps, is the real reason that Raiders of the Lost Ark is not only a rip-roaring good film, but one of the all-time biggest Hollywood successes: It never forgot that, at the end of the day, its purpose was to entertain, and that the best way to do that is write believable characters and great dialogue, then let great actors do the heavy lifting. Hollywood magic may be hard to conjure, but when the mages are successful, oh, what wonders await the moviegoer. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most wonderful enchantments produced by some of the most accomplished magicians in Hollywood, and stands out not only as one of the top films of the '80s, but one of the best films of all time. (Stephanie Star Smith/BOP)
1) Say Anything…
For me, it’s a personal thing. It’s timing, more than anything, both in my life, and at the tail end of the decade that defined my teenage years that make it a seminal coming-of-age film. Say Anything… might mean different things to different people, but for me, at the core of it, is the often-traumatic realization that the people you thought were xtraordinary may not be so special after all.
In the insular, isolated world of high school it doesn’t take much to be extraordinary. Be smart, be good at sports, be good-looking and you stand out from the crowd. Within such a small community it is easy to get the feeling that you, or your friends, are something special. A lot of the most memorable '80s films were set in this world. But for most of us, graduation and the journeys that follow will shatter this illusion. To be special, to be extraordinary, out in the real world takes so much more. The bar for noticeable achievement is set so much higher.
For Diane Court, this realization is a bittersweet one. She finds out her father is not as perfect as she thought he was in a way that changes her world completely. At the same time she realizes that the perfect guy isn’t necessarily perfect Prince Charming you’ve dreamed about since childhood. Instead it’s the guy who is fun to be with and just who wants to be with you because he’s good at it. Lloyd Dobler, you suspect, has already figured this out. His own background - due to absent parents, he's living with his single-mum sister and her kid, has already prepared him for mediocrity. It’s this knowledge that allows him to target the “unobtainable” Diane, to the amazement of his peers.
My own personal interpretation aside, Say Anything… is just a great film. It's a solid directorial debut from wonderful Cameron Crowe, has terrific performances from the leads and a host of memorable supporting characters, quips, quotes and scenes. Worthy of special mention is Lili Taylor’s constantly heartbroken Corey and her attempts at musical catharsis. (Ash Wakeman/BOP)
Every morning, I wake up to Nancy Wilson's All For Love, which just happens to be the song that plays over the closing credits of Say Anything… I love the film so much, that it makes me indescribably happy just to think of it, and having the soundtrack in my alarm clock always helps me to start off the day on that perfect upbeat note.
Honestly, I probably relate over-much to the film. Like Diane Court, in high school I was one of the smart girls, existing just on the fringe of the society my peers enjoyed. Like Diane, nobody really knew me - they knew of me. Like Diane, I had friends in the sense that I had other smart people with whom I competed heavily, but very few who I really ever let inside my walls.
Perhaps that's why, like Diane, I fell in love with Lloyd Dobler. On the surface, there's not much to Lloyd. He's a kickboxer with no special ambitions; he comes from a family where the parents are absent due to military responsibilities, thereby making him a bit of a fringe-dweller himself. Yet, his open nature and willingness to give of himself completely - even at the risk of his own happiness - are what set him apart and make him special.
The film was Cameron Crowe's directorial debut, and was a definite turn toward maturation as a developing filmmaker. Prior to Say Anything… Crowe had written the screenplays for Fast Times at Ridgemont High - a classic that to my horror did not make this '80s list - and The Wild Life, which was a bit of a step back but still kind of fun. With Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court, Crowe created two extraordinary characters who helped to set their world apart in more than just another simple teen flick. And though the story primarily centers on the relationship that develops between Lloyd and Diane, there's much more to it. Diane's close bond with her father represents a familial connection rarely seen in cinema. Usually, teens are expected to be rebellious brats who hate their parents, or at the very least, think they're insane. Even when Mr. Court has his fall from grace, it's quite clear that Diane is conflicted in her resolution to be angry and hurt.
And Lloyd has unique relationships as well. In addition to his smart dialogue shared with both his sister and his nephew, Lloyd's best friends just happen to be girls. Of these girls, the most memorable is of course Corey, whose extreme pining for her former boyfriend Joe is believable and real.
Naturally, even characters as remarkable as these couldn't have come to life onscreen without great actors to portray them. John Cusack, who had seen his career as a leading man develop as primarily a star of goofy teen flicks, has a career-breaking performance here. And although Ione Skye was probably never so good as she was in Say Anything…, she was perfectly cast as Diane - gorgeous in almost a fragile way, and vulnerable yet strong. Supporting performers include John Mahoney, who was both charismatic and repellent as Mr. Court, and Lili Taylor, whose Corey could have been just a simple one-note joke. Instead she rises above to become one of the great teen characters in movie history.
After Say Anything…, Cameron Crowe would go on to write and direct such wonderful stuff as Singles, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, but there's something just indefinably special about his first effort at translating his own work to the big screen. It's much, much more than my favorite film of the '80s. It's my favorite film ever. (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 20-16
Read selections 15-11
Read selections 10-6