Overlooked Films of the '80s

By David Mumpower

October 26, 2004

Be excellent to each other.

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When the idea of a 1980s list was initially proposed, a debate ensued about changing our voting behavior. The issue was raised that allowing a voter to recognize only ten films, while beneficial in the past, was too constraining in this scenario. After all, that limits the voter to only one film a year. Eventually, we decided that there was no system we could implement which would have any fewer flaws than our normal methodology, so we stuck to status quo. I thought this was sound strategy…right until I started to vote.

Picking my ten films wound up being one of the most difficult intellectual exercises in quite some time. In the end, my list received a better fate than most as nine out of my ten selections made the top 50. Despite this fact, I still don’t feel good about several notable exclusions. First and foremost among these is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the reason why is simple. It’s specifically my fault that the movie did not make the list. It finished tied for 51st, one spot out of contention. Had I but moved the film up one spot in my rankings, it would have bumped sex, lies and videotape or Blue Velvet off the list. Since I care nothing about either of those productions, it stings a little bit to know that they got Bill and Ted’s spot because I didn’t show the well-meaning time travelers enough love.

The other oversight involves one of my favorite films of all time, Highlander. Apparently, sequel overkill ruined the flavor of the concept for my cohorts. Poorly-remembered dreck like Highlander 2 and the heartbreakingly awful Highlander: Endgame are what caused the group to overlook the fact that the original film is one of the most creative action movies in cinematic history. We flat-out missed that one, and I regret it.

As far as fanning the flames of controversy, I realized as I reviewed the final tally that there were a couple of notable exclusions that were not going to go over well. First and foremost is probably, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, one of the most financially successful and critically glorified outings of the decade. I chalk this one up to the staff’s running hatred of directors not leaving well enough alone. George Lucas was given a pass on his constant post-game meddling of the final products in the Star Wars series. But Spielberg’s inexplicable decision to dumb down E.T. by making it so inoffensive that law enforcement officials carry flashlights instead of guns (what is this, a Friday the 13th movie?) combined with how poorly E.T. has held up over time made it a justifiable omission.

A few other films that I regret not making our final list include Beverly Hills Cop, Mississippi Burning, Witness, Hoosiers, Fatal Attraction, Good Morning, Vietnam, Major League and Murphy’s Romance. Beverly Hills Cop got caught in the Eddie Murphy crunch. While it seems like forever ago now, there was a time that the comedian consistently provided entertainment in his movies, so voters were reduced to picking their favorite. This led to a largely split vote with Trading Places making the final grouping with Cop being left on the outside.

Mississippi Burning is the most important movie that we overlooked. Willem Dafoe’s delivery of the line, “What is wrong with these people?” still haunts me to this day. Growing up a southerner in a hotbed of minority oppression, I have witnessed such unforgivable behavior first hand. I can say in all sincerity that no movie has ever done a better job of capturing senseless, bigoted hatred.

Witness, Frantic and Hoosiers are three of the most critically-anointed movies that we failed to recognize. Despite each film’s tremendous quality, the absence of Witness and Frantic is not that surprising to me as Harrison Ford offered more populist performances in the 1980s, so his more penetrating work in these diametrically opposed but thematically similar (he winds up protecting and eventually falling for a stranger in each) was easy to exclude. Hoosiers, on the other hand, stuns me. Few films are as passionately lauded by the staff of BOP than this triumphant tale of small town basketball.

For its part, Fatal Attraction would be part of a triumvirate along with Flashdance and Top Gun which I would argue best represents the 1980s. Only Top Gun made our list. Flashdance’s absence is unsurprising since the “movie” itself is little more than a soundtrack and an over the shoulder t-shirt look. Fatal Attraction, on the other hand, had sex, full frontal nudity, cruelty to animals, and Euro-trash nihilist sensibilities. It would seem to be a perfect selection for a list of the best 1980s movies as well as a film that caters to the group’s *ahem* quirky nature.

The comedy section is well represented as the BOP staff did an excellent job of rewarding an often-overlooked cinematic genre. Two films I expected to make a better showing, though, are Good Morning, Vietnam and Major League. The latter film is admittedly a trifle, but a quotable trifle. No movie better exemplifies the charm of professional baseball than this nonsense story about this team comprised of expansion-level talent somehow making the playoffs. Having participated in a ridiculous amount of quote discussions involving the movie, I know how beloved it is amongst the staff. Its absence is correct, but an appearance would not have surprised me. Good Morning, Vietnam, on the other hand, has the pedigree, the dramatic impact and a marvelously manic performance by Robin Williams. I think that as time goes on, this is the oversight the group will most regret.

Murphy’s Romance is, in BOP terminology, the Hidden Gem of the 1980s. James Garner offers the tour de force performance of a magnificent career as a drug store owner falling in love “for the last time”. The living legend has won multiple Emmys and Golden Globes, but this role was his only Academy Award nomination. The genteel story involves a struggling mother played by Sally Field trying to put her life back together in a new town. Befriended by one of the most popular residents of the area, she fails to realize what is happening between the two of them until she has already fallen in love. There was a dearth of quality adult romantic comedies in the 1980s, but hidden in the garbage is this masterpiece of storytelling. I knew that Murphy’s Romance was a long shot to make the list, but I still held out hope until the final results were in. But alas, it was not to be.

In addition to exclusions, I am equally annoyed that two of my top three in the voting, Field of Dreams and Bull Durham, failed to garner higher placement on the list. They are also to my mind two of the three films from the 1980s which hold up the best, so seeing them both well outside the top ten is an outrage. This is the core frustration of only having one vote out of 25 or so. The movies you are fanatical about could be utterly trivial to the point of irrelevance in the eyes of others.

So, that’s ten films I picked and eleven I could have easily justified picking. I think that alone exemplifies how difficult the voting process was for the BOP staff. In the end, I am satisfied that 90% of my selections made the final grouping, even if I am disappointed in the perceived low ranking of a couple of key listings. Doing lists always creates problematic issues, but on the whole, I am quite satisfied with our overall BOP 50.


     


 
 

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