I’ve admittedly seen a lot of films in my lifetime, and early ’80s films is where my variety and harder choices start to kick in. Bear in mind a few of these I haven’t seen in over two decades. The early ’80s is where my inner film geek started to open up and I started watching a lot more films, some way beyond my years as I snuck them on cable tv or begged my mom to take me. I basically went through each year on IMDB, added in all the films I’d seen from that year, then whittled it down and put them in order of my personal preference. You can find my actual list for 1983 on Letterboxd here and the others I’ve finished so far off my profile, but the write-ups are going to be here on Cinefessions.
From 1982 on out I’ll have a few honorable mentions that for whatever reason just didn’t make the cut. For 1983, I’ve only got one that I doubt most people will even remember, and that’s Spacehunter Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. I absolutely loved this film as a kid, especially for one of my crushes, Molly Ringwald. Once in awhile nostalgia kicks in and I watch it again, but it really hasn’t held up well. It’d be sitting at number 11 if I had the option but this is a top ten list, so without further ado, here’s my top ten from 1983.
10. The Pirates of Penzance (Wilford Leach)
Kevin Klein has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and the scarcity of finding this film just about anywhere, and not knowing it existed, means I only saw this maybe four or five years ago. I loved every minute of it. There’s some great music, the film is done up like it would have been shown on stage, and the production was just fantastic. Probably one of my favorite films based around a musical and oh so hard to find on any kind of digital or disc format.
9. A Christmas Story (Bob Clark)
While I’m not as enamored with this as much anymore, mainly due to over-exposure on Christmas Day when it’s running non-stop on differing channels every year, I really do still like the film. The characters and the insanity around the holidays is instantly relatable, and they do a great job delivering some rather interesting situations that could have fallen completely flat and instead are as hysterical as they should be. This will probably be making its way back into my holiday film rotation along with Christmas Vacation and The Ref again some time soon.
8. Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks)
Yes, I’m primarily into sci-fi, fantasy and horror films, but a really well done drama or comedy can get me just as easily. I like movies in general. So when you make a movie with Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, John Lithgow, and Jeff Daniels, I tend to sit and watch it. Granted I first watched this when I was a kid mainly because my family was watching it, and I really didn’t get it, but thought it was cool there was an astronaut in it. On a viewing when I was much older, though, the pieces clicked into place and I realized what a really well done drama this film is. I can’t sit and watch it all the way through without getting teared up, and that’s when you know they’ve gone and done something great with the medium.
7. The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman)
I’m a sucker for space films. I’m an even bigger sucker for space films about us actually going into space, so a movie with some great actors like Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Barbara Hershey, and Lance Henrickson about the initial beginnings of the space race had me hooked even when I didn’t get all the nuances as a kid. I went back to this when HBO did From Earth to the Moon years ago along with Apollo 13, and I still absolutely love this film, along with the others. While this is certainly less biographical, it captures the spirit of that early time in our space race quite well and now I’m itching to watch it again.
6. WarGames (John Badham)
Re-watching this out of the ’80s is like looking back on a computing time capsule. The old computers and modems and displays abound but there’s a decent enough plot that you can more or less believe what you’re seeing of the somewhat farfetched premise. Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, and Ally Sheedy do a great job with what they’re given, while the giant displays and the computers harken back a bit to the war room in Dr. Strangelove – but look a bit more functional. There’s an interesting bit of play on national security here before we ever got into the whole Internet in every home bit, and it’s still fun to watch despite the aged tech.
5. Christine (John Carpenter)
This movie was an instant classic for me. While it didn’t capture me as much as The Thing from Carpenter, I absolutely loved the characters and the set-up and still think this is probably one of the better early King adaptations for the big screen. The actors do a great job with what they’re given and Arnie’s descent into possession and madness by the car simply works on screen. The visual effects still hold up, much like most of Carpenter’s work, he knew what would hold up on screen and how much to give an audience, and most of his earlier films hold up to modern CG as a result and often surpass what we see now. This is a definite keeper.
4. National Lampoon’s Vacation (Harold Ramis)
This is actually my second favorite of the Vacation series, with Christmas being the first, then Vegas and lastly, European. While a few gags get revisited later on, this one more or less establishes the family, even though they’ve cycled through the kids over the years. There are a lot of really great sequences in this and it’s really the family road trip gone wrong that I love about it. Thankfully my own have not gotten quite that insane, but a few have come closer than I care to admit. Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, and Beverly D’Angelo do a great job here, and the main theme is one of the most recognizable ones out there.
3. Flashdance (Adrian Lyne)
I have to admit that I first loved this movie just for Jennifer Beals. She’s another one of those actresses I had a huge crush on when I was growing up. Aside from that, though, this happens to be a favorite of mine because it’s an underdog story with some heart, and really different dancing sequences that have been spoofed since the film’s debut. Hell, even the upcoming Cuban Fury has a poster spoof of it out there. With a great ’80s soundtrack, and some decent heart, I really do still enjoy this movie.
2. Rock & Rule (Clive A. Smith)
With an amazing soundtrack, a predictable but decent plot with some great dialogue, Rock & Rule is probably one of the most underrated animated films of the ’80s. Nelvana’s attempt to jump in on the animation mainstream was a box office dud, but the film itself has some great animation with some gritty story-telling we only ever see in Bluth films (but still toned down). Aimed more at older audiences, and probably why it didn’t catch on as well, this movie still holds up pretty well. I’m actually really sad we didn’t get an official soundtrack release from this, and while you can track down the artist renditions separately, it’s hard work. This is one of those films I happened to catch on one of the pay cable channels as a kid, and had the fortune to tape it and finally got a new copy when someone re-mastered it for DVD years ago. Even if you end up hating the movie, it’s worth watching at least once just to marvel at what they were able to accomplish with an animated film that tackles the material like an anime film or TV show would, but obviously outside of the western conventions for producing an animated film, much like Heavy Metal before it.
1. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand)
If you’ve been reading the other Lifetime of Film posts from me, you had to know this one was coming. While arguably the weakest link in the original trilogy, it’s still worlds better than the worst of the prequel trilogy. A little bit too on the upbeat side after the downbeat whammy of Empire, this film still moves at an epic and brisk pace that really drowns out many of the shortcomings. We get a great resolution to the trilogy with as much action and space adventure that they could cram in, and one hell of an epic lightsaber battle. The effects still look great, and while I prefer the original Special Edition release – hate me all you want, I grew up on these – I’d have loved to see the original song, “Lapti Nek”, thrown back in at Jabba’s Palace instead of “Jedi Rock”, which isn’t nearly as good.