Mike’s Top Ten of 1980
1980 is the transition period from the filmmaker-driven period of the 70s to the studio-driven period of the 80s. You can definitely see that shift taking place. Plus, this year has the big end marker: the giant bomb that effectively ended directors having complete control of projects.
The 80s as a decade always felt a bit formless to me. It’s just a weird time. But when you take each year on its own, there’s some great stuff. Here, two of the all-time most iconic films ever made were released. And honestly, if you didn’t know they came out in 1980, you wouldn’t know when it was they came out.
I think the theme of this decade is going to be, “Strong at the top, weak down below, with some good gems sprinkled throughout.” And a lot of terrible fashion choices. Oh, but it looks good on you though.
Mike’s Top Ten of 1980
The Blues Brothers
The Elephant Man
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The Stunt Man
11-20: Altered States, Atlantic City, The Big Red One, Breaker Morant, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Flash Gordon, Heaven’s Gate, Melvin and Howard, Private Benjamin, Where the Buffalo Roam
Tier two: 9 to 5, Bon Voyage Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!), Brubaker, The Competition, Dressed to Kill, The Fog, Friday the 13th, Gloria, Hopscotch, The Idolmaker, Inside Moves, Little Miss Marker, Popeye, The Return of the King, Stardust Memories, Stir Crazy, Superman II, Used Cars
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1. Raging Bull
“You didn’t get me down, Ray.”
This is Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. I know, he has like, three or four of them, but this is the one. This is the greatest film he’s made. It’s perfect.
The backstory to this movie is that, after New York, New York, he had a major failure, had been doing way too many drugs, overdosed, and thought this was going to be his last movie. De Niro had been pressuring him to make this movie for years, and finally, he decided to throw himself completely into the filming of it, giving it everything he had. And this is the result.
De Niro plays Jake LaMotta, and the film is a journey through his life, focusing on his self-destructive tendencies and his relationship with his brother, played by Joe Pesci, and his wife, played by Cathy Moriarty. The fight scenes redefined how one shoots a boxing movie, and they’re so visceral that they become part of the characterization.
This is a brilliant movie, through and through. And it’s one of those movies I could watch all the way through at any given time.
“I hear this place is restricted, Wang, so don’t tell ’em you’re Jewish, okay?”
One of the greatest comedies ever made. This movie never ceases to be hilarious.
The amount of different storylines that are going on in this movie should not make it work as well as it does: Danny wants a scholarship, Carl trying to get the gopher, Danny and his girlfriend/Lacey, Lacey and Ty, Al vs. Judge Smails, Smails and Danny… every one of them works. This movie is 98 minutes and takes a four minute detour to have the priest going out and playing during the rainstorm.
To me, Rodney Dangerfield is the best part. I will never not laugh at him walking up to the green, eyeing Smails and going, “Thousand bucks you miss that putt.” Or how he ends a dialogue exchange by playing music and dancing. Any moment of Rodney Dangerfield dancing in this movie is hilarious to me. Then there’s Bill Murray and everything he’s doing — the Dalai Lama speech, the “It’s in the hole!” monologue. Ted Knight as Smails is just incredibly funny. This movie has like a hundred lines that will make me laugh every time I hear them. And there’s stuff going on in the background that you don’t even notice sometimes!
This is one of my favorite comedies of all time. It’s perfect. It’s somehow the right amount of dated and still manages to hold up. Funny is funny.
3. The Shining
“Hello, Danny. Come and play with us. Come and play with us, Danny. Forever… and ever… and ever.”
It’s The Shining. Come on, guys. This is on everyone’s top ten of 1980. Hell, this is most people’s #1!
This is probably most people’s favorite Stanley Kubrick movie. I’m a Dr. Strangelove guy myself, but he’s also someone who has like eight masterpieces, so it’s all good.
You know a movie is perfect when it’s one of the best examples of a genre (in this case, horror), but is so good that most people don’t even really list it with the best horror movies, because it’s so good it’s almost above the notion of a list. There’s Mount Rushmore, and then there’s everything else. And this is on Mount Rushmore.
This is the kind of movie that could have just been good. But in the hands of Stanley Kubrick, it’s become the kind of great that people are still theorizing about. There are entire films dedicated to what some of the stuff in this movie means. There are like a dozen or more moments in this movie that are so iconic that people reference them without even knowing where they’re from!
Fun fact: This movie (as seems to be the case with Kubrick throughout his career) was met with mixed reviews when it came out, and was even nominated for some Razzie Awards. Which goes to show you just how right film critics and audiences are most of the time.
4. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
“I love you.”
It was always gonna be a matter of “when” and not “if” with this one. Of course it’s in the top ten. Being number four actually feels high for me. A lot of other years, this would be in that 6-7-8 range, not that any of the numbers really matter.
It’s Empire. It’s Star Wars. Everyone knows this movie and everyone knows how important and famous and all that stuff. You’re not coming here for me to tell you to see it. So I’m just gonna use the rest of the space to throw out some trivia for this. Because if you need me to tell you to see Star Wars, I’m not really sure what you’re really doing here.
Probably the most underreported fact about this movie is that Lucas, not wanting to deal with the Hollywood studio system, financed this movie himself. Which means that he made a fuck ton of money from it. Oh, and the reason he didn’t direct it is because he was focusing on all the special effects work that was being done by ILM, a company that he founded. That huge sum he got for selling Star Wars — a lot of that was Disney also buying the rights to ILM, which, if you look at all the effects-heavy films that come out… chances are ILM did them.
I also like how the infamous line, quoted above, was done in part because Harrison Ford wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to come back for a third movie. He wanted his character to die in this one, since he’d served his role. (Which, if we’re being honest… he was kinda right.) Also pretty dope that the script was co-written by Leigh Brackett, who also wrote on The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo.
“You’d better tell the Captain we’ve got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.”
“A hospital? What is it?”
“It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.”
The first of the ZAZ parody films. This movie is still hilarious. Most people think it’s their best. I, as we all know, am a Naked Gun guy, but this movie still has it.
A straight up parody of Airport and Zero Hour, the thing that makes it work is the fact that they go deep on the gags rather than the story. They basically lift parts of the story (and dialogue) from Zero Hour, which allows them the grounded nature of the story and lets them go nuts on the ridiculous dialogue around it and all the sight gags. That’s the thing parody films don’t get anymore. That’s what Mel Brooks always did right. Root it in the story or the genre, and then go nuts.
Leslie Nielson became the breakout star of this movie, because of both his history as a dramatic actor and his ability to play the role so straight that it became even funnier when he would say ridiculous stuff. Like when they tell him the dinner was steak or fish and he goes, “Yes, I remember. I had lasagna.” It’s so great!
You know a comedy is good when you can quote like two dozen lines from it and everyone gets them. You know a movie’s really made it when something like this can be made and everyone gets it:
6. The Elephant Man
“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!”
Everyone knows that quote as a reference, but fewer people have actually sat down to watch the movie. David Lynch made this! I think it might even be his best movie. I know Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive and all that, but this one is him doing a straight narrative, and it’s terrific.
It’s a biopic of John Merrick, the titular man, born with a rare disease that makes him look elephantine. John Hurt plays Merrick, and he’s so good in the role. Had he not been up against De Niro and Raging Bull this year, I think he would have hands down won the Oscar. The film is mainly focused on him being found by Anthony Hopkins after being abused by a crooked promoter and taken into a hospital, where Hopkins tries to convince his colleagues that Merrick is actually intelligent, despite his appearance. It’s a beautiful film. Lynch directs the hell out of it. This was nominated up and down for Oscars this year, and rightfully so. I also do think this is my favorite David Lynch movie.
Mel Brooks produced this movie, by the way. They left his name off the credits because they figured people would stupidly go to it expecting a comedy. Which, ironically, is hilarious.
7. The Stunt Man
“If God could do the tricks that we can do, he’d be a happy man!”
Look at that. That’s our third Best Actor nominee this year. Peter O’Toole had the kind of career where all his Best Actor nominations have gone totally overlooked because they sadly almost always came against someone else whose performance has more notoriety than his. Which — history lesson time:
His first nomination was Lawrence of Arabia, which was up against Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch. His second was for Becket, which unfortunately was up against Richard Burton for the same film and Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove. He lost to Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady. Third nomination, The Lion in Winter. Probably his best shot. He lost to Cliff Robertson in Charly. Fourth, Goodbye, Mr. Chips. He lost to John Wayne in True Grit, and was up against the two Midnight Cowboy performances. Fifth was The Ruling Class. Which, as you know from 1972, is a film and a performance I love. Who was he up against? Brando in The Godfather. This was sixth, and De Niro overshadowed him. Seventh, after this, is My Favorite Year, where he was up against Ben Kingsley for Gandhi, Dustin Hoffman for Tootsie and Paul Newman for The Verdict. And then eighth was Venus, where he lost to Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland. Man couldn’t catch a break.
Anyway, this movie is really awesome, and one of those movies that stands out, historically, because it’s one of those movies where you have a journeyman director most people don’t really know of who didn’t have that much acclaim beforehand, who makes the one film for which he’s remembered. This is one of the great directorial efforts of all time, and it feels like so many people don’t even know about it.
It stars Steve Railsbeck as a guy on the run from police. While eluding them, he stumbles onto a movie set, right as one of the stunts goes wrong and the stunt man is killed. No one seems to know about this except him and Peter O’Toole, the film’s tyrannical director. O’Toole, sensing he’s in some trouble, makes him a deal — he takes the stunt man’s place and he’ll hide him on the film set and pay him. So now Railsbeck has entered Hollywood, and literally the rest of the movie is not what it seems. The film pulls all sorts of visual, directorial tricks, really blurring the line between what is real and what’s a movie. And Railsbeck stars working on the film, having a romance with the female lead, being put into possibly dangerous situations by O’Toole, all the while building toward the climactic stunt, which killed the last guy who tried it, with the added bonus of him not knowing whether or not O’Toole is actually gonna let him survive it.
It’s so good. Richard Rush had a pretty unknown career before this. His biggest movie is Freebie and the Bean, which I guarantee you most of you have no idea even exists. This is the movie he’s remembered for. And it’s great. This is one of the greatest films ever made about Hollywood, and one of the films you need to see if you want to be a director. The stuff they pull off in this movie, visually, is incredible.
“(Fame) I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna learn how to fly (High)
I feel it coming together
People will see me and cry (Fame)
I’m gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame (Fame)
I’m gonna live forever
Baby, remember my name”
I knew of this movie for years. I can’t remember when I first saw it. Had to be 2010 or 2011. And man, did I fall in love with it almost immediately.
First off… it’s very 70s in feel. Which I love. Grimy 70s New York on screen makes me feel at home. And it’s about a bunch of kids at a performing arts high school who are just trying to make it. And we follow them over their time there. We follow them from audition to graduation. It’s incredible.
The cast are mostly unknown. The biggest name among the kids is Irene Cara, who sang the iconic theme song (and later sang “Flashdance… What a Feeling”). But it’s not about the stars. It’s the film. It’s just great. Alan Parker directs, part of an amazing run for him that started with Bugsy Malone, moved to Midnight Express, and then came back to this. He’d go on to make Pink Floyd The Wall after this. Man certainly knew how to make films with music.
This is one of those movies that you’d think influenced shows like Glee. But don’t think that’s the kind of tone you’re getting from it. This is a very serious movie. The kids have real problems. Some of the don’t end up so well. The beauty of this movie is the realism it infuses, rather than that over-the-top, comedic tone that you think you’re gonna get. Trust me when I say, this is not the movie you think you’re gonna get, and that’s what makes it so good.
9. The Blues Brothers
“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
What are the odds that three all-time classic comedies come out in the same year? (Well, four if you count The Elephant Man.)
The thing about a movie like this — what can I say about it other than, “It’s The Blues Brothers”? It’s like, how have you not seen this by now? This is one of the best comedies of all time, with some of the best musical cameos and performances of all time, with one of the best car chases of all time. In the same movie!
This is also one of those movies (which I suspect is the same for Caddyshack) that somehow turned out well after all the possibilities of going wrong. Dan Aykroyd wrote something like a 300 page script, and the first cut of the movie was way long, and you have to feel like that they had so much footage, this could have been an incoherent mess if all the stars didn’t align just right. But they did, and here we are.
10. Ordinary People
“You never came to the hospital! How do you know about the hospital!”
“Connie! Your mother did come to the hospital, you know she did, she had the flu and couldn’t come inside but she came to the hospital!”
“She never would have had any flu if Buck was in the hospital, she would have come if Buck was in the hospital!”
“Buck never would have been in the hospital!”
This is your Best Picture winner for this year, which has always been the subject of some criticism. But if you take that part out of it and look at the film on its own terms, it’s really good.
This is Robert Redford’s directorial debut, a family drama about a tragic boating accident in which the oldest child of a family is killed and his younger brother is left scarred from the experience. We open after younger boy’s suicide attempt and entry into therapy. We see what the family’s home life has become; Donald Sutherland as the father trying to bond with his son and keep everything together, Mary Tyler Moore as the mother, pretending like everything is okay and shutting out her surviving son because the boy who died was her favorite, Timothy Hutton as the boy dealing with survivor’s guilt, and Judd Hirsch as Hutton’s psychiatrist.
It’s a great film. Hutton won an Oscar for his performance, Moore was nominated, but was good enough to have won, and Hirsch was also nominated (opposite Hutton). Redford won Best Director for the film, his only win. And as I said before – set aside what you think about it as a winner… as a film it’s very good.
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Altered States — This is a movie I was aware of from a young age. My uncle had a DVD of this in his collection, so I always saw the cover whenever I was over there (and using the DVD player to watch whatever the hell I was watching at the time). I never actually saw it for the first time until the past five or six years. It’s a sensory deprivation film. William Hurt is a doctor studying the effects, and the longer he spends in there, the more weird and fucked up things happen to him. It’s like a precursor to The Fly, almost. Ken Russell was the right person to direct this. It’s really well done. Also William Hurt’s debut. Which is impressive.
Atlantic City — Really great Louis Malle film that was nominated for Best Picture. Burt Lancaster stars as an aging, low level mobster (minor numbers runner) who still harbors dreams of being a real deal gangster. Susan Sarandon is a casino waitress who lives in his building with her drug-dealing boyfriend. One day, the boyfriend is killed and Lancaster ends up with Sarandon and the drugs. He sees this as a way to impress her, so he sells the drugs, uses the money to seem like a big shot and gets to feel young and important. Only, the guys who killed her boyfriend are now after them. It’s a nice little gem and Lancaster’s last, great performance.
The Big Red One — This is Sam Fuller’s magnum opus. A badass war film (but aren’t they all with him?). It’s a simple story about a sergeant and his men trying to survive in World War II. It’s great. Fuller’s films are all great, but this is the one. If you’re gonna see one of his films, this is probably the one to see. I can give you a handful of other great ones, but this is the one for which he’s most associated. It’s a classic.
Breaker Morant — Classic war film. It’s an Australian Paths of Glory. Three lieutenants are court-martialed for executing prisoners as a way to deflect attention from all the war crimes committed by their superiors. It’s terrific.
Coal Miner’s Daughter — Sissy Spacek playing Loretta Lynn. That’s the film. She won an Oscar for it and is great here. And the movie’s really good. Tommy Lee Jones is fantastic as the husband, and it’s one of the great music biopics out there.
Flash Gordon — The camp, cult classic. Featuring music from Queen! That’s really the star of the show. Otherwise the movie is just nuts. Really it’s all about this right here:
Heaven’s Gate — This is the movie that ended the 70s. The era of the auteur directors went away, and this film is listed as the culprit. Or at least the poster child. Michael Cimino, fresh off The Deer Hunter, releases a four-hour movie about a fictional dispute between land barons that goes wildly over budget, is a nightmare shoot, and then bombs horribly at the box office. That, coupled with a bunch of other big artistic failures, led to the studios to take control over the content and bring us into the blockbuster era. That said… the movie’s quite good. It’s achieved more of a cult status over time, because people are going back to it to see it because they hear its notoriety (it’s one of the few films with an “Impact on the U.S. Film Industry” tab on its Wikipedia page), and then they realize, “It’s actually good.” You gotta be in for the long haul, but it’s a good movie. Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, John Hurt, Sam Waterston, Brad Dourif, Isabelle Huppert, Joseph Cotten, Jeff Bridges, and Mickey Rourke. This is definitely the film that went too far and ended everyone’s good time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still a very good piece of work.
Melvin and Howard — An early Jonathan Demme film. Based on an apocryphal story that was so worth its own film. It’s about a regular man who, while driving back home from work, picks up a hitchhiker in the desert. He later realizes the man he picked up was Howard Hughes, and later claims that Hughes, in order to thank him, left him a piece of his fortune in his will after he died. Of course, this was all later revealed (in real life) to be falsified, but the movie version begins with this event (with a great performance by Jason Robards as Hughes), and then branches off into what this guy’s life is like. Mary Steenburgen won an Oscar for playing his girlfriend, and she’s really good here. This is one of those movies that’s just so unique and offbeat that everyone always likes it. It’s a real gem from this year.
Private Benjamin — The prototype of the army comedy. I know MASH was the grandfather, but in terms of mainstream army comedies, this is the one. This came out a year before Stripes, which follows a bit of a similar track (and then Police Academy later did a version of the same broad strokes story). Goldie Hawn plays a woman whose husband dies suddenly (and hilariously) on their wedding night. In her grief, she is convinced she should sign up for the army. Naturally, as a pampered woman, she thinks it’ll be fun, until she realizes what the army really is. And the film is about her clashing with Eileen Brennan, her drill sergeant, and all the hijinks that ensue. It’s great. Hawn is at her peak here, and it’s just a funny movie.
Where the Buffalo Roam — This is the first Hunter S. Thompson film to come out. Everyone knows Fear and Las Vegas, but this is the early version. Here, Bill Murray plays Thompson. That’s right. Bill Murray. And Peter Boyle is the Benicio del Toro to his Johnny Depp. Just like Fear and Loathing, the plot doesn’t matter. You’re watching it for the experience. It’s good. Thompson always got the best people to play him.
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- 9 to 5
- Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!)
- The Competition
- Dressed to Kill
- The Fog
- Friday the 13th
- The Idolmaker
- Inside Moves
- Little Miss Marker
- The Long Good Friday
- The Return of the King
- Stardust Memories
- Stir Crazy
- Superman II
- Used Cars
The Competition is another Richard Dreyfuss hidden gem. I love finding these. He’s got so many of them. This is a movie about a piano competition. Basically an ensemble, though eventually it boils down to a few main characters. It’s about a bunch of people all competing in this contest, all with something to prove. Dreyfuss is a very gifted pianist who is also very arrogant and whose life hasn’t turned out the way he’d hoped. He’s joining this one last competition before giving up and taking a job as a music teacher. (One could see this as a prequel to Mr. Holland’s Opus, in that sense.) Then there’s the Italian kid from New York, the technically brilliant but emotionless guy, the Russian girl who doesn’t speak English, and Amy Irving. Naturally, she has a thing for Dreyfuss, and that romance sort of develops over the course of the film. It’s really good. This is the kind of gem I like having on these lists, because it’s something I’d point to for sure to tell people to watch. I just discovered this within the past year, and I’m so excited to be able to share it with people.
Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown is more Charlie Brown. The gang are exchange students in Europe, meanwhile Snoopy is at Wimbledon. It’s Peanuts. You can never go wrong with Peanuts. Stardust Memories is Woody Allen doing a Fellini film. After Annie Hall, he started doing his own versions of his favorite filmmakers. And after a Bergman or two, he went to Fellini. It’s a self-reflective look, a la 8 1/2, that also works as a commentary to Allen’s person career. It’s about a director whose fans don’t like his recent, artistic films, and prefer his early comedies. And along the way, he’s got a bunch of women, and all that stuff. It’s one of the Allen movies I like. Of his almost 50 films, there are five or six I really like, another ten I just like, another ten I’m fine with, and the rest are varying degrees of ‘don’t like’, ‘really don’t like, and ‘hate’. This is in that second bunch. I just like it. 9 to 5 is a classic comedy. Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin. Their boss is a misogynist prick, so they kidnap him and start running the company themselves. It’s great.
The Return of the King is the Rankin and Bass finale to the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings from 1978. They went ahead and made it after they heard Bakshi wasn’t gonna make the third book. It’s what you think it is. John Huston as Gandalf, Orson Bean as Frodo (and Bilbo), Theodore Bikel as Aragorn, Roddy McDowall as Sam, and Casey Kasem as Merry, because why not? Superman II is an interesting film. Because production was done at the same time as the first film. Though within a few months, they were a year behind schedule, so they had Donner focus on the first film so they could get that out, and then right after the first one came out, they got rid of Donner and got Richard Lester to finish the second one. As such, a lot of the cast and crew also didn’t want to return. Gene Hackman refused to come back for reshoots once his scenes were done, Brando sued for like $50 million (and won), and John Williams left too. Still, the result is a pretty cool movie. The Zod stuff is memorable, and was iconic for a while (before it got eclipsed by the last twenty years of superhero movies that essentially rendered all of this a relic), and it’s just a fun movie. These Superman movies are enjoyable.
Inside Moves is a movie I first discovered because of a stray Supporting Actress nomination for Diana Scarwid. I truly didn’t know what to expect when I saw it, and I ended up really liking it. John Savage stars as a dude left crippled from a failed suicide attempt. Sorry for himself, he decides to become a drunk, and starts hanging around a local bar. There, he befriends a lot of the misfits, all disabled in different ways. One of them is played by Harold Russell, the guy from The Best Years of Our Lives without hands. Savage befriends David Morse, the bartender, who has a bad leg. One day, while attending a basketball game, Morse plays one of the players one-on-one. And he almost wins. So one of the players gives him the money to get surgery to fix his leg, and before he knows it, he goes on to be a basketball star. Though, naturally, when that happens, he starts ignoring his old friends… you know how it goes. It’s a nice little movie. I didn’t know where it was gonna go, since I went in cold. But most people don’t have that benefit because few of you are just gonna watch this out of nowhere without a recommendation. I think it’s worth seeing. I liked this one quite a bit.
Brubaker is a really interesting drama. Robert Redford stars. He shows up as an inmate at a prison, and is shocked to see how horrible conditions there are. Eventually he reveals himself to be the new warden, and goes about reforming the place. Naturally, the rest of the people who work there and the rest of the state (all corrupt), don’t really like this new crusader trying to disrupt their cushy lives, so they work to try to get him out of there. Best part? All happened. Probably embellished, but you get the point. A really underrated film. Foxes is a teen drama directed by Adrian Lyne. It’s about a group of teen girls in LA in the 70s. Jodie Foster stars, as does Cherie Currie, Randy Quaid, Sally Kellerman, Scott Baio and Laura Dern. Used Cars is a fun Robert Zemeckis comedy. It’s about a struggling used car lot whose owner dies, so its hotshot salesman (Kurt Russell) has to keep the place afloat before the competition across the street finds out the owner is dead (whereupon he can take it over). One of those comedies that people who saw it then love that not enough people know about now.
The Fog is John Carpenter again. Low budget, but made iconic because of his tone and score. He manages to take something that should be dumb and make it kinda scary. It’s about a mysterious fog that rolls into a coastal town on the 100th anniversary of a ship sinking in its waters. It’s good. One of the horror movies you should see. Friday the 13th is the prototype slasher film. Halloween might have been the granddaddy, but this is the one they all copied. A bunch of teens in the woods or something, being picked off by a killer. Sex and blood. It’s a landmark for horror. And it’s still pretty good. Horror’s not my genre, but it’s hard not to appreciate something like this. The Long Good Friday is a British gangster film with Bob Hoskins. This is the movie that established him as a star. He plays a gangster who is trying to become a legitimate businessman, whose life suddenly spirals out of control one day. It’s a really great performance, and a really solid film.
Gloria is John Cassavetes’ most mainstream film. This feels like a straight up 80s thriller compared to his other films. Also, when you see it… clear influence on The Professional. The opening scenes are basically lifted from this. A mob accountant is murdered in his apartment building, and their son is taken in by a mobster’s girlfriend who lives up the hall. She decides she has to protect him, and takes him with him as they go on the run from the mob. It may seem like a bit of a copout for Cassavetes, who made way more indie character dramas, but this has been really influential for a bunch of movies. This is the first prototype of this particular movie… person protecting a child who is sought by gangsters. You don’t get Witness without this. Dressed to Kill is Brian De Palma doing Hitchcock again. It’s… very much influenced by Psycho. A prostitute witnesses a murder, and now the mysterious killer is after her. Nancy Allen is the prostitute, Michael Caine plays her psychiatrist, Angie Dickinson is also in it. It’s solid. If you like De Palma doing Hitchcock, this is for you.
Hopscotch is a Cold War comedy. Walter Matthau stars as a retired CIA agent who decides to write a tell-all book about his experiences, which naturally makes everyone want to kill him. Glenda Jackson co-stars (and their chemistry is great), as do Sam Waterston and Ned Beatty. Fun movie. The Idolmaker is a loose biopic of a real record producer, who discovered a bunch of 50s and 60s crooners, like Frankie Avalon. Ray Sharkey stars in his one iconic role (before sadly dying at a young age), and he’s great. He’s a wheeler-dealer who knows how to find and turn people into stars, even at the expense of his own personal life. It’s a solid film. Taylor Hackford’s directorial debut. Little Miss Marker is a remake of the 1934 Shirley Temple film. A throwback movie, which they made a bunch of between 1974 and 1983. It stars Walter Matthau, Julia Andrews, Tony Curtis, Bob Newhart, Lee Grant and Brian Dennehy. It’s worth it for the actors and because you know the story. Like when Billy Wilder remade The Front Page with Lemmon and Matthau. You knew it wasn’t gonna be great because it was 1974, but it’s fun because you like all the people involved. That’s what this is.
Popeye is one of those movies… I saw it as a kid and I enjoyed it. I knew Popeye from the cartoons, and I saw this movie and I liked it. It’s like when you see John Huston’s Annie. You don’t notice until you’re older how bloated and strange-looking it is. Shot on those New York, New York style sets, that are trying to seem like throwbacks to the 30s and 40s but just look weird. Still, though, it’s a fun movie. Altman was a very weird choice to direct this, but hey, it’s amusing. Robin Williams as Popeye is good. Shelley Duvall was the perfect choice for Olive Oyl. And hey, even if you think this movie is a big disaster, one of the songs from it was later used by Paul Thomas Anderson as a motif in one of his movies. So how bad can it be? Stir Crazy is Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, directed by Sidney Poitier. Wilder and Pryor are friends who get thrown in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. And hilarity ensues. The two of them are so funny together. One of the great comedy teams in screen history.
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