Mike’s Top Ten of 1981
I’ve always looked at 1981 as a weak year. Which might have something to do with their Best Picture choice. I don’t know. I just don’t find myself excited about many of the films. It’s the kind of year where, some of the films at the top would not be there had they come out in other years. But I guess you could say that for just about any year. It just feels kinda flat to me. Some of the below the line stuff definitely wouldn’t be there in a stronger year.
I’m guessing this is like 1968, which I also always looked at as a weak year, because the industry was flushing out the last of the “70s” stuff before moving onto the 80s. These industry transitions don’t just happen. They take a few years. This feels like the nadir of the transition, before everything fully switches over. This is like that moment, as you’re backing up, when the car sort of rolls to a stop before you put it back in drive. That’s how I would describe this year.
That said, one of my all time favorite movies came out this year, so that’s always nice. And then there’s some really cool stuff I like a lot also there. So that’ll keep things interesting. Overall, though, not my favorite year.
Mike’s Top Ten of 1981
An American Werewolf in London
Clash of the Titans
Escape from New York
On Golden Pond
Raiders of the Lost Ark
11-20: Chariots of Fire, For Your Eyes Only, The Fox and the Hound, Gallipoli, History of the World Part I, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Pennies from Heaven, Prince of the City, Ragtime, Thief
Tier two: Absence of Malice, Body Heat, Buddy Buddy, The Cannonball Run, Dragonslayer, Excalibur, Fort Apache the Bronx, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Halloween, Heavy Metal, The Great Muppet Caper, Heavy Metal, Modern Romance, Mommie Dearest, Only When I Laugh, S.O.B., Taps, They All Laughed, Time Bandits, True Confessions, Whose Life Is It Anyway?
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“I race cars, play tennis, and fondle women, BUT! I have weekends off, and I am my own boss.”
Everyone always assumes they’re gonna know what #1 is gonna be for this year, and to me, this is the only choice it ever could have been.
I went from knowing absolutely nothing about this movie to it instantly becoming one of my absolutely favorite films of all time. Zero to top 50, instantaneously. I saw it as part of the initial Oscar Quest, as I was going through based on wins and/or overall number of nominations. Must have seen it fairly early. Probably late 2010. And within 30 minutes, that was it. Sometimes you just know a movie is exactly for you.
Dudley Moore plays Arthur Bach, a man born into an immense fortune. As such, all he does is drive around, drink all day, and do literally anything he wants. The opening scene is him picking up a hooker and taking her to a fancy restaurant on a whim. And his family wants him to grow up and take his appointed position within the company and marry the woman he’s being arranged to marry. And he’s prepared to go along with it. Except one day, by chance, he meets Liza Minnelli, a woman from a lower, working class family, with whom he immediately hits it off. And all of a sudden, he’s torn between what he’s supposed to do and what he wants. And it’s great.
The movie is hilarious. You’re gonna know immediately whether or not it’s for you. The character is a drunk and spends a lot of the movie shit-faced (and, as you can tell with The Thin Man being my favorite movie of all time, is something I enjoy), and he makes a very off-color rape joke within the first six minutes, which will undoubtedly turn some people off. But, the movie is so funny and has a lot of heart in the end. John Gielgud won an Oscar for playing Arthur’s butler Hobson, who has been his handler since he was a child and steadfastly (and very dryly) sticks by him as he goes galavanting around town ever day.
The film also won Best Original song for this song, which I suspect most of you will know even if you haven’t seen the film. That was sung by Christopher Cross, who, as we all know:
But seriously, this movie is one of my absolute favorites of all time, and I think most people should see it, because I think it’s one of the all time great comedies. You know I’m not joking because there’s almost no other situation where I wouldn’t end my write-up with that picture up there as the punchline.
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
“You’re not the man I knew ten years ago.”
“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”
Raiders, man. What more does one need to say?
After the disappointment that was 1941, Spielberg decided to strip everything away and make a movie without all the comforts of a big studio budget. He wanted to feel like he was an independent filmmaker again. So he took an idea that he and his buddy George Lucas came up with while on vacation about a globe-trotting archaeologist, in the vein of all those 30s serials the two of them loved growing up, and turned it into one of the leanest, most pristine action movies you will ever see. It’s stunning how well made this movie is on every conceivable level.
The best part about this movie is that it eschews big set pieces. Instead of having a giant fight early on in the film, Ford just shoots the guy. The biggest set piece is two guys fighting around plane propellers and an explosion. (Well, I guess there’s also the truck.)
If you really wanna see how incredible this film is, look no further than Steven Soderbergh, who recut the movie with no sound and a temp score track to show you just how incredibly staged the whole thing is.
Also, even more insane — while shooting this movie, Melissa Matheson would come to visit her husband, Ford, on the set, and while there, she and Spielberg would brainstorm an idea he had during filming breaks. That was E.T.! Which, now’s also a good time to mention… that vacation Spielberg and Lucas took… was during the summer where Star Wars and Close Encounters made all the money in the world. Insane.
3. On Golden Pond
“So, I heard you turned 80 today.”
“Is that what you heard?”
“Yeah. Man, that’s really old.”
“You should meet my father.”
“Your father’s still alive?”
“No, but you should meet him.”
Norman, the loons!
This is a movie I always feel like I have to defend. Probably because it’s almost the equivalent of an 80s Lifetime movie. It’s written as such, it kinda looks like one, and it’s pretty dated on a lot of levels. Yet, when a lot of people see this, they end up liking it too, so I don’t know.
This movie was nominated for a shit ton of Oscars this year, which is kind of amazing. It’s Henry Fonda’s last feature, and is the only time he worked with his daughter Jane. Plus it’s the movie that won Katharine Hepburn her fourth Oscar, not to mention winning Fonda his first, 41 years after he should have won for Grapes of Wrath.
It’s about an old couple, Fonda a retired math teacher and Hepburn as his wife, who go to their summer home in the country, as they did for many summers. Not long after arriving, their daughter shows up, announcing she’s just gotten married again to a single father, and that she and the man are gonna go on their honeymoon and she wants her parents to watch his son until they get back. So now this 80 year old couple are in the care of a twelve-year-old who doesn’t want to be there at all. Then there’s some bits about getting old, and there’s the father-daughter conflict going on (which is bolstered by the fact that Henry and Jane didn’t have the best relationship for a long time).
It’s got all the… wait for it… Hallmarks, of a Lifetime movie, but because of the actors it turns out to be a pretty fun time. I’m not gonna demand that everyone see this movie, but I think it’s got enough going for it that most people will at least enjoy it. Plus, it’s not every day a movie can give you a shot like this:
4. Blow Out
“It’s a good scream. It’s a good scream.”
Brian De Palma doing Hitchcock again, and in doing so he creates one of his best films. De Palma has a sort of split screen career (which is fitting, when you think about it): he has his Hitchcock homage films (this and Obsession and Femme Fatale), and then he has his mainstream stuff (Scarface, The Untouchables). On the Hitchcock side of things, I feel like this is his best movie.
The premise of this movie is — what if you took The Conversation or Blowup but made it like a Hitchcock movie? John Travolta is a sound engineer working on a movie who is trying to get sound for the film he’s working on. As he does, he sees a car crash into a lake. Later, as he’s listening to the recording, he begins to realize that what seemed to have been a regular accident might have actually been a murder.
It’s great. It’s really great. Travolta’s last good movie before he disappeared for a dozen years. De Palma directs the shit out of it, and you get the return of other De Palma mainstays Nancy Allen and John Lithgow. If you’re gonna watch one of the De Palma Hitchcock movies, this is the one to see.
5. Das Boot
Yeah, man. This is Wolfgang Petersen’s masterpiece. It’s a two-and-a-half hour movie about a German U-Boat.
The thing that makes this movie work as well as it does is that they shoot most of it on the U-Boat. So you really see what kind of tiny, cramped quarters a submarine is, and just how claustrophobic and dangerous the whole thing is. You see the men vacillate between being totally bored and killing time and then being fucking terrified because they can die at any moment with one hull breach.
It’s incredible. The attention to detail in this movie is spectacular. There’s also a four-hour director’s cut that exists, but that I’d only recommend for people who wanna do a deep dive (pun ridiculously intended) into this movie. For most the original version will suffice. Either way, it’s an incredible movie, and one of the gems of foreign cinema.
“Now, are either of you homosexuals?”
“You mean, like, flaming, or…”
“Well, it’s a standard question we have to ask.”
“No, we’re not homosexual, but we are willing to learn.”
One of the great comedies of the 80s. Coming a year off Private Benjamin, which, in its way, is kinda the same movie. They diverge at a certain point, but overall, a lot of the elements are exactly the same.
Bill Murray and Harold Ramis are friends. After Murray loses his job, apartment and girlfriend all in the same day, he decides to join the army. And he brings Ramis with him. And then they go off to basic training, and it’s a disaster. They’re not interested in being in the army, and they skirt all sorts of things while befriending the ragtag group of misfits in their class.
You know what? Just see it if you haven’t. The first half of this movie is some of the funniest stuff you’ll ever see. In fact, this is a movie that makes a good double feature with, of all things, Full Metal Jacket. Because it’s kinda the same structure — first half basic training, then combat. Though you see how the same structure can be used for wildly different ends.
“Release the Kraken!”
I feel like nostalgia is the governing factor in a choice like this. But hey, I grew up with this movie and I love this movie. It is what it is.
This is the best known of the Ray Harryhausen effects films. Another sword and sandal movie. Based on the Greek myths. Perseus, the Kraken, Medusa, all that good stuff. The effects are amazing. And the cast is stacked. The gods are played by Laurence Olivier (Zeus), Maggie Smith (Thetis), Claire Bloom (Hera) and Ursula Andress (Aprhodite), and you have Harry Hamlin as Perseus and Burgess Meredith for good measure.
It’s just awesome. I feel like everyone has (or at least should) see this when they’re young, because it’s the kind of movie that you can only appreciate from a child’s point of view. It’s just a joy.
8. Escape from New York
“Swear to God Snake, I thought you were dead…”
“Yeah, you and everybody else!”
John Carpenter, man. I told myself for years I wasn’t a huge fan of his stuff, but when you get right down to it, he made like five movies we all really like.
This is an oft-copied sci fi movie, which takes place in a futuristic United States where New York is walled off and turned into a prison colony. The President’s plane is shot down while passing over and he is being held for ransom inside and told that if any rescue attempt is made, the President is dead. So the government sends in Snake Plissken, a former soldier-turned-convict. And if you’re sending in a man named Snake Plissken, you damn well can bet he’s gonna get the President.
This is the movie that… I don’t wanna say launched Kurt Russell, since he had been known for all the Disney movies of the late 60s, like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. But this did elevate him into a different kind of stardom. This, followed by The Thing and then Silkwood… he became a leading man and an action hero from this movie.
Also yet another hugely influential John Carpenter movie with a great score that he composed himself. What I love about it is that it never tries to be anything more than it is — it’s a straight B movie. 100 minutes. Gets in and gets out, and it’s the kind of movie that’s so rich in creating a world that it feels like it does more than it actually does. That’s the sign of a great movie.
It’s also great that this is what 1981 thinks is the alternate reality of 1997.
Warren Beatty’s epic about communism. It’s weird to say that, since, on paper, this movie should be boring for me. I should want nothing to do with it. Yet, I love it.
I love that Beatty basically creates the docudrama style that they used later in stuff like Band of Brothers. He took a fictional film and used interviews with people who either knew the characters or studied them or whatever as transitions. It’s fantastic. The film is mainly about John Reed, who wrote the book “Ten Days That Shook the World,” and his relationship with Louise Bryant. Beatty plays Reed and Diane Keaton plays Bryant. Along the way, she has a romance with Eugene O’Neill (played by Jack Nicholson) and get involved with radical communism, as it gets its legs in the United States and spurs a revolution in Russia. Maureen Stapleton plays Emma Goldman, and you also have Paul Sorvino, Edward Herrmann, M. Emmet Walsh, Gene Hackman, and the film was shot by Vittorio Storaro. Beatty won Best Director for the film, Storaro won for his cinematography, Stapleton won for Supporting Actress, and it’s one of the few films to be nominated in all four acting categories (for Betty, Keaton and Nicholson, alongside Stapleton). Honestly, I feel like, had it not been about communism, it probably would have swept the Oscars this year.
It’s a three-plus hour film about communism, so it’s not the easiest sell in the world. But trust me when I say it’s a great movie and it’s one of the essentials.
10. An American Werewolf in London
“Beware the moon, David.”
This movie is so simple and brilliant you’d think it was a remake. Sure, it’s loosely taken from the plot of The Wolf Man, but that’s any werewolf movie, isn’t it?
It’s about two Americans backpacking in England who stop at a pub called the “Slaughtered Lamb.” They’re warned to stay off the moors by the pubgoers, who are all clearly scared of something. Naturally, they go onto the moors, get attacked by a werewolf, one of them dies and the other ends up in the hospital, told they were attacked by an escaped mental patient. But pretty soon, the guy starts seeing hallucinations of his dead best friend, who tells him he’s now a werewolf, which he doesn’t believe. And then… well, you can guess what happens.
The beautiful thing about this movie is the structure. It… well, I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it. But it does a good job of keeping you distracted from the inevitable. And also the transformation scene is just incredible. Naturally, Rick Baker did all the effects. The beauty of that scene is that it plays it for how a scene like that would go. Which makes it difficult to watch and unforgettable at the same time.
John Landis, by the way, made this movie coming off Animal House and Blues Brothers. And then after this, he’d make Trading Places and the “Thriller” music video. Hell of a run.
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Chariots of Fire — Your Best Picture winner for this year. I’ve had the off-the-cuff reaction of dislike for this movie, owing to what I feel is a weak Best Picture win. But when you simply watch the movie, on its own terms, it’s great. It’s a really good movie. I’m not gonna overdo it and say it’s one of my absolute favorite films of the year, but it’s a really good movie. It’s about two runners: one Christian, one Jewish, and their path from college to the Olympics. Famous for the iconic Vangelis score most of all, which is so good it transcends the film. People straight up know this score on its own and immediately can understand the context in which it is normally used:
For Your Eyes Only — Bond. Definitely one of the weakest. This is one of those movies… you just don’t really remember much from it. Like, “I think there’s… snow?” This one has that awkward opening where Bond “kills” Blofeld by dropping him down a smokestack, for whatever reason. And then there’s a submarine with a missile control system on board, so everyone’s looking for it. And then it ends in that Greek castle up on the mountain. It’s fine. I only really remember bits and pieces of it. I always liked the scene near the end where Bond goes into the confessional and says, “Forgive me father, for I have sinned,” and the priest is Q, who goes, “That’s putting it mildly.” Which is dope. Though as I’m about to say with the next film as well, I’ll take a mediocre Bone movie over a lot of other things.
The Fox and the Hound — We’re in the Disney Dark Ages. That’s not to say they didn’t put out good stuff, but we’re clearly in that downward curve before the Renaissance. You can’t have a renaissance without the opposite of that beforehand. This is a lovely little movie. About a fox and a dog who become friends… until something happens and the dog becomes a hunting dog, trained to hunt foxes. It’s good. Some people love this movie. I just like it. It’s fine. I like a lot more Disney stuff above it. But still, give me a Disney movie like this over most other movies from this year.
Gallipoli — This is one of the great war films. Peter Weir directs and Mel Gibson stars. It’s about him and his friend, two runners, who end up in the battle of Gallipoli in World War I. Which, if you don’t know your history… doesn’t end well for pretty much anyone involved. It’s a great film.
History of the World: Part I — Mel Brooks. This is him parodying history. It begins with cavemen, then does the Bible, then goes to Ancient Rome, then the Spanish Inquisition and finally the French Revolution. Like most of his other stuff, it never reaches the heights of Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, but it’s really funny. And the cast is stacked. Orson Welles narrates, Brooks stars in most of the segments, then there’s Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Gregory Hines, Cloris Leachman, Spike Milligan, Sid Caesar, Sheckey Greene, Bea Arthur, John Hurt and cameos by Hugh Hefner, Paul Mazursky, Barry Levinson and Nigel Hawthorne. Like all Brooks movies, it’s very funny and worth seeing. But what am I saying, you probably already have.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior — My one regret about this movie is that people are only going back and seeing this because all they know is Fury Road and they didn’t realize there were previous ones. Because for years, this was the one. The Gyro Captain, the Feral Kid, the Humungus — this movie is so awesome. You’ll notice a lot of parallels to Fury Road. But this is its own film. And it still holds up. It’s really good.
Pennies from Heaven — One of the most underrated films of the 80s. When people go back over Steve Martin’s film career, they always go to the comedies but never stuff like this. This is based on a 70s miniseries from the BBC, starring Bob Hoskins. It’s a straight up musical. Martin plays a traveling salesman who tries to escape his dead-end life. He meets a schoolteacher and starts an affair with her, which provides him a bit of happiness. It’s… so good. Bernadette Peters plays the teacher, Jessica Harper plays the wife, and Christopher Walken has a great cameo as a pimp. The Walken singing and dancing sequence is awesome. I know most people have a weird aversion to musicals, but trust me when I say this is one of the most underrated movies of this era. It is fantastic. Legitimately my #11 for this year.
Prince of the City — Very underrated Sidney Lumet movie. Be prepared, it’s just shy of three hours long, but it’s worth it. It stars Treat Williams as part of an NYPD undercover division who is given pretty much free reign to do what it wants. But that also means they’re all corrupt as shit. But when he gets pinched by internal affairs, he agrees to help them in their investigation. But pretty soon he’s in a place where absolutely no one can be trusted. It’s really good. It’s not as iconic as Serpico, but it’s in that vein. Don’t sleep on this one. It’s terrific.
Ragtime — Based on the famous E.L. Doctorow novel and directed by Milos Forman. It’s an epic historical drama. It can be daunting if you don’t know what you’re in for, but it’s quite interesting. It’s sort of a history of turn of the century New York in the early 20th century. It stars a white family and branches off from there into a lot of different stories, like Evelyn Nesbit (famous for being the subject of a famous murder where her husband killed a man who made a statue of her). The main story is about a black man who tries to live in society but gets pushed to the edge by racial tensions. Famously James Cagney’s final role, and it also stars Brad Dourif, Mary Steenburgen, Elizabeth McGovern (nominated for playing Nesbit), Pat O’Brien, Donald O’Connor, Mandy Patinkin and Howard E. Rollins (also nominated).
Thief — Great crime thriller directed by Michael Mann. His first film. It’s a classic noir. James Caan a thief who is very good at what he does and has everything in his life perfectly structured. But of course then one thing doesn’t go according to plan, and then things start to spiral out of control, putting him in a very dangerous situation with the mob. It’s a noir, you know how these go. It looks great, and Caan is fantastic in it. Love this movie. Mann doing crime is Mann at his best.
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- Absence of Malice
- Body Heat
- Buddy Buddy
- The Cannonball Run
- Fort Apache, the Bronx
- The French Lieutenant’s Woman
- The Great Muppet Caper
- Halloween II
- Heavy Metal
- Modern Romance
- Mommie Dearest
- Only When I Laugh
- They All Laughed
- Time Bandits
- True Confessions
- Whose Life Is It Anyway?
S.O.B. is a great movie, and one that just sounds like something you want to see. Directed and written by Blake Edwards, it’s about his own personal experiences going through some major flops (I believe Darling Lili is the main one). It’s a satire on Hollywood. It’s about a director who just made a huge flop. Unaccustomed to his movies failing, he loses his shit and tries to kill himself. He hangs around his house with a bunch of leeches and yes men, and finally comes to the answer: he can save his film and his career by adding nudity. The film stars Julie Andrews (both the actual film and the fictional one he’s shooting), as America’s squeaky clean sweetheart. He believes that it’ll be a hit if he convinces her to do her first nude scene, and refashions the movie — which was once a happy-go-lucky musical — into a softcore porn fest. It’s… pretty great. And pretty vicious toward Hollywood. Andrews starring as, essentially herself, directed by her actual husband, is pretty great. William Holden, Larry Hagman, Robert Loggia, Richard Mulligan, Robert Preston, Robert Vaughn and Shelley Winters are also in it. It’s really good. Highly recommended, and near requisite viewing for all film buffs. Modern Romance is an Albert Brooks film. He’s a neurotic editor who can’t decide if he wants to continue his relationship with his girlfriend. It’s basically about him being neurotic. Not my favorite of his movies, but fun. Way closer to Woody Allen than his other stuff.
Whose Life Is It Anyway is another Richard Dreyfuss hidden gem. He plays a guy who gets into a car accident that leaves him a paraplegic. He decides he wants to die. He tells his girlfriend to leave him and start a life with a guy who can give her a life and a family, and not be a burden to her, and he fights with the hospital staff who refuses to let him give up. He petitions for the right to choose his own end. It’s good. John Cassavetes plays the head doctor who refuses his request because he does not believe in what he believes to be suicide, and Christine Lahti plays a kind doctor who becomes friendly with Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss has a string of really good, forgotten gems throughout this period, and they’re all worth seeing. Don’t sleep on them. Body Heat is a neo noir. And one of the sexiest movies ever made. William Hurt is a seedy Florida lawyer who starts an afair with Kathleen Turner, wife of a wealthy businessman. She persuades him to murder her husband so she can inherit his money. As a noir, you know where these things go. This is Lawrence Kasdan’s directorial debut, and it’s really good. Great early work by Mickey Rourke here too.
Halloween II takes place right after the first one ends. While the first one never really explains why Myers has come to town and targeted these specific babysitters, this one builds that out more. It starts with him missing and the police checking out all the chaos, while Dr. Loomis keeps looking for him around town. Laurie is taken to the hospital, where Myers shows up at and begins murdering all the people inside. So it’s basically just him stalking the halls of a hospital, looking for Laurie, who is revealed to be Myers’ other sister. It still works. Definitely puts forward the notion of Myers as an unkillable being, but it still works. Buddy Buddy is Billy Wilder’s final film. Walter Matthau is a hitman who has to get rid of a mob witness. But before he can, he encounters Lemmon, a suicidal man staying in the hotel room next to his. Comedy ensues. It’s decent. Nowhere near the heights Wilder reached in his younger days, but still a solid film. Also, Lemmon and Matthau… always worth it. Dragonslayer is a fantasy film in the vein of stuff like The Dark Crystal and Legend. It’s about a young wizard sent to kill a dragon. If you like stuff like the aforementioned films or The NeverEnding Story, this is for you. Very much like that.
The Cannonball Run is a Hal Needham/Burt Reynolds car movie. It’s all about the car stunts. A bunch of drivers gather for a cross-country race, from Connecticut to California. The teams are: Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., Tara Buckman and Adrienne Barbeau, Jackie Chan and Michael Hui, Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis, Jamie Farr, and Roger Moore, basically playing himself. It’s based on a real race, and it’s just a fun time. Absence of Malice is an interesting drama. Sydney Pollack directs, Paul Newman and Sally Field star. He’s a regular guy whose the son of a criminal. He wakes up to find a story in the paper that says he’s a suspect in the presumed murder of a union official. The article was written by Sally Field, who got the information from a cop’s desk (which it turns out, was a plant designed to squeeze Newman for information. They know he had nothing to do with it). However, the story ends up basically ruining Newman’s life, as now no one wants to do business with him anymore, and it causes all sorts of other problems. So now, he and Field team up to clear his name and get some revenge on the people who fucked up his life. It’s solid. Excalibur is is John Boorman’s epic King Arthur/Knights of the Round Table story. Nigel Terry is King Arthur, Helen Mirren is Morgana Le Fay, Patrick Stewart is in it, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Ciaran Hinds. It’s very epic… and very 80s.
Time Bandits is a Terry Gilliam film. And it feels like a Terry Gilliam film. It’s about a young boy that joins a band of time traveling dwarves, who go around different time periods to steal treasure. Very much in that era of 80s creatures, like those other movies I mentioned (NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth, etc), but a lot of fun. Definitely one that you should see. Fort Apache, the Bronx is a fun cop movie with Paul Newman. It’s so named because the precinct is in such a criminal neighborhood that it feels like they’re surrounded on all sides like heroes in the western movies. It’s a unique movie, and one I like because it goes in a direction that I just wouldn’t expect a movie like this to go down. I also like that it functions as a day-to-day record of these cops in this precinct. It just sets you in a place and lets things develop. There’s no big overarching story, there’s no reveal of corruption and the promise of things changing… it’s just more of the same. And I like that. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a movie about two affairs, one in Victorian England, between a paleontologist and a social outcast… and the one between the actors playing them in the movie they’re shooting. Both couples are played by Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. Meryl was nominated for an Oscar for this, and a lot of people think she should have won. It’s a solid romance.
Only When I Laugh is a Neil Simon film. It stars Marsha Mason as an actress who gets out of rehab for alcohol addiction who tries to rebuild her life. Her two friends are James Coco, a gay actor, and Joan Hackett, a socialite obsessed with her appearance. She then takes in her daughter and rebuilds her relationship with her. All starts going well until a series of things causes her to potentially fall off the wagon. I… I like this movie quite a bit. I feel like it isn’t remembered well, but I enjoyed it. I always enjoy Neil Simon films. Mason, Coco and Hackett were all nominated for Oscars for it, and while it’s utterly forgotten, I think it’s a nice little gem. True Confessions is a movie with Robert De Niro as a priest and Robert Duvall as his brother, a policeman. That’s really the reason to see this. Duvall is investigating the murder of a prostitute, and it brings the brothers into conflict. Worth it for the leads. Also co-written by Joan Didion. The Great Muppet Caper is more muppets. Kermit, Fonzie and Gonzo are reporters investigating a bunch of jewel heists, and are thrust into a globe-trotting adventure. Has cameos from John Cleese, Jack Warden, Peter Falk, Robert Morley and Peter Ustinov. You can never go wrong with the Muppets.
Taps is a drama about a military academy. When the school becomes a target for demolition and the head dies suddenly, the students take it upon themselves to do something about it… they start a standoff with local police, barricading themselves in the school with weapons. Stars Timothy Hutton, Tom Cruise and Sean Penn, with a cameo by George C. Scott… it’s solid. It’s worth it to see the young leads before they made it big. They All Laughed is a Peter Bogdanovich film that is notable to most, I suspect, because it stars Audrey Hepburn. She semi-retired from filmmaking in 1967, only appearing in four films since then… Robin and Marian, Bloodline, this and Always. This was also interesting to me because it feels like the entire film was shot outdoors. It’s meant to be a screwball comedy. Ben Gazzara is a P.I. assigned to follow Audrey Hepburn. Meanwhile, he’s trying to cheat on his wife with a cab driver. Meanwhile, John Ritter is another detective who falls in love with the married woman he was hired to spy on. Comedy ensues. It’s interesting. Very 80s. Hepburn feels almost out of place in this era, but it’s worth seeing. Bogdanovich usually makes worthwhile movies.
Mommie Dearest is one of the most notorious films of all time. If you look at the list of top camp classics that are famous as “good bad” films, this is in the top five, along with stuff like Caligula, and Showgirls. It’s in that category. Faye Dunaway (whose career was never the same after this) stars as Joan Crawford, and the film is based on her daughter’s autobiography of what it was like living with her. Crawford is portrayed as a narcissistic, domineering woman. I mean, who doesn’t know the “wire hanger” scene, even without having seen the movie? It’s one of the great “go for it” performances of all time. Didn’t quite work out, but now people go back to it for different reasons. Also, Frank Perry directed this. Which is a shame, that this is what most people know him for, if they know him at all. Because his 60s films are so good. Heavy Metal is a weird fucking movie. But I like the weird ones. They stand out more than the generic studio stuff that was put out. This is one of the most unique-looking animated movies of all time. It’s ten short films, all weirdly connected in ways that I just don’t understand. They’re all very graphic and violent. Lotta nudity and adult themes. Definitely meant to be watched while on drugs. It’s worth seeing. It’s… a trip.
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