Sunday, February 4, 2018

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Highly Recommended: 1982, Part One

Welcome to the 80s! Starting today, I'll post ten daily capsule reviews of the movies I saw for my journey through 1982: the Oscar nominees, the box office behemoths, the cult legends, and many more.

Naturally, all these retrospectives are my catching up with cinema that I've missed in my 20-odd years on the planet. What makes this first batch of movies special is that I can remember exactly when the titles became must-see selections, even if, in some cases, it took me decades to follow through.

To put it another way: besides the Oscar parallels, these are the reason I chose 1982.

Night Shift
dir: Ron Howard
scr: Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel
Recommended by: My dad's best friend and next-door neighbor Steve, who had a VHS copy

Meek morgue attendant is talked into running a brothel out of his workplace. Henry Winkler a winning leading man; he and kooky Michael Keaton get through shaky plotting, miscast Shelley Long, yo-yo progressiveness on gender, sex, and prostitution. Laughs frequent and loud.

The rest after the jump...

Basket Case
dir/scr: Frank Henenlotter
Recommended by: The book Cult Flicks and Trash Pics, a formative collection of movie reviews

Siamese twins - one seemingly normal, one horrifyingly deformed - seek vengeance on the doctors that separated them. Low-budget makeup and effects make for effective grotesquery, all the more disturbing thanks to alarming sound design. A time capsule of NYC's bygone sleaze.

Cat People
dir: Paul Schrader
scr: Alan Ormsby, based on the 1942 screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen
Recommended by: The book The Encyclopedia of Monsters, read in my elementary school's library

Sex awakens panther curse in sexy family. Moody Moroder music, dreamy visuals: a dangerous beauty worth soaking in. Feels truncated, though: rushed climax, disappearing Ruby Dee, central romance less vivid than horror-fantasy elements.

Eating Raoul
dir: Paul Bartel
scr: Bartel & Richard Blackburn
Recommended by: Of all people, my fourth-grade art teacher Ms. Avis

Hollywood squares start offing swingers for money to open their dream restaurant. Pure Hollywood in its wonderfully weird characters and camp tone...and, of course, the setting. Best as a showcase for Mary Woronov, delivering a full character within a uniquely stylized performance.

Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
dir: Robert Altman
scr: Ed Graczyk, based on his play
Recommended by: High school drama teacher Ms. Holland, who also loaned me a copy of the play

A James Dean fan club reunites 20 years after his death. Tragic trans trope and confessional crying climax somewhat hobble the narrative, but that's window dressing for the performances anyway - and honey, these are capital-p Performances! Sandy Dennis! Sandy Dennis's hair!

One from the Heart
dir: Francis Ford Coppola
scr: Armyan Bernstein & Coppola, story by Bernstein
Oscar Nominee: Best Original Song Score/Adapted Score
Recommended by: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls argues this as a folly, which I accept as a recommendation

Couple breaks up on eve of anniversary, pursues other options. The sets and cinematography are as impressive as intended but it still feels more like a promotional reel for the Zoetrope Studios soundstage than an actual movie. Great Tom Waits songs.

Personal Best
dir/scr: Robert Towne
Recommended by: The sports movies-themed poster wall at the movie theater I worked at

Female athlete juggles love and training for the pentathlon. First-time actor Patrice Donnelly steals the film from leading lady Mariel Hemingway with strength, sensitivity, and sheer presence. Progressive sexuality, embracing queerness and homosexuality without judgment.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High
dir: Amy Heckerling
scr: Cameron Crowe
Recommended by: Several co-workers at my last job, one of whom actually bought me the copy I watched (thank you, Jay!)

Various students go through a year at Ridgemont High. Unexpected warmth and affection for its characters, a genuine reflection of teenage conversations, high school nerves, and even the tense but affectionate relationship between students and teachers. A joy!

dir: Graeme Clifford
scr: Eric Bergren, Christopher De Vore, Nicholas Kazan
Oscar Nominee: Best Actress (Jessica Lange), Best Supporting Actress (Kim Stanley)
Recommended by: The estimable Nick Davis

Biopic of actress Frances Farmer, from Hollywood to the mental hospital. Jessica Lange raw as outspoken victim of the system. Great social-conscious filmmaking. Electricity somewhat dampened by false-seeming Sam Shepard scenes.

dir: Costa-Gavras
scr: Costa-Gavras and Donald Stewart, based on the book The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice by Thomas Hauser
Oscar Winner: Best Adapted Screenplay
Oscar Nominee: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress (Sissy Spacek)
Recommended by: My ex-girlfriend's dad after we talked about ZNashville, and political filmmaking

An American and his daughter-in-law investigate the disappearance of his son in a Latin American dictatorship. Passionately political, violence presented matter-of-factly, complicit suits portrayed with no remorse. Infuriating for the right reasons, though be warned: leads to anger, feeling of impotence.

Tomorrow: movies I have seen before!

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