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Top Ten of 1985

Honorable Mentions: Fright NightMad Max Beyond Thunderdome, The Return of the Living Dead, Smooth Talk, The Trip to Bountiful, Trouble in Mind, Twice in a Lifetime, Wetherby.



And now, the Top Ten, in alphabetical order.

Cannibal Holocaust
release date: June 14, 1985
dir: Ruggero Deodato
pr: Franco Di Nunzio / Franco Palaggi
scr: Gianfranco Clerici
cin: Sergio D'Offizi

Could there be any excuse for adoring a movie that's this stereotypical in its portrayal of "the green inferno," this unhinged in its on-screen executions of living animals, this graphic in its depiction of mutilations against women? Can't I just admit that I adore the shock value of it, the cheap thrill of seeing something I'm not meant to see? But I do think there's intelligence here! There's something mournful in its look at documentary as having become another form of cheap entertainment; when the young filmmakers at its center are depicted at manipulating events in their past work to ensure the appropriate levels of shock and violence, one detects a side-eye not just at the filmmaking team of Jacopetti & Prosperi, but at a mass culture that made their films big hits...and Oscar nominees! It's a disdain taken all the way up to network brass, "serious" journalists, and, finally, to Deodato himself, admitting his own monstrosity, his own inability to squelch his appetite for the extreme in his quest to make an impact. A damning, humbling parade of horrors.

Clue
release date: December 13, 1985
dir: Jonathan Lynn
pr: Debra Hill
scr: Jonathan Lynn, story by John Landis and Jonathan Lynn
cin: Victor J. Kemper

It's the board game, where six people come together and have to find out who killed Mr. Boddy, where, and with what. A movie I've watched at least once a year since I was four or five, often with my sisters and cousins, sometimes while we play Clue (once we even did a full table setting with Swedish Fish (because Communism's a red herring), as well as some fruit or...dessert), so it's a film that's near and dear to my heart. My appreciation for it has only grown with age, not just for the nostalgia factor, but for the brilliance in its execution, from the way it keeps the central conceit of the board game to the breathless onslaught of one-liners, side-eyes, and raspberries. Best of all, it zeroes in on the red scare paranoia of the 1950s, observing its fallout from multiple angles while also pointing out the US government's own desperation to use it as the aforementioned red herring in order to cover up the misdeeds and immorality of its own capitalist-loving leaders and citizens. Smart and funny!

Enemy Mine
release date: December 20, 1985
dir: Wolfgang Petersen
pr: Stephen J. Friedman
scr: Edward Khmara
cin: Tony Imi

A human and an alien, their respective species at war with each other, must depend on one another when they both crash on a hostile, unknown world, and wind up forming an eternal bond. I'm sure some people could laugh at the earnestness of its "why can't we all just get along" messaging, but I find myself unable to do so, particularly since it takes so much time to get us to know just the people, but their cultures: this isn't the American History X "hey, I fuck my girlfriend, too!" school of camaraderie, but genuine respect between two beings for their differences, as well as their commonalities. Too, it takes very seriously the idea of gender ambiguity, commits to the amphibious alien race's hermaphroditic biology, and uses it to explore further how we pass on peaceful coexistence to the future. Such a sweet, wonderful love story, and a pleasure, visually!

The Last Dragon
release date: March 22, 1985
dir: Michael Schultz
pr: Rupert Hitzig
scr: Louis Venosta
cin: James A. Contner

A Harlem teen is on a quest to become the Last Dragon, while a popular VJ is harassed by a local gangster who wants his girlfriend to be a pop star. Let's start with the soundtrack: executive produced by Berry Grody through Motown's film arm, The Last Dragon features bop after bop from artists like Vanity, DeBarge, and Tony Award winner Faith Prince, most of them set against a hypnotic collage of neon and smoke. The performances are gamely over-the-top as they take on a story combining martial arts, music, and magic, the sense of fun never feeling superior to the story. But, man, the setting: the grindhouse theaters of 42nd Street are embraced for their chaotic milieu but also re-contextualized as urban community centers, a seamless melting pot of cultures and sexualities, a safe haven and dream factory with teens of each demographic exchanging (and, yes, appropriating) each other's looks, slang, perceived traditions, and more. It's a celebration of the fringes of 1980s NYC - and a damn good time!

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
release date: September 20, 1985
dir: Paul Schrader
pr: Tom Luddy / Mataichirô Yamamoto
scr: Paul Schrader & Leonard Schrader and Chieko Schrader
cin: John Bailey

The life and obsessions of Yukio Mishima as reflected in selected writings, culminating in the day he tried to stage a coup to reinstate the emperor of Japan and ended up committing seppuku instead. Many an artist biopic gives us the events of their lives, but doesn't quite tie in how their life influenced their work and vice versa, focusing more on gossip or celebrity or tragedy - events. Mishima carefully selects certain excerpts from specific works to not just delve deeper into his psyche, but also show a kind of inevitability in how he ended his life: all three stories end in (self-) destruction, each time nobly felt by its perpetrators. Perfectly brought home by Philip Glass's greatest score, which gets at the, by turns, threatening, sexy aura Mishima evokes in both his works and his life.
 
Out of Africa
release date: December 18, 1985
dir/pr: Sydney Pollack
scr: Kurt Luedtke
cin: David Watkin

An account of author Isak Dinesen's time in Africa. I love this movie (obviously). I love how it portrays someone thrust into a situation they are not prepared for, at first making the best of it, and eventually growing and evolving to become her best self in it. I love its understatedness, how quiet and casual everyone's interactions are, Karen the only one who comes close to blowing up, a reflection of both "civilized" society and of how people tend to be - guarded, uncertain, not close enough to be nakedly vulnerable. I love when Denys marvels at the baboon's reaction to a record player ("And suddenly - Mozart!"). I love when they fly over the country and get a "glimpse of the world through God's eye...the way it was intended." And that idea of a love that feels right, that makes you complete though you can't express completely how.

A Private Function
release date: March 1, 1985
dir: Malcolm Mowbray
pr: Mark Shivas
scr: Alan Bennett, story by Alan Bennett & Malcolm Mowbray
cin: Tony Pierce-Roberts

Food rationing continues in post-war England, and a pig becomes the key to upward mobility for a village's chiropodist and his ambitious wife. Acid observations on the class system, obsessively maintained even in a village whose biggest social event is a dinner celebrating Princess Elizabeth's nuptials. Gets into the specifics of meat rationing, the attempts by butchers to hide the extra meat, the betrayal by friends and competitors who want to keep the law off their excess, the doggedness of a lower-rung government worker just trying to do honest work, the machinations of people for whom the procuring of meat has become a status symbol, and God forbid they lose that. People always want to skirt "the rules" while insisting that others be kept in their place; after all, rules are meant for the people who can't behave, not decent folks who have to break the law to avoid being inconvenienced! Sound familiar?

Ran
release date: December 20, 1985
dir: Akira Kurosawa
pr: Masato Hara / Serge Silberman
scr: Akira Kurosawa and Hideo Oguni and Masato Ide
cin: Asakazu Nakai / Takao Saitô / Shôji Ueda

A warlord retires and leaves his castles to his sons, whose own greed and lust for power results in the destruction of them all. I'm going to have to watch both Henry Vs to make sure, but gosh, there is nothing I've seen in cinema that matches the idea of Shakespearian like this film - not just the scale of the sets and armies and destruction, mind you, but the deep well of feeling, the unmistakable sense of tragedy so intense you feel gutted an hour in, slowly feeling your insides slip out onto the floor with each subsequent moment. Overwhelming, yes, but also majestic. Two years ago, a young co-worker told me that movies are objectively better now because of what technology allows us to do, and the first thing I thought of was Ran: the horses, the extras, the costumes, the castles, the sets, the flames, are tangible, all in-camera, all brought together with artistry unmatched by anything that's come after. Isn't this why we go to the movies?

The Shooting Party
release date: September 1985
dir: Alan Bridges
pr: Geoffrey Reeve
scr: Julian Bond
cin: Fred Tammes

Another look at the British class system, this one an ensemble film set before the Great War, with the killing of animals a gentleman's sport worthy of a weekend gathering between nobles. The little jealousies, petty competitiveness, star-crossed romances, and concern for the longevity of the Empire come to a head in a shocking climax that forces everyone to reconcile their ideas of the game of violence with the reality of its consequences, while an epilogue conveyed through supertitles tells of how the war made men of every class and breeding equal in their early graves. Grim stuff to leave on, perhaps, but it's a meditative sadness earned by the film's genuine display of affection towards its cast and climate throughout the film's runtime. Quiet, superb work.

Witness
release date: February 8, 1985
dir: Peter Weir
pr: Edward S. Feldman
scr: Earl W. Wallace & William Kelley, story by William Kelley and Pamela Wallace & Earl W. Wallace
cin: John Seale

New York cop John Book must protect an Amish child who witnessed a murder, especially when Book also becomes a target for the corrupt cops behind the killing. But the Amish community he hides in becomes equally concerned with protecting the child from Book's own violence: the gun that he keeps on standby, the fisticuffs he engages in to protect his pride, the passions he evokes in the child's widowed mother. Yet what need have they of alarm, when Book is just as tender-hearted as they need him to be? He's careful in the way he communicates what he does to the kid, cautious in his interactions with the mother, genuinely concerned with being out of place (and out of his depth). Such a complex character piece within a tight, exciting thriller, we rarely have the pleasure of seeing.



These were the eighty films screened:

After Hours
Agnes of God
Back to the Future
Better Off Dead
The Black Cauldron
Blood Simple
Brazil
The Breakfast Club
Cannibal Holocaust
A Chorus Line
Clue
Cocoon
Colonel Redl
The Color Purple
The Company of Wolves
Day of the Dead
Desperately Seeking Susan
Dreamchild
The Emerald Forest
Enemy Mine
Fletch
Fool For Love
Fright Night
Girls Just Want to Have Fun
The Goonies
Jagged Edge
The Journey of Natty Gann
King David
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Krush Groove
Ladyhawke
The Last Dragon
Lifeforce
Lost in America
Lust in the Dust
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Mask
Maxie
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
Murphy's Romance
The Official Story
Once Bitten
Ordeal by Innocence
Out of Africa
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure
Perfect
Plenty
A Private Function
Prizzi's Honor
The Purple Rose of Cairo
Rambo - First Blood, Part II
Ran
Re-Animator
Red Sonja
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins
The Return of the Living Dead
Return to Oz
Rocky IV
Runaway Train
St. Elmo's Fire
Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird
The Shooting Party
Silverado
Smooth Talk
Starchaser: The Legend of Orin
The Stuff
Summer Rental
Sweet Dreams
To Live and Die in L.A.
Transylvania 6-5000
The Trip to Bountiful
Trouble in Mind
Twice in a Lifetime
A View to a Kill
Wetherby
When Father was Away on Business
White Nights
Witness
Year of the Dragon
Young Sherlock Holmes


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