For my money, 1984 was just a good a year as 1982 was for movies. As per usual, this list focuses more on genre stuff and in no way constitutes a definitive best-of list! (And apologies for my lack of articles in 2013 – school has taken up most of my time.)
1984 – The second adaptation of George Orwell’s seminal novel, Michael Radford’s 1984 casts John Hurt as Winston Smith, a clerk in the Ministry of Truth who rewrites historical documents for the state. He falls in love with Julia and suffers the consequences of his “thoughtcrime.” Richard Burton appears (in his last role) as the villainous O’Brien and many of the phrases (originally from the novel) are part of the lexicon, including “doublethink” and “Big Brother.” Depressing but always relevant. “I love you.”
2010: The Year We Make Contact – Writer/director Peter Hyams received Stanley Kubrick’s blessing to adapt Arthur C. Clarke’s sequel novel. The eclectic cast includes Roy Scheider as Dr. Heywood Floyd, John Lithgow as Discovery engineer Kurnow, Bob Balaban as HAL creator Dr. Chandra, and Helen Mirren as Russian cosmonaut Kirbuk. The political subplot dates the movie but it’s still entertaining. No space battles or fight scenes – just science and wonder. The effects mostly hold up, though the screenwriting is clunky at times, with less than stellar exposition (way too much voice-over). “My God, it’s full of stars!”
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension – This cult classic seems to get more popular with each passing year. Peter Weller is the titular hero, neurosurgeon/test pilot/rock star Buckaroo Banzai. John Lithgow is Lord John Whorfin, leader of the Red Lectroids who wish to take over Planet 10 after being banished by the Black Lectroids. (The Red ones are all named John; the Black ones are all Rastafarian.) Everyone is after the “oscillation overthruster” which allows humans to pass through solid matter. [sigh] Don’t ask. This film can’t be described in a short paragraph. Banzai’s compatriots include Clancy Brown as Rawhide and Jeff Goldblum as New Jersey. And the end credits are awesome. “Why is that watermelon there?”
Gremlins – One of the films that led to the creation of the PG-13 rating, Joe Dante’s horror comedy from first-time screenwriter (and future director) Chris Columbus still holds up after all these years. Inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) buys his son Billy (Zach Galligan) a fury creature known as a Mogwai. But all hell breaks loose after they fail to follow the main rule: don’t get it wet! A tour de force of creature effects, cartoonish gags, larger than life characters, and a cast of character actors (including Dante regular Dick Miller), all presented by Steven Spielberg’s then-new production outfit Amblin Entertainment. Also remembered for Jerry Goldsmith’s famous theme. “Get out of my kitchen!”
Beverly Hills Cop – A massive hit that wouldn’t be nearly as funny without Eddie Murphy, enigmatic director Martin Brest’s action-comedy features Murphy as Detroit cop Axel Foley who heads to Beverly Hills to solve the murder of a friend. An early hit for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, this film spawned two sequels and even a recent TV pilot which surprisingly was not picked up. Highlights include John Ashton and Judge Reinhold as Beverly Hills, uh, cops, along with Bronson Pinchot as Serge, and the always-entertaining Steven Berkoff as (who else?) the villain. And even people who’ve never seen the film know Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” theme. “Don’t f--- with me, Axel!”
here.) Bill Murray, co-writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson (all playing their A-games) are the Ghostbusters, paranormal exterminators who have to save the day when a malevolent spirit attempts to bring about the end of the world. Excellent production values, a memorable theme song, infinitely-quotable dialogue, and sincere performances. “What about the Twinkie?”
Red Dawn – Co-written and directed by the colorful John Milius, this cult classic shows what happens when the Soviets decide to invade Small Town, U.S.A. They meet armed resistance: a group of high school students who resort to guerilla warfare, and who call themselves the “Wolverines” after their school mascot. This is another movie I saw pretty late in the game and I liked it, corny moments and all. Plenty of familiar faces in this one, including Charlie Sheen, Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, Harry Dean Stanton, and Powers Booth. The right loved it, the left hated it… but some on the far-left loved it, too. “Avenge me!!”
The Karate Kid – I saw this movie years after the fact but it still worked. New student Daniel Russo (Ralph Macchio) is bullied by Johnny, a student at the Cobra Kai dojo. (I’m grinning just writing this.) Danny asks the kindly handyman at his mom’s apartment to train him. And thus audiences were introduced to Mr. Miyagi, played by the late Pat Morita, who was nominated for an Oscar! Elizabeth Shue plays Ali, the object of both Daniel and Johnny’s affections and Johnny is played by William Zabka, who played the bully in almost every other 80s movie. Director John G. Avildsen achieved immortality with Rocky but he’ll certainly be remembered for this one as well. The film spawned three sequels and an inevitable remake. “Sweep the leg.”
Runaway – Yeah, right now you're probably thinking, "This stupid movie?" Honestly, I'm only including it so I can link to this montage. (Watch till the end!) As I write this, it’s been five years since the untimely passing of Michael Crichton, who wrote and directed this tale of robots run amuck. Crichton was a great novelist but his original movies (namely this and 1981's Looker) were quite silly, but fun in a B-movie kind of way. Tom Selleck is Sgt. Jack Ramsay who specializes in robotic crimes, and is baffled when he and his new partner (Cynthia Rhodes) find themselves dealing with the first homicide-by-robot. Gene Simmons (!) plays the villain… and. He’s. Just. Nuts. “Ramsay!!”
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – This was the last of the Kirk/Spock movies I saw when I first got into Trek 20 years ago. (I was at the mercy of Blockbuster’s selection.) It’s not as good as the movies surrounding it but not as bad as some people think. Leonard Nimoy does a competent job in his big-screen directing debut, though writer/producer Harve Bennett’s script takes a major shortcut in explaining the demise of the Genesis Planet. Proto-matter? Really? Christopher Lloyd is the villainous Klingon Kruge, though he mostly comes across as just another crazy Christopher Lloyd character. But the vintage 80s effects by ILM are great, James Horner’s score is larger than life, and all the actors get a moment to shine. “That green-blooded son of a bitch!”
Swedish bookstore which was shot in reverse(!) and an underwater saloon fight. “How do we know he’s not Mel Tormé?”
The Terminator – Let’s pretend Piranha II doesn’t exist so we can label this James Cameron’s first movie. The Canadian truck driver-turned filmmaker reportedly had a nightmare about a killer robotic torso dragging itself from flames and the rest is (future) history. Starring as the titular Terminator is former Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger, who quickly became the biggest star on the planet. This movie still works and the script by Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd is perfectly structured. There’s still a low-budget film school charm to this movie. Also an early hit for the late creature effects guru Stan Winston. Now if only we can get Cameron to leave Pandora. “I’ll be back.”
Also: Body Double, The Bounty, both Breakin' movies!, Broadway Danny Rose, Children of the Corn, Conan the Destroyer, Dune, Footloose, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Last Starfighter, The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Natural, Night of the Comet, Police Academy, Purple Rain, Romancing the Stone, Splash, Starman, and Supergirl.
Will 2014 prove to be as memorable?