Friday, March 13, 2009

The 80s: An Age Without Artistic Merit

Kevin and I watched one mans highlight reel of favorite films from the 80s. We were unimpressed. 

Why is it that 80s cinema conjures up nothing but negativity? I say it's because many of the films manufactured were soulless. They came quickly after a decade full of something worth talking about. The 70s were full of dark, brooding, socially aware, and revolutionary minded filmmakers, testing their ideas out on a ready, willing, but shy audience. The 70s were a time for viewers to be awestruck by art, and for artists to be taken aback by their own achievements. It was inspiring. 

And the 80s? Well, that's when society let its guard down. It was fat off of the accomplishments the previous decade had left behind. The 80s got lazy. Maybe it felt it wasn't worth competing with such staggering beauty. The 80s were probably too self-conscious. Instead of trying to be worth something, they fell into an envy spiral. 

I'm looking at this from a very American standpoint. I'm not factoring in a lot of other countries right now. I should be able to, because no other country helped ours along during this bleak time. Was it the Cold War's fuse fizzling out what did it? I don't know. I really don't know. What I do know is there were a few glimmering, shimmering, zimmering beacons of hope that jutted out of the putrid mess the 80s was. And I'll point them out, in no particular order, but with a limit of 10.

The Princess Bride (1987)

A Rob Reiner production. Pure Hollywood. Romance. Fantasy. Exactly what a family can gather around and enjoy over and over again. Somehow it remains one of my favorite films. I'd think in hindsight I'd consider it childish, or something, because I grew up on it, and should relate it to family togetherness. Prime for revolting against. But I can't. "As you wish" is as adorable as ever. The ROUSes are terrifying, even when they have to scramble to keep their heads on. I respect that I can't go up against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line. I think this film manages to touch upon everything right in humanity, in a sweet, fantastical romantic comedy. I'll cherish it always, I bet. 

After Hours (1985)

Have you ever watched a film that completely sucked you in? I'm not talking about the general 'sucked in' feeling that you get when engrossed. I'm talking about the point where the smallest problem a character faces feels like life or death to you. A movie where you're actually physically sad when the story is over. Where everything, from music, to camera movement, to lines of dialogue, to scrawlings on a bathroom wall, to minute actions, impress the hell out of you when thrown together. That's how sucked into After Hours I felt. One of my favorite films. Ever. To not see this in one's lifetime is offensive to life itself. Directed by Martin Scorsese, too, so you know it has at least one thing going for it. 

Down By Law (1986)

The colors in the 80s were atrocious. I don't know who decided a mixture of pastel colors, with really drab versions of once-vibrant colors, plus a dash of beige, was the hottest look for the time, but they were wrong, and needed to be questioned, then reprimanded. Jim Jarmusch is a hip guy. I think he just about oozes hip. Hipsters: take note of how hip this guy is. He's shot most of his films in black-and-white. Know why? Because it looks incredible. And his cast? The cutting edge of musical, and comedic talent. I may have watched this before I was supposed to, but I appreciated it beyond where I should have. 

Amadeus (1984)

Awesome. I will defend this to my very death. Ranking amongst my favorites ever. I think it is safely living in my mind's top ten films. The best voice-over, the best anti-hero, the best hero, amazing orchestral pieces backing the entire film, and being the main drive for the story. It's just so good! Ignore that. That outburst was uncalled for. But... I like this movie. Like, more than a friend. Tom Hulce is just the tops in this, and Milos Forman's direction, carrying his Czechoslovakian New Wave style into an Austrian-based period piece... awesome.

Brazil (1985)

One of the biggest, bleakest films I've ever watched. Terry Gilliam knows exactly what a dystopian society is supposed to feel like. The social commentary in this is enough to urge me to try and renounce my humanity. All hang-ups about obsession with youth, and trust in technology, and interaction with others, Brazil hits all of this, dead on the head, back in 1985, and we're still plagued by these follies. It expresses so many of my problems with the 80s, but also expresses the problems I still have, now, in the 00s. It is the top dystopian film, excluding Children of Men. British influence seems to do wonders for dystopia. Grays, grays, grays.

Raising Arizona (1987)

I could have gone with Blood Simple for the Coen Brothers introduction into the world, but that'd be a betrayal to my better judgement. Lightly dark, and largely hilarious, Raising Arizona outshines Blood Simple with the power of one-thousand suns. It feels more like my later favorite Coen films, mostly relatable to The Big Lebowski and funnier Fargo moments. Nicholas Cage, may his better days rest in peace, blows up a guy. And robs Huggies from a store. And gets punched in the face. Also, screaming John Goodman. Screaming John Goodman makes for fun times. I don't know how the Coens managed to flourish out of such a depressing decade, but I'm as earnest as can be when I thank everything in the world for it happening.

Raging Bull (1980)

What an iconic image. I knew this picture years before I knew what the film was. For all intensive purposes, I think of Raging Bull as belonging to the 70s. I always connect it and Taxi Driver, which is definitely a 70s film. There's something about the way De Niro's character is explored, and the pace of a story built around a sport as violent as boxing being this slow, but never slow... I want to think of it when I think of how great the 70s were. I guess I should thank it for finding its way into the lesser decade, and marking it as one of the best films from said terrible decade... and I will. Grudgingly. Two Scorsese's in the same period shows where my priorities are artistically. 

Platoon (1986)

I've thought about it, and I came to the conclusion that I don't like Oliver Stone. I haven't seen much Oliver Stone, but when I hear something is by Oliver Stone, my Oliver Stone sense kicks in, and it tells me to be wary before touching the Oliver Stone. I've also come to the conclusion that I like films about the Vietnam conflict. So, Oliver Stone + Vietnam = one of my favorite movies of the 80s. See how little I'm working with, here? A director I don't even like gets a movie on this list. It really is a good movie, I'm just giving Stone a little hate. He can deal.

Back To The Future (1985) + Back To The Future II (1989) + Back to the Future III (198090)

Heavy, I know. The Back to the Future trilogy will be the trilogy closest to my heart, for all my living days. Michael J. Fox was the greatest actor to ever star in anything to my elementary-aged mind. Marty McFly and Doc Brown's back-and-forth is the sort of comedic wonderfulness that I wish could be found in todays buddy type comedies. And what deft handling of time travel. Bravo, I say.

Labyrinth (1986)

I was worried it would take a long time to figure out my tenth favorite film from the 80s. Turns out I didn't have to stretch to find it at all. David Bowie as the goblin king wins out every single time. Set him up against anything. Like... Robert De Niro in Raging Bull. Bowie would kill De Niro in the ring if he was allowed to dress up like a king of the goblins. Such great Jim Hensonry, so much campiness, Terry Jones' writing, a very poorly performing Jennifer Connelly: it's almost as if I'm writing out a recipe for how to create one of the greatest films of all time. I say this tongue in cheekishly, but even the tongue can't say this movie isn't enjoyable on every viewing.

Maybe the 80s weren't so bad after all. No. No, they definitely were. It's just a shame these great films came out in such a crud-filled, soulless, materialistic sink-hole of a time. Godspeed, films better than everything else 80s. Godspeed.

 - Eric T. Voigt, Do the Right Thing is an honorable mention, because I haven't had time for it to thoroughly wriggle it's way into my respect cavity. It's well on its way, though. Congrats, Spike Lee.

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