A Selection of Movies from the 80s
So I was thinking yesterday about Jésus de Montréal. I watched it last year around Easter. I hadn’t seen it in years and I loved it when I first saw it and I was wondering how it had aged. Really well actually. Its message still carries. Anyway, I was thinking then about maybe doing a movie list with different films representative of different religions … then I realised I don’t know that many religious films – all I could think of was Jésus de Montréal and Babette’s Feast and they’re both Christian (and on this list). But I wanted to post the list today – for the day that’s in it. But I’d also want to have seen any films that I put on a list so… I was then just browsing through some films and came across Star 80, which is not even remotely religious – it’s about Dorothy Stratten, the Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1980, who was brutally murdered by her husband Paul Snider – but I think it’s a very good movie. And it’s also from the 1980s. So then I thought about making a list of movies from the 1980s that covers a bunch of different genres. So you might not like all of the movies here but hopefully you’ll find some stuff you’ll enjoy.
I started off just intending to do a short list of 10 or so movies but it was so difficult to choose. Because I grew up in the 80s I know loads of films from this decade which I really enjoy – I wouldn’t even be able to list them all. I decided that 50 was more than long enough so there is stuff I’d like to add to this but – no – 50 is the limit.
The Elephant Man
1980, Biographical Drama
I can’t watch most of David Lynch’s stuff. I’m confused enough by the real world. Not saying anything against those movies – just can’t get into them. But his straight stories like this (and like The Straight Story) I love. This stars Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt. It’s based on a true story and is beautifully told. I think John Merrick, the Elephant Man, had the same condition as Roy L.’Rocky’ Dennis in Mask – another good movie from the 80s.
This was my favourite movie as a kid. There were a couple of years where I watched this every Saturday morning. It stars Goldie Hawn. She’s a privileged ditz who joins the army when her husband dies on their wedding night. I love it. In particular, as a kid, I loved the bit where she went from being completely all over the place to getting herself together. And it’s funny.
This film is just gorgeous. It’s so stylish both visually and acoustically – and it has a great storyline. It’s also quite dreamy, trippy but not in any confusing way – just like being in someone else’s dream.
1981, Adventure Fantasy
I also loved this when I was kid. I haven’t seen this in years. I did watch it again about 10 years ago and was surprised that there was a bit more to the story than I remembered. But it’s really just an enjoyable adventure romp.
1981, Biographical Drama
I only saw this for the first time a couple of years ago. So I didn’t see it during the 80s but it really reminded me of the anti-heroin stories and there were quite a lot back of them then. To be honest, I think these were really effective. I think all those scenes, in all the various different tales, where people were shooting up and it looked just so awful and unappealing really helped kill off the heroin epidemic for the next generation. Why aren’t we doing this sort of thing about meth? Half the stuff I’ve seen where meth use has been part of the storyline makes it seem … I don’t know … not exactly unappealing… (I tend to like those shows though – so I’m not saying anything against them – just … I don’t know…) Anyway, this is based on the life of a teenager in Germany who became addicted to heroin. Her story was published weekly in some German newspapers at the time, I think, and it was made into a movie. It’s good. Sad, stomach churning, but good.
I think the real Christiane F. is still alive. This is a fairly recent interview with her. I’d watch the movie first though – if you’re going to.
An American Werewolf in London
1981, Comedy Horror
This is daft and fun. Horrors generally don’t age that well but I think the humour in this keeps it entertaining. My favourite horror is The Shining which is from the 80s but I don’t include it here because it’s already on another list.
1982, Adventure Fantasy
I went looking for this to watch and started watching the documentary about the making of this movie instead by accident. I would strongly recommend doing this – watching the documentary first – as it really adds to the story of a man determined to realise his vision, despite the huge and obvious obstacles, and despite the fact that his vision or its point is not obvious to the crew he’s working with – and it’s very oddly life affirming – I thought so anyway – but in a very strange way.
Le Retour de Martin Guerre
This is set in medieval France and a husband returns home after being away for years. He’s a much changed man and a more loving husband. So much so that people, even members of his own family, start to question whether indeed he is the same man. Of course the questions really begin when he starts to question his rights to the family property. Has the wife just accepted a stranger in their home, into her bed, or are the extended family just looking after their business interests? This is very good and very sweet.
1982, Comedy Romance
Dustin Hoffman plays a difficult-to-work-with actor who ends up dressing up in drag to get a part just to prove a point. Then he turns out to be great in the role and it’s difficult to reveal the truth. This is very funny.
I love the bit where Jessica Lange’s character says how she wishes men would approach her, which is something most women will relate to, and then how she reacts when Dustin Hoffman does approach her that way, which is also exactly how most women would react.
I really wanted to include Kramer vs Kramer – but it was made in 1979. It’s another really good movie. But I have a special reason for loving it. My mother used to have this habit of asking during a film, in an insistent, low but clearly audible whisper, usually at moments of dramatic pause or tension “But where do they go to the toilet?” On a spaceship fleeing a monster “but where do they go to toilet?” Hiding from a knife wielding maniac “but where do they go to toilet?” In a car pondering the meaning of it all and whether your relationship is worth fighting for “but
where when do they go to the toilet?” As a way to break the suspension of disbelief it’s really effective. Not intentionally, in fairness. Also, a great question to answer when you just can’t get into the film. Before mum even got the chance to ask it in Kramer vs Kramer there was a bathroom scene. It made it all so much more real. And I think marked the beginning of the end of that question.
1982, Sci-fi Thriller
Another very stylish movie with a dream like quality to it. In a dystopian future an investigator is sent to track down and terminate some rogue replicants (some human-like robots). I think pretty much everyone knows this movie. If you haven’t seen it, you should you’re in for a real sci-fi treat.
Remember LimeWire? The free file sharing thing? I only discovered it when I got a mac in 2009. I had used peer-to-peer software before but LimeWire seemed much faster than what I used previously but I used to accidentally download things with it. For example I one day had Super Connected by Belly going round in my head so I searched for it on LimeWire and somehow downloaded two albums by Broken Social Scene who I didn’t really know and they were great. The accidental downloading always worked like that for me – I’d end up delighted by whatever I happened to stumble over.
I accidentally downloaded The Verdict. I don’t even know how or what I was looking for. It’s brilliant. It’s also an Oscar winner (or nominated – I don’t know) so maybe lots of people have heard of it. I’d never heard of it. I think it might be Paul Newman’s best film and considering his filmography that’s really saying something. The whole cast are great. He plays a washed-up alcoholic lawyer who takes a case that should be an easy settlement but ends up discovering a serious injustice and gets more involved with it. It sounds cliched – it’s not at all. It’s very good.
1983, General Craziness
I guess this could be described as a fun crime/mystery comedy caper. Michel Serrault plays a detective, “The Eye”, who follows femme fatale Isabelle Adjani as she changes looks and lovers – and usually kills them before she moves on.
You can watch it as a bit of zany 80s fun but actually this film resonates with me. There’s an odd relationship between the watcher and the pursued. He seems more interested in watching what she’s up to rather than stopping her doing anything. And she seems to be aware of him, so is she doing what she does in spite of being watched or because of it? Also, the one person she cares for is the one who cannot watch her. And the scene with the two women in the car at the road stop is what really made me love this one. And the fact that although The Eye watches and follows her he doesn’t really see her at all.
It’s fun, it’s odd and in this world of ours where everything is recorded but rarely afforded any real attention or understanding it seems to … fit, I guess.
1983, Romantic Comedy Drama
Julie Walters plays a married hairdresser who wants more out of life. Her husband wants them to start having kids but she wants to get an education. Michael Caine plays an alcoholic lecturer who’s running into trouble with those running the university and he’s not sure if he can be really bothered about anything anymore. He begins tutoring her and the clash of their different worlds propels her forward on her journey towards a different life and reawakens a sense of purpose in him. It’s kind of like a different take on the Pygmalion story – except by the end you’re not sure who’s really shaped who.
1983, Biographical Drama
So when I saw the thumbnail of this on Saturday I read a couple of reviews on it. Apparently at the time it came out the Washington Post described it as “Bob Fosse’s latest stylish stinker.” I read that and thought “Why? It’s brilliant.” It’s not a pleasant story, definitely not a family-friendly film – but it’s a very good film. I think one of the really great things about it is it’s not really judgmental about the people involved more so about the world they inhabit. Stylish, sad, a little sickening, and great performances.
The Big Chill
1983, Baby Boomers Discussing Life
… with a great soundtrack
Baby Boomers Discussing Life really did seem to be a genre in the 80s/90s. Thirty Something – which I loved – definitely fell into this category. Children of the 60s who grew up with the messages of peace, love, “I have a dream …”, and all that civil rights stuff, coping with the fact that their lives were about “making it”, achieving financial security, mundane middle-class everyday things, rather than the pursuit of … something more meaningful? I loved this sort of stuff. Behind the enjoyable dialogue was a soft sense of guilt and loss – that seemed warranted – and was never really excused or resolved. It kind of annoys me that often today’s TV dramas have the same endless soul searching conversations – but without that same sense of “should our lives be about something more than this?” – I don’t know maybe if I was 40 thirty years ago the 80s dialogue would have struck me the same as the stuff today…
I’m probably making this sound awful. It’s actually really enjoyable. A group of seven former college friends gather for a weekend reunion at a South Carolina winter house after the funeral of one of their friends. (That’s IMDB’s description) It’s funny, sweet and filled with gentle musings on life and growing up – and maybe apart. And it’s filled with lots of great music too.
Milou en mai would be a nice companion to this one. It’s set in a country estate where family have gathered for a funeral while the strikes of May 1968 are taking place. Made in the 90s though, so not an 80s film.
1983, Biographical Drama
This is based on the true story of Karen Silkwood, a worker at a plutonium processing plant who tried to get them to implement better safety standards, and the extreme intimidation that she went through as a result. Very good. Very sad. It’s crazy that it has to take so much courage and persistence to simply say “hey, that’s not right.”
Serpico, made in the 70s, about a whistleblowing cop is another good example of this.
Beverley Hills Cop
A street-wise cop from Detroit following clues to his friend’s murder in his own personal (unauthorised) investigation ends up joining forces with a pair of kinda sheltered cops in Beverly Hills. It’s a fun and funny culture clash.
1984, Sci-Fi Adventure
Sarah Connor. Humanity’s last hope lies within her yet-to-be-conceived child. So a terminator (big, bad, cyborg) is sent back in time to eliminate her. A man is sent back to protect her. Great sci-fi action tale.
Whenever I’m feeling kinda worried I like to watch either zombie movies or movies with a dystopian future/end-of-the-world scenario. They just make me feel better. Don’t know why. I’ve watched this film so many times – love it.
The Killing Fields
1984, History, Biographical Drama
Just one of the many examples in this world, of mad men gaining power and subjecting their own people to horrible and utterly unnecessary suffering. This film is about the Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields in Cambodia in the mid-70s. It’s based on the experiences of Sydney Schanberg a New York Times journalist covering the Cambodian civil war, and his friendship with Dith Pran, a local who was assisting him. Great film.
There are actually quite a few good political/historical movies from the 80s – like Missing – but it kind of seems like they deserve a list of their own.
Mitt liv som hund
1985, Nostalgic Drama, Comedy
My Life as a Dog. This used to be shown a lot on TV. I don’t have a TV now so it still could be for all I know. Even though I’ve seen this a few times I never remember the actual storyline. Just the sense of innocence, nostalgia, the funny way that the boy recounts things unaware of what is really going on but in a way that the audience immediately gets it. It’s both refreshing and very heartwarming.
And feeling sorry for that poor dog in space. ;-)
Room with a View
1985, Period Drama
This is a gorgeous adaptation of the E. M. Forster’s novel. It’s just beautiful. Great cast, great scenery. Read the book though if you haven’t. Just for the character of Mr. Emerson – he’s very reassuring.
A Passage to India is another great E. M. Forster adaptation.
And sure you might as well check out the biopic of Gandhi, another excellent 80’s movie. But I’m not including those here because I’m sticking to the 50 film limit.
1985, Romantic Comedy
A rom-com about two killers-for-hire who fall in love. Certainly adds a different twist to the romance.
I think the 80s was a good decade for rom-coms. Harry Met Sally is an obvious choice (which is why it’s not here – it’s definitely too well known).
1985, Thriller, Courtroom Drama
Oh, I like a good courtroom drama… This is a fun one – not funny just good. Whenever I put this on I usually watch Suspect afterwards – another good 80s courtroom drama. But I’m sticking to the 50 films limit. So…
1985, Crime Drama, Romance
In the 80s there seemed to be lots of movies harking back to a more innocent time. Usually involving a trip down to some remote part of a South American country or off to some island. Very concerned with letting go of the trappings of modern life – which almost seemed to be viewed as an actual trap bringing us to a state of helpless dependency. Witness managed to combine this yearning for a more innocent and self-reliant time with a great crime thriller – and a little bit of romance.
A young Amish boy witnesses a murder and later recognises a photo of a decorated police officer as the murderer. When the officer he indicates this to tells his captain he becomes the target of a criminal conspiracy within the force. He hides out in Amish country with the boy’s family.
I think Amish people feel this film’s overly simplistic depiction of their culture is insulting. As an outsider it’s hard to understand why because the society the film depicts seems very admirable and appealing.
The Color Purple
1985, Epic Drama
This film follow the life of a black Southern woman in the early 20th Century America. She suffers through years of abuse and oppression – mostly from her husband. But you watch as she struggles through it all and as the world around her changes. It’s great but tough going. For example, the happiest part of the film is when a woman, an entertainer, so a woman with a certain financial independence and consequent sense of freedom, who is having an affair with the husband visits the family. Beautiful. Great. But tough.
1985, Screwball Comedy
This only has a rating of 5.4 on IMDB at the moment. That’s a travesty. I think this is really funny. I used to recommend this to people all the time but I thought it was called Joe vs the Volcano. Then a few years ago I saw that film I was like “this is completely different to how I remember” and by the end I realised it was a totally different film. This is about a young gambler who ends up joining a peace corp mission in order to avoid having his debts catch up with him. It’s nuts. I love it.
1986, Screwball Comedy
I love the screwball comedies of the 1930s but I think many of the 80s best comedies were a new set of screwball comedies. This is one of them. It’s just daft fun. I remember finding the singing bush especially hilarious. And it taught me a new word; Plethora.
Down and Out in Beverly Hills
Believe it or not this is a remake of a 1932 French film, Boudu sauvé des eaux. I’m not sure I believe it. I’ve seen the French film – you’ll find it online easily – yeah, the basic storyline is the same but they’re very different. The American film is much sweeter and funnier while the character of Boudu is actualy more true to life – or so it seems to me. There are actually a good few comedies in the 80s that were first made in France and later remade in the US – at least one features later in this list.
Anyway this is about a wealthy guy from Beverly Hills who’s growing a little tired of life when he meets a vagrant -saves his life actually. He then invites the man into his home, feeling full of goodness. But then the vagrant is far from empty on thoughts about how life should be himself and starts to make an impact on every member of the household. It’s funny and fun and sweet. And very 80s.
1986, Historical Drama
Another gorgeous movie, visually amazing and a great score. Everything and everyone is great in this. In 18th Century South America some Jesuit missionaries are sent to convert a reclusive and remote native tribe. The missionaries end up being accepted by the tribe and form a real relationship with the people there. However there are power games at play between Portugal (represented by business owners), the colonial power, and the Catholic Church, in a way another sort of colonial power. And caught in between are the people of this tribe.
Did you like the plot of Avatar? If so you will love this movie. Though there’s no love story here…
Little Shop of Horrors
Annie is another musical from the 80s but I thought Little Shop of Horrors just seemed more 80s-ish. What would it be like if only one of the plants had made it on The Day of the Triffids, and that plant had a thirst for blood, the ability to help you realise your dreams, and a good singing voice? It would be like the Little Shop of Horrors, I’d imagine.
1986, So Typically 80s Teen(ish) Drama
I came across this for the first time just a few years ago on youtube. Tried to get the link there now, couldn’t find it – sorry. It seems to contain every single cliché of 80s teen dramas/rom-coms. Did I roll my eyes at the nonsense of it all? No. I loved it. It’s got a guy who plays two completely different characters, one cool and famous, one just an ordinary guy, and the only difference is a change of hairstyle and sun glasses – and apart from one music video director no one seems to notice the similarity.
I was actually going to include The Sure Thing but I think it’s better known. It’s a much better movie though – it’s a really sweet and funny rom-com. Modern Girls is more – just so 80s. I did really enjoy it.
The Name of the Rose
1986, Period Mystery
A whodunnit sort of mystery soaked in the mystery of the goings-on in a medieval abbey. In a time of magic and many unexplained deaths, a peculiarly logical Friar investigates the deaths at the abbey determined to find a rational explanation. You won’t guess what’s happening until all is revealed.
1986, Comedy Romance
Don’t let the title fool you this is actually sweet and totally charming. A woman kidnaps a man to take him to her high school reunion. But not everything is as it seems. With anyone.
I haven’t seen this since I was a child. It was very scary then. I have no idea how well this has aged but it was great back in the day.
Babette’s Feast A couple of elderly Danish sisters give a home and shelter to a French woman. The live in a remote village where life is simple and fairly austere. She wins some money and decides the cook a celebratory meal for the sisters and their friends (it’s for the centenary of their father’s death).
This film is quiet and slow with a simple sweet message; the divine is found in any work you put your heart and soul into. And the feast is sumptuous.
Can’t Buy Me Love
1987, Romantic Teen Comedy
This is another typical 80s teen rom-com. In 1989 we got Sky Movies. It was still a free channel at that time. They had like 5 movies that they showed repeatedly. It was pretty obvious why it was free. Anyway this was one of the movies. It’s so cliched but very sweet. A popular high school girl borrows her mother’s outfit without asking and spills something on it. The outfit cost $2,000 and an unpopular high school student who mows her garden gives her the money if she pretends to date him. And then it’s a case of him gaining popularity but losing what makes him a good guy… The usual. And they fall in love. It’s totally cute though.
1987, Indie movie
A lonely German woman ends up in the most desolate motel on Earth and decides to make it brighter. (IMDB description) I don’t really remember that much about this. Other than there was this guy who played the piano and I liked the pieces he played. And I liked the song I’m Calling You. I wanted to include some indie movie though – and although I can’t really remember it I think I liked this.
The Running Man
1987, Dystopian Future Sci-Fi
Death row prisoners are given a chance to win their freedom if they can escape death on a run-for-your-life style game show. No prisoner has ever survived the show. Now there is a man who seems to have a good chance at gaining his freedom.
Fun, action packed tale.
1987, Screwball Sci-fi Comedy
Scientists have discovered a way to miniaturise people and they are going to inject their miniaturised pilot into – a rabbit, I think?. But instead he ends up being injected into an accident prone, hypochondriacal store clerk. It’s very funny with good music too.
No Way Out
The Secretary of Defence accidentally kills his mistress and is obviously eager to pin the murder on someone else. There is an unprocessed photo of some man in her apartment. An officer who has been assigned to the secretary and is helping with the investigation was also having an affair with the woman, knows the photo is of him, so he rushes to solve the murder before the man in the photo is revealed. Good thriller.
Krótki film o zabijaniu & Krótki film o milosci
1988, Meditations on life?
A Short Film About Killing & A Short Film About Love. O.K. technically these are two separate films. Not just technically – they are two separate films. And they’re not short films. They’re normal length. But they are part of a series and I think they go well together.
In my late teens and early 20s a couple of different people recommended A Short Film About Love to me. I’m glad I didn’t search it out then – I wouldn’t have been able to look past the invasion of privacy bit. But a good few years ago I discovered A Short Film About Killing. It’s one of the best anti-killing films I’ve ever seen. In fact I’m not sure I ever before saw murder shown as such a difficult, unsophisticated, but oddly mundane – or whatever is the opposite of glamorous or exciting – act. It’s very realistic and believable.
It was so good I decided to check out A Short Film About Love. It’s good and sweet. Personally I couldn’t really believe it – but I have an issue with invasion of privacy stuff. But I think most people would probably prefer this one of the two films. And because the A Short Film About Killing is quite depressing A Short Film About Love is probably a good companion to it. Not that this is all sunshine either – but the young man’s character is very sweet and innocent.
A Fish Called Wanda
This is taking way longer than I intended so I’m just going to grab the descriptions from IMBD for the next ones.
In London, four very different people team up to commit armed robbery, then try to doublecross each other for the loot.
If you need a good laugh this film should do the trick. It’s very funny. Check out Clockwise too – very funny.
La vie est un long fleuve tranquille
1988, Class-Clash Comedy
Life is a Long Quiet River. Two babies are switched at birth. When the mistake is discovered 12 years later, it leads to complications in the lives of both families. One family is affluent, with dutiful and (apparently) contented children. The other family is poor, with rambunctious (even delinquent) children, often hungry, but with lots of laughter in the house. Written by <email@example.com>
1988, End of the World, Nuclear Bomb Stuff
OK I have to explain this one. I watched this only last year. I was feeling fretful about the state of things so I searched out end-of-world films I hadn’t seen and found this. Do you know one thing I really liked about it? It’s very inclusive. I’d been watching stuff that was saying that “oh everything’s always been racist and people have always been excluded” And I’m not saying they’re wrong but I was thinking “I don’t know. Things seem to be taking a step backwards to me…” Look, today is much better than the 80s, equality-wise – but this film at least shows that people were trying – possibly the whole time -different ethnicities and sexualities are represented here – and I guess those efforts have paid off to an extent – no? maybe? And yes it’s just a daft end of the world film but really apart from the way they find out about the bomb, and the seriously over the top ending, I thought the middle bit was quite good. There’s good stuff here. It deserves a remake.
1988, Period Drama
A scheming widow and her manipulative ex-lover make a bet regarding the corruption of a recently married woman.
I haven’t read the book. I tried but from the start you know the Marquise de Merteuil is a weaker character in the original story and not as interesting as the way she is played by Glen Close. Actually that’s what’s great about this, both John Malkovich and Glen Close make the cruelty seem kinda cool up to a point. It leads to their ruination but they march themselves there.
Les liaisons dangereuses (1959) is set in modern times but I think it’s more true to the original story in that you get the sense that the female lead is simply making the best of an unfair society/setup and is really a victim herself. This is very good too though. Might be good to follow one with the other.
Running on Empty
A couple who have been on the run since the 60s now have teenage children in tow. Their eldest son is finding it hard to start his own life with the constant moving.
This is kind of like a bittersweet story about facing the impossibility of the hippie dream of recreating society – which just slowly evolved and carried on anyway. But it’s also a good drama about a teenager asserting himself and making choices about how his life will be.
And there’s great music in it to. I’m not sure if Running on Empty is actually in the film. It’s been running around my head for days – so that’s part of the reason for the film being here. Fire and Rain definitely is.
Jésus de Montréal
A group of actors put on an unorthodox, but acclaimed Passion Play which incites the opposition of the Catholic Church while the actors’ lives themselves begin to mirror the Passion itself.
This is a lovely film. Very good. And the messages in it still resonate.
And you’ll make sure to have a donor card in your wallet after watching this. We really should have an opt-out register system – just would be easier.
28/08/2017 – Minister for Health, Simon Harris launched the public consultation process for an opt-out organ donation system for Ireland. Fair play.
My Left Foot
1989, Biographical Drama
Christy Brown, born with cerebral palsy, learns to paint and write with his only controllable limb – his left foot.
I haven’t seen this since it came out but it’s a great film.
A reformed bank robber is taken hostage by a desperate man during a bank hold up, but is forced to go on the run with his captor when they’re both mistakenly thought to be in cahoots.
This is very funny and is a remake of Les Fugitifs – but it’s written and directed by the same guy, Francis Veber, and I think the US one is actually funnier – but they’re both very funny. He also made Tais-toi – which I think is his funniest film.
3 Men and a Baby is also another remake of a French film Trois Hommes et un Couffin – but they’re written and directed by different people. The US one is again funnier but the French one is more of a celebration of the wonder of being a father – it’s very cute. And I love how in the American one they have to catch the bad-guy drug dealers whereas in the French one they just have to get the drugs back to the drug dealers.
Sex, Lies and Videotape
1989, Drama, Romance
A sexually repressed woman is surrounded by dishonesty and her husband is having an affair with her sister. The arrival of a visitor who is abruptly honest with those he meets, though he is distant, changes everything.
For me this film is all about how stultifying dishonesty is – and how freeing but quietly terrifying honesty is.
So that’s the list. I started this on Sunday but had to leave it after a couple of hours – maybe it was just one hour… but it took me all of Monday to do. I’m never doing a list this long again. 10 that’s the limit in future.
Anyway I hope you had a nice Easter, or whatever, and that you find some stuff you enjoy in the list.