Friday, March 6, 2009

SWATCHmen: A look back at 1985 on film

1985 sometimes feels like yesterday, other times so very much another world ago. Film has changed so much since then. And while it's certainly not all bad, it's much more self aware than ever before. Everyone has become so savvy with the endless amount of information at our disposal, and it's easy to take for granted the more simple charms of times past. Especially ones that leave us so nostalgic. This past is what has made our present, and it's no wonder we often find ourselves awash in some of those memories. Good thing, too. Even though by the mid-1980's brewing fears had grown to new heights with the cold war, a seemingly impending nuclear threat and economic crisis (that part certainly hasn't changed, eh)... We still have our fond memories of the art through media that was presented to us. As cheesy, silly or oh so serious as it might have been.

The "most celebrated graphic novel of all time" WATCHMEN opens today in it's first feature film incarnation. The novel/comics & film present an alternate 1985 world, where superheroes are part of our daily existence. So much so they have in effect become rendered useless, thanks to the controls of government... WATCHMEN's world was always meant to reflect it's time period, and it's done well. In 2009, they finally are getting their due on screen. Yipee, I guess.

To join in on the fun, my totally awesome friend and fellow movie fiend AMANDA BY NIGHT (of Made For TV Mahem among other things) and I are letting 1985 take over for the day (as if it hasn't done that on countless other days already!)

Here each are our 10 favorite films from that calendar year.

1985 for me was the year of the comedy. When coming up with this list I had a hard time prioritizing my love for wacky comedies such as a WEIRD SCIENCE, ONCE BITTEN or a PRIVATE RESORT...(Thankfully ZAPPED! was released a few years prior) On the boob tube in 1985 my eyes were glued to FAMILY TIES, HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, THE FACTS OF LIFE, HOTEL and the newly aired MR. BELVEDERE among many others... Music wise my ears were learning to appreciate the sounds of TEARS FOR FEARS, DURAN DURAN, NEW EDITION, MADONNA and of course PRINCE. I was kind of musically inept back then, but thanks to the output of that year, I would soon learn to really love and appreciate all kinds of stuff. Anyway, back to movie shows... I would take many trips to the cinema in 1985, and with a VCR becoming my new best friend that very year, I was in movie heaven. Whether it was witnessing the action movie taken to insane(ly fun!) new heights: COMMANDO, DEATH WISH 3 and INVASION U.S.A. are all 1985 releases that take the 80's crown as single-handily having pushed the old America Rah-Rah spirit into an action overdrive probably never to be witnessed again. Or how about the teen film finding angst with THE BREAKFAST CLUB, TUFF TURF and THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN. And wacky fun with BETTER OFF DEAD, GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN, HEAVEN HELP US, MISCHIEF, LOOSE SCREWS, GOTCHA!, THE HEAVENLY KID and the always endearing SECRET ADMIRER.

I ended up going with the 10 films that left the most impressions on me back then, so much so that I love each and every one to this day... Without further delay, here are my 10 favorite films of 1985, in no particular order: 

AFTER HOURS Martin Scorsese's soHo set comedy still to this day leaves me with such a joyous and anxious feeling that would be impossible to match. Even when viewing the much more praised films from Scorsese's mighty cannon. It's my favorite film of his. He captures downtown 80's new york in a nightmarish way, but it's always bristling with interesting characterizations and charm. Griffin Dunne's Paul Hackett is having the worst night of his life, and we're having the best time watching him go through it all. Perfectly focused direction, acting style and atmosphere, this is the kind of studio comedy that doesn't really exist anymore. And especially so with soHo being the shopping zoo that it is now.  

FRIGHT NIGHT The 1980's had a good stake in the Vampire movie sub-genre, but no other than 85's FRIGHT NIGHT could capture it so intelligently and fun. It's a unique mixture of buddy comedy, teen coming of age film and loving horror homage, written & directed with finesse and class by Tom Holland. Roddy Mcdowall & William Ragsdale great chemistry as a horror due continued 3 years later with the fun sequel.  

REAL GENIUS Everybody Wants To Rule The World, but nobody can be as memorable as REAL GENIUS. Scenes from this film stick out in my head more than most other films when I think back about the 80's on film. The zany 80's teen comedy became legitimized with this film, as Martha Coolidge's direction gave it's story and characters a real world, allowing the fun to play out and never feel like it had to resort to playing dumb for it's audience. Along with 1984's REVENGE OF THE NERDS, it was finally okay to have characters to be actually smart in this kind of movie, and REAL GENIUS is pretty witty stuff. A real 80's classic. I'm in the mood for some popcorn now...  

THE GOONIES The kid within me will never stop loving Richard Donner's THE GOONIES. It's the perfect 80's kid movie that will always bring you back to your memories of seeing it for the first time. Spielberg's E.T. has the very same effect on me. Back in the 1980's you had filmmakers making movies for the younger crowd with adult sensibilities. They never condescended to their audience and always sought to entertain them. And they usually were put together and directed so well. They are the kinds of films that will stand the test of time, and always leave you will that happy feeling of a 10 year old who can't get enough of it's fun.
TOMBOY As much as I liked the innocent comedy adventure back then, I also discovered the wacky teen sex comedy. TOMBOY is a weird film. It's intent is to prove that a woman can not only make it in a man's world, and surpass them with style and grace, but it often resorts to oogling of naked flesh either for it's star, Betsy Russell. Not to mention the occasional slut who'll pop on the screen. In addition to some flesh, you'll also find Betsy making one handed free throws from a motorcycle, gratuitous Flashdance-like dancing (which in the 80's meant aerobics) more shower scenes, cheesy slow-mo, "riveting" race car sequences and it's own theme song. Yeah, it rules.  

TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. William Friedkin's career by 1985 was souring a bit. He hadn't had a hit in a long time, but he managed to make what I feel is the best action film of the 1980s. There is enough energy and style to burn here. Friedkin manages to cram in a complicated plot, really fun car chases and a complex lead character as well as villain and always seem to be full of mood and atmosphere. TO LIVE may not have been a real financial success, but artistically it's up there with his other great films and I always find myself pretty enthralled while watching it. And it has a theme song! Always GOLD in my book, I say...  

THE SURE THING Remember when Rob Reiner movies didn't suck? Can you remember back that far? His 1980's output included THIS IS SPINAL TAP, STAND BY ME, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY and THE SURE THING. He went on to make 1990's MISERY and ever since then it's been exactly that. He's lost it. SURE THING has it. It's a really sweet love story, reminiscent of 1983's VALLEY GIRL(One of my absolute favorite films of all time) Essentially a tale of 2 very different people who connect with each other, this picture, like the best of 30's screwball comedies, explores the ups and downs of their relationship to get them to a point where they finally can just accept each other for who they are. It's a road movie, relationship comedy and a lot of fun.  

CREATOR Peter O'Toole, ever the acting giant, tackled the 80's with a handful of very memorable performances. In CREATOR, he crafts a very interesting man who takes a young student under his wings to teach him "The meaning of life". Along the way we get caught up in it's drama and it's wonderful characters, the kind you kind of wish you knew in your every day life. There's pure 80's schmaltz to be found in this film, but it's never really overbearing. In some ways it's done with a wit and finesse that most other comedy/dramas of the time really couldn't pull off. It's a film that has a sense of warmth and feeling that's kind of hard to explain, you just know you walk away from it caring about what you just saw and the people in it. These kinds of films and it's characters don't really exist anymore, as well.  

THE BOYS NEXT DOOR Director Penelope Spheeris (WAYNE'S WORLD/SUBURBIA) in 1985 took a script by Glen Morgan & James Wong and crafts a pretty dark and disturbing tale of 2 guys who take fun and a growing desperation to break out of their shells to a new level. She draws parallels to other serial killers, and the most haunting thing the film proposes is that sometimes people inflict harm onto others out of sheer boredom. It's a bold little movie that leaves you both caring and conflicted. I will not ever be able to shake it out of my head.  

To know me is to know my love for Just One Of The Guys. Like TOMBOY, this film is basically about a woman's quest for respect from the opposite sex, and the wacky antics that ensue when she delves into that world as a guy. JUST ONE paints vivid characters and comes off as a loving homage to screwball comedies past. The high school's name is even a nod to a couple of that era's comedy directing dynamos. I can't fully explain why I love this film so much, it's the kind of movie that defies critique and real explanation. It's a pure love, one that always brings me back to a certain time and place. I count it as the film that "started it all" because it was the first film I remember truly loving and returning back to time and time again. It helped plant my movie obsession deep down into the soil and it's roots will never let go. It's probably my favorite film of all time.



1985 was a very important year for me. It was the year I went across the globe to Australia (my first and only trip outside the US), it was the year I started high school, it was the year I saw Tears for Fears for the first time and it was the year that television and film became a very important entity in my life. It was the year I developed my first die hard crush (I met him in Australia, he looked like Julian Lennon and it was love at first sight! We actually corresponded for some time after I went back home), I learned the hard way what cliques were and it was the year I became a nerd. Not a nerd like in REVENGE OF THE NERDS, but one of those people who was voraciously on top of what was on television or opening at the local theater. It was a decade rife with fun films, and 1985 was a great year among many, featuring a little bit of everything from action to horror to drama and I drank every effervescent second of it. 1985 was also a difficult year, acclimating to my life as a geeky freshman, but these films helped me escape into something much more palpable than my ordinary existence. It also gave a good grip on this little article, so see? Nerding out is good for something, eh?  

COMMANDO - Waaaay before Ah-nold was the Governor of California, he was a bad ass killing machine. Sometimes he was the good guy, sometimes the bad, but always the guy you couldn’t take your eyes off of. COMMANDO is one of his best “Good Guy” roles, and he’s accompanied by the beautiful Rae Dawn Chong who shoots an Uzi in the wrong direction! But the rest of the direction was dead on for COMMANDO, making it one of the best action films in a decade chalk full of great action films.  

DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN - The only Madonna movie one ever needs to see, Susan works because it doesn’t star Madonna (sorry Madge, I still love ya!), rather it showcases the lovely and talented Rosanna Arquette as the beautiful and lonely young woman struck with amnesia, ultimately taking untamed Susan’s (Madonna) place. Romantic, funny, silly and wonderfully unique, it’s one of the most famous, yet still one of the most underrated films of the decade. And Madonna in men’s boxers is simply heaven.
INVASION USA - Chuck Norris promises to hit you with so many lefts that you'll be begging for a right! And he means it! This no holds barred action film is one of the best of the decade and features a rather charismatic (if nearly dialog-less) Norris taking care of business. In a decade of slick action flicks, INVASION is simply one of the best.  

LETTER TO BRESHNEV - A bittersweet love story with some great comedy bits (thanks to Alexandra Pigg and Alfred Molina, who doesn’t speak a word of English!), LETTER showcases the depressed world of a Liverpool factory worker finding love with a Soviet sailor. Her journey to the Iron Curtain is at once charming and devastating. LETTER captures that world of 1985 where we lived under the constant threat of the Cold War yet still held out hope for endless love. This movie also features a great soundtrack with bands like Bronski Beat and the Fine Young Cannibals among others.  

MOVING VIOLATIONS - An underrated gem and one hilarious laugh riot, it’s a bit like AIRPLANE meets LICENSE TO DRIVE - minus the Corey's of course! In their place, is a wacky and merry band of misfits who are attending traffic school where hijinks and guffaws are the name of the game. Featuring Wendy Jo Sperber, Jennifer Tilly (as a rocket scientist, no less!) and the Murray brother you probably don't know - John - the laughs come easily at this school of un-edumication!  

THE MUTILATOR - One of the greatest slasher movies ever. And I mean EVER! Sure, it’s a little flawed (well, OK, a lot flawed), but its constant insistence to shock and repulse you into submission sometimes works. Chainsaws roar, limbs fly and that’s just in one scene! It also features one of my all time favorite lines in a horror film, “I’m going to get high score in video machine!” But most importantly, there is an awfully good story about love and loss and psychotic revenge somewhere inside this regional horror film and because it seemed the filmmakers really wanted to make a good film that it has endured. And endures and endures! I must have seen this movie 100 times by now!  

NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 - Yeah, so it's not the greatest horror film ever made. It is however, the gayest! So that definitely qualifies it… for something, especially since it came out in a year when we were confronted with the outing and untimely death of Rock Hudson. I know, I had to go and get all serious. It also features a still-terrifying Freddy before he became the jokester he is known as today. Oh, and chaps!  

PERFECT - 1985 is perhaps one of our fitter years, with aerobics, Jane Fonda and PERFECT making waves and exploiting a good hard body! This movie is almost a comedy of errors, made palpable by great performances from the leads, especially Jamie Lee Curtis who works out in just about every scene! I swear she should have had a heart attack by the wrap party. The irrepressible Lorraine Newman is, uh, perfect as Linda who is called "the most used piece of equipment in the gym." If only the movie had been about her, than maybe it would have been… oh, here I go again… perfect!
PRIVATE RESORT - Featuring Johnny Depp and Rob Morrow before fame found them, RESORTS ranks high on my list of great 80s sex comedies. A side-splitting farce about two horned up men trying to make it with almost anybody, which means they find themselves in lots of silly situations. And get this – it’s actually funny! Little of the humor falls flat, the cast is inspired (Hector Elizondo, anyone?), and you get to see both men in the buff (but not Hector)! Me-ow!
WEIRD SCIENCE - One of my all time favorite comedies, SCIENCE never ceases to make me crack up. Anthony Michael Hall is in top form as the uber-nerd who along with his buddy Ilan Mitchell-Smith, invent the perfect woman (Kelly LeBrock)… Frankenstein style. With lots of great 80s computer graphics, jokes that never fail to amaze, a young and disgusting but ultimately scene stealing Bill Paxton and a very cute Robert Downey Jr. (when I used to love him!). Science is a better time capsule than John Hughes’ bigger hit of the same year, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, because it showcases kids having a fun time, instead of full of morose self-importance. Don’t get me wrong, I probably “relate” better to BREAKFAST, but would rather remember my favorite decade for the colorful and fun time it was than get all depressed about it. I’ve saved that for the 90s!

-------- xxoo



Rev. Fred Phantom said...

Great collection of films all the way through. '85 was a pretty kick ass year!

Cinema Du Meep said...

Thank you rev! It really was...

Samuel Wilson said...

Prizzi's Honor, people! Now that kicks ass.

Bearded Weirdo Reviews said...

Ah, yes. The 1980's. Truly the greatest decade in the pantheon of human history.

Once Bitten. Indeed.

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