In terms of cinema, the ‘80s are usually regarded as a favorite of many. However, some would consider the ‘80s to be a decade chock full of cheesy sci-fi blockbusters, and teen comedies that hold up really well, forfeiting some “out of touch” scenes of course. However, the ‘80s brought so much more than that. It brought some of the greatest pieces of cinema of all time. A lot of my favorite films come from this decade. With that being said, here are my top eight films of the decade
8. “True Stories” (1986)
“True Stories” is an unconventional musical about the rural town of Virgil, Texas as they celebrate the sesquicentennial (that’s 150 years) of their home state. All roads point to this being a satire of typical regressive rural thinking, however writer and lead singer of Talking Heads: David Byrne, writes this in such a way that genuinely cares about each and every single character. Each character has interests, passions, hobbies, and various other things that make them tick. Byrne also stars in the film as an idiosyncratic narrator, to which he does a delightful job. His performance feels like if Mr. Rogers were teaching the history of Texas. John Goodman also does an outstanding job as Louis Fyne, in one of his earlier film roles. The film as a whole may poke fun at a few things, but serves as an amazing tribute to the state and culture of Texas.
7. “Back to The Future” (1985)
“Back to The Future” follows the adventures of Marty McFly, a teenager who, by a time travel related mishap, is stuck in the 1950s, and attempting to get back to the year 1985. This film, and subsequently the whole trilogy, are some of the best blockbuster movies of all time. No movie has yet to really match the truly endearing nature of this movie. As soon as the film starts, there is an immediate sense of joy and excitement. It feels like being six years old again, reading a comic book under the covers with a flashlight. This feeling is further accentuated by Alan Silvestiri’s awe-inspiring score. The film is truly great, and no amount of time could ever phase this timeless classic… That is until the inevitable reboot.
6. “Blue Velvet” (1986)
“Blue Velvet” follows Jeffery Beaumont, a college student returning home for the summer, as he investigates the origins of an ear he finds lying in the middle of a field. David Lynch movies, in so many words, can be exquisitely defined as “weird.” This fact does repulse some viewers, however, anyone with a morbid sense of curiosity is sure to enjoy this film. Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern do wonderful jobs as their respective characters, but it’s Isabella Rosselini as tragic ballroom singer Dorothy Vellens, and Dennis Hopper as the film’s antagonist, Frank Booth, that truly steal the show. Hopper especially is unique from any other antagonist, in his sheer energy and pure terror. It’s weird, it’s disturbing, and in some parts, quite beautiful. (See my review here)
5. “The Princess Bride” (1987)
“The Princess Bride” is a movie about a story a grandfather recites to his grandson who’s home sick in bed, a farm boy turned swashbuckler, and the many characters he meets along the way. I have yet to meet one person that does not like this movie. It’s just THAT good. The entire movie just has this irresistible charm to it, that makes it unlike any other that has come before or after. It feels like every scene is the best scene, until the next scene comes along. It serves as both a parody of the stories of swashbucklers, sword fighting, and romance, while also being the very best of the genre. There is really nothing else that could ever really truly capture the magic of this film.
4. “Raging Bull” (1980)
“Raging Bull” follows the true story of Jake LaMotta, a self-destructive boxer; highlighting his many victories within the ring, and his many losses outside the ring. When talking about Martin Scorsese, people tend to talk about his in-your-face style of crime films in the 70’s, his outstanding work in the ‘90s, his historical dramas of the 2000s, and more recently, his slower, subdued films of the ‘10s (and also “The Wolf of Wall Street”). However, ‘80s Scorsese is almost always undermined, which is a true shame, because this was truly the decade in which he showed the world just how much he can do. He ranged from dark comedies with films like “The King of Comedy” and “After Hours,” to intense dramas such as “The Last Temptation of Christ,” as well as the famous music video for Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” The crowning jewel of this era, though, was without a doubt, “Raging Bull.” Nothing can beat the film’s somber sense of electricity that powers every frame of it. The screenplay by Paul Schrader is as poetic as it is tragic. The performances by those such as Robert DeNiro, Cathy Moriarty, and newcomer at the time, Joe Pesci, are absolutely beautiful, natural, and effortlessly relatable. This film is not only the best of this era for Scorsese, it’s one of the best in his entire filmography.
3. “Do The Right Thing” (1989)
“Do The Right Thing” follows a young pizza delivery man named Mookie, as he observes the rising racial tension in his neighborhood. The Academy is famous now more than ever for “snubbing” films. For those who don’t know, to snub a film is to not nominate it for an award that it clearly deserves. It’s more often than not, a sign of underappreciation for a film. This film in particular is one that not only the Academy severely underappreciated, but most “film-bros” today. Spike Lee is truly one of the most unique voices in the history of cinema. This is an absolute masterclass in cinematography, writing, and style. Each of the film’s many characters feel truly realized in a way that very few films have ever replicated. At the risk of sounding incredibly too cliche, this is one of the most culturally important movies ever made. By the end of the film, the viewer is left wondering just what “The Right Thing” is. Everything about this movie from it’s opening dance sequence to the very last shot is absolutely phenomenal.
2. “The Shining” (1980)
“The Shining” follows Jack Torrance and his family, as he maintains the Overlook Hotel for the winter and quietly goes insane. What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said before. It is truly an absolute tour de force on all fronts. As is a common proclamation from many completely unprovoked film majors, Stanley Kubrick was, and remains to be one of the few true masters of the film. The film is filled to the brim with amazing performances. From Shelly Duvall, who not only gives a sensational performance as Wendy Torrance, but also was able to pull through what could only be described as one of the worst shoots to ever happen to a performer; to Jack Nicholson, who gives a truly haunting, and positively insane performance as Jack Torrance, who’s trademark unrivaled energy is on full display here. The score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Eklind will certainly send a shiver down anyone’s spine, as even the opening notes of the credits foreshadow the unfortunate horror that’s about to take place. The film also manages to stand out as one of the best shot films in Kubrick’s already famously gorgeous looking filmography such as “Barry Lyndon,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Horror has been around in film for a while, almost since the medium’s origin. However, “The Shining” proves to be the very best of them all.
“Paris, Texas” (1984)
Another great Texas-set film on this list, “Paris, Texas” follows Travis Henderson, a lonesome drifter who seeks to find his long lost wife. This film is a gut-punch harder than one could ever imagine any work of fiction ever doing so. Director Wim Wenders pumps an overwhelming amount of emotion into each and every single frame of this film. It truly is a movie-going experience like none other.
“Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” (1985)
“Mishima: A Life in A Chapters” follows the insane true story of Yukio Mishima, a Japanese author and playwright turned extreme far-right militia leader. Words could not possibly how truly strange and positively bonkers this man’s life was, but writer and director Paul Schrader was able to capture it perfectly, and even find a strange amount of true beauty within it. The film also serves as an adaptation to many of Mishima’s works, including “The Temple of The Golden Pavilion,” “Kyoko’s House,” and “Runaway Horses,” all of which, through the cinematography of John Bailey, and production design of Eiko Ishioka, are positively stunning. The score by Phillip Glass emphasises beauty and grandiosity of the film. As a whole, the film feels more along the lines of an audio/visual poem than an average biopic, and I highly encourage anybody who is in anyway interested in the works of Mishima, Japanese culture, or just good ol’ fashioned amazing filmmaking
“Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1988)
“Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” follows the titular Bill & Ted, as they go back in time to grab famous figures from history for their grand history report. This film, for lack of a better word, is stupid. However, it still manages to be one of the most brilliant comedies I’ve ever seen. Sure, I’m certain there’s probably some snobby film professor out there who thinks this is simply the lowest of cinematic garbage, but I simply have to disagree. This film is most certainly Cinema, with the most capital-est of C’s, as it is truly, a most bodacious piece of art.
1. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)
Do me a favor and close your eyes, and just think about one scene from this film. Think about how everything works in tandem with each other to make the scene as perfect as it could possibly be. The amazing performances from Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones, and just about everyone else in the film. The grand and sweeping score by the absolutely astonishing John Williams. The outstanding screenplay by Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan,and George Lucas. The beautiful cinematography of Peter Suschitzky. The larger than life planets, and production design by Norman Reynolds. The editing super-team that is T.M Christopher, Paul Hirsch, as well as Marcia and George Lucas. One could not possibly even leave out the remarkable costume design of John Mollo. In my opinion, this is a truly perfect film. I wouldn’t just consider this to be a quintessential sci-fi film, or even just a quintessential sequel. I would consider this film as the quintessential film.
The ‘80s were a time when outstanding filmmakers found their footing, and already masterful filmmakers got even better. It is a much beloved time for many, and for good reason. There were plenty of amazing movies that couldn’t make the list, purely out of space. The ‘80s were truly a special time in cinema, as it proved that movies could still be art.