Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tuesday Top Ten: The Best of 1984

For no reason whatsoever I have declared today 1984 day! It's a 25th Anniversary Jamboree or some such. (Don't ask questions. Just go with it) Herewith a tripled top ten: What the public liked, what Oscar liked, what I liked from the year that was. All movie title links go to their Netflix page in case you're interested in giving them a looksie. First a little historical entertainment context: Vanessa Williams was not starring on Ugly Betty but resigning her Miss America tiara due to nude photos (the more things change...), Ricky Martin was a new member of Menudo, people were just discovering what Madonna looked like on MTV, and Scarlett Johansson was fresh out of the womb.

What Oscar Liked
The Oscar nominees for Best Picture were the Mozart bio Amadeus (11 noms / 8 wins), the legendary David Lean's swan song A Passage to India (11 noms / 2 wins), Roland Joffé's war drama The Killing Fields (7 noms /3 wins), Robert Benton's farm widow period piece Places in the Heart (7 noms / 2 wins) and the stage to screen transfer A Soldier's Story (3 noms / 0 wins) still one of a scant handful of predominantly black movies to be shortlisted for the industry's top prize. It featured Denzel Washington in one of his earliest roles.

For a speculative AMPAS top ten I'd add these five as "runners up" since they were probably on multiple Best Pic' ballots: Barry Levinson's all star baseball drama The Natural (4 nominations), The River (4 noms and one special Oscar) another farm drama pictured left with Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek as the Mr & Mrs, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (3 noms), John Huston's alcohol-soaked Under the Volcano (2 noms) and maybe 2010 (5 noms... though all were technical).

What Audiences Liked
I'm not using actual box office numbers per se but I am adjusting for inflation (reports differ across the internet) to give you a vague "range" of box office success comparable to today's hits.
  1. Ghostbusters & Beverly Hills Cop $400+
  2. (websites disagree on which film won the year. Both were massive hits)
  3. Indiana Jones & Temple of Doom $300+
  4. Gremlins $250+
  5. The Karate Kid $100+
  6. Police Academy $100+
  7. Footloose $100+
  8. Romancing the Stone $100+
  9. Purple Rain, Star Trek III and Splash $100+
  10. (websites disagree on which order those three came in, too)
So many franchises were born in the 80s, never to die again. Even the dead franchises are only hibernating. I'm actually surprised it's taken so long for Hollywood to get serious about romancing that stone again.

What Nathaniel liked
This is an unholy amalgam of what loved back then, what I caught later, and how I remember them as an adult. It is by no means definitive. If I could add 8 hours to each day I'd probably use 4 of them for re-screenings of old pictures in order to finally nail down these retroactive lists. The List is Life! Consider these ten pictures rental suggestions if you're the cool kind of movie fanatic (i.e. the kind that understands that cinema is ∞ and exists outside of whatever year you're living in)

Honorable Mention: Careful He Might Hear You was hugely lauded in Australia and made a tiny critical splash in the US. The acting was phenomenal. Wendy Hughes won raves and Nicholas Gledhill offered up one of the best child performances I've ever seen. Alas, I don't remember details, just that it unnerved me something fierce. Netflix doesn't offer this one. So sorry.

10 Splash - Ron Howard's best movie if you ask me. You heard me. He's so much better at fluff than at serious drama. I wish he'd stick to fluff. It's not shameful to be good at that. Why do I love Splash so? Well, I do have a thing for mermaids. But perhaps it just comes down to Madison, her crimped hair, her unpronounceable name and her nude walk on Ellis Island. I've loved Daryl Hannah ever since.

09 Another Country was an English boarding school drama of clashing sexualities and politics. It often gets credited with being the feature debut of three new stars: Cary Elwes, Rupert Everett and Colin Firth. Firth and Everett had great chemistry onscreen but they apparently hated each other, only ending their long feud last year (!)

08 Romancing the Stone - previously discussed

07 Gremlins -I looooved this movie at the time and though I haven't seen it in years I suspect it's still richly macabre, clever and weird. If you've seen it recently, am I right? The concept itself was so terrific. One might say it impishly fused Jekyll & Hyde terror with pet ownership angst. We never know what our furry friends are thinking. What demons lurk within them just waiting to get out?

06 Places in the Heart -I remember this movie being quiet and gracefully moving (especially the ending) but it got a bad rap for what I assume were several reasons: Sally Field's infamous "you like me!" acceptance speech, the glut of farm dramas, not being as popular as Benton's previous Oscar hit Kramer Vs. Kramer, and accusations of sentimentality (especially the ending).

05 Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes is the style of movie I'm kind of hoping the upcoming The Wolf Man apes. It was a seriously expensive looking, prestige adaptation of a mythic character that's usually treated with haphazard 'make a quick buck' B movie gloves. This film briefly threatened to ruin Andie MacDowell's career (Glenn Close was called in to dub her voice) and briefly made French actor Christopher Lambert an international star. Within the next few years he was co-starring with the likes of Isabelle Adjani and Catherine Deneuve onscreen and Diane Lane offscreen and starring in the Highlander franchise.

04 This is Spinal Tap -It's hard to remember that Rob Reiner directed this film which starred Christopher Guest (among others) and which seemed to birth the whole Guest dominated mockumentary genre but damn if this movie isn't über hilarious. My favorite bits are the whole Anjelica Huston / Stonehenge debacle and the quotable "this one goes to 11" idiocy.

03 The Terminator - I'll discuss tomorrow... we'll use it to wrap up the 1984 party.

02 The Times of Harvey Milk won the Oscar for Best Documentary and, if you can believe it, it's even better and more moving than last year's Gus Van Sant picture Milk.

01 Amadeus, or Salieri vs. Mozart: Death Match, was a "wow" on just about every level in the 80s. Most surprisingly it was a major hit, finishing 12th at the box office for all 1984 films and earning, in today's dollars something like $100 million at the box office. Can you imagine a 160 minute costume heavy biopic with and about classical music doing that well today? Neither can I. I wonder if it holds up. Has anyone seen it recently?

All that and no room to mention The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension, Irreconcilable Differences, Sixteen Candles, The NeverEnding Story and Birdy. Anyone love or hate those? A few of them I barely remember a frame of but I was into them at one point for better or worse. Two films I should definitely revisit: Blood Simple and Stranger Than Paradise both of which I was too young for when I first saw (not in 84). I didn't "get" them. I have never seen the much loved Paris, Texas and am deeply ashamed.

Were you even alive in 1984? Maybe people have forgotten your birthday. It happens.

Share your movie memories of any of these plentiful pictures in the comments... even if you didn't see them until the 21st century. For those of you who lived through it, put on some Prince or Madonna if it'll help jog your memory.


Samuel Wilson said...

At the time my favorites were Ghostbusters amd Temple of Doom, a film I feel is still underrated and superior to its sequel. I remember liking Amadeus when I saw it early in 85. I didn't see Blood Simple or Under the Volcano until years later, but now regard both as classics. I went to Beverly Hills Cop and wondered what the fuss was about.

DamienNZ said...

Both Amadeus and Another Country were completely in a class of their own over and above most others.

But I will admit to the guilty pleasure of Ghostbusters :)

Brian said...

Interestingly, I just rewatched Blood Simple yesterday and Stranger Than Paradise a couple months ago. The Jarmusch means more to me now, but I'm impressed with both. The Coens are so good at giving making the viewer appreciate his or her omniscience in contrast to the blindfolded characters. Makes for a somewhat cold but utterly engaging film. By contrast, Jarmusch lets you luxuriate inside his (decidedly odd) characters' heads. He puts a spell on me.

Any discussion of the best films of 1984 is incomplete without mention of Stop Making Sense, still probably the greatest concert film ever, John Cassavetes' final masterpiece Love Streams, and the decidedly more obscure Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, one of the best big-budget kung fu movies of all time. Now that I've mentioned them, I can relax.

par3182 said...

my picks -

paris, texas
a passage to india
this is spinal tap
the times of harvey milk

6th place: another country - i recall seeing it and swooning over colin firth's tommy - the first (and, sadly, last) time i chose the smart boy over the pretty one

i have blood simple on my '95 list; don't tell me i'm going to have to shuffle my choices after all these years, 'cause it's a definite top fiver

Ben said...

Per your Amadeus query-
It does. Well- I can't really say for sure, since I was not alive in 1984, but having seen it for the second time about a month ago it struck some seriously deep chords (Magic Flute pun sort of intended). What irked me about it at first is that its so..."American". Everything from the opera librettos to Tom Hulce is not Vienna at all. Yet, it makes the film that much more resonant. Also: F. Murray Abraham= God. What happened?

Cluster Funk said...

I've always had a soft spot for 'Irreconcilable Differences,' which holds up remarkably well, and thought Shelley Long in particular gave good perf.

Love me some 'Sixteen Candles,' too, but how could you deny one of the best pure romantic movie endings EVER?

'Blood Simple' (and Franny McD) is terrific, as is 'Amadeus' of course. What ever happened to Elizabeth Berridge, by the way?

And hello, who could forget 'Body Double'?

mrripley said...

84 supp actor noms (* wins)

haing s ngor the killing fields*
adolph caesar a soldier's story
hector elizondo the flamingo kid
danny glover places in the heart
richard burton nineteen eighty four

mrripley said...

84 supp actor noms (* wins)

haing s ngor the killing fields*
adolph caesar a soldier's story
hector elizondo the flamingo kid
danny glover places in the heart
richard burton nineteen eighty four

mrripley said...

what r your supporting noms nat.

Sean said...

Splash is one of my absolute favorites! The score is gorgeous, the script is sharp, and I have a mermaid thing too. Can't really explain it. Daryl Hannah was PERFECT. Whenever I happen to make it to Disney World, I always spend time by the mermaid fountain.

E Dot said...

1984 is the year that I was born!!! I'm truly honored you decided to choose that year. Just as long Bolero isn't mentioned...

Glenn said...

I was to be born one year later. I haven't seen anywhere near enough movies to make a good top ten, but as it stands:

1. Paris, Texas2. The Times of Harvey Milk3. Ghostbusters4. Amadeus5. Sixteen Candles6. A Nightmare on Elm Street7. The Terminator8. The Killing Fields9. Romancing the Stone10. Muppets Take ManhattanOh yes.

Lily said...

Recently saw Amadeus for the first time--I was not alive in 1984, and was not born for a few more years (I was born in the 80s though!). I loved it. I just thought in every way it was a fantastic film. Acting, writing, directing, costuming, art direction, and of course the music. My father (himself an artist of some sort) has always talked about how much this film meant to him, and I really appreciated it.

RJ said...

See. Paris, Texas. Now. Your list will change. I promise you.

Pfangirl said...

Yes, Gremlins is still deliciously macabre - to the point it was called cruel and mean spirited by many critics at the time of its release (if I remember correctly).

Gremlins exploding in microwaves, gremlins mutilated in blenders, Gizmo in his little car - these are the memorable moments of 80's childhood:)

I watched the film again recently and was rather intrigued to see it takes place in small town America suffering in a recession environment.

sphinx said...

I've seen Amadeus recently and it is magnificent on every level. 'They' sometimes speak of an emotional content in movies and Amadeus has every emotion that you could possibly think of and then some. It was very interesting watching the DVD featurette with Milos Forman and Peter Schaffer. According to Milos, he's always told by people who've seen the film that one particular scene has made them appreciate classical music in an unfathomable way. The scene is when Salieri describes a piece of music written by Mozart, he starts by saying something like "on paper, it was just a bunch of notes...nothing...". I agree with the notion that it is one of the most powerful scenes you could find in a movie. And that scene belongs to Mozart and F. Murray Abraham.

cal roth said...

What about the best movie ever aka Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America?

What about John Cassavetes' unbelieavably beautiful Love Streams?

You really really really should try Lars von Trier's Element of Crime. A genius was born.

And the best 1984 color noir is not Blood Simple (it's great). It's Body Double.

Mikadzuki said...

I wasn't born yet in 1984, but if that year was as awesome as its movie output then I can only regret that I wasn't!

My picks:
1. Paris, Texas - (insert silly hyperbole like "it completes me") But seriously, I'll love it forever.
2. Amadeus - I did in fact rewatch this recently and it was every bit as wonderful as the first time around.
3. Once Upon a Time in America - Beautiful melancholy.
4. Blood Simple
5. The Killing Fields

Strangely, I've never seen The Terminator.

adelutza said...

1.Once Upon A time In America
3.Love Streams
4.This is Spinal Tap
5.A Passage To India or Romancing the Stone - very different movies but I love them both

Blood Simple was released January 1985 ( as per imdb)


oh. i didn't realize that about Blood Simple. That makes things easier if it's the case.


although maybe it was one of those evil one week in december movies?

Janice said...

A couple of years ago the local theater (built in the 1920's and recently restored with a faux Morocco theme) played Amadeus as the opener to the yearly film festival and someone who worked there at the time got me tickets. I sat in the balcony (my favorite place to watch movies when I can find a theater with a balcony - no neck strain) and Amadeus held up beautifully, even though the costumes and wigs were definitely as much if not more 1980's than 1770's. (What the hell ever happened to Tom Hulce's career btw? Not to mention F. Murray Abraham.) I think the movie improves on the play on several levels, especially re: the characterization of Mozart's wife.

I also remember that year my mom predicting Splash would be a hit and my reaction was "A movie about a mermaid, directed by Ritchie Cunningham, a hit? No way." She definitely got the last laugh on that one. Wasn't that the movie that really launched Tom Hanks movie career?


indeed it was. other than a horror movie a few years earlier (seems like everyone starts in those) Mr. Hanks film career began in 1984 with SPLASH & BACHELOR PARTY.


samuel i should probably watch Temple of Doom again... i keep hearing this about "underrated"

damienz glad there are other Another Country fans in the house

brian i've never seen STOP MAKING SENSE... those giant David Byrne suits terrified me as a youngster. "why are they so bigggggg?"

par but colin firth was smart AND pretty that year. I mean check out that sleek mug in the photo. damn.

ben i'm sure F Murray asks himself the same question

cal haven't seen BODY DOUBLE due to my allergies to one Melanie Griffith. It's so severe my throat closes up and I must be rushed to emergency room. It even ruined Antonio Banderas for me (no small feat)

adelutza said...

I have seen Amadeus the play back in the day in several different adaptations and I liked them all. It's weird, I haven't heard of a new one in years. I wonder why?
I watch this movie at least once a year and it hits me every single time.

BLH said...

No mention of Broadway Danny Rose? Anywhere? By anyone?

nothingiswritten said...

I was living in Germany in 1984, and Amadeus played in one local theatre for an entire year, it was that popular. Strange thing was, the dialogue was dubbed into German, but the singing was in left in English for The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Magic Flute. WTF? Kinda defeated Mozart's argument about opera in the language of the common people.

Amadeus holds up extremely well. I showed portions of it to my class this semester, and they loved it. I use it to provoke discussion about seeing the world through one (utterly crazy) man's eyes, and how that can warp depictions of everyone, from the dodo emperor (simply because he has a tin ear) to the bimbo wife. Once they understand Forman's reasons for using Twyla Tharp choreography and such intentionally American language and accents, they're hooked.


BLH -- if you scroll down to the Kathleen Turner post (a few posts earlier), I give props to Mia Farrow's work in BROADWAY DANNY ROSE... but it's the only thing i really remember about the movie (apart from a helium baloon segment)

Scott said...

Sixteen Candles, Times of Harvey Milk, and, at least at the time, Temple of Doom.

Declan said...

"Amadeus" absoulutely holds up today. "I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint." F. Murray Abraham was so brilliant as Salieri. It's too bad he never really capitalized on his Oscar win. He should have been working on his third or fourth career nomination by now.

What's the story behind Glenn Close having to dub Andie McDowell's voice for "Greystroke"? It looked cheesy to me, but it's a prestige picture? That's sparked my interest. I'm looking forward to "The Wolf Man" though.

Anonymous said...

My Top 10 (by international release dates):

01. Amadeus
02. Paris, Texas
03. Once Upon A Time In America
04. The Killing Fields
05. Stranger Than Paradise
06. This Is Spinal Tap
07. A Day In The Country
08. Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind
09. Under The Volcano
10. The Terminator

Katey said...

I'm almost exactly the same age as Ghostbusters, so I guess I can only thank my parents for not bringing an infant to see any of these in theaters.

But isn't it weird how the list of Oscar hits feels so obscure, yet the box office hits is jammed with legitimate classics? Just more evidence that it's the popcorn stuff that Oscar loathes that really has the cultural staying powers.


Declan... it was apparently because MacDowell couldn't get the homey "southern" out of her voice and she was playing upper class "Jane" to Tarzan.

it was her first picture so bad press followed. It wasn't really until Soderbergh cast her in sex, lies and videotape 5 years later that she had the breakthrough that saved her acting career -- the modelling was going just fine ;)

Vince said...

Blood Simple and Paris, Texas were easily two of my favorites from 1984.


Trent Sketch said...

I saw Gremlins for the first time two years ago. At 21 years old, the film left me sleepless. Beautiful, disturbing, and the ending voice over left this horror-hardened viewer a quivering mess of goo afraid to leave the lights out. The effects are still some of the best I've seen in film.

Anonymous said...

Blood Simple was only show in some festivals in 1984, the film open in january. (look at the awards it won)

Nat, I don't like Melanie Griffith either, but she is perfect as porn star Holly Body in Body Double.



Trent... this is good to hear (although: poor you! no sleep) so i should definitely watch it again it sounds like.

adelutza said...

By the way, I will be getting Careful, He Might Hear You from Netflix tomorrow, so at least in my area it's available.


weird. not in mine

NicksFlickPicks said...

All these Almodóvar fans in the house, and no support yet for What Have I Done to Deserve This? - I'm shocked, shocked! One of my faves from that year, up there with Spinal Tap, Blood Simple, and Love Streams.

Not an Amadeus fan, I have to say, though maybe I'd like it better a second time. But my first experience was fairly recent and on the big screen, so it kinda got all the help it's gonna get. Does anyone think Abraham's munching a bit too hard on the hock of ham?

adelutza said...

What Have I Done to Deserve This? was a 1984 release in Spain , but for the rest of the world it was a 1985 release. But if we don't look at this technicalities then absolutely, one of the best movies ever. I still like more High Heels though


yeah i excluded that one due to it's 85 stateside release.

release dates are so annoying. every movie should just come out everywhere the second it's print is finalized ;)

Notluke said...

The Times of Harvey Milk won the Oscar for Best Documentary and, if you can believe it, it's even better and more moving than last year's Gus Van Sant picture Milk.I've seen The Times... for the first time a couple of months ago, and "even better" doesn't begin to describe it. I'd long believed that the script for 2008 Milk was the weakest aspect of the film anyway... but now I know that pretty much all the good parts were lifted directly from the 1984 one. Beautiful speech or no, Black so didn't deserve that Oscar.

Catherine said...

Oh, Stop Making Sense, no doubt. So so so good. It works as food for the soul, personally. Plus, it'll make you want to dance. Rent it!

Wayne B. said...

Wasn't born yet in '84; but from what I've seen my shortlist would look like:

Karate Kid
NeverEnding Story (SILVER)
Splash (BRONZE)
Terminator (GOLD)

Hmmm, looks more like an MTV Movie Award line-up...

Arkaan said...

Echo the love for Stop Making Sense. Demme's best? Top three for sure.

I'll toss something out for The Killing Fields. Imperfect, but gutwrenching.

Ignoring release dates, Year of the Quiet Sun is awesome and would sweep my personal awards.

Birdy's quite good.

Amadeus is okay, but the play is much much better.

adri said...

Add me to the list who thinks that "Love Streams" with Gina Rowlands and John Cassavetes is a fascinating, wonderful piece of filmmaking.

I also really like:
- A Soldier's Story (classic Norman Jewison)
- Under The Volcano (John Huston, dir., Albert Finney)
- The Bostonians (Merchant/Ivory, with Vanessa Redgrave, Christoper Reeves, Jessica Tandy)
- BOTH Harry Dean Stanton movies of 1984: Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders), and Repo Man - a cult classic- (Alex Cox)
- The Hit (dir. Stephen Frears, with John Hurt, Tim Roth, Terrence Stamp - unexpectedly riveting)

Interesting but not totally successful:
- Swann in Love (Volker Schlondorff with Jeremy Irons, a version of Marcel Proust's novel)
- The Company of Wolves (Neil Jordan)

Want to see, but haven't seen yet:
- L'Amour Par Terre (dir. Jacques Rivette, with Jane Birkin and Geraldine Chaplin)

Vincetastic said...

Hey Nathaniel, this top ten list is fantastic. Amadeus is totally overrated, I fell asleep before the halfway mark. Good to see Gremlins in there, but I saw it a couple months ago for the first time in a long time, and it is total 80's trash, which has its charm. How Terminator is not #1 boggles my mind. Especially since it spawned at least one other good movie (T2), I am highly anticipating T4 coming out soon. You can post this to our site http://www.toptentopten.com/ and link back to your site. We are trying to create a directory for top ten lists where people can find your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

adri said...

Coppola's "The Cotton Club" was also 1984 - I love Gregory Hines. It'd be interesting to see this one now, and see if it makes more sense, looks more coherent.

Bing147 said...

1. Once Upon a Time in America
2. Paris, Texas
3. Amadeus
4. This is Spinal Tap
5. The Times of Harvey Milk
6. A Passage to India
7. Blood Simple
8. Starman
9. Terminator
10. Beverly Hills Cop

HM: A Soldiers Story, Broadway Danny Rose

The top 3 are all in my top 25 of all time, they're 3 of my top 4 of the 80s, the other film being My Life as a Dog. If you haven't seen Once Upon a Time in America, do so, its my #2 of all time.

I still have a few to see, notably: Graystroke (if only McDowell's career had not recovered...), Stranger than Paradise, A Day in the Country, Under the Volcano, Love Streams, Nausicaa, What Have I Done To DeserVe This, Stop Making Sense, Another Country, 1984.


so it sounds like


are indeed the two biggies i'm missing from this year. Though I'm also really curious about UNDER THE VOLCANO.