Thursday, April 22, 2010

Year in Review: 1982

1982 was not the best year for movies in the 1980s – but that doesn’t mean there are some excellent films from this year – I’d say the top 7 are all legitimately great films, and the three that round out the top 10 are excellent as well – just not quite at the same level. It also must be said that it was an excellent year for genre films – so perhaps I am being a little too hasty writing this year off.

10. Gandhi (Richard Attenborough)
Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi is a magnificent epic biopic about the famed Indian leader. Ben Kingsley, in his first major motion picture role, gives an astonishing performance as the man who tried, and succeeded, in taking down an empire using non-violent means. The film is not exactly original – it follows the standard issue formula of biopics throughout cinema history – but that is appropriate for the film. Gandhi’s story is powerful enough, and it is brought to life with loving detail by Attenborugh, who obviously felt strongly involved with the subject.

9. White Dog (Samuel Fuller)
Who else but Samuel Fuller would dare to make a movie like White Dog? The title does not only relate to the color of the dog in question, but also what kind of dog he is. He has been trained to attack and kill black people. He escapes from his rotten owner, and finds his way to struggling actress Kristy McNichol, who takes him in and loves him. But when she takes him to a trainer, she discovers the awful truth. Undaunted however, trainer Billy Dee Williams takes it upon himself to try and cure the dog. White Dog is a violent film, which for some reason was proclaimed to be racist by some at the time. It isn’t. What it is, is a disturbing look at the dark side of humanity. You cannot blame the dog for what he is – he is an innocent, being used by evil people. There is an absolutely masterful sequence where the dog escapes, and wonders the streets which is almost heart stopping in its intensity. Yes, the performances in the movie are weak at best, but it doesn’t matter. White Dog is a powerful movie.

8. Sophie’s Choice (Alan J. Pakula)
Meryl Streep gives one of, if not, the best performance of her career in this film. She plays Sophie, a Catholic Polish woman, who during WWII was thrown into a concentration camp because of her apparent crimes. While there, she has to make the most heartbreaking choice any mother has ever had to face. Now, years later, she is living in America with her new lover, Kevin Kline who is crazy himself, when a young writer (Peter McNichol) moves in upstairs, and the three of them share a strange bond together. Streep’s brilliant performance carries the movie, and helps to smooth over some flaws in the narrative. It is a brilliant, heartbreaking performance in a movie that is powerful and unforgettable.

7. Fitzcaraldo (Werner Herzog)
Fitzcaraldo was crazy, which makes it fitting that he would be played by Klaus Kinski, one of the most insane actors in history, in a film directed by Werner Herzog, who may just be the craziest director in history. At least the real Fitzcaraldo knew enough that when he decided to sail a riverboat down a river in Peru and haul it over a mountain to gain access to another river that was thought to be unreachable, he knew he would have to disassemble the boat first. Not Herzog, who was determined to haul the boat over all at once. Everyone assumed that Herzog would kill someone, but miraculously, he pulled it off. The film itself is a wonderful portrait of a crazy dreamer, who would stop at nothing – which perhaps makes this Herzog’s most personal film, if not his best. A masterful film. (Note: I remember watching The Simpsons a few years ago when Martin called out “I feel like Fitzcarraldo”, to which Nelson replied “That movie was flawed” before punching him in the stomach, which practically made me fall out of my chair laughing, as my wife looked at me as if I were nuts. Nelson’s astute criticism is correct – the film is flawed, but I love it nonetheless).

6. The Road Warrior (George Miller)
I am not a very big fan of the original Mad Max, or the third in the series – Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but the middle part of the trilogy, The Road Warrior, is one of the best action movies of the 1980s, as well as a wonderful movie about the dystopian future that the earth has in store for us. Oil has become scarce in this world, maruding gangs of thieves and killers stalk the highways looking for people to rob and kill. Mad Max (Mel Gibson) stumbles across a working oil refinery, with a group of people inside, who are soon going to be in the fight of their lives to try and prevent one of those gangs from killing them all. Mad Max is one of those roles that is perfectly suited to Gibson, who gives an intense performance in this film. George Miller is a master at action sequences, and this one contains some of the best stunt work and car chases that have ever been put on film. The Road Warrior is exciting filmmaking from beginning to end.

5. Das Boot (Wolfgang Peterson)
Das Boot is without question the best submarine movie ever made. The film takes place on a German U-Boat during WWII, and is both an edge of your seat action movie, with some of the best action sequences ever filmed, as well as a portrait of the boredom and tedium that can come from being on a sub – with the seemingly endless hours and days spent in fruitless hunt. The film avoids looking seriously at issues like the Nazis, and portrays the crew of the boat as proud men who are trying to do their best for their fellow soldiers and their country. Peterson would go onto a career as Hollywood action movie director, and while some of his films here have been great (In the Line of Fire for example), they lack the personal details on display in this film. This is a masterfully directed film, that is exciting and tense throughout and deserves comparison to any war movie out there.

4. The Verdict (Sidney Lumet)
Sidney Lumet has pretty much directed a movie in every genre over the years, but he will probably be best remembered for his courtroom dramas. His The Verdict is one of the best movies the genre has ever given us. Centered on a brilliant performance by Paul Newman, as an alcoholic lawyer who snaps out of his drunken stupor long enough to take a case – and then finds that he has become obsessed with it. He is going to take the case to court, and come hell or high water, he is going to make the doctors at fault for a young woman’s coma pay. Newman has always been one of the best actors in the world, and his performance in The Verdict is one of his best. He is perfect as a drunk at the beginning of the film – the kind of game who stumbles into the office once in a while, and who everyone just sort of puts up with. His transformation into a battling attorney isn’t farfetched, because we believe him in the role. A lot has been made about the end of the film, and exactly what is in the cup he is drinking out of. Has he gone back to his old ways? Newman says not, but I wonder. No matter how you feel about the ending, it comes at the end of a truly great courtroom drama.

3. Tootsie (Sidney Pollack)
Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie is one of the great mainstream American comedies of the 1980s. In it, Dustin Hoffman may just give his best performance. He plays a struggling actor with an ego the size of huge star, which makes it impossible for him to find work. So he decides to disguise himself as a woman named Tootsie, and audition for a role on a soap opera – which he gets, and becomes a major star because of it. However, during the course the movie, Hoffman realizes just how woman like Tootsie – ie not very attractive – get treated by the system. The film is hilarious, but it is also rather daring. Jessica Lange is wonderful as Tootsie’s co-star, who finds herself attracted to Tootsie, which causes some confusion about her own sexual identity. Meanwhile her father, Charles Durning, falls in love with Tootsie as well – and when he discovers the secret, does it mean he really is gay? To some, this is just a pale imitation of Some Like it Hot – I however think it’s superior to that movie, and one of the great comedies of all time.

2. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott)
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner remains one of the most influential science fiction movies ever made, and perhaps the best film of his career. The film is a masterwork of cinematography and art direction, not to mention special effects, which Scott uses to support his story about a bounty hunter (Harrison Ford) on the trail of replicants (or robots) who have come to earth and are mingling with people. The rainy, bleak, dirty future on display in this movie has influenced a generation of science fiction filmmakers, and the storyline remains exciting, and at times even profound, going into areas of identity and human emotion that often science fiction overlook. Certainly a masterwork of the genre.

1. ET: The Extra Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg)
What can one say about Steven Spielberg’s E.T.? Has there ever been a magical film made for children than this one? If there has been, I cannot think of it. E.T. taps into our collective unconscious – the conflicting pain and joy in being a kid. The movie is a different sort of view on the visitors from another planet genre, as E.T. is such a lovable creation that you cannot imagine him being hostile. The film is full of magical moments – the Reeses pieces, Drew Barrymore screaming when she discovers E.T. (which of course gets him screaming as well), and of course the final sequence when Elliot and E.T. have to escape. Even though I know damn well that he is okay, every time I think that E.T. is dead, I still cry like a little girl. This is what Spielberg does best.

Just Missed The Top 10: The Thing (John Carpenter), Burden of Dreams (Les Blank), Missing (Costa-Gravas), An Officier and a Gentleman (Taylor Hackford), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling), The World According to Garp (George Roy Hill), 48 Hours (Walter Hill), Diner (Barry Levinson).

Notable Films Missed: Passion (Jean Luc Godard), Veronika Voss (Rainer Werner Fassbinder), The Night of the Shooting Stars (Paolo & Vittorio Taviani), Toute une nuit (Chantel Ackerman).

Oscar Winner – Best Picture & Director: Gandhi (Richard Attenborugh)
I obviously like Gandhi as it was on my top 10 list for this year – but that had as much to do with the fact that it was a weaker year as anything else. It is the type of film that is involving, and feels important when you are watching it – which is the type of movie that the Academy always goes for – but that you never really feel the urge to watch again. It is a fine choice for the Oscar, if a little unoriginal.

Oscar Winner – Best Actor: Ben Kingsley, Gandhi
Kingsley is astonishing in the lead role in this film, perfectly capturing the Indian leader. Kingsley is one of those actors who can seemingly do anything, so I for one, am quite happy that he has an Oscar at home. Personally, I think Hoffman deserved to win – but then he has two Oscars at home that I didn’t think he deserved, so I guess it evens out.

Oscar Winner – Best Actress: Meryl Streep, Sophie’s Choice
Streep is phenomenal in this powerful movie. This really could be the best performance of her career – and considering how many great roles she has had, that really is saying something. The rest of the nominees, let alone anyone else, cannot hold a candle to her.

Oscar Winner – Best Supporting Actor: Louis Gosset Jr. An Officier and a Gentleman
This was an extremely weak category this year. Gosset is quite good in his role as the merciless drill sergeant in the film – but it’s a role that has been done better (how the Academy did not nominate R. Lee Ermey a few years later in Full Metal Jacket, I’ll never understand). Out of the nominees, I probably would have went with John Lithgow in The World According to Garp – but I do think the Academy overlooked the best performance this category had to offer – Mickey Rourke in Diner, a film I am mixed about, but a performance I think is wonderful.

Oscar Winner – Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Lange, Tootsie
Jessica Lange is wonderful is Tootsie as an actress dealing with sexism, and her confused feelings towards her new “female” co-star. She is sexy, sweet and funny, and in a category that didn’t have a whole lot else to offer, she was clearly the best.

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