6.22.2021

1986: Life moves pretty fast...


The 35th Anniversary is the "Jade Anniversary" -- which, in this context, means absolutely nothing. But it justifies the notion that there is such a thing as a "35th Anniversary," if that's important to ya. Me, I don't need any cultural consent to justify my love for this big awesome 80s year - especially when it comes to the movies. (And if you're not aware, I'm gonna make you aware.)

I was 3 years old. In April, my family and I moved to a small dead-end street called Bennett Place. I don't think I fully grasped the concept of "moving" - all I know is I fell asleep in a familiar setting and woke up in a room I'd never seen before - alone. Half awake I navigated the foreign dwelling with equal parts fear and wonder, in search of a familiar face, cautiously descending a flight of cold, uncarpeted stairs along bare, echoing walls, to find my mother and sister in what was to be 'the parlor.' In terms of the plot, this is where childhood began.


Chernobyl and Iran-Contra didn't make much of an impact on me. Due to my love of astronauts and space exploration, I was effectively shielded from any news of the Challenger explosion. Though no one bothered to hide their misery regarding the staggering loss of the World Series for the Red Sox -- I'd never seen grownups so forlorn. My only awareness of Halley's Comet was a commemorative Matchbox car that I had (which is now tattooed on my arm). I was simultaneously introduced to Nickelodeon and the first two Elm Street movies. Steeped and marinating in Bon Jovi and Real Ghostbusters. The California Raisins made their TV commercial debut. I made my first voyage to the movie theater for Star Trek IV. I spent days exploring a new neighborhood of woods, secret hideouts and passageways, an open field, a playground, and a corner store full of candy and trading cards. Pee-Wee Herman had his own show. There was no such thing as school. 1986 was Life, and I was good at it.


Our generation is accused of idealizing our youth more than past generations, but it really doesn't take any extra mental effort to simply glance at how neat shit was. Though it's not until we're gradually introduced to a hostile world that we really begin to appreciate the safety of home & family & juvenescence. Oh, and the quality of Motion Pictures. Every year of the 1980s is a piƱata full of the pop icons we've been beaten over the head with ever since nostalgia became a marketing technique. But we know it more than just a collage of catchphrases and caricatures -- because we know more and we know better.


This is an odd year; there are those aforementioned flagship features with their universal appeal, and then a ton of deep cuts and B-sides that we all know just as well or more. So many, in fact, that I can compile a robust list of favorites, and you could do a completely different lineup, and they'd both be a strong flavor of this particular year. So, same as I did for 1985, I've kept it to a modest 20 - mostly for the sake of keeping it sturdy and compelling. The omissions hurt, and hopefully you feel my pain enough to tabulate your own tally - particularly without any rules or regulations.

This is where the law stops, and I start.

- Paul



1. Manhunter
So I was soured on this one for the longest time because my parents wholly dismissed it for straying too far from the book. But when I slipped into a Mann obsession in my teens, I discovered this Vaporwave chiller that managed to embellish all the hallmarks that Miami Vice gets credit for. An aesthetic was perfected here, and it's one that speaks to me at a very high volume; a moody mosaic of precise, colorful compositions cut to Synth and Prog Rock, paced like a Pulp Detective novel. This entire vibe feels so trendy right now, but no one bothers to even attempt to pull it off anymore (not even Michael Mann). It could be for the best, considering this can never be topped.

2. Running Scared
My favorite Buddy Cop Comedy of all time -- I'm not even gonna bother trying to think of any others. The supporting cast is a dream, the action & stunts are clever & enthralling, the score/songtrack is monumental, and the juxtaposition between 80s Chicago and Key West is one of the most visceral time machines you'll ever ride. But all of this is secondary to the chemistry between Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal, forged by a sophisticated script and inspired performances that could've easily kicked off a welcomed sequel or franchise. 

3. The Money Pit
I hate when people refer to a movie as "weird" - but this is a pretty weird movie; a lite RomCom built on the ramshackle foundation of slapstick, stunts, and sight gags, all driven by quick, sharp dialogue. Given its fixed location and broad emotions, it's practically a lowbrow opera of sorts, and all the lyrics have been stuck in my head my whole life.

4. Cobra
Even while you're watching it, you think it's a big fiery 1980s Stallone Actioner, but if you're paying as close attention as you should, you'll recognize it as the hard-boiled, polychromatic, killer thriller that it is. The vapid plot and dialogue only accentuate the voluptuous soundtrack and rainbow imagery that all movies should have - but don't. One of the other fun things about it is that it was a critical failure -- so I like to go ahead and believe it was too cerebral for most folks (and I encourage you to believe the same).

5. Blue Velvet
In a decade known for its mindless action, broad comedy, and children's fantasy, there sure is a lotta beautiful artistry. Seeing this movie for the first time (in its correct aspect ratio) is what turned me into a David Lynch fan; it's when I became aware that even the most straightforward dialogue scenes could (and should) be compositionally striking. As one of the best-looking films of all time, I still use it (even subconsciously) as a barometer to measure the quality of all other movies. 

6. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Not all heroes wear capes... Was this ever more apparent than in the era of Indiana Jones and Christa McAuliffe? ...anyone? ...anyone? I wasn't even in Kindergarten yet when I saw this and found I was already rooting for its antiestablishment message. But that's its genius: the premise, the characters, even the setting are all so compelling and fun because they're wrapped in genuinely funny comedy. 

7. Flight of the Navigator
People love to call attention to the unintentional scariness of the movies of their youth, but there's nothing unintentional about the spookiness of this Family Film. This isn't searching for pirate treasure or even battling Universal Monsters - this is existential horror from the darkest corners of time & space; a juvenile Twilight Zone saturated in nightmarish production design and an Alan Silvestri music score that mercilessly accentuates the contrast between wonderment and dread. Every child should see this.

8. Crocodile Dundee
The sweetest fish-outta-water tale ever told, it's blissfully aimless and beautifully paced; we get as much of a flavor of The Outback as we do of urban America. (And 1980s New York City is such an important character in Cinema.) Talkin' a lot about music on this list (not surprisingly) - the final 5 minutes of this movie always reignites my appreciation (and desperate longing) for great film scores.

9. The Color of Money
Boy did this movie end up being an acquired taste; viewing it for the first time many years after its release, it seemed lazy by comparison. But it's not - it falls somewhere between Taxi Driver and Shutter Island in terms of Marty's moodiest motion pictures; it may not be as confrontational or contemplative as his other stuff, but the smell of booze & blues sticks to your clothes forever.

10. The Wraith
This was a baffling movie to a little kid. As an adult, that very same bewilderment still has me hooked -- that & it has one of the Top 10 greatest soundtracks of all time. But that's the trick of an excellent soundtrack: it wouldn't work as well without this specific movie, and vice versa.

11. Three Amigos!
It works in the same way Monty Python and the Holy Grail works; you take the silliness out of it and you're left with a rich, period-specific Action/Adventure genre pic. But pretentiousness aside, this is one of those rare Comedies that's worthy of its plethora of A-list comedian stars. I never had a 'cowboy' phase as a kid, but this most likely sparked my lust for the desert. 

12. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
I don't get butthurt when my expectations aren't met; I do feel disappointment when I expect a good movie and get a bad one instead... Some sequels are unique and bold enough to exist beyond comparison (Gremlins 2, Freddy's Dead, Halloween 3), and TCM2 breaks free from the ruthless terror of the original and blossoms into a loud, yucky Comedy that functions as the most creative Slasher flick you'll ever see.

13. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Speaking of breaking the mold... Part V was a breath of abstract air, but Part VI is when this franchise finally became what it was supposed to be: fun! Gone was the self-seriousness of an attempted "scary" Horror movie as we welcomed the self-awareness of the pace and humor of a zombie in a hockey mask killing people we don't know or care about in funny ways. Seriously one of the most appreciated changes in tone I've ever experienced.

14. Howard the Duck
Look, I don't know what you want me to say - it's still as strong and crazy as when I was a kid. I can make broad, superficial remarks about how Howard is likable and the FX are competent and Lea Thompson is a babe, but it's strength continues to be its shameless derangement that dares you to not take it seriously. 

15. Demons 2
When is it acceptable for a sequel to plainly rehash everything from the previous movie? Only when it's a nonstop kaleidoscopic assault on your eyes, ears, and stomach. Had it been anything less (or different) it would've been a boring misstep -- instead, it's a revolting 'Round 2' of rotting flesh, drooling smiles, glowing eyes, and cinematography that puts most other movies to shame. 

16. The Fly
We've played this game before: imagine a hypothetical remake, then assign the perfect director to the job. Well, here's an example of when it actually happened. But like most of Cronenberg's resume, the highlights are the script, the performances, and my god the makeup effects. Body Horror was a rational phobia in the 80s, and this movie twists the knife in a wonderful way.

17. Aliens
Second to soundtracks and scores (iconic James Horner theme anyone?) there's a lotta sequels here (this is the fifth on this list). And like all the previously noted titles, this was no ordinary followup to no ordinary movie; never has "raise the stakes" delivered on such a violently massive scale. Ripley knows how it's gonna go, and it's fun because so do we.

18. Highlander
So here's one I sought out because of its soundtrack, and like everyone I got caught up in its bizarre SciFi mythology. But even still to this day, no matter how many wonderful performances Clancy Brown turns in, he's still The Kurgan to me.

19. TerrorVision
There was nothing subtle about the way Horror filmmakers were paying homage to 50s Cinema during this decade, and this punk/alien/monster movie mashup is one of the most audacious. Somehow, simultaneously, it also parodies the 1980s (particularly through the fashions and attitudes of the Diane Franklin and Jon Gries characters), making it essential to this particular list for this particular year.

20. Big Trouble in Little China
But really, what sums up this year the best? Originality, humor, visual effects, quotable lines, kindertrauma, culture shock, suspension of disbelief, solid gold soundtracks, guns, knives, lasers, explosions, and all the other stuff we can find in any year of Film... But never this much all at once. And I continue to have hope that it could happen on this scale again, as I still believe that loose promise: "the check is in the mail."

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