Honorable Mention: COMMANDO (1985) and COBRA (1986)
Undeniably stupid, but nevertheless I find these two films wholly satisfying. Cobra, in particular, is ridiculous, but purely enjoyable in part because of its existence as one of the ultimate “star ego run wild” projects. From the opening scene of Arnold Schwartzenegger totting a tree across his bulked shoulders, to the sight of a monosyllabic Sylvester Stallone chewing a matchstick with more enthusiastic interest than the supermarket terrorist he guns down, both of these films represent classic cheese from the decade of excess.
Honorable Mention: NOTHING IN COMMON (1986) and RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988)
Two underrated films that deal with the family dynamic. The pairing of Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason set Garry Marshall’s ‘Nothing in Common’ apart. In spite of an occasionally clunky sitcom structure, the film hits upon moments of tenderness that ring true, and a genuinely winning and charismatic Hanks performance that hinted at heights to come. Lumet’s melodrama ‘Running on Empty’ is – like all of his films – a tremendous actor’s showcase as Christina Lahti, Judd Hirsch and River Phoenix craft a family defined by great distress and greater love. This is my favorite Phoenix performance; the restless, passionate heart in this warm and observant film.
Honorable Mention: WITHOUT A TRACE (1983) and MISSING (1982)
Two children in peril films. ‘Without a Trace’ follows Kate Nelligan as the tormented mother of a missing child, and Judd Hirsch as the detective haunted by his continuing failure to find him. In the wake of Adam Walsh, the movie was particularly harrowing, and its wish fulfillment ending feels genuinely mysterious and cathartic. No such wish fulfillment greets the characters of Costa Gavras’ political drama ‘Missing’, which follows Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek as the father and wife of a young man who disappears in the chaos of the 1973 military coup in Chile. While uneven, at times the film does achieve its desired balance between the deeply intimate and personal within its larger political landscape.
Honorable Mention: STAR 80 (1983) and CASUALTIES OF WAR (1989)
These are two harrowing movies that viscerally illustrate human debasement. Eric Roberts dominates Bob Fosse’s ‘Star 80’, the story of the humble beginnings, immense stardom and tragic murder of Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten; it’s truly one of the great performances of the decade to be placed right next to Dennis Hopper’s ‘Blue Velvet’ for its ferocious intensity. What makes Roberts’ work really pop is the core of insecurity and insatiable human need that has touched all of us (though hopefully never to such a terrifyingly obsessive degree). He’s the ultimate human monster. Brian De Palma’s ‘Casualties of War’ had the misfortune of coming at the tail end of the decade, years after Oliver Stone and Stanley Kubrick delivered their Vietnam-era milestones. It’s a flawed film – the performances don’t always gel together as they should, and David Rabe’s dialogue can be a little too knowing and on the nose – but much of its haunting imagery will always stay with me. The rape and murder at the center of the film is a vivid and horrific portrait of supreme violation, and an apt metaphor for the moral quagmires of war.
Additional titles that fall right outside my top 20 favorite films of the 1980’s: Platoon, Shoot the Moon, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Border, Another Woman, Ironweed, The Thing, Terms of Endearment, Scarface, Angel Heart, Fatal Attraction, Lethal Weapon & Lethal Weapon 2, Blade Runner