30 Years of Movies—the Movies That Mattered…To Me: 1983

The Outsiders
I feel so bad for all the kids who didn’t grow up with The Outsiders. What more, really, could you ask for in a teen drama? My memory of this film is so vivid: the leather jackets, the greasy-haired dreamboats, the muscles, the fights, the cigarette packs in the armsleeves, the rolled-up jean cuffs, Ralph Macchio as the unlikely hero, Matt Dillon as the misunderstood stud, C. Thomas Howell as the sensitive poet, Patrick Swayze as the protective father-figure and Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise as background eye candy—and that’s not even mentioning Diane Lane. I just can’t remember another cast like this one and another movie that reached right in and pulled my young guts out. I absolutely loved this movie, for every reason including the tragic melodrama that makes Twilight seem like kid’s stuff. Who needs vampires when you’ve got a young Matt Dillon.


The Right Stuff
I’m pretty sure I didn’t see this when it first came out, but I’ve seen it several times since and each viewing reminds me of what an American classic this film is. Based on the Tom Wolfe book of the same name, this movie about the original American astronauts is lyrical in tone and stirring in scope. It captures a place and time in our history in just the right way. You just can’t help but feel a bit more patriotic after watching The Right Stuff. And the great cast, including Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Sam Shepard, and Fred Ward doesn’t hurt either.


Long before Showgirls, this cult/camp classic set the world ablaze with cheesy, over-the-top acting and obscenely graphic violence. But would this movie have even made a blip on the radar without Al Pacino as the star? I mean, it’s Pacino that makes this movie as watchable as it is—even if for all the wrong reasons. I obviously didn’t see this seriously demented movie when I was 13, but in the years since, I have come to appreciate it as outrageously entertaining machismo. From the classicly-‘80s Giogio Moroder soundtrack to the is-she-really-wearing-that dead eyes performance by Michelle Pfeiffer (a year after Grease 2!) to Pacino’s laughable accent, Scarface lives up to its reputation—and more.


Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Yes, I am a member of the Star Wars generation, and these movies loom large in my life. Yet Return of the Jedi was the first one that I actually saw in the theatre because I was too young for the first two. So even though this film is critically viewed as the weakest of the three original Star Wars films, it holds the dearest place in my heart, if for no other reason than my memory of sitting in the darkened theatre with all my friends, half a world away (in Germany) and feeling part of the phenomenon. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Original trailer:

Staying Alive
If you doubt the fact that I’m being honest here, you obviously missed last week’s revelation that Grease 2 was one of my most memorable film experiences of 1982. I sadly/gladly continue the tradition of baring it all with my admission that in 1983, I absolutely loved Staying Alive, the oh-so-bad sequel to Saturday Night Fever (yes, there was a sequel), starring John Travolta and directed by—wait for it—Sylvester Stallone. This movie is seriously as bad as movies get, but I somehow still loved it. To this very moment I’m trying to come up with a reason why and I just can’t. You’ll just have to trust that a) I loved it and b) it’s REALLY bad. Am I ashamed? Maybe just a little.

Here’s a taste. The opening sequence:

Terms of Endearment
I redeem myself here, don’t I? It’s tough to not recognize this for the great film it is, and I loved it even as a young teenager. Great characters transcend and you really don’t get three more interesting characters than the ones played by Jack Nicholson, Shirley MacLaine and especially Debra Winger, who stole the movie from her bigger-named co-stars. Although I probably cried watching Bambi when I was younger (I mean, I’m scarred for life), this was the first time I actually remember bawling my eyes out during a movie. And so movies taught me yet another lesson: catharsis.


Ah, the perfect time capsule movie. No other movie so brilliantly captured the zeitgeist of a nation than WarGames, with its Cold War angst set against the dawning of the technological era. In 1983, every cool kid had an Atari and WarGames tapped into that burgeoning video game mentality by trying to scare the bejeezus out of us. But WarGames just ended up being a totally cool movie about totally uncool adults and two totally relatable teenagers who save the world. Yeah, it resonated.


The Big Chill
Don’t ask me how or why a movie about a group of thirty-something baby boomers sitting around contemplating their lives could matter to a 13-year old, but it did. I think I loved the drama of it all, all that navel-gazing and feeling sorry for themselves just struck me as fascinating. Filled with great actors delivering great performances, The Big Chill just stayed with me. And it helped that it was one of the first soundtracks I ever remember owning on vinyl.

Original trailer:

Bill Cosby: Himself
I don’t remember ever laughing so hard. I’m sure it wouldn’t be nearly as gut-busting to me today, but back then this stand-up comedy special made me pee my pants. It was a highlight of many a sleepover, I can tell you that.


Ok, I’m putting this on this list to make a point. Yes, I did/do hate Meryl Streep, but it needs to be understood why. It’s not just that she stole the Best Actress Oscar from Jessica Lange in 1982, but it’s also because she is praised so highly for performances that, I feel, are all about accents and wigs. BUT—Streep has delivered a few performances in her career that don’t rely on such crutches and Silkwood is one of them. This is a fantastic film and she is great in it—and it doesn’t kill me to admit that. In addition, Cher delivers the performance of her career and even Kurt Russell is tolerable, which makes Silkwood a true revelation. Despite what you think you know about me, I recommend it.

Phew…glad that’s over.


The Movies That Should Have Mattered More:

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
I’m in trouble now… But what needs to be understood is that I came to Monty Python later in life. I didn’t grow up with an appreciation for this brilliant comedy group, so they don’t hold the near and dear place in my heart that they do many of my contemporaries. But, when I did finally have that gaping hole in my pop culture experiences filled, I learned what geniuses they are and The Holy Grail and Life of Brian came to be two of my all-time favorite comedy films. But The Meaning of Life just fell flat with me, I just have to admit.

National Lampoon’s Vacation
I did love this movie, but it just didn’t resonate with me as much as it did others. I loved European Vacation more and I’ll stick by that.

The Day After
If WarGames was supposed to scare kids away from their video games, The Day After was supposed to scare everyone else away from everything. Do you remember what a big deal this movie was? A TV movie set after a nuclear war, The Day After was supposed to show us the dangers of living in the nuclear age. The thing is, I don’t actually remember the movie itself, I only remember all the hype that surrounded it.

Valley Girl
I have to believe this movie would have impacted me more if I had been living in the States at the time….especially Southern California. But Valley Girl didn’t speak to me at all. I probably should be ashamed to admit that, but there you go. But the soundtrack? Still one of the greatest of all time.

The Movies That Might Have Mattered, but I Missed:

A Christmas Story
Educating Rita
Never Say Never Again
Tender Mercies
The Dresser

Oscar winners of 1983:
Best Picture: Terms of Endearment
Best Director: James L. Brooks – Terms of Endearment
Best Actor: Robert Duvall – Tender Mercies
Best Actress: Shirley MacLaine – Terms of Endearment
Best Supporting Actor: Jack Nicholson – Terms of Endearment
Best Supporting Actress: Linda Hunt – The Year of Living Dangerously