Tootsie may have been the movie that made me fall in love with movies, but this was the one that turned love to passion. It can’t be said in enough ways how Amadeus blew me away as a 14-year-old. I still consider it a masterpiece. Easily my favorite drama of all time.
Beverly Hills Cop
Everything Eddie Murphy once was is on display here in what I consider to be his finest performance. This was the first movie I remember so deftly blending action and comedy. Even in this moment I can’t pin it to one genre. So many movies since have tried to duplicate the formula, but nothing beats the original.
The most underrated performance of Jessica Lange’s career. I suppose expectations were high after her double-nomination year of 1982, but this film deserved much more attention than it got. She rightfully was still nominated for her performance in this struggling-farmer themed movie, but it unfortunately got lost in the shuffle with Sissy Spacek’s The River and Sally Field’s Places in the Heart, two other heartland dramas starring Oscar-winning actresses. All three women were nominated for Best Actress (with Field winning), but I consider Lange’s subtle and strong performance to be the best of the bunch.
There can’t be a single member of my generation that didn’t love this movie. What’s not to love? It has music, rebellion, villains, and an adorable Kevin Bacon—everything a teenager could want. The strength of Dianne Wiest and John Lithgow can’t be underrated either, as their presence in this movie gave it real gravity. But it was the awesome/cheesy ‘80s soundtrack and Bacon’s undeniable charm that carries the movie—in spite of a performance by Lori Singer that boggles the mind. I know I would have felt differently if I had been 30, but at 14 Footloose was totally rad.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Indiana Jones was my generation’s James Bond. I still remember the raft-falling-out-of-the-plane and the rickety train sequences as completely breathtaking and thrilling. And yes, I was scared to death by the bad guy who rips a guy’s heart out (literally). Even though this one was a little dark, Indy was still cooler than cool. But even Indy couldn’t make up for Kate Capshaw’s jaw-dropping lack of acting ability, which, sadly, makes repeated viewings of this one hard to stomach.
The Lonely Guy
Most people look to Steve Martin’s The Jerk as his comic masterpiece, but I will stand up for The Lonely Guy as equally brilliant. The best sad-sack since Chaplin, Steve Martin has mastered the art of the loveable loser and there is perhaps no greater example than Larry Hubbard. Except maybe his best friend Warren Evans, played by the great Charles Grodin. Together, Larry and Warren make even the world’s biggest dork feel macho and confident. I just can’t get enough of this movie, with its innocent optimism and sad, subtle humor.
I’ve loved baseball all my life and The Natural made it poetry.
Romancing the Stone
Maybe I shouldn’t admit that I loved the sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, more, but Romancing the Stone was my first experience with the chemistry and perfection that is Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas on screen together. You can have Bogart and Bacall and Hepburn and Tracy. I’ll take Turner and Douglas any day.
Classic ‘80s comedy. Tom Hanks at his best. Such a simple premise—fish out of water, ha ha—but it works so well and feels so fresh because Hanks is so likeable and warm on screen. The birth of a movie star.
Didn’t catch up with this one until later, but it deserves to be here, obviously. Even though it feels dated now, it was well ahead of its time and signaled the arrival of a real—I hate to use this word—visionary in James Cameron. When you really think about it, the fact that he made such a great movie starring a muscle head who couldn’t act and could barely speak English speaks volumes about Cameron’s talents. What I responded to in The Terminator is the same thing I responded to in The Matrix: intensity, dark themes and high stakes.
This Is Spinal Tap
The first and best of the Christopher Guest-penned “mockumentaries” that gave an entire generation lines and scenes to reference for the rest of their lives. It gets better with each viewing.
The Killing Fields
Maybe a little heavy for a 14-year old, but my parents loved this movie so much that I got to experience it early and I’m glad I did. This is the kind of movie that teaches you more about an historical event than you could ever learn from a textbook. A searing and intense movie set in Cambodia during the violent Khmer Rouge regime, The Killing Fields reminds you of the power of movies. And if your only experience of Sam Waterston is Law & Order, make this your next rental. Waterston is brilliant, as is Oscar-winner Haing S. Ngor, who will break your heart.
A Soldier’s Story
It sometimes feels like I’m the only one who remembers this staggeringly powerful drama about an investigation of a soldier’s murder during World War II. Part detective story, part racial conflict drama and part thriller, A Soldier’s Story will hold you riveted. The performances, especially Oscar-nominated Adolph Caesar, Howard E. Rollins, Jr. and a young Denzel Washington are all stellar in a movie a lot of people forget was nominated for Best Picture.
The Ones That Should Have Mattered More:
All of Me
No matter how much I loved Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin individually, I hated this movie. I probably would appreciate it more now, but my initial reaction was so negative, I haven’t had the courage to go back and try it again.
Call me Grinch, but John Hughes’ first homage to my generation made me wonder what all the hoopla was about.
The Karate Kid
While I loved Ralph Macchio in The Outsiders, I just wasn’t interested in watching him learn karate and get life lessons from Pat Morita. I know, I know…I’m un-American.
A cult classic that seems to have gained in popularity, I thought it was cheesy and stupid. But maybe that was its charm.
The Ones That Might Have Mattered but I Missed:
The Cotton Club
A Passage to India
Revenge of the Nerds
Stop Making Sense
Stranger Than Paradise
Oscar winners of 1984:
Best Picture: Amadeus
Best Director: Miloš Forman – Amadeus
Best Actor: F. Murray Abraham – Amadeus
Best Actress: Sally Field – Places in the Heart
Best Supporting Actor: Haing S. Ngor – The Killing Fields
Best Supporting Actress: Peggy Ashcroft – A Passage to India