Back to the Future
Ah, 1985. The year Michael J. Fox ruined my life. Well, “ruined” may be too strong a word, but the actor’s influence certainly was felt in my life when I was 15. And I owe it all to Back to the Future. Yes, the movie is fantastic, and repeated viewings reveal it to be a genuine piece of pop culture artistry that stands the test of time. The movie was good, and it was huge back in 1985. Everybody saw it. And the friends of mine who saw it (all of them) seemingly agreed on one thing at about the same moment: I was the spitting image of Michael J. Fox. I don’t know if you know this, but by the time you’re 15, teasing becomes a genuine art form and you seem to utilize this tool as often as possible. Don’t worry, this wouldn’t classify as bullying—more good-natured ribbing, since, while saying I looked exactly like Michael J. Fox was sort of…humbling, nobody really intended it or considered it to be an insult. He was the most popular actor with teens at the time, after all. But it was, apparently, very funny to a lot of my peers and this source of amusement lasted a long time—at least in teenage years—and one I couldn’t even escape in the summer, as the kids at camp jumped on the apparently obvious bandwagon with even more vigor. Ah, it was all in good fun, but, to this day, I can’t look at Back to the Future without a little twinge of resentment. I mean, they couldn’t have gone with Lea Thompson instead?
No, I didn’t see Brazil when I was 15. But later in life, after having lived with a devout Monty Python fan for a while, I was not able to keep secret for long the fact that I was a Terry Gilliam virgin. That was quickly rectified by a forced viewing of what is considered to be Gilliam’s masterpiece, Brazil. And, truly, film hasn’t been the same for me since. Brazil is the movie that opened my eyes to the concept of visionary filmmaking, and laid the groundwork for my appreciation of so many other filmmakers, like Stanley Kubrick, Tim Burton and Terrence Malick, and especially my favorite directors of all time, the Coen Brothers. Brazil was a watershed moment for me—I realized that my favorite movies aren’t the ones that can be shoved into one category: drama, comedy, romance—instead, I love movies that are odd and complicated and beautiful and smart and don’t tell me what to feel or think. If you’ve never seen Brazil, you owe yourself the trip down the rabbit hole.
St. Elmo’s Fire
This is my favorite John Hughes movie that isn’t a John Hughes movie. Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Mare Winningham and Andrew McCarthy were my icons of impending adulthood. Playing college friends trying to navigate the real world after graduation, they weren’t cool to me as much as they were fascinating and I couldn’t get enough of the trainwreck. I loved this movie so much that I even used it in a college film editing class assignment—re-editing the film down to 15 minutes. It certainly isn’t a great film, but there are times when you just want a movie to hit you in the right place at the right time.
Side-note, since we’re being personal: When I was in high school, the star wrestler on my school’s wrestling team broke his neck during a match, paralyzing him. His story captivated our school, as he fought to return to school, in his wheelchair, and had a great attitude and was an inspiration to everyone—even those of us who didn’t know him. I was so moved by his courage that I wrote a letter to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 in a Long-Distance dedication (remember those?). It was read on the air and the song I dedicated? “St. Elmo’s Fire—Man in Motion” by John Parr. Yes, some things you just can’t make up.
The Falcon and the Snowman
Jeff Spicoli (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) may have been Sean Penn’s first breakout role, but his performance as drug pusher-turned-spy Daulton Lee in John Schlesinger’s powerful film about two childhood friends who become Russian spies showed the world what a talent this future double Oscar winner really was. Paired with Timothy Hutton, who himself had won an Oscar five years earlier in Ordinary People, Penn commanded the screen with his alternately charming and disturbing characterization of an insecure paranoid seeking his fortune by betraying his country. Based on a true story, The Falcon and the Snowman is a stunning film about friendship and disillusionment that struck a chord as the Cold War was nearing its end.
The definition of epic. The definition of masterpiece.
Laugh all you want, but I loved this movie. I know I’m supposed to tell to you why, but sometimes a movie just hits you right and you can’t explain it. Cocoon is just a sweet story that hits all the right emotional notes. I’ll stand up for it always.
This is the first time we noticed that Han Solo/Indiana Jones could act. Harrison Ford is so good in this drama/thriller set in the Amish country in Pennsylvania. Director Peter Weir crafts a nicely-paced film with a solid cast and good script. But it’s Ford who makes the movie great, with his steady and quietly powerful performance. He earned his Best Actor nomination (still his only one) and the movie still holds up after all this time.
The Breakfast Club
Perhaps the seminal film of my generation. Long before Columbine and anti-bullying campaigns, the worst we could imagine in high school was being labeled and judged by assumptions. John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club put it all out there and put dialogue and faces to the things we were feeling and saying in private about each other and about ourselves. It is over-simplified of course, but boy, did it hit a nerve. No matter how anyone my age may denigrate it now, there’s no way they can deny this movie’s presence in our teenage consciousness in 1985. Hughes had a way of channeling the teenage experience and even though these characters were all stereotypes, there were so many elements he nailed perfectly. I, for one, loved most the fact that this was much more than a typical teen comedy. It didn’t dumb us down or preach to us. It just showed who we were.
The Color Purple
If you ever want a movie to punch you in the gut for two hours, I give you The Color Purple. If that doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience to you, then you might have trouble understanding my love for this movie. Well, it’s not love as much as it is respect because this really is a movie that’s tough to love. It’s also tough to watch, but well worth it if you appreciate incredibly committed performances. Whoopi Goldberg is staggeringly good. Her performance in this movie is the reason you never hear anyone complain about Whoopi Goldberg having an Oscar. There are also horrifyingly good performances by Danny Glover, Margaret Avery, Adolph Caesar and the heartbreaking Oprah Winfrey. Steven Spielberg won his acclaim for Schindler’s List, but he cut his teeth on this searing drama, proving he can deliver more than childhood fantasy.
I loved this movie when I first saw it in 1985 and I still love it every time it shows on TV. What could have easily played like an after-school special was elevated by great performances, solid direction and a script that never once over-sentimentalizes or idealizes the main character, a teenager with a severe physical deformity. Eric Stoltz is touching, charming and vibrant as Rocky Dennis and Cher is absolutely superb as his mother Rusty. The entire cast is great, but it is Stoltz’s straightforward performance that earns repeat viewings—despite the heartbreak that gets me every time.
I’m thinking this is the first thriller I ever remember watching. And I ate it up. This is a classic did-he-or-didn’t-he setup, but the skill of Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges, at the peaks of their careers, turned what could have been a run-of-the-mill genre picture into a great ride. I was on the edge of my seat, no pun intended, and even jumped out of it once or twice. Great movie.
The Jewel of the Nile
This sequel to Romancing the Stone, starring the dynamic duo of Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, may not be a great movie (I know that), but it doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining and all I can tell you is that I loved it when I was a kid. I found it romantic and exciting and there is no underestimating the chemistry of Turner and Douglas together.
National Lampoon’s European Vacation
Having spent most of my youth living overseas, I am quite familiar with the term “ugly American.” While I hope the Springers were never quite the Griswalds, I have to admit this movie makes me feel right at home.
Ok, so I only love this movie because it was filmed at my college (which I didn’t know until I actually went there), but so what? It at least features a young and cute Val Kilmer. That has to count for something.
This may not be art, it may not even be tolerable cinema, but Rocky IV is just so damn over the top that it sucked me in like a black hole. I was helpless to the corny dialogue, cheesy montages, simplistic plot and Dolph Lundgren’s abs. Please don’t forget I also loved Ran.
The Slugger’s Wife
I think I’m the only person who remembers this movie. I think I’m the only person who SAW this movie. And yet I really enjoyed this little film (was it even released in the theatres) about a professional baseball player and his aspiring-singer girlfriend. Would it help you to take me a little more seriously if I told you it was directed by Hal Ashby and written by Neil Simon? No, I didn’t think so. That really didn’t matter to me much either—I just have always been massively curious about the lives of pro ballplayers and will consume anything I can to get a glimpse. Even a sappy romance that I can’t even find a trailer online for.
We can’t have a year go by without Jessica, now can we? She plays Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams (a part that Meryl Streep fought to play—and lost—by the way) and she is, needless to say, outstanding. The Academy agreed: she was nominated again for Best Actress (losing to Geraldine Page in A Trip to Bountiful). This is one of my top five favorite Jessica performances.
The Purple Rose of Cairo
I only include this one because it was the first Woody Allen movie I actually liked. And it was my favorite Allen movie until last year’s Midnight in Paris. I just loved the vibe of this movie—it’s fun and clever. I could even put up with Mia Farrow, who normally bugs me, because this movie is so damn charming.
The Ones That Should Have Mattered More:
A View to a Kill
The second-worst Bond movie ever (License to Kill will always be #1), despite a theme song by Duran Duran, my favorite band at the time. This movie made me want to jump off the Eiffel Tower.
Desperately Seeking Susan
I think I was the only 15-year old girl in 1985 who wasn’t a) in love with Madonna and b) in love with this movie. I just didn’t get it.
I’ll take Clark Griswald any day.
Another pre-requisite for teenagers in 1985, but Goonies was just too silly for my taste.
Kiss of the Spider Woman
I did like this movie, but it was too dark and too complex to really fathom when I was 15. I needed to see it again later in life to really appreciate it.
Out of Africa
My sure-fire cure for insomnia.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Just didn’t get what the big deal was. He’s kind of annoying, isn’t he?
The Ones That Might Have Mattered but I Missed:
Better Off Dead
My Beautiful Laundrette
My Life As A Dog
Agnes of God
1985 Oscar Winners:
Best Picture: Out of Africa
Best Director: Sydney Pollack – Out of Africa
Best Actor: William Hurt – Kiss of the Spider Woman
Best Actress: Geraldine Page – The Trip to Bountiful
Best Supporting Actor: Don Ameche – Cocoon
Best Supporting Actress: Anjelica Huston – Prizzi’s Honor