Friday, September 26, 2008

The Top Ten Films of the Decade - The 1980s

I'm continuing my top ten lists from the 1990s all the way back to the 1920s.

The 1980s

10 - Raiders of the Lost Ark - Directed by Steven Spielberg - There have been many action films in the last twenty-five years or so, and a lot of them are very good indeed. But there is only one adventure film that tops them all, and that's Raiders. Simply put, no other action film since 1980 has been as much fun and as well-constructed as this. This film has supported three more films of ever-shrinking effectiveness, but our enjoyment of this perfect adventure is such that it can easily shoulder three lesser sequels. It's the best film of its type since Gunga Din, and as Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford delivers an iconic, truly great performance.

9 - Blade Runner - Directed by Ridley Scott - Completely unappreciated upon its release, subsequent rejiggering of the film back to its original vision has revealed a masterfully intelligent and complex science fiction story that has influenced every film of the fantastic since. It's a landmark of visual effects and style as well as being filled with great performances, especially those by Harrison Ford and the wonderful Rutger Hauer.

8 - The Empire Strikes Back - Directed by Irvin Kershner - With a strong director at the helm, a screenplay written by two masterful writers (Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan) and darker, richer story matter, Empire succeeds in doing the impossible; it's a sequel that's better than its predecessor. There's simply a better story to tell this time around, one full of foreboding, angst and big emotions. It's almost shocking how downbeat its ending is.

7 - Do the Right Thing - Directed by Spike Lee - He had directed and released two films prior to this, and had made a small splash, but it's with this hand grenade of a film that Spike Lee truly exploded to the top ranks of American filmmakers. A searing and incendiary study of race relations, Do the Right Thing not only was among the most polarizing and original films of the decade, but it also helped to open the door for a host African-American filmmakers. It's a shame that Lee has never quite risen to this height since.

6 - Crimes and Misdemeanors - Directed by Woody Allen - You either love his movies or hate them, but if you love them, few writer/directors can match the exquisite richness of Woody Allen. He makes films about adults and about large, complex themes. He makes films about realtionships; our relationships with the world, each other and ourselves. Crimes and Misdemeanors is one of the best examinations of morality ever made in America. When Woody is bad, he's truly awful, but when he's good, he's the most sublime of storytellers.

5 - Wings of Desire - Directed by Wim Wenders - Please, please, please, ignore the truly interminable American version titled City of Angels. Wings of Desire is the real deal. It follows two angels as they invisibly roam Berlin, observing the lives of humans. Filled with heartbreaking imagery and wonderfully touching moments, Wings of Desire is one of those films that gets inside you, even if its pace and lack of incident makes it a challenge. It's a challenge well worth taking.

4 - Au Revoir, Les Enfants - Directed by Louis Malle - Louis Malle wrote, directed and produced this moving and heartfelt semi-autobiographical look back at gowing up druing the brutal days of Nazi-occupied France. Malle tells the story of a boarding school and the bond of friendship between two boys, one of whom is Jewish. Both sweet and nostalgic as well as harrowing and tragic, it may be the best coming-of-age film ever made, and it's got some stiff competition out there.

3 - Ran - Directed by Akira Kurosawa - The great Japanese master may have been close to the end of his life, but during this time he produced several films that brilliantly showed he had lost none of his passion, innovation or skill. Ran ranks with the classics he produced during his heyday; a meditation on chaos, the futility of will, and the absence of God. Far bleaker than any other film he made, it was partially based on King Lear, and its complexity, combined with its supremely confident visual style, makes it a masterpiece.

2 - Fanny & Alexander - Ingmar Bergman - In a long career filled with masterpieces such as Wild Stawberries, The Seventh Seal, Cries & Whispers and Scenes From a Marriage, this film could very well be his greatest. It's the story of the Ekdahl family, specifically Fanny and her brother Alexander. Dealing with Christianity, repentance, authority, the paranormal and of course, existentialism, the film succeeds in being both magical and realistic. A certifiable original by one of the true geniuses of cinema, Fanny & Alexander is an amazing experience regardless of which of the many different cuts you see (go for the 312 minute version - that's the fullest one).

1 - Raging Bull - Martin Scorsese - The story of real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, Raging Bull is a tough, uncompromising story of one man's rise and fall and subsequent hard won redemption. LaMotta, played by Robert De Niro in his greatest performance, is depicted as a sensualist so plagued with personal demons that he is almost reduced to the level of an animal. Made following Scorsese's near death after years of self-destructive behavior, it's one of the most rawly visceral films ever made, shot with an incredible visual flourish in rich black and white. Combine this visual flair with De Niro's incendiary performance and one of the best screenplays ever and you get not only the best film of this decade, but one of the best American films ever made.

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