Best Films of 1980
Best Films of 1981
Best Films of 1982
Best Films of 1983
Best Films of 1984

Best Films of 1985
Best Films of 1986
Best Films of 1987
Best Films of 1988
Best Films of 1989

The Big Red One
The Shining
'Breaker' Morant

After Hours
Full Metal Jacket
Dead Ringers
Monsieur Hire


BEST FILMS OF 1981 - List in Progress
by Mike Lorefice

Jean-Jacques Beineix

One of the most popular foreign films (though losing ground due to its director falling off the distribution radar) because it's remarkably energetic and has something for everyone willing to watch it. A commercial thriller of the Alfred Hitchcock (mostly) innocent man roped in variety by an artist who employs art film style, cult film themes, off beat humor, a diverse set of cool characters, a plethora of popular twists, and so much more. It delves into just about every genre imaginable, blowing them up to epic proportions with a great deal of flair and verve, but does so with an understanding of how to effectively contrast and juxtapose them. Everything from the disparate sets to the pastiche of classical opera, techno, and New Age music works for the atmosphere, mood, and coolness rather than creating a muddled battle. Though wholly implausible right from the outset it's clever enough to work on it's own terms provided the audience pay full attention (which isn't hard since there isn't a dull scene). It might not be anyone's favorite film, but it's a rare gem, entertainment you aren't embarrassed to be entertained by. Action film fans will be excited by the underground chase in the Pans Metro, one of the best in cinema history, which includes a moped whizzing down several cases of stairs and even a moving escalator. There are several other impressive set pieces as well, though this is more or less a stylistic exercise, so the characters are never developed beyond machinations. Beineix, who made his feature debut here, turned out to be one of the best at using color. He utilizes back lighting to under light scenes, making certain areas with primary colors (particularly blue, which if only for the international title was the signature of his better third feature Betty Blue) stand out through carefully placed intense lighting. A wild, fun, and unpredictable film. [6/1/07] ***


History of the World: Part 1
Mel Brooks

The old cliche when he's good he's good, when he's bad he's bad describes many directors. What sets Mel Brooks apart is he tends to run the gamut every few minutes. History is a series of comic sketches from some of the major periods of history that serve Brooks purpose of lampooning government, religion, human nature, and generally the folly of mankind. The prehistoric period is a riot with the first art critic giving the work a quick look then pissing on it, a man accidentally killing his pal with his new invention the spear but not even noticing because he's so impressed by his ingenuity, and a comic act getting no reaction until the fans suddenly go wild when the comedian is eaten up by a dinosaur. Unfortunately, the film tends to gets worse with every segment. Brooks especially falls flat when tries to mix modernity with history, for example a pathetic scene where someone listens to "Funkytown" on a boom box. The scene isn't unfunny because it's thousands of years before boom boxes were invented; there's simply nothing funny about some guy listening to bad music. There are several similar segments where Brooks decides something or someone is funny just for existing; these are all bad, but when Brooks actually has something to say it's generally quite observant and humorous. Orson Welles provides an excellent narration that not only spoofs his War of the Worlds, but also encourages us to take this farce as completely factually accurate. Brooks pokes fun at movies from start to finish, most notably the sequel craze that was sweeping Hollywood. For some reason everyone can understand the opening is 2001, but still many have misinterpreted the hilariously ridiculous closing coming attractions, thinking Brooks will someday deliver a glorious second part even though it was never his intention. Perhaps they just figure if a spoof as pitiful as Scary Movie can garner endless sequels, maybe one that's actually funny can secure one. [9/18/06] ***


The Howling
Joe Dante

A tongue in cheek tribute to the classic werewolf movies, Joe Dante and screenwriter John Sayles keep relating current "real" scenes to "fake" scenes from various media, usually old movies, with one disproving or at least commenting upon the other. Sayles' story is good fun, and more importantly he has some things to say, but it makes no sense if you think about it too much. For instance, if you want to keep your society of wolves a secret you don't involve people that will be missed, much less national celebrities. Dante & Sayles had previously teamed on the 1978 horror film Piranha, a Jaws derivative that attempts a more serious political commentary (in the longstanding government experiment run amok tradition of science fiction), but unfortunately was undermined by the usual problems with Roger Corman movies such as, if you're lucky, two dimensional characters portrayed by one dimensional actors. Thus, beyond some impressive scenes involving the killer fish the film had little else going for it. Dee Wallace, a huge upgrade over Piranha star Heather Menzies, is a newswoman who delves into sex crimes for ratings, with the film showing the nightly news to be a thinly veiled provider of primitive impulses. Howling attempts to be an intelligent horror film that uses the beast to represent man's sexual repression, but while notable as Dante's first fusion of horror and comedy, he'd obviously yet to become the brilliant satirist we saw in films like Gremlins 2, Small Soldiers, and Homecoming. For the most part the Dante and Sayles combo is only able to be sporadically funny, but Howling is by far Dante's scariest film, perhaps his only good true horror film (but less horror and more satire is a great tradeoff where Dante is concerned). John Hora's cinematography is very colorful and atmospheric ala Jean Cocteau's Beauty and The Beast, but also creates a great deal of tension and unease though sinister movements and, early on, by keeping the evil obscured and thus mysterious. As always you can count on Dante to have state of the art technology malfunction, in this case providing the initial danger. Special effects god Rob Bottin gets far more character and believability using jelly, rubber, and condoms than any creator of those stupid video game films could even dream of, and at a fraction of the cost. The famous show stopping transformation scene, notable because editing was no longer necessary, predates that in John Landis' more famous but far inferior film An American Werewolf in London. [7/12/07] ***

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