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The Best Movie Discoveries of 2019: The 1980s

I once foolishly dismissed the entire decade of the 1980s as either an embarrassment or a cinematic wasteland. This wasn’t the beginning of sequels and franchises, but they really began to take off during the ‘80s. Many good (and some great) movies flew under the radar (at least my radar) and are enjoying a rediscovery, and not just from me. You can also check out the movies I discovered last year, but here’s what I discovered this year from the ‘80s:


Henry V (1989) Kenneth Branagh

A new friend of mine loaned me his copy of Henry V and said, “It’s my favorite movie. I’ve seen it 37 times.” So, no pressure… I haven’t seen very many Shakespeare adaptations (something I’d like to correct in 2020) and Branagh runs hot and cold for me, but this film chronicling Henry V of England seeking to lay claim to France is a fascinating journey I hope to take again soon.

Dekalog (1989) Krzysztof Kieślowski

It’s easy to understand why people have been talking about this film (or rather, a cycle of ten smaller films) for decades. The Ten Commandments spread out in ten one-hour films? It’s not that simple, but then again, neither is life. These ten stories all involve characters living in the same high-rise apartment complex in Warsaw in the late 1980s, the problems and moral dilemmas of their lives. Some characters appear in more than one story; others in only one. Originally broadcast on Polish television, Dekalog is a series of films every movie-lover will want to see at least once. I suspect it will be more than once.

The Hidden (1987) Jack Sholder

Somehow I missed this science-fiction/action/horror movie when it was released in 1987, but I’m glad I finally caught up with it. Before he played Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks and after he was Jeffrey Beaumont in Blue Velvet, Kyle MacLachian played FBI Special Agent Lloyd Gallagher, assigned to work with LAPD Detective Thomas Beck (Michael Nouri). Their job is to apprehend Jack DeVries (Chris Mulkey), an ordinary man with no criminal past who robs a bank, kills all its security guards, and takes the LAPD on an insane high-speed chase. That’s all you need to know, other than the fact that you’re going to encounter a lot of really strange stuff. If you missed this one like I did, I urge you to check it out.

Cherry 2000 (1987) Steve De Jarnatt

Steve De Jarnatt directed one of my favorites movies from the ‘80s, Miracle Mile (1988), so I had high expectations for Cherry 2000. In post-apocalyptic California in 2017(!), Sam (David Andrews), the manager of a recycling plant, searches high and low for a replacement chip for his Cherry 2000 lifelike female robot (Pamela Gidley). In desperation, Sam hires professional tracker E. Johnson (Melanie Griffith) to lead him through the vast and dangerous desert zone to find a replacement part in order to reunite Sam with his beloved Cherry 2000. If you remember the original Twilight Zone episode “The Lonely” starring Jack Warden and Jean Marsh, put that in a Mad Max setting and you’ve got a good idea what to expect from Cherry 2000. It’s a fun ride, so don’t miss it.

The Howling (1981) Joe Dante

Los Angeles television journalist Karen White (Dee Wallace) has seen a little too much on the job. After she helps the police to apprehend and arrest a serial killer, Karen’s doctor orders a psychiatric retreat in a remote, isolated area. But she doesn’t find much rest there. Instead, she discovers some very weird and bizarre goings-on. If you’re a horror fan, this is a must-see.

True Stories (1986) David Byrne

I love David Byrne. There’s not another one quite like him, so treasure everything he does, like this often-neglected gem, a kaleidoscope of eccentric folks in the fictional town of Virgil, Texas as they prepare for the town’s sesquicentennial. It’s a fun, oddball movie that works (for me) about 93% of the time. My favorite segment features John Goodman as a country music singer looking for love. I must pick up the Criterion Blu-ray soon. (Hey Santa, are you reading this at the North Pole?)

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki is a true wonder. No wonder so many people love his movies. Kiki’s Delivery Service is fun, adventurous, charming, and visually spectacular without being in any way gaudy. 13-year-old Kiki follows her village’s tradition of going out on her own for a year’s training as a witch. Accompanied by her best friend, Jiji (perhaps my favorite animated cat of all time), Kiki faces an uphill climb in learning to control her flying broomstick and overcoming self-doubt. Note to self: Watch more Miyazaki in 2020. Thanks to my friend Wes for inviting me to his house to see this one.

Housekeeping (1987) Bill Forsyth

Right now, Local Hero is my favorite Bill Forsyth movie, but that may change after watching Housekeeping again. Set in 1950s Idaho and based on a novel by Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping begins with sisters Lucille (Andrea Burchill) and Ruth (Sara Walker), who are forced to move in with their eccentric Aunt Sylvie (Christine Lahti) after the girls’ mother commits suicide. Sylvie is a strange character and a free spirit, but likable, and she clearly loves the girls. We’re just not sure if the girls love her. Some of the locals - and maybe one of the sisters - suspect that Sylvie is an unfit guardian and maybe even unbalanced. This film is more complex than Local Hero and doesn’t have the following of that film, but is very much worth checking out.

Possession (1981) Andrzej Żuławski

I heard so much praise for this movie from the Pure Cinema Podcast that after awhile, I no longer had any interest in watching it. But I picked up the Blu-ray several months ago and man, were they right to praise this film. Possession is a challenging, unsettling movie, focusing on obsessive love and the psychological consequences of marriages on the verge of failure. (Sorry, Marriage Story, you don’t even come close to what’s being dealt with here.) Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani star as a married couple devastated by infidelity, betrayal, and possibly madness. This controversial film is a true nightmare and it certainly won’t be for everyone. I know of no other film like it. And may I formally offer my apologies to Elric Kane: You were right, sir. This is a masterpiece.

The Stuff (1985) Larry Cohen

Screenwriter, producer, and director Larry Cohen passed away on March 23, 2019, and man, do we miss him. There’s not another filmmaker like him and probably never will be. The Stuff in The Stuff is a highly addictive desert that’s taken over the market, but when his family begins acting strangely, a young boy (Scott Bloom) is convinced there’s something evil going on with the product. David “Mo” Rutherford (Cohen favorite Michael Moriarty) is an industrial trickster/troublemaker seeking to discover how he can sabotage the company that makes The Stuff. He’s joined in his quest by the owner (Garrett Morris) of Chocolate Chip Charlie, the company that The Stuff is putting out of business. Together, they discover the real secret making The Stuff. Combine Invasion of the Body Snatchers with The Blob, mix in plenty of satire on consumer mentality, corporate America, and a few other things, and you’ve got a recipe for The Stuff, a fun sf/horror movie that often shows flashes of genius.

That's it for my 1980s discoveries. Please feel free to share yours.

Photos: Simbasible, Flickr, The Playlist, IMDb, Daily Dead, Den of Geek, Shout Factory, Cinemusings, DVD Beaver, Suns Cinema

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