BLADE RUNNER (Ridley Scott)
By now, you may have detected a certain prejudice on this site against certain genres (musicals, westerns) and a prejudice for others (sci-fi, horror, film noir). And so, some might consider it a glaring omission to exclude such films as STAGECOACH or SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. Mea culpa. So be it. But regardless of those preferences, I feel that there are some films that transcend genres, even while they are firmly rooted in them. They are just damn good and need to be included. Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER is one of those films.
By 1982, Scott was shaping up as a director who was a master at collaboration to create a visual style. (i.e. the look of ALIEN and the work of H.R.Giger). With BLADE RUNNER, Scott was able to coax a compelling screenplay out of a difficult Philip K. Dick novel and construct a dazzling vision of the future. Scott’s technical competence ensured plenty of enticing eye candy, while the storyline continuously engaged. The result is a masterpiece.
BLADE RUNNER has only grown in stature since its release, and is now securely enshrined as a classic. No doubt it will play well for decades to come, having already spawned a well-received sequel.
KOYAANISQATSI (Godfrey Reggio)
Enough time has elapsed for this once “cult-favorite” to achieve status as an essential. There is simply nothing like this film. There had been plenty of films made before this one using time-elapse cinematography, and plenty of awesome footage of natural phenomena before KOYAANISQATSI. But the melding of newly-shot footage and the expressly composed music of Phillip Glass was revolutionary. In 1982, Glass’ music was highly contentious. You either loved it or you hated it. Things haven’t changed much since. But even those who can’t get on board with Glass’ musical repetitions and such, should admit that this film has all the elements of a mind-blower. I was lucky enough to see it (on my second viewing) at the now-vanished Fox Venice theater in Venice, California. It was a nearly empty house and the projectionist (knowingly or not) had the volume cranked. These were the optimum conditions for viewing KOYAANISQATSI.
The “theme” of KOYAANISQATSI can be found in its title, the Native American Hopi word for “Life out of Balance”. The film simply, wordlessly alternates between images of natural beauty and urban decay. The points it tries to make do not need to be further elaborated upon. The stunning cinematography and the mesmerizing, entrancing music of Phillip Glass make this an absolute classic. Glass and director Reggio collaborated on two sequels and a short film after this, but none of them could quite match the power and the beauty of KOYAANISQATSI.
DINER (Barry Levinson)
DINER could be seen as Barry Levinson”s “MEAN STREETS”. Like Scorsese’s classic, DINER is set in a place and time that the director knows well from his own experience, in this case the Baltimore of 1959. It is funny, sad and moving, and features an ensemble of actors who would go on to do great things. Like Scorsese, Levinson went on to become a big-time director and earn great acclaim. Unlike Scorsese (to my mind), he never did anything quite as good again. Rather like Mike Nichols, Levinson’s projects got bigger and bigger in scope and in their success (RAIN MAN, BUGSY, etc.), but they could never duplicate the energy, the adventurousness or the personal charm of DINER.
FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (Amy Heckerling)
Cameron Crowe went back to his old high school and went undercover to see what kind of characters were hanging around. He wrote a book about it and somebody (probably him) thought it would make a good movie. Somebody was right. Crowe then created the screenplay for FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. With Amy Heckerling, in her directing debut, a deliberate search began for good unknown actors to play the parts of the students; unknowns like Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Anthony Edwards, Phoebe Cates, Nicholas Cage………and a guy named Sean Penn. Needless to say, after FAST TIMES, they didn’t stay unknown for long. Sean Penn’s “Spicolli” became a legendary character, and Penn’s career was off and running.
FAST TIMES spawned scores of other “teen movies”, most of which utterly failed to find or appreciate the humanity behind the humor that makes FAST TIMES so special. Make no mistake, FAST TIMES is first and foremost a comedy, full of jokes. But the best jokes are always the ones that you can see and hear again and again. And that’s usually because they’re character-driven and leave us with more than a punchline. Amy Heckerling became an expert at this kind of comedy going on to do gems like CLUELESS in 1995.
FITZCARRALDO (Werner Herzog) & BURDEN OF DREAMS (Les Blank)
Sometimes a documentary on the making of a film can be as good or better than the film itself. Such is the case with Herzog’s FITZCARRALDO and the document of its making. Both films have as their protagonists obsessive, driven, possibly mad souls whose visions just might be greater than nature’s capacity to accommodate them. The real-life Fitzcarraldo tried to move a ship over a hill on dry land in order to reach a river so that he could sail down it to bring the beauty of Caruso and the sound of opera to the natives along the Amazon. In depicting his story on film, Herzog decided to do the same thing. In Les Blank’s documentary, Herzog’s tribulations and exhausted diatribes against the aforementioned nature speak volumes about artistic integrity and the special nature of the man who utters them. Absolutely fascinating.
MOONLIGHTING (Jersey Skolimowski)
Looking back on 1982, I feel as if movies like this one saved the 80’s. By that time, the richness of the 70’s was over and the pickings were about to get slimmer and slimmer. That prophecy was about to become true as the years went by. A modestly-budgeted, character-driven, intelligent movie like MOONLIGHTING now looks like a godsend. Jeremy Irons, fresh out of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, was just beginning to establish himself as a versatile and dedicated actor. Polish-born director Jerzy Skolimowski, who had some success before in Poland and the UK, was getting his best shot. The story of a group of Polish immigrants in London, living illegally and working in construction as their world back home is crashing down, is not the kind of stuff that excites studio executives. But this one got made, and we are all the better for it.