Five Great Films of the 1980s You Should See

The 80’s was not a classic decade for film. Well let me re-phrase that, it was not a classic decade for films unless you like all American action films, sugar coated white Ivy League Brat Pack angst-fests and very lightweight situational comedy.
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Das Boot – 1981

If there is a film or book that gives you a feeling of desperation and creeping certainty of death this is the fella.  It starts with seasoned U-Boat officers and seamen alike getting wildly drunk before another long stint in the icy northern seas.  The sunken eyes and the pallid skin give their trade away and it is clear that they are afforded more room for drunken antics than perhaps their equivalent ranks are in other areas of the German military forces.  The feeling being that the Deutsche Marine ask so much of them they can get away with much more after all the chances of survival were 1 in 4.  A correspondent is taken on board to write about the experience and as the sub gets into trouble it is his reaction as one who is unfamiliar with the pressure that helps create the drama.  There is strong character development and you get to know the key players well.  It’s difficult to say too much more about it without spoiling it for you but just to say that the sub get’s into difficulty and you feel like you are sitting in a pressure cooker with them.  It’s by no means a cheery film and one everyone should see.  It was made in the same year as a film called Carbon Copy in which George Segal’s white corporate executive is surprised to discover that he has a black teen-age son who can't wait to be adopted into the, almost-exclusively-white community of, San Marino, California.Hollywood eh?

Nicky & Gino (AKA Dominick and Eugene)– 1988

Forget Rain Man, if ever there was a heart-warming film about adults with learning disabilities this is it.  I always felt that Tom Cruise was better in Rain Man than Dustin Hoffman and when Hoffman tries too hard I think he often misses the mark.  Nicky (Tom Hulce) and Gino (Ray Liotta) are twins, they live together and whilst Nicky has learning problems due to an accident when he was younger he is working as a binman to put Gino through medical college.   It’s a really heart-warming film, not a grand drama, the themes are loyalty, family and responsibility.  It’s a bit schmaltzy I suppose but if we can’t enjoy a bit of schmaltz in a movie where can we?  Tom Hulce is superb by the way and why he was not recognised by the academy is a scandal quite frankly, although he was nominated for a Golden Globe.  Go on, guess who won the Oscar?  Yes well done, it was fucking Hoffman, the Golden Globe too.  Sheesh.

Southern Comfort – 1981.

My Keith Carradine bromance continues. Along with Powers Boothe, KC stars as two fairly indifferent weekend warrior National Guardsmen. As part of a company headed by Peter Coyote they are on training manoeuvres in the mangrove swamps of the Louisiana. Coyote is killed by a one armed Cajun (Brion James) after they steal a couple of boats. Boats are essential to survival in the swamps and here is the first metaphor for “survival of the fittest”.

Following the loss of their Captain the soldiers turn to panic and in-fighting as they are pursued through the swamps and picked off one by one by the Cajuns. Director Walter Hill does “taut” very well and as much as this film is very different to his other big hit “The Warriors” it shares a theme, the main characters are being hunted in both films. There’s some great music in it and in the village near the end there is an old fella singing in French (I think) to the same tune as Hollywood Beyond’s 1986 hit “What’s the Colour of Money”.  Methinks those lads ripped the tune.

Grave of the Fireflies – 1988

 Cartoons are funny right?  Wrong. This is a tale of a young Japanese boy (Seita - he’s probably about 12) and his toddler sister (Setsuko) orphaned during WWII and their struggle to survive. It’s grim stuff that doesn’t let up and I challenge any hardened 21st century urban cynic not to sit through it without a massive sobbing fit at some stage. No one really stands up to help them, it’s a selfish time and they are on their own. It’s also a beautiful film, whilst most filmmakers like to make you laugh or shit your pants Isao Takahata wants you to look at real tragedy and feel the helplessness of it. Can you imagine walking into Disney to pitch a screenplay about two children who die of hunger and disease and you know right from the start this is going to happen but you have to watch it. Don’t let the big Mickey shaped door hit your arse on the way out pal.

Crossing Delancey – 1988

I’ve always liked this quirky New York romance.  Amy Irving plays Isabelle, the girl with dreams of romance and success amongst NYC’s literati but the film champions the little man, the resourceful and steady pickle man Sam Posner (Peter Reigert) against the glamorous but shallow poet Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbe).  As the film progresses you see that Sam is more than she thought whilst she initially rejects him in favour of her lofty ambitions he wins her over with little gestures.  Not least she has a male friend who often falls out with his wife and put’s upon Issy for a place to stay and an ear to bend.  Sam offers him a place to stay at his, it seems a small gesture but it’s the protection she craves and he is there to provide it.  There’s good support from the legendary Sylvia Miles as the Jewish matchmaker and Reizl Bozyk as Issy’s fantastic Jewish Bubbie.  I find Woody Allen’s New York hard work, this is not.

I have to put a footnote in about Coming to America (1988) which I re-watched recently or more specifically all the scenes in the My-T Sharp barbershop.  The characters Clarence, Saul, Sweets and Morris crack me up every time.  Yes the film is a Landis special but its piss funny in parts.  The dialogue between the barbers and their old Jewish friend is just genius.  If you’ve seen it then the mere mention of “Rocky Marciano”, “His mamma call him Clay”, “Juice and Berries” will raise a smile.  As the end credit role Murphy (as Saul) does the old “Taste the Soup” gag, it’s excellent and you realise what a good comic he was.