1980 Ten Best Movies


"Solitude and isolation can, of itself, become a problem...."

Was 1980 the final year in a pretty good decade for film or the first year of a dispiriting period? Despite the ten best (and some excellent near-misses), I tend to think the latter. The blockbuster syndrome was already fully institutionalized, with The Empire Strikes Back, Superman II, and The Blues Brothers racking up big grosses. And I am underwhelmed by the officially anointed 1980 titles: Oscar’s Best Picture, Ordinary People, hasn’t aged well and isn’t talked about much today, while the movie sometimes referred to as the best of the 1980s, Raging Bull, has always struck me as about as illuminating as Jake LaMotta banging his head against a wall, no matter how beautiful its photography or skillful its boxing sequences. Other alarming omens: the first Friday the 13th movie, and Can’t Stop the Music. On the bright side, 1980 was the year of the only movie I’m an extra in, The Changeling. But enough about me.

1980’s #1 is a brilliant study of space, sound, and absence. The Shining is many things — Kubrick’s Scenes from a Marriage, a blistering study of narcissism, and one of the greatest films about trying to write. It’s about the watching of movies, too. Now that’s scary. Here are the ten best of 1980:

1. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick)

2. Mon Oncle d’Amerique (Alain Resnais)

3. The Big Red One (Samuel Fuller, restored version)

4. Sauve qui peut (La Vie) (Jean-Luc Godard)

5. Berlin Alexanderplatz (R.W. Fassbinder)

6. Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme)

7. The Falls (Peter Greenaway)

8. Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa)

9. The Long Riders (Walter Hill)

10. Radio On (Chris Petit)

The Resnais film is a classic, the Godard a return to form. Melvin and Howard is such a gorgeous piece of Americana you almost wish Demme had stayed in that vein, but maybe he did. The Falls is an amazingly quick three hours, whereas you feel every minute of the (14-hour?) Fassbinder. Kagemusha always felt like an underrated Kurosawa, especially good on the way people move.

Just missed: John Huston’s Wise Blood and Ken Russell’s Altered States, two odd movies I really like but haven’t seen since they came out. De Palma and Carpenter did nicely with non-major works, Dressed to Kill and The Fog, and two auspicious debuts predicted the coming of the indie picture: John Sayles (The Return of the Secaucus Seven) and Jim Jarmusch (Permanent Vacation). And since I’ve never known quite what to do with Heaven’s Gate in any of its incarnations, here it is relegated to this paragraph. And so much fuss at the time, too.

Next week: 1991.