1985 Ten Best Movies

Not what you’d call a strong year, 1985 is central (chronologically and spiritually) to summing up the 1980s in film, a weird combination of bloat, aggression, and the studios losing the ability to turn out respectable and competent audience movies. This was just before Disney woke up from decades-long doldrums, for instance, and their idea of family fare was The Black Cauldron and Baby…Secret of the Lost Legend, the latter as clueless a studio exercise as any that decade (note pitiful attempt to conjure up Raiders mojo in the subtitle). It was the year the normal-enough First Blood franchise morphed into the steroid-saturated Rambo: First Blood II (again the title shift is telling) and Stallone went to the well again with Rocky IV, which brought down the Soviet Union.

ran2Back to the Future was the top-grossing movie and Out of Africa won the Best Picture Oscar, and while those are not bad movies, they describe the year, too. So do The Goonies, Spies Like Us, and The Jewel of the Nile, all substantial hits. Feh. So we turn to the good stuff that emerged, and happily (just like 1982) an Old Master decided to make an Old Masterpiece. Behold the many sensory marvels of Ran, my #1 for 1985.

Other entries require explanation: Blood Simple sometimes has a 1984 date, but it only showed at festivals as far as I can tell, and opened in ’85, so here it is. The documentary Up series of course sprawls across many release dates over the decades, but 28 Up was the first to get really widespread notice outside Britain, and I think it might be the best, most powerful installment of that grandaddy-of-reality-shows saga.

The best movies of 1985:

1. Ran (Akira Kurosawa)

2. 28 Up (Michael Apted)

3. Vagabond (Agnes Varda)

4. Blood Simple (Joel Coen)

5. When Father Was Away on Business (Emir Kusturica)

6. The Color Purple (Steven Spielberg)

7. Prizzi’s Honor (John Huston)

8. A Time to Live and a Time to Die (Hou Hsiao-hsien)

9. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (Tim Burton) and Brazil (Terry Gilliam)

10. My Life as a Dog (Lasse Hallstom)

The most overrated of that bunch is probably Brazil; most underrated is The Color Purple, which among its other attractions is a remarkable formal exercise and an improvement over the novel. Some good films missing the list: obscurities such as Alpine Fire (by Swiss mystery man Fredi Murer) and Michael Dinner’s Heaven Help Us, as well as big titles such as Silverado, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Witness. Godard had Hail Mary and Romero had Day of the Dead and Albert Brooks had Lost in America, two-thirds of a great movie.

The high European titles up there, by Varda and Kusturica, are devastating pictures. Vagabond might be the clearest, toughest movie of the year, the story of a wanderer who drops off the map – a tonic to the year’s other fantasies.