Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The 1981 Project: Honorable Mentions (20-11)

Here are the ten films that just missed my top 10 list for 1981.


20. …All the Marbles (Robert Aldrich)-I am surprised by how long this film has resonated with me, Aldrich’s final directorial effort is a funny no-holds barred road trip/sports movie that follows the drudging world of small time women’s professional wrestling. Its equal parts Rocky inspirational film and Fat City examination of the toll of the sport on the body, mind and soul; the final brutal ring match resulted in one of the rare times I actually shouted at the screen during a climactic sports movie event. (My review)



 19. Scanners (David Cronenberg)-Cronenberg further follows his path of mutational/body horror films he began with Shivers (aka They Came From Within) with this science fiction tale about an agency looking to create genetically mutated super children to take over the world. Come for the head explodin’, stay for Cronenberg’s deft hand at pacing and showing just how awesome (aforementioned mind exploding) and burdensome telepathy can be. I don’t know if I am fooling myself here, but the third time around, I found Stephen Lack’s, uh, lack of screen presence to almost be a thematic choice, and anyway, it’s more than made up for by the glorious scene chewery of Patrick McGoohan, Michael Ironside and Robert Sullivan. (My review)


18. Gallipoli (Peter Weir)-The loss of innocence is a well-traveled war movie trope, but Weir’s sensitive and immersive direction, David Williamson’s specific screenplay and strong performance by Mark Lee and Mel Gibson transcend any of those tired clich├ęs in this Australian World War I set story of friendship and lost potential.


17. Escape From New York (John Carpenter)-Has any genre filmmaker had as strong a run as John Carpenter did from 1976 (Assault on Precinct 13) to 1988 (They Live)? Armed with a cleverly sardonic premise of a dystopian future where America has completely left New York (itself going through real economic and social strife in the period) to the criminals and a badass lead character who’s a composite of pretty much every rebel in pop culture history (including Elvis, who was the subject of director Carpenter and star Kurt Russell’s first collaboration), Carpenter crafts an iconic cult action classic.


16. Modern Romance (Albert Brooks)—An at times equally blisteringly funny and painfully honest examination of a circuitous relationship where the two people in the romance inevitably always yearn to be on the opposite side of the together/broken up divide they are on at any given time.


15. The Howling (Joe Dante)—No shame in being the second best werewolf film of 1981 when the results have the smart, fun, scary and treasure trove of cinematic Easter eggs as Dante’s film. Sexual repression is the central metaphor in this werewolf tale with the touchy feely self-help industry of the late 70’s/early 80’s getting a darkly satirical spin. (My review)


14. Coup de Torchon (Bertrand Tavernier)—While I haven’t read the specific Jim Thompson novel that it adapts, Pop. 1280, I am familiar enough with the writer’s work to posit that in terms of pitch black dark comic tone centered around the base impulses of an anti-social and possibly disturbed man, not much was lost in translation as French director Tavernier transported Thompson’s novel from the American South to France colonized West Africa. Phillipe Noiret gives one of the year’s best performances as the disrespected constable (his house is just above the town’s shared crapper) of a small village in a loveless marriage with his chortling cheating wife. But his affable demeanor takes a sharp turn when a beacon of hope in the guise of a teacher (Isabelle Huppert) inspires him to take advantage of his authority and clean up the town to his liking.


13. Possession (Andrezj Zulawski)—Chalk this as the film with the most potential to crack the top ten after repeated viewings reveals further layers, but even after my initial screening, I can say Zulawski’s singular domestic drama/horror/science fiction hybrid revolving around two persons driving each other mad, has already burrowed itself deep into the recesses of my mind. (My review)

12. Southern Comfort (Walter Hill)—Remember when I asked if any genre filmmaker had as strong of a fun as John Carpenter from then mid 1970s to the late 1980s a few slots ago? Well, yes, Walter Hill did actually. His tense action thriller pits symbolically impotent (their guns are loaded with blanks) National Guardsmen who propagate a war against the bayou dwelling inhabitants whose land they disrespect. (My review)


11. Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan)—I know it does usually net the Academy Awards and accolades, but I really wish Kasdan focused his career more on revitalizing moribund genres than he did plumming the ennui of the yuppie class. With Silverado and his (co-writing credited) screenplays for Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, Kasdan shows a deft hand at making classic tropes entertaining for modern audiences who may or may not be familiar with what’s being referenced, well written characters that give the actors plenty of room to play, and witty dialogue that’s full of great one-liners but never overly self-congratulatory of their own cleverness. Body Heat, his sweat drenched sexy updating of classic film noirs like Double Indemnity, has fun putting its ethically questionable lawyer protagonist Ned Racine (William Hurt) through the wringer at the hand of the irresistible yet sinister upper class housewife (Kathleen Turner in a star making role), who takes advantage of the madness that the acrid heat causes, Racine’s libido driven impulses and lack of well reasoned action those impulses lead to (“you aren’t too smart are you? I like that in a man.”) and suss out a way to get everything she’s ever wanted.

2 comments:

le0pard13 said...

Fine group. Gallipoli's story and freeze frame still hits me when I come up on it even all these years later.

Mummbles said...

Cool list, sad to say I have only seen 3 of these. I will have to check those other 7 out.

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