Saturday, March 31, 2007

The 80's Movie Project (already in progress)

For the last few years I have had a slow moving film geek pursuit. The whole endeavor stemmed from my issues with the annual end of the year top ten film lists. I have nothing against them, I love reading them, though I never regard them as anything close to a true sense of what the ten best films of any given year is, but rather revealing the tastes and personality (or lack thereof) of the writer of said list. Does it contain the prerequisite foreign film that the viewer saw once at a festival and appears on the list pretty much solely in a possessive manner (it's mine, and only mine!), does it contain an out of nowhere mainstream blockbuster to prove the writer's ability to register and enjoy pop art (this from someone who would have included Talladega Nights on his non existent top ten list for last year)? No my issue is with my dogged completest attitude. How could I truly create a Top Ten List if I haven't seen every film released in the year, or at least every film that provided me a modicum of interest or critical attention, since a viewing of say, Wild Hogs, would not have any effect on the process.

A few years ago I decided that I would like to start making a comprehensive top ten list, beginning with the year 1980. The plan was to start viewing films from that year and then moving along to 1981 then to 1982 and etc. Actually the initial plan was to be caught up to the current year and then go back and begin again with the 70s. Of course the whole "trying to have a life" issue has been getting in my way from completion of this goal. I began this about three years ago and while I've watched or in some cases rewatched a lot of titles from both 1980 and 1981, I still have a long way to go and truthfully have been slacking of late. So I decided that my interest would be relit if I used this blog as a journal of the pursuit.

So you might be asking the obvious question now: Why the 80s, the decade considered by many to be the nadir of vital filmmaking, the era when all the big studio were controlled by major corporations and the director, the driving force of the 1970s American New Wave was replaced by the money first aimed producers (your Murphys, Bruckheimers, De Laurentiises) and the era of mass marketing cross pollinating product over quality aesthetic ran the marketplace? Well, I'll provide two answers:

1.) I don't believe in the notion that there exists something as a "bad movie year", I think every year has its diamonds, some are just a little harder to find, if there was no challenge then perhaps it wouldn't be worth it. In the last three years I have discovered that the year 1980 was a pretty great year for filmmaking, and its very likely that I could have twenty worthy films fighting for the list. And for all the grief that the decade receives, let's take a moment to list some directors who made their first films in the decade: Michael Mann, Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Wong Kar-Wai, James Cameron, Jim Jarmusch, The Coen Brothers, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi, and of course, the one and only "Savage" Steve Holland. Obviously a decade that breed these iconoclasts shouldn't be easily dismissed.

2.) No way to candycoat this, but, nostalgia. When January 1st, 1980 hit I was all of three years old, when the decade ended, I was thirteen. This was the first decade that I am aware of ever going to a movie theatre. A lot of this films I will rewatch are films I saw as a child, films that when I returned home, I would act out my favorite scenes with my friends in the backyard. While I am not feeble enough to insist these films I grew up with represent the height of filmmaking, some of these films, as my first viewings divorced of the initial time and place factor have already displayed are lousy. But nonetheless these were the years, for good and bad, that infused my love of cinema. Does that mean I won't call out say Krull and The Last Starfighter if they don't match the thrill they created in me at the age of seven or eight? Absolutely not. At the same time, as a preliminary top ten of 1980 I have created has shown to me there are a few movies whose artistic merit could be called into question that will probably make the list based on their overall influence to me as a person (for 1980, there are two of these, can you guess them?) and not including them in the list would also prove false, I may be creating this list in 2007, but something from the person I was in the 1980s should be represented, however minutely.

So here's how (I hope) this will work. I have a list of films, starting with the year 1980, that I need to see, after viewing them, I will blog a review for them. When I have seen pretty much every film from the year that I want to and can get my hands on (preferably on DVD, of course) I will then create a top ten list. My goal to complete this initial top ten list is six months. If I have any films left to see in October, unless I see them as absolutely vital, I will probably go ahead and make that list, changing it if I see one of those desired films and it has any effects on the list. Then I will move on to 1981, and so on and so forth. Please post any questions in the response section.

I will give you a (well researched) list of films from the year 1980 that I have seen, but before that, let me tell you the way I came up with this, its based upon films that had their debut release in America in the year 1980, so say a film premiered in Cannes in the summer of 1979, but didn't make it's release in American theatres until April of 1980, then I consider it a 1980 film. Foreign films can be a little trickier, so I have a two year grace period between a films release in its homeland and America. So say a German film debuted in Germany in September of 1978, but didn't make it to America until March of 1980, I still count it as a 1980 release because my first opportunity in America to see the film would have been in 1980 (assuming I watched any foreign films at the age of four). But if for some reason this film never got a release in America until it was discovered by some rep theatre in 1985, I will consider it a 1978 release, not a 1985 release, comprende? I've gathered the release dates of these films from the IMDB and Wikipedia. So far, that tends to work, although there is one title that is causing me some concern, The Great Santini, which both websites list as having an October 1979 release, but which was up for several Academy Awards along with the films of 1980, which would lead me to the conclusion that that 1979 date is incorrect, I am going to go ahead and throw it in with the 1980 release (based on the Academy Awards) and if further research proves otherwise, toss it out f its top ten or runner-up worthy.

So here's the list of titles from 1980s I have seen:

an # after the title means I have not seen it since 2004, when I started this goal, but would like to see once more because its a strong contender or its been very long since last seen

Altered States
American Gigolo
The Apple
Bad Timing
The Big Red One
The Blue Lagoon
The Blues Brothers #
"Breaker" Morant
Bronco Billy
Camera Buff
Can't Stop the Music
The Changeling #
Cheech & Chong's Next Movie
The Children
Coal Miner's Daughter
Cruising #
Dressed to Kill
The Elephant Man
The Empire Strikes Back
Fade to Black
Flash Gordon
The Fog
Friday the 13th
From the Lives of Marionettes
The Long Riders
Mad Max #
Melvin and Howard
Midnight Madness
Motel Hell
My Bodyguard
The Ninth Configuration
Ordinary People
Prom Night
Raging Bull
The Shining
Shogun Assassin
Somewhere in Time
Stardust Memories
Stir Crazy
The Stunt Man
Terror Train
Used Cars #
Watcher in the Woods
Where the Buffalo Roam
Wise Blood # (difficult because its not on DVD and out of print on VHS)

Now here's a list of films from 1980s that are on my "wishlist", for the most part, these are the films that I will be seeing and blogging about, please feel free to let me know any important or interesting titles that do not appear on either of these two lists:

Any Which Way You Can
The Competition
The Final Countdown
The First Deadly Sin
Forbidden Zone
The Formula
The Great Santini
Heaven's Gate
The Hunter
The Idolmaker
Inside Moves
The Last Metro
Mon Uncle D'Amerique
Nine to Five
The Octagon
Private Benjamin
Return of the Seacucus Seven
Saturn 3
Seems Like Old Times
Times Square
Tin Drum
Urban Cowboy
When Time Ran Out...

So look for reviews from the above titles in the near future...

Thursday, March 1, 2007

When Bad DVD Covers Happen to Good Movies

Film: 24 Hour Party People (2002, Michael Winterbottom)

Offender: MGM

Exhibit A:

Film: 24 Hour Party People (2002)

Through shadowy means, I have been able to obtain the transcript from the art director's meeting at the MGM DVD division on the day of the decision to go with the cover:

"So what's on the schedule"

"The film is 24 Hour Party People"

"Okay, never heard of it. But the stock solution for smaller market films is a big picture of the star of the movie on the cover. Who's in it?"

"Steve Coogan"

"Steve Coogan...Coogan...Okay, I got it, a big picture of him with his "Crocodile" Dundee clothing on, and maybe the tagline could be "You call that a party? Now, this, this is a party"

"Uh, actually that's Paul Hogan you're thinking of"

"Oh? Then who is Steve Coogan?"

"A British comedian"

"Okay, ax that plan, Americans don't like movies featuring people speaking a foreign language, so let's hide the overall foreigness factor"

"British people speak...nevermind"

"So what's this movie about?"

"The late 70s-early 80s post-punk and dance music scene and the man who created Factory Records and introduced the world to bands like Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays"

"I've never heard of any of those bands, but I got a vision...this movie is about outsider non conformist, in your face type music, like Fall Out Boy right?"

"Uh, I guess"

"What is more in your face than a giant picture of a guy's tongue sticking out right at you?"


"The answer is nothing is more in your face than a giant picture of a guy's tongue sticking out right at you...except for...a guy with a pierce tongue sticking his tongue out right at you! That's it, make it happen. I want people afraid that this DVD cover is going to eat them, that's how punk this movie is. Now, I have a lunch to get to."

"You sure about this one?"

"Do I look sure...of course, I am sure...oh and another thing, let's have the title on the dude's tongue and I don't know...a random hot babe that is not in the movie on the other side"

Better Option:

This poster gives more of the sense of the film and actually looks like it could be the record cover for a band that was on Factory Records, well, actually it looks a lot like a Wire album, and they were not on Factory, but they are from the time frame and sensibility of the bands featured in 24 Hour Party People and not the dated 90s grunge signifier that is a pierced tongue.
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