1980 in Movies

Movie reviews for movies released theatrically in 1980 (and, in one case, a TV show released theatrically later).

1. Berlin Alexanderplatz, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (10/10)

Though a West German television mini-series, this was treated as a film in North America, which is why I have placed it here. Read the review.

2. The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick (10/10*)

For years I have regarded this as the second greatest horror film of all-time. It is certainly one of the best made and one of the creepiest. But I think I overrated it because of my past Kubrick obsession.

3. Atlantic City, directed by Louis Malle (9/10)

Atlantic City is the first Malle film I’ve seen – I’m trying to see many of the French New Wave and contemporaneous German films -and it’s a very good movie. The only thing I can hold against it is the accents of the three “Canadian” characters are terrible. Susan Sarandon’s pronunciation of “Saskatchewan” is perhaps the most (neutral) American possible. I think I should watch this film again any time later in life when I’m living in my dreams too much or going through a mid- / late-life crisis.

By the way, this is perhaps Burt Lancaster’s best acting ever.

3. Raging Bull, directed by Martin Scorsese (9/10*)

Seen as a teen.

5. The Long Good Friday, directed by John Mackenzie (9/10)

This is nearly a really great film. The biggest issues for me are the score – which badly dates the film, but that’s almost a given since the guy was in Curved Air – and the pacing. For some reason, there seems to be less score as the movie goes, so either it was mixed down, not used as much, or the movie just becomes so engrossing that I stopped caring. The pacing feels a little off too, though I can’t quite put my finger on how.

Harold is about as human as you get for a movie crime boss, which is a really nice change. And it’s great how the conspiracy takes its time coming out. And, aside from a slightly too large explosion, the ending is classic.

This is mostly great.

6. Airplane!, directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker (9/10*)

Definitely one of the funniest movies I have ever seen, it is also pretty dumb. It’s iconic, as the formula has been copied many times. I’m not sure how “great” it is though.

7. The Elephant Man, directed by David Lynch (9/10*)

Seen as a teen in the beginning of my Lynch phase.

8. Lightning Over Water, directed by Nicholas Ray, Wim Wenders (8/10)

So here we have pieces of a film that maybe never got finished. I’m not really sure what the original object was, aside from Ray and Wenders working together.

I’ve never been a huge Ray fan, actually, but I am now more interested in him because of this movie. This is often difficult to watch and its often hard to know why it was edited in this way. Regardless, it’s amazing to see Ray on his last legs, and how those around him interacted with him. I really don’t know what to think of this whole thing. It is interesting and challenging enough to watch multiple times, I think.

9. Kagemusha, directed by Akira Kurosawa (8/10*)

Seen during my teens when I was fairly briefly obsessed with samurai films.

10. The Big Red One, directed by Samuel Fuller (8/10)

I have lost my review for this. (I have seen the reconstructed version, not the theatrical version.) There are some major flaws here, but there is still a lot to like; one of the pioneering noble grunt films.

11. The Falls, directed by Peter Greenaway (8/10)

I have lost my review for this.

12. Melvin and Howard, directed by Jonathan Demme (8/10)

Whether or not the story is true is incidental. It is an incredible story.

13. Star Wars: Episode V – the Empire Strikes Back, directed by Irvin Kershner (8/10)

This is far and away the best of the six Star Wars movies which I, like so many others, have seen too many times to be objective. My rating is a little low.

14. Caddyshack, directed by Harold Ramis (7/10*)

I cannot be objective about this film.

15. Nine to Five, directed by Colin Higgins (7/10)

This has held up surprisingly well, and, on the unfortunate side, it’s somehow still relevant.

There’s fairly decent satire of office environments and office, work there’s tons of biting comedy about the patriarchy, and the dream sequences and plot escalation are suitably absurd.

Frankly, I have little to say in criticism beyond my usual thing about happy endings. This would be better if it was darker – actual murder and what have you – but otherwise I found myself pleasantly surprised.

16. The Blues Brothers, directed by John Landis (7/10*)

I have seen this way too many times to be objective.

17. The Long Riders, directed by Walter Hill (7/10)

Hill clearly was making a tribute to The Wild Bunch, which makes it kind of neat from a historical perspective. But Hill’s got nothing on Peckinpah.

The best part about this particular Jesse James film is one of the greatest casting coups ever: the Keach brothers play the Jameses, the Caradines the Youngers, the Quaids the Millers, and the Guests the Fords. What a great idea! It really adds the authenticity of a film when all the major characters and their siblings look (and sound and act) related. It’s worth it just to see that.

18. The Stunt Man, directed by Richard Rush (7/10)

This is quite the odd movie. It’s got a lot going for it, including a beginning that is only slowly explained, forcing you to watch the rest of the film. It is pretty funny.

The biggest problems are the acting of the lead, and the not altogether comprehensible climax. It is unclear exactly which movie O’Toole is shooting and how. If they had smoothed out the edges it might have been great.

19. The Changeling, directed by Peter Medak (6/10)

Certainly a quirky and unique haunted house film. But not scary enough and too unconventional for its own good. Read the review of The Changeling.

20. Where the Buffalo Roam, directed by Art Linson (6/10)

This is mildly entertaining.

21. Heaven’s Gate, directed by Michael Cimono (6/10)

This is not the disaster most claim, nor is it the masterpiece a minority claim. (I have heard one person claim it is a masterpiece because each third of the movie is “shaped” the same way. I call bullshit.)

22. Friday the 13th, directed by Sean S. Cunningham (6/10)

In retrospect,one of the most iconic horror films of all time is disappointing because of the identity of the killer. I’m not sure that’s fair though.

23. Brubaker, directed by Stuart Rosenberg (5/10)

I have lost the review for this but it is basically the Serpico of prison movies. It’s super black and white morally which is about the last thing we should want out of a prison film.

24. Cannibal Holocaust, directed by Ruggero Deodato (5/10)

I have lost my review of this, probably the most shocking of the Italian “cannibal” movies. It’s fairly incoherent, but it’s also extraordinarily provocative. I felt like I had a fairly astute assessment of it at the time but I don’t know where that went. Like so much that tries to shock, the surrounding material isn’t that strong.

25. Superman II, directed by Richard Lester (5/10*)

Seen as a teen.

26. Half a Loaf of Kung-Fu, directed by Chi-Wa Chen (5/10*)

Seen as a teen or tween.

27. 203 kochi aka Port Arthur, directed by Toshio Masuda (5/10*)

Seen as a tween.

28. Gloria, directed by John Cassevettes (4/10)

I am a big Cassavettes fan. Until this movie, I had liked everything of his I had seen up this point, and I think Killing of a Chinese Bookie is one of the great American movies of the ’70s.

But Gloria feels like his heart wasn’t in it. And that makes sense: Commissioned to write the screenplay, he only came on board to direct after the original stars were all replaced and his wife was cast. That anecdote has ‘hack job’ written all over it and unfortunately it’s a bit of what we get. Sort of “auteur hack job.”

The kid (John Adames) is terrible (he rightly won the Razzie). He is in fact unbelievably terrible. (I suspect this film killed his career. Check out his IMDB page.)

There are seemingly missing scenes as I can’t make sense of the editing. Maybe he was doing this on purpose, but it’s hard for the audience to figure out why a specific scene was included and another scene – which would help us understand, say, why a character was in a particular place at a particular time – was not.

But all that being said, there are still some solid Cassavettes moments: For example, the scene in the mob boss’ apartment is full of the tension that I expected from this film. It’s too bad that kind of tension is pretty much present only in that moment.

The ending sucks and feels ripped off a lesser filmmaker.

29. The Fog, directed by John Carpenter (4/10)

In retrospect the best thing that can be said for this is that it isn’t as bad as the remake. The whole idea is pretty preposterous – though now common – but would have worked had it at least been executed at more competent level.

Carpenter is so hit-or-miss.

30. Terror Train, directed by Roger Spottiswoode (4/10)

Lots of wasted potential. Read the review of Terror Train.

31. Apocalypse domani aka Cannibal Apocalypse, directed by (4/10)

I wish I hadn’t lost my review for this. It is certainly one of the least bad of these films, that’s for sure. And John Saxon is in it.

32. You Better Watch Out aka Christmas Evil, directed by Lewis Jackson (4/10)

I have lost my review for this. It is better than it should be.

33. The Ninth Configuration, directed by William Peter Blatty (4/10)

A textbook case as to why authors shouldn’t direct.

Blatty is not a director and it is obvious. The pacing is bizarre but worse is the tone. He can’t ever commit to anything: comedy, suspense, religious mystery, social comment.

Much of this movie should be funny, but it isn’t. Most of the jokes fall flat, because they are too obvious or the exact opposite (many times the audience barely hears them because the sound is bad). And Blatty never balances his obvious attempts at being funny with his attempts at creating a mystery – the solution to which is fairly obvious early on, despite the blurb from Zip.ca suggesting the conclusion of the film will shock us.

Finally, why Blatty feels he must include a religious lecture in this strange mash-up of genres is beyond me. It doesn’t fit, and it is yet another thing he doesn’t handle well.

I have never read his novels, and I’m sure they’re fine, but the man should stick to writing.

34. Maniac, directed by William Lustig (3/10)

So this movie isn’t remotely scary and isn’t all that gory until the end. So much for the horror part.

The one thing they do well, and differently than many films of this type from this era, is they have the killer as a human being, a fairly novel approach. There is one decent scene with a girl breathing heavily in the bathroom.

The ending is horrible and definitely knocked my rating down a half-star or maybe even a whole one.

35. New Year’s Evil, directed by Emmett Alston (3/10)

Your typical ’80s holiday horror. Read the review.

36. Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, directed by Joe D’Amato (2/10)

You know what’s not scary? A survival rate of 2/3rds among the main characters. You know what else isn’t scary? Italians having sex.