1983 in Movies

Movie reviews for movies released theatrically in 1983, the year I turned 2.

1. Man of Flowers, directed by Paul Cox (10/10)

This is a truly remarkable film. It’s a meditation on art and sex, and it seems like that’s all it is, for quite some time. That would be fine in itself, as it’s quite engrossing, and it’s very well-made (the flashbacks with the old stock are seamless). But then there’s the other thing that happens. It caught me so off-guard I was genuinely shocked. It’s amazing. That a film could be both is awe-inspiring, that such a film could come from Oz, where there wasn’t really a tradition of great cinema at the time (apart from a few select filmmakers) is even more amazing. Just awesome.

2. Sans Soleil, directed by Chris Marker (10/10)

This is quite astounding. I think it’s probably one of those movies you have to watch over and over and over to get everything. And it works better because we understand who the narrator is, unlike with La Jetee. It’s a remarkable movie.

3. A Christmas Story, directed by Bob Clark (10*/10)

I have seen this film at least 15 times. It is one of those movies you see as a kid and you can’t face it objectively as an adult. I know there are problems with it, but I cannot admit them. This is, in my mind, the best Christmas movie ever, not because it really is truly great, but rather because I have too many emotional connections to it – and too much Christmas Story paraphernalia – to judge it fairly.

4. A nos amours, directed by Maurice Pialat (9/10)

This is a daring, difficult coming-of-age film that paved the way for numerous others. Now this kind of honesty and directionlessness is commonplace in coming of age films, but not in 1983. The film refuses to give you an easy narrative or completely likeable characters. And it’s episodic without a clear reason. It’s basically like the memories of a teen’s life.

The family drama is a little much for me but that doesn’t make it fake. I just think I can’t relate to it because I never lived in a family like that.

But this is a near classic.

4. El Norte, directed by Gregory Nava (8/10)

This is an important, landmark film that is worth watching despite some significant issues. Perhaps the biggest issue is the lighting. Using day-for-night filters and (especially) lighting the inside of a sewer pipe makes it harder for us as viewers to relate to the true hardship. I know that day-for-night was common then and attempts at realistic lighting were rare, but better lighting, especially in the tunnel scenes would have vastly improved the film. Also, though the ending is hardly happy, it is too upbeat. For the film to be truly effective, Enrique’s actions should have been different. But these are quibbles over what is probably the first important fictional film about the struggles of Latin American illegal immigrants.

5. The Meaning of Life, directed by Terry Jones (8/10)

Rather plotless. Like an extended episode of the TV show, but somehow still hysterical.  

6. The Right Stuff, directed by Philip Kaufman (8/10*)

I want to say this is the greatest movie made about (actual) space exploration but I cannot be objective about it. I’ve seen it at least 5 times, most of those when I was young enough to not be critical. Even having read the book (as a teen…) I still appreciate it.  

7. Zelig, directed by Woody Allen (8/10)

I have lost my review for this inventive movie that likely inspired Forrest Gump. It’s technically stellar but it is still lesser Allen.  

8. The Day After, directed by Nicholas Meyer (8/10)

I have lost my review for this but I remember it being a very high-end TV movie.  

9. Local Hero, directed by Bill Forsyth (8/10)

This really surprised me. I have lost my review, but I want to say that I didn’t want to like this movie, and yet somehow I overcame my fear of its sentimentality and came to really enjoy it. Burt Lancaster helps.  

10. Scarface, directed by Brian De Palma (8*/10)

Seen multiple times as a teen when I still had a preference for Mr. De Palma. Having little respect for him as an adult, I can only imagine what I would think of this mess now.  

11. Videodrome, directed by David Cronenberg (8*/10)

Seen as a teen.

12. Rumble Fish, directed by Francis Ford Coppola (8/10)

This is the most artsy American teen movie since The Last Picture Show and it’s about 8 times as artsy as the latter. Sometimes it’s too artsy. But most of the time, it’s effectively bizarre. The stilted language must be in reference to something, otherwise it doesn’t make any sense (and is bad…but I’ll give Coppola the benefit of the doubt). The production design is very original (time lapse photography, giant clocks and odd lighting on top of the strange camera angles make it very interesting to watch) and makes amends for the lack of narrative drive.

The cast is quite notable (Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane, Nicholas Cage, Chris Penn, Laurence Fishburne, Tom Waits) but most of these people have bit roles. You wonder what exactly some of them are doing in the movie.

I really don’t know what to make of it. I might have to watch it again. But my first thought would be that it’s good, but it’s not great. It’s a little too vague for its own good. However, it’s nice to see something by Coppola post-Apocalypse that is actually inspired and worthwhile watching. The few movies I’ve seen that he’s made since 1979 have been utter hack-jobs. This is definitely not one of those. It’s worthwhile seeing if you’ve got an open mind, but it’s probably a love it or hate it film (strangely enough, I don’t think I love it or hate it). If you can make it past the first 10 minutes, then you should be okay.

13. Trading Places, directed by John Landis (7*/10)

My favourite “New Years” movie of all-time, I cannot be objective about it.  

14. The Dead Zone, directed by David Cronenberg (7/10)

I don’t think I wrote a review for this because I was likely still a teenager when I saw it. It was a change of pace for Cronenberg, but I think the film could have been creepier.  

15. Terms of Endearment, directed by James L. Brooks (7/10)

What we have here is a noble attempt at making the European art house / American Renaissance drama mainstream. In fact, I’d argue this is as much a commercialization of the American Renaissance as Jaws or Star Wars. The most obvious aspect of this is the score, which is atrocious and obnoxious and often utterly overwhelming (I would get so infuriated by the score I would miss dialogue). It tells us what to think and it over-sentimentalizes many scenes which were clearly not intended that way.

Brooks is not a ballsy filmmaker and he makes this fairly unconventional (for early ’80s Hollywood) material as conventional as he can. He is fairly adept at handling the children but that’s about it. I think this could have easily been a great film in another director’s hands. I’m sure the novel is better.

16. Something Wicked This Way Comes, directed by Jack Clayton (7*/10)

Seen as a tween.  

17. To Be or Not to Be, directed by Alan Johnson (6*/10)

I have never seen the original. I remember enjoying this as a teen.  

18. Krull, directed by Peter Yates (6/10)

Probably my favourite fantasy film from the ’80s (for how bad it is). I cannot be objective about this.  

19. The Osterman Weekend, directed by Sam Peckinpah (6/10)

This is definitely lesser Peckinpah, but he brings enough to it that it is way better than it should be.  

20. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, directed by Richard Marquand (6*/10)

One word: Ewoks.

21. Vacation, directed by Harold Ramis (6/10*)

Seen multiple times as a tween and teen.  

22. WarGames, directed by John Badham (6*/10)

Seen multiple times as a tween, teen, 20-something.  

23. Nate and Hayes, directed by Ferdinand Fairfax (5*/10)

I barely remember seeing this.  

24. Cujo, directed by Lewis Teague (4/10)

I have never read any Stephen King, but I assume the reason he has so many fans is that his stories spend a long time on character development and sense of place – a sense that these are real people in real situations. And I must presume that this is what makes his horror work for so many people.

But I must admit that with the exception of Kubrick’s version of The Shining, I do not find the film adaptations of his stories and novels to be scary in any way, shape or form. And a lot of time when watching these films I also have a hard time understanding even how the source material could have been scary – either because the source material isn’t actually scary or because the filmmakers do such a bad job that they make it seem like nobody could have made the film scary, hopefully the latter.

I find Cujo to be like so many other ’80s horror movies involving evil animals, aliens or small children, just not scary. I actually wanted to rank this lower but I am trying to be generous to the relatively high production values, the committed performances and the thought that maybe, just maybe, a mom and son stuck in a car for days could have actually been scary in the right hands.

25. Sudden Impact, directed by Clint Eastwood (4*/10)

Seen as a teen.  

26. Octopussy, directed by John Glen (4/10)

Bond at the circus.  

26. Sleepaway Camp, directed by Robert Hitzik (2/10)

First off, the acting is atrocious. It’s worse than the norm for a slasher, which is really shocking. Especially the opening seen.

Also the mother / aunt is beyond terrible.

The climax might work if it weren’t physically impossible. The problem is the killer has an alibi. Oops.

It would have been forgivable if the acting (and clothing) had been a lot better.

27. Porky’s II: the Next Day, directed by Bob Clark (2*/10)

Seen in the middle of the night, as a teen or early 20-something.  

28. Carnival Magic, directed by Al Adamson (2/10)

An “animal in jeopardy” movie with a “talking” chimp and some terrible acting by the supporting cast. Read the review of Carnival Magic.

29. Los nuevos extraterrestres aka Pod People, directed by Juan Piquer Simon (1/10)

I saw this via MST3000 and even then it was hard to watch. Unbelievably bad in every way.

1 Comment

  1. 3. A Christmas Story: 10, the greatest Christmas movie of all-time
    -awesome, family watched it every xmas
    9. Scarface: 8, iconic
    -love it

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