Return to Oz (Directed by Walter Murch)
From my review: Return to Oz is in the same aesthetic and tonal vein as the Jim Henson dark fantasy films of the time, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. It also shares that label with non-Henson features like The Neverending Story and Legend. They all have the exterior trappings of fairy tales and children’s fantasies, but their themes and plots go into bleak psychological territory. As a child, I can remember some behind the scenes, making-of footage from Return to Oz, and it boring its way deep into my mind. I was determined to see this movie that challenged everything I knew from the classic Wizard of Oz. Return is one of those films I argue speaks to children’s interests in horror, how it can be empowering to watch horror films knowing you have control over when to stop it if it becomes too much.
Legend (Directed by Ridley Scott)
From my review: Rob Bottin handled makeup design and the variety of magical beings, both angelic and sinister, look wonderful. The obvious crowning achievement of the film is Tim Curry as Darkness. This is the definitive Devil. Massive black horns, piercing cat’s eyes, brilliant white fangs in a malevolent grin, goats hooves that tower him above the rest of the cast. Just from an engineering point of view, this is a massive task. Bottin made his way up on some classic 1970s cheesy films (King Kong, Rock & Roll High School), but really broke out through his work with John Carpenter (The Fog, The Thing) and particularly The Howling. The most important part about his transformative work with Darkness, and the testament to Tim Curry’s prowess as an actor, is that neither the makeup or the actor ever overwhelm each other. It’s such a perfect synthesis of both crafts.
The Goonies (Directed by Richard Donner)
The Goonies stands in direct opposition to director Richard Donner’s other 1985 film, Ladyhawke. The Goonies has remained beloved in the eyes of many while Ladyhawke has slipped into cult film status. I think the reason for The Goonies’ continuing presence in the minds of nostalgia-eyed millennials is that it plays to such a fundamental fantasy of being a child. We all daydream about going on adventures and finding treasure, and in this film, we get to experience that with all the excitement and horror you would expect. I think Anne Ramsay is the treasure of this picture playing the villainous Ma Fratelli to perfection. She never goes for the comedic, playing her role completely seriously. This allows the tone of the film the ability to sustain the comedy and the scary elements in a way that never disorients the viewer.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (Directed by Tim Burton)
From my review: I love this movie. I cannot explain precisely why, but there is something so compelling about the Pee-Wee character. Pee-Wee shouldn’t pull in the audience’s sympathies with his annoying voice and manic behavior, but he is so endlessly watchable. I think Reubens makes some fantastic comedic choices in this film and shows a good bit of range. The sequence where Pee-Wee becomes obsessed with determining what happened to his bike is one of my favorites, Burton chooses to film these scenes like a noir picture and Pee-Wee interrogating a whole host of friends and acquaintances is genuinely hilarious.
Back to the Future (Directed by Robert Zemeckis)
From my review: A few years ago, I rewatched Back to the Future after about ten years and was surprised with how funny the film is. As a child, I was caught up in the Delorean and Marty stopping Biff, I didn’t notice the genuinely good comedy woven throughout the film. Michael J. Fox is, and Christopher Lloyd has some great reactions. The writing is also very tight and entertaining, playing off both young Doc Brown and Marty’s misunderstandings about the future and past, respectively. When Doc asks Marty about who the President is in 1985 and Marty responds with Ronald Reagan, the older man scoffs at this and jokes about the other celebrities of the day who would hold cabinet positions.
Lost in America (Directed by Albert Brooks)
From my review: There’s a beautiful lack of sentimentality in Brooks’s films, which is in stark contrast to most other comedy films coming out in the 1980s. He doesn’t feel that David or Linda deserve our sympathy, but he does want to explore what their experiences illuminate about modern marriages and the middle class’ relationship with its wealth and material goods. David wants to live as a bohemian, acting out his version of “Easy Rider,” but you know without any of the risk involved. He’s also obnoxiously intent on always being right, becoming rightfully upset with a decision his wife makes at the halfway mark but then becoming completely unforgiving and sanctimonious. First, Linda gets the silent treatment, and when David finally deems it time to speak, tells her this will be a series of lectures that he’s going to harp on about for the rest of their relationship.
Tampopo (Directed by Juzo Itami)
From my review: Tampopo is a delightful light fantasy, existing in a world where there is no real menace or villains. It reminded me of Jacques Tati or Wes Anderson’s films, pleasant and comedic while still speaking some truth. Couched inside this movie about food is a story about a love of all things creative, especially movies. The film opens with a gangster, his girl, and three flunkies taking a seat in the front of a movie theater. The trio of henchmen set up a table complete with a meal and flute of wine. The gangster speaks directly to the audience about food and movies, pointedly saying that when we die, we view our last film, as our life flashes before our eyes.
Blood Simple (Directed by Joel Coen)
From my review: The Coens have studied the noir genre and gotten down to the very root elements that make something a noir. It’s not anachronistic dialogue or a style of music. They fundamentally understand that noir is about exploring the darkest aspects of humanity through betrayal, mistrust, and violence. They subvert the femme fatale trope brilliantly by having Abby just be a woman trying to get out of a bad relationship. She doesn’t want to kill anyone, yet she’s made really dumb choices instead of staying focused and getting out clean. Everyone here is making the worst decisions, and if they had simply stopped and contemplated what they were doing, they likely would have avoided all the tragedy that unfolds.
Come and See (Directed by Elem Klimov)
From my review: My personal reading of this film is that it seeks to tell the story of how children are devoured by the machine of war. How every soldier you see, grizzled, grayed, and seemingly heartless has been transformed that way by the act of war. Flyora and a friend are joyous to dig up the dead German body and recover his rifle at the start of the film. The soundtrack undercuts their joy with a sense of foreboding as if some dark artifact has been brought out of a cursed tomb. Come and See is not an easy film to watch, but why should a film about war be easy to watch. Taking up arms against your fellow man is not light fare, and when it is treated as fun and an adventure is disrespects the sacrifices of soldiers and young people like Flyora. Come and See may not be a film for you, but it is a film I am so glad exists. It unflinchingly tells its story, and it makes sure we understand that the hate that came out of World War II is not something isolated to Nazis. These are atrocities one group of humans committed against another and that searching out the real roots of this horror is an essential duty of every one of us.