My Favorite Movies of 1985

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.

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Movie Review – Brazil

Brazil (1985)
Written by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Brazil has often been explained as George Orwell’s 1984 played as a comedy, and that is not too far off. I don’t think the art deco world of the film is as authoritarian as 1984, but the flow of disinformation is just as crucial to the narrative. Brazil presents a prophecy of the world we live in now where the specter of faceless terrorism is used to cow people into apathy. The power is not sleek and sharp but buffoonish, making fatal errors and killing innocent people. But the stratified class system and a fear of being targeted if you speak up keeps the ordinary person docile.

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Movie Review – Desert Hearts

Desert Hearts (1985)
Written by Natalie Cooper
Directed by Donna Deitch

It wasn’t too long ago that even in what is considered the “liberal bastion of Hollywood,” being out of the closet or even depicting a loving gay relationship was taboo. LGBTQ characters were relegated to supporting roles or, in sadly too many cases villains. Lesbian parts were often either psychologically manipulative of straight women or tragically destined to be alone or kill themselves. If you were an LGBTQ teen, there weren’t many positive media representations to help you get through adolescence and understand what romantic love looked like for someone like you. Director Donna Deitch set out to find a story that featured a lesbian romance outside of the urban and bohemian. She wanted a Middle America to help showcase how normal it was to everyone.

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Movie Review – Mishima: A Life in Four Parts

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
Written by Leonard & Paul Schraeder
Directed by Paul Schraeder

I don’t know much about Yukio Mishima, and after watching Paul Schrader’s film, I still can’t say I developed a vast knowledge of his history. My comments in this review on Mishima come from additional research I did to try and give myself a context for what happened in the film. This adaptation of the Japanese author’s work and life is aesthetically brilliant. I particularly love Paul Schraeder’s choice of colors and cinematography to differentiate the past, present, and the dramatization of Mishima’s novels. However, he doesn’t provide the needed history and context for a Westerner to fully understand what is happening. I don’t like overly expository films, but I think just a bit might have been needed here.

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Movie Review – Blood Simple

Blood Simple (1985)
Written by Joel & Ethan Coen
Directed by Joel Coen

Nothing in Blood Simple feels unnecessary. Each frame, each character action, every twist in the plot feels like it clicks right into place to tell a classic neo-noir tale. The Coens direct with confidence that they know every character and the perfect flow of the story. The title comes from Dashiell Hammet’s novel Red Harvest to describe the mindset immersed in violence and how it becomes addled with fear & terror. That perfectly describes this quartet of souls as they make bad choices, communicate poorly, and allow paranoia to take over their psyche. The result is a movie dripping with noir, reminiscent of old classics but paving its own country-fried way.

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Movie Review – Phenomena

Phenomena (1985)
Written by Franco Ferrini & Dario Argento
Directed by Dario Argento

I have tried to find something to like about Dario Argento’s movies for almost twenty years, and I have finally gotten to the point where I can say I dislike almost everything he ever made. Deep Red is a decent movie, but even Suspiria is a narrative mess. After seeing Luca Guadagnino’s take on that horror classic, it helped me know that I just don’t care for how Argento elevates style so far over substance to the point that his films devolve into incomprehensible messes. Phenomena is one of those movies that I tried my best to enjoy, but by the third act, I just wanted it to end.

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Movie Review – The Legend of Billie Jean

The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)
Written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal
Directed by Matthew Robbins

On paper, the concept for The Legend of Billie Jean sounds fantastic, yet what ended up on the screen was a tonal mess and thematically murky. It’s a shame because the story being told was relevant in 1985 and continues to be timely. The more you unpack the picture, the more frustratingly confounding it becomes, allowing what should be direct and straightforward to become bogged down by side characters and subplots. What this could have been was a superhero origin story, but instead, we get a half-assed “girl power” movie that doesn’t do anything meaningful with the material.

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