Airplane! (1980) Written & Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, & Jerry Zucker
This is one of those films that had a profound influence on me as a kid, though I only knew it by the edited for television version I recorded on the family VCR. Airplane! is the origins of the modern spoof or parody film where a genre is taken and skewered with a non-stop barrage of jokes. Mel Brooks definitely helped pave the way with pictures like Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, but even those movies still had a coherent plot arc. Airplane! doesn’t care about the plot and sees it only as a delivery device for hilarious comedy. This movie still holds up today because it doesn’t couch its jokes in the contemporary pop culture of its time.
Nine to Five (1980) Written by Colin Higgins and Patricia Resnick Directed by Colin Higgins
Nine to Five came to Jane Fonda after talking to an old friend who was part of a women’s office workers association called “9to5”. This organization is dedicated to improving the working conditions and ensuring the rights of working women in the United States. They have partnered with local unions to help collective bargaining efforts, establishing themselves by doing this in Boston in the mid-1970s. 9to5 continues their work to this day, expanding their reach nationally and rallying on issues from the pay gap, childcare, sexual harassment, and more. Fonda initially thought of the picture as a drama but decided that it would be too preachy and on the nose, so she opted for a classic Hollywood style farce.
Popeye (1980) Written by Jules Feiffer, Songs by Harry Nilsson Directed by Robert Altman
The making of Popeye began with a bidding war for the film rights to the Broadway stage adaptation of Little Orphan Annie. When producer Robert Evans found out Paramount had lost the bid to Columbia Pictures, he held an executive meeting about what comic properties they owned that could replace Annie. One person chimed in “Popeye,” and so it was decided they would make a movie musical based on the spinach-eating sailor man. The original concept was to cast Dustin Hoffman as Popeye and Lily Tomlin as Olive Oyl, but that fell through. At one point, even Gilda Radner was considered for Olive. However, when things finally settled and production began, we ended up with a picture that Paramount wasn’t too happy with, but that has become a cult classic.
The Blues Brothers (1980) Written by Dan Akroyd & John Landis Directed by John Landis
Saturday Night Live has spawned many film spin-offs and become the launchpad for many comedic actors. It began with The Blues Brothers, the first movie to take characters created on the show and put them in a feature presentation. The Blues Brothers were established in 1978, and over the years, Akyroyd and collaborator Ron Gwynne developed a backstory about the duo growing up in an orphanage and learning blues from the janitor. With the success of Animal House, director John Landis and star John Belushi were in a perfect position to get The Blues Brothers movie made.
Flowers Season 2 (Netflix) Written & Directed by Will Sharpe
Flowers is such a difficult show to explain if you haven’t seen it. While watching the second season, I thought it’s like The Addams Family but grounded and about mental health. The tone and characters are realistically macabre, a tormented family of creative types whose communication has broken down so badly they just simply can’t communicate with each other any longer. Creator Will Sharpe has given us a second beautiful season that goes even more in-depth with the Flowers’ history and works to heal the damage.
Southland Tales – The Cannes Cut (2006) Written & Directed by Richard Kelly
The promise of Richard Kelly was huge and seems to have dimmed in the last decade. In the wake of Donnie Darko, he was suddenly rocketed to the list of hot up-and-comers. I was definitely one of those people caught up in the Darko hype. I still hold that it’s his best work to date and that his subsequent work never felt quite as honed and clear. Southland Tales was the follow-up with a bigger budget and big names in the cast. It debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, and it was hailed as a disaster, bloated and too sprawling. Another cut was made for the theatrical release, and the reaction was much the same from audiences.
Baby Doll (1956) Written by Tennessee Williams Directed by Elia Kazan
Stanley Kubrick called fellow director Elia Kazan, “without question, the best director we have in America, [and] capable of performing miracles with the actors he uses.” Quite a compliment from someone I consider to be the best American film director we’ve ever had. I’m not unfamiliar with Kazan and have seen a number of his films like A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, among others. After gaining acclaim with pictures like East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, Kazan was able to produce some films independently with Baby Doll being one of those.
Little Children (2006) Written by Todd Field & Tom Perrotta Directed by Todd Field
Tom Perrotta has enjoyed quite a bit of success in having his novels adapted to film & television. Election, directed by Alexander Payne, was his first work turned into a movie and remains a great picture about the dangers of ambition. Even more successful was the television adaptation of The Leftovers by Damon Lindeloff, arguably the best series of the 2010s. Inbetween these two lies Little Children, a very literary film helmed by Todd Field. This is a dense movie that doesn’t stick to the text with fidelity, instead creating its own narrative spin on the same themes and characters.
Palm Springs (2020) Written by Andy Siara Directed by Max Barbakow
2020 has been a painful drought when it comes to new films except for a seemingly endless glut of cheaply produced crud. So, when a picture comes along, that did well at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is garnering a good bit of acclaim, you have my interest. Palm Springs treads familiar territory most notably carved out already by Groundhog Day. Instead of one character, multiple players are caught in a time loop that has them living out the same day repeatedly.
Dr. Strangelove (1964) Written by Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, and Peter George Directed by Stanley Kubrick
There is comedy in the horror of humanity destroying itself. That is what Stanley Kubrick realized while penning the script for Dr. Strangelove alongside Peter George. Initially, they planned to make a serious film about a nuclear accident based on the simmering Cold War fears of the day. The more Kubrick delved into the policies surrounding mutually assured destruction, the more he found it all to comically absurd. Once Kubrick realized he was making a comedy about nuclear annihilation, he brought in writer Terry Southern who had written the comic novel The Magic Christian, which the director and Peter Sellers both loved. Southern punched up the story using real scenarios and protocols for comedy, and thus we have the dark humor of Dr. Strangelove.