Ten Best Movies from the 1980s

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When we asked the readers of Movie Mezzanine what we could do to better with this “History of Film” feature, the response was understandable and pragmatic: Dive into the films you’re hailing as “the best of the decade,” as opposed to slapping together a list of films and moving on. And over these past two weeks, dive we did.

During the last 12 days writers Alexander Huls, Odie Henderson, Michael Mirasol, Ryan McNeil, James Blake Ewing, Kevin Ketchum, Andrew Johnson, Jake Cole, Dan Schindel, and Christopher Runyon each examined one of the 10 films voted to represent and define a decade.

Before today, the rankings had not been revealed. Below is what we came up with after aggregating all the ballots from readers, staff, and friends of Movie Mezzanine. We hope you enjoy seeing where each film ended up.

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10.) Blue Velvet

“While the cultural concept of the American Dream may continue to evolve, it remains able to become corrupted by forces and urges beyond our control or understanding. Blue Velvet, nor any other film, can never offer a concrete explanation for how this evil can taint our well-intentioned American ideals, but with its hopeful ending — more hopeful than the standard for David Lynch — it does give us something that can only be achieved through fiction and dreams alike: a catharsis.” Read on.

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9.) Brazil

“Film shapes our individual and collective imaginations, and is fed by each new crop of artists’ fresh perspectives. And all of this is in the service of distraction and reflection. Most of us can’t achieve the luxury of going mad, so we pursue temporary madness in the theater. Brazil is a paean to thinking in more grandiose and romantic ways than what is convenient for the string-pullers of the world. It’s an escape that affirms your desire to escape, and that’s one reason we love the film so much.” Read on.

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8.)Fanny and Alexander

“What it shares with the best films of the decade, however, is its ability to subtly draw a critique from optimistic surroundings. Compared to the dour films of the ’70s that searched for meaning in post-’68 Europe and post-Nixon America, Fanny and Alexander commences in rapture, the blood-red walls that made the house in Bergman’s own Cries and Whispers so foreboding now shot through with Yuletide cheer. ” Read on.

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7.) Back to the Future

Back to the Future posits that everything matters, no matter how small. On one hand, this is terrifying, because it means events outside our control could lead to us living unfulfilling lives. On the other hand, it reminds us that even the dark timelines, the moments that seem horribly wrong and disappointing, are still somewhat miraculous. The loveless marriages, the low self-esteem, the Libyan terrorists, the suburban malaise, none of it would exist without a million little decisions from a million different people living a million separate lives.” Read on.

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6.) Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

“Arguably the standard for sequels in Hollywood, The Empire Strikes Back has aged considerably well to come to be regarded as not only the finest entry in the franchise, but also one of the best pieces of pop-cinema ever made. Expanding on the dense mythology of the Star Wars universe with a rich, thrilling story, lived-in performances, and impeccable visual grandeur, it’s a masterpiece lacking any winking self-awareness or cynicism, bringing instead an emotional charge to the series that has rarely, if ever, been matched since.” Read on.

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5.) Blade Runner

Blade Runner’s placement on this list of the ten best films of the ‘80s has two important lessons to teach us. The first is that we should recognize that some films of ambition deserve reevaluation. As much as I love Southland Tales, I doubt it will be hailed a classic in 20 years, but I’m sure there will be a few films with mixed reception from our time that will be given classic status in a few decades. When that time comes I ask that we give those films a fair second chance instead of falling back onto the cries of derision that we might have given at the film’s release.” Read on.

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4.) Raging Bull

“It’s a lyrical, operatic, and brutal masterpiece from director Martin Scorsese who would helm multiple masterpieces throughout his career. However, while such qualities can come together to create something great, it’s difficult to articulate why the result feels like “the greatest of them all”. The great films of the 80’s would delight audiences, terrify them, inspire them, and challenge them. The world of cinema was getting smaller, and films were getting greater exposure than ever.” Read on.

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3.) The Shining

“It’s curious how a film that started out with its reputation as a ghost story has evolved over the years into a stellar tale of psychological horror. Whether you believe The Shining is about an abusive father’s insanity, or a hotel absorbing its victims into the past, or something else entirely, its mercurial qualities and its refusal to answer itself assure its timelessness.” Read on.


2.) Do the Right Thing

“I could have come out here and written a piece about how wonderful Do The Right Thing is, about how it’s the most honest depiction of race relations I’ve ever seen, and how it’s finally gotten its due as a classic. But after reading this review of Fruitvale Station, I was reminded of how not much has changed in terms of some critics relating to characters who are brown. Or gay. Or female. They are all devalued by the mainstream. Incidentally, my rowdy audience at Do The Right Thing did not cheer the riot, nor did one break out at the end. Like me, they left having seen a reflection of their own lives onscreen. It was a sad, angry and bittersweet reflection, but we were happy to be able to look in the mirror.” Read on.

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1.) Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite movie. I don’t have to tell you why it’s great. You know why it’s great. Instead, what follows is a list of very personal moments, feelings, and impressions anchored to Steven Spielberg’s work. A film loved more than any other should be personal. This then is my life, as told through the constant presence of my favorite movie.” Read on.