My Take by Jim Carl - Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trying to compile a Top 10 list of my favorite American films from 1980-1984 is pointless.  These are the movies of my childhood and they are sacred, every last one of them.   Glancing at my list of Honorable Mentions below, I could easily create an altogether different set of titles on any given day, based on what I’m wearing.  Or what I thought about during my drive to work that morning.  Or how I combed my hair.  You get the point.  

Some of these films previously appeared in the Carolina Theatre’s 2011 Winter edition of Showtime.  I have included some of those listings here because I cannot improve on my own perfection.    


John Carpenter’s THE FOG (1980)
At last count, I have nine tattoos on my body.  (You know you’re getting senile when you have to get undressed and count them.)  The largest of these is of Captain Blake from this movie, ripping through the flesh along my upper right thigh, holding a scythe in his hand.  The tattoo is more than a foot long and it’s a testament of how much I love this film that I’d want a permanent reminder of it imprinted on my corpse.  And yes, it hurt.  A lot.  Hands down, this is my favorite scary movie of all time, moreso than The Exorcist.  (Jaws ranks a very close second.)  No, I don’t care if you disagree with me.   Get your own g.d. tattoo from your favorite movie and after your leg stops swelling and leaking plasma for a week, we’ll talk.  The Fog has all the elements I want in my creepy films, especially in its imagery and locale: sleepy coastal fishing village, majestic lighthouse, rolling oceanic waves, ragged sails on a haunted galleon, crumbling stone church on a lonely hillside, and that doom-enshrouded fog.  There’s not a single scene in this movie that I feel is wasted.  I’ve probably seen it a hundred times.  A million times, if you count how often I’ve looked at my leg.            

Without a doubt, this is my favorite drama of all-time.  This spawned an entire sub-genre of movies about whiny adolescents suffering from pedestrian, over-diagnosed American psychological conditions, but none of those films featured Pachelbel's Canon in D.  Mary Tyler Moore's character reminds me a little bit of my mother.  (Not that I've given it much thought, really.)  A lot of people have pooh-poohed this movie over the years because it beat Raging Bull for the 1980 Best Picture Oscar.  What a bunch of sore losers.  I mean, The Empire Strikes Back wasn't nominated for Best Picture that same year either, and you don't see me ranting and demanding a recount and everything, do you?  Which leads me into...
"No, I am your father."  With that single line, Generation X experienced the greatest movie plot twist of its age.  We were forced to wait a whole three years until Return of the Jedi, and during that long haul no movie was ever as hotly-discussed, re-enacted, or scrutinized as this one, in a heartbreakingly middle school-aged kind of way.  Did I mention Empire wasn't even nominated for Best Picture? 

A few days ago, I watched 2011’s Chronicle, which is about a trio of teen-aged guys who develop superhuman powers after a stare-down with a glowing rock from outer space.  During the climactic finale as they hurled RVs and passenger buses at each other in downtown Toronto, I was reminded of the third act of Superman II when General Zod hurled that city bus with his bare hands across downtown Metropolis.  Seeing it for the first time in 1980, the moment felt exhilaratingly original. Watching its earnestly heartfelt homage during Chronicle, I reflected that the special effects had gotten much better since 1980, but did its intended target audience (mostly born in the mid-90s) realize the scene was homage to Superman II in the first place?  I seriously doubted it.  That’s a shame because alongside The Empire Strikes Back and Star Trek II, Superman II is one of the best sequels produced in the early 80s.  I still own the trading card set.               

Everyone here including Kurt Russell deserved an Oscar nomination. That Mr. Russell didn’t get one was a horrific snub. I always tear up during that montage at the end when Meryl Streep sings an a Capella version of Amazing Grace as her Karen Silkwood drives off to meet a New York Times reporter and her own death.  Let’s face it, the movie’s so good she could be singing Lady Marmalade and I’d probably still go all weepy-eyed.  Here’s an example of how a single scene can elevate a film to greatness.  Simple, effective and haunting.  And that leads me to…

I’d held up perfectly fine throughout Spock’s big death scene.  I barely blinked during Captain Kirk’s eulogy.  I might have glanced away for a moment during that cutaway shot of a Kirstie Alley.  But when those goddamn bagpipes started playing Amazing Grace after the funeral…oh, hell.  Emotional teargas, that’s what it was.                  
A lot of people prefer 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark over this, Spielberg’s nightmare-inducing torture porn sequel involving child slave labor, chilled monkey brains and still-beating amputated human hearts.  Really, it’s a matter of taste.  I’ll easily concede the Ark of the Covenant is a much-better plot device than those Sankara Stones. But, oh boy, those of us in 1984 had never seen anything like that rollercoaster ride through the mine shaft. Or that opening sequence when Kate Capshaw stands in front of the movie’s title card and belts out Anything Goes.  In bloody Mandarin, no less.  Alongside Return of the Jedi, I can’t think of another movie as widely-anticipated in the early 80s as this one.   

If you’re a Southern guy of a certain age, this is the only musical you’ll stop to watch when it’s playing on TV or cable, no matter whom else is in the room. Case in point: I watched The Blues Brothers just last week with my best friend and his Yankee fiancé.  She’d never seen the film; had no clue about Jake and Elwood Blues in fact.  My best friend and I stared at each other for a full Southern second before reacting.  Happily---with the very real threat of a broken engagement lingering in the air---we convinced her to see things our way.  This film is a masterpiece; make no mistake, sweetheart.  And restored her Yankee belief that all guys of a certain age who like musicals are gay.             

I love military marches and Benjamin has one of the best I've ever heard. I'm not ashamed to admit it, but I once recorded the soundtrack onto a Memorex cassette tape and turned it into my own personal theme music. I strolled through the forest for hours, practicing my tracking skills whilst wearing my Walkman, getting my James Bond on, and imagining that Darth Vader and Michael Meyers were lurking just right around that outcropping of rock, which isn't something you just stumble across in West Texas, but there you are. Surprisingly, I was never able to convince any of my friends to meet me in the woods and go for the Big Kill.
If you're going to watch labyrinthine murder-mysteries with friends, take my advice: Only invite people who are dumber than you.  Sometimes, plot is everything.  And Agatha Christie wrote some of the greatest humdingers of all time, including this one.  This is one of those whodunits I enjoy inflicting on friends and co-workers (and sometimes the drunks at my local dive bar), especially when they want to watch something else, because I can sit there and feel all smug in the knowledge that I know the ending and they don't.  About every five minutes, I love pausing the movie and asking, "So, who do you think did it?"  And because no one in all these years has ever, ever gotten it right, you just know my demeanor while watching this movie is nothing short of smashing.

The Stunt Man, Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Killing Fields, Altered States, Flash Gordon, Return of the Jedi, Ghost Story, 9 to 5, Poltergeist, The Changeling, Excalibur, Seems Like Old Times, Dressed to Kill, E.T., Airplane!, The Big Chill, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Hanky Panky, Trading Places, Wargames, Ghostbusters, The Thing, Hopscotch, The Howling, Gloria, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, An Officer and a Gentlemen, Looker, Psycho II, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Happy Birthday to Me, The Right Stuff, Terror in the Aisles, Tootsie, Sophie’s Choice, Terms of Endearment, Cujo, Kiss Me Goodbye, Christine, Gremlins, Deathtrap, The World According to Garp, Halloween II, When Time Ran Out, Amadeus, Places in the Heart, Body Heat, The Fan, Missing, The Shining, Raise the Titanic, Victor/Victoria, The Terminator, and many, many more. 


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