20. The Untouchables (1987) dir. Brian De Palma
In 1930 Chicago Al Capone (Robert Di Niro) basically owns the city and sells bootleg liquor. Bureau of Prohibition agent Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) has been working to stop Capone, but cops on the take keep tipping off Capone. Ness decides to approach incorruptible Jim Malone (Sean Connery) who appreciates what Ness has tried to do and agrees to work with him. They also recruit a new graduate from the police academy and an acco0unt and call the group The Untouchables.
People try to bribe Ness but he refuses. The accountant advises Ness that they can get Capone on tax evasion if nothing else. Capone henchmen Frank Nitti threatens Ness’ family, but Ness moves them to a safe house. They then go to the Canada-US border to intercept a liquor shipment and Ness kills a henchmen in self-defense.
Malone captures George, an accountant for Capone and takes him back to the house to interrogate George, but he is uncooperative. Wallace takes him back to the station, where Nitti has infiltrated and kills Wallace and George. Someone with a knife breaks into Malone’s house but Malone drives him out with a shotgun, but then is shot by Nitti. Ness, in retaliation manages to put Capone away for tax evasion.
This is a wonderful action film, with good performances all around, with the lion’s share of praise going to Sean Connery for playing Malone, the standup incorruptible Irish-American cop. This was an unusual project for De Palma, but he did a good job in directing the picture. It is definitely very gritty with lots of violence and double crossing.
It was nominated for a total of four Academy Awards, winning Best Supporting Actor for Sean Connery. The other nominations were for Best Art Direction Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, and Best Score. But not Best Picture.
19. The Terminator (1984) dir. James Cameron
In May of 1984 to being from 2029 appear. One is the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) a cyborg who has been programmed to kill a woman names Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton). The other is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) a human resistance fighter sent to protect Sarah. The terminator kills Sarah’s roommate and two other women named Sarah Conner he found in a phone book.
Kyle gets to the real Sarah and saves her. He tells Sarah that Skynet has sent the Terminator from the future to kill Sarah before her son John is born as he will lead the resistance fighters when he grows up. He tells Sarah he has loved her for a long time as John has shown him her picture. She feels the same way and they make love.
The Terminator find them and a chase is started. Kyle tries to use bombs to kill him. The Terminator is thrown from his motorcycle but hijacks a gas trailer. Kyle puts a pipe bomb in the exhaust. It explodes, killing Kyle and taking the human skin off the Terminator. Sarah manages to deactivate the Terminator.
This was a real roller coaster of a film. Arnold had very little dialog but was effective with it. Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton gave spirited performances. The script was considered good, but the special effects really took the cake. It was very successful at the box office which led to sequels. Because it was seen as a “popcorn” movie, it did not receive any Academy Award Nominations.
18. Glory (1989) dir. Edward Zwick
During the Civil War, Captain Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is sent home to Boston to recuperate after being wounded. While there, he meets Frederick Douglass, the famous abolitionist and escaped slave. While in Boston, he is offered a promotion to Colonel if he leads the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry, the first all-black unit. He agrees and starts getting recruits, including Trip (Denzel Washington) an escaped slave who doesn’t trust Shaw. They go through rigorous training, then Trip goes AWOL.
When Shaw catches him, he has him flogged. The men respect Shaw for treating them as equals. He is finding that other officers are not treating the soldiers the same as white soldiers. He pushes through a pay raise commensurate with white soldiers. He finally overrules the commanding officer and sends the unit into battle to try to take over a Southern fort.
The film is one of the best at portraying the Civil War. It also relates a part of history largely forgotten. Every care was taken to make the film look good and the script is excellent. The performances were wonderful especially Denzel Washington. Matthew Broderick did very well for an actor who usually doesn’t do dramatic films.
The film received five Academy Award nominations, winning three for Best Supporting Actor for Washington, Best Cinematography for Freddie Francis and Best Sound. It was also nominated for Best Art Direction Set Decoration, and Best Editing. Despite all these nominations, it was not nominated for Best Picture.
17. Sophie’s Choice (1982) dir. Alan J. Pakula
In 1947 Stingo (Peter MacNicol) moves to New York to write a novel. He is befriended by Sophie Zawistowski (Meryl Streep) and her unstable lover, Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline). Nathan is jealous and abuses Sophie when he thinks she has cheated. Sophie is a Polish refugee who had been held in a concentration camp with her children.
Nathan says he is in research at a pharmaceutical company, but Stingo finds out from Nathan’s doctor, who is also his brother, that Nathan is a paranoid schizophrenic that actually works in the library. As Nathan grows more agitated Sophie and Stingo go to a hotel, where she discusses the horrors of Auschwitz with Stingo, and the choice she was forced to make. She goes back to Nathan, leading to a harrowing conclusion.
An extremely well-acted film, but very sad. It did well at the box office. Meryl Streep was a revelation in the role, learning a Polish accent. The rest of the cast was very good and the script and cinematography came in for praise.
It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards winning on for Meryl Streep as Best Actress. The other nominations were for Best Cinematography by Nestor Almendros, Best Costume Design by Albert Wolsky, Best Original Score by Marvin Hamlisch, and Best Adapted Screenplay by Alan J. Pakula. It was not nominated for Best Picture.
16. Videodrome (1988) dir. David Cronenberg
Max Renn (James Woods) owns a TV station in Toronto that shows lots of violent programming. Thinking he needs new blood for the network, he talks to his assistant who shows him a program called Videodrome which appears to be broadcasting from Malaysia. The channel shows what appears to be snuff shows where people are tortured and killed on air.
Max tells the assistant to pirate it. He defends this on a talk show to Nicki Brand and Brian O’Blivion an expert in pop culture seen on a TV screen. He finds the show is actually broadcast from Pittsburg and that O’Blivion knows about it and its political agenda. Max finds when he watches that strange things happen, like he develops a VCR slot in his abdomen. This leads to a disturbing reveal about Videodrome and what is really going on.
The film is definitely a roller coaster ride with many unseen twists and turns. It has an excellent cast. Besides James Woods, Debra Harry of Blondie has a large role. It also stars Sonja Smits, Les Carlson, and Jack Creley in major roles. It was made for just under $6 million and did not fare well, taking in less than half of that, but has since become a cult classic. As it was marketed as a sci-fi film, which the Academy has never favored, it was not nominated for any Oscars, but should have been.
15. The Breakfast Club (1985) dir. John Hughes
Five students- Clare Standish (Molly Ringwald), Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez), Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall), Alison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy), and John Bender (Judd Nelson), arrive for detention on a Saturday morning. They gather in the library, where they are greeted by Assistant Principal, Richard Vernon, who is not the nicest of people.
He tells them not to move and they may not sleep the entire 9 hours. He tells them that they each have to write a 1000 word telling him who they think they are. While the five are not strangers, they all belong to different cliques and seem to have little in common, especially Bender, who the others see as a hoodlum. As they talk to each other during the day, they realize they have far more in common then they realized.
This is a film that unleashes all your emotions. You think you know these kids, but as the film progresses you don’t know them at all. But you will recognize them from your school days. As the film goes on, you realize there is something about all of them that make them appealing. The emotions turn on a dime, from truly funny bits to heartbreaking pathos. It was wildly successful, but because it was seen as a film for a young audience, it was not nominated for any Academy Awards.
14. Blood Simple (1984) dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) believes his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand) is having an affair with one of the bartenders at the bar he owns, Ray (John Getz). He hires Private detective Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to spy on them and get pictures. Marty finds out its true and calls them and lets them know he is on to them.
The next morning Ray quits. Julian calls Visser to kill them both while he takes a fishing trip. He breaks into Abby’s house steals her gun and takes pictures of Abby and Ray sleeping and uses them to show Julian they are dead. Once he gets his fee, he kills Julian with Abby’s gun to make it look like Abby killed him. When Ray finds the body he thinks Abby killed him and decides to clean up the scene. He finds Julian is not dead and buries him alive. This starts a whole chain of events that lead to more murders.
Violent and funny in equal measures, this was the first film for the Coen’s, who already are starting to use the actors they would use in many of their subsequent films, like Frances McDormand (excellent in her feature film debut) and M. Emmet Walsh. While it was a modest success at the box office, it became a cult classic and has had several DVD releases. Just a delightful film. Probably because of the humor along with the violence, it was not nominated for any Academy Awards.
13. Do the Right Thing (1989) dir. Spike Lee
Mookie (Spike Lee) lives in Brooklyn with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee) and his girlfriend (Rosie Perez). He works at Sal’s pizzeria. Sal (Danny Aiello) lives in the neighborhood and has had the pizzeria for twenty-five years. His son Pino (John Tuturro) dislikes blacks and fights with Mookie. His other son is friendly with Mookie. The neighborhood is full of all types of people.
Buggin’ Out asks Sal why he only has pictures of Italian American celebrities and says he needs black celebrities on the wall as this is a black neighborhood. Sal refuses. Radio Raheem and Smiley back Buggin’ Out up. The tension escalates on that hot day, and Buggin’ Out starts a protest. The cops come to quiet things down and inadvertently choke Radio Raheem to death. The violence then starts. What will happen with Sal and his restaurant and can he and Mookie renew their friendship?
This is a very intense film. There are some comedic scenes at the beginning, but when the riot begins, it is all business. This was the first film for Martin Lawrence and Rosie Perez. There are also a lot of well know actors in the cast. Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, and Samuel L. Jackson. It was very successful at the box office but controversial as well, with some critics worried it would start riots in theaters.
Spike Lee got very upset over that, saying black people know the film is fiction. It was nominated for Two Academy Awards. Danny Aiello was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and Spike Lee was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Possible because of the controversy, it was not nominated for Best Picture.
12. Stranger than Paradise (1984) dir. Jim Jarmusch
Essentially a three act movie about Willie (John Lurie), his cousin Eva (Eszter Balint), and his friend, Eddie (Richard Edson). Eva has to stay with Willie for ten days in New York, while her Aunt is in the hospital. At first Willie doesn’t like her, but during the ten days, he changes his mind.
After ten days Eva goes to live with her Aunt. A year later, Willie and Eddie win a lot of money by cheating at poker, and go to Cleveland to see Eva. They decide to go to Florida and gamble. All three have different adventures, leading to an unexpected ending.
This film was made on a shoestring, but it doesn’t look it, this was Jarmusch’s second feature, his first out of NYU. It’s a fun movie that looks like everyone enjoyed what they were doing. It was very successful at the box office as it returned $2 million on a budget of $100,000. Despite being named Best Picture by The National Society of Film Critics, it was not nominated for any Academy Awards.
11. The Thing (1982) dir. John Carpenter
In the Antarctic, a Norwegian helicopter is chasing an Alaskan malamute towards an American outpost, When the helicopter lands, it accidently releases a bomb which explodes, destroying the helicopter and killing the pilot. The other passenger chases after the malamute with his gun drawn.
The noise has been heard by the Americans, and the station commander Garry (Donald Moffat) shoots the Norwegian, he sends the pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) and another man to the Norwegian camp. When they get there, all they find is a charred ruin, and a body with two faces, which they bring back to the outpost for an autopsy.
The malamute changes into another dog and starts to attack the other dogs. The men kill the dog and after the autopsies discover it’s an alien that can assimilate other beings and assume their form. This leads to paranoia among the crew. Has any of them been assimilated? And how will they deal with the situation?
An excellent movie, with great makeup effects and an interesting story, it did not do well at the box office due to other Sci-Fi and fantasy films released at the same time. It is a very intense, scary movie which makes you share the characters paranoia. It has become a cult movie like Blade Runner, which opened the same day. It was not nominated for any Academy Awards, but it definitely deserved a few.