6. At Close Range
Like the Falcon and the Snowman, this movie has seemed to slip below the radar even though it is one of the better dramas of the 80’s. A character study about a naive young man who joins his father’s criminal gang only to regret it later when tragedy strikes. This movie is a slow burn that gradually ticks up the tension so that even though we can figure out early on its outcome, it is no less devastating to watch. You will never look at a father-son relationship the same way again after watching this movie.
Sean Penn plays the son and Christopher Walken plays the dad and the two play off each other so good that you can almost believe they are father and son. Most people point to the last decade as Sean Penn’s best because of the Oscar wins, but you could say he was better in the 80’s. But in this movie he is upstaged consistently by the ever versatile Christopher Walken, who truly encompasses evil like few actors before or after.
Almost every list of best villains includes the same 3 performances, Jack Nicolson in The Shining, Anthony Hopkins in the Silence of the Lambs and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Each of these performances are great if not over the top at times and do deserve to be on the lists. What makes Christopher Walken’s performance so unnerving is he manages to instill such creepiness without going over the top.
At the Beginning of the film, he conveys such likability you could see how his son would so easily fall prey to him and join his gang. It’s only over the course of the film do we gradually see his evil surface and by then it’s too late. None of this is more striking then when Christoher Walken is driving around angry towards the end of the movie and he stops and looks in the rearview mirror.
It is a chilling moment that foretells the tragedy that will unfold and only an actor like Christopher Walken can pull this off with just a stare. The fact that this is based on actual events only adds to the overall atmosphere of the movie.
7. The Emerald Forest
It’s not surprising you never see this on any lists since it’s off most people’s radar and is never shown on television. Directed by John Boorman, the movie stars the underappreciated Powers Booth as a father who spends ten years looking for his kidnapped son in the Amazon forest.
Like he did in Deliverance, John Boorman makes good use of the surrounding environment and showing the point of view from both the father and son, we get a compelling story that is never boring. It is also one of the first movies to put man’s impact on the environment front and center.
John Boorman has always been an interesting director who seems to make movies with very little concern if they will be a profitable or not. He has several movies that are well recognized and considered classics, but also has some hidden gems like this one. For better or worse, he has always stayed true to his art and his body of work shows that.
If there is one person that deserves The Cecille B. Demille award, it would be him. Since it is never shown on television, the best opportunity to see it would be to try and track it down on Netflix’s or some other streaming service, but it is worth the effort.
This John Carpenter directed movie Starman marks a departure from many of the movies he has directed. Taking a much less serious tone than previous efforts, Starman plays out like E.T. for adults. Jeff Bridges stars as an alien ball of energy who crash lands on earth and takes on the likeness of Nancy Allen’s dead husband. He then forces her to take a road trip to meet a rescue ship and along the way comes to understand human nature.
It is Jeff Bridges’ Oscar nominated performance the takes center stage and really takes the movie over the top. Watching his ball of energy alien try and figure out how to work the human body as well his observations of human behavior still hold up today. This is the Oscar he should have won.
It also helps that it has a fine supporting cast and some tight direction from John Carpenter who shows a real talent in finding humor in the human condition. One has to wonder were his career would be today if taken a lighter side in few more movies instead of the doom and gloom he seemed to fall back into.
This movie rarely gets shown on television, so it’s really not surprising that it doesn’t show up on lists. It also doesn’t help that The Thing seems to be the first on everyone’s lists when thinking of John Carpenter.
9. The Long Riders
The western was largely nonexistent in the 80’s and would not make a comeback until 1990 when Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves stole Oscar glory from Goodfellas.
The movie follows Jesse James and his gang as they rob their way through the old west being followed closely by the Pinkertons. It is a familiar story since there are numerous films about Jesse James but is highly entertaining mainly because Walter Hill keeps things moving at a fast pace and the use of a gimmick that surprisingly works well.
That gimmick is using real acting brothers to play brothers in the movie, The Keach’s play the James’s, the Carridine’s play the Younger’s and the Quad’s play the Miller’s, even the Fords are played by the Guest brothers. They all play off each other in a natural way that probably couldn’t be reproduced if they weren’t real brothers.
It must be added that the Northfield Minnesota raid taking place towards the end of the movie is one of the best staged action scenes ever put into a western. The highlight of the film and this alone is worth sitting through the film.
The fact that the 80’s was such a void in westerns explains why you never see this movie on any lists. The movie does make the rounds from time to time on television, so it is worth checking out if you get the chance and at just over 90 minutes does not wear out its welcome.
On a side note, why does it seem like every action movie today goes on forever, many going past two and a half hours? Is it because of their bloated budgets that they just don’t want to leave so much money on the cutting room floor? Today’s directors could learn a lesson or two from the likes Walter Hill and John Carpenter in how to tell a well-paced story in under two hours which isn’t loaded full of needless bloat.
10. The World According to Garp
This is a movie that has everything going for it, a great performance by the lead actor, wonderful supporting performances, George Roy Hill directing what would be his last great movie and a truly quirky story based off a John Irving novel. It is truly hard to explain what this movie is about except to say it shows the life Garp focusing mainly on his relationship with his women’s lib mother played by the talented Glenn Close.
What makes this movie work so well is that unlike a lot of Robin Williams’s movies, it doesn’t seem to be built around his standup comedy. Based off of the John Irving novel of the same name, Robin Williams smartly lets the smart script take center stage, His performance is so good it almost seems like the novel was written with him in mind.
It is a credit to his talent that outstanding supporting performances by Glen Close and John Lithgow never overshadow Robin Williams. A quirky movie like this can quickly fall into the weird category if the director doesn’t keep a certain pacing, but with the talented George Roy Hill at the helm, you are never not smiling even with the depressing ending.
Like several other movies, there is no logical reason this movie doesn’t show up on more lists. It has everything going for it and is a unique movie that is hard to put in any category.
Maybe that’s the reason since no one is able to pigeon hole the movie into one specific category. This is a must see movie for anyone looking to escape for a couple of hours and see Robin Williams before he had to carry a movie on his back.
Author Bio: Ron was born and raised in Philadelphia Pa. He is currently a software developer living in Orlando FL with his wife and three kids.