6. Matador (1986)
Directed by the almighty Pedro Almodovar, “Matador” features Antonio Banderas in the role of Ángel, a student bullfighter suffering from vertigo, whose life changes completely when he confesses to the murders of multiple people.
The film encapsulates all the classic features of an Almodovar opus: erotic atmosphere, surrealism, black comedy, Spanish culture, and bizarre development. Apart from the unforgettable and flamboyant style that made Almodovar known everywhere, “Matador” is characterised also by an excellent and solid cast, with everyone performing brilliantly in their parts.
Despite the opinion of the director, who considers the movie one of his weakest, “Matador” is – on the contrary – a great movie that perfectly depicts the idea of cinema of the author and offers the cast the possibility of shining with their astonishing performances. Another Almodovar-Banderas joint that cannot be missed.
7. Mirch Masala (1987)
This psychological thriller – directed by Ketan Mehta – sees actor Naseeruddin Shah as the villain of the story – a vicious tax collector – and actress Smita Patil as a spice factory worker too fierce to allow prevarication and oppression by the hands of the collector. “Mirch Masala” is dominated by a wonderful screenplay, beautifully written and informed by the social inequalities of colonial India, and by the rich and colourful cinematography.
The director of photography Jehangir Choudhary was able to consciously choose the best lighting system possible to imprint on film a rich kaleidoscope of colours; in this mix of different tonalities, white and red are the leading colours. The beautifully detailed red dresses are always highlighted by the contrasting white background of the houses, just like the piles of hot chilli peppers – against a light ground – almost pop out of the screen. Considered one of the best Indian movies ever made, “Mirch Masala” should intrigue lovers of aesthetically pleasing movies as much as screenplay-focused film buffs.
8. Prison on Fire (1987)
The late Ringo Lam represented an institution in the Honk Kong film industry, with its particular ability of crafting engaging but also socially charged action and thriller movies. “Prison on Fire” – second instalment of a trilogy comprising “City on Fire” (1987) and “School on Fire” (1988) – is no exception at all. The movie essentially is based on the relationship between a recently imprisoned inmate for manslaughter – called Lo Ka-yiu (Tony Leung Ka-fai) – and a veteran of the prison, the seasoned Chung Tin-ching (Chow Yun-fat). Their path will be full of difficult situations, exacerbated by the presence of gangs and by the correctional officers, exploiting their power and hierarchical positions mercilessly.
“Prison on Fire” is dominated by the brilliant performances of the two main characters and – especially – Chow Yun-fat, who’s able to convey many different shades of the movie, from the most dramatic moments to the lighter and comedic ones. At the same time, Lam is able to take advantage of the straightforward characteristics of this action-thriller to shed a light on the dramatic and often abusive prison conditions.
Ringo Lam is synonymous with excellence and intelligence in cinema; this should be enough for every film aficionado to run home and watch the great “Prison on Fire.”
9. Off Limits (1988)
Directed by Christopher Crowe and starring William Dafoe as Sergeant First Class Buck McGriff and Gregory Hines as Sergeant First Class Albaby Perkins, “Off Limits” is an action-thriller set in the background of the Vietnam War. The two sergeants are part of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, whose purpose is to investigate violations of the military law committed by the personnel. The two will have to investigate the murder of a prostitute and the possible suspects: U.S. Army officers. The movie is one of the gloomiest in the list; the screenplay’s hopeless rendition of human nature pervades the screen instantly. Aside from that, we are in the presence of a well-made movie about the Vietnam War, with a strong casting, acting and directing.
The immersion in a fictionalised brutal side of the conflict shouldn’t discourage the brave viewer to give “Off Limits” a chance; unfortunately, wars have successfully shown the grimmest side of human nature. Though it might not be for everyone’s taste, “Off Limits” is an often forgotten film that has great potential and a solid technical constitution. And, in case you still have doubts, there’s William Dafoe in the movie! Enough said!
10. Stormy Monday (1988)
The directorial debut of Mike Figgis – who later directed the impressive “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995) – mixes jazz music and an 80s aesthetic in an often forgotten thriller starring Sean Bean, Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones and Sting.
Brendan (Sean Bean) finds a job at the Key Club, a jazz bar owned by Mr. Finney (Sting); the same day, he also meets American expat Kate (Melanie Griffith). While eating at a local restaurant after his first day at work, Brendan is surprised to see Kate again, who’s working there as a waitress, and the two agree on a date later that night. However, the wonderful perspectives of Brendan are shuttered by two men, who he overhears talking about the possibility of killing Mr. Finney, if he won’t sell his club.
What we have in front of us is the classic movie with a fairly straightforward and direct script, elevated by the stylistic choices related to atmosphere, wardrobe and soundtrack. The viewer is slowly absorbed and captured by the murky mood of the movie – essentially based on the noir canon – and guided through the grey and rainy port city of Newcastle by the stylish soundtrack, recorded by the director himself with some songs recorded by none other than B.B. King.
Moreover, the film is also gifted by the presence of Roger Deakins as cinematographer, who gives the last contribution to the creation of an aesthetically pleasing visual experience. “Stormy Monday” cannot be missed by those who like noir, thrillers and atmosphere driven movies. A 1980s cult classic.