It’s time to venture back 40 years to 1984 for these ten essential movies…
The 80s were a glorious era for movies and music. As the years drift on, the kids born and raised in the decade such as me, suddenly find themselves in their 40s, careering headlong to the big 5-0. When it comes to cinema in the 80s there were some incredible years and 1984 might just rank as one of the most prolifically brilliant. Here are ten essential films from 1984,,,
The film that launched James Cameron to the forefront of genre cinema. The Terminator is a film that perfectly captures that feeling of a nightmare, being relentlessly pursued by an unstoppable creature (in this case a killer cyborg from the future). The film was partly inspired by a nightmarish fever dream Cameron had and this perfect blend of sci-fi, action and horror remains his most lithe and perfectly paced film.
Despite the inherent convoluted paradoxes that trap many a time travel film, Cameron sensibly launches us into this 100 minute chase and barely lets up. Any exposition is told on the move and the focus is very much on the growing connection between Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), the soldier from the future sent back to protect her. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star turn as the iconic killer cyborg is probably the most chillingly effective portrayal of such.
In fact, The Terminator is so good, that even Andrei Tarkovsky the cinematic deity of cerebral, philosophical cinema, praised it (and he was notoriously short of praise for genre films in general, even berating 2001: A Space Odyssey). And speaking of nightmares…
A Nightmare On Elm Street
1984 has the two films which capture the feel of a nightmare as well as any films. Aside from The Terminator, the other was Wes Craven’s, A Nightmare On Elm Street. The film, like Terminator, launched a franchise of mostly diminishing returns (though T2 hits par with the first). Craven had already established himself with a few low budget and controversial horror films, but Elm Street took him up to a whole new level.
The film both salvaged New Line Cinema and propelled it to heights unknown before that point. Ghoulish terroriser of teenage dreams, Freddy Krueger is played to perfection by Robert Englund, whilst the teens including Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss and a young Johnny Depp are likeable. The film has remained so iconic thanks to its effective atmosphere building and the vulnerability of being targeted in your sleep.
As a starting point for horror that’s great but Craven also manages to create some unforgettable imagery. Tina’s (Wyss) horrific death scene as she’s dragged up walls and across the ceiling in her dreams and reality concurrently is chilling as are the moments Krueger starts to emerge from the wall above Nancy’s bed or from beneath the water of her bath (with the iconic knifed glove). No horror film since has had as many memorable images, not least the sequels.
It would be very difficult to pick an overall best of 1984 but Paris, Texas would be a contender. The poetic and languid road movie captures a time and place in America with the objective gaze of a German director (with a passion for delving into the humanity of his characters). The script by Sam Shepard and L.M Kit Carson is certainly the most engaging and beautifully written of the year (maybe decade) and then aside from Wender’s unobtrusive, observational direction, there’s stunning photography courtesy of Robby Muller.
That aside, Paris, Texas is exceptionally well cast opting against a movie star lead and making character actor extraordinaire, Harry Dean Stanton the main man. It’s a career-best turn that’s crushingly sincere, and well matched by Natassja Kinski (also a career-best). All are complimented by a wonderful slide guitar score from Ry Cooder.
Grand, dazzling and epic, Amadeus, based on Peter Shaffer’s legendary stage play, features the best sound and music editing ever. The way that Mozart’s compositions are used in the film is stunning. Milos Forman masterfully crafted a compelling historical drama which feels compellingly cinematic but retains a certain theatrical verve and immersion.
The cast is uniformly superb but Rob Hulce is a fantastic Mozart, whilst F. Murray Abraham gives a performance for the ages which was well worthy of his Oscar win. Even at 3 hours, the film feels lithe and enthralling throughout, and Forman never opts to make the film too dry. It’s sprinkled with comedy and grand spectacle when necessary.
The Coen brothers’ stylishly and impeccably made low-budget debut still ranks as one of their best works. Blood Simple is a classic pulpy potboiler with a husband plotting to kill his adulterous wife before things become muddled by chance, fate and a duplicitous P.I (played brilliantly by M. Emmett Walsh).
This grungy neo-noir has stunning cinematography (that looks great in recent HD transfers and no doubt greater in an upcoming 4k release) and a perfectly conducted tension gauge, building and releasing to maximum effect. The Coen’s showed a master’s hand on their first swing that even some of the very best didn’t quite manage on theirs. The film also proved to be a launching pad for Frances McDormand who is, as she’s been perpetually since, wonderful.
Perhaps the most enduring and endlessly rewatchable film of 84, it’s Ghostbusters. For so many, this film was a cornerstone of childhood and I was no different. It’s the film, above all sequels, cartoon spinoffs and games, that really made the younger me want to be a Ghostbuster. I’m 42 and I still want a frickin proton pack.
Ghostbusters, almost by accident, found a perfect balance of laughs, threats, wry humour and adventure. It holds up so well precisely for those moments where Ivan Reitman goes beyond a child’s comfort zone, as well as slipping in a few gags that many only picked up on when rewatching as an adult. Every member of the cast is pretty much at the top of their game. It’s lightning-in-a-bottle stuff that the recent reboots in particular just weren’t able to reformulate. I could watch this film every week and not tire of it.
Beverly Hills Cop
Eddie Murphy was great back in the day. When he had an edge and some attitude, quick off the cuff with foul-mouthed lines, he was a trailblazing force in film comedy. He perfectly took elements of his stand-up charisma and cocksure attitude but effectively refined it for film. Never better is this exemplified than in Beverly Hills Cop as Axel Foley.
Take a fast-talking, rule-breaking Chicago Cop and have him head to Beverly Hills to investigate a murder, running afoul of locals, the bad guys and the local PD. Accompanied by a great soundtrack and score from Harold Faltermeyer, Beverly Hills Cop mixes the fish out of water laughs with action and Eddie has a great team of foes in Steven Berkoff and Jonathan Banks.
I guess we can’t look back at 1984 without looking at this classic film, based on the iconic George Orwell novel. John Hurt is living in a totalitarian society where citizens live by the rule and under the watchful eye of Big Brother. Orwell’s story has been riffed and referenced so many times, but this meatily budgeted cinematic event stays largely faithful to the source.
Michael Radford’s film is dark and grey but beautifully shot by Roger Deakins (in his first major picture) whilst Hurt is excellent. In fairness Orwellian cinema has probably seen better films (in fact the more satirical and farcically laced Brazil from the following year) but this is still essential viewing.
Once Upon a Time in America
One of the last great gangster epics was also a cinematic swansong for Sergio Leone. This is the very definition of grand with an imposing but always enthralling, 4 hour (and change) run time. Leone has masterful control over the craft and he’s blessed with a stellar cast including Robert De Niro, James Woods, Treat Williams, Joe Pesci, Elizabeth McGovern and a breakout role for Jennifer Connelly.
Aside from the impeccably framed and gorgeous photography, the film also has a stunning score from Ennio Morricone. This film is always a great one to revisit even if you have to lose an entire afternoon to do it.
Let’s finish with some music and finish with a film which had an accompanying album with arguably the best closing track ever (the title track). Purple Rain is a dazzling and stylish musical odyssey laid out to Prince and the Revolution (and The Time) tracks. It’s often ridiculous but always sublime, with Prince posing his way through most of the film but still retaining some sincerity during the film’s more restrained dramatic moments.
Every great musical lives or dies by its music and the lasting appeal of Purple Rain the movie is down to the incredible album that accompanies it. Thankfully the film ties each track together with a simple and compelling story and allows Prince to showcase his performative brilliance. Lighters in the air, time to sway to Purple Rain. Every single track is gold… yes, even Computer Blue.
SEE ALSO: 10 Essential Films From 1974
What’s your favourite film from 1984? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth or hit me up @jolliffeproductions…