Monday, November 12, 2018

The 100 Project: Top 10 Movies of 1983

After a little bit of a hiatus, the 100 Project is back, and we're talking 1983. In real-time, I was turning 12 in '83. So, yeah, Oscar-type movies weren't really on my radar. That's the case for all of this decade, really. What makes '83 sort of a bastard child is that my cinematic travels over the last decade or so haven't taken me back to this particular year all that often. The result is that there is only one movie on this list that I didn't see within a year of its release. My opinions on these movies has changed over the years, but it's pretty clearly the most "little boy" list so far. Still, the top 3 movies here are serious contenders for my final top 100. Let's see what all that means.

My Top 10 Movies of 1983

  • According to my Letterboxd account, I've seen 52 movies released during 1983.
  • For the first time in The 100 Project, a documentary and a movie that was not released in theaters make the cut (same movie).
  • To the best of my recollection, I only saw two movies in theaters that year. Only one of them made the list.

10. Wild Style
This is the one movie that I didn't see way back when, but only recently. Still, the nostalgia factor is off the charts, as is the sheer fun factor. It's better than it should be, but not as good as some would have you believe. By most accounts it's the first full-length feature based on hip-hop culture. As such, it has achieved icon status. (Full review)

9. Star 80
Mama Dell rented this movie and just had it lying around near the VCR. One day, while she was at work, I popped it in and promptly had my mind blown by a terrifying Eric Roberts. If you don't know, this movie tells the story of Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway), a playboy playmate who was brutally murdered by her abusive husband. Yup, Roberts plays that guy. He owns it and makes this an unforgettable and visceral experience.

8. Sleepaway Camp
Ahhh, slasher flicks. This one has the distinction of being one of very few that I actually saw with my father. By now, I had seen Friday the 13th, a couple sequels, and a few others. We were going along having a good time letting this film's nuttiness wash over us and then it happened. We got one of the most iconic, and iconic endings in horror movie history. I don't think we spoke much about it, though. If you've seen this you'll understand why that might be an awkward conversation for a teenager and his barely-there dad.

7. The Making of 'Thriller'
As a standalone, Michael Jackson's Thriller remains the top music video ever made, in my eyes. It's fourteen minutes of horror infused, pop music magic. It ends this 'making of' doc in its entirety. That alone might be enough to earn it a spot on this list. However, I'm also enthralled with all the behind the scenes stuff. Whenever this would air on MTV, back in the day, I would watch every minute of it, again and again.

6. Return of the Jedi
It's impossible to put into words, the amount of anticipation I had walking into the theater for this one. I was still reeling from seeing The Empire Strikes Back three years prior. By the time I walked out of the theater, I was certain Star Wars was the greatest movie trilogy of all-time. It had completely and thoroughly told the saga of the Skywalker family. There wasn't anything left to tell. Or so, I thought.

5. National Lampoon's Vacation
This is one of those movies I watched on HBO a hundred times, back in the day. Watching Chevy Chase's dim-witted Clark Griswold try to get his family to Walley World at all cost was the highlight of any day. His comic timing was impeccable, the gags are just the right kind of stupid, come rapid-fire. The unsung Beverly D'Angelo is nearly as good. She grounds the movie with a fantastic performance of her own.

4. Trading Places
Eddie Murphy was fast becoming the biggest draw in Hollywood and Dan Aykroyd was another bankable SNL star. The two together produced this bit of magic about two guys from opposite sides of the tracks who, well, traded places. Of course, having Jamie Lee Curtis only helped. Rawwrrr! Enough of that. To this day, it remains loads of fun. It's also the reason why, at least a thousand times throughout the months of December and January, I will look someone in the face, smile, laugh, and say "Merry New Year."

3. Videodrome
A friend and I discovered this late one night while I was spending the night at his house. If you're at all familiar with this film, you understand why we were perplexed, yet intrigued. It was like nothing either of us had ever seen before. I watched it several times over the next year and came back to it as an adult. It's still amazing. (Full Review)

2. Scarface
The first time I saw this, I was mesmerized by Al Pacino's performance. In the years and dozens of viewings since, I've come to realize it's an over-the-top scenery chewing piece of work. However, that doesn't change how entrancing he is. More important than that, the film crystallizes the possibilities and hazards of achieving the American dream for people starting with inferior tools for the job.

1. A Christmas Story
To lead with a cliche, my love for this film knows no bounds. My experiences weren't exactly the same as the people in this movie, but the feelings and emotions were. The way Ralphie, his brother, and his friends carried on rings true to my childhood. The way his parents behave, believe it or not, feels familiar to the way I've approached the holidays as a parent. There are lots of anxieties that come with trying to provide something special for your little ones. This movie taps into this. Again, the particulars of my life are different, but the notion of doing your best no matter the circumstances are the same. On top of that, it's just funny. All of these are reasons why I return to watch this movie every year. Christmas just wouldn't be the same without it. (Movies I Grew Up With: A Christmas Story)

Honorable Mention: Risky Business, D. C. Cab, Blue Thunder, Psycho II


  1. National Lampoon's Vacation is a film I grew up on. It's a staple for the entire family. It's one of those films where if we're eating or something. Even if we're not getting along. If it's on TV, we stop whatever we're doing and just watch it. I don't give a shit what anyone says. To me, that film is.... the greatest road movie... ever (even though I'm set to watch my next Blind Spot in Wim Wenders' Road Trilogy).

    Here's my list of the best films of 1983 so far. I'm guessing you and I aren't fond of Terms of Endearment (I honestly think it's overrated as fuck).

  2. Vacation is fantastic. I love that it has such a dear spot in your family.

    Honestly, I haven't seen Terms of Endearment, yet.

  3. Well I’m 9 out of 10 (haven’t seen Wild Style) but we’re miles apart except on our #1. Like you I just LOVE A Christmas Story, it’s in my top 5 for Christmas movies-though White Christmas I think will always remain unbeatable. But A Christmas Story does tap into so many memories that are universal, plus it’s so flat out funny.

    Of the others Vacation and Trading Places are very fun films even though they wouldn’t make my list. I agree about Beverly D’Angelo.

    Star 80 is a provocative, unsettling and tragic film which I’ve only watched the once and while Roberts plays a repulsive reptile of a person he is simply riveting doing that. I know that’s his bread and butter but he’s a far more varied talent than he’s credited with. I strongly urge you to watch It’s My Party, it is a SAD film (he plays a man with AIDS who when he finds he is moving into the final stage of the disease decides to commit suicide, throwing a large party beforehand to say goodbye to all the people in his life-who are aware of his choice) he plays the absolute opposite of his role in Star 80 and is equally brilliant.

    Geez I detest this version of Scarface!

    My top 10 would run this way though placement except for the first three is tough since I’m a big fan of them all.

    A Christmas Story
    To Be or Not To Be
    Under Fire
    War Games
    Educating Rita
    Terms of Endearment
    The Fourth Man
    The Right Stuff
    Mr. Mom
    Max Dugan Returns

    Honorable Mentions:

    Heart Like a Wheel-This one was tough to leave out of my top 10. Bonnie Bedelia plays race car driver Shirley Muldowney and she’s just great.

    Pirates of Penzance-I’m not usually much for Gilbert & Sullivan but with Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, Angela Lansbury and George Rose as the very model of a modern major general this is damn near irresistible.
    Eddie and the Cruisers
    The Outsiders

    I remember a couple of weeks back you chose the TV film The Day After which came out this year and looking at what else also premiered the subject was certainly a hot topic with both Special Bulletin and Testament (both excellent films) which look at different aspects of the same thing being released.
    Some other very good television from this year:

    King Lear-There is a new version coming with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson but it will have far to go to top this one with Laurence Olivier and Diana Rigg at their absolute peaks.

    Chiefs-Tremendous miniseries about a Southern town during the tenures of three very different police chiefs spanning decades. Amazing cast headed by Charlton Heston, Brad Davis, Billy Dee Williams and Wayne Rogers for starters. The Stuart Woods source novel is excellent as well.

    Separate Tables-Julie Christie and Alan Bates play all four major roles in this version of the Terrence Rattigan play.

    The Thornbirds-Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Simmons (both of whom won multiple awards for their work), and Richard Chamberlain head a huge cast.

    Who Will Love My Children?-A heartbreaker with perhaps Ann-Margret’s best performance ever.

    1. I know a lot of yours are big movies from that year, but again, somehow I just haven't seen many of them. I have seen War Games and Mr. Mom. While I like both, I wouldn't say I was a big fan. Same with Pirates of Penzance. The only caveat to that one is I probably watched it a dozen times over the summer of '84, but haven't seen it since. I've also seen The Thornbirds, but only during that time it originally aired o don't remember much other than a shirtless Richard Chamberlain.

    2. Well you have a lot of great stuff to catch up on which is always a plus!

      Pirates of Penzance is far from my favorite musical but I love that they were able to get it made in the musical resistant 80's (it helped that it had been a big success on Broadway with this cast except for Angela Lansbury) and it does have a real sense of fun. Plus considering that Parkinson's disease has robbed Linda Ronstadt of her voice its fantastic that she was captured at her peak since she didn't do much film.

      About To Be or Not to Be, it's a remake of the 40's Lubitsch comedy of the same name. Both are very good comedies and use the same material worked in different ways but their humor ends up being very different. They make an interesting contrast.

  4. Scarface and Return of the Jedi are terrific, and I also enjoy Trading Places. I'm not a fan of the Vacation series -- simply not my type of humor.

    From what I've seen so far, the other 1983 movies that would contend for a spot on my list include:
    All The Right Moves (Cruise's other 1983 movie is surprisingly good)
    Risky Business
    Tender Mercies
    Terms of Endearment
    Bad Boys (this one with a young Sean Penn)
    The Right Stuff
    The Big Chill
    Sudden Impact (Eastwood hits an artistic peak in this one)

    1. Sudden Impact is a good one. Not a huge fan of Christine, but I do like it. Really need to see Terms of Endearment and All the Right Moves.

  5. Great list! We have a few in common and hard to narrow down as there's more than ten great movies that year. I like Eddie Murphy but Trading Places didn't make me laugh as much as his other 80s movies. Pleased to see Jedi, Videodrome and Christmas Story included. Endlessly rewatchable. Chevy Chase is fun and I should rewatch Vacation. Star 80 is powerful stuff and Bob Fosse has made some great films although I'm beginning to suspect Fosse might be a one-trick-pony as his movies tend to cover the same theme of dealing with fame. I wish today's artists were as ambitious as Jackson/Landis. Sadly the budgets to make great videos aren't available with free music nowadays. Here's my top 10 of 1983:

    1. Videodrome (David Cronenberg)
    2. Octopussy (John Glen)
    3. The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese)
    4. Christine (John Carpenter)
    5. Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand)
    6. Angst (Gerald Kargl)
    7. A Christmas Story (Bob Clark)
    8. Zappa (Bille August)
    9. WarGames (John Badham)
    10. Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola)

    1. No arguments from me on having Videodrome as your #1. Great pick. My big miss from this list is The King of Comedy. Just haven't gotten around to it, yet.

  6. Hey, there's no shame in loving A Christmas Story! That would probably be my #2 after Return of the Jedi.

    I could not imagine watching Sleepaway Camp with my dad.

    1. We'd watched other slashers together, so everything was cool, but when THAT happened, it was real interesting.

  7. Here's another vote for The Right Stuff. Such a great movie with such a fantastic cast. The same for Educating Rita, which is a great version of the Pygmalion story.

    Otherwise, here are a few that haven't gotten a mention, not necessarily top-ten worthy, but woth seeing:
    Local Hero
    Tender Mercies
    The Ballad of Narayama
    The Hunger

    1. I've seen parts of Educating Rita and The Hunger, but never the whole thing. Never heard of The Ballad of Narayama. The rest are on my radar. Thanks!

  8. I haven't seen nearly enough from this year to have my own Top Ten list, but I sure did love reading yours!

    I don't "get" A Christmas Story". Maybe it's that I'm Jewish, and a bit of a grinch, or maybe it's that it's just been played to death and it annoys me and I'm just being contrarian. But it grates on me.

    Just saw Sleepaway Camp for the first time this October, and WOW even having heard about the twist I was NOT prepared. It's a genuine shock, and the fact that it just ENDS right after dropping that twist, and plays THAT song on top of it, is just PERVERSE. It's amazing.

    Star 80 is the only one of Bob Fosse's films that I haven't seen, and I'm dying to because so far he's batting a thousand for me.

    For the longest time, I liked Return of the Jedi better than Empire Strikes Back. I'm not really sure why.

    Trading Places, Videodrome, and Scarface have all been on my list for some time, and I can't wait to watch them all.

    1. Thanks!

      I understand your aversion to A Christmas Story. It does get run into the ground. I personally stay far, far away from 24 hour marathon thing TNT/TBS does. When I view it, it's usually early one morning the week of Christmas. Since I'm usually up before anyone else in my house, some of them will trickle in and watch with me (or not, whatever).

      Yes to everything you said about Sleepaway Camp.

      Just be prepared whenever you sit down to watch Star 80.

      Might depend on what age you were when you saw the Ewoks movie.

      Hope you see them all soon!

  9. Some great movies you chose here and I love A Christmas Story that was partially filmed in the city I live in. I also love Vacation and can watch it over and over. Return of the Jedi is ok..brilliant between Luke and his daddy but hated those stupid Ewoks who could win with the rocks and rope over the I would add The Dead Zone, also filmed near where I live-Niagara on the Lake, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Never Cry Wolf