My Top 10: 1980

About a week ago, I started listening to a podcast called 80s All Over, which examines every major American movie release in the 80s by month. This is a great idea and I’m glad I started listening to it, thanks to a mention on another podcast, Pure Cinema Podcast.


1980 was a pivotal time for me since I graduated high school in May and started college three months later. I not only went to the movies a lot that year, but 1980 also marked the arrival of HBO at our house, which I watched practically all the time. In addition to HBO, I watched a lot of movies on regular cable stations like the Superstation WTBS and Chicago’s WGN.

But I missed a lot of films as well, partly due to where I lived. In the South, I didn’t have access to many international titles, art house films, or smaller movies that might play in larger cities. Sure, I saw a fair variety on HBO, including some movies I probably wouldn’t have seen in any other place, but many titles slipped by me. Some of the films from 1980 I have never seen (but want to) include:


Heaven’s Gate

The Gods Must Be Crazy

The Big Red One

The Earthling

Motel Hell

Films I saw only once that I want to revisit:

9 to 5

The Final Countdown

Used Cars

The Changeling

My Bodyguard

Private Benjamin

The Long Good Friday

Melvin and Howard

Bronco Billy


So here’s the list of my Top 10 movies from 1980. They aren’t necessarily the best films from 1980 or necessarily my favorites (although most of them are), yet they’ve stood the test of time as far as re-watchability and I can honestly say have had some type of impact on my life.


10 – The Long Riders – Walter Hill (watched on HBO)

I immediately loved everything about The Long Riders when I saw it on HBO after its initial theatrical release: the four sets of brothers played by four sets of real brothers, the Ry Cooder soundtrack, and the way it handled its characters. I think one of the things I most appreciated about the film was how the characters (as is the case in many Walter Hill films) don’t talk too much. I plan to see this one again in a couple of weeks, so a proper review is certainly in order.

the shining PDVD_008

9 – The Shining – Stanley Kubrick (theater)

I’m one of the few people that think The Shining is not a masterpiece. I say that for a number of reasons but primarily because I saw the film in the theaters after having read the Stephen King novel several months earlier.  I was awestruck by the visuals and by Jack Nicholson’s performance, but was disappointed in many other aspects of the film. While I probably need to rewatch it soon, I believe it’s a good, but not great film. Still, it has become a cultural icon in that it’s referenced, imitated, and parodied by so many other films.


8 – Ordinary People – Robert Redford (theater)

Like the majority of movie fans, I believe the Oscar for Best Picture in 1980 deserved to go to Raging Bull, not Ordinary People. Yet when I saw Ordinary People in the theater, it disturbed and moved me. I hurt for Timothy Hutton’s character and was absolutely astonished at what Mary Tyler Moore was able to do with her role. It’s not a movie I revisit frequently, but when I’m in the mood for it, it still packs a tremendous amount of power.


7 – Seems Like Old Times – Jay Sandrich (theater)

I am not a fan of Neil Simon, and although this was apparently an original work not based on one of his plays, I like it. In fact, I like it far better than the first Chevy Chase/Goldie Hawn movie Foul Play, which is overlong and whose gags could’ve been shortened by at least half. Seems Like Old Times holds up better than Foul Play with a style of comedy that’s more ridiculous, more like the screwball comedies Simon was trying to homage. The film was directed by Jay Sandrich, who directed and produced an enormous amount of TV comedy series including many of the episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.


6 – Inside Moves – Richard Donner (HBO)

Even for most who saw it, Inside Moves was quickly forgotten.  It was the movie Richard Donner made after the first two Superman movies and before The Toy and The Goonies. It’s a much quieter film than any of those surrounding it because it’s not aiming to be a blockbuster. It is, in fact, a quiet story of lovable losers who hang out at a local bar in Oakland, California. The film stars John Savage, David Morse, Diana Scarwid, and Harold Russell, who was making his first film appearance since The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946. Diana Scarwid was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this film and was clearly on her way to the big time, but her next film was the horrid Mommie Dearest, which, although it didn’t ruin her career (She continued acting until 2011), she rarely got good roles after that. But watch her in Inside Moves; she’s wonderful.


5 – The Elephant Man – David Lynch (theater)

You can read my thoughts on this film hereThe Elephant Man was the first David Lynch film I’d ever seen, the first John Hurt film I’d ever seen, the first time I’d ever heard Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, and probably the first film that moved me to tears. It’s a tremendous film and showed that David Lynch was a talent who could not be ignored.


4 – Airplane! – David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker (theater)

It’s silly, it’s outrageous, it’s totally un-politically correct and it’s a non-stop laugh machine. My co-worker Sam and I reference at least one Airplane! quote a week, much to the consternation of our other co-workers. I never get tired of Airplane! no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop watching it…


3 – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – Irvin Kershner (theater)

I’ll admit it: I was a casual Star Wars fan in 1977. I liked the movie, but was just getting into the reruns of the original Star Trek TV series and preferred those shows to George Lucas’s space opera. But everything changed with The Empire Strikes Back. This was a much darker, more dramatic movie with many more elements to it. It contained a stunning revelation, new characters, and a lot of questions that we had to wait three years to get answered. I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but this is probably the best Star Wars movie we’re ever going to get, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

960 raging bull5x

2 – Raging Bull – Martin Scorsese (HBO)

Although I’ve only seen the film twice, its influence on film and art in general is monumental. I frequently battle over whether I should own or watch this film again. Robert De Niro’s performance is one for the ages, but the subject matter is so uncomfortable I hesitate to watch it very often. (Again, I’ve only seen it two times in 37 years.) Yet it is a film I find myself thinking about – its subject matter and its artistry – frequently.


1 – The Blues Brothers – John Landis (theater)

I can think of few films that give me more pure joy than The Blues Brothers. I have many, many stories I can tell about the film, but I’ll only share a brief one. Years ago I had just become friends with a guy named David who loved this movie. We never got to watch it together, however. David had a rare medical condition and died at the age of 27. I did watch the movie later with David’s brother Brian and we had a great time, with Brian pointing out David’s favorite scenes and songs. The Blues Brothers was a special film in my life before meeting David, but much more so afterward.

So that’s my Top 10 from 1980. I look forward to listening to the 80s All Over guys as they explore 1981 next. But in the meantime, let me know your favorites from 1980.

Photos: Oscar Champs, Brothers-Ink, Lionsgate, Moviefone, Nerdist, DVD Beaver, Pyxurz

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