Raging Bull, USA, 1980, 128 min. Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty. Directed by Martin Scorsese. True story of the brutal life of boxer Jake LaMotta, his manager brother and his suffering wife. Scorsese’s dynamic execution of the fight scenes brought a new dimension to the boxing picture, but of course, if the human drama hadn’t matched up it wouldn’t have been as impressive. Thankfully it matches just fine. De Niro truly becomes his character, including his famous weight gain to play him in later years.
Chariots of Fire, UK, 1981, 123 min. Starring Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Ian Holm, John Gielgud. Directed by Hugh Hudson. Triumphant true story of two runners in the 1924 Olympics, one motivated by religious faith, the other by a desire for personal validation. By avoiding both the overt sentiment and the chest-pounding booster-ism that overwhelm many sports-themed films, director Hudson gives us a realistic look at two men striving for excellence and achieving it.
Yol, Turkey, 1982, 114 min. Starring Tarik Akan, Serif Sezer. Directed by Serif Gören and Yilmaz Güney. Beautiful film that shines a light on the problems faced by the Kurdish people in Turkey through the individual stories of five prisoners released for a week to sort out their personal affairs. Co-director Gören made the film while co-director/writer Güney was in jail, and when the latter escaped to Switzerland, he took the materials with him to complete it.
Nostalghia, Italy-France-Russia, 1983, 125 min. Starring Oleg Yankovsky, Erland Josephson, Domiziana Giordano, Patrizio Terreno. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. A Russian scholar traveling through Italy while researching the life of a composer from his native land rejects the attention of his beautiful translator after he meets a local man deemed insane by those around him and undertakes to fulfill a spiritual task the man requests of him. Tarkovsky’s notoriously leisurely pace lends itself well to the title mental state, and it’s easy to see the director’s heart and soul painted across the screen in the story of a man longing for his homeland given that this was the first film Tarkovsky made outside of Russia during a self-imposed exile.
Amadeus, USA, 1984, 158 min. Starring F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow. Directed by Milos Forman. Peter Shaffer adapted his own play for this speculative and sumptuous film about music, genius, and maddening jealousy. Abraham won an Oscar for his portrayal of a man in love with music who struggles between his hatred of the excesses of Mozart’s life (as depicted here anyway) and his awe at the man’s undeniable talent. Gorgeous design and even more gorgeous music.
Paris, Texas, USA, 1984, 150 min. Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell. Directed by Wim Wenders. A man who has been gone for four years resurfaces and seeks out his son, who has been living with his aunt and uncle. The man then decides that the two of them need to track down the boy’s mother. Wenders uses his prominent interest in the American road movie to tell the story of one man’s struggle to lift himself out of the darkness into which he has sunk and rise up once again into the light.
When Father Was Away On Business, Yugoslavia, 1985, 135 min. Starring Moreno D’E Bartolli, Miki Manojlovic. Directed by Emir Kusturica. In post-WWII Yugoslavia, a man’s injudicious comment about an item in a newspaper is enough to get him carted off to prison for presumed Stalinist sympathies. His young son is told that his father is just away on another business trip. But it turns out that the truth has very little to do with business or politics. Sharp and funny portrait of a family in turmoil.
Salaam Bombay!, India-UK, 1988, 113 min. Starring Shafiq Syed, Sarfuddin Quarrassi. Directed by Mira Nair. Country boy goes to the big city and discovers a wealth of vice his simple upbringing had left him ill prepared for. A familiar sort of tale perhaps, but Nair invests the proceedings with such vivid characterization and fluid storytelling it seems fresh and new.
Cinema Paradiso, Italy-France, 1988, 155 min. Starring Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin. Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. Delightful story of a young boy in post-World War II Italy who strikes up a friendship with the projectionist in the local movie theater and learns much about life in the process. The film is about many different things – nostalgia, censorship, first romance – but at its heart it’s about a life informed by a love of the movies. Is it any wonder it’s one of our favorites?
Women On the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown, Spain, 1988, 88 min. Starring Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano. Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. A popular soap opera actress gets jilted by her lover and decides she must get him back. His gun-toting wife, however, has other ideas. Almodóvar brings his trademark outrageousness to this lively farce, a perfect vehicle for frequent collaborator Maura, with burning beds, satirical advertisements, drugged gazpacho, and plenty more.
Sex, Lies And Videotape, USA, 1989, 100 min. Starring James Spader, Andie McDowell, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. A shallow yuppie, his alienated wife, and the sister-in-law he’s sleeping with behind her back, have their lives overturned when an old friend of his shows up and introduces them to his unique hobby – getting women to confess their sexual fantasies on video. The film could be seen simplistically as an eleventh hour skewering of that most self-centered of decades, but that would downplay its subversive idea on the true nature of sexuality, a far more cerebral and, in a way, unnerving one than is usually seen on the big screen.
Do The Right Thing, USA, 1989, 120 min. Starring Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, John Turturro, Giancarlo Esposito. Directed by Spike Lee. Controversial look at a Brooklyn neighborhood on the hottest day of the summer where things are heating up in more than a physical way, especially when tensions arise between the predominantly black residents and the Italian purveyors of the local pizza parlor. News reports about fights breaking out in theaters where this was playing somewhat overshadowed the fact that Lee had crafted a finely detailed portrait, simultaneously affectionate and cynical, of an urban neighborhood.
Time of the Gypsies, Yugoslavia, 1989, 142 min. Starring Davor Dujmovic, Bora Todorovic. Directed by Emir Kusturica. A young Romany on the brink of manhood finds his natural innocence challenged when he gets mixed up in the dealings of the other Gypsy men around him. Not unlike what Visconti did decades earlier with his Sicilian fishermen, Kusturica populates his film with actual Gypsies, giving the viewer a rare look into an often misunderstood culture, and a beautiful story of one young man’s struggle to decide where his heart truly lies.