What's Your Favorite Year in Film
Posted November 30, 2012
When you look at your favorite movies, do you ever realize that many of them came out in the same year?
That's something that's really preoccupied me with the sheer number of sequels, remakes, video releases and the many screenings of older films in my area. I especially noticed how there's been a lot of nostalgia for the films of 1982 – the renowned theater the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema devoted a whole series to the "Summer of 1982" this past year.
And so, for my last post, I wanted to look at some years that mean a lot to moviegoers – and to me personally.
It's only appropriate that the actual film My Favorite Year came out in 1982 – that year boasted a huge number of films that are still beloved by those who can recall seeing them in theaters 30 years ago, and those who discovered them (like me) on TV and video. Here's a (probably incomplete) list of many memorable films from 1982:
E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial., 48 Hrs., Blade Runner, The Last Unicorn, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Rocky III, Diner, Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip, Sophie's Choice, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Poltergeist, Conan the Barbarian, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Secret of NIMH, The Last Unicorn, The Road Warrior, First Blood, Tootsie, John Carpenter's The Thing, Porky's, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Class of 1984, An Officer and a Gentleman, Ghandi, Creepshow, The Dark Crystal, Megaforce, Victor/Victoria….also Zapped! with Scott Baio, but eh, nobody's perfect.
I talked to Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League, who called the 1982 series "some of the most fun I've ever had."
My friend Jim Carl of the Carolina Theatre of Durham, whose movie ad collection I wrote about last time, suggested 1984 as a year worth celebrating.
He was right: 1984 had great genre and offbeat Hollywood films like Ghostbusters, The Terminator, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Neverending Story, Police Academy, Night of the Comet, Romancing the Stone, Splash, Purple Rain, The Last Starfighter, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Sixteen Candles, Repo Man, Streets of Fire, This is Spinal Tap, Top Secret…. prestige pictures like Places in the Heart, Paris, Texas, The Killing Fields, Amadeus …and some fun trashy films like Bachelor Party, Revenge of the Nerds, Missing in Action and the original Red Dawn (Wolverines!).
Tim League remembers Sixteen Candles hit close to home for him: "If you look at pictures of me in 1984, I looked just like Anthony Michael Hall! It was actually one of my worst years, because everyone called me out on looking just like the king of the nerds."
(I knew Tim's pain a few years later when a popular family sitcom led to my becoming known to my fifth-grade class as "White Urkel.")
I was four years old in 1984 and was just becoming aware of theatrical movies – and several shaped my imagination without even seeing them! Firestarter with Drew Barrymore had filmed some scenes near my family's first house in Wilmington, NC, and I had a weird crush on the character in the poster because I thought she was Firestar from TV's Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. When my parents dropped off my babysitter so he could see Footloose, I thought it was about a monster with a loose foot. And I had all the toys, but my parents wouldn't let me see Gremlins! "That was a very, very wise decision," Tim said.
(I also remember seeing commercials for David Lynch's Dune and feeling stupid that I couldn't understand what was going on. That wasn't exactly my fault, but I do have enough affection for the film that I bought a Sandworm figure off eBay last year.)
Tim and I spent a lot of our interview just recalling years when we noticed how many great movies were coming out, and where we were in our lives. One such year was 1994, when you had Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Ed Wood and Quiz Show in theaters in the fall – and also the year I started high school and Tim opened up his first movie theater.
"It was an art house in Bakersfield, and that was just a great year for art-house films," Tim recalled. "That was also the year Clerks came out, and that was a big movie for the independent scene and for the theater."
He also remembered The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert as a big film at his theater, and Heavenly Creatures – a breakout film for a young Kate Winslet, and future Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson.
It's also interesting to think of years in film from before you were born – but years that still offered some of your favorite movies. I have a fondness for 1979, one year before I was born – a year that yielded Alien, Apocalypse Now, The Black Stallion, Being There, Breaking Away, Kramer vs. Kramer, The In-Laws, The Jerk, Meatballs, The Muppet Movie, Life of Brian, Phantasm, Real Life, Rock'n'Roll High School, Time After Time, The Warriors (come out to plaaaayyyyyy!).
I asked Jim Carl if there was a year before he was born that represented a high-water mark for film, and he recommended 1962.
Some quick research proved Jim right: 1962 had the first James Bond film with Dr. No, Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jules & Jim, La Jetee, the original Cape Fear and The Manchurian Candidate, Lolita, great revisionist Westerns with Lonely are the Brave, Ride the High Country and of course The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. No wonder people were nostalgic for that year only a decade later with American Graffiti.
For me personally, my most memorable year was 1999, which I wrote about a couple of years ago. There were a lot of movies that came out that year (and some have held up better than others), but it was still a pretty eclectic variety – and I was coming off my first year of college, and had just discovered the joys of advance screenings, so I was catching everything.
(My dad doesn't remember that time as fondly, mainly because he got hit in the head with a metal promotional keychain at a screening of Lake Placid. The radio station holding the screening changed their giveaway policies after that.)
While American Pie doesn't seem nearly as transgressive in 2012 and it's hard to watch The Blair Witch Project without thinking of the hundreds of knockoffs it inspired (or The Matrix with its perplexing sequels), there are still so many movies I revisit from that time – Being John Malkovich, The Iron Giant, Election, Fight Club, The Sixth Sense, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Office Space, Three Kings the US release of Princess Mononoke…man, remember how excited we were for Wild Wild West and Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace? Talk about life setting you up for a fall.
Okay, obviously there's some subjectivity going on in my picks – and it's also possible that a year that might have seemed unmemorable at the time actually had tons and tons of great movies you missed or just couldn't appreciate at the time.
But there's a few things worth remembering here. One is that all movies aren't just about the experience of watching them – it's about who you were and where you were when you first saw them. That's something you bring to a film every time you see it, especially if it's been a long time since your last viewing.
And another thing is this – even though there are dozens and dozens and dozens of lame, outright bad movies made every year, when you actually take the time to look at the sheer variety of movies released in a calendar year, there's often more creativity and vitality than you'd think.
That can be just like looking back at any year of your life – it might seem like you had nothing but bad times or found yourself running in place, but more important, amazing things may have happened to you than you realized at the time – and it's something you'll only know by looking back.
So I end my guest-week at Pop Candy with this thought: If you're reading a blog like this, it's because you love popular culture. And if you take the time to look at the sheer variety of what's out there right now, along with what's come before and what's coming up in the future – it's a great way to realize the joy and possibility in all areas of life, even when times are hard or just really, really annoying.
Thanks again for another great week – and let me know what your favorite years in film are in the comments!
Latest in Entertainment