The 1980s: 7 Movies
1. Cobra (1986)
This movie is wonderfully ridiculous. As 80s action movies go, you don't get any more satisfyingly absurd than Cobra. It's got Stallone. It's got his live-in girlfriend - borrowed from Rocky IV. It's got the one-liners. It's got the gratuitous violence. It's got the gun worship. It's got the scene in which Stallone assembles his "tools." It's got the laughably conspicuous car. It's got the biker gang. It's got the inexplicably demonic bad guy. It's got it all!
I'd be hard pressed to say which action movie is more quintessentially 80s - Cobra or Schwarzenegger's Commando. Both are, in their way, delightful.
The plot is almost beside the point, but Stallone plays policeman Marion Cobretti, a lawman with a strange penchant for illegal firearms. Cobretti crosses paths with a strange cult that likes hanging out and banging axes together, and after that it's ON. You can guess the rest. Explosions. Car chases. Guys flying off of motorcycles. Stallone at his most egomaniacal.
The director, George P. Cosmatos, also directed Rambo II. The production was riddled with difficulties, not least of all being Stallone's erratic behavior on set. Despite having written the script and having "shadow directed" most of the movie, he was notoriously elusive during filming.
It may interest you to know that Stallone wrote a revision of the original script for Beverly Hills Cop, and was set to star in that film. His original script was deemed "too expensive to film" by the studio, and he brought many elements of this script into Cobra, several years later.
The director of the 2011 film Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn, is a big fan of Cobra. Ryan Gosling's toothpick fetish in that movie is a nod to Stallone's matchstick fetish in Cobra.
2. Coal Miner's Daughter (1980)
Sissy Spacek stars as Loretta Lynn. Tommy Lee Jones co-stars as her husband. It was directed by Michael Apted, who was then little known outside of his work in television.
Spacek would go on to win the Academy Award for this film, and I think this win was well deserved. The performances in this movie are flawless, and I'm surprised that Apted wasn't also nominated for Best Director. There is a timeless quality to this movie, and I can't think of anything negative to say about it.
A lot of biopics feel contrived, but this one feels very natural. What I like most about it is that Tommy Lee Jones' character isn't made out to be the heavy, and one sympathizes with him from the beginning to the end of the movie. Also the ending, which in other hands probably wouldn't seem dramatic enough, is both inspiring and less perfunctory than the conclusions of other, similar films.
Apted did well with stories about strong women. He would later go on to direct Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist. Weaver, like Spacek, was nominated for an Oscar.
3. Midnight Run (1988)
This movie has a large cult following, though it was also a critical and commercial success upon its release.
What makes this movie work is the chemistry between De Niro and Grodin. The plot is completely derivative, the ending a foregone conclusion, but watching the two leads onscreen together is so much fun that you forget about all that.
Oh, and director Martin Brest, who had another surprise hit 4 years later with Scent of a Woman, also directed Beverly Hills Cop. Fortunately for him, the studio picked Eddie Murphy over the more seasoned Stallone, and the rest is history.
4. Continental Divide (1981)
After early success with Coal Miner's Daughter, Michael Apted directed John Belushi and Blair Brown in this romantic comedy.
It's pretty bad. Belushi is way out of his depth, though Brown does her best to keep the movie afloat. Some of the dialogue is downright embarrassing, and the plot doesn't make a great deal of sense.
5. Sophie's Choice (1982)
Meryl Streep plays a Holocaust survivor living in late 1940s Brooklyn. Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol costar.
It's a very well done film, even if the Holocaust flashbacks interrupt the flow of the narrative. Prior to Schindler's List, this was probably the best film on the subject, and it remains as vital and heartbreaking as it was in 1982.
If any actress ever deserved an Academy Award for any movie, it was Meryl Streep for this one. She spends long stretches of this film speaking in German (and, at times, also in Polish), and the scene where she makes her "choice" is one of the great moments in movie history.
6. Bat*21 (1988)
Gene Hackman stars as a soldier stranded in scenic Vietnam, with Danny Glover as the pilot trying to rescue him. It suffers from a low budget, and the 80s synth soundtrack makes it seem older than it really is.
Full Metal Jacket it ain't, but if you've seen all the really famous Vietnam War movies you might like this one. This said, Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn is a similar, yet far superior film.
7. Places in the Heart (1984)
Places in the Heart is a look at race relations in small town U.S.A. Sally Field stars as a would be cotton farmer, with Danny Glover as the hired hand who teaches her the trade. There are a lot of great performances in this movie, though the ending is somewhat anticlimactic.
Sally Field would go on to win Best Actress for this movie. The director, Robert Benton, previously won it for Kramer vs. Kramer. Field would go on to do dozens of noteworthy movies, while Benton's stature in the movie business would steadily diminish.