1982 was a good year for movies. I feel like the 80s really got going that year, with classics like Conan the Barbarian and Tron released alongside one another. Just as most movies from 1970 and 1971 feel more like 60s movies, most movies from 1980 and 1981 feel like they belong to the previous decade.
Some things that happened in 1982:
- The Commodore 64 home computer was released.
- The first computer virus was spread.
- The planets aligned on the same side of the sun.
- The Falklands War began between Britain and Argentina.
- Lebanon started to fall apart.
- Vic Morrow was killed while filming Twilight Zone: The Movie.
- Mexico announced it was unable to pay its foreign debt.
- The first CD player was released.
- Helmut Kohl became Chancellor of Germany.
- Solidarity, a trade union, appeared in Poland.
- Michael Jackson's Thriller was released.
- Gasoline prices plummeted.
1. The Verdict
Paul Newman stars as an attorney trying to do the right thing. Sidney Lumet directed from a script by David Mamet. Newman was great in a lot of great movies, but this just might be the best thing he ever did. If you enjoyed 2015's Spotlight you'll also enjoy this one.
Fun Fact 1: Newman would win the Academy Award for Best Actor four years later for The Color of Money. Newman was also nominated for The Verdict.
Fun Fact 2: If you look real hard you can see Bruce Willis in the back of the courtroom toward the end of the movie.
2. Fanny and Alexander
It's Ingmar Bergman, so don't expect sunshine and rainbows. Every time I hear Bergman's name I think of Scenes from a Marriage, one of the most depressing things I've ever forced myself to sit through. Fanny and Alexander may be more historically-oriented, but it's also depressingly Scandinavian at times. It's unquestionably excellent however, and the ending is a lot more upbeat that what you'd expect given the director's filmography. Break this movie into two sittings and you'll enjoy it a lot more.
The Gay Citizen Kane? Or So Bad It's Great?
Ranier Werner Fassbinder's last film before his death in 1982. It's one of the gayest things I've ever seen, and also gloriously weird into the bargain. Fassbinder filmed this after completing Veronika Voss (below) and in this movie the director (perhaps unintentionally) makes a more personal statement. If you're the kind of person who can appreciate more recent volumes of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure or John Waters' earlier films you'll get this right away.
Fun Fact: Brad Davis, the star of this movie, appeared in Chariots of Fire the year before and Midnight Express four years earlier. That line in Airplane! about Turkish prisons is a reference to Midnight Express.
Some Good Ones
1. The Secret of Nimh
A mouse tries to save her babies from a plow. Sounds stupid but yeah, that's the plot of The Secret of Nimh. It's not as traumatizing as the earlier Watership Down, but it shares with that movie a certain brutality.
Fun Fact: There are plans for a live-action (?) remake of this film, with the Russo Brothers producing.
2. Veronika Voss
Beautifully photographed film from director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In Veronika Voss a reporter falls for a washed up actress. I'm not that well-informed when it comes to German films, but I have the feeling this is one of the better known movies from that country.
Another film from Sidney Lumet. In this one Michael Caine stars as a playwright past his prime, with Christopher Reeve (!) as his protege. Dyan Cannon costars as Caine's wealthy wife. Caine starred in Educating Rita the same year, Reeve would star in Superman III the year after, and even though both actors turn in strong performances in this talky thriller it isn't nearly as memorable. It isn't, for that matter, remotely as good as Lumet's The Verdict (above).
4. The Dark Crystal
1982 was a good year for nightmare-inducing children's movies. In The Dark Crystal Jim Henson forsook the usual muppets for some altogether freakier creatures, telling the story of a young orphan in search of a piece of a crystal that keeps his world going. Put this movie together with The Secret of Nimh and The Plague Dogs and you've got a triple threat that'll have any kid wetting the bed within hours. People love to mention Jim Henson in connection with Labyrinth, while The Dark Crystal seems relatively forgotten.
5. Airplane II: The Sequel
NOT hilarious. One chuckle. Maybe two. Thing is, if you're watching movies to get a sense of pop culture during a specific year, comedies like Airplane II can be a goldmine. A lot of the jokes in this movie reference that year's news items, and even though they're no longer that funny they offer an interesting window into what was on people's minds in 1982. For me an added plus was the fact that I watched this right after finishing Arthur Hailey's novel Airport, upon which the movie of the same name was based, which the first Airplane! was satirizing, and which Airplane II also borrows from heavily.
Fun Fact: If the woman standing next to William Shatner looks familiar, it's because that's Sandahl Bergman, who appeared as Valeria in Conan the Barbarian the same year.
6. Burden of Dreams
Documentary about the making of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. For me this movie had five points of interest, these being: 1) This movie, like the engineering feat at the center of its plot, really was an insane undertaking, 2) Jason Robards and Mick Jagger were originally set to star in this movie, and had filmed as much as 40% of the film before illness or production delays forced them to quit, 3) The relations between the German film crew and the native people who both helped make and appeared in this movie were very complex, 4) Herzog was completely willing to risk people's lives in the making of his project, and 5) He even went so far as to hire prostitutes for the film crew to avoid trouble with nearby tribespeople.
7. The Plague Dogs
Nightmare-inducing kids' movies? I hereby give you The Plague Dogs, which makes Watership Down look like a walk in the park. In this animated feature two dogs escape from a British laboratory. It's too long for its own good, but it's a thought-provoking story that says as much about people as the animals they experiment upon.
Fun Fact 1: Despite the British setting this film was animated in San Francisco. Brad Bird was among the animators involved.
Fun Fact 2: John Hurt, who also voiced one of the rabbits in Watership Down, voiced one of the two dogs in this movie.
Some Bad Ones
1. The Last Unicorn
Like The Hobbit another Rankin/Bass production. The first half is alright, but the second half feels very random. Worse still are the songs in this movie, which sound like they were made up on the spot. Fans of Spirited Away might enjoy the Topcraft connection, but others will be bored by it. Critics at the time loved it, though in terms of online scores it's not as well received as The Secret of Nimh (above).
Clint Eastwood's sent on a mission to steal a Russian superplane. It's definitely not one of Eastwood's better movies, and in terms of guys stealing weapons above their pay grade it pales in comparison to Blue Thunder. I saw it many times on HBO when I was little. Didn't make much of an impression then, and doesn't make much of an impression now.
3. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
John Carpenter might not have directed this movie, but he produced it and did the soundtrack. Audiences in 1982 were undoubtedly wondering where Michael Myers was. Strange as it may seem, he's nowhere to be found in this movie.
Instead we've got a doctor who runs afoul of an evil novelty company. The first half isn't that bad, but I was having a hard time understanding what happens after the bad guy reveals his evil plan. What does the fragment of Stonehenge do, exactly? And how do the masks change people? And what's the deal with those "robots?" Are they mechanical, or do they have something to do with the bugs? I'm also having trouble understanding how some guy could call television stations from a gas station on Halloween and get them to stop running a certain commercial - on more than one channel - with just an assurance that trouble is coming. I guess it could all be explained away as "magic," but is that an explanation that would satisfy most viewers?
4. The Man From Snowy River
Kirk Douglas plays two roles in this George Miller (!) film about the Australian Outback. The plot is strangely hard to follow, and it took me way too long to figure out that handsome cattle baron Douglas and peg legged prospector Douglas were supposed to be two different people. It reminded me at times of Baz Luhrmann's Australia, but that sense of similarity might be due to the fact that I haven't seen as many films from that country.
5. Evil Under the Sun
My biggest complaint is probably more of a complaint about the Agatha Christie novel it was adapted from: the murderers' plot is completely implausible. That business with the wristwatches? The feigning of vertigo? The switching of one person with another? How would any of those things have come together into a convincing alibi unless all of the other characters were paying an abnormal amount of attention, or if certain other characters hadn't been complicit in the plot? Add to this the amazing coincidence of the body which is discovered at the beginning of the film, and add to this the fact that this discovery ties so neatly together with the murderers' sudden lapse in judgment at the conclusion of the story.