Back to the Future. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. I guess I used to think Back to the Future was kind of silly, but now that I’ve seen it again in its entirety, it’s actually a really well-made, well-thought-out film. Michael J. Fox is believable as 17-year-old Marty McFly, despite actually being 23. He is ably supported by Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover, who play parents Lorraine and George both young and middle-aged. Glover is particularly enjoyable in another of his typically kooky performances. (Note: Isn’t it kind of sad how he aged so much better in the movie – whether at the beginning or at the end – than he did in real life?) The movie would be nothing without Christopher Lloyd, the king of eccentrics as genius Dr. Emmett Brown, inventor of the Flux Capacitor. Lloyd manages not to get too wacky but still gets a lot of laughs. I don’t know if I’m ever going to bother with the two sequels, but the original Back to the Future is guaranteed fun.
Desperately Seeking Susan. Directed by Susan Seidelman. I know that this film has its detractors, but honestly, how can you not love all that nutty 80s style? Desperately Seeking Susan is a true time capsule. From the music to the fashion to the frizzed-out hair, Rosanna Arquette (who won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress) and Madonna contribute to the iconic look and feel of the film. It’s easy to see why Madonna’s clothes, makeup and hairstyle were such an inspiration; she makes it all look cool. Aidan Quinn does a nice job as the requisite male eye candy, also displaying good acting and real chemistry with Arquette. A number of character actors, including Mark Blum, Robert Joy, Laurie Metcalf, comic Steven Wright, John Turturro and Giancarlo Esposito, populate the cast. (Look fast for infamous punk figure Rockets Redglare as a taxi driver and Shirley Stoler as a prison matron.) If you’re looking for a funny, sexy comedy that defines the 80s, this movie is it.
The Goonies. Directed by Richard Donner. Doesn’t every kid love this movie? The Goonies is an awesome adventure with plenty of heart. Everyone has his own favorite character; for me, as a young girl I found it nearly impossible not to adore teenage Josh Brolin and his character’s multilayered 80s fashion. The rest of the cast is, of course, terrific: Sean Astin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton and Jonathan Ke Quan are funny and sweet in their own weird, unique ways. The gang’s search for lost treasure in underground caverns turns small-town Oregon into a mystical land full of wonder and possibility. Villains come in the form of Joe Pantoliano, Robert Davi and Anne Ramsey, though football player John Matuszak’s role as Lotney “Sloth” Fratelli proves to be loveably heroic. The Goonies is one of those movies you can watch at any time of day and it will always be engaging.
The Purple Rose of Cairo. Directed by Woody Allen. Watching the Mia Farrow decade of Allen films (1982-1992) makes one wistful for what could have been had they not split up in such an ugly way. This is definitely one of their best collaborations, giving Farrow yet another wonderful showcase for her all-too-underrated talents. Like the later gem Alice, Purple Rose is a delightful romance rooted in fantasy. It is also a rather poignant film, showing us how cruel reality can be, as noted in the abusive relationship Farrow has at the hands of her husband, played by Danny Aiello. Farrow’s idyllic time spent with Jeff Daniels (playing dual roles) is both funny and heartbreaking thanks to the top-notch performances by the two actors. As the movie’s tagline says: “She’s finally met the man of her dreams. He’s not real but you can’t have everything.” Maybe so, but this movie provides everything you need for a fulfilling and moving experience. P.S. The film has a number of other great actors, including Van Johnson, Edward Herrmann and Dianne Wiest.
Ran. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Having seen three other Kurosawa films – Rashomon, Throne of Blood and Yojimbo – I consider Ran far and away the best. The Oscar-nominated cinematography alone is worth it; the color is sharp and beautiful, making even the most haunting imagery, like the film’s final shot, vibrant. As for the story, Ran is a reworking of King Lear and lead actor Tatsuya Nakadai’s performance as Lord Hidetora Ichimonji is brilliant. Shakespeare’s nuance is certainly captured by Kurosawa’s screenplay, which he co-wrote with Hideo Oguni and Masato Ide. Other highlights are the Oscar-winning costume design and nominated art direction/set decoration. (The film’s fourth nomination was for its direction.) Besides Nakadai, famed entertainer Pîtâ (or “Peter”) is excellent as Kyoami (the fool) and Mieko Harada is unforgettable as the savage Lady Kaede, who uses sex and violence to get what she wants. The Criterion Collection DVD of Ran is pristine, allowing every hue to stand out. Depending on how interested you are in Japanese cinema and/or Shakespeare adaptations, this masterpiece has a fair chance of completely immersing you in its world.