Favorite Films – The 80’s

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This blog is a continuation of a series I started earlier this week. Somebody had the idea to post a list was to consist of your favorite films from each year of your life.  So, you start with your birth year and move ahead year by year and list all the films from each year.  A post from the Avocado site came up in my “Reader” list of blogs that had the same principle, but with one exception – you can only pick one movie from each year. My last blog focused on my favorites from the 1970’s and this one will feature the 1980’s.

I have a feeling that there will be more movies per year for me to pick from in this decade.

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1980 was a year for sequels.  Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleason returned for another adventure in Smokey and the Bandit II, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker faced off in The Empire Strikes Back, and Christopher Reeve was back as Superman in Superman II. We were first introduced to Jason in the first of many installments of the Friday the 13th franchise.  Queen provided the theme song for the film Flash Gordon.  A few years before he was dealing with a Delorean, Robert Zemeckis directed Kurt Russell and Jack Warden in Used Cars. Jack Nicholson yelled “Here’s Johnny!” in the Shining and Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin dreamed of knocking off their boss in Nine to Five.

I mentioned in the last blog that I had a feeling it would be more difficult to pick just one movie per year as I headed into the 80’s.  That was proven to be true as I looked over the movies for 1980 and saw three of my all-time favorites were released.  ANY three of these could easily be my one pick for the year for the following reasons (1) all three of them have an amazing cast (2) all three of them are funny (3) all three of them are all full of great movie lines!  I want to break the rules and make this a three way tie!  Alas, I have to pick just one.

The first runner up – Caddyshack. Such a funny movie that is quoted every day on golf courses all across the country!  Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase all combine their talents to make this such a funny movie!  Second runner up – The Blues Brothers. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are Jake and Elwood Blues.  It is a comedy of epic proportions and has one of the best soundtracks ever.  Also, very quotable.

The pick for my favorite, though, has to be THE most quoted movie of the ’80s – Airplane!  “I am serious.  And don’t call me Shirley!”

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Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Hayes and SO many more!  The Zucker Brothers brought us this comedy, a direct rip-off of a film called Zero Hour (look for the comparison on YouTube), and it is a joke after joke laugh riot.  Having serious actor say these comedy lines straight makes the line even more funny!  The scenes with “Johnny” are worth the price of admission!

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1981 brought us some great films.  Some of my favorite action movies from ’81 include Burt Reynolds in Sharky’s Machine, and Sylvester Stalone and Billy Dee Williams in Nighthawks. Adventure films included stop-action creatures from Ray Harryhausen in Clash of the Titans and our introduction to Indiana Jones with Harrison Ford starring in Raiders of the Lost Ark (the face melting scene still creeps me out!).

1981 was full of comedies, some better than others (Remember Ringo Starr’s Caveman?!).  Dudley Moore was brilliantly funny in Arthur.  The Muppets return for fun in The Great Muppet Caper.  Chevy Chase, Dabney Coleman, and Nell Carter appear in the underappreciated Modern Problems.  George Hamilton plays dual roles in a film I recently blogged about, Zorro The Gay Blade.  Not his best, but I still laugh at Jerry Lewis’ Hardly Working.  And Mel Brooks offered up History of the World Part I (and left many of us longing for Part II).

Stripes starring Bill Murray, John Candy, and Harold Ramis comes in as a close second here.  It could easily be THE favorite for this year.  It is still funny today, and I find myself quoting it often.  Just edging it out as my favorite is The Cannonball Run.

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Burt Reynolds leads an all star cast in the race across the country!  Silly fun and many funny lines.  Dom Deluise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. Farrah Fawcett, Bert Convy, Jamie Farr, Roger Moore, Jack Elam, Adrienne Barbeau, Peter Fonda, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Tillis, and so many more star in this comedy, which will always remain one of my favorites!

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In 1982, Sylvester Stallone introduced us to Rambo in First Blood while Harrison Ford starred in Blade Runner (which finally just recently got a sequel).  ET phoned home, Sean Penn was stoned out of his mind in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Scott Baio had super powers in Zapped!  Airplane II: The Sequel recycled some old jokes and was not as good as the original.  Michael Keaton drove Henry Winkler crazy in Night Shift.  Creepshow was creepy (and had a cool cameo from Stephen King).  A favorite from this year is Steve Martin’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, which is shot in black and white and Steve interacts with old movie stars.

My top pick for 1982 has got to be Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

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I didn’t care for the first Star Trek film, but this one was excellent.  Again, we have the original cast back on the Enterprise.  This film goes back to the original series for a tie in.  Ricardo Montalban played the character on the series and now, years later, he finds Kirk and plans to get his revenge.  It is a great story, and the film has a powerful ending.  The best of the entire series in my opinion.  Montalban is just amazing in this movie!

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The scene with William Shatner screaming “Khan!” – how can you not love it?

1983

I can already sense the backlash I am going to get for my pick from this year, please remember this is MY list and not yours!

In the comedy category, 1983 had Michael Keaton stepping in for Teri Garr in Mr. Mom. Gary Busey, Marsha Warfield, and Mr. T are a riot in DC Cab while Bob and Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis) get their first feature film in Strange Brew. Dan Aykroyd takes on “mom” in Doctor Detroit while Rodney Dangerfield takes on his mother-in-law in Easy Money.  1983 also introduced us to the Griswold family as they make their trip to Walley World in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

The Skywalker’s were back for the third part of the original trilogy in Return of the Jedi, while Christopher Walken woke from a coma with psychic powers in The Dead Zone.  And who can forget Al Pacino’s thrilling performance in Scarface?  My pick for favorite of this year is a holiday classic – A Christmas Story.

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So why this film?  Because it remains one that I faithfully watch every Christmas.  Who can’t relate to the way the Parker boys feel as Christmas approaches?  While it is set in the 1940’s, their excitement mirrors what every child feels during the holidays.  It’s a classic!  I had the chance to see the Christmas Story house this year (and blogged about it) and it was fun to walk through.

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As I looked over my list from ’84, I once again see more comedies than other genres.  Eddie Murphy went to Detroit to film Beverly Hills Cop, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis took on the spiritual realm in Ghostbusters. Michal Keaton and Joe Piscopo are mobsters is Johnny Dangerously.  We meet the first batch of recruits in the first Police Academy movie, while Cannonball Run II fell flat, despite a great cast. Sight gags and puns galore were seen with Val Kilmer in Top Secret, and we first met Sarah Connor in the first Terminator movie.

1984 was the year the Detroit Tigers last won a World Series.  I will never forget the excitement of that series or the season that led up to it. Perhaps that is why my favorite flick from 1984 is The Natural.

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Robert Redford is Roy Hobbs and he is an amazing ball player.  The film is based on a 1952 book by Bernard Malamud.  (Spoiler, in case you haven’t seen it) In the book, Hobbs strikes out at the end.  However, in the movie, there is an amazing homerun that knocks out the lights and sparks fly all over the place – one of my favorite endings!

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“Knock the cover off the ball ….”

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My list of favorites from this year is not too long.  Not that there weren’t some great films released, because there were, but many of them didn’t make an impact on me.  I enjoyed the James Bond film A View to a Kill (Roger Moore as Bond), Harrison Ford in Witness, and Chevy Chase as Fletch.  The “Brat Pack” film The Breakfast Club was released with your “stereotypical high school teens”. The Goonies was one I watched once. It was ok, but I didn’t see the hype that everyone else did.  As stupid as it was, Transylvania 6-5000 always made me laugh.  Jeff Goldblum, Ed Begley Jr., John Byner, Geena Davis, and Michael Richards are all part of the cast, and there are some funny (and some very dumb) scenes.

Who would have thought that a board game could inspire a very funny film?  Clue came out in 1985 and had three different endings (it varied on wherever you saw it).  Christopher Lloyd, Tim Curry, Martin Mull, Madeline Khan, Michael McKean, Eileen Brennan, and Lesley Ann Warren play the various people from the game and it is just a blast to watch.  This easily could be my pick, but there is one film that stands out far above the rest.

As someone who always loved stories about time travel, I was hooked immediately by the trailer for Back to the Future. It remains one that I can watch over and over today.

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There is just SO much to love about this film!!!  Great story.  Great characters (and a great cast).  Comedy.  Suspense.  Good music and a cool car that when it hit 88 miles per hour, you saw some “pretty serious sh*t!”

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1986 really doesn’t have a stand out film for me.  I enjoyed Top Gun with Tom Cruise (it also has a sequel coming out).  Little Shop of Horrors was an ok movie (Steve Martin as the dentist is a high light).  Tough Guys had some good scenes, but with big stars like Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, I expected more. One Crazy Summer had some funny scenes, but wasn’t a laugh out loud riot.  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was good.  I loved the premise of this kid skipping school and doing all that he did … and still making it home before his folks found out (what kid didn’t want to do what Ferris did?!).

The only film that stands out to me from 1986 is one that you may question.  It gets the my pick as favorite for sentimental reasons.  The Three Amigos starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short.  I don’t care how many times El Guapo yells “It’s a sweater!”, I laugh!  But that is not why I picked this one.  Back when my oldest son was just diagnosed with autism, we were watching this movie.  There is a scene where the Amigos are sitting around a campfire and they begin to sing the song “Blue Shadows”.  My son walked to the TV and just stared.  He loved that song.  At that time, we had no idea if he would ever really speak more than a few words.  He would watch this scene over and over! I even have it on my iPod because it makes me think of him.

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After the song, we used to have to wait for the turtle to say “Goodnight, Ned” before we had to rewind that scene.

1987

1987 offered up some classics.  Who wasn’t freaked out by the rabbit scene in Fatal Attraction? Even though you saw it coming, you cried when Richie Valens died in La Bamba. Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World was given new life on the radio thanks to Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam. “Nobody gets outta here without singing the blues” is one of my favorite lines from Adventures in Babysitting.  Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks team up for a Dragnet movie that misses the mark.  Danny Glover and Mel Gibson first teamed up for Lethal Weapon and Kevin Costner played Elliot Ness in The Untouchables.  We also enjoyed the fairy tale The Princess Bride and Mel Brooks parodied Star Wars and space movies with Spaceballs (“We Break for Nobody!”

If you loved Airplane, but have never seen Amazon Women on the Moon, you need to.  It’s as silly as Airplane and has some very funny scenes.  For years, I’ve joked that I’d like my funeral to be like a roast.  I said I would want people to share funny stories about times we shared together.  In this film, there is actually a funeral that is a roast – with a dias that includes Steve Allen, Slappy White, and other comedy greats!

My 1987 favorite goes to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

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This is just one of the best John Hughes films.  You get every emotion watching this film.  There are times that are laugh out loud funny and there are times where you are wiping tears from your eyes.  Steve Martin and John Candy are just great together.  This film makes me miss John Candy.  He was such a great actor.

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In 1988 Dirty Harry returned in The Dead Pool, Tom Hanks wished he was Big, and Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall were Coming to America.  Bruce Willis starred in the first Die Hard and Michael Keaton was Beetlejuice.  I was impressed by the interaction between humans and cartoons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and (as a Monty Python fan) loved John Cleese and Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda.

With my favorite movie that kicked off this decade (Airplane), it should come as no surprise that my pick from 1988 is The Naked Gun starring Leslie Nielsen.

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Shortly after Airplane, the Zucker brothers created Police Squad.  It was a short lived TV show starring Leslie Nielsen as Lt. Frank Drebin.  It aired just 6 episodes.  The show is the premise for the movie.  George Kennedy replaced Alan North and OJ Simpson (pre-murder trial) also starred.  Ricardo Montalban plays the villain in this and is just great.  Not as many lines as Airplane, but just as funny!!

“It’s Enrico Palazzo!!”

1989

As I come to the last year of this decade, I am faced with the same issue I had with the first year.  I have many favorites from this year and wonder just how I can pick only one movie as a favorite!

Comedies included Eddie Murphy in Harlem Nights, Weird Al Yankovic starred in his first film UHF, John Candy was Uncle Buck in another John Hughes film, and Charlie Sheen was Wild Thing in Major League (“Just a bit outside!”).  Bernie is dead, but he still has quite an adventure in Weekend at Bernie’s. Jack Palance plays a wonderful bad guy in Tango and Cash and the Griswold’s host Christmas in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. And I can’t forget to mention that Doc Brown and Marty McFly return in Back to the Future II (which some people hate because it goes back and forth from time to time – but that’s what I love about it! That, and the fact that they reshot original scenes from Part I and then had the characters interact within that scene.)

Two films that really stand out from 89 are not comedies, but adventure movies.  The runner up for my favorite is Tim Burton’s Batman.  As a fan of the 1966 Batman, I was excited to see how this film would be portrayed.  Michael Keaton played Batman and I thought he did ok.  Jack Nicholson as the Joker was amazing!  I loved his interpretation of the character (though I still believe Cesar Romero is the best).  It was really well done.  This brings me to my favorite film of 1989 – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

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In the Indiana Jones series, I always felt this was the strongest of them all.  Harrison Ford is again great as Indy, but his father, played by Sean Connery, steals the scenes.  I can easily see my dad and I fighting with each other like these two do if we ever were off on an adventure like this.  I just love their interactions with each other.  They are both just perfect in this film.  The final scene is also just a picture perfect ending!

So with that, let’s ride into the sunset.  When we return, let’s dive into the 90’s, ok?

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Thanks for reading!

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“A long, long time ago….”

There are some days I sit down and wonder what I am going to write about, today is not one of those days. Today is the “day the music died” – 60 years ago. The phrase comes from the classic Don McLean song “American Pie.”

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The Winter Dance Party Tour

In January of 1959, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper, and Dion and the Belmonts set out to do a tour of 24 Mid-West cities in 24 days. The first problem was that no one had really thought out the tour stops and instead of circling from town to town, the tour was zig-zagging from state to state and sometimes the travel between cities was over 400 miles!

What made this even more difficult was that almost all of the travel was done on buses and there were break downs, and some didn’t have heat. The artists and band members were the ones loading and unloading the buses. Due to the cold, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens were starting to feel ill, complaining of flu-like symptoms. After driving 350+ miles from Green Bay, Wisconsin, the tour arrived at Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2 to play the Surf Ballroom.

When they arrived it became clear that Buddy Holly was over all of the bus issues. After the Surf Ballroom show, the next stop was over 350 miles away in Minnesota. Because of the poor planning of tour stops, this meant that the buses would have to pass through towns they had already played. Buddy decided that he needed some rest and so he chartered a plane to take him and his band (which included Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, and Carl Bunch) to Fargo, North Dakota. They would rest there and get picked up by the buses when they came through town on their way to the gig.

There are a few versions of what happened next, but the widely accepted story is this: The Big Bopper, who was feeling the effects of the flu, asked Waylon Jennings for his seat on the plane. Waylon agreed to let him have the seat. (Some say that Waylon gave him his seat voluntarily.) One story says that when Buddy found out that Waylon was taking the bus instead of flying, he said “I hope your old bus freezes up” to which Waylon replied, “Well, I hope your old plane crashes”. In an interview later, Waylon said that even though the response was meant as a joke, his words still haunted him.

Richie Valens asked guitar player Tommy Allsup if he could have his seat aboard the plane. (There is some question as to whether Valens or the Big Bopper was the one with the flu.) It was decided that they would flip a coin to see who would get to go on the plane. A radio DJ who was working the show that night flipped a coin in a room off the stage and Richie Valens won the coin toss – and the seat. Ironically, Richie, at one time had a fear of flying.

The Flight

After the show, the manager from the Surf Ballroom drove Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper to the airport. At the time the plane took off, there was light snow falling. The weather was supposed to get worse along the planned flight path. At 12:55 am, the plane took off from the airport. At 1:00, pilot Roger Peterson was supposed to radio to the airport to check in, but didn’t. The airport continued to try to reach him, but there was no answer.

In the morning, Hubert Dwyer, the owner of the flying service and the plane, took off in his own plane to retrace the path of the plane carrying Holly and the others. At about 9:30, less than 6 miles from the airport, he spotted the wreckage of the plane carrying the singers and pilot. The sheriff’s office was immediately dispatched to the cornfield where the plane had crashed, in Clear Lake, Iowa.

It is estimated that the plane hit the ground at almost 200 mph and did cartwheels before coming to a stop. The bodies of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens were thrown from the plane and were close to the crash site. The Big Bopper was ejected and thrown over a fence into a cornfield. The pilot’s body was wrapped up in the wreckage of the plane.

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Afterward

When this happened, there was no protocol for withholding names of victims before notifying their family. Because of this, Buddy Holly’s widow found out about her husband’s death from a TV news story about the crash. They had only been married 6 months at the time of his death, and she was pregnant. She suffered a miscarriage shortly after because of “psychological trauma”. She did not attend her husband’s funeral and has never visited his gravesite. She blames herself for him getting on the plane, stating that if she had been with him, he would not have got on the plane.

An investigation into the crash found that despite the fact that the pilot had passed his written flight test, and had flown many hours, he was not prepared to fly in situations where he must rely solely on instruments (Which he would have had to do on this flight because of weather conditions). Another possible factor is the older equipment on the plane may have cause the pilot to believe he was ascending, but instead was descending. He was also not properly briefed on the weather conditions that he was flying into.

The tour continued for a couple weeks afterward with Waylon Jennings taking on the role of lead singer. Bobby Vee came to national attention due to the crash, because he was brought onto the tour because he basically knew all the words to the songs.

The Legends

22-year-old Buddy Holly left behind some songs that, despite his short career, have become rock and roll classics. Peggy Sue, Every Day, That’ll Be the Day, Rave On, True Love Ways, Raining In My Heart, and “I Guess It Doesn’t Matter Any More” remain on the play lists of oldies stations across the country. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has released an album of his music with his original vocals with a more orchestral background (they have done this with Elvis, Aretha Franklin, and Roy Orbison), giving the songs a fresh new sound.

The Big Boppper, AKA JP Richardson, will forever be remembered for his classic hits Chantilly Lace and The Big Bopper’s Wedding. He had a career as a radio DJ and also had great success as a songwriter. He wrote George Jones number one song “White Lightening” and Johnny Preston’s “Running Bear.” He was only 28 at the time of his death

Richie Valens was a mere 17 years old when he perished in the crash. His career was only just beginning, having begun just eight months earlier. He left behind three songs that remain fixtures in the first decade of rock and roll: Come One Let’s Go, Oh Donna, and, of course, La Bamba.

Like Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Jim Croce, John Lennon, and Stevie Ray Vaughn – all who left this world too young – we can only sit back and ponder how the face of music would have changed if they hadn’t died so young. Each of their careers cut short by a tragedy. Three voices silenced by fate.

Remembering Them

Every year, there is a memorial concert held at the Surf Ballroom to honor the memory of these three rock and roll icons. Outside the venue is a four-foot tall monument that had the names of the pilot and the three singing legends. This was placed there in 1988. At the crash site, there is a large steel structure which looks like a pair of glasses (much like the ones Holly wore), which stands as a memorial.

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The most popular tribute is Don McLean’s 1971 American Pie. The song refers to the date of the crash as “the day the music died”. While some take this song to be about Buddy Holly, McLean insists that while the crash is referenced in the song, it is not really about Holly – it’s “about America.” He states, “Buddy Holly’s death is what I used to try to write the biggest possible song I could write about America. And not a ‘This Land Is Your Land’ or America, the Beautiful” or something like that. I wanted to write a song that was completely brand new in its perspective.”

The song will no doubt be played many times on radio stations across the country today.

Final thoughts

60 years later, artists such as The Beatles, Elton John, and Bob Dylan have all cited Buddy Holly as a musical influence. His songs have been covered by numerous artists including Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen and Martina McBride. There have been movies made surrounding the lives of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. And the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra album with Holly’s original vocals is available now, too.

So has the music really died? I don’t think so. Today, as we remember the 60th anniversary of their tragic deaths, we must also look back and remember their music and the mark that they left on musical history. Their voices may now be silent, but their influence continues to trickle down through music today. Rave On!