Criteria: 1) movies I’ve loved since seeing them and love just as much (if not more) now, 2) movies I would watch if someone asked or offered, at any time, and 3) movies I know will stay loved by me until the day I die.
So, here is the list in no order of importance because I love them all…
Flash Gordon (1980): This movie marks a couple of milestones in my life. The soundtrack was the first album I’d ever bought, and the film itself would be one of the earliest examples of some media product that would be loved by me and hated by many others. I first saw this in the theaters with a relative and I’m pretty sure we were the only two people there. Much later on, this campy and slick retread of the classic serial character would gain a somewhat cult audience but I was always a huge fan. From the high-gloss sets to the immersive worlds to the grandeur of Ming The Merciless, it’s fun from start to finish.
Goodfellas (1990): Did I ever tell you about the time when I was 13 and was offered a delivery job by a local mob boss? Probably not because then you would have ended up in the trunk of someone’s car in multiple pieces. Well, since that time, I’d always been fascinated by the mafia. Maybe it’s just because I like things… organized. Could be the suits. Or maybe the prospect of an easy buck. No matter. I’d seen all of the movies either directly or obliquely showcasing La Cosa Nostra, but the one that always gets repeated viewings at my place is Goodfellas. Scorsese’s take on the mob seems a bit more accessible than the others that came before it, filled with memorable characters, a solid storyline, and convincing relationships. It’s a film every human being on the face of the Earth should have already seen.
Boogie Nights (1997): Although this is the most “modern” film on my list in terms of release, it is also a period piece, largely taking place during the ’70s and ’80s — favored decades of mine for movies and movie timelines. Truth be known, it takes a lot these days to make me stand up and pay attention to movies. When Boogie Nights came out, it was one of those rare moments. This is a marvelous send-up of the porn industry and its own form of celebrity during the adult film heyday, well supported by fun characters, an engaging story and, again, a great soundtrack. When other filmmakers look to making movies in the “retro” aesthetic, they’d do well to take a page from this one.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984): When this movie first came out on home video in the 1980s, it wasn’t anywhere near as known, loved or even understood as it is now. In stark contrast, my love for this mockumentary was immediate, slightly preceding my own band experiences and certainly providing context for that era of my life to come. I couldn’t possibly arrive at the precise number of times I’ve watched this film but “dozens” would put us close to the truth. One of its more endearing qualities is that, much like an Alice Cooper concert, you don’t catch everything the first time around. Like peeling back the layers of an onion, there is always one more subtle bit to discover. and perhaps the viewer’s advancing maturity helps out in that regard. At any rate, I now have a perverse reverence for the Stonehenge monument and I strongly agree that any band’s experimentation with jazz fusion is not a good idea. Praise Nigel!
Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982): When I was nearing 14, I was a hopeless computer geek and wasn’t anywhere near the self-claimed hit with the ladies I would later become. But movies like Fast Times At Ridgemont High gave a kid hope. From all of the teen sex comedies I’d watched, I was convinced that high school would be exactly like this: spying on naked cheerleaders, banging hookers at roadhouses, and getting to snag a girl just like Stacy Hamilton. Things didn’t go precisely as planned but I got to “enjoy” that Phoebe Cates pool scene like any other red-blooded American virgin would — which is to say, many, many times. That aside, it’s also a great teen film that manages to be funny and poignant without being too overt or sappy. Likewise, the soundtrack is great and filled with bands none of you kids know anymore.
Blade Runner (1982): The subject of Artificial Human Companions, or by whatever name they’ve taken, has been a fascinating subject for me and many others. Because, let’s face it: Most people just aren’t that interesting. But, actually creating beings who are already of interest is a promising industry. We are in the early stages of AHCs with current animatronics and companies like Real Doll, but it’s bound to evolve. Until then, I get to watch this fantastic film with a futuristic film noir bent. Oh, and I want the Tyrell Corp. building.
Tron (1982): In addition to WarGames, Tron was the movie that grabbed my attention as both a lover of video games and computers. Regarding the latter, folks today might forget or not even know that it wasn’t socially praiseworthy to love the tech, but this amazing live-action/animated film (from, of all companies, Disney) really got me excited about the possibilities of computer technology. Given the social climate of the 1980s, I got encouragement where I could find it. From the flashy neon-esque glare of the visuals to the evocative score from Wendy Carlos, it still gives me chills to watch, even as an old man. Maybe one day, I’ll get to be Dumont, Guardian of the I/O tower. And won’t that be something.
Some Like It Hot (1959): I’m a bit of a fan of director Billy Wilder. He’s tackled many genres, including drama, comedy, and crime. Of his funnier stuff, this film stands on top. Lemmon and Curtis are a comedy team to be rivaled, here playing two musicians on the run from the mob and donning drag to join an all-female band in order to escape their pursuers. There’s also Marilyn Monroe, and she adds a humanity to the fun (though, her standout performance can be found in Don’t Bother To Knock) as well as George Raft, the quintessential gangster. Someone lock me into a train car with these girls (yes, the ACTUAL girls) and a case of bourbon, and you’ll get one heck of a story from me in the morn.
Repo Man (1984): Although Suburbia comes in a close second for favorite punk rock movie, it is this weird and wonderful tale of misspent youth, government conspiracy and irradiated dead aliens in a madman’s car trunk that captured my attention and introduced me (as it did others) to Black Flag, Circle Jerks, FEAR, and Suicidal Tendencies — the reason why many considered its soundtrack to be something of a Punk Rock Starter Kit. It’s likely that it also appealed to ’80s subcultural teens because of its light-handed but hilariously exaggerated commentary on consumer culture and mindless authority. Who didn’t know folks like Otto’s parents or Duke/Debbi/Archie, or the ever-lovable space cadet, Miller? Highly quotable film.
Night Shift (1982): In the early days of VHS (or Betamax, depending), this was one of my earliest rentals. Starring Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton as two very different individuals running a prostitution ring out of the morgue at which they work during the overnight hours… and the hilarity ensues! It has its feel-good moments but it also has a lot of raunchy humor, fun scenes, character contrasts, and Shelley Long in panties. There have been times in my life when the prospect of a career as a “love broker” seemed tempting, and this movie would no doubt be my template.
Purple Rain (1984): During the release year of this movie, I was seeing a girl who, like many, dug Prince. Then being a staunch metalhead, I was having no part of it. But, my prognosticating gal-pal swore to me that, one day, I would not only like The Purple One’s music but I would actually buy at least one of his albums. Not only was she right but I also latched onto this not-so-biographical journey of “The Kid” — his rise to the top, his love of an amply-chested beauty, and his rivalry with a band simply known as The Time, led by charismatic frontman, Morris Day (who, often enough, steals the show). One of the few rock movies I not only like, but find some re-watchability in.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968): I was born the same summer as Rosemary’s Baby… the movie, not the fictional devil infant! Okay, getting that out of the way, this extremely faithful adaptation to the Ira Levin novel is the story of young Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, who have just moved into their new apartment. Their neighbors seems nice and friendly and, of course, Satanists. The baby Rosemary is about to have is anticipated by many in the building, and for good reason. Why, you say? Well, watch the damn movie!
Reform School Girls (1986): I love women-in-prison movies. Call me strange but I find them rather titillating. Yes, titillating! And this salute to that genre is beyond gratifying. Amazingly campy and overstated performances by Sybil Danning as the prison warden, Pat Ast as the warden’s henchwoman, and, of course, punk icon Wendy O. Williams as Charlie, the de facto leader of the prison gang. Violence, nudity, and a riot at the end make this a movie not to miss.
Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977): Yes, it’s not a well made film. There are many mistakes, stiff acting, and some real plot head scratchers. But, I put forth that this is exactly what makes this a jewel in the rough. Put frankly, it’s got a lot of heart. And nudity. And pretty girls in precarious situations. And a “crazy devil cult” too. A pal of mine and I got hooked on this movie after taping it off cable in the mid-’80s, and we’ve been watching it ever since. Heck, Terror Transmission even did an episode on it, and that’s a mark of quality right there! See it with someone you love.
A Clockwork Orange (1971): There are some great Kubrick films out there. The Shining comes to mind. But, it will always be A Clockwork Orange that brings me back, time and again. It’s a tale of youthful excess, followed by incarceration, so-called reform, and then back to business as usual. It’s got a violent streak but also a darkly absurdist tone throughout. Not too dissimilar from our own world, this one merely turns up the dial a touch. One day, at the peak of my senility, I will demand my abode be decorated in the fashion of the Korova Milk Bar. Real horrorshow!
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!! There. All better now. This is my favorite of the Star Trek movie series, having first seen it in the theaters. Khan isn’t just the film’s namesake, he IS the film. Splendidly played by Ricardo Montalbán, he’s not merely a cookie-cutter bad guy, he’s someone who has been wronged and rightfully seeks vengeance. What will Captain Kirk and his intrepid crew do in the face of this brilliant berserker? Will they seek satisfaction in the Mutara Nebula or be vaporized by the Genesis Device? There’s only one way to find out.
Animal House (1978): At the time this movie premiered, I was too young to see it in the theaters. There were no video rental stores of any sort, certainly no Internet, and cable TV was a bit of a luxury that only had one or two movie channels. As it stood, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate this John Landis masterpiece until I reached a certain age, an age that can find the absurd value in frat house pranksterism, dead horses, underage sex, terrorizing parades, excessive beer consumption, and all of that. When I finally got to rent it on VHS, I experienced comedy gold. Without the slightest moment of drag or lull, Animal House rolls along at a rollicking pace. Interestingly enough, this is actually what college was like, and then some.
Logan’s Run (1976): Utopia can turn to dystopia pretty quickly in science fiction films of the 1970s (and beyond). But Logan’s Run was a movie that made that devolution slick, sexy, and exciting. Although it precedes the glut of sci-fi visual media including Star Wars, the original Battlestar Galactica, Alien, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and the like, it certainly set the stage for things to come. At the same time, it also drew from what was contemporary. There are parts of it that seem like Planet of the Apes… but without the apes. The 1970s are certainly in there with that decade’s styles and fashions as well as its dalliance with casual sex. But at eight years old, I wasn’t paying attention to that. It was awesome laser shooting and flying people blowing up and a scary metal robot wanting to freeze people. Sometimes, that’s all you need. And maybe Jenny Agutter.
Caddyshack (1980): I’m not entirely convinced it is by mere happenstance that this list contains TWO movies with Cindy Morgan (yes, she’s in Tron). More importantly that that, this is the one in which she is practically naked. But, sure, this is also an incredibly funny movie with amazing performances from Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield. Quite frankly, this is the only movie that would even make me consider golfing. When I hear Journey’s “Any Way You Want It,” I only think of Caddyshack. And Ted Knight’s nautical attire is absolutely my inspiration for wanting to be a yacht captain. So I’ve got that going for me… which is nice.
KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park (1978): When I was 10 years old, I went on a trip to Las Vegas along with family. This was back when Vegas wasn’t for children but the allure of the lights and sounds was there for a kid who couldn’t wait to grow up and experience it. I was also fascinated somewhat by what teenagers were into, being a lad who was rather fixated on getting to adulthood as quickly as possible. On the night of October 28, 1978, my of-age family went out to gamble and see shows, and I was left with an in-hotel babysitter. A hot, teenage ’70s babysitter — long hair, bell bottoms, tight shirt, the whole nine yards. And like most teens at the time, she loved KISS. Lucky for us, this very movie made its television premiere. My curiosity was piqued so I sat on the floor with her and watched it. It was full of loud music and scary faces and I was totally sold. It took me a few years for the music to hook me, but this schlocky yet sincere spectacle known as KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park will always hold a spot on this list. And, yes, I can do lines from this movie at the drop of a hat.