best film:  Blade Runner from Ridley Scott

Blade Runner is one of the greatest ten films of all-time and the second best film of the entire 1980s (Raging Bull).  Ridley Scott’s masterpiece is one of cinema’s greatest showcases of production design and mise-en-scene. He uses elements of shadow and lighting like a noir (or like Bertolucci’s The Conformist) and has some of cinema’s greatest establishing shots. There is also a slow-motion glass breaking sequence that has photography that still blows my mind, a brilliant Vangelis score, and a performance by Rutger Hauer to bring everything together during the epic finale.

  • Has many roots in noir and detective/crime films and fiction—the fire bursting from the city reminds me of Raoul Walsh’s White Heat with James Cagney in 1949
  • Every scene is pouring with steam from the streets and cigarette smoke (noir)
  • It’s perpetual rain and perpetual night just like noir

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has has some of cinema’s greatest establishing shots

  • Harrison Ford has more screen time but it’s Rutger Hauer’s film
  • Hauer is in roughly 32 minutes and it may be the greatest 32-minute performance of all-time.
  • Ford’s performance isn’t transcendent, but it isn’t bad either- he’s doing Bogart here- meeting with seedy club owners and falling for the damsel in distress. He keeps it all internalized with a cool, outer sheen
  • Features an absolutely brilliant synthesizer score and main motif by Vangelis
  • Gorgeous advertising production design with the Coke, Atari and Pan Am logos

The reflected eye (you can see the city and fire) and reflected window/glass use it’s hard not to think of the helmet shield reflected shot in 2001: A Space Odyssey

  • The architectural miniatures are truly part-2001 and part-Metropolis from Fritz Lang
  • Ford’s driving narrative is largely a slow-burn detective film looking for clues but there’s existential questions, largely in subtext, throughout
  • I think there’s an underlying racist element in this dystopian world. This is just an observation—but the world here is a melding of worlds and language- very Japanese heavy of course but we also hear German “danke” in the elevator, there’s the snake maker (this could be a nod to Casablanca as well), a Spanish language movie house, etc
  • There’s a Christ allegory I hadn’t realized until now. Hauer’s Roy is the “prodigal son” and near the end of the film he puts a spike through his hand as he’s dying. It’s a bit of a stretch to say he spares Ford or that he’s somehow dying for him but the “Father/God” character of Tyrell is very real. Very “Why has thou forsaken me” in some of Hauer’s impressive ruminations.
  • Two perfect endings in one- we have the tears in the rain death of Hauer and then the unicorn escape epilogue with Ford and Young with the open ending and the jump to the faster score- pitch perfect
  • Douglas Trumball—special effects designer has both this and 2001 to his name not to mention a special consultant mention in The Tree of Life (2011)…. Yamma… what a resume

Lawrence G Paul is the production designer, he worked on Back to the Future– which is really well done as well-l but I don’t see anything else in his history here to suggest that Ridley Scott is NOT the genius behind the production design—Scott is the auteur

there’s elements of noir, Citizen Kane, and it is clearly influenced by Bertolucci’s The Conformist in lighting and set design

Countless still-frame hang-on-wall photography shots including Tyrell in bed doing stocks and has about fifty candles going in his room.

  • Much tighter than Blade Runner 2049. It’s weird- it’s a very tight film but it’s also a slow-burn mood piece
  • The scene where Hauer’s Roy kills Tyrell is so magnificently operatic. It reminded me here of the Joaquin Phoenix killing of Richard Harris in Gladiator (obviously also by Scott)– vengeful son killing father
  • Literally people smoking and/or drinking whiskey in every scene (very noir/detective)
  • The film is as influential as any film in post 1980’s cinema—there’s no A.I. from Spielberg without this film
  • It’s a very short scene but the scene where Ford interrogates the snake-maker is shot entirely through glass with logos on it and it’s utterly stunning to look at
  • The lighting of the umbrellas is so inspired—ditto with the lining of the interior of the bus
  • The Joanna Cassidy broken glass slow-mo shooting/death sequence is another stunner—fake snow and reflected neon glass
  • Countless beautiful, dank, dark shots of cluttered houses and apartments– and there’s always exterior light pouring in from every window—the darkness and busy disheveled mise-en scene reminds me of some of Tarkovsky’s work—JF Sebastian’s large house/set piece reminds me of it as well

the twin pairing of 1979’s Alien and 1982’s Blade Runner put Ridley Scott on a level few filmmakers or artists ever reach

 

most underrated:   Barry Levinson’s Diner is a borderline masterpiece and cannot find a spot on the TSPDT consensus top 1000 list. That is a shame. The opening tracking shot is always overlooked whenever any film article puts together a list of the best tracking or “oner” shots.  I think the film would fare better today on this all-time list if Levinson had capitalized on this film (his debut) to have a better overall career or if his ensemble cast here had gone on to be slightly more impactful career.

There was a time when it looked like Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg, Ellen Barkin, Daniel Stern and Paul Riser were all going to be household names for a long time to come.

 

most overrated:   I enjoy Tootsie.  I love the performances from Dustin Hoffman, Charles Durning, Jessica Lange and Bill Murray. I think all four actors are terrific. I also think some of the work from Pollack behind the camera is inspired (read the caption below on the telephoto lens shot). I just can’t get behind Tootsie being ranked at #511. There are far more than 511 films with greater artistic merit.

Director (and actor here in Tootsie, too) Sydney Pollack’s telephoto wideangle lens shot of Hoffman as Dorothy walking down the street is not only gorgeous and works for the film, but it serves as a great homage  to perhaps the greatest wideangle walking/running shot in history which, incidentally,  is also with Hoffman from The Graduate. 

 

gems I want to spotlight:  If you want one off the top 10 list check out George Roy Hill’s The World According to Garp. John Irving loyalists may have some reservations about the adaptation, but what ends up on screen works very well. I’ll also use this space to praise both Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his 1982 entry Veronka Voss– as well as lament his early passing. Fassbinder was one of the most important figures in cinema from roughly 1972 to his death at 37-years old in 1982. In that time, he made eleven (11) archiveable films and I’m still discovering and archiving more and more every year. He was incredibly prolific. I think his BDR trilogy from 1979-1982 is his best stretch of work and 1982’s Veronika Voss may be the crown jewel of the trilogy. Ending on that kind of a run makes his premature passing all the more tragic.

from Fassbinder’s Veronika Voss – Fassbinder was one of the most important figures in cinema from roughly 1972 to his death at 37-years old in 1982

trends and notables:

  • 1982 is yet another major year for cinema. So, the 1970’s were wonderful—but it is a myth that cinema quality fell off in the 1980s. 1980, 1981 and 1982 are better than 1977 and 1978 for example.

1982 is an important year for both Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. They would always have Aguirre— but to add a film of FItzcarraldo’s quality to their resume changes how they’re both viewed historically.

  • As mentioned previously in the gems section- Fassbinder’s passing stings the film art world in 1982. Between 1972 and 1982 there are a total of nine (9) films from Fassbinder that landed on the top 100 of the decade list- six (6) from the 1970’s, and three (3) from the 1980’s. If he had lived—it seems quite possible he would have been the greatest director of the 1980’s. 37-years old as it would turn out—is the same age Godard would be when he made Weekend and essentially ceased as an an important auteur—similar to Fassbinder.

it is tragic to think about what Fassbinder may have accomplished the rest of the 1980s- the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long or whatever the saying is certainly applies here

  • With Fanny and Alexander– 1982 marks four consecutive decades where Ingmar Bergman makes one of the best films of the decade.

Bergman did not let the massive running time deter him from putting in cinematic paintings aplenty in his 1982 masterpiece

immaculate set design

and only Cries & Whispers (which puts it up there all-time) rivals Fanny and Alexander when it comes to Bergman’s extraordinary use of color

  • Spielberg has staying power that goes well beyond the early 1980s- but with Raiders in 1981 and E.T. in 1982 this certainly feels like a peak

every cinephile remembers the Spielberg moon shot below from E.T.– but this dusk silhouette shot is nearly its equal

you can almost hear John Williams’ magical score just by looking at the image

  • Speaking of peaks—we’re in that period here with John Carpenter from Halloween in 1978 to The Thing in 1982 where he is certainly one of the best working
  • It’s worth noting that 1982 is the first Woody Allen/Mia Farrow collaboration (A Midnight Summer’s Sex Comedy). On screen, this would be one of the more fruitful auteur/muse or director/actor partnerships for the next ten years. It seems cinephiles always talk about Allen’s collaborations with Keaton, and rightly so, but the Farrow era, if you will, is just as strong.
  • 1982 would give us the first archiveable film from Peter Greenaway. Greenaway was an important Hollywood/blockbuster counterpoint in the 1980s- an era best known for franchises and big movies. Barry Levinson’s debut Diner is worth noting as well. Levinson would have some big successes in the decade- The Natural (great film) and Rain Main– but he’d never really fulfill the promise of Diner.
  • There are a ton of acting firsts in the archives in 1982. Robin Williams broke on the scene with the lead in The World According To Garp. Glenn Close would have a smaller role in the film but debut in my archives with that film as well. Williams and Close are two of the most important actors over the next decade. I already mentioned him above, but Bill Murray would make his archives debut in Tootsie. Though it would take about a decade to find a suitable follow-up role, Ben Kingsley would land into the archives with a big splash in his Oscar-winning performance in Gandhi. Fast Times at Ridgemont High had an incredible young ensemble (I think for years people thought Diner was the one…but no) with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nic Cage and Forest Whitaker all making their archiveable debuts. Michael Keaton had his first with Night Shift as well.

best performance maleRutger Hauer is the best on a per-minute ratio basis, but Klaus Kinski is in virtually every frame of the 2 hour 38 minute Fitzcarraldo. Both would make fine choices for the best acting performance of the year though I’ll note that there’s nothing that beats the ending of Blade Runner with Hauer’s monologue. Jan Malmsjö plays one of cinema’s great villains as the evil zealot stepfather in Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. Robert De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin is yet another in a long string of dangerous, complex and rich characters played by De Niro. Jerry Lewis gets a slot here as well playing against typecast (he’s understated here) and opposite De Niro. There’s a little Marathon Man-lite (the famous Olivier vs Dustin Hoffman style of acting) going on with old school Jerry Lewis against new school method De Niro—but both are superb. Kurt Russell is awesome in 1982 again in The Thing with Carpenter. Russell steers the ship—a courageous, anti-hero that exists in every decade of film history. The last spot goes to young Henry Thomas from Spielberg’s E.T.

Kinski- a mad genius…playing a mad genius

Jan Malmsjö in Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander– his Bishop Edvard Vergerus should always come up when discussing the all-time great screen villains

best performance female:   It is a weak year here- I can only muster three nominees. For every rule, there is an exception, and Meryl Streep’s work in Alan Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice is one of those rare performance that has to be mentioned as one of the year’s best despite the film failing to be one of the year’s strongest films. One cannot talk about Streep’s finest work, or 1982’s finest acting, without talking about Sophie’s Choice. Rosel Zech is next here as the titular character in Fassbinder’s Veronika Voss. This category has been filled with Fassbinder’s actresses for some time now. The last slot goes to Sandra Bernhard in The King of Comedy. She is out of control–sublime- she steals every scene she’s in away from De Niro and Lewis.

Streep’s close-up confession. These are probably her finest moments on screen.

Pakula’s best work is behind him by 1982– but this is a very respectable mise-en-scene arrangement here from Sophie’s Choice

even in a year with De Niro and Kinski playing obsessed madmen, Sandra Bernhard’s Masha may take the cake in The King of Comedy as far as craziness goes. Masha stalks, she shouts, she swears, she sings– it is one of the great sub-10 minute on screen performances

 

top 10

  1. Blade Runner
  2. Fanny and Alexander
  3. Fitzcarraldo
  4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  5. Veronika Voss
  6. Diner
  7. The King of Comedy
  8. The Thing
  9. The Draughtman’s Contract
  10. The Verdict

 

from Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtman’s Contract – symmetry in the frame—which is a Greenaway trademark starts here. Even from the opening he’s obsessed with mirroring—he has two twins dressed the same down to the spot of the fake moles on their face and the mother and daughter Herbert are dressed and stylized the same . Certainly the film is crude in content and there is a very real preoccupation with sex and power games—runs throughout much of Greenaway’s work—bizarre sexuality.

Very early into the film Scorsese gets to that incredible freeze shot of Sandra’s hands on the windshield. It’s stunning- one of the best uses of the stylistic technique in cinema history. It holds throughout the entire opening credits with Ray Charles singing “I’m Going to Love You” lyrics as a horrifying satire. Obsession. The mob, flashbulb (Raging Bull, Aviator)—this is Scorsese’s view of the public.

The brilliant shot 34 minutes in. De Niro in front of a black and white audience façade

Thirty years after his best work (Park Row is 1952 and Pickup on South Street is 1953) Sam Fuller proves he is still very capable of making an elite film. White Dog ends up as the final archiveable film and last film in the US made by Fuller.

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy – Allen R
An Officer and a Gentleman- Hackford R
Blade Runner – R. Scott MP
Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean – Altman R
Deathtrap- Lumet R
Diner- Levinson MS/MP
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – Spielberg MS/MP
Fanny and Alexander- Bergman MP
Fast Times at Ridgemont High- Heckerling R
First Blood- Kotcheff R
Fitzcarraldo- Herzog MP
Gandhi- Attenbourogh R
Identification of a Woman – Antonioni R/HR
Missing- Costa-Gavras R
My Favorite Year- Benjamin R
National III – Berlanga R
Night Shift- Howard R
Passion Godard R
Personal Best – Towne R
Poltergeist – Hooper R
Shoot the Moon- A. Parker R
Sophie’s Choice- Pakula HR
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Meyer R
State of Things- Wenders
Tenebre- Argento R
The Draughtsman’s Contract– Greenaway HR
The King of Comedy – Scorsese MS
The Man From Snowy River- Miller R
The Thing – Carpenter MS
The Verdict- Lumet HR
The World According To Garp- Roy Hill R
The Year of Living Dangerously- Weir
Tootsie- Pollack, Hoffman R/HR
Veronika Voss- Fassbinder MS/MP
Victor/Victoria- Edwards, Andrews R
White Dog – Fuller HR

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives