The Best Films of 1985

This is my second year of giving recognition to films that were made 25 years ago. Last year the top award was shared by Amadeus and Once Upon a Time in America, both of which scored 8.4 at imdb.com.

This year I have tightened my criteria slightly - I have decided to only include films that have had 10,000 votes or more at imdb, including the all important "dud of the year".

And so on to the awards. First place goes to:

Strange as it may seem, Back to the Future is a film that lasts. At the time it was the highest grossing film of 1985 and was recognised with a single Oscar (Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing). Yet despite being a popular film it has managed to tap into the emotions and other things of people who have watched it. The film was paced well, had some great characters and was able to use the theory of time travel without confusing the audience. My (distant) memories of the film include the moment Marty begins playing "Johnny B. Goode" which then segues into heavy metal distortion, leading Marty to explain to the 1950s audience that "their kids will love it". The film was certainly not one of my favourites, but it is for many others.

Second place goes to:

Ran was Akira Kurosawa's last great masterpiece. Although he made three more films before his death, Kurosawa's Ran was ambitious in its grandeur and reminded movie buffs everywhere (especially in Japan) that his genius had not faded away. Based loosely upon King Lear, Ran follows the story of an aged medieval Japanese warlord who devolves his power to his three sons, only to be betrayed and then hunted down by two of them. In many ways the aged warlord Hidetora is Kurosawa himself, who reigned over the Japanese film industry for nearly 30 years before being snubbed and insulted by them. And just as Hidetora finds acceptance with his youngest son, so did Kurosawa regain his honour and respect with a younger audience from the 1980s onwards. A brilliant (if long) film.

Third place goes to:

This mixture of social satire, black comedy and dystopian nightmare came from the recesses of Monty Python member Terry Gilliam's brain and is still regarded as his masterpiece. Fusing together a bleak fictional world and the fantasy world of his aimless protagonist was always going to be difficult, and the film was both dogged by off-screen politics and on-screen plot problems. Brazil is a rough diamond, but it is a diamond nevertheless. Memorable moments include Robert DeNiro's guerilla repairman fixing a heating system, Michael Palin's cheery and yet disturbing torturer, Ian Holm's bumbling and stressed functionary and a rich, gaudy plastic surgeon played by future Oscar winner Jim Broadbent. Co-written by Tom Stoppard, Brazil won some serious respect from film critics as well as two Oscar nominations - a pity it grossed less than $10 million. My favourite film.

Here are the other results:

The Breakfast Club - 7.9

I never really liked this film when it came out, so consequently my memories of it are hazy and somewhat negative. I suppose I didn't like it because it was so obviously The Big Chill for Generation X, where teenagers can talk about their problems and through this process become better people. It was probably the last film I ever saw Molly Ringwald in.

The Colour Purple - 7.7

I only saw this film about 5 years ago and I thought it was quite impressive. True to form, the film was nominated for 11 Oscars and won none. It was the beginning of Whoopi Goldberg's career, and also introduced the world to Oprah Winfrey.

Witness - 7.6

A memorable film that turned Harrison Ford from being a mindless action star to a serious dramatic actor. Introduced the world to the Amish.

The Purple Rose of Cairo - 7.6

Kiss of the Spider Woman - 7.5

The Goonies - 7.5

After Hours - 7.5

A Room with a View - 7.5

3 Oscar wins (Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium)


Out of Africa was 1985's Academy Awards blockbuster, winning 7 oscars from 11 nominations, including best director (Sydney Pollack) and best film. It also provided Meryl Streep with one of her 16 Oscar nominations. While gaining a mark of 7.0 at imdb is nothing to sneeze at, it is not a mark of an enduring work of art. In other words, it was a good film but not a great one, and great films are what Academy Award victories are supposed to indicate.


Arnie was having a good few years: Conan and The Terminator had brought him fame as the stereotypical Hollywood action hero. His character in this film was linked to his two roles as Conan, but in Red Sonja he had another name so it wasn't a case of Conan meets a red-headed Amazonian warrior although that was obviously what the film-makers were aiming to do. The film flopped and Brigitte Nielsen had the indignity of winning the "Worst New Star" award at the 6th Golden Razzie Awards. Fortunately Arnie starred in Commando later in the year, which allowed him to keep his tough guy image going. Nielsen then appeared in Rocky IV with Sylvester Stallone, who she later married and divorced.

By the way, although there were plenty of other films in 1985 that were pretty bad, none of them were voted on by 10,000 or more people at imdb. If we count 1,000 votes or more, the clear "loser" is, in fact, Final Justice with 1.6, which was apparently a favourite of Mystery Science Theater 3000:

Note: If I apply the "Dud of the Year" criteria to last year's award, then the worst film with over 10,000 votes was Children of the Corn (5.2), while the worst film with over 1,000 votes was Ator l'invincibile 2 (1.8). Bolero still has to be punished somehow.


Ron Lankshear said...

I just cannot get past the first three which I suppose I would rank as Ran , Brazil and then Back to Future. Ran was so unreal- All those massed muskets, the horses running around aimlessly. And all that Fox head symbolism when the bad woman gets her had chopped. And the oh so said king. We've discussed Brazil before just sheer wonderful satire on Orwell's 1984 - the heroine one minute in a dream world and next booting the hero out of the big truck. De Niro the mad plumber. And the office block reminding me so much of my first job in the Civil Service.

But Back to Future was a wonderful series on time travel. I see it as a series.

Ross said...

Interesting list. I was too young to appreciate most of these films when they were released. It looks like I have some DVDs to catch up on seeing. Can anyone name a film from Dino De Laurentis that achieved both commercial success and popular acclaim?

BLBeamer said...

Good post, fun topic. Here's my take:

Brazil - wonderful. A rough diamond, indeed.

Back to the Future - Enjoyable, but I didn't care for the other two parts of the series as much. I loved the scene where Fox tells his mother's family that Ronald Reagan will be president in the future: "The actor??!!"

Ran - I liked it. Still the only Kurosawa film I've seen.

The Color Purple - Meh. Not a Whoopi fan. Never have been. Like most Oprah-involved productions, too schmaltzy. Toni Morrison is a very over-rated author, too.

Witness - Love this one. I appreciated the Amish being given an earthy sense of humor: "I don't believe you've ever had a teat in your hand before." "Not this big!" "Ha!"

Purple Rose - Another good film by Woody made during his creative peak.

Room with a View - Held my interest, with fine acting.

Out of Africa - Boring and the characters were uninteresting.

Breakfast Club - Never appreciated the Brat Pack. Over rated posers without a single outstanding talent in the pack.

BLBeamer said...

Ross, I presume you meant both critical and commercial success? I see popular acclaim and commercial success as being the same thing.

Here's a list of a few of his films that I think satisfied both:
Death Wish: highly popular, critics mixed but generally positive, if I remember correctly.
Ragtime: I remember Siskel & Ebert loved it. I did, too. Jimmy Cagney's last role.

Ron Lankshear said...

Re Dino De Laurentis one of films I love is 1970 "Waterloo" with Plummer and Stegier as Wellington and Napoleon. Rated 7.5

Wouldn't Serpico fit into critical success 1973 with Pacino and rated 7.7

My fav line from Back to Future 2 (??) is Doc way back in the past "no wonder it broke down this part is Made in Japan"