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Symkus column: Happy 40th anniversary wishes to these movies

Ed Symkus
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"Airplane!"

As the days and nights without movie theaters slog along, and the only way to see the paltry number of new releases is on the stream, in the living room, we film critics - feel free to call us film addicts - are desperately searching for ways to scratch that infernal itch.

So, we focus on old movies. We catch up on ones we missed, we revisit ones we loved, and we make lists, for you: Best science fiction films, best teen angst films, best films with car chases featuring AMC Gremlins, best films starting with the letter Q (“Q: The Winged Serpent?” “Quadrophenia?” “Quest for Fire?”).

Today’s exercise is the first of a three-part series that will celebrate big anniversaries. Today, we focus on movies that, in 2020, have turned or will turn 40 years old, along with totally subjective suggestions to either see them or avoid them. Between cable TV, internet library services, and streaming platforms, they’re all available for viewing.

MOVIES FROM 1980 TO WATCH AND WATCH AGAIN:

“Airplane!” - The best, rudest, silliest disaster movie ever made. A passenger plane is in trouble. Serious actors play goofily against type to save it. Joke targets include nuns, suicide, drug abuse, and inflatable dolls.

“9 to 5” - Alas, there’s still a need for a dark revenge comedy about women in an office being humiliated and demeaned by their unapologetically sexist boss because, unfortunately, the issue is still relevant today.

“Stardust Memories” - Woody Allen’s self-deprecating black-and-white comedy about how insignificant his own early comedies are and how foolish the adoration of celebrity can be still is one of his best, oddest, and most overlooked films

“The Empire Strikes Back” - It’s still the best “Star Wars” movie. End of discussion.

“The Stunt Man” - A right place-right time (or is it wrong place-wrong time?) scenario has a guy who’s on the run from cops stumbling into a job as a movie stuntman, then discovering that his dictatorial director has no qualms about putting him in danger.

MOVIES TO EXPERIENCE AT LEAST ONCE:

“Altered States” - Ken Russell directs the Paddy Chayefsky science-fiction novel about sensory deprivation, hallucinatory drugs and evolution.

“The Elephant Man” - David Lynch tells the true story of John Merrick, a kind and intelligent, but horribly disfigured and reviled man whose life is turned around by a doctor.

“Heaven’s Gate” - This gorgeous, sprawling, three-and-a-half-hour tale of a late 19th-century war between cattle owners and immigrant farmers failed at the box office, and is still berated as being “boring.” But not by me.

“Mad Max” - In post-apocalyptic Australia, a good cop loses his partner and his family to a vicious motorcycle gang. The rest of this bleak, gritty, mesmerizing movie is about the sweet taste of revenge.

“Melvin and Howard” - It’s a dramatic and comedic telling of the unlikely relationship between Howard Hughes and Melvin Dummar, who claimed to be the rightful heir to the Hughes fortune.

“Raging Bull” - Martin Scorsese’s look at the fiery life of boxer Jake LaMotta isn’t the most pleasant of moviegoing experiences, but Robert De Niro, in the title role, certainly deserved his Best Actor Oscar.

“Used Cars” - Before Robert Zemeckis made effects-driven movies, he did some quirky comedy-dramas, like this one about politicians, used car salesmen, “accidents” and turf wars.

MOVIES THAT ARE OVERRATED THAT, IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY SEEN THEM, SHOULD BE AVOIDED:

“The Blues Brothers” - It’s a sloppy, erratic mess from beginning to end

“Caddyshack” - Has there ever been a stupider movie? (Sorry if I’ve offended you.)

“Can’t Stop the Music” - All disco, all the time. Please stop the music.

“Xanadu” - Or, as I like to call it, “Xanadon’t.”

Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.