In getting ready to write this article, I discovered something about myself: I’m not a big fan of movies from the year I was born, 1981. Oh, to have been born a year earlier, the year of The Empire Strikes Back, Airplane, The Shining and many more. Since going back in time to convince my parents to conceive me a year earlier wasn’t an option, I dug into my top five flicks from 1981. It turns out there were some pretty noticeable gaps in my viewings from the year I was born. For example, I have never seen An American Werewolf in London or The Road Warrior. Now, in my defense, these pictures were rated R, so I can hardly be looked down upon for not having seen them when I was 0. I have, however, had 3 decades since then to catch up, so feel free to come at me in the comments. If you’re having trouble, here’s a template: “You haven’t seen _________? What the hell is wrong with you?!” Alright, on to the movies:
History of the World: Part I
Not one of my favorite Mel Brooks movies, but even a lower-tier Mel Brooks movie is better than most movies. For my money, Mel Brooks as Moses beats Charlton Heston any day. Gregory Hines, Dom DeLuise, and Madeline Kahn all help round out this funny flick.
On Golden Pond
Oddly enough, I watched this flick for the first time only a few months ago, while working my way through a list of Academy Award winners and nominees. I don’t imagine I’d have cared much for this movie if I had seen it years ago, but I appreciate Henry Fonda’s portrayal of cranky old man Norman Thayer, Jr. now that I’m getting older and crankier. The movie takes a very personal look at relationships, primarily Norman’s relationship to his loving wife, played by Katherine Hepburn; his relationship (such as it is) to his daughter Chelsea (played by real-life daughter Jane Fonda); and his relationship with grandson Billy Ray. The film is quite moving at times and actually pretty funny at others, as in the clip below, in which Chelsea’s new boyfriend, Bill Ray, gets to know Norman.
The Great Muppet Caper
While the musical numbers grow tiresome, the rest of this movie is pretty great. Unsurprisingly, this movie is better to me as an adult than it was when I was a child (back then I was a bigger fan of The Muppets take Manhattan). Five-year-old me was unable to appreciate the self-aware meta jokes, John Cleese’s performance, and the hilarity of Gonzo contemplating jumping out of a hot air balloon to his death.
Having seen this flick only once, in 1999, and remembering very little about it, other than that it made me laugh, I decided a quick refresher was in order and watched it again. Starting its first act with a depiction of boot camp and then plunging into a live-combat situation, Stripes has a lot of similarities with another war movie of this era, Full Metal Jacket. Unlike FMJ, Stripes features John Candy mud wrestling strippers and a Winnebago equipped with flame throwers and rocket launchers. Advantage: Stripes. Bill Murray at this time was perfecting slacker comedy and Harold Ramis is every bit a match for him.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
There’s nothing I can tell you about this classic that you shouldn’t already know. It’s almost universally acknowledged as one of the greatest movies of all time. Spielberg and Lucas introduced us to Indiana Jones, a hero so cool that we never even noticed he was named after a state that isn’t in the least bit exciting. Raiders has everything: action, humor, suspense, Nazi-punching, a thieving monkey, and a sword fight for the ages. You can feel the love for 1940’s film-making throughout. It’s like The Maltese Falcon with more face-melting.
What is your favorite film from 1981? Comment below.