It was a year of few surprises at the movies because Hollywood, playing it safe in an unstable marketplace, released its usual quota of sequels and remakes. No one needed a crystal ball to foresee that Return of the Jedi would become 1983’s single megahit, grossing $245 million—a figure third only to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jedi’s predecessor Star Wars in film history. Perhaps the only unexpected blockbuster was the low-budget Flashdance, featuring a cast of unknowns. It started both a fashion and a marketing trend; the sound track recording was released before the movie itself, establishing a strong demand for the film. Otherwise, there was little to startle either the industry or the average moviegoer: neither the staggering success of E.T. nor the colossal failure of Heaven’s Gate in 1981.
But amid considerable dross, some films of real quality emerged—certainly enough to painlessly compile the 10 best films of the year. Those pictures are, in order of preference:
1. Night of the Shooting Stars A woman remembers when she was six years old and the Germans mined the houses in her village. This ecstatic, mysterious and profoundly disturbing film, directed by the Taviani brothers, has sequences as astonishing as any ever filmed.
2. Under Fire An exciting, brilliantly directed look (by Roger Spottiswoode) at the recent history of Nicaragua with Nick Nolte as a photojournalist caught in a moral dilemma as well as gunfire.
3. Local Hero Bill Forsyth’s magical comedy about a young man (Peter Riegert) who is sent to buy a small Scottish village for a big oil corporation and, instead, falls in love with the place. Endlessly charming.
4. The Moon in the Gutter JeanJacques Beineix’s surrealistic meditation on self, murder and romantic love—far ahead of its time.
5. Fanny and Alexander Ingmar Bergman’s beautiful swan song to the large screen, featuring a boisterous Dickensian family and two children who find themselves in a grim fairy tale.
6. The Big Chill Friends of a suicide victim, who were closely knit in the 1960s, spend a weekend together and discover how they—and the times— have changed. The entire cast is peerless.
7. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
The year’s most corrosive satire has no answers but plenty of hilarious suggestions.
8. Rumble Fish Teenage disaffection, magnificently photographed in black and white—a stylistic tour de force from Francis Coppola.
9. Say Amen, Somebody A feverishly infectious documentary on black gospel singers. A rip-roaring revel.
10. Zelig Woody Allen’s parable of the
pain of celebrity, portrayed in the person of Leonard Zelig, who has no identity of his own. Shot as a documentary, the film innovatively mixes its own fiction with actual documentary footage from the past. — L. O’T.
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