Narrowing an entire year's crop of films to five picks is very difficult and almost certain to leave out a bunch of excellent choices. After catching eight movies from 1984 during this marathon, I'm ready to put my cards on the table. This year offers a good mix of light-hearted entertainment and heavier fare, and neither will dominate this list. Looking at the 40 movies that I've seen, I struggled to determine which truly represented my favorite choices. There are lots of strong picks, but like they say in Highlander (sort of), there can be only five! Actually, there will be seven described below, but who's counting? Let's check out these picks!
Honorable Mentions: Ghostbusters, The Killing Fields
I can sense the angry replies even as I type this entry. This placement as an honorable mention is not a slam against Ivan Reitman's comedy classic, which I do enjoy a lot. However, Ghostbusters falls just short for me because of the strength of the remaining picks. It has great scenes and dialogue but is inches away from the next few picks. I watched The Killing Fields for the first time during this marathon and was intrigued by its powerful story of journalists in Cambodia, especially Haing S. Ngor's Dith Pran. It's a historical epic that works because it brings a human connection to the devastating cleansing under Pol Pot's reign.
5. The Karate Kid
Despite my cynical side pushing against it, I'll admit to my pure enjoyment of this underdog story. Even after repeat viewings, I'm still pulling for Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) in the final tournament against the nasty Cobra Kai foes. The heart of the story is the father-son relationship between Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and Daniel, and it amazingly overcomes the cliches. Unlike its sequels (especially the ridiculous Part III), the original works because Daniel's such a likable and believable guy. There are plenty of classic moments and great lines ("Get him a body bag!"), and the end result is a highly entertaining movie. Also, how can a movie with the ridiculously great "You're the Best" song in it not be a classic?
I watched this 1984 Best Picture winner for the first time during this marathon, and I'm still thinking about F. Murray Abraham's chilling portrayal of Salieri. While Mozart (Tom Hulce) is the title character, the story is really about the jealousy from a composer who doesn't have the same talent. This raises the film to so much more than just your standard biopic and turns is into a morality play. Milos Foreman's grand direction brings the right scope to the epic film but doesn't lose the personal connections with the characters in the process.
3. Paris, Texas
One of Wim Wenders' best films, this sad but captivating picture provides a stunning look at regret and its effects years later. Harry Dean Stanton is perfect in the lead role of Travis Henderson, a shell of a man who's discovered wandering in the desert with no clue about his identity. This deliberately paced story never drags while he slowly remembers his past life with his wife and son. It's the type of movie that sneaks up on you and becomes gripping by the time Travis reunites with his long-lost love. Sam Shepard's excellent screenplay avoids the melodramatic obstacles and remains unpredictable right to the end.
2. Blood Simple
This debut film from the Coen Brothers is a wonderful throwback to the film-noir genre without feeling like an imitator. The twist-filled story has many of the qualities that would make the directors household names in the future. There are some violent moments, but the true draw is their unique style and ability to surprise the audience. Also set in Texas like my previous choice, this movie stars Frances McDormand in an early role as a woman who might be cheating on her husband (John Getz). Dan Hedaya and the great M. Emmet Walsh shine in supporting roles in this unpredictable gem.
1. The Terminator
After including James Cameron's sci-fi classic as #1 in my Top 5 Time Travel Movies list, I'm thinking that I need to create a Filmspotting-like Pantheon of ineligible picks. Even considering the Oscar winners and many entertaining films released during 1984, this white-knuckle thriller remains my top choice. There are some hokey elements that don't hold up as well like Sarah's roommate and her boyfriend, but they disappear once the story gets rolling. Considering the budget limitations compared to the sequels, Cameron generates remarkable suspense from an intriguing set-up that continues to spawn new stories today.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about this list below in the comments section. You should also check out the archive of past Top 5 Lists if you've missed them. There's a new one every Friday that relates to that week's posts.