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1981 films

Related: film - 1981 - 1980s films

Films: Ms. 45 (1981) - Evil Dead (1981) - The Howling (1981) - Mommie Dearest (1981) - Possession (1981) - Tales of Ordinary Madness (1981)

More films

  1. Beau Pere (1981) - Bertrand Blier [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    This daring and controversial film by Bertrand Blier (Too Beautiful For You, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs) pushes the lines between love, lust and morality. After the sudden death of his wife, Remy (Patrick Dewaere), a burnt out piano player, is forced to take care of his 14-year-old stepdaughter (Ariel Besse) who, unbeknownst to him, has fallen in love with him. The two grow closer and what begins as a relationship between a girl and a man, ends up being a relationship between a woman and a man. [...]

  2. Coup de Torchon - Bertrand Tavernier (1981) [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    An inspired rendering of Jim Thompson's pulp novel Pop. 1280, Bertrand Tavernier's Coup de torchon (Clean Slate) deftly transplants the story of an inept police chief- turned-heartless killer and his scrappy mistress from the American South to French West Africa. Featuring pitch-perfect performances by Philippe Noiret and Isabelle Huppert, this striking neo-noir straddles the line between violence and lyricism with dark humor and visual elegance, perfectly captured by Criterion's glorious new anamorphic transfer.

  3. Pixote (1981) - Hector Babenco [DVD, Amazon US]
    Hector Babenco, who went on to direct the acclaimed Kiss of the Spiderwoman, made an international splash with this gritty portrait of juvenile poverty and street crime in Brazil. Pixote (Portuguese slang for "Peewee") is the name of a chubby-cheeked 10-year-old runaway played by real-life slum kid Fernando Ramos da Silva. He's a natural, creating a childlike and vulnerable character left emotionally hardened and morally adrift by his brutal experiences. In an overcrowded São Paulo "reform school," a cross between a prison and an army barracks, he learns the hard facts of survival as he watches gangs prey on weaker kids, and the cops and guards abuse, beat, and even murder their charges. Pixote escapes and turns to street crime in Rio with a small gang, but his dreams of big money and a good life are dashed as they play at crime in a violent kill-or-be-killed world. Equal parts exposé and social drama, Pixote dramatizes the plight of millions of children who live on the streets or get ground up in the system that breeds hardened criminals from juvenile delinquents. Like Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados, one of Babenco's inspirations, this occasionally melodramatic portrait of poverty is shocking and affecting, but no more so than da Silva's own life story. After completing the film he sank back into poverty and crime, and died on the streets. His life became the subject of the 1996 film Who Killed Pixote?, which showed that despite the outcry created by Pixote, Brazil has done little to alleviate these conditions. --Sean Axmaker for Amazon.com

  4. Scanners (1981) - David Cronenberg [Amazon US]
    David Cronenberg's 1981 horror film is a darkly paranoid story of a homeless man (Stephen Lack) mistakenly believed to be insane, when in fact he can't turn off the sound of other people's thoughts in his telepathic mind. Helped by a doctor (Patrick McGoohan) and enlisted in a program of "scanners"--telepaths who also can will heads to explode--he becomes involved in a battle against nefarious forces. A number of critics consider this to be Cronenberg's first great film, and indeed it has a serious vision of destiny that rivals some of the important German expressionist works from the silent cinema. Lack is very good as the odd hero, and McGoohan is effectively eccentric and chilly as the scientist who saves him from the street, only to thrust him into a terrible struggle. --Tom Keogh for Amazon.com

  5. Pennies From Heaven (1981) - Herbert Ross [Amazon.com]
    Steve Martin plays Arthur, a '30s-era traveling sheet-music salesman whose marriage is bleak and who embarks on a fateful affair with a teacher (an amazing Bernadette Peters). Arthur's dreary world is juxtaposed with Busby Berkeley-styled musical production numbers that showcase Martin's and Peters's versatility. Arthur's world is desperate, sad, and only the more so when directly compared to the musical numbers. But it does work and it is affecting. This dark, yet simultaneously ebullient film written by Dennis Potter is capable of presenting such polar-opposite visuals and emotion. Until this film, Martin was best known for his comedic albums, and for 1979's The Jerk. In other words, Pennies' disappointing box office can be accredited to audiences' inability to accept a dark Martin in the early 1980s. If Martin's dancing ability comes as a surprise, an even greater revelation is Christopher Walken in a sexy stripping tap-dancing number. Bob Hoskins played Arthur in the 1978 British miniseries of the same name. --N.F. Mendoza

  6. Cutter's Way (1981) - Ivan Passer [Amazon US]
    This Ivan Passer movie--a marvel of dark, brooding cinema--almost didn't make it into theaters. The film was nearly dumped by its studio because its pessimistic story seemed too downbeat. Which, in fact, is part of the appeal: the way it gets to the heart of a group of people who have given up, but then find something that motivates them to go on. In this case, it's greed: Cutter (Jeff Bridges), a burnt-out gigolo, and his pal Bone (John Heard), a disfigured Vietnam veteran, get involved in a plot involving corruption and murder. Bone has proof that a powerful businessman is behind the killing and wants to be paid off to keep quiet; instead he buys them more trouble than he can imagine. Bridges, as always, is superb--and Heard is downright scary. --Marshall Fine for amazon.com

  7. Taxi Zum Klo (1981) - Frank Ripploh [Amazon US]
    My motives for this review are selfish, since my life changed the day I saw this film (January 5th, 1984). Sitting in the theatre as an adolescent, enthralled by this film, I came out to myself and started the process of letting the rest of the world know who I am. I recently watched the film again, and realized that what is most amazing about this film is the blurring of the boundary between drama and documentary. We see Frank Ripploh enacting significant events in his life, even hooking up (and breaking it off again, this time for the camera) with his ex Bernd Broaderup for the sake of cinematic verissimilitude. It is sometimes harrowing, if not downright disturbing to watch, not because the sex scenes make most people (especially straight people) uncomfortable, but because the viewer feels like a voyeur. Everything about this film is "amateur," in the sense of being done for love instead of profit. We tend to disdain things "amateur" in our society, but a film about real people and the lives they lead cannot be "done" by professionals (Hollywood doesn't GET this). I think this is an amazing film, and none of the usual criteria for "reviewing" this film apply. --David Kaminsky, amazon.com

  8. Quest for Fire (1981) - Jean-Jacques Annaud [Amazon.com]
    Quest for Fire is so detailed in its depiction of prehistoric man that it might have been made by time-traveling filmmakers. Instead it's a bold and timeless experiment by visionary director Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Bear), inviting scientific debate while presenting a fascinating, imaginary glimpse of humankind some 80,000 years ago. Using diverse locations in Kenya, Scotland, and Canada, Annaud tells the purely visual story of five tribes (some more advanced than others) who depend on fire for survival. They "steal" fire from nature, but the actual creation of fire remains elusive, lending profound mystery and majesty to the film's climactic, real-time display of fire-making ingenuity. Employing primitive language created by novelist Anthony Burgess and body language choreographed by anthropologist Desmond Morris, a unique ensemble of actors push the envelope of their profession, succeeding where they easily could've failed. They're carnal, violent, funny, curious, and intelligent; through them, and through the eons, we can recognize ourselves. --Jeff Shannon for Amazon.com

  9. Eureka (1981) - Nicolas Roeg [Amazon.com]
    Anyone expecting conventional storytelling from director Nicolas Roeg will be disappointed by this tale of fate, wealth, greed, and obsession, but if you're familiar with Roeg's work, you'll know that Eureka deserves a place among such equally puzzling Roeg films as Walkabout, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Insignificance. Indeed, with its esteemed cast, international locations, and enough thematic ambition to keep things vitally intriguing, Eureka qualifies as Roeg's last grand effort; after this, Roeg settled for more workmanlike projects, abandoning the kind of daring (if not altogether successful) filmmaking that Eureka represents. This is ostensibly the story of a Klondike prospector (Gene Hackman) who strikes it rich, only to fear that his daughter (played by Roeg's wife, Theresa Russell) and son-in-law (Rutger Hauer) are scheming not only for his wealth but his very soul. Greedy investors (Joe Pesci, Mickey Rourke) are also swooping down for Hackman's fortune, but this is no overblown episode of Dallas or Dynasty. In Roeg's hands--and through the lens of Roeg's mesmerizing camera--Eureka explores Hackman's connection to unexplained supernatural forces, to nature itself, and perhaps even to the continuum of the universe. Which is to say, this is a confounding and convoluted film by any "normal" standard, and by any measure it can hardly be considered a masterpiece. And yet, those mysterious forces are oddly compelling, and Roeg focuses their energy in this strange but beautiful film, reminding us why respected actors would readily contribute to his vision. --Jeff Shannon for amazon.com

  10. The Beyond (Limited Edition) (1981) - Lucio Fulci [Amazon.com]
    Lucio "King of the Eyeball Gag" Fulci made his name with a series of gory, gooey horror epics, and The Beyond stands above all as his outré masterpiece. The largely incoherent plot has something to do with a turn-of-the-century curse and a doorway to hell in the cellar of an old New Orleans hotel. Fulci shows his usual sensitivity with wooden acting, clumsy dialogue, and buckets of oozing blood and pus, but don't let that get in the way of enjoying this mad tale of zombies from hell invading Earth and eating their way through a cast of humans: crucified martyrs, blind visionaries, creepy hotel handymen, befuddled cops, and a plucky pair of heroes desperately fleeing a horde of hungry undead. The blood-red art direction is eerily beautiful, and Fulci's relentless long takes, punctuated by jolting shock cuts and eruptions of grotesque violence, create a mood of sheer paranoid horror right down to the final, mind-bending image. And don't forget the Fulci claim to fame: eyes are gouged out, eaten away, melted with acid, and (shudder) popped out by a spike through the back of the skull. Yech! If you dare ignore such piddling details as narrative logic and let yourself get carried away on the creepy visuals, it's a deliciously stylish treat, an edgy bit of gothic gore pitched in all its bone-crunching, flesh-ripping, organ-splatting glory. This sadistic, sanguinary hell-spawn tale is for gore-hounds only.--Amazon.com

Books on film

  1. The Celluloid Closet : Homosexuality in the Movies - Vito Russo [Amazon US]
    When Vito Russo published the first edition of The Celluloid Closet in 1981, there was little question that it was a groundbreaking book. Today it is still one of the most informative and provocative books written about gay people and popular culture. By examining the images of homosexuality and gender variance in Hollywood films from the 1920s to the present, Russo traced a history not only of how gay men and lesbians had been erased or demonized in movies but in all of American culture as well. Chronicling the depictions of gay people such as the "sissy" roles of Edward Everett Horton and Franklin Pangborn in 1930s comedies or predatory lesbians in 1950s dramas (see Lauren Bacall in Young Man with a Horn and Barbara Stanwyck in Walk on the Wild Side), Russo details how homophobic stereotypes have both reflected and perpetrated the oppression of gay people. In the revised edition, published a year before his death in 1990, Russo added information on the new wave of independent and gay-produced films--The Times of Harvey Milk, Desert Hearts, Buddies--that emerged during the 1980s. --Michael Bronski, Amazon.com

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