Writing by Isa Strother
My favourite movies come from other times—times I can’t even remember because I wasn’t there. Yet the movies leave me with a sense of nostalgia that gives me a bitter-sweet feeling of longing for something that was never mine to begin with. Movies are my time machine, each one a capsule to something different, wonderful, and new to me in its age.
I can relate to the characters from other times just as much, if not more, than the ones from movies released only months ago. The feelings portrayed in the 80s are just as relatable as those from the 2000s and 60s alike. Some of the problems the characters face have changed, but some have not. The ones that haven’t changed are the ones that still resonate with teens today, and will continue to wrench hearts (think, “I can’t,” from Edward Scissorhands, 1990) for many years to come.
I watch movies that come from the 1930s to the present, but my favourite 20 years of film probably started between 1980 and 1999. I can’t say for sure why these 20 years appeal to me, but I can’t help feeling that I belonged there with the gang in The Breakfast Club (1985) or fighting alongside Neo in The Matrix (1999). Two totally different movies with totally different stories, but both leave the same feeling of longing to be there…to be a part of it.
If I try and choose my favourite movies from back then (though it wasn’t so awfully long ago), I will sound like a fool muddling through oobleck in some grade school science lab, but as I am no stranger to sounding like a fool, I won’t shy away from such a challenge. I will try and explain the appeal—the reason behind my adoration—of each movie, and I only hope that you will watch them (if you haven’t already!) and find your own reasons to love the films from the 80s and 90s.
Now, in no particular order, the list of my top three movies from the 20 years of cinematic glory before I was even an idea in the backs of my parent’s heads.
Number One: Heathers, 1989
I have always loved dark comedy and Heathers is on point in this area (as well as many others). When I turned 15, it was one of the first movies I watched that (at my mother’s recommendation) had been off limits before this oh-so-grown-up age of halfway to 30.
The movie sports interesting characters ranging from Veronica Sawyer, the girl who just wanted to fit in and for everyone to get along; and Jason “JD” Dean, the (somewhat) psychotic teenage son of a psychopathic man who could never choose just one place to settle down (probably due to the fact that there was a trail of blood in his wake) to the Heathers; the pre-Mean Girls in-crowd who all just happened to be christened “Heather,” and all the way down to Martha Dunnstock, the overweight, one-time best friend of Veronica Sawyer before she was seduced to the dark side by the power of a red scrunchie.
The story itself is very dark, with triggers such as suicide and murder all pulled together into a wonderful satirical piece illustrating the social hierarchy and constraints in an American high school. Veronica falls for the bad-boy JD and eventually ends up following him on his crazed crusade against social constructs and anyone who made her cry over her previous years of high school, until it all goes out with a bang in the final, touching scene.
Number Two: Edward Scissorhands, 1990
Everyone knows what it feels like to not quite fit in, and the charmingly awkward hero of Edward Scissorhands feels it in far more than most, with his “scissorhands” making it impossible for Edward, the creation of a crazy inventor who wanted a son, to ever fulfill his dreams of being “normal.”
Loneliness and feelings of not belonging are feelings everyone understands and sympathises with, even if they have never been in Edward’s unique situation. Every moment in the movie is somehow relatable, from his awkward entrance into a suburban family, his rise to fame, and his fall and feelings of rejection as people turn against him after a series of unfortunate events. Most of all, everyone knows and sympathizes with the crush that Edward develops on his suburban housemate, Kim, and how in the end they could never be together.
It’s a movie I would recommend everyone see.
Number Three: The Breakfast Club, 1985
There is someone for everyone in The Breakfast Club, whether you are an old man who doesn’t believe in teens anymore or one of the five kids given detention on a cold Saturday morning, ranging from a princess to a brain to an athlete to a basket case to a criminal.
Taking place over only a day, the five seemingly-totally-different teens find ways to connect and interact with each other that they would never have thought to find if they hadn’t been forced together by the unhappily and unwittingly aging principal, Richard Vernon. The children find advice from a janitor, run from authority, and in the end become friends; I would like to imagine that even after the weekend-ruining punishment passed, they still spoke in the halls.
Number Four: Gleaming the Cube, 1989
While this is not as well written or highly esteemed as the other films on this list, I still really enjoyed this nearly-90s movie. It was filled with skate tricks I know I will never be able to do myself, and a storyline that has just the right amount of mystery to cheese factor.
It follows the bad-boy Brian as he tries to figure out the cause behind his adopted brother’s framed suicide in a vigilante-like way and ends up making new friends, getting his family back together, and getting wrapped up in a criminal underworld, while managing to always keep a skateboard by his side. A funny film, often in an unintended way; it has definitely made my favourites list.
Number Five: Labyrinth, 1986
Starring the one and only David Bowie, this musical fantasy is one of my all time favourite movies, regardless of release date. It was my scary movie of choice when I was 9, and now it’s the family-friendly Halloween film I suggest every year, and hope that we watch it on the projector while eating ridiculous amounts of candy.
The whimsical female lead, Sarah, comes from the real world where she is just a teenage girl who wants to meet the Goblin King and do dramatized reading in the park, but instead ends up rushing home to babysit her baby brother. After summoning the Goblin King (Bowie) to take her baby brother, she goes on an epic adventure through the labyrinth to find her baby brother with the help of some unexpected creatures.
And with that magical film, I bring this to an end with a last note to my family for keeping me away from the Barbie films when I was a little princess wanna-be and giving me Funny Face and Freaky Friday instead. Thanks, guys.