Aliens - The original Alien is hailed as one of the best films of its genre. It was shocking, subversive and wickedly haunting. Few people could topple the challenge of making a film that could equal that first one, but James Cameron brought some new elements to the table which led to a film that is often spoken in the same breath as Godfather Part 2 and The Empire Strikes Back. Aliens works as a sequel by further developing the survivor of the first film, as well as furthering the mythology of the alien itself. If that had been all, it still would stand as a good movie but just merely be a sequel to Alien. No. What Aliens does is infuse other layers that set it apart as its own film, while continuing the narrative set up in the first movie.
Aliens is also a film about mothers (which was the film's scripted title at one point). Much of the film can be viewed as an allegory for motherhood and ends with a conflict between two mothers. The film is also a metaphor to the Vietnam war. It is interesting to pair this film with Rambo: First Blood Part 2 because the two films (both scripted by Cameron, and written simultaneously) are both expressing long held responses to the conflict in Vietnam. Where Rambo is very much a revisionist's fantasy, Aliens is a rather transparent retelling of the war from the American perspective. One unfortunate thing that happens when you take a race of people and reduce them to being viscous animals through the allegory is that the film's politics get a little cringey. That said, Aliens is a masterpiece of Action, Sci-Fi and Sequel cinema that earned Sigourney Weaver an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. There are two cuts of this film. See the director's cut, which is infinitely better at setting up character motivation and building the tension.
A Better Tomorrow - This action/crime thriller has a reputation for being excessively violent, but was also Hong Kong's most successful film at the time. It made its star Chow Yun Fat a household name and put John Woo on the map as a rising talent in the action genre and invented the action sub-genre of Gun Fu (which still is popular today in the John Wick films).
The film is centered on an ex-con who tries to break ties with his old gang syndicate and reconcile his relationship with his brother, a cop working to bust gangs. The film is oozing with creativity, slick action, smooth dialogue and a gripping climax. This is one of the films that lent influence to director Quentin Tarantino in making Reservoir Dogs as well as paving the way for Hard Boiled and Infernal Affairs, which Martin Scorsese re-adapted into The Departed.
Castle in the Sky - Hayao Miyazaki had hit success with The Castle of Cagliostro and Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind prior to making this film, but this was his first genuine masterwork. The film tells the story of a boy who discovers a young girl floating in the air who is from a mystical land called Laputa and is heiress to the floating castle in the sky. The two are being perused by gang of sky pirates who are after her treasure and an evil man who wants to exploit Laputa's many technological gifts.
The film is pure adventure storytelling and offers as a great entry point to the works of Miyazaki who would go on to receive Oscars for his contributions to animated storytelling and develop a strong working relationship with John Lasseter and Disney.
Critters - This film is a fun, edgy little gem of a guilty pleasure. Essentially a knock off of Gremlins, this film has fun with its B-Movie premise. The critters (or Krites as they are known in the film) descend their stolen ship on a small farming town and wreak havoc on the townspeople. A pair of otherworldly bounty hunters are in close pursuit and are trying to stop the swell of their numbers before the town is overrun by the evil creatures.
There are some inventive scenes with the bounty hunters and how the aliens attack which help to elevate the film. What really sells the film, though, is how every performer is fully committed to the work. Dee Wallace and Scott Grimes give especially strong performances and the film manages to harness the, admittedly lame, premise into being a tension fueled thrill ride of small town terror.
Little Shop of Horrors - Ever want to watch a musical about a mutant, alien plant that forces a worker in a struggling plant shop to feed it fresh human flesh? If not, you are outside your mind. This film is a fun re-working of Roger Corman's non-musical, straight horror film of the same name. The music in the film is lovely and written by the man who would go on to provide the music for The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, and the music here is every bit as classic as those works. The performances are great, especially from Steve Martin who plays a sadistic dentist and Bill Murray who is his patient who gets off on pain. There are two versions of this film. I much prefer the theatrical cut, which plays a little more Hollywood and safe, but if you prefer your mayhem to be ramped up, check out director Frank Oz's (yes, Yoda directed this) cut of the film on dvd.
Best Picture Winner : Platoon - I have not seen this film, but I hear it is an experience.
Biggest Box Office : Top Gun - Top Gun has a certain charm to it that is inescapable and very much of the era. Tom Cruise's star power and Val Kilmer's charisma elevates the film to a watchable level.