Back in the day, your friendly neighborhood blogger served time as a video rental clerk.
It was more than 15 years ago when I toiled away every other evening at the Painted Post, N.Y., store called Pharmhouse, a carbon copy of PharMor, that included a well-stocked video rental department.
Back then, we charged a bargain-basement 69-cents per video … and you got to keep them for two nights.
That, dear readers, was a great price, even back then.
The low prices, customer recommendations, the store’s massive library and my own research meant that I watched a lot of videos back then, and as such I have a certain fondness for the movies that came out during the decade of decadence.
Now this list isn’t going to feature “Wall Street,” “Platoon,” “The Untouchables,” “Do The Right Thing,” “The Right Stuff” or even a “Star Wars” movie.
Nope, I’m skipping by all those.
You’ve seen them, or at the very least, you know of their existence. Instead, these are movies that slipped from popular recognition for one reason or another.
As such, I offer you my Top 5 movie list:
Five unsung 1980s flicks
5: The Mosquito Coast (1986)
Harrison Ford, River Phoenix and Helen Mirren star in this drama as a family that’s uprooted by Ford’s character, Allie, and plopped down in the steamy coast of Belize. There, they aim to escape all that’s wrong with America. But Allie can’t leave well enough alone, as he uses his skills and talents to build, of all things, an ice-making factory.
Through the film, Allie’s idealist nature is transformed into a scary obsession as he pushes his son (Phoenix), family and the people of Belize to the brink.
Directed by Peter Weir, “The Mosquito Coast” is the story of how you just can’t escape yourself. Filmed in the lush jungles of Central America, its intensity is only matched by the performances of Ford and Phoenix.
4: Three O’Clock High (1987)
A modern coming-of-age movie mixed with a western, “Three O’Clock High” stars Casey Siemaszko as he tries to wriggle out of an after-school fight with a badass bully.
Filled with surreal scenes and interesting cinematography, the film stands apart from every other teen movie with its wit and your empathy for Jerry Mitchell, its wimpy lead.
In the end, we learn that courage, not violence is what ultimately redeems poor Jerry.
3: To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
Directed by William Friedkin, you know the guy who gave us “The French Connection,” “To Live and Die in L.A.” is a study in intensity. In the film, Secret Service agent Richard Chance (William L. Petersen) is on the hunt for Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe), a counterfieter responsible for the death of his mentor and partner.
Along the way, Chance crosses the line again and again in his obsession.
What’s notable about this film is that it steers clear of any sort of “Lethal Weapon”-style antics.
Instead, it’s more like “Miami Vice” without the flamingos, pastels and sockless leads. (In fact, IMDB.com says one of “Vice’s” producers sued Friedkin for similarities between the two.)
Like “Vice,” it’s also propelled along by a stunning New Wave-synth soundtrack by Wang Chung.
Yes, I’m serious. It’s really that good. I even own it on CD, and that was after my cassette tape wore out.
Aside from its meticulous attention to the details of counterfeiting, the film is capped by a fantastic reverse-filmed car chase along a California freeway and a crazy amount of side-switching double deals.
2: Vision Quest (1985)
Here’s another oft-overlooked teen movie. Matthew Modine stars as Louden Swain, a high school wrestler who decides to make his mark by grappling with the region’s toughest competitor. To do so, Louden has to drop two weight classes in time for the meet.
Along the way, Louden finds himself distracted by a beautiful boarder (Linda Fiorentino) his father has taken on.
From there, Louden finds himself torn between the two obsessions — his lust for a woman and his lust for fame.
Unlike most teen dramas, “Vision Quest” breaks away from a manufactured feel. The environments are mellow and moody, the dialogue is believable. And while it’s heaped with melodrama, you can’t help but get caught up in because Louden can afford to be distracted by such seemingly impossible pursuits. That’s what being a teenager is all about.
1: Miracle Mile (1988)
Even as the 1980s came to a close, the world still seemed at the brink of a nuclear war. “Miracle Mile,” with future “ER” star Anthony Edwards in the lead, takes that anxiety and gives it a countdown.
In the film, Edwards plays Harry, a fellow who’s just found the girl of his dreams. Everything seems like its going right until he hears a payphone ringing. He picks it up and a frantic caller explains that he’s just got word that the nuclear holocaust has begun, and Los Angeles is 70 minutes away from nuclear annihilation.
Once he’s confirmed the call is real, Harry makes a desperate bid to escape the bomb with his new love while Los Angeles descends into chaos around them.
Featuring a quirky script by a pretty much unknown writer-director, Miracle Mile shows just how quickly we can become savages. Likewise, it shows us just how quickly the meek can make a stand.
Despire Harry’s efforts, the impending doom, flashing lights, ticking clocks and frantic characters are what really make this flick so engrossing. It’s just the kind of movie you can watch and wonder “Is this how it’s going to all end?”