There is one thing to be said for 1985: There was no Cheech and Chong movie.
That means one less afternoon or evening ruined. One less reason to gripe about the fall of Western civilization. One more spot than usual to fill on a serious curmudgeon's list of the year's 10 worst movies.
Ten best, 10 worst. Who knows anymore? When "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" shows up on the same top 10 list as Akira Kurosawa's "Ran," as it did in USA Today recently, you might wonder how many more than 10 movies could there have been?
Grrr. If we had known movies would come to this, we would have stayed home and watched "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" instead of going out and getting our hopes up.
FOR THE RECORD - IMPERFECTIONS
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 12, 1986 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
In his Film Clips column New Year's Day, Jack Mathews attributed the commercially unsuccessful "Explorers" to Steven Speilberg, when, in fact, and as Alvin Epstein of Los Angeles and others pointed out, it was produced by Edward S. Feldman.
Looking back over the last 12 months for noteworthy movie items is like browsing the table for bargains during the last hour of a yard sale. A nice bookend, just one. A candelabra with a broken base. A dress shirt with the wrong initials on the pocket.
Still, the year had its moments. There was the fabulous Divine, playing both a winsome prairie hooker ("Lust in the Dust") and an evil gang lord ("Trouble in Mind"). There was Richard Gere doing "King David" as The Loin Ranger. There was the overcovered spectacle of a marriage of an ill-tempered minor movie star (Sean Penn) to a modestly gifted semi-pretty singer (Madonna).
On the screen, there was a dessert that ate people ("The Stuff"), monsters that attacked from the toilet ("Ghoulies"), and at least one title ("Morons From Outer Space") that seemed to refer to both its content and the people paying their way in to see it.
The year's most seriously flawed movie was called "Perfect."
Steven Spielberg continued to dominate the news. He had either a good year or a bad year, depending on what you care to talk about.
The wunderkind of populist movie culture, now 38 and a freshman father, sprinkled his Amblin Entertainment goods generously over three movie studios and one TV network, with results that ranged from a supernova hit ("Back to the Future" for Universal) to a megaflop ("Fandango" for Warner Bros.).
In between, there were the very successful "Goonies" for Warner Bros., the two duds, "Explorers" and "Young Sherlock Holmes," for Paramount, and "Amazing Stories"--the year's most oversold underachiever--for NBC.
Another Amblin/Universal movie, "The Money Pit," was sent back to director Richard Benjamin for further shooting and editing. "The Color Purple," which Spielberg directed himself for Warner Bros., got mixed reviews but is off to an apparently good box office and Academy Award campaign.
Film business was off dramatically during 1985, perhaps 10% by the time the final figures are in. Some analysts blame the boom in videocassette sales and neighborhood video rental shops. Others blame the poor quality of movies at the local theater houses. One or two think it is cyclical, like biorhythms or swallows returning to Capistrano.
An equation may help.
Bad movies + high ticket prices + sticky floors + people who talk without fear of usher interference + the option of watching movies at home = poor attendance.
Bad as things were, Hollywood was a buyers' market in 1985. Ted Turner bought MGM (or will, as soon as he comes up with the cash). Rupert Murdoch bought 20th Century Fox. The Coca-Cola Co., which already owned Columbia, bought Embassy for its fat TV library and sold its scrawny movie division to Dino De Laurentiis.
Everybody wants to make good money; not many are interested in making good movies.
Critics' top 10 lists indicate a serious trade deficit. Fewer than a third of the films singled out for year-end praise by Times critics Sheila Benson, Michael Wilmington and Kevin Thomas in Sunday's Calendar are American-made. And of those, only "Prizzi's Honor" was on all three lists.
It is not hard to come up with 10 favorite American-financed 1985 movies. (Here goes: "Prizzi's Honor," "Brazil," "Twice in a Lifetime," "Witness," "Runaway Train," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Mask," "Cocoon," "Re-Animator," and "The Purple Rose of Cairo"). But out of more than 140 Hollywood movies released?
A dark and lonely job indeed.
There were a few instances of crafty writing this year. The most quoted line was "Another cookie, my dear?" from "Prizzi's Honor." And Steve Guttenberg's comment after receiving a high-voltage love zap from extra-terrestrial Tawny Welch in "Cocoon" ("If this is foreplay, I'm a dead man") will be remembered fondly.
A personal favorite is "send more paramedics," uttered by a hungry zombie in "Return of the Living Dead," but you had to be there.
What counts as the year's best line, written for Clint Eastwood, was actually delivered by Chuck Norris.
"If I want your opinion," Norris told a thug in "Code of Silence," based on a rejected Dirty Harry script, "I'll beat it out of you."