Once Upon a Time in America

Any fan of spaghetti Westerns will immediately recognize Sergio Corbucci’s name. When you then discover that the score was done by Ennio Morricone, you’ll come to the same conclusion I did and realize that you are in for a treat. The Scorcese-eqsue length of films wasn’t popular during the 80s where most movies made nearly all of their money in the theater, not post-release. Due to its length and a mistake in the sequence of events for its theater release, OUTA was a box office flop. This is probably why the film has at most a cult following to this day.

Once Upon a Time in America tracks the lifespan of a group of Jewish hoodlums in New York city, beginning in the early 1900s. It has parallels to Goodfellas in the sense that you get to see the “origin story”, tracking the gangsters throughout their career: the ups, the downs and everything that happens along the way. On that note, fans of Casino will recognize several familiar faces in Once Upon a Time in America: Pesci, DeNiro and James Woods. It’s a great film to watch on a long plane ride, or if you need 3 hours or so to kill. As a final thought, OUT has a very interesting ending, which was the subject of much debate as it really leaves the interpretation up to the viewer. If you have seen this film or just finished watching it, check out my own analysis of the final ending scene and let me know what you think. 

To Live and Die in LA

The sign of an excellent movie is a musical score to accompany it, which is one of the reasons To Live and Die in LA made my list. After all, how could you go wrong when Wang Chung performs the entire musical score? At it’s core, To Live and Die in LA is a revenge movie where the so called “good guys” go out of their way to bend the rules, creating a moral quandary of how far one should go to avenge a fallen friend and colleague.

I’ve always felt that William Peterson was one of the most underrated actors of the ‘80s, To Live and Die in LA being an excellent example where he plays the a zealous secret service agent, bent on avenging the death of his partner. William DeFoe, who is quite versatile in the sense that he can equally play good and bad guys, plays an excellent villain. Soundtrack aside, the plot twists and constant action make this one a film that has truly stood the test of time. 

Star 80

Based on the true story of a small town girl who quickly rises to Playboy notiertiry, Star 80 chronicles the life of a naive woman, more or less forced into stardom by her jealous and mentally unstable boyfriend. 

Eric Roberts plays Paul, whose character  is more or less a pimp. He begins courting the naive the naive Dorothy, played by Mariel Hemingway. As Dorothy adjusts to her new found stardom, she soon sees Paul for what he is, which obviously does not end well for either party!

Man Hunter

Those who’ve seen Silence of the Lambs wrongly assume it was the film debut of Hannibal Lectur’s character, which is false as he has a small yet important role in Man Hunter. Most of those who recognize this movie’s name are most likely thinking of the 2002 remake Red Dragon, which doesn’t hold a candle to the original.

Man Hunter is yet another William Petersen film that made my list, but trust me it’s there for a reason 🙂 In Man Hunter, Petersen stars as Will Graham who is known for his ability to sniff out serial killers. Will is persuaded to catch a crazy prowler who has an uncanny knowledge of his prey before attacking them. Brian Cox stars as Hannibal Lecter with Tom Noonan playing the bad guy, Francis Dollarhyde. Finally, a small role is played by the late Dennis Farina, of Snatch notoriety. Man Hunter sets a great pace for its time, has a decent soundtrack to boot and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the film. 

Red Dawn

This film holds special significance as my Latin teacher showed it to us on one of the last days of class. Red Dawn has an amazing premise: what would have happened if the Cold War turned hot in the middle of class, and what would you have done? Although I wasn’t a teenager during the Cold War, I can only imagine that many a bored student must have had this fantasy during a math or history lecture. It’s a shame the 2012 remake was such a flop as I could easily think of several ways to make a much more compelling reboot.   

Starring both Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze, Red Dawn chronicles an underground resistance to the Red occupation of America. Borrowing their school mascot, the Wolverines, they take incredible risks to fend back the occupation of their country. The film was an excellent premise for its time and as I’ve already mentioned, with the right direction I think a remake could do an even better job of catching the film’s spirit.  

Blow Out

I’m surprised as to why so few people know of this film which I personally didn’t watch for the first time until a few years ago. Fans of conspiracy theories will enjoy the premise, which is about a man who was simply at the wrong place, at the wrong time. As he begins to put the pieces together, he comes to the realization that he’s stumbled upon something far deeper than he ever imagined.

John Travolta stars as Jack, the protagonist who does an excellent job of playing the “average guy turned hero”. John Lithgow who I enjoy watching in this decade and the 90s, plays the bad guy, Burke. 


Brubaker is essentially a film commentary on inhumane prison conditions that were prevalent in many parts of America throughout the last century. The movie places a difficult moral question to the viewers: what is the minimum level of treatment convicts should expect to receive and is it moral to exploit their labor for profit? 

Starring Robert Redford as the shaggy Brubaker himself, his unkempt hair is as the changes he brings about as the new warden, causing a stir throughout the small town he relocated to. Morgan Freeman fans will also enjoy one of the few films where he is neither playing God nor a saintly character, rather a mentally unstable convict.

Ms 45

Another film I only recently discovered, apparently Ms 45 was quite controversial when it was initially released in theaters due to the quite graphic nature of the initial scenes. I won’t describe them here but if you are looking for a pick me up movie to brighten your day, then I’d recommend the latest Wil Smith movie over Ms. 45.

For fans of Death Wish, in Ms 45 you get to watch the same concept but with a female protagonist as the movie also takes place in New York City and involves quite horrific tragedy brought on by complete strangers. Unlike modern films, which turn women into unrealistic ninjas who always recover from pain or rarely make any mistakes, the plotline of Ms 45 toes the line of believability for it to be an excellent albeit disturbing movie. 

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