Why 1982 was the best year in film history
All week long our writers will debate: Which was the greatest film year of the past half century. Click here for a complete list of our essays.
1982 is the Best Movie Year Ever. How do I know this? Well, it's not just that it contains an absolutely perfect comedy with the name "My Favorite Year." It's that it contains so many different movies that you could consider the best ever of their particular type.
In "E.T.," it has the best kids movie ever (and perhaps Steven Spielberg's best movie ever, depending on your preferred flavor of Spielberg). In "Tootsie," it has perhaps the best movie comedy ever (the AFI ranked "Some Like It Hot" one spot higher in its top 100 comedies list, but since this year also has "Victor/Victoria," I say you combine the two gender-benders to outmuscle Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis). In "Diner," it has the best movie about young men grappling with adulthood. In "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," it has perhaps the best comedy about high school social mores, and it definitely has the best teen stoner character in Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli.
1982 gave us the best "Star Trek" movie by far in "Wrath of Khan," the best of the "Rocky" sequels in "Rocky III" ("IV" has Rocky ending communism, but it's not nearly as good a movie), a design of the future in "Blade Runner" that nearly every sci-fi movie made since has been trying to copy and the movie (and scene) that made Eddie Murphy into a superstar in "48 Hrs."
With "Sophie's Choice," it has Meryl Streep's best dramatic performance. With "The Verdict," it has Paul Newman's. Streep won the Oscar, but Newman didn't, because he was stuck in the most stacked Best Actor field of all time, where it seems outrageous that he didn't win, but also that Dustin Hoffman didn't win for "Tootsie," and that Peter O'Toole didn't win for the comic performance of his career (and the funniest drunk in movie history) in "My Favorite Year," or even that Lemmon couldn't so much as sniff the win for "Missing." (And though "Gandhi," the inevitable Best Picture winner, is for the most part a tedious awards bait biopic, Ben Kingsley wasn't exactly undeserving in the performance that trumped those other gentlemen.)
The '80s in film are generally looked on as a synthetic, blockbuster-focused era that threw away all the promise offered by the '70s. But this was early on in the decade, when blockbusters like "E.T." could still be passion projects, and when there wasn't nearly as much stratification between highbrow and lowbrow as would come later in that decade, or even today.
Look, if you don't believe me, here are some scenes from 1982 that will give you a sense of just how much the magic of the movies, in all its forms, was on display during my favorite year.
In fact, let's start with "My Favorite Year," with O'Toole's swashbuckling movie star's panicked reaction to discovering he'll be on live TV:
Or how about E.T. and Elliott making the hearts of children fly as high as their bicycle:
Try to keep a dry eye as Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk say goodbye:
Want rhetoric? We've got rhetoric! How about Rutger Hauer showing you the soul of a replicant:
Or Conan telling us what is best in life:
You want romance? Try the often-imitated climax to "An Officer and a Gentleman":
Here's Murphy becoming a star in "48 Hrs":
Or here's Dustin Hoffman's character going waaaaay off script during a live "Tootsie" broadcast:
And if you don't agree with me that this is the Best Movie Year Ever, my response may be something along the lines of what Spicoli tells Mr. Hand after being sent to the front office:
Other pieces in this series: