1984 at the Movies: Five Forgotten Gems

1984 at the movies was a year of iconic franchises, sci-fi groundbreakers and comedy classics. “Ghostbusters” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” dominated at the box office while “Amadeus” took home the most Oscars including Best Picture. But in a year with such timeless movies as “The Terminator”, “Purple Rain” and “The Karate Kid”, some films were inevitably bound to be overlooked and underappreciated. Here are five forgotten gems from 1984 at the movies.

Against All Odds

Starring Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward, “Against All Odds” tells the tale of a burned out football player who is paid to locate the girlfriend of a malicious bookie. The downtrodden former athlete finds the girl in Mexico but when the two unexpectedly fall for each other, they both become targets of revenge. Against All Odds is based on the 1947 noir classic Out of the Past. The 1984 film falls short of its inspiration but it is still an incredibly sexy and suspenseful piece of cinema. It’s a thrilling ride and audiences will be gripped by the explosive love triangle dynamic. The film also boasts an exceptional soundtrack featuring “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” by Phil Collins which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Song.

Johnny Dangerously

Directed by Amy Heckerling, “Johnny Dangerously” is a hilarious lampoon of 1930’s gangster films. It stars Michael Keaton in the title role as a criminal that does all the wrong things for all the right reasons. Unlike “Once Upon a Time in America” from the same year, Johnny Dangerously is not a serious crime drama. In fact, Dangerously does not take itself seriously. It is silly but it’s also amusing. Keaton’s comedic chops are on full display while Joe Piscopo is easy to hate as the villain; evoking a Cagney-type distasteful disposition. With great supporting contributions from Maureen Stapleton, Danny DeVito and Peter Boyle, the film is both inventive and entertaining. But most of all, Johnny Dangerously offers a lighthearted take on a heavy genre.

The Pope of Greenwich Village

Adapted by Vincent Patrick from his novel of the same name, “The Pope of Greenwich Village” offers an insight into the grind of New York crime via two small time hoods who dream of making it big. The film stars Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts as cousins who try to cash in on an easy score and wind up on the wrong side of the mob. The Pope of Greenwich Village is intriguing and absorbing, especially in its use of New York City as a central character. The mode of narrative advancement and stylish design are wonderfully achieved with an unmistakable Scorsese pastiche. Patrick’s sharp screenplay highlights the story; the dialogue caught somewhere between the rhythmic phrasing of Elmore Leonard and frenetic imagery of Quentin Tarantino. A brilliant ensemble cast includes Burt Young, Kenneth McMillan, Jack Kehoe and Daryl Hannah. Geraldine Page was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role. But the heart of the film resides in the intricate interplay between Rourke and Roberts. Both actors give multidimensional performances and their burgeoning talents are palpable.

Racing With the Moon

This is a buddy movie in a year when the genre was not terribly popular. “Racing With the Moon” takes place in California in 1943 and focuses on two friends preparing for their deployment to the U.S. Marine Corps. The buddies in the movie also happen to be two of the greatest actors of their generation – Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage. 1984 saw a number of vibrant teenage blockbusters such as “Footloose”, “Revenge of the Nerds”, and “Sixteen Candles”. Racing With the Moon does not fall into that category, which is why it gets lost in the shuffle. This is not a coming of age story exactly. Rather, an account of two boys prolonging their youth, knowing they are going to have to grow up in a hurry. Penn and Cage are fantastic as the young men awaiting an uncertain fate. Their false bravados are beautifully chipped away to reveal exactly what they are, scared kids about to go off to war.

This Is Spinal Tap

Rob Reiner’s directorial debut “This Is Spinal Tap” is a mock documentary about an aging rock band. The film follows the fictional but believable band Spinal Tap as it embarks on their first American tour in six years. It quickly becomes obvious to all involved with the tour just how much their rock star stock has dwindled – obvious to everyone except them. This is Spinal Tap is now a genuine staple of pop culture. “Up to Eleven” has become universal lexicon. However, the film failed to initially make the impact that would later define it. According to Reiner, the concept of the picture went “over everybody’s head”. It ranked 129 in domestic gross at the box office and was only released in 206 theaters. People simply had no frame of reference for the genre and many audiences believed that Spinal Tap was a real band. Now a comedy classic, This is Spinal Tap is considered the quintessential “rockumentary” parody.

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