Normally I don't go in for nostalgia, but I had an idea for an ongoing movie review series through 2009 that might work in that vein. The basic idea is something like Overlooked Movies of the '80s that Didn't Suck — hidden gems that got overshadowed by the porkbusters of the era.
Here's my tentative list:
Smithereens. Susan Seidelman's first outing as director, an indie production set in NYC that I first saw on video way back when and loved. Seidelman went straight from this to Desperately Seeking Susan (another nice little time capsule of the era, complete with Madonna in her prime). As abrasive as Susan Berman is in the lead role, she's also fascinating: there's no telling wondering what this talentless, luckless hanger-on is going to try next in order to snatch up a bit of downtown street cred. (Also available in a two-pack with an early Willem Dafoe flick, The Loveless, directed by Strange Days helmer Kathryn Bigelow.)
The Year of Living Dangerously. Long before Mel Gibson went over the cliff, he was dependably brooding and masculine — two qualities used to great effect in another movie that no longer gets much discussion. I rewatched it recently and was stunned to realize how deceptive it is: the real subject of the film creeps up on us in such an unexpected way that its revelation becomes the source of most of the movie's emotional weight.
Stormy Monday. I think I could watch Tommy Lee Jones in just about anything, and this is easily one of the oddest films he ever appeared in. Odd and lovely, and with a noir atmosphere that works even when the sun's out. Oh, and it gets massive bonus points for also having Melanie Griffith, and Sean Bean, and Sting, and Mike Figgis beind the camera.
Absolute Beginners. Another totally unsung piece of work, a pop pastiche from Fifties London, with Julien Temple at the helm and a game cast in front of the camera: Patsy Kensit, David Bowie, James Fox, Ray Davies, Anita Morris, Sade (the singer, not the flagellant). If you're a fan of "wow, how did they do that?" cinematography, check out that incredible opening shot; you ought to be hooked for the rest of the film by then.
Smash Palace. Roger Donaldson hasn't gotten much acclaim Stateside for his remarkable work back in his native New Zealand, and this stands as one of the best things he ever did, a heartbreaking story that starts simple and gets increasingly ghastly as it goes on. Check out the other flick in the two-fer as well, Sleeping Dogs.
Liquid Sky. Overshadowed later in the decade by other indie/"punk" breakout hits like Repo Man, this truly offbeat little flick about outsiders in an outsider subculture was itself created by an outsider twice over: Slava Tsukerman, a Muscovite who emigrated first to Israel and then to New York City. Drugs, sex, alienation, a creepy 8-bit digital soundtrack and Anne Carlisle in a nifty dual role all added up to a midnight hit.
Paris, Texas. I saw this when it first appeared on video and never forgot it, but its evocation of the great, empty spaces of the American West were doubly impactful after I had actually gone there. And it features Harry Dean Stanton, in a role so bleak and troubled I wondered if he was even still alive after watching it. (Note: I understand a Criterion edition of this may be in the works.)
Other possibilities include Cop (with James Woods), El Norte (especially when the Criterion version arrives!), Hollywood Shuffle, and maybe at least one Japanese production I haven't touched on yet in my existing reviews. Suggest something; I'm open-minded...