Some movies are inseparable from songs that appear in them. Think “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds from The Breakfast Club – when anyone in my generation (and those that come after me I would presume) hears that song, I would guess that they immediately think of this. The song is almost completely inseparable from the film. In the same vein, it’s hard to separate Jackson Browne‘s “Somebody’s Baby” and the essential role it plays in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. For those of you who don’t know what the film is about, it follows the trials and tribulations of a set of early 1980s high schoolers at Ridgemont High in Ridgemont, California, as they navigate life situations. Somewhat centered on brother and sister combo Brad (Judge Reinhold) and Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) Hamilton, we see their peaks and valleys as the cast of splendid characters swirl around them, floating in and out of their lives. With arguably the most memorable stoner role of all-time, Sean Penn absolutely shines as surfer and general nuisance Jeff Spicoli. With all-star cast that has some of the first appearances in film by people like Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards, this film is hard to forget. That it was the first film (based on his own novel) written by Cameron Crowe makes it all the better.
Linda and Stacy, maneaters of Ridgemont High.
“Somebody’s Baby” plays a fairly crucial role in this film and applies almost exclusively to Stacy Hamilton. A freshman, Stacy is intent on learning the ways of beguiling boys. Under the tutelage of her best friend Linda (the unforgettable Phoebe Cates), Stacy sets forth on a mission to not only secure a boyfriend, but to lose her virginity and blossom into a fully operational sexual being as well. It all starts while working at the most hopping pizza place in the Ridgemont Mall, Perry’s, a hot customer named Ron Johnson (D.W. Brown) comes in. The girls at Perry’s fight over who gets to be his waitress. It’s Stacy’s section, so she’s the one. Being the slimy kind of guy he is, Ron immediately hits on her and of course gets her phone number (she’s 15 even though she tells him she’s 19 and he’s 26). So when they make a date for later, what can they actually do together? Ron immediately suggests going to “The Point.” One knows from so many other teen movies that any place called “The Point” can only lead to one thing – SEX. He clearly had one thing on his mind from the outset. And that’s precisely what happens – Stacy loses her virginity that night. To a 26-year old. In a little league baseball dugout. But here’s the first time we hear Browne‘s “Somebody’s Baby,” which was written specifically for the film.
Ron and Stacy on arguably the worst first date ever.
This song immediately becomes the cue for us to know Stacy is going to get freaky. And this scene with Ron basically plays out over the course of the song: “‘Cause when the cars and the signs and the street lights light up the town/She’s got to be somebody’s baby/She must be somebody’s baby/She’s got to be somebody’s baby.” To me, this covers their trip motoring to “The Point” in Ron’s cherry Datsun (pre-Nissan) 300zx, which was hot stuff back in 1982, cars passing, streets lights illuminating their way. At the first appearance of the chorus, Browne tells us: “She’s probably somebody’s only light. Gonna shine tonight/Yeah, she’s probably somebody’s baby, all right. She might well have been his only light…for that night, and she certainly shined. Of course neither she nor we ever see Ron again, the closest thing being some roses he sends Stacy afterwards. Who says chivalry is dead?
In the scene where Stacy and Linda discuss sex and other variables when they are at the lunch table being surreptitiously listened to by a table full of guys, it’s easy to see where these lyrics came from: “I heard her talkin’ with her friend when she thought nobody else was around/She said she’s got to be somebody’s baby/She must be somebody’s baby.” So it’s plain to see this song is incredibly integrated into the fabric of the movie.
So when Stacy starts giving signs to her exceedingly shy biology nerd classmate Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) that she is interested, we expect something similar to happen. These lyrics clearly outline Ratner’s feelings for Stacy (he tells Damone that he’s already in love with her, but he doesn’t even know her name): “I try to shut my eyes, but I can’t get her outta my sight/I know I’m gonna know her, but I gotta get over my fright/We’ll, I’m just gonna walk up to her/I’m gonna talk to her tonight.” Stacy now occupies the role of the experienced one and has somewhat of an appetite for sex (once again encouraged by Linda). However, Mark is timid and doesn’t want to be the guy only out for sex.
Mark and Stacy: young love (lust?) personified.
He wants a relationship and the two seem to connect when Ratner finally gets the stones up to ask her out. After a long dinner, where he has to wait for his friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) to bring him his wallet he forgot at home., they adjourn back to Stacy’s house, where her brother is out with friends and her parents are out of town. Stacy changes into something more comfortable (her robe…what’s she thinking about?) and they begin to make out. We think this is going to lead down the same path as it did with Stacy and Ron, but…no “Somebody’s Baby” to give us the clue that Ratner is going to get his and Stacy is going to get hers. Ah, wait we must.
Mike Damone, romeo extraordinaire.
And we don’t have to wait long. When Stacy confides in Mike, after he plays it cool with her, that she likes him, he walks her home. She invites him in after, in his cool sort of way, makes it known that despite that fact that his friend is VERY interested in her, he is too. So when the suggestion is made that they go out back to swim in her pool, they adjourn to the cabana where…we get “Somebody’s Baby.” We now know that they are going to get busy, and that they do.
This song embodies the trio of “relationships” Stacy has in the film. It is a perfect accompaniment and tells us her basic story in about 4 minutes. Without this song playing at key times, this film wouldn’t be nearly as lush as it adds another dimension/layer to the film, something not really done in teen comedies at the time. Director Amy Heckerling gets all the credit for its usage. And I also appreciate that she never judges Stacy (or Linda for that matter) as being slutty. I think that this film treats females discovering their sexuality quite naturally, albeit awkwardly in Stacy’s case. It also covers the dangers of not being careful when Stacy gets pregnant after her tryst with Damone. And without this song being used, we who grew up in the 80s wouldn’t have “Somebody’s Baby” as shorthand to reference a time when someone is about to get busy.
Here is the song performed by Jackson Browne:
This song is pure 1980s wonderful. It is the centerpiece of a pretty solid soundtrack, which includes The Cars‘ “Moving in Stereo” which immediately triggers memories of another scene for most boys who grew up in the 1980s. Google it…
And I would be remiss if I didn’t at least add a picture of Spicoli and his friends drinking Hamm’s in a sweet ass van. Feast your eyes:
Last week, I wrote about my 10 favorite scenes to open a film. So, in the parlance of our time, turn about is fair play – so I thought I’d write about my favorite ending scenes. As I thought this over and compiled my list, I couldn’t narrow it down to only 10 and even 15. So here are my top 16 favorite film endings. The ending of a film can be a revelation, tying the entire film you just watched all together in a perfect bow, it can leave the resolution to characters’ dilemma open-ended allowing you the license to think and discuss what became of them and the events before, it can piss you off asking what the fuck the writer and director were thinking (Oliver Stone – I’m looking at you for that shit ending to Savages, which sucked anyway), or it can totally destroy a film begging you to ask yourself why you just wasted the 90-120 minutes you just spent watching it.
Now, Let it be known that watching many of these may give away key points to the films. I will have tried to list which have spoilers. Beware.
Lastly, I urge you to watch all of the following films. They are all fantastic. They wouldn’t have left the impression on me that they did if they weren’t.
Here we go…
(this is the entire film – watch from 1:43:20-1:46:20)
It is unfortunate that this film remains relatively unknown to many in this country. It’s really incredible. I was fortunate to see this at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2004 where it won the Gold Hugo, its top prize. And well deserved, I might add. The film follows a group of slacker subway ticket controllers in Budapest as they try and find out who has been pushing patrons in front of oncoming trains. Led by Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi), the group must deal with their hotheaded boss, rival gangs of ticket controllers, punk kids and an ethereal girl dressed in a bear and fairy costumes (Eszter Balla) who may or may not really exist. This film is extremely ripe for interpretation and presents many mysteries that challenge its viewer. That it is Hungarian probably turns some people off. Don’t let that bother you – you know you watched Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and that shit had subtitles too. This may not have hot ass kung fu, but it does have a narcoleptic who provides very funny comedic moments and a peek into a different slice of the world you might not otherwise see.
The Crew – Professor, Bulcsú, Tibi, Lecsó and Muki
This film ending may not mean much without the entire context of the film, but I do know it is one of the most satisfying I’ve seen. I’ve provided a link that allows you to watch this badass film for free. DO IT.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
SPOILER – this one pretty much gives away the entire premise of the film, so BEWARE.
Made at the height of the Cold War, Kiss Me Deadly is exceedingly representative of the Red Scare and McCarthyism. A film noir staple, this one’s got it all – beatings, intimidation, dames, broads, cars, guns, double-crosses…and a mysterious box that everyone seems to want to get their hands on. The ending is one of the more twisted and deranged I’ve seen, but it fits so well with all of the other bizarre shit that happens before it. Without a doubt one of the most memorable I’ve seen and it certainly deserves to be on this or any best-of ending list.
This film features Cate Blanchett, who I feel is the finest actress working today. Typical of her role choices, this is one you wouldn’t expect from many Hollywood women. She plays a school teacher living in Italy whose husband dies of a drug overdose. When she sees a chance to get even with the powerful drug lord who was responsible, she plants a bomb intended to kill him. When that plan goes wrong, four innocent people die. With the help of a young policeman (Giovanni Ribisi), she escapes and goes on the run. The film ends with the inevitable confrontation between her and the police and what director Tom Tykwer (who has two films appear on this list) gives us is one of the most elegiac endings I’ve ever seen. It completely blew me away.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Probably the most the iconic ending of all the films from my childhood. I’ve recently written about this film here so I won’t elaborate too much more than I already have. This ending is a great example of the synergy of filmmaking elements – music, narration and editing all play keys roles in contributing to why I think this ending is so wonderful. Without Brian Johnson’s (Anthony Michael Hall) narration of the letter coupled with the Simple Minds’ song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and the cuts between Vernon (Paul Gleason) in the library and John Bender (Judd Nelson) walking home over the football field, I don’t think this would have been anywhere near as successful and the perfect culmination of the events we had witnessed the prior 97 minutes.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
SPOILER ahead – not in the scene above, but the text below.
In the portion of the film that precedes this one, you just can’t get over how damn depressing it is. Chief (Will Sampson) suffocates McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) after he’s been lobotimized. Just gutting. But what comes next is uplifting and really takes the edge off that scene. McMurphy’s death, both in the physical and spiritual sense (Nurse Ratched and the doctors took care of that over time), gave life to Chief who can be held no more by confines of the sanitarium and in a way, gives life to the rest of the group who remain. I remember seeing this film at a very early age (perhaps too early – Todd Solondz would have been jealous) and it left an indelible mark on me. This is my father’s favorite film of all-time (outside of Lonesome Dove, which is technically a mini-series) so it always reminds me of him.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
The inappropriateness of this ending is what touches me so deeply, I think. That any film would show kids from 11-13 years old drinking beers and cursing after losing in the championship of a Little League baseball tournament hits this guy right where it hurts – these are kids, especially Tanner (Chris Barnes), who could have been me. Their philosophy of “Wait ‘Til Next Year!”, a favorite mantra among us poor Chicago Cubs fans, is also one I employ in my real life, always banking that next year will be better (it usually isn’t). This ending also marks the transformation of manager Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau, so perfectly cast) from drunk who cares about nothing but himself and his liquor to showing this band of misfit kids how to be ballplayers, how to never give up and play the game the right way. Except for the beer. And cursing. That the other parents join in the celebration in this clip is unreal.
Engelberg and Tanner imbibe after a tough loss to the evil Yankees.
This ending is the product of its times, which is good. Not a chance this ending is ever made today. Case in point: the what-I-assume-is-a-SHITTY-remake Richard Linklater put together (never have and never will watch it – why mess with perfection?) in 2005. In the end of that one, the kids drink non-alcoholic beer. SIGH. I also love the pull back of the camera capturing the American flag in the frame. ‘MURICA!!!
The 400 Blows (1959)
This ending literally stunned the jury and everyone else at its screenings at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. 27-year old François Truffaut, film critic-turned-director, earned Best Director for The 400 Blows and helped usher in the French New Wave with the film. And the ending of this film is one of the most famous in film history. The freeze-frame of Antoine Doinel (played by Jean-Pierre Leaud), Tuffaut‘s alter-ego, looking directly into the camera was nothing like anything that had been done before, especially in french cinema where the young critics who turned into filmmakers (Godard, Resnais, Chabrol, Rohmer and Rivette) had grown tired of the boring traditional filmmaking that had occurred since the war. They sought to change it and boy did they ever. This final shot of Antoine leaves us to wonder whether he will emerge from the shitty circumstances that led him to reform school or if he will fall back into the behavior that got him there. Neither hopeful nor pessimistic, Truffaut leaves the viewer to decide what Antoine’s fate is…at least with this film. He did go on to make three more films about Doinel (all played wonderfully by Leaud).
SPOILER – this clip and subsequent commentary gives the ending of the film away.
As a HUGE fan of Patrick Süskind‘s novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, I was always wary of whether it could make a great or even good film. With many sequences inside the head of protagonist Jean-Baptiste Grenouille and the overwhelming description of the olfactory smorgasbord he encounters in the novel, I just wasn’t sure it could be done. Tom Tykwer, along with German superproducer Bernd Eichinger (may he rest in peace) and Andrew Birkin, crafted a script that captured the best elements of the book and transferred them to the screen…well, except Dustin Hoffman‘s Italian-esque accent – what the fuck was that? Anyway, this is a grisly story and Grenouille’s (Ben Whishaw, the new Q in the Bond films, worked nicely in his role) fate deserves something special. Just when we think he’s gotten away with his murder spree at his trial, we get the proper ending that Süskind gave us in the book, which is absolutely fitting given his actions throughout the film. And thus the magic of cinema takes us by surprise again.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
This is quite possibly the most polarizing ending of a film I’ve ever witnessed. When I saw this film in the theater, about 80% of the people there moaned and complained out loud about how terrible it was. To me, it seemed like the perfect ending to such a brutal film, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) telling of a dream about his dead father ushering him to heaven, there waiting for him. As Bell states, he is about 20 years older than his daddy ever got to be and I think that this dream revelation he gives also tells us why there is no country for old men like him – bored, desperate now that he is retired, waiting to meet his daddy on the cold, dark mountain, horn of fire in hand. This ending is pure Cormac McCarthy, writer of the novel on which this film is based. While the film adaptation of the ending is different as Bell tells his wife about the dream, the book describes it as sort of in Bell’s head without him verbalizing it. This film ends very abruptly and I think is a bit confusing to people who may not be aware of the book or how McCarthy writes. That doesn’t take away from how honest and fabulous it is.
The King of Comedy (1983)
SPOILERS in the clip and the comments.
Scorsese is insane. He makes touchpoint films that resonate well after they are released and The King of Comedy is one of them as I wrote here. With all of the intense interest in “celebrity” culture, now so more than ever, this film remains increasingly more pertinent. What is depicted in the clip above is suspect as we don’t know if these events are really happening or if they are just the machinations of antihero Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro). If you’ve seen this film, you know that Pupkin has a mock talk show set in his mother’s basement where he practices his comedy routines and television demeanor.
Ladies and gentleman – Rupert Pupkin!
So this film comes full circle from when Rupert acts out a scene at the beginning of the film as if Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis as a stand-in for Johnny Carson) asks him to take over his talk show for 6 weeks to the epilogue where he is a huge thing and everyone wants a piece of him. That the announcer says Rupert’s name seven times in his introduction is a key to me that this is all a delusion – hearing his name on television is all he’s ever wanted. That he is such a hit elsewhere – new TV show, book deal, fans greeting him at prison – is also a key. I could be wrong here, of course. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating ending to an incredible film. One of Scorsese‘s best.
SPOILER: this pretty much gives it all away. If you haven’t seen this film and plan on doing so, don’t watch or read.
Director David Fincher and writer Andrew Kevin Walker bring the thunder in this thriller. John Doe (Kevin Spacey) takes detectives Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman, another role in which he gets to play the wise, old sage) to the brink of his own madness. With 5 of the deadly sins already acted out by Doe and his victims, the ending gives us the final two – envy and wrath. This is one the most clever and creepy endings to a movie I’ve ever seen. Who can blame Mills for what he does even though Somerset is right? Doe does win by Mills blowing him away. Mills doesn’t break his character, though. It would have been a cop out (pun intended) if he had not shot Doe for his transgressions and I’m glad that Fincher and Walker kept it that way. Everything that Mills does leading up to this moment leads us to believe he would shoot him. It makes for a far more powerful ending and is a good comment about mankind’s will to do/not to do the right thing when faced with extraordinary circumstances.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Who would have thought this film, of all things, would be the impetus for one of the more overused memes in recent history? Milkshakes. This final scene is the culmination of a man, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his most exquisite performances), completing his fall from venerable oil man to money hungry lout. Where we probably once respected Plainview for having taken in the young son of a worker killed in an accident and stood up for himself against bigger oil outfits, that respect has all but gone by this point in the film. I must sickly admit, though, that I found some pleasure in Plainview’s extermination of Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) in this clip. Supposedly a man of God, Eli, like Daniel, becomes a money hungry cretin, forsaking his duties as a preacher in the quest for the wrong almighty…the dollar. Look no further than this clip that comes before the “I drink your milkshake” portion:
Eli cashes in his faith, his beliefs for money: “I am a false prophet. God is a superstition!” He is as soulless and Daniel is, but his transgression is far worse than Daniel’s, who never postures as anything but who he is – a businessman. While brutal and unflinching, this ending is the logical course of the film and one that has made a lasting impression on me since I first saw it.
Since this film is told backwards, the ending of the film is actually the beginning of the story. It’s here we see Leonard (Guy Pearce) begin his quest anew in his search for John G., the man who he believes murdered his wife and damaged his hippocampus, giving him a condition where he can’t make new memories.After putting in the work, trying to figure maintain coherence, you get here and it sets everything up that you just saw. The real question is: can you remember what you saw prior to this scene to piece everything together? That he lists Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) as the John G. he’s looking for as a grudge gives an insight into Leonard that up to this point we wouldn’t have imagined. Teddy is perfectly correct when he says, “You don’t want the truth. You make up your own truth.” And when Teddy catches Leonard’s ire…it’s lights out.
I have this condition…
This is a film that really needs several views to grasp what’s going on. Director Christopher Nolan is very tricky in the editing of the film and hides nice little morsels in there that sway the meaning of the film…should you catch them. If you don’t, the meaning changes, which isn’t a bad thing. Couple that with its reverse structure, which mirrors Leonard’s condition, and you have a truly unique film that will likely blow your mind. One of the most original films in years, this is a can’t miss.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
SPOILER – this will without a doubt give away one of the best endings ever. If you haven’t seen the film and plan on doing so, DO NOT watch this or read the commentary below.
If you’ve seen this film, you know why this ending is so badass. The real question isn’t whether Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey, yet again on this list) perpetuated the crime that killed Hockney (Kevin Pollak), McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Fenster (Benicio del Toro) and Keaton (Gabriel Byrne). This clip leaves no doubt in that. The real question is, is Kint really Keyser Söze or is he capitalizing on the myth/legend of Keyser Söze, one that he tells to Agent Kujan (Chazz Palmintieri)? There is no definitive answer that I’ve ever seen, although I would fall into the latter camp. This is undoubtedly the best twist ending ever in my mind, much better than The Sixth Sense and even better than Psycho.
He’ll flip ya…he’ll flip ya for real.
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Once again – SPOILERS.
This film literally saved a man’s life, much like the Paradise Lost films have done for the West Memphis Three. Think about that. If it weren’t for the inquisitiveness of director Errol Morris, the absolute finest documentarian working today, Randall Adams would still be serving his life sentence for murdering a police officer, a crime he never committed, had he not passed away in 2010. The absolute power of this film is unparalleled. Not only did Morris, with the help of several other folks in Texas, do the legwork to uncover the inconsistencies in the testimony, HE GOT THE DAMN CONFESSION OF THE REAL KILLER. He did what no officer of the law could do and he did it through film. If this doesn’t convince people of just how influential films can be, ask Randall Adams’ ghost. This is one of the most amazing films ever made and would fall into my top 10 favorites of all-time.
This film has my favorite ending to any movie I’ve ever seen. The tensions and rivalries that have gotten the better of the characters Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and Rosemarie Cross (Olivia Williams) throughout the film come to pass here. Max has moved past his crush on Miss Cross and is now dating Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka), but there is work to be done, wounds to be healed including Max’s. When Reuben (Stephen Dignan), the DJ at the cotillion, spins Faces’ “Ooh La La” and the first guitar chord hits, it’s like magic. When Miss Cross removes Max’s glasses in this scene, she is reflecting back on her husband, Rushmore-alum Edward Appleby, who passed away and is the reason she is teaching at Rushmore. Earlier in the movie, she tells Max, “You remind me of him, you know?” And here it’s come full circle. She looks at Max like we assume she looked at Edward Appleby, whom she knew her whole life.
I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.
The usage of slow motion in this scene, a technique favored by director Wes Anderson in the final scene of every film he’s made up to Moonrise Kingdom where it was noticeably absent, is superb. It allows us to linger in this moment, to cherish what these characters are feeling as they’ve finally rounded this corner that caused them all so much grief. The song coupled with this technique are so perfect. For the first time, we see all of the major players of the film – Max, Blume, Miss Cross, Max’s father (Seymour Cassel), Margaret, Max’s best friend Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble) and even Rushmore headmaster Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox) – in the same frame, happy. Without a doubt, one of the most cathartic film moments I’ve ever witnessed. Part of me wishes life was a never ending loop of this scene – slow motion dance and Faces’ “Ooh La La.” What a wonderful world it would be.
I haven’t assigned a number to each of these as I had in the post about my favorite openings. This list was too hard to quantify in that way. I can honestly say that the endings to Rushmore and The Thin Blue Line are the two that hit me most on an emotional level and I would feel safe slotting them in at #1 and #2. Other than that, I can’t do it.
John Hughes would have been 63 today. His death in 2009 shocked me even though he had been out of the public eye for years and hadn’t directed a film since Curly Sue in 1991. Hughes was the absolute MAYOR of the 80s. His youth/teen films raised the bar for the genre and, in my opinion, have yet to be eclipsed. But he was more than just a teen film director. His adult comedies were as pertinent as anything he did in the teen realm, echoing the same themes of acceptance and understanding all while bringing the funny sprinkled with moments of levity.
I knew you’d come around…
Hughes‘ films are important to me. I hold them as dear to my heart as any film(s) that I’ve ever seen. I saw Weird Science at the Rivoli Theater in downtown Muncie, Indiana, when my parents were in court over visitation rights. I couldn’t imagine a better way to have staved off the nervousness I felt that day. I happily recall watching Sixteen Candles with friends, rewinding about a hundred times the scene where Anthony Michael Hall is dancing with Molly Ringwald and farts, laughing equally hard each time. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may or may not have been the inspiration for my own two-week school skipping streak in 7th grade. These films helped me with the rough road through adolescence, showing me that insecurity, dysfunction and all of the other problems of youth were the norm, not the exception. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that and I believe that’s why his films resonated so well then and continue to do so to this day.
You know, there’s going to be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll… chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high school orgy type of thing. I mean, uh, I’m not talking candlewax on the nipples, or witchcraft or anything like that, no, no, no.
I have been trying to rack my brain and I can’t think of another filmmaker that had a run of success in such a short time as John Hughes did from 1983-1987. As prolific as Rainer Werner Fassbinder was (is this the first time Hughes and Fassbinder have been mentioned together, I wonder?), I don’t think he even put up the resume that Hughes has. Woody Allen has had some good runs in his life, but none quite so strong as Hughes. Let’s take a look at the the films that Hughes either wrote or wrote/directed in this time period:
Mr. Mom (1983) – wrote
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) – wrote
Nate & Hayes (1983) – wrote (I had never heard of this one)
Sixteen Candles (1984) – wrote and directed
The Breakfast Club (1984) – wrote and directed
National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1984) – wrote
Weird Science (1985) – wrote and directed
Pretty in Pink (1986) – wrote
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – wrote and directed
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)- wrote
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) – wrote and directed
By my count, that’s 11 films, eight of which represent some the most well-known and iconic films of the decade. Hughes only directed three other films past this period – She’s Having a Baby, Uncle Buck and Curly Sue – all fair films, I suppose, but none match the beloved status of the bulk of the list above. While he continued to write mostly family films (Home Alone series, Beethoven series) for years after pulling his best Keyser Söze (And like that, poof. He’s gone), he never quite captured the magic he had from 83-87. That’s a pretty tall order in the grand scheme of things.
As is the norm, here are my 5 (cheated, really 6) favorite works to which John Hughes contributed and why they still rock:
5) Mr. Mom (tie)
The Wall Street Journal just declared the caricature of inept stay-at-home dads depicted in Mr. Mom dead just a couple of weeks ago. However, the appeal of this movie still endures. Michael Keaton‘s portrayal of Jack Butler, the former GM engineer who lost his job and now stays home with the kids, is incredibly funny and I believe was probably pretty spot on for the time. I was raised by my father and I can certainly say that he was far more able to raise three kids than poor Jack, but this would seem more the exception rather than the rule. I think that’s why this is so enjoyable for me as it gives me an insight to what my childhood could have been like with a more maladroit father. Keaton is loveable despite his cringe worthy displays. For example:
All this aside, this film was pretty groundbreaking. Showing a woman, Caroline (played magnificently by Terri Garr), who is out in the workforce while the children are at home, succeeding and moving up the corporate ladder? I can’t recall a single film like it at the time. And as is typical, Hughes gives his characters some really great, memorable lines:
How’d you like a little trim on that moustache, Ron?
If Mr. Moms are indeed dead, then I’m glad we will always have this record to remind us of their haplessness. For that, John Hughes, I say thank you.
Here’s the trailer:
5) National Lampoon’s Vacation (tie)
The first in the Vacation series by National Lampoon, and undoubtedly the best, Hughes adapted a short story he wrote while working for advertising/public relations firm Leo Burnett (you can read it here) to start the journey of the Griswolds on-screen. Hughes seems to be especially hard on fathers in his films, and this one is no exception. Released in the same year (1983) as Mr. Mom, they seem to be perfect companion pieces to one another.
We watch his program… We buy his toys, we go to his movies… he owes us. Doesn’t he owe us, huh? He owes the Griswolds, right? Fucking-A right he owes us!
As most everyone knows, this movie follows the Griswold family – Clark (Chevy Chase), Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) – as they traverse the country from Chicago to California on their way to Wally World, America’s Favorite Family Fun Park. Convinced that driving is the only way to travel, the Griswolds stop at roadside attractions as well as seeing some family. Randy Quaid makes his first appearance as white trash Cousin Eddie and is in fine form. After a series of car breakdowns, getting lost in the ‘hood of St. Louis, nearly getting arrested for animal cruelty, a dead aunt, and a near adulterous encounter, Clark glides the finally happy family into the parking lot of Wally World…only to find out that it’s closed for two weeks. The final punctuation on a road trip where not much else could have gone wrong. So, he takes matters into his own hands…
An homage to all shitty family road trips, National Lampoon’s Vacation hits the proverbial nail on the head. Even as stupid as Clark seems, he still has a the biggest heart and wants nothing but the best for his family. Unfortunately, he fucks it up every time, a motif that plays itself out over the course of the three other films in this series – European Vacation (without a doubt the absolute worst of the bunch – that Hughes had anything to do with this one makes me sad), Christmas Vacation and the awful Vegas Vacation, whose only saving grace is the appearance by Wayne Newton.
Far and away the best part of this movie, I still laugh hysterically each time I see it:
The edited version for TV is nearly as funny: What I look like – Christopher Columbo?
So if you’re preparing to take the kiddos to Disney (as I am in May – God help me) or any other long road trip, give this one a watch and learn what not to do.
Here is the trailer:
4) The Breakfast Club
The quintessential 80s angst film, The Breakfast Club has comedic moments, but this one hits a closer to the bone than the rest of his films. Set in Saturday detention, five seemingly different high school students – a nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), a freak (Ally Sheedy), a popular rich girl (Molly Ringwald), a popular wrestling star (Emilio Estevez) and a hood (Judd Nelson) – are charged with writing an essay telling the tyrannical Assistant Principal Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleeson) who they think they are. As the day progresses, the group of teens go back and forth, attacking one another, reconciling, telling each other their tales of why they are there. The more time they spend together, the more they realize they are alike.
Obscene finger gestures from such a pristine girl…
This was one of the two films (St. Elmo’s Fire being the other) that spawned the term The Brat Pack and solidified Molly Ringwald‘s short-lived status as Hollywood’s “it-girl.” This of all of Hughes‘ films still seems to resonate the most, ring as the most timeless. These characters still exist in today’s high schools (watch Nanette Burstein‘s documentary American Teen for easy examples), so it’s no wonder why Hughes is/was the teenager’s poet laureate. Its anti-authoritarian message certainly helps.
The ending sequence is pretty unforgettable (pun intended), as Vernon reads the essay that the five left behind, Anthony Michael Hall narrating. That Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” plays over it (flush with a Truffaut-like freeze frame) really is the perfect accompaniment, an anthem that all high schoolers echo just wanting to be noticed.
I always adored this moment. Even though I was only in fifth grade when this came out, it struck a chord. While I couldn’t know the rough waters I’d have to tread when in high school, this was a nice primer and one of the many reasons I cherish Hughes‘ oeuvre. I think it was this film that Hughes found his full voice as a writer. You could see traces his craft coming together in his previous films, but this is a fully realized work that melds the comedic and serious perfectly.
Here is the trailer:
3) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
It doesn’t get much more iconic than Ferris Bueller. This movie drips cool, well…with the exception of Cameron’s (Alan Ruck) stupid ass Detroit Red Wings jersey. That sucks. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick‘s signature role) is the guy everyone wants to know in high school – friend to all, big and small, cool or not.
When Ferris decides to fake being sick (who can be expected to go to school on a day like this?), an elaborate process that dupes his clueless parents, but not Vice Principal Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Rooney decides to catch Ferris and make him an example, in order to show other students that the path Ferris has chosen is wrong. Thus unfolds an epic game of cat and mouse between Rooney, Ferris and Ferris’ girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara),best friend Cameron and his sister Jeanie/sometimes Shawna (Jennifer Grey).
When Cameron was in Egypt’s land…let my Cameron go.
Cameron is actually sick, but Ferris cons him into driving Ferris around for the day. Cameron is also a tight ass (if you stick a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you get a diamond) who needs to have some fun. So they embark on a journey for the ages, taking in the sites of Chicago and breaking through some barriers for each of the characters.
If you didn’t want to be Ferris Bueller in 1986, then I don’t know what to say about you. Who didn’t want to sing Wayne Newton and The Beatles on a float in a German parade through the streets of Chicago?
Incidentally, I lost a bet to my mother on whether the person singing “Danke Schoen” was a man or a woman watching this movie the first time.
This is one of the most fun movies I’ve ever seen and may well be Hughes‘ finest creation. I think it, along with The Breakfast Club, is probably the most enduring as its themes are also universal. As Polonius said to Laertes in Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” I think Ferris followed this advice better than anyone. He never misrepresents himself to anyone he’s with, even to Rooney, and I think that’s why he’s such a relatable character. This was Hughes‘ biggest strength as a writer. It is evident in every film discussed here and why we are still talking about these films.
I hope The rebelliousness of Ferris is alive and well among the youth of today. If not, you must be a bunch of boring bastards…
Here is the trailer:
2) Sixteen Candles
I’m not sure how I originally stumbled upon Sixteen Candles when I was a kid. I can’t remember if we just happened to pick it up at the video store (yes, kids, there used to be actual stores where you could go rent videos, not DVDs) or if we had seen some preview for it. I wasn’t exactly following certain directors’ work back when I was 9. Or was I? Nonetheless, this movie floored me with its humor, its depiction of family as insanely fucked up, and the hope that things you wish for may actually come true.
Well if it isn’t Sammy Baker Davis Jr!
The story centers around Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald in her first real starring role) who turns 16. However, her birthday happens to fall on the day before her older sister Ginny (Blanche Baker) is getting married. Since her family is up to their eyes in wedding details, they forget that it’s Sam’s birthday. An obvious nightmare for anyone, let alone a girl on her sweet sixteen. The scene when she realizes this is perfection, truly setting up each of the family member’s characters in a short 45-second scene. Watch:
Sam has one more big issue in this film as well, and that’s Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). She has a crush on him, but he is the most popular guy in school, very rich and is dating the hottest girl in school, Caroline Mulford (Haviland Morris). When she passes a note that falls to Jake accidentally, he finds out about this. As she tries to make things happen with Jake, she is followed around by a geek and self-professed “king of the dipshits” named Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), who incessantly tries to pick her up. Couple all of this with being saddled with taking her grandparents foreign exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), to the school dance where Jake will be, and she’s got a lot on her plate.
No more yanky my wanky…the Donger needfood!
One of the biggest successes of this film is that it is also Anthony Michael Hall‘s coming out party. He really established himself as a quality comedic actor in this film. He had obviously worked with Hughes material in National Lampoon’s Vacation before, so perhaps that was to his advantage. His character is so slimy, yet so endearing that you feel sorry for him. Also, he is the chief architect of a few of the film’s funniest scenes, e.g. when he and his friends (one being a young John Cusack) meet Long Duk Dong for the first time at Jake’s party, the aforementioned dance sequence, and when he takes a drunken/passed out Caroline to meet his friends in the middle of the night.
But ultimately, this is Samantha’s journey. We ride the roller coaster with her, and at times, it is difficult. The talk she has with her father (Paul Dooley) after he realizes they forgot her birthday was very real and quite spot-on. Or I imagine it is as I’ve never had this talk with a teenage girl or been a teenage girl, but Hughes situated it where I could empathize. Not an easy task. While this film has its share of juvenile humor (it is a film about high school after all), it has a heart and certain characters end up showing this even when you think that they aren’t able.
This is for you ladies:
Here’s the trailer:
1) Weird Science
So this is number one. With a bullet. This may be one of the three funniest movies I’ve ever seen. A absolute riot from start to finish, this was kind of a surprise from Hughes who with Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club had added more drama to each film leading up to Weird Science. It’s juvenile, filled with raunchy humor and is a departure from the prior formula he employed. And it works. WELL. At least in my opinion. It is far and away the Hughes film that I watch most and that it why it grabbed spot #1 on this list.
The basic premise is two losers, Gary (Anthony Michael Hall in his finest role) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), can’t fit in. Picked on, abused by cooler kids, and ignored by all girls, they decide to build their own woman using Wyatt’s souped up computer while his parents are away for the weekend. They cull the most beautiful images from Playboy magazines, give her genius intelligence and finish the job by harnessing the electricity from a thunderstorm to give her life a la Dr. Frankenstein all while wearing bras on their heads (ceremonial). And BOOM! They have Lisa (Kelly LeBrock).
What would you little maniacs like to do first?
So it becomes Lisa’s mission to help make the guys transition from being nerds to cool. Not an easy process considering what she has to work with. She starts off with them in a night on the town, which quickly goes from bad to worse. But then, Gary hits his stride amid the funniest scene in the entire film. Watch:
Fats, man…let me tell you my story, man. Were funnier opening words to a story ever uttered? Methinks not.
And let’s credit Hughes for maybe the best part of this film – the creation of Chet (Bill Paxton), Wyatt’s older brother and caretaker while his parents are away. Abusive and gross in every sense of the word, Chet represents what these two are up against every day of their lives. And Wyatt, chicken shit that he is, takes everything Chet has to give, served in a dirty ash tray. Chet extorts him and abuses him verbally and physically. But when Lisa enters the story, things start to change even with Chet. All that aside, I would argue that Chet is the second best movie character next to Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman) in Slap Shot. And Paxton‘s performance pretty much rules. Who else can say, “But first, I’d like to butter your muffin…” any slimier than he does? I dare you to find someone. DARE YOU.
That is a severe behavioral disorder!
The guys have their eyes on two girls, Deb (Suzanne Snyder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson) at school, but they happen to be dating Gary and Wyatt’s arch nemeses, Ian (a very young Robert Downey, Jr.) and Max (Robert Ruslan). Lisa decides to help the guys out and throw a BIIIIG party at Wyatt’s house and invite everyone. When the guys stay in bathroom, Lisa does what she can to coax them out and prove their meddle so Deb and Hilly will see them for who they are. This of course yields two of the funnier parts of the film, but it’s here they make their final transition from nerds to being not necessarily cool, but noticeable, shall we say.
You’re dropping wolf bait, and there’s chicks outside! Light a match, light a fire. I don’t know.
While it doesn’t have quite the same touching ending that both Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club have, Weird Science earns its ending. While Hughes moved on to more adult and family friendly fare after this (with exception of maybe Uncle Buck which treads some of the same water here), I’m so glad he squeezed this one in.
Here’s the trailer:
So as I said before, Hughes left a mark on my childhood – his films helped me navigate the unsteady times of adolescence. These films are signposts that me and many of my friends can point to as we continue to try and make our way through this world. Hughes‘ passing in 2009 was tragic because he gave voice to my generation. While he hadn’t spoken for it in quite some time, he still held that title when he died and I believe he continues to do so. There are rumors that one of his unproduced scripts in moving into production. PLEASE DON’T. Let the man rest. There is a reason that project went unproduced.