I’ve been playing the Box Office Game every day for the past few months and it’s had me thinking a lot about movies, release dates, and cultural impact. This prompted me to think about my own life through this lens and I decided to attempt to make a list of my favourite movies and albums that were released every year that I’ve been alive as a sort of autobiographical experiment.
Now, a quick note. These are obviously not the movies/albums that were the most important to me at the time of their release. Probably. These are choices that I’ve made in 2022, looking back at the artifacts that have made the greatest impact on me and my experiences with pop culture in order of when they were originally released. Nostalgia will undoubtedly play a role but so will my interest in social commentary and my current tastes. It’s going to be a decidedly messy list.
Here goes nothing…
I knew before I even started thinking about this project which album would hold this spot. Songs From The Big Chair is one of my favourite albums ever. Head Over Heels is possibly my favourite song ever. The bridge is probably my favourite moment in music ever. So that one was easy.
Picking a movie was a little more tricky. I had to contend with Re-Animator, Better Off Dead, and Kurosawa’s Ran. However, in terms of personal impact I had to go with Beyond Thunderdome for the pure 80s spectacle of it all. It’s not the best Mad Max movie, it’s not even my favourite, but it’s a great example of the kind of movies I love. It’s absurd and menacing and probably the only one of the original three that I actually enjoyed as a kid. Plus Tina Turner!
This reflection is interesting to me and I think it represents two sides of my personality. The alternate choices for this year would be Aliens & The Queen Is Dead (The Smiths). I had a real tossup for both of those but ended up going with choices that are a bit more whimsical, tongue-in-cheek, and lighthearted. They would also likely be more cult picks over the critical choices.
I also think that the ones I chose are a lot harder to categorically define. Aliens & TQID are both relatively straightforward options; representing a top tier in their respective genres. Labyrinth & Skylarking, however, are both a lot more experimental and push the boundaries of whatever genre you try to pin them to.
There’s nothing special about being a Nic Cage fan in 2022; he’s having a much deserved career revival these days and we’re all better for it. 1987 was also a great year for Cage, starring in Moonstruck and Raising Arizona. While I really enjoy both of those movies, I find the main cast of Moonstruck a bit more endearing. Cher is a perfect match for Cage’s intensity and I think this movie just gets him so well.
What can I say about Sign O' The Times? It is a nearly perfect album put out by my favourite artist. By 1987, Prince had already experienced a more successful career than most artists could ever dream of. After the Revolution disbanded and he scrapped several other collaborative efforts, he could have just laid low for a while. Instead, he picked up the pieces, returned to the studio alone, and put out one of the greatest albums ever made.
I do enjoy social commentary. The idea that a pop cultural artifact can also say something about the times it emerged from is very compelling to me. Horror movies seem to do that better than any other genre; I think it’s the ability to tap into our collective paranoias and anxieties. They Live is not remotely subtle in its message. At the time, this hurt its reception. However, it seems to have found its footing as a sort of time capsule for a late 80s critique of unrestrained capitalism. For this, I love it.
Irish folk music is one of my current favourite genres; and punk is one of my previous favourites. The Pogues then are like a collision of my past and present selves. If I Should Fall From Grace With God is just a solid album. I listen to it regularly. Its punk in all the ways that matter.
Say Anything exists mostly in my memory as a collection of iconic parts: the great soundtrack, Cusack wanting to be a kickboxer, Lili Taylor singing about her ex, the ‘In Your Eyes’ scene - obviously. Those parts are so strong I sort of wonder if they have transcended the whole that they belong to. This isn’t to knock the movie at all; it’s great. There’s a reason I’m choosing it. I just wonder if it’s stronger as a movie or as cultural currency. None of this really matters, I got super into John Cusack in high school and this remains one of his greats. It’s just fun to think about.
It’s telling that Paul’s Boutique came out the same year as Three Feet High and Rising and I didn’t pick it. They’re both epitomes of the early 90s hip hop scene, they’re both bursting with samples, and they’re both just really fun albums. Despite those similarities, I have to give it to Three Feet High and Rising as the album I prefer. It feels like the album the Beastie Boys were trying to make.
If I had made this list ten years ago, Goodfellas would have been my clear choice. And, while I still enjoy them from time to time, gangster movies are just not my thing anymore. These days I have more of an affection for movies that capture certain elements of the time and House Party is basically the perfect movie to start the 90s. It’s just straight up fun.
I didn’t listen to this album when it came out. I was five. Instead, I came to it backwards. So much of the music I would go on to listen to over the next decade or so would be an echo of Fugazi. It was only a matter of time before I got there myself. I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I’m glad I finally did.
My parents love this movie. Growing up, the soundtrack was a staple in our family. The music reminds me of home. There’s also something deeply personal about the film for me. As someone who loves music but doesn’t play any instruments, the story of a guy who dreams of managing a band resonated. It also helped ignite my love for quirky Irish films.
I found myself in a dilemma with this year. If Loveless didn’t exist Emotions by Mariah Carey would be an easy choice. I’ve loved Mariah since junior high and this album is pure delight. It’s pop, disco, and Motown all in one. But Loveless does exist and I just can’t get around that. It’s noisy, moody, and relentless; basically everything Mariah Carey is not. And it’s a masterpiece.
When The Batman came out this past year some friends started ranking Batman movies and it ended with me dying on the hill that Batman Returns is not just a great Batman movie, it’s a great gothic fairytale. Batman is purposely overshadowed by an exceptionally bizarre cast of surrounding characters and even more so to Tim Burton’s beautiful portrayal of Gotham City. Yes, there are a lot of other great movies that came out in ‘92; but I’m pretty resolute that Batman Returns is among the best of them.
Admittedly, I came to the Hip later in life. Maybe I’m better able to appreciate Canadian dad rock better now that I’m a Canadian dad myself or maybe it took Gord Downie’s death for me to give them a real chance; either way, I admit my error - Fully Completely rocks. And it probably always did. Some cliches are cliches for a reason and listening to the Hip while drinking a beer on my deck in the summer is an experience I didn’t realize I was missing. To my friends and family, I’m sorry I said they were lame. I was wrong.