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10 totally awesome movies in BAM's 'Indie 80s' series

We pick the highlights from an epic six-week look at the most overlooked decade of American cinema

By Dana Varinsky and David Ehrlich
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In the world of film, the ’70s were New Hollywood’s golden age, while the ’90s saw an indie boom. But “Indie 80s,” a six-week series at BAMcinématek running July 17–August 27, is all about the neglected—but super impactful—decade in between. The series’s nearly 70 films make up a comprehensive showcase of nonstudio work from the era, from well-known horror movies (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and comedies (This Is Spinal Tap), to the kind of underseen gems that deserve a wider viewership (Smooth Talk, Wildrose). Here are the 10 most influential films in the series, in chronological order of screening dates.

Visit BAM for ticket info and a full screening schedule.

1. Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

Movies Comedy

Comedian Robert Townsend’s hilarious satire used humor to highlight the stereotypical portrayals of African-Americans in film. The protagonist (Townsend), a black actor trying to make it in the biz, is offered roles of slaves, hoodlums and Eddie Murphy types. It managed to point out rampant discrimination while keeping audiences laughing.

July 17 at 2, 4:30, 7, 9:30pm.

2. Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Movies

Long black-and-white takes filled with idiosyncratic acting marked director Jim Jarmusch’s breakthrough. The plot revolves around the laconic Willie (John Lurie) and his pal Eddie (Richard Edson), who host Willie’s young foreign cousin, Eva (Eszter Balint), on a visit from Hungary, then follow her to Ohio on a road trip. The comedy is deadpan, the visuals masterfully minimalist.

July 18 at 2, 7pm.

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3. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Movies Documentary

We take it for granted that documentaries re-create events and use fictionlike narratives. But when Errol Morris introduced those techniques in this true-crime tale of a murdered policeman, he changed the game. The doc exonerated an innocent man and led the form into bold new territory.

July 26 at 4, 8:15pm.

4. Blue Velvet (1986)

Movies Thriller

In our opinion, David Lynch’s squirm-inducing drama is the most significant movie of the ’80s. The surreal film turned viewers into detectives sniffing out the seedy underbelly of American suburbia, inspired TV’s landmark Twin Peaks and enabled the daring director to pursue his wildest dreams.

August 8 at 4:30, 9:30pm.

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5. Blood Simple (1984)

Movies Thriller

The Coen brothers’ never repeat themselves, but shades of No Country for Old Men can definitely be found in their extraordinary debut feature about a bar owner (Dan Hedaya, the dad from Clueless) who hires the wrong man to kill his cheating wife (Frances McDormand). Rarely have filmmakers sprung so fully formed out of the gate as the Coens did with this down-and-dirty Texas noir.

August 8 at 2, 7pm.

6. Swimming to Cambodia (1987)

Movies

In the first and most famous of Spalding Gray’s performance films, the late monologist unpacks his inner life in vivid detail and tightly coiled language. The inimitable performer recalls his work on The Killing Fields and explores the history of Cambodia.

August 9 at 2, 7pm.

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7. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

Movies Comedy

Steven Soderbergh’s Palme d’Or-winning debut film about love and redemption in the technology age announced him as a major talent. It also announced James Spader as an actor whose phone was going to ring whenever someone needed to cast an icky guy. (A tradition that’s very much alive thanks to this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.)

August 14 at 2, 7pm.

8. Ms. 45 (1981)

Movies

The late Zoë Lund, here using her birth name Zoë Tamerlis, plays the lead role in this gritty exploitation flick, about a woman determined to avenge herself upon the entire male sex after being twice raped. Many still consider this to be Abel Ferrara’s best film, and—tragically—it only seems to grow more urgent with every passing year.

August 15 at 4:15, 9pm.

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9. Chan Is Missing (1982)

Movies

Before director Wayne Wang forged a Hollywood career making dog movies starring Dave Matthews (Because of Winn-Dixie) or Jennifer Lopez rom-coms (Maid in Manhattan), he crafted this landmark work of Asian-American cinema. Melding early deadpan Jim Jarmusch with the existentialist cool of Michelangelo Antonioni, the San Francisco-set Chan Is Missing turns a funny search for the titular debtor into an insightful investigation into cultural identity.

August 17 at 7:30, 9:30pm.

10. The Evil Dead (1981)

Movies Horror

Director Sam Raimi pioneered the notion of zany horror in this classic, which follows five college students as they unleash demonic spirits at a cabin in the woods. The skewed point-of-view shots and over-the-top blood-splattering effects are commonplace now, but this was their ground zero.

August 21 at 2, 4:30, 9:30pm.

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