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Movies that define a decade


skimpole
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The concept of a decade is a curious one.  The idea that any particular ten year period has a common unity that differs it from what came before and after is a relatively recent one.  The twenties were particularly important here, as encouraged by the fact that no one thought to give a name to the previous two decades.  The fact that the Wall Street Crash and the start of the Second World war took place in the last year of the decade made the concept especially popular. 

 

With this in mind, what movie best defines a decade?   Of course there are no shortage of movies that deal with issues that actually took place then.  For many people, going to the beach, having fun, and not having sex was an important memory from the sixties.  But one suspects beach blanket movies don't really define the sixties.  There are three qualifications:  first, the movie has to come from the decade in question, and second, it has to be about the decade in question.  For example Louise Brooks may exemplify the "new woman" of the twenties more than any other actress, but Pandora's Box takes place in the 1880s.  Third, the movie actually has to be good.  One could think of no shortage of movies that encapsulate what one didn't like about a decade.

 

The point of this thread is to think about movies which best define a decade.  They deal with a crucial aspect of the decade, while also being important in the development of film.  Here's my list:

 

20s:  Man with a Movie Camera

30s:  Modern Times

40s:  The Best Years of Our Lives

50s:  All that Heaven Allows

60s:  Masculin/Feminin

70s:  The Mother and the ****

80s:  Blue Velvet

90s:  Chungking Express

00s:  West of the Tracks

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The concept of a decade is a curious one.  The idea that any particular ten year period has a common unity that differs it from what came before and after is a relatively recent one.  The twenties were particularly important here, as encouraged by the fact that no one thought to give a name to the previous two decades.  The fact that the Wall Street Crash and the start of the Second World war took place in the last year of the decade made the concept especially popular. 

 

With this in mind, what movie best defines a decade?   Of course there are no shortage of movies that deal with issues that actually took place then.  For many people, going to the beach, having fun, and not having sex was an important memory from the sixties.  But one suspects beach blanket movies don't really define the sixties.  There are three qualifications:  first, the movie has to come from the decade in question, and second, it has to be about the decade in question.  For example Louise Brooks may exemplify the "new woman" of the twenties more than any other actress, but Pandora's Box takes place in the 1880s.  Third, the movie actually has to be good.  One could think of no shortage of movies that encapsulate what one didn't like about a decade.

 

The point of this thread is to think about movies which best define a decade.  They deal with a crucial aspect of the decade, while also being important in the development of film.  Here's my list:

 

20s:  Man with a Movie Camera

30s:  Modern Times

40s:  The Best Years of Our Lives

50s:  All that Heaven Allows

60s:  Masculin/Feminin

70s:  The Mother and the ****

80s:  Blue Velvet

90s:  Chungking Express

00s:  West of the Tracks

 

"Rocky" (1976)

"The Exorcist" (1973)

"Star Wars" (1977)

"Close Encounters" (1977)

"Smokey and The Bandit" (1977)

"Taxi Driver" (1976)

"Saturday Night Fever" (1977)

"Jaws" (1975)

"The Godfather" (1972) defined the 1970's

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"Rocky" (1976)

"The Exorcist" (1973)

"Star Wars" (1977)

"Close Encounters" (1977)

"Smokey and The Bandit" (1977)

"Taxi Driver" (1976)

"Saturday Night Fever" (1977)

"Jaws" (1975)

"The Godfather" (1972) defined the 1970's

All of these movies define the 70s; however, using the criteria as per the original poster, THE GODFATHER and STAR WARS don't qualify, since they don't take place in that decade.

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'40s---BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (I don't know how anyone could choose another film)

'50s---BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

'60s----THE GRADUATE

 

Exactly the ones I'd choose.

 

'20s - IT

'30s - THE GRAPES OF WRATH

'70s - M.A.S.H.

'80s - THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES

 

The irony is with the exception of IT and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, I don't particularly care for any of these films. But their representative symbolism is undeniable.

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1910’s:  Intolerance 1916

1920’s:  The Gold Rush 1925

1930’s:  Mr. Deeds Goes to Town 1936

1940’s:  Double Indemnity 1944

1950’s:  On the Waterfront 1954

1960’s:  The Sound of Music 1965

1970’s:  All the President’s Men 1976

1980’s:  Ghostbusters 1984

1990’s:  Toy Story 1995

2000’s:  Harry Potter series
 

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The thing about The Birth of a Nation is that it doesn't really have much to say about the 1910-1919 period except indirectly.  The idea isn't the movie of the decade, but the movie that defines the decade.  The Bonfire of the Vanities isn't the right decade (it was made in 1990) and while the novel might define the decade, the movie is just an expensive flop.

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'40s---BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (I don't know how anyone could choose another film)

'50s---BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

'60s----THE GRADUATE

 

Exactly the ones I'd choose.

 

'20s - IT

'30s - THE GRAPES OF WRATH

'70s - M.A.S.H.

'80s - THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES

 

The irony is with the exception of IT and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, I don't particularly care for any of these films. But their representative symbolism is undeniable.

'80s---WALL STREET, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN

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In some cases, the movie might define a decade in spite of it being made in a different  decade.  Like BONNIE AND CLYDE helped define the 1930's in spite of being made some thirty something years later.

 

OR a movie might just define a certain PART of a decade, as so much change can happen in the span of a decade that one movie defining ALL of a decade is difficult.  Like, EASY RIDER more defines the LATER '60's more than the WHOLE decade of the 1960's.

 

Sepiatone

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In some cases, the movie might define a decade in spite of it being made in a different  decade.  Like BONNIE AND CLYDE helped define the 1930's in spite of being made some thirty something years later.

 

I guess that's true if history is written by the survivors, though nobody who actually lived through the 30's would think that Bonnie and Clyde (the movie) defined anything more than Hollywood's insatiable need to cast Studs and Nymphs in every role imaginable.

 

OR a movie might just define a certain PART of a decade, as so much change can happen in the span of a decade that one movie defining ALL of a decade is difficult.  Like, EASY RIDER more defines the LATER '60's more than the WHOLE decade of the 1960's.

 

That's a good point, though if you're trying to think about a movie that would define the early 60's in the way that Easy Rider defined the social tensions of the late 60's, you'd come with ------- nothing.  For reasons that scarcely need mentioning.

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The movie that defined the 1990's for me and probably the 2000's/2010's as well is THE MATRIX (1999).  A vivid mesmerizing movie of where increasingly sophisticated electronics/computerization/control-of-the-masses is leading humanity or has already led us to.  Questions what is reality and who's reality is it and would any of us know reality if it actually bit us on the behind.  Life continues to "grow" or "evolve" into an overwhelming matrix of some kind.  THE MATRIX (1999):  Frightening in it's implications and prophecy/augury.

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I agree with finance and Andy that THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and THE GRADUATE define their decades best.

 

Rey's choice of GHOSTBUSTERS for the 1980s is good, too. This is the Reagan era comedy: the human villain, played by William Atherton, works for the EPA. The Reagan era drama for the 80s is AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN. Cool dude works out his problems and alienation by becoming a military officer? This is so NOT the late 1960s, which, as Sepiatone said, is defined by EASY RIDER. Show EASY RIDER and AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN as a double feature and you'll understand how American culture changed between 1969 and 1982.

 

THE MATRIX is another excellent choice for defining its decade.

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