Best of 1981

1981 marked the second year that Patrick McGilligan and Mark Rowland conducted their annual film poll.  50 critics were polled, and the results are as follows:

19. Excalibur (7 lists)


“There is humor here (in the form of a vaudeville Merlin, played by Nicol Williamson) as well as a diminution of scale that seems intended to help audiences through the thornier byways of Boorman’s vision.” – Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

19. True Confessions (7 lists)


“Des is another solitary soul, but perhaps he’s the most subtle and accessible solitary De Niro has yet embodied — a man whose isolation draws you closer instead of giving you the willies.” – Gary Arnold, Washington Post

17. Heartland (8 lists)


“Unlike other films of the “farming” cycle (Country, Places in the Heart) casting the lead with a newcomer (Conchata Ferrell), who didn’t look like an actress, added to the film’s authenticity.” – Emanuel Levy,

17. Man of Iron (8 lists)


“A not to be missed film for political junkies.” – Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews

15. Breaker Morant (9 lists)


“The film all Australian films since have tried to live up to – and couldn’t” – Clint Morris, Moviehole

15. Stevie (9 lists)


“All in all it’s a remarkably satisfying portrait of a true English original.” – Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress

13. My Dinner With Andre (10 lists)


“What makes the film so intriguing and so beguiling and so utterly wonderful is the way it slowly reveals itself, uncoiling in ways that don’t produce dramatic fireworks, but rather gradual realizations” – James Kendrick, Q Network Film Desk

13. Pennies From Heaven (10 lists)


“A bit of filmmaking as film criticism to be respected and admired above and beyond its relationship to the legendary miniseries that it pushed out of print for more than 20 years.” – Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy

12. Arthur (11 lists)


“Mr. Gordon’s screenplay is full of funny things, and it’s beautifully paced, but it’s the performances that give the picture its true classiness.” – Vincent Canby, New York Times

11. Gallipoli (12 lists)


“Weir’s work has a delicacy, gentleness, even wispiness that would seem not well suited to the subject. And yet his film has an uncommon beauty, warmth, and immediacy, and a touch of the mysterious, too.” – Janet Maslin, New York Times

8. Chariots of Fire (13 lists)


“Like every element in this picture, the actors look right; they seem to emerge from the past, instead of being pasted on to it, as so many characters in historical movies seem to be.” – Richard Schickel, Time Magazine

8. Cutter’s Way (13 lists)


“The film moves with an easy uncoerced swing: moment by moment, scene by scene, we are unsure what to think or where we are going. It is a fascinating, organically grown drama.” – Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

8. Ragtime (13 lists)


“Sporadically engaging, Milos Forman’s chronicle of American society and culture in the beginning of the twentieth century is too sprawling and dramatically diffuse, though some of the acting is excellent.” – Emanuel Levy,

6. The French Lieutenant’s Woman (14 lists)


“It may be a true “chick flick,” but as far as those movies go, you could do a hell of a lot worse.” – Scott Weinberg, Apollo Guide

6. Pixote (14 lists)


“Though shapeless, Hector Babenco’s docu-style social expose about homeless kids in Brazil contains some of the most harrowing scenes about street children in any film; a companion piece to Bunuel’s Los Olvidados and De Sica’s Bicycle Thief and Shoeshine” – Emanuel Levy,

5. Body Heat (16 lists)


“While Body Heat involves murder, fraud, a weak hero led astray and a seductive, double-dealing broad, it also incorporates something new: a sexual explicitness that the old films could only hint at.” – Janet Maslin, New York Times

3. Prince of the City (23 lists)


“After the film starts to turn itself over in your mind, it becomes a much deeper piece, a film about how difficult it is to go straight in a crooked world without hurting people you love.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (23 lists)


“Raiders of the Lost Ark has more size than substance but nevertheless it’s a delightful special big surprise package of a movie that should turn Indiana Jones into a national figure.” – Ernest Leogrande, New York Daily News

2. Reds (32 lists)


“Reds is finally just an appealingly conventional epic movie-star romance with radical trimmings, but it contains several sharper elements that suggest the colorful period it seeks to recreate.” – Dan Callahan, Slant Magazine

1. Atlantic City (37 lists)


“What makes “Atlantic City” sweet — and that’s the word for it — is the gentleness with which Lou handles his last chance at amounting to something, and the wisdom with which Sally handles Lou.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times