LOS ANGELES — "Rock of Ages" revels in the big hair and tight leather pants of a very specific place and time: the Sunset Strip in 1987, when bands like Guns N' Roses and Poison got their start. But a lot of great movies came out that year, too. Here are five of them; I would have included "The Princess Bride" but I already find reasons to mention it every other week:
— "Full Metal Jacket": One of Stanley Kubrick's best — and I really should find a reason to compile that list one of these days — this Vietnam War drama lulls you in with its humor in the first half, then blows you away with its brutality in the second. Kubrick follows a group of Marines through boot-camp training, under the verbally abusive but hilariously profane watch of their demanding drill sergeant, played by R. Lee Ermey in the persona that would become his signature. But then they must take what they've learned and apply it in pressure-cooker urban warfare situations. "Full Metal Jacket" is raw and visceral in its details, yet surreal and dreamlike in its mood. And it provides an early glimpse of the intensity and immersion we've come to expect from Vincent D'Onofrio, committing himself completely here to the role of the slow-witted private nicknamed Gomer Pyle.
— "Raising Arizona": Still one of my all-time favorites from the Coen brothers and a great example of the off-kilter vibe that arose from their brief collaboration with then-cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld. At times, this screwball comic romance feels like a live-action cartoon, with its odd characters and larger-than-life predicaments. The baby point-of-view shots alone give the movie both a playful energy and a genuine feeling of danger. It's silly and super-stylized but it also works in its smaller moments, as evidenced by Nicolas Cage's quietly unhinged performance as a philosophical career criminal who promises to go straight and secure a baby for his yearning police officer wife (Holly Hunter).
— "Moonstruck": I've always enjoyed the balance that director Norman Jewison and Oscar-winning screenwriter John Patrick Shanley strike here. This is a movie that's unabashedly old-fashioned and sweet but with a no-nonsense and slightly shaggy streak. Everyone feels what they feel so intensely, they must be under some sort of magical spell. And yet the film affectionately teases them for being the fools that they've become. Here's Cage again as a man full of impulses, driven by the passion he feels for the luminous Cher, who tries not to love him back because she's engaged to marry Cage's brother (Danny Aiello). "Moonstruck" is a romantic comedy for people who don't usually like romantic comedies.
— "Less Than Zero": A lurid depiction of the drugs and decadence of the time. Having grown up in Los Angeles in the 1980s, I can attest that this is not necessarily what it was like — not in my tame little corner of the San Fernando Valley, where sneaking wine coolers felt rebellious. Ah, but on the other side of the hill, everyone was rich and sophisticated and stylishly tormented — at least through novelist Bret Easton Ellis' eyes. This early Robert Downey Jr. performance showed glimmers of the quick wit and emotional depth that continue to be his trademarks. Ed Lachmann's cinematography made sunny L.A. seem dangerous and seamy. And it had a great soundtrack including The Bangles' insanely catchy cover of "Hazy Shade of Winter" and the LL Cool J classic "Goin' Back to Cali."
— "Dirty Dancing": This is a nostalgic choice, admittedly. I probably should have picked something artsier and more respected like "The Last Emperor," which won nine Academy Awards including best picture. But looking back, which film left the most enduring mark on the culture, on the era? Of the five listed here, it's "Dirty Dancing," far and away. Hugely crowd-pleasing with an infectious energy and a vivid sense of place, this became an international phenomenon, and it's easy to see why. It's just fun. Great music, great choreography. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze are lovely together, even though on paper they make absolutely no sense as a couple. And we all learned that nobody puts Baby in a corner. You just don't do it.