I Wanna Hold Your Hand 
Robert Zemeckis | 1978 | USA | 35mm | 104m 
This frenetic and madcap debut from Robert Zemeckis showcases the comedic and pop culture-conscious sensibility that underpins and thankfully grounds the director’s subsequent career as a master of large-scale, high-concept, and special effects-driven spectacles from Romancing the Stone to Back to the Future and beyond. It’s 1964 and America is in the first flush of Beatlemania. Led by soon-to-be-married Pam (Nancy Allen), four girls from Maplewood, NJ head for the Big Apple, intent (for a variety of reasons) on infiltrating the hotel where the Fab Four are staying prior to their legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in order to secure a personal audience with their idols. Enter Eddie Deezen as Beatles fanatic Richard “Ringo” Klaus, in full Jerry Lewis mode. Safe to assume that a large part of the film’s $2.7 million budget went to the cost of the music rights to the soundtrack’s 12 Beatles recordings—no doubt with a little help from Zemeckis mentor Steven Spielberg, in the first of many outings as executive producer to an up-and-coming kindred spirit. Zemeckis and screenwriter Bob Gale returned the favor by writing, er … 1941.

Used Cars 
Robert Zemeckis | 1980 | USA | 113m 
Despite the lambasting of the Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale-scripted 1941, executive producer Steven Spielberg backed his protégés once again with this caustic, rapid-fire satire about the sharp-practice rivalry between two used-car dealerships. In a career-breakout bravura comic performance, a pre-John Carpenter Kurt Russell plays sleazy hotshot salesman and aspiring politician Rudy, the king of the New Deal lot, owned by Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden). Luke’s cut-throat rival and twin brother Roy (played—you guessed it—by Warden) runs the lot on the opposite side of the highway, where he hatches a plot to do away with the competition… with extreme prejudice. The ensuing battle royale between Rudy and Roy is a non-stop tour de force of kinetic, ever-more-elaborate gags and a tribute to the greed, duplicity, and mean-spiritedness that made America great. Pauline Kael, no less, admired the film’s “wonderful, energetic heartlessness”—and opening a few months before the resounding electoral defeat of Jimmy Carter, it’s hard not to see Used Cars as a deliciously ironic and bittersweet metaphor for American life at the dawn of the Reagan 80s, every bit a zeitgeist film as Zemeckis’s Back to the Future and Forrest Gump.