The Big Chill
Fanny and Alexander
Tender Mercies (winner)
There were plenty of good movies in 1983, as indicated by the solid list of contenders for Best Original Screenplay. As is often the case, many of the films I’d love to see nominated here are adapted stories and thus aren’t eligible. On the “never in a million years” front, we have Videodrome, which I like probably more than I should. Local Hero is the sort of film that sometimes gets a little Oscar love for being cute and earnest and nicely made. Beyond this, everything I want to mention is a comedy. The trio of Trading Places, Mr. Mom, and Risky Business probably weren’t serious enough for Oscar contention, but all three have held up pretty well. So has Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. On the “serious comedy” side, I’m mildly surprised at how much everyone has forgotten Zelig. But if I had to add a single film here, it would be the acidic The King of Comedy, which is both funny and brutal.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I hate The Big Chill. I hate it. I realize that there’s an entire generation of people who feel like this is the movie that best describes their generation and I don’t really care. I think it’s filled with whiney, self-centered assholes who do nothing but complain about white people/first-world problems and about how hard their lives are because they haven’t been handed everything they want. I have little time for this level of narcissism and solipsism. I have nothing good to say about it, and would pick virtually any other movie from this year I have seen to replace it on this list.
4: Silkwood came out at a time when the word “nuclear” send a chill down the spine of almost everyone who heard it. It’s very much a product of its era; remade today, I can’t imagine people being that interested in it. It’s also a “lone hero stands against an evil corporation” tale, and those really only go in two directions—the upbeat “lone hero wins” and the downbeat “lone hero dies.” That this was based on a true story gives us the ending. It’s not the real Karen Silkwood’s fault that the story goes the way it does, but it is the fault of the screenwriters for leaving it this predictable.
3: I was pleasantly surprised by Tender Mercies. Its greatest strength is Robert Duvall’s performance, but the screenplay helps quite a bit. My only quibble with it here is that it’s far more of a character study than it is an actual story. I mean, it’s a hell of a good character study, but it doesn’t really go any further than that. I recommend the film completely, even with the overload of country music, but in terms of the screenplay, I can’t bring it past third. I get why it won, and ultimately I’m not that torn up that it did. It just wouldn’t get my vote.
2: Fanny and Alexander might be Ingmar Bergman’s most human film in a lot of ways. At the very least, it might be the most realistic family he ever created on screen. There are real joys and real sorrows in the film and, I think, some real truths in the idea that we are never fully able to escape from our past. Fanny and Alexander was Bergman’s last theatrical non-documentary release. It shows a lifetime of skill in its making and in its writing. Had it won, I’d be satisfied. But it’s not my ultimate pick.