Friday, December 25, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1980

The Contenders:

Coal Miner’s Daughter
The Elephant Man
Ordinary People (winner)
Raging Bull
Tess
What’s Missing

Movies like Star Wars don’t normally get nominated, so it shouldn’t be a huge shock that The Empire Strikes Back missed a nomination. However, since it’s a better film than Star Wars, my thinking is that it should’ve been here, at least over one of the actual nominees. I’d also mention The Shining as a film that could stand some love come Oscar time. The Blues Brothers and Airplane! also aren’t the kind of films that turn Oscar’s gaze. If I’m serious, they shouldn’t be here, but I love them both. The Big Red One and Breaker Morant do seem like the right sort of films, though.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I like the films of Roman Polanski in general, but I really didn’t like Tess at all. The central tenet of Tess is that all men are evil and stupid and rapists at heart. This is particularly ironic when it was directed by a man who can’t return to the United States because of statutory rape charges. Preach all you want, but when you’re telling me I’m spiritual or genetically guilty of the shit you’re accused of, I get to call shenanigans. It’s a pretty film to look at, but an ugly one in its soul. We got this instead of The Empire Strikes Back?

4: With Coal Miner’s Daughter, we’re at least in the realm of films that I like. The best thing about Coal Miner’s Daughter is Sissy Spacek, who won. I like this nomination a lot, even if the main reason this nomination happened was for Spacek’s tremendous performance. The sad truth is I just like the other three nominations better. No knock against Coal Miner’s Daughter, no knock against Sissy Spacek’s career-making performance. Hell of a movie, just not the year’s best.

3: Everything I said about Coal Miner’s Daughter could be said about Raging Bull. The best parts of this film are De Niro’s performance (and he won) and Scorsese’s direction (and he should’ve won). Raging Bull often seems like the default choice for a great number of people as 1980’s Best Picture, but I disagree. It’s a great movie, but not one that I want to rewatch much. Beat me up in the comments if you’d like, but I’m standing fast on this one.

2: For whatever reason, The Elephant Man has been forgotten and it shouldn’t have been. It’s a hell of a good movie with another career-making performance, this time in the person of John Hurt. Every decision that David Lynch made for this was the right one, but again, this is a case where the best part of the film is the performance rather than the film itself. I put it above Raging Bull specifically because, given the choice, it’s the film I’d watch again.

My Choice

1: No Oscar got this one right giving the statue to Ordinary People. I see Best Director as the best storytelling of the year and Best Picture as the best story being told. Ordinary People is a timeless film. Change the clothing of the characters and this plays exactly the same way today as it did in 1980. Robert Redford got out of the way and let the story tell itself, and it’s a story that needed telling. Everything works here, and it hasn’t aged a day. Complain all you want (that’s what the comments are for), but Oscar made the right choice here.

Final Analysis

16 comments:

  1. I'd agree with your choices straight down the line. Oscar did pretty well with its nominees this year remarkably. The Return of the Secaucas Seven would be the film I'd say was the most worthy of note besides the ones you already mentioned.

    Tess is a beautiful film to look at but I didn't care much for it either. The story behind the making, Sharon Tate left a copy of the book behind with a note for Polanski saying she thought he could make a good film out of it when she left London for the last time before her murder, the film carries the simple dedication "For Sharon" at the end of the credits, is more touching than anything on the screen.

    I'd say I'd switch Coal Miner's and Raging Bull's positions since I don't like RB much at all but aside from Sissy I'm not much for her film either. I've never really thought about since I haven't watched Ordinary People lately but that is a very true statement about its timelessness.

    The thing that gets me is how People was such a magnet for nominations and poor Donald Sutherland who was an equal to the others once again was ignored.

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    1. Bluntly, I expect to get some heat for not putting Raging Bull first. When people talk about past Oscar mistakes, this tends to be in the top ten along with films like Crash and Around the World in 80 Days. Ordinary People is still a very powerful film, and the story is still completely relevant.

      I agree with you on Donald Sutherland. It's one of his best performances and he's noteworthy in a cast that is all giving career performances--Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, and Timothy Hutton are all great, and Sutherland is still often the best thing on screen. How he got skipped I'll never understand.

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  2. Sigh. I really, really want to tell you that Raging Bull should have won this Oscar. I can't say that with any degree of certainty, because I haven't seen Ordinary People. I might have to do so just to settle the debate in my own mind. Then, there's the other thing. Regardless of where I eventually come down on the head-to-head battle between these two films, I'll probably still think Oscar got it wrong because they didn't award, or even nominate, the true Best Picture - The Empire Strikes Back. Yup, I said it. Anyhoo, I'm perplexed.

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    1. Admittedly, my heart goes to Empire, but my head says that Oscar did the right thing here.

      Ordinary People really is worth your time. Hell of a good story, and a set of actors really on top of their game.

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  3. I've seen all these movies and can't really fault Oscar. I suppose Raging Bull and Elephant Man are more "artistic" movies but not ones I am really aching to see again.

    Here are some movies I like more than those on the Oscar nominations list: Atlantic City (my vote would have gone to this); Breaker Morant; Kagemusha; Melvin and Howard; and The Gods Must Be Crazy.

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    1. I didn't love Atlantic City, which is why it didn't get mentioned above. I do like Breaker Morant, though, which is why it did.

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    2. Atlantic City wasn't released until April 1981. I didn't see it until earlier this year. Dang, Louis Malle was an amazing filmmaker! I could hardly believe what I was seeing when I saw Zazie dans la Metro and Black Moon recently.

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    3. Good point on Atlantic City. I didn't realize it when I replied above, but it got all of its nominations in 1981.

      I'm still not sure it's deserving of them, but that's to be discussed on other posts.

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  4. Raging Bull is a performance in search of a movie. I remember Steven Bach writing about the making of Heavan' s Gate that the studio was worried about the Scorsce film and that Robert DeNiro was an uncredited screenwriter on the project. That the movie turned out as well as it did is due to the collaboration of director and star.
    Ordinary People is fine story and a good film, it doesn't deserve all the crap people give it. You are 100% right that it stands up today as a relevant film. Am I correct in saying that Sutherland has never been nominated? This is a performance that everyone assumes he was nominated for. I've heard him speak of having to correct people on that assumption, that must be tough.
    Raging Bull does not have repeatability, but The Elephant Man does.David Lynch made all the right choices, it would be my pick from the film's on the list.

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    1. On an earlier post of this sort, I awarded Best Director to Scorsese. I think he deserved it, because, as mentioned above, I thought it was the best storytelling of the year. But not the best story.

      Donald Sutherland has deserved several nominations, but I'd be hard-pressed to think of one he's deserved more than this.

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  5. For me, The Elephant Man should have won this one, so I'm so happy to see it rank so high with you! What you say about Ordinary People is so spot on though...it makes me want to watch the film and reevaluate it ASAP!

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    1. I take no issue with love for The Elephant Man.

      It's never a bad idea to watch Ordinary People. I'm still surprised by just how much it still can affect me emotionally.

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  6. I love raging bull for Scorcese and De Niro but not much besides. It's still very good, but I don't consider it a lock, or having been badly robbed, but you're right, people do talk about this one A LOT.

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    1. They do, and I'm not really sure why that's the case. Even if people think Raging Bull deserves the win, it's not like Ordinary People is a terrible winner here.

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  7. In all honesty, none of the five nominees really strike me as truly great movies. I can point to individual things from them like DeNiro's and Spacek's acting, Tess' cinematography, and The Elephant Man's makeup that are fantastic, but as overall movies none of them get me too excited. Of those five I'd say The Elephant Man is the one I consider the best overall film.

    For sheer entertainment value I'd go with Airplane!, but that kind of movie never gets Best Picture.

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    1. We'll disagree on that. I think a few of these are definitely worth the nomination.

      I do love Airplane! and it still makes me laugh just as hard as it always did, but you're right--it would never be nominated.

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