Monday, January 9, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1984

The Contenders:

Amadeus (winner)
The Killing Fields
A Passage to India
Places in the Heart
A Soldier’s Story

What’s Missing

When people talk about great movie years, ones like 1939 get brought up frequently. Perhaps 1984 should get some more play. While a lot of the movies I’m about to name aren’t the kind of movies that get nominations, they are ones that are influential and that have left a massive footprint. These include The Terminator, Ghostbusters, A Nightmare on Elm Street, This is Spinal Tap, Gremlins, Romancing the Stone and Beverly Hills Cop. Stranger than Paradise has more artistic cred, and I think it actually could swing a nomination. Broadway Danny Rose, The River and Under the Volcano also seem like viable contenders, as does El Norte.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. A Passage to India is beautifully filmed. Thus ends my praise for this movie. I hate the story and dislike the characters. Our main female character is a spineless mush and our main Indian character is a sycophant. Everyone deserves better than this, especially the audience. This is a three-hour movie that tells a story that could have been handled in a 1-hour episode of pretty much any television courtroom drama. It’s CSI Mumbai, except longer and not nearly as interesting as it should be for that length.

4. I like A Soldier’s Story, but it has some real issues in terms of it reaching the dais for Best Picture. The first is that it seems like a military version of In the Heat of the Night. The second is that it flies the race flag hard and probably doesn’t need to. In a way, it feels like the Academy was guilted into the nomination, but was unable to find space for Howard Rollins. There is the feeling of the token around this film, and while the film itself is good and has a couple of monster performances, I’m not convinced it earned this nomination in this year.

3. If you gave me just the names of the films and removed my knowledge of the stories, I’d put something called Places in the Heart in last place. The truth is, though, that it’s a good movie and worth seeing. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, and I liked Sally Field in it a lot more than I thought I would, too. Good performances all the way around help the story, but it suffers from a few strange plot holes that don’t necessarily work for me. Still, I don’t have a real problem with the nomination, all things considered.

2. Had The Killing Fields been released in a different year, I could make a case for it without trying too hard. It’s a brilliant film from start to finish. It’s hard to watch and awful in places and brings up some very interesting ethical points throughout. This is the sort of film that typically wins, and in a lot of ways, I could happily make a case for The Killing Fields. If it’s your choice, I support that and don’t really take issue with that pick. It would have been my pick had it come out in almost any other year in the ‘80s. Just not in 1984.

My Choice

1. It’s Amadeus all the way. There’s not a thing I would change about this movie, from the opening moments to the closing credits. Everything—costumes, sets, music, performances, story, camera work—is what you want in a story like this one. That it’s historically inaccurate doesn’t bother me much. It’s a wonderful piece of theater, and a movie that remains fresh and vital more than 30 years after its release. It was the right choice, which is something of an oddity for this award in this decade.

Final Analysis


  1. Having not seen The Killing Fields I completely agree that from this field of choices that it should be Amadeus all the way and I'm not sure if that will change when I finally grit my teeth and put myself through what looks like it will be the grueling experience of Fields.

    Amadeus is such a MOVIE movie, using the visual splendor to awe the audience while keeping it entertained with an interesting story well directed and strongly acted.

    As to what's missing beside what you already mention I'd add Once Upon a Time in America, Paris, Texas and though it's a documentary the film I'd pick as the winner The Times of Harvey Milk with Amadeus second.

    1. Paris, Texas is a clear miss on my part at the top. That's one I'd much rather see on this list than several of my entries.

      The Killing Fields isn't an easy watch, but it's a film very much worth watching. I can't say you'll enjoy it, but I think you'll be happy that you watched it. I don't think it will knock Amadeus out of the top position for you. Amadeus is just too damn good in every aspect.

  2. I've seen three of them - A Passage to India, The Killing Fields, and Amadeus - and I do agree with your ranking. As affecting and powerful I found The Killing Fields, it was the subject matter, acting and screenplay that worked. With Amadeus, everything worked.

    This is why I hate the competition of awards - comparing such films doesn't work. It happens every year, and it works to the detriment of the films.

    1. I get that. It's why I try to look at these as much as I can as a specific thing. I look at Best Picture as the best story of the year. It helps me to keep in mind that while rewatchability is a part of that, it's not the only part of it. I dont particularly want to watch The Killing Fields again any time soon, but in a case of a movie like that, it shouldn't count against it.

  3. Not only the Best of 1984, I think it is the Best of the decade. The performances are spectacular and the art direction was realistic. You feel like these people lived in the world that was shown. It doesn't hurt that the music is Mozart.

    1. It may well be the greatest movie of its decade, but it's not my favorite. It is, however, one of my favorites of its decade, and in my opinion, the second-greatest Best Picture winner in Oscar history (behind only Casablanca).

  4. I've seen the top two picks and both are great. I might give a slight edge to The Killing Fields just because it affected it me even more, but Amadeus is a stunning film. With Amadeus, I expected more of a typical costume drama with solid acting. What surprised me was how gripping it was, even with the long running time.

    1. I agree. It's a film that never feels as long as it actually is.