Friday, March 7, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1986

The Contenders:
Children of a Lesser God
Hannah and Her Sisters
The Mission
Platoon (winner)
A Room with a View

What’s Missing

In a word, what’s missing is Aliens, which remains one of the greatest science fiction/action movies in history. In a second word, Hoosiers. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would make some lists. Stand By Me would definitely make mine as an oversight. Other notables include Blue Velvet, Salvador, She’s Gotta Have It, The Fly, Sid and Nancy, and Down by Law. On the non-English front, The Decline of the American Empire might get a nod from some people (I genuinely prefer the sequel). On a more personal front, 1986 was also the year True Stories came out, and I love how weird that film is.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: Children of a Lesser God comes across to me as a movie of the week with a good cast and a larger budget. It’s the story of an aggressively deaf woman played by the aggressively deaf Marlee Matlin. I missed this when I watched it, but the film also manages to sabotage itself by forcing William Hurt to translate out loud everything Matlin’s character says. The entire point of the film is about the legitimacy of her position and then the film works to counteract that point by not subtitling her. The more I think about it, the more it pisses me off.

4: I freely admit that A Room with a View was not a film made with me in mind. I’m certainly willing and able to admit that a Merchant/Ivory picture can have a lot going for it, but this was one that didn’t do a lot for me. This isn’t a bad film, but it is one that I found tedious and completely passionless. It could be argued that the passion is something going on below the surface, but if it’s so far down that it never comes up for air, who cares? It tries for a timid romance (like, say, Brief Encounter) and ends up with one that is merely tepid.

3: I’ve mentioned my history of loving war films in the past, which makes eventual winner Platoon’s third place here noteworthy. Platoon is a very good film, perhaps even a great film, but it’s also so heavily symbolic that at times I have trouble taking it seriously. Perhaps I’m wrong in this, but for my money, it’s comes no higher than third in terms of Vietnam films, let alone war films. A lighter hand from Oliver Stone would raise it in my estimation, but Stone isn’t really known for having a light hand.

2: The Mission is the one of these five that I’ve seen the most recently, and I was suitably impressed with it. I expected to perhaps have a problem with the ultimate religious message of the film, but it manages to avoid these problems by pushing a good and believable story rather than hammering on any positive or negative religious theme it might otherwise have. It takes a careful and measured road, suggesting that the good of religion comes from people, that the evil of religion also comes from people, and that the purpose of religion itself is to justify and protect its own existence. Great performances all the way around and incredible, lush scenery don’t hurt it a bit.

1: I freely admit to being a fan of Woody Allen’s writing, so having his script at the heart of Hannah and Her Sisters is a huge benefit, as its Oscar for Best Original Screenplay attests. This is a smart film, very messy and human and in all the right ways. It’s also a film with a dream cast, with characters who are realistically quirky without being caricatures, and with real human joy, pain, and misery. It’s a hell of a film, and one of Allen’s best. Limited to the five films nominated, it would have received my vote.

My Choices

However, in this fantasy world that I make these posts in, I’m not limited to the five nominees. I understand the Academy’s exclusion of Aliens since it lives in the heart of genres that the Academy generally dislikes except for the technical awards. But Stand By Me being excluded? Hoosiers? Seriously? I’d pick each of these three movies over all five of the nominees every day and twice on Sunday. While I’d have some difficulty making Aliens stick with the Academy of the time, there’s no reason I can see that the other two weren’t in the running.

Final Analysis


  1. Never saw "A Room with a View," but I did see "The Remains of the Day," and as I may have mentioned before, all I can think of is Eddie Izzard's description of British dramas as actors opening doors and going, "Oh, I'm—oh." Now you'd think that Merchant-Ivory productions would appeal to the older crowd, but I saw "The Remains of the Day" years ago with my great aunt Gertrude... and she fell asleep in the movie theater. That's how compelling the drama was.

    I thought "Platoon" was a powerful and affecting film, and since I'm one of those people that George Carlin once belittled as "the symbol-minded," I actually liked the Manichaean world that Oliver Stone presented. He didn't take the Coppola/Kubrick route, which was a sort of boilerplate depiction of Vietnam—and of war in general—as a form of collective insanity. That's a cheap and easy message; however true the message might actually be, it's not a very daring or creative insight. Stone's film focuses instead on a spiritual tug-of-war involving a young man and two father figures. There's something about the dramatic themes and structure of "Platoon" that, to me at least, evokes a stage play. Sure, I'll grant the approach was heavy-handed, as you say, but at least it wasn't typical (well... not until "Man of Tai Chi" came along and borrowed the Manichaean template).

    1. My overall impression of films like A Room with a View is that I consistently wonder at how the human race continued to propagate. Everyone is so terrified of the opposite gender! They can barely look at each other, let alone speak or touch each other through four or five layers of clothing.

      I'm probably in the minority on my view of Platoon. I recognize it as a good film, but it also comes across to me as Oliver Stone essentially force-feeding me symbolism like I'm a goose being prepared to make foie gras. I don't mind symbolism, even overt symbolism at times, but I genuinely prefer subtlety.

  2. "Platoon" was never anything that begged me to see it but of the rest I would have gone for "Hannah and Her Sisters" as well. Some excellent foreign language films from 1986 include "Jean de Florette" and Erich Rohmer's "Summer". I'm also fond of "Down by Law" and "Mona Lisa". My most loved and watched film of 1986 is "Ruthless People", however. I'm funny that way.

  3. They also forgot Little Shop of Horrors, in my opinion. :P

    Seriously though, had this not been the same year Aliens came out, Little Shop would have swept the technical awards. The puppetry and audio/visual tricks in that movie is mind-blowing.

    1. @Marie--I liked Mona Lisa, but I'm not sure I liked it enough to put it on this list. I did consider it, though. I've got nothing against Ruthless People, since in my world, True Stories would have at least garnered a few nominations.

      @Nick--I won't disagree with LSoH winning visual effects without Aliens. It's actually rather difficult to believe that Audrey II is a practical effect throughout.

  4. In all honesty, all five of those films are pretty much the same level for me. None of them are great, but none of them are that bad, either. I'll echo an earlier commenter who named Jean de Florette. I'd pick that film, in combination with the other half of the story - 1986's Manon of the Spring - as the best film(s) of the year.

    Among the nominees, I'd stick with Platoon.

    1. Yeah, I think I'm in the minority by putting Platoon middle of the pack. Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring are gaps in my viewing history.

  5. Platoon is a little overcooked, I'd have Stand by Me, Aliens and Little Shop of Horrors near the top. The Mission would have been my choice from the Academy list. It felt like a thin year as I look at those five choices. I do remember enjoying A Room with a View, but I've always enjoyed those "tea on the lawn" movies.

    1. I was very close to selecting The Mission as my choice, and if we stick with just the Academy choices, I would have been fine with it winning.

      This was a much better year that the five nominees would indicate, even with as much as I liked The Mission and Hannah and Her Sisters.

  6. I was fascinated by Platoon when I saw it, but that was also back in high school. I wonder how the symbolism would work seeing it 20 years later. I also love Hannah and Her Sisters, so I think you made the right pick. This is quite a strong year for movies, but not a particularly amazing year for Best Picture nominees. Nothing jumps out to me as terrible, though I haven't seen Children of a Lesser God. Still, there were a lot of worthy candidates.

    1. Yeah, this was an interesting year. We're of an age--Platoon was first year of college for me, and I loved it then, too. It's not as good now as I remember it from my youth.

      Honestly, that's the main reason I've gone back and rewatched all of the films I'd seen before in doing this. Some movies hold up and some genuinely don't. Platoon is good, but not as good as you remember, more than likely.

      As for Children of a Lesser God, it's a Lifetime movie with a better cast.