Friday, September 5, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1982

The Contenders:
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Gandhi (winner)
The Verdict

What’s Missing

When I looked at Best Director 1982, I mentioned how much I like this year of movies, particularly the science fiction/horror releases in June. One of these, (E.T.) was nominated for Best Picture, while the other four--Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Poltergeist, Blade Runner and The Thing were not. I understand why they weren’t, even if the Academy was wrong (and for Blade Runner, they were working with the sub-standard theatrical release). Das Boot garnered a nomination for Best Director but not Best Picture, and that’s kind of a crime. It’s also the release year for Fitzcarraldo and Fanny and Alexander, and a case could be made for both. In a perfect world, someone might have argued for Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi or The Year of Living Dangerously. No? Officer and a Gentleman perhaps?

Weeding through the Nominees

5: The Verdict is a case in point of the Academy playing things safe and not leaving its comfort zone. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this film. Oh, there are plenty of problems here—it doesn’t earn its ending, for instance. It’s also a film that you’ve seen before: down-on-his-luck lawyer gets a big case he’s supposed to lose and through the magic of the justice system, actual justice prevails. Hey, it’s a story that plays for a lot of people, and this is a decent version of it. But it’s just decent. It doesn’t belong here.

4: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was 1982’s box office champ, and its success is a large reason why the other science fiction and horror films didn’t do as well. In a lot of ways, it’s a sentimental choice. It’s a cute movie. But it’s also a Spielberg cute movie, which means that we’re getting a lot of Spielberg’s tropes. Y’know, kids with father issues, evil government, magic of childhood…In truth, of the five great sci-fi/horror films of June 1982, E.T. is by far my least favorite. I’d rather see any of the other four nominated.

3: I like Tootsie for a lot of reasons. I like that for something that plays as broadly as it does on the surface, there’s a lot of subtlety here. I like that it doesn’t always go for the obvious joke. I like that in the context of a comedy it deals with some significant issues and deals with them very well. It’s just not close to the best picture of 1982. Were I to make a list of dream nominees, Tootsie might sneak in as the fifth nomination, but it’s more likely it gets left off entirely.

2: If you look at the five nominees, Gandhi winning is a no-brainer. It’s big, it’s about a major political figure of the 20th century, it’s epic in length. I’m guessing that Gandhi didn’t merely win but won by a landslide. This is exactly the sort of film that Oscar likes to pick for Best Picture. And really, if I’m honest about it, I have to admit that it’s an impressive piece of work. My issue with Gandhi is that once I’ve watched it, I’m not sure I ever want to watch it again. It’s too long and too overwhelming. Of course, that’s probably why it won.

1: I went into Missing knowing virtually nothing about it and came out the other side duly impressed. Along with Gandhi this is one of the films that I would argue deserved this nomination. It’s moved along by a fantastic dramatic performance from Jack Lemmon and solid work from Sissy Spacek and it stays true to the political ideals of director Costa-Gravas. It’s a movie more people should know, and limited to the five nominees for this year, it’s the one I was the most impressed by and the one I would choose for Best Picture.

My Choice

But, as it happens, in this little fantasy world I enjoy, I am not limited to the five nominees and I don’t have to pretend that I need to choose from them. In a year with so many good movies, the lack of nomination for many of them seems bizarre to me. If asked to pick a favorite, The Thing would come close to the top despite it never having a chance to win in the real world. Ideally, I’d like the top spot to be battled out between Fitzcarraldo and Das Boot, with Das Boot taking the prize. It’s a sad thing when the two best films of the year don’t even rate a nomination. Oscar, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Final Analysis


  1. Hear, hear!
    I might want to squeeze in Bladerunner among the runner-ups, but then again I am thinking of the "real" version... Gandhi was not a bad film and among the nominees I might also have chosen it, but what on Earth were the academy members thinking of when they nominated films this year???

    1. It happens. This isn't the first time I've picked on a year that should've been a lot better at the ceremony, and I'm sure there will be plenty of others.

    2. Ten years later...
      The Missing is not on the List. In fact I have never even seen it mentioned anywhere. Something to look up I suppose, but 82 was such a crowded year.
      I am totally I. On Das Boot, but even the theatrical version of Blade runner ranks very high with me. Director's cut in my top five all time. Busy year.

    3. It is a busy year, and it contend that June of 1982 is arguably the best month of movies before studios started backloading in December for awards season. Within three weeks of each other in June of 1982, we got Blade Runner, E.T., The Thing, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Poltergeist.

  2. I agree completely with your choice. And Das Boot actually has everything that Hollywood is usually looking for in a blockbuster. Don't know if it could have beaten Ghandi though even if nominated.

    1. Oh, it probably wouldn't have beaten Gandhi. It just should have.

      The only thing Das Boot was missing in terms of what Hollywood looks for is being in English.

  3. If Blade Runner would have been theatrically released in it's best version, I would have picked it to win for sure. The academy probably would have passed it over anyway.I have never watched Missing, but it sounds interesting. Thanks for a great review.

    1. I would find it difficult to argue against you on Blade Runner. Unfortunately, with this I'm stuck with the theatrical release, and that does hurt it a lot.

      Missing is worth your time.

  4. Among the five nominees I'd swap Tootsie and The Verdict around on your list. I've never understood the love for Tootsie. Yes, the first few very broad jokes are funny, but then the next couple hundred mostly fall flat.

    For me the best film of the year, hands down, is Das Boot.

    1. I can live with a little rearranging since neither of those films would be ones I would probably nominate in the first place. Tootsie might have a chance, but only a chance.