Friday, September 26, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1987

The Contenders:
Broadcast News
Fatal Attraction
Hope and Glory
The Last Emperor (winner)

What’s Missing

I had to double-check the list of films for Best Picture 1987. I remember this as being a much better year than the five films listed here. And it was. If ever a year existed where the Academy needed to loosen its collective sphincter, 1987 was it. Few films are more endearing than The Princess Bride, just as a place to start. Raising Arizona and The Untouchables were released in 1987, as were Roxanne, Full Metal Jacket, Wall Street, Radio Days, Three Men and a Baby and Good Morning, Vietnam. On the foreign front, Babette’s Feast and Au Revoir, les Enfants would make my list, but both would take a back seat to Wings of Desire. It’s also the year for Evil Dead II, Near Dark and Hellraiser, not that the Academy cared.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I won’t deny that Broadcast News is a well-made film, but that’s pretty much the only thing I give it. I can’t stand the characters and don’t care about the story at all. It’s another tale of people acting like assholes and getting away with it because they are pretty. In fact, the only character I actually like ends up getting dumped on through the entire movie. Sure, the production is impressive. So what? The entire thing, despite its prescience, feels completely manufactured and artificial. Maybe that’s another comment on the news media, but I doubt it.

4: Moonstruck is another film where I can admire the production, the cast, and the direction, but I wonder why it was deserving of so many nominations. Am I the wrong age? The wrong gender? I don’t know. I know my mother loved this movie. In my case, though, it washed over me without making a huge impression on me one way or another. My biggest beef is that if you removed the stereotypes from Moonstruck, you’d be left with a couple of sets and about three pages of stage direction.

3: I tried really hard to remember a lot about Hope and Glory, but I didn’t come up with a great deal. That doesn’t bode well, since this is the one I watched the most recently of these five films. Again, this is a good film, but it doesn’t really belong on a list of the five best films of this year. I tend to cut more slack to films set during World War II, and I tend to like films about the home front during war. Those two factors help Hope and Glory, but the fact that I had to look back at what I’d written about it counts pretty heavily against it.

2: Fatal Attraction is a damn fine film and I’m still a little bit surprised at the nomination. It’s not a genre that Oscar typically honors in any way. It’s also the first film on this list where I more or less understand the nomination, even if I wouldn’t give the film the statue myself. The biggest issue I have is the shock ending, which seems completely out of place in anything other than a straight horror movie and didn’t really fit with the rest of the film. Still, this is a hell of a good thriller and it’s one that stands up today. I probably still wouldn’t nominate it, but at least I get why it got here.

1: This leaves us with The Last Emperor at the top of the heap, and I completely understand why this film won the Oscar for Best Picture given the competition. This is not a film I would choose to watch again very often, but it is very much a grand production and a film that tells a story on an epic scale. It’s also a case where I think both John Lone and Peter O’Toole were snubbed for nominations. It’s easily the best and greatest of the five nominations, but it’s not even close to the best film of 1987.

My Choice

If you return to my first paragraph, you’ll find more than enough films to replace all five of the nominees. Almost at random, Radio Days, The Princess Bride, Wings of Desire, Roxanne, and The Untouchables would be a better list of five. So would Wall Street, Babette’s Feast, Full Metal Jacket, Au Revoir les Enfants, and Raising Arizona. In a perfect world, The Princess Bride would be everyone’s favorite movie from 1987 and it would have won. In a slightly less perfect world, we’d be talking about Wings of Desire winning. In either case, the Academy had its head firmly up its ass this year. What a train wreck.

Final Analysis


  1. Yeah, I've not seen any of these five, but I have seen a number of the others you listed. I can't get behind Wings of Desire, but I can definitely get behind The Princess Bride!

  2. Of the five nominees the only one I'd keep is the winner The Last Emperor. I'd swap Fatal Attraction and Hope and Glory around, but other than that I agree with your ranking. Broadcast News was another movie from James L, (Terms of Enderament) Brooks with characters I hated, so I completely agree with you there.

    Since The Princess Bride is the film I name as my favorite of all time, when backed into a corner, I welcome your mention of it, too. I liked Wings of Desire quite a bit. Among the ones mentioned in your last paragraph only The Untouchables would fall off for me. I thought it was a decent movie, but nothing spectacular. I loved Raising Arizona - the first Coen Brothers movies I ever saw. I haven't seen Radio Days. Steve Martin should have gotten a lot more notice for Roxanne.

    1. Radio Days contains my favorite Woody Allen script. It's funny, sweet, and nostalgic without becoming maudlin. It also has a magnificent cast. It doesn't have much of a plot, but it's not supposed to. It's more or less Allen doing Amarcord, and doing it really, really well.

      I'd keep The Last Emperor here and I could probably be persuaded to keep Fatal Attraction, although I could go either way. I agree that The Untouchables isn't much more than just a good movie, but it's a very rewatchable good movie that holds up extremely well. I wouldn't argue hard for it compared with the other films that could be nominated, but I wouldn't have been too upset had it been nominated.

      As for Roxanne, when I get to Best Actor 1987, you can expect a lot of outrage for his lack of a nomination.

  3. I can't get too excited about any of the nominees, though I liked them enough. All of them would have taken a back seat to Babette's Feast on my own Oscar ballot.

    1. I really liked Babette's Feast. The last five minutes of that film are on the short list of movies and movie scenes that make me tear up just thinking about them.

  4. I'm fine with you disagreeing with the Academy, I do that nearly every year :)
    There are 2-3 great scenes in Broadcast News(Brooks sweating in newroom, W Hurt anchoring while guided over phone)but yeah, you have a pont about the manufactured aspect, it's like the writers sat down and discussed...what can go wrong for these type of characters, and hey presto, that's what we got. I agree Wings of Desire is THE foreign film of that year-it’s my no 1 film of 1987.
    I’m partial to films such as Cry Freedom (Richard Attenborough) , Opera (Dario Argento), Project X (Jonathan Kaplan), Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson), Planes, Trains and Automobiles (John Hughes), Predator (John McTiernan), Lethal Weapon (Richard Donner), and yes, Princess Bride, which were not Best Picture contenders.

    1. I flat missed Planes, Trains and Automobiles when going through the released films of the year. I'm not at all a fan of Withnail and I, at least not at this level.

      This year just makes me angry all the way around for this award. So far, this is the one that has made me the angriest.

  5. I agree that this year was a major failure for the Academy. Wings of Desire is my choice, easily. Princess Bride doesn't do anything at all for me, I am really surprised that so many of you rank it so high.

    1. You're in a very small minority with your opinion on The Princess Bride. You know that, right?