Born on the Fourth of July
Dead Poets Society
Driving Miss Daisy (winner)
Field of Dreams
My Left Foot
Looking at 1989 objectively, it’s a hell of a good year for movies. There are lots of fantastic movies from this year, and the five listed aren’t even close to my favorite five from this year. Let’s get rid of the movies I like that really aren’t legitimate “Best Picture” contenders. These include Heathers, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Say Anything..., Major League, UHF, and Parenthood. Documentaries don’t get love for Best Picture, but Roger & Me deserves a mention here. Many would pimp for sex, lies and videotape, but it’s not one I like enough. At this point, I’ve mentioned a lot of movies I really like, but I haven’t touched movies I think could really swing a nomination. Of these, Shirley Valentine is probably the least followed by Crimes and Misdemeanors. Batman is in the wrong genre and When Harry Met Sally… probably wasn’t serious enough for contention. The Fabulous Baker Boys is sadly forgotten. The two that really deserved nominations in my opinion are Henry V, Branagh’s wonderful reworking of Shakespeare’s best history play and Do the Right Thing, which was criminally overlooked in this category.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: Dead Poets Society, of all the nominees, is the one that I think deserves to be here the least. It’s not half the movie Henry V or Do the Right Thing is. Not half. I get why people like it, but it comes across to me as maudlin and overly sentimental. It’s too predictable and not nearly enough reins were put on Robin Williams. No teacher is really this inspiring, and if one is, he or she is not nearly this annoying and shouldn’t rely so damned heavily on Walt Whitman. Dead Poets Society has no place in this company.
4: Eventual winner Driving Miss Daisy was the easy, safe choice for the Academy. The Academy loves “issues” movies, and a safe movie about racism was the natural choice. Of course Do the Right Thing was an intense movie about racism that addressed real issues head on, but it wasn’t safe and wasn’t nominated. I don’t have anything against Driving Miss Daisy; it’s a fine film with some very good performances. But Best Picture? Only in the tamest of years, and as I’ve shown above, 1989 was hardly a tame year.
3: I could see a lot of people stumping for My Left Foot, and it’s the first of these nominees that I’m okay with on the nomination. There’s a lot here that’s really great. However, the greatest thing in My Left Foot is the astonishing performance of Daniel Day-Lewis, and he won for Best Actor. Even more, I agree with him winning for Best Actor. Because the best part of the movie won (and should have) the appropriate award, what’s left here is still good, even great, but not the Best Picture of 1989.
2: I am frequently of the opinion that Oliver Stone directs his movies with a mallet in terms of his use of symbolism. Born on the Fourth of July is the exception to that—he really stuck with the real story of Ron Kovic, perhaps out of respect to the material. For whatever reason he gave deference to the material, it was the right choice. This isn’t my second-favorite movie of 1989, but I think it’s the second-best of the nominees, and with the possible exception of JFK, I think it’s the Oliver Stone film I’m most likely to watch again.
1: Field of Dreams hits on all cylinders for me. It does everything right and while there’s a scene or two I could live without, it doesn’t do much wrong. The story is great and, more than any other film I can think of, really gets to the heart of the American connection with baseball. Maybe that connection has slipped a little in recent years, but when it was made, there was still a love affair between America and its national pastime and Field of Dreams gets that magic and magical realism right. I could easily pull for Do the Right Thing and Henry V for this—these three movies would be numbered 1-3 for me in some order depending on the day. But of those, only Field of Dreams was nominated, and so only Field of Dreams is the winner.