The Killing Fields
A Passage to India
Places in the Heart
A Soldier’s Story
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.
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.