Probably the worst decade ever for the academy. The 1980's had a few good films here and there, but most of the ones nominated were terrible. This is where you start seeing the pattern of one good film with four weak contenders. There is much speculation why films changed so much so quickly, I think the Heaven's Gate theory may be the most accurate. Heaven's Gate was Michael Cimino's epic western that became an over budget joke in the movie industry. It is even blamed for bankrupting United Artists. Afterward movies were geared more towards making money, product placement and less on how gritty is this drama, how dark can this comedy be, how much storyline and plot are needed to make this action film more than car chases and explosions. Thankfully this doesn't last forever, we just have a lost decade.
You should see Heaven's Gate sometime, it is a very good film. Take the time and watch it with no opinions and you might find it to be really enjoyable. With that here are the 1980's.
1980Films I have seen - Ordinary People (Best Picture), Raging Bull
Films I have not seen - Coal Miner's Daughter, The Elephant Man, Tess
Analysis - Probably the only good year of the decade, a run-over from the 1970's. Ordinary People is a strong drama about a family dealing with the death of a child, the brother who blames himself and attempted suicide, the mother dealing with losing her favorite child and the father trying to keep the remains of the family together. Raging Bull is the greatest boxing movie of all time. Robert DeNero's acting is amazing. Scorsese does such a great job, you really feel like it's 1947 and you are watching a real boxing match. It was named one of the top ten films of the 1980's right after it came out. It is classic, see it if you haven't, if you have, see it again.
Verdict -Raging Bull is one of the greatest movies ever. It kills me that Ordinary People is just as good, even better. If Raging Bull came out one year earlier or one year later it would have won, it had to go up against Ordinary People, tough luck.
Films I have seen - Chariots of Fire (Best Picture), Raiders of the Lost Ark, Reds
Films I have not seen - Atlantic City, On Golden Pond
Analysis - This is the start of a long run of bad movies being nominated. Chariots of Fire is a rather dry, simple and slightly boring film about English runners during the 1924 Olympics. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a cult action film that is fun to watch, but not seriously a best picture. Reds is a way too long, over bloated story about John Reed during the Russian Revolution. I'm not very comfortable to see people die a painful death in a movie, but in this case I can make an exception.
Verdict - Chariots of Fire was slightly better, that's all you can say.
Films I have seen - Gandhi (Best Picture), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Missing, Tootsie, The Verdict
Films I have not seen - None
Analysis - Here is the start of a trend of a great movie facing four other weak movies and no surprise going into Oscar night. Gandhi is a grand epic about the life of Gandhi, very well done and professional. E.T. was a popular kids movie that was heart warming but like Raiders of the Lost Ark not a serious best picture. Missing is a another Costa Gravas disaster like Z that leaves you wondering why do you even bother making a movie. Jack Lemon and Sissy Spacek are great actors and that is only reason why I can see this film even being nominated. Tootsie is a slightly funny film, Dustin Hoffman is good, but drag films are really a one joke premise. The Verdict has great acting from Paul Newman about a Lionel Hutz type of lawyer who finally does good. Not the best film but not the worst.
Verdict - Nothing was anywhere near Gandhi this year. Tootsie would be second, The Verdict third, E.T. and thankfully in last place Missing.
Films I have seen - Terms of Endearment (Best Picture), The Big Chill, The Dresser, Tender Mercies
Films I have not seen - The Right Stuff
Analysis - Another year of terrible films but somebody had to win. It's as if all the teams made the playoffs with losing records but someone was going to win the championship, right? Terms of Endearment is a sappy tearjerker that is very hard to watch, it will get on your nerves. The Big Chill is so much worse. Baby Boomers hitting their 30's and whining about it. You would think they were the only generation to grow old? A bad remake of The Return of the Secaucus 7 which really wasn't that great of a movie either. The Dresser was an attempt at a classy movie but it gets real boring fast. Tender Mercies is a bad film with one exception, Robert Duvall is amazing and really earned the best actor Oscar. Otherwise it is almost unwatchable.
Verdict - I am waiting for TCM to show The Right Stuff at the beginning of March, I hope that it is better. I remember seeing a few scenes when I was a teenager, not enough to say I saw the film, but remembering it wasn't that great. Until then it will have to be Terms of Endearment.
Films I have seen - Amadeus (Best Picture), The Killing Fields, A Passage to India, Places in the Heart, A Soldier's Story
Films I have not seen - None
Analysis - This year at least had good films compared to previous years. Nothing is an all time great but pretty good competition. Amadeus is similar to Gandhi, a grand bio-pic this time about Mozart. The Killing Fields is a very powerful and depressing showing only a slight bit of what happened when Pol Pot took over Cambodia. A Passage to India is a dry but warm film about India in the 1920's. Kind of like the PBS mini series The Jewel in the Crown. Places in the Sun another depressing movie about a widow trying to grow cotton, did win Sally Field her second Oscar as best actress. A Soldier's Story is a murder mystery during WWII in an army camp amongst black soldiers.
Verdict - When Amadeus won I was too young to understand why and was frustrated. As I got older and eventually as I watched the other films I see why it won, it was better than the rest. Second place is a four way tie, all were good but none was as good as Amadeus.
Films I have seen - The Color Purple, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Prizzi's Honor, Witness
Films I have not seen - Out of Africa (Best Picture)
Analysis - This is the first year where I have not seen the best picture winner, one of very few. The Color Purple is a so-so film about poor black women in the south in the early 20th century. Kiss of the Spider Woman is about two prisons in a South American prison bonding. Prizzi's Honor is about two hit men who fall in love, a male and female mind you, this isn't Brokeback Prizzi's Honor of course. Witness is a good action cop film but rather typical of cop movies from the 1980's.
Verdict - None of what I've seen seems to be the best picture, I'll have to wait until I see Out of Africa to make a final decision. Witness would hold the top spot since of the four I've seen I actually enjoyed it.
Films I have not seen - Platoon (Best Picture), Hannah and Her Sisters, A Room with a View
Films I have not seen - Children of a Less God, The Mission
Analysis - Platoon is a good Vietnam war film but far from the best. Hannah and Her Sisters is a great Woody Allen comedy. A Room with a View is a typical Merchant Ivory film, can be boring at times, but very stylish.
Verdict - I understand why Platoon won, people's attitude about the Vietnam War began to change during the 80's so this movie was made at the right time. And until I see the remaining films it will stay in the top spot.
Films I have seen - The Last Emperor (Best Picture), Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, Moonstruck
Films I have not seen - Hope and Glory
Analysis - Another year with a epic bio-pic, this time about Chinese Emperor Puyi. Broadcast News is a typical 1980's film, slightly funny, slightly edgy, slightly dramatic but still a safe movie. Albert Brooks is good but they don't use him to his fully comedic potential which is a waste. Fatal Attraction is a suspense movie and a public service warning about cheating on your spouse with a crazy person. Moonstruck is a romantic comedy that really doesn't take chances, another safe fuzzy friendly 1980's film.
Verdict - The Last Emperor is like Gandhi, nothing can come close and it easily won.
Films I have seen - Rain Man (Best Picture), The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning, Working Girl
Films I have not seen - None
Analysis - This was the first year when I saw the eventual best picture in the theater before it won. Rain Man is a drama about a failing businessman finding out he has a autistic older brother and bonds with him. Dustin Hoffman earned the Oscar as best actor but very good acting from Tom Cruse, he grew tremendously as an actor during this movie. The Accidental Tourist is a boring film about a man going through a divorce and meeting someone new. A typical obnoxious Baby Boomer drama which was common during this era. Dangerous Liaisons is based on the French novel from the 18th century where it should have stayed. Mississippi Burning is a great film about FBI agents looking for three missing civil rights workers in the 1960's. Great acting all around. Working Girl is a period piece of the yuppie 80's and the Wall Street lifestyle that was shoved down mine and everyone's throat when I was in high school. I get flashbacks from watching this movie, not all good.
Verdict - Rain Man is a good drama and nothing came close. Second would be Mississippi Burning another good drama. Then Working Girl, Dangerous Liaisons and The Accidental Tourist.
Films I have seen - Driving Miss Daisy (Best Picture), Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society
Films I have not seen - Field of Dreams, My Left Foot
Analysis - Another year of weak films. Driving Miss Daisy is a simple drama about an old woman who needs a driver whom she is afraid of since he is black. Born on the Fourth of July is a loosely based bio-pic about Ronnie Kovic, a disabled Vietnam veteran. Dead Poets Society is Robin Williams doing Good Morning Vietnam but in a classroom this time.
Verdict - So far Driving Miss Daisy is the best. I did want Born on the Fourth of July to win at the time so I could have a streak of seeing best pictures before they won, but that was the only reason.