Best Picture – 1981

Official Nominations: Chariots Of Fire. On Golden Pond. Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Reds. Atlantic City.

With this list, there’s only one sure winner for me. That winner is the only film in the list I would choose to return to and while the others have obvious merits they pale significantly in terms of entertainment value and significance. You can almost taste The Academy clutching at straws about how to hold on to the past with respect to the turn towards the Blockbuster, selecting a very traditional set of films with established names and well-worn themes. Every film here is 100% worth watching, well directed, well acted, but Raiders is the MVP. In the forty years since its release, it’s still as entertaining as ever and caters to any viewer of any age.

Chariots Of Fire. You know it for the music, and because it has something to do with running? It’s certainly inspirational and features a who’s who of British stars, but it lacks any real rewatchability – something an Oscar winner surely demands. On Golden Pond excels through its two main stars, and appears on the official list mainly down to their names and performances – Hepburn and Fonda (senior) leading a heartwarming enough tale of love near the end of life. On one hand I don’t think there’s enough focus on veteran performers and this kind of story these days, but on the other hand those types of films rarely do much for me on an emotional level.

Reds is fine – I like any film which challenges the US mainstream view of Communism – but it’s also a very standard, straight-laced Warren Beatty movie which probably wouldn’t have gained the same recognition had he not been in the hot seat. It’s a serviceable historical drama. Atlantic City shouldn’t be here given it was a 1980 film, but it’s slice of realism makes it seem more like an early to mid 70s movie. Again it’s perfectly fine but I feel it doesn’t say much more than any of its counterparts from years earlier did.

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark

20 Adventurous Facts About 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' | Mental Floss

My Nominations: Raiders Of The Lost Ark. An American Werewolf In London. Escape From New York. The Evil Dead. Gallipoli. For Your Eyes Only. The Road Warrior.

Only Raiders makes it over to my personal nominations, joining an admittedly skewed list; you’re going to see a lot of that from me in the 80s. There’s honestly only one film here I could see maybe being nominated in an alternate version of history – Gallipoli hits plenty of the notes you tend to see The Academy fawning over – an Anti War War movie, beautifully shot, and directed by an established favourite in Peter Weir. It’s one of Australia’s best films and one of the best War movies of the last forty years. And yet, it’s not the best Australian movie of the year. The Road Warrior may be Australia’s finest moment, with Mel Gibson and George Miller’s follow-up improving upon every aspect of the original. Even with the glitz and modern spectacle of Fury Road, Road Warrior has it beat for me in terms of scope and visceral action. The practical set pieces and stunts are some of the best you’ll ever see and the world the story is set in is almost unrecognizable to what we know and retains the unearthly atmosphere and tone of the original. It’s Gibson’s true breakthrough, barely uttering a word as he traverses a dying world in search of petrol, helping the needy against warring punk overlords.

An American Werewolf In London is probably the finest Horror Comedy ever made – I would make a case for Scream being superior, but the balance is different. Maybe the only thing holding it back is the lack of star power – even as there are recognizable faces making brief appearances. This is John Landis at the height of his powers and he wouldn’t make as strong a film as this again. Thankfully the film’s importance was recognized, forcing through a new Academy category. The Evil Dead, I feel people forget, is much more of a horror movie than its sequel/remake. There is more innovation, energy, and vitality in single scenes of this movie than there are in many of the Official Nominations entire running time. It’s essentially the original cabin in the woods story, following a bunch of friends heading off for a weekend of debauchery and getting more than they bargained for upon stumbling upon the dreaded Necronomicon. Not only did it launch Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, but it became endlessly influential within the Horror genre and beyond.

Escape From New York continued John Carpenter’s ludicrous run of quality and introduced the world to Snake Plissken, one of genre film’s most iconic anti-heroes and cemented Kurt Russell’s change from teen heart-throb to genuine force. While the effects are well past dated now, they still oddly hold up now in keeping in the film’s nihilistic vision of a fallen, corrupt world. The New York remains a unique vision, the soundtrack is as impactful as it was at release, and the cast is fantastic – Donald Pleasance, Lee Van Cleef, Isaac Hayes, Adrian Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton to name a few. Finally, one of the most underrated James Bond outings but an undoubted personal favourite due to its cold realism and down to earth approach (given it was a Moore movie), For Your Eyes Only has it all – big stunts, romance, one-liners, emotion, laughs, and a terrific cast of characters and performers. One of the series’ best songs too.

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Let us know your winner in the comments!

One thought on “Best Picture – 1981

  1. John Charet November 29, 2021 / 3:59 am

    Great post 🙂 I would also add Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, Albert Brooks Modern Romance, Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort and Michael Mann’s Thief, but I am happy with everything on here 🙂 Glad to see Evil Dead, An American Werewolf, Escape from New York, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Raiders of the Lost Ark and others on here too 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

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