Best Picture – 1983

Official Nominations: Terms Of Endearment. The Big Chill. The Dresser. The Right Stuff. Tender Mercies.

To be honest, even being outside of my own personal tastes this was a big of a junk year for the Academy in this category and beyond. There isn’t a single film here with the vital rewatch factor, and there’s only one which I would personally consider watching again. Everyone’s different though, and there’s no doubting that all five are interesting films and at least two border on iconic status.

Terms Of Endearment was the winner this year, a smash hit weepy with a stellar cast. I don’t have much against it beyond the fact that it was the winner here. As you’ll see below, it’s not something I would have nominated, but based on the star power, the money made, and the performances within, you can’t avoid it. For me, like many of the big Oscar winners, it’s just a better made Hallmark movie.

The Right Stuff should have been the winner here – not only was it also a hit with the critics and is just as well acted as Terms Of Endearment, it’s also one you can get plenty of value from on a rewatch. It inexplicably didn’t make much money, perhaps the only reason it didn’t get the official win. It gets my vote.

The Big Chill is one of those post/latter day coming of age movies following a group of old friends getting together when they’re older. Like many hangout movies it’s less about the plot and more about the characters, the issue being that the characters and their interactions are about as interesting as the meandering, aimless story. The best of these movies make us care about the people and has a poignant and funny script – this struggles on both accounts but isn’t without merit.

The Dresser is an adaptation of an earlier play. As such… I always struggle with these unless the play was meant to be exuberant. It’s theatre on screen, rather than cinema. It’s not the most original or exciting story – it follows the relationship between an unhinged and handless actor (not literally) who is brilliant on stage but essentially useless off it, and his ‘dresser’ who cleans up his messes, babysits him, and makes sure he can make it on to the stage. You could watch the original play or this and get the same from it – but we do have strong performances here.

Finally, Tender Mercies is the small-not-small movie, starring Robert Duvall as a Country Singer who enjoys the bottle just as much as the mic and whose life is a mess after a string of tragedies and unhealthy behaviours. He meets a nice lady and begins to turn his life around. You’ve seen plenty of films just like this. It’s incredibly on the nose but poignant enough thanks to Duvall’s notable skills.

My Winner: The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff (1983) - IMDb

My Nominations: Return Of The Jedi. La Dernier Combat. The Outsiders. Rumble Fish. Scarface. Videodrome. The King Of Comedy.

None of the official nominations make it to my list. I instead select a variety of smash hits, and cult favourites. Return Of The Jedi was the biggest film of the year, closing out the original Star Wars trilogy. Known among critics and most fans as the weakest of the original three movies, Jedi was always my favourite thanks to the frenetic pace, the resolution of the major storylines, and because Luke finally becomes a badass. It’s about as pleasing an end to a multi-film saga as you could hope for.

Staying loosely in the realm of Science Fiction, Videodrome sees David Cronenberg with a bigger palette to play with, inviting Debbie Harry and James Woods to enter his mad world. As with many Cronenberg movies, it’s visionary, has startling unforgettable imagery, and was ahead of its time only becoming more prescient with each passing year. The main difference between this and his earlier work is the quality of actor and the budget, allowing him to pinpoint the mainstream. It’s a film with a lot to say, even if much of it is buried in violence and confusion – such is Cronenberg’s way of presenting his ideas, but it’s a film everyone should experience.

Going even looser on the outskirts of Sci Fi is La Dernier Combat, Luc Besson’s debut is a near silent exploration of a post apocalyptic future in which one particular survivor encounters various other individuals and groups and… well… there’s not a lot in the way of plot. It’s like an even quieter Mad Max, with a lower budget and no stunts, but is just as visually pleasing and intriguing.

Keeping in the indie sphere and moving beyond Sci-Fi, if movies by Francis Ford Coppola can ever be classed as ‘Indie’ is Rumble Fish and The Outsiders. The Outsiders is a coming of age movie more catered to my tastes than The Big Chill, following a group of poor and disaffected teens who, while good-hearted, have been dealt several bad hands and have seemingly no bright lights on the horizon. It’s a solid adaptation of one of the few stories which nails angst and teen relationships, helped by a superb cast of future stars. Rumble Fish is a similar enough story and film – hardly surprising given both were novels by S.E Hinton and that both were filmed back to back by Coppola with the same crew. Rumble Fish differs mainly in a stylistic way, with Copolla opting for an experimental approach from the music to the unusual black and white look.

Never one to be outdone by Coppola, Martin Scorsese returns with The King Of Comedy, an amusing, surprising, and disturbing film led by a storming Robert De Niro performance in which he plays a shadow-mirror version of Travis Bickle known as Rupert Pupkin. It remains one of both De Niro and Scorsese’s most underrated films even after it received a modern boost when The Joker spent much of its run time ripping it off.

Finally, and not one to be outdone by De Niro, is Al Pacino in Brian De Palma’s peerless remake of Scarface. Normally this would be my winner and would be fully deserving of that title given the talent involved, the money made, the end result, and the iconic visuals and dialogue, but Return Of The Jedi edges it for me in terms of its importance both to me and to cinema as a whole.

My Winner: Return Of The Jedi.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Best Picture – 1983

  1. John Charet December 18, 2022 / 4:11 am

    I would choose The King of Comedy, Videodrome or The Right Stuff 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

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