Best Visual Effects – 1981

Official Nominations: Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Dragonslayer.

Just the two nominees this year, and a clear win for Raiders. It’s not so much the fact that Raiders was innovative, moreso that it does so much. Similar to Star Wars, it was a stepping stone towards the big budget special effects bonanzas to come, but crucially it uses its effects as a tool to serve the story, world, and characters. The closing moments of the Ark being opened and the Nazis being melted down to creamy goo, was one of the defining movie moments in my young life and one which encouraged me to seek out further gore effects while also gaining an appreciation for the craft. Dragonslayer meanwhile reunited much of the Star Wars team – the ILM guys using the film to show off their talents outside of the Lucasfilm world. Featuring more than the admittedly wonderful dragon effects, it’s the more innovative movie from an Effects perspective, and is deserving of the win too. In terms of its influence on me, and wider pop culture though, I have to go with Raiders.

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

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My Nominations: Dragonslayer. Raiders Of The Lost Ark. American Pop. An American Werewolf In London. Clash Of The Titans. Escape From New York. The Evil Dead. The Howling. Possession. Scanners. Time Bandits. Wolfen.

Baski continues his innovative techniques and desire to push the boundaries of what anAnimated Feature could be with American Pop, investing in both the emerging computer graphics techniques but also most noticeably in Rotoscoping to give the film its unique look. We all know American Werewolf In London is the winner for Make-up this year, and arguably it should not be nominated here. The film is a feast for the eyes, and it’s not simply the Make-up effects which make that possible, but the practical Visual Effects which make the action and chase scenes so impactful, not to mention the all time classic transformation scene. It’s one of the most influential movies of all time in terms of changing the mainstream’s perception of practical effects empowering storytelling.

Clash Of The Titans is one of the most important movies in my personal movie journey, opening my eyes to the ability of artists to bring impossible things to life and translating stories from dusty tomes into mass-market big screen thrills. Your average viewer now will likely view it all as hokey, but the effects were a revelation to me as a kid, before Jurassic Park came along, and they’re still incredibly impressive based on the tools available at the time. Escape From New York would set out the template for Blade Runner (which would improve in every feasible way), crafting a dank and neon drenched futurescape, while The Evil Dead is a barmy, off the wall masterpiece of visual creativity from the gore effects, to the colour palette, lighting, and the way the camera behaves. It’s another startling triumph in a year in which everyone seemed to take several giant leaps forward.

The Howling is the second big Werewolf movie of the year  and is the more serious horror movie while also having some stellar effects. Just not as strong in most respects that An American Werewolf In London. Wolfen distances itself from Horror and instead plays like a cop drama which just happens to feature a furry shapeshifter. Underseen compared with the other two, it’s worth a look if only for its cast and the thermo/heat tracking technique used to show the predatory stalking of the wolf. Possession is notorious for its stressful production, its manic tone, and its exciting effects – an interesting film but one which will ultimately frustrate. Time Bandits is another treat for the eyes, using a dizzying array of expertise to bring a visually difficult script to screen, while Scanners will forever be known for one thing – arguably the greatest head explosion put on screen. It’s wonderful – the film is so much more than one effect and that one scene, but that’s what it’ll be remembered for.

My Winner: An American Werewolf In London.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Stunt Work – 1981

My Nominations: The Cannonball Run. Escape From New York. For Your Eyes Only. The Road Warrior. Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

My favourite category to talk about, and we’re in my favourite era for stunts. Escape From New York is the lesser of these movies where stunts are concerned, mainly because the others are classics in this regard to the point of being iconic. A Bond movie is always going to be nominated in this category – For Your Eyes Only notable for its opening Helicopter chase, its epic ski/motorcycle chase, and its mountain climb finale. Raiders Of The Lost Ark has the most iconic moments – fist fights near swirling aircraft, sprinting from boulders, and its cliff-side truck chase are some of the most memorable action scenes of the decade. The Cannonball Run is rip-roaring nonsense with a great cast and is a who’s who of stunt performers having a blast in a variety of fast cars. I’ve never been a car guy outside of movies, but there’s something – dare I say – sexy, about the fetishized car and care chase on the big screen. It’s such a fun idea for a film – albeit limited – a bunch of car and race enthusiasts compete in an illegal cross country race, evading cops and using their unique skills and tactics to get ahead. The cars, cast, and stunts are the main draw, and the stunts remain the best thing about the movie. A remake is inevitable, but in all honesty I’d prefer a short TV show – each episode focusing on a particular State as the race heads from East to West across the US, showing off the locations and dealing with the backstories and motivations of each character.

As great as the stunts and action are in each of the above movies – there can only be one winner in this category. The Road Warrior is one of the greatest Stunt oriented movies of all time, and its finale has never been bettered, arguably not even by Fury Road. It’s a thrilling spectacle, and the highlight of a movie peppered with other memorable action set-pieces.

18 Things You Never Knew About 'The Road Warrior' | Moviefone

My Winner: The Road Warrior.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Art Direction – 1981

Official Nominations: Raiders Of The Lost Ark. The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Heaven’s Gate. Ragtime. Reds.

Heaven’s Gate would be a worthy winner, but as it’s a 1980 movie we can immediately dismiss it. Raiders got the win this year – it’s my winner too thanks to the variety and meticulous detail of its sets and overall production. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Ragtime, and Reds are justified in their inclusion in a year when there were any number of costume, sci-fi, and history oriented pieces to choose from.

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

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My Nominations: Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Mephisto. Das Boot. Clash Of The Titans. Escape From New York. For Your Eyes Only. Gallipoli. The Road Warrior. Quest For Fire. Time Bandits.

It’s a mystery and a shame that some of my entries were not official picks – perhaps the biggest disappointment being the absence of Time Bandits, a worthy nomination surely in anyone’s eyes. For me, that takes a place in the four horse race along with Raiders, the post-apocalyptic S&M wonder of The Road Warrior, and the future shock nightmare of Escape From New York. 

Elsewhere, Clash Of The Titans delivers the goods in being, to this day, one of the best Greek mythology/sword n sandals movies, while Quest For Fire places most of its importance on its visual appeal. Mephisto and Das Boot were nominated elsewhere, and should have been in with a shout in this category, while Gallipoli was just as noteworthy while being ignored entirely. Finally, For Your Eyes Only remains one of my personal favourite Bond movies from a look and feel perspective, while lacking the scale and scope of some other entries, it uses what it has in a more meaningful, less extravagant way to echo the more grounded, serious tone of the movie.

My Winner: Escape From New York.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Cinematography – 1981

Official Nominations: Reds. Excalibur. On Golden Pond. Ragtime. Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Vittorio Storaro picked up his second win in as many years, this time for Reds. It’s not exactly on par with Apocalypse Now – what is – but I’m happy for the recognition he was getting around this time after a couple of decades of excellent work before. It’s nice to see something like Excalibur in with a shout, the fantasy genre usually entirely dismissed by The Academy but Alex Thomson’s work elevating things in their eyes. On Golden Pond was always going get a nomination, Ragtime is a curious but justified pick, and Raiders never had a shot of winning but couldn’t be avoided. It’s Raiders which yet again gets my vote, with Douglas Slocombe never picking up an official win even after Academy favourites such as The Lion In Winter and British classics like The Italian Job. Slocombe’s hazy, sun-sweated vision is just as vital a part of the Indiana Jones saga as Ford, Spielberg, or Lucas are.

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark – [FILMGRAB]

My Nominations: Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Blow Out. Chariots Of Fire. Clash Of The Titans. Escape From New York. For Your Eyes Only. Gallipoli. The Road Warrior. Quest For Fire. Southern Comfort.

I’ve only pulled Raiders over so that I could make room for the more interesting choices. Of my additions, only Chariots Of Fire realistically stood a chance of getting a nom due to its other noms and wins – David Watkin would win a few years later for Out Of Africa. Elsewhere, my choices range from the mumbling pseudo-history of Quest For Fire, which shoots Africa and Scotland to look otherworldly, to the outright fantasy of Clash Of The Titans giving me early fantasies of wanting to move to Greece when I grew up.

Gallipoli should have been in with a shot of receiving a genuine nomination, Russell Boyd continuing his stellar work with Peter Weir, while Blow Out is one of the more visually oppressive and chilling De Palma film’s, enhanced by Vilmos Zsigmond. For Your Eyes Only is one of the more chilling Bond movies, not least because of the snowy locales, but because it’s the most serious of the Moore flicks. From Cortina, to Greece, to England, locations are part and parcel of the Bond package but Alan Hume doesn’t allow the glitz and glamour to take central stage and instead play a role in grounding the story as more of a character piece than most Bond movies.

Southern Comfort even more impressively uses its location as a character, the smouldering and dense rivers and forests of the bayou, squeezing ever inwards to trap a group of National Guard members as they fight among themselves for survival after upsetting the locals. Escaping from dangerous locals is just a day in the life of Snake Plissken, with Dean Cundy’s shadow-drenched Escape From New York every bit as oppressive as Walter Hill’s swamps. Finally, The Road Warrior receives another nomination from me, showing the unending wasteland of the outback as a permanently sunlit purgatory.

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing – Original – 1981

Official Nominations: Chariots Of Fire. Absence Of Malice. Arthur. Atlantic City. Reds.

Colin Welland, perhaps better known for his memorable performance in Kes, picked up the win this year for Chariots Of Fire. It would never be my pick and at times it feels like it’s evangelising (pick up Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running instead), but I understand it winning. Absence Of Malice gets a courtesy nomination, following its Performance-based noms, while Atlantic City and Reds were guaranteed nominees and are about equal in my estimation alongside Chariots Of Fire. That leaves my personal pick out of these five – the anarchic Arthur which feels like the naughty boy in the corner of class that everyone wants rid of, but can’t ignore because his uncle is President of the School Board. Or something.

My Winner: Arthur.

Arthur (1981) - Movie Review / Film Essay

My Nominations: Arthur. Raiders Of The Lost Ark. An American Werewolf In London. Body Heat. History Of The World Part 1. The Road Warrior. Time Bandits.

Arthur makes it over to my personal list, but it won’t be my winner, not when you have a selection of the most seminal genres movies ever lined up against it. Body Heat puts the sex into the rejuvenated Neo Noir genre and is smarter than it gets credit for, even if it is more fondly remembered for a couple of one-liners. Time Bandits is endlessly inventive and just as quotable as your favourite Python movie. Brooks isn’t at his sharpest in the segmented History Of The World Part 1, but that still means his sharper than most, while The Road Warrior allows most of its supporting cast of creeps and cars to do the talking rather than its protagonist. An American Werewolf perfected the blend of Horror and Comedy in 1982, and few films have come close to capturing its essence, failing to recognise that its success is in its script. My winner falls again to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, a film where every character gets their own satchel filled with snappy dialogue and whip-cracking retorts, all wrapped up in a globe-trotting pseudo history lesson.

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Costume Design – 1981

Official Nominations: Chariots Of Fire. The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Pennies From Heaven. Ragtime. Reds.

One of the categories I tend to have very little to comment on, at least for the official nominations. You can take your pick from any of these – they’re all period dramas/musicals designed to look authentic.

My Winner: Ragtime.

My Nominations: Clash Of The Titans. Condorman. Dragonslayer. Escape From New York. Excalibur. Gallipoli. History Of The World Part 1. Knightriders. The Road Warrior. Raiders Of The Last Ark. Time Bandits.

Where to begin with this? Lets start with the least likely to have ever been in with a chance for an Official Nomination. Condorman was panned at release but as flawed as it is, it’s one of the first superhero movies I remember seeing as a child, and it does have some pretty sweet costumes. Knightriders is George Romero tackling jousting with motorcycles – not a hope of being nominated and is barely remembered today, but a lot of fun in look and tone. Escape From New York uses a punk/gang ethos for its futuristic costume design – nothing outlandish and more akin to stylized versions of contemporary street gangs of the 70s and 80s. Dragonslayer is more notable for its special effects, but the costume design is worth a shout too.

History Of The World Part 1 is a satire of the sort of historical and costume dramas the Academy fawns over, so it’s unlikely they would have appreciated the joke against their sacred cow. Excalibur did receive a Bafta nomination for its Costume Design, missing out on an Oscar nomination. Time Bandits takes things to the next level by having memorable costumes for its human and puppet cast. Gallipoli is much more traditional, but it’s good to have at least one War oriented movie nominated each year. Clash Of The Titans, even with a stellar cast, would have been viewed as too cheap and more focused on action and effects to get an official nomination here. Raiders got plenty of other nominations and was passed over here, while The Road Warrior was too outlandish to ever receive an official nomination even if this was the category most likely to be selected.

My Winner: The Road Warrior

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing – Adapted – 1981

Official Nominations: On Golden Pond. The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Pennies From Heaven. Prince Of The City. Ragtime.

I’m generally wary of screenplays where the author adapts their own work and when it’s Oscar bait – you can almost taste the win before filming even begins. And Lo, On Golden Pond picked up the win. You can’t go wrong with Harold Pinter – picking up a nom for The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Pennies From Heaven has no business being here, and Ragtime was never going to win up against the others. There’s only one interesting choice here – Prince Of The City – but it suffers because it’s basically a remake of Serpico with Lumet attempting to right his perceived wrongs from the earlier film.

My Winner: The French Lieutenant’s Woman

My Nominations: The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Das Boot. Christiane F. Clash Of The Titans. The Entity.

Only one makes it over from the Official list, joining Das Boot which condenses much of the novel’s character detail and anti-war sentiment into a terse and tense thriller. Christiane F is one of the more hard-hitting films of its type with a story and dialogue which dispenses thrills and frills in favour of realism. Clash Of The Titans is fun from start to finish and packs in plenty of quotable one-liners and speeches, while The Entity produces a compelling story of a woman supposedly under attack from a vicious paranormal figure and effectively under attack from medical and behavioural experts.

My Winner: Das Boot

Let us know in the comments which movie is your winner!

Best Animated Feature – 1981

My Nominations: The Fox And The Hound. American Pop. Heavy Metal. Jarinko Chie.

While there was a wealth of Animated Features released in 1981, many of those are not the best quality and many are entries in longstanding series. I’ve gone with four cult films of varying success. The Fox And The Hound was one of the many films released between Golden Periods for Disney, and it’s not one I grew up with. It always sounded like a straight to video affair, but I was surprised when I first saw it. It’s by no means top tier, or A tier Disney, but with an interesting cast and fast moving story, it’s a solid B. American Pop is notable because it’s Ralph Baski being serious and telling a personal story, rather than the sexual antics and satire of earlier movies. It’s also notable for its early rotoscoping technique which certainly dates the movie now, but must have seemed unusual and interesting back then. Good soundtrack too.

While we’re talking about soundtracks, Heavy Metal is known for its music and is possibly one of the most famous cult animations of all time. I always found the title amusing because, while Metal was certainly a thing in 1981, it didn’t really kick off until a year or two later as the genre we recognise it as today. The movie is bonkers, a series of vignettes based on sci fi and fantasy stories, with tonnes of violence, great animation, and bizarre spectacle. Like Fox And The Hound, it has a wildly varied cast. Finally, a little known Isao Takahata film, Jinko Chai is the story of a young girl trying to get her Yakuza father back on the straight and narrow by helping him find a legitimate job and get back together with his wife. It’s heady stuff for kids, but has an overly cutesy appearance which Takahata would continue to move away from.

My Winner: The Fox And The Hound

Best Director – 1981

Official Nominations: Warren Beatty. Louis Malle. Hugh Hudson. Mark Rydell. Steven Spielberg.

Warren Beatty was a cert for the win here – once again, had he directed any other film on this list he still would have won the award. Fine film, Beatty handles the material well, but it’s Oscar bait and not something I’d pick. Louis Malle is an interesting pick given he was almost exclusively a director of French Cinema. We immediately drop him from the list given Atlantic City was a 1980 release – probably wouldn’t have picked him anyway. Hugh Hudson didn’t make anything of note before or after Chariots Of Fire (Greystoke is good), but that’s not a problem in and of itself, especially when that one film is heralded as a classic. For me, it suggests either that the film and nomination was a fluke or a result of political shenanigans. I don’t deny that Hudson’s film is good, but I don’t think it’s Top Five of the year good. Mark Rydell hit his peak with On Golden Pond after a series of well received and Oscar nominated films. The film is Oscar bait and I feel again (with no evidence, naturally) that any other director for hire could have equally hit the jackpot with the material. Finally, our winner, Steven Spielberg. Spielberg may have cemented his name as a blockbuster maker with Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but when you compare the film with later and earlier blockbusters, you can spot the Spielberg traits almost unique to him which make the film both stand out and remain in the zeitgeist.

My Winner: Steven Spielberg

My Nominations: Steven Spielberg. John Landis. Lawrence Kasdan. Uli Edel. Sam Raimi. Peter Weir. George Miller. Margarethe von Trotte. Milos Forman. Terry Gilliam.

I get it – my list very much looks like a list of personal favourites. You’re going to see a lot of that in the 1980s. But it’s more than simply personal favourites – it’s an acknowledgment of the cultural impact and influence that most of these films and their directors have had, over and above the others on the list, along with the belated critical praise they have received. As such, Spielberg is the only Official Nominee to make it over to my list.

Starting with Horror, John Landis perfected the Horror Comedy genre in a film which is arguably still its best example. An American Werewolf In London handles both humour and horror equally, while also providing an engaging story involving romance and existential drama. In the same vein is The Evil Dead, a film which is certainly more Horror oriented than its sequel. Sam Raimi’s film, and his directorship, shows more ingenuity and originality in just a handle of scenes than most films and directors in the Official Nominations have in their entirety. Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits is also wildly inventive and visionary, but as it’s ostensibly a kids movie, there’s no way The Academy would recognise Gilliam for it.

Lawrence Kasdan’s neo-noir Body Heat was groundbreaking and heralded a new era of similarly sexually charged thrillers, while simultaneously being more classy then what it influenced. Peter Weir and Milos Forman are the two filmmakers who could feel aggrieved for not being nominated here this year – Gallipoli was unforgivably ignored entirely by The Academy and Forman’s Ragtime earned plenty of nominations, but not here where it was maybe most deserved.

George Miller’s The Road Warrior was a seminal action movie, and one which was oft echoed but never equalled until Miller’s own Fury Road decades later – a film which did ironically receive the critical attention it too deserved. Finally, a couple of little seen German films made by directors who would make minor additional splashes – Uli Edel’s Christiane F is a stark anti-glamorous look at addiction which Hollywood wouldn’t come close to mirroring until Requiem For A Dream  – Edel would later adapt Selby’s Last Exit On Brooklyn for the US. Von Trotta’s Marianne And Juliane continues her fascination with and presentation of sisters, women, placed in often impossible positions, and cemented her position as one of the finest proponents of New German Cinema.

My Winner: Steven Spielberg

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Supporting Actor – 1981

Official Nominations: John Gielgud. James Coco. Ian Holm. Jack Nicholson. Howard E Rollins.

An interesting list of names this year, although the win still feels like a classic veteran win – did we really need another one of these after Best Actor and Actress? I suppose it was his only Oscar so I can’t be too angry, and given he’s an undisputed legend of Stage and Screen it only seems fair that he’d have one to his name. Plus, he’s very funny in Arthur as Arthur’s servant/handler/weary father figure. Out of all the veteran wins this year, this one feels the most justified based on the performance.

Elsewhere, Jack Nicholson racks up another nomination for Reds – a film I always forget he’s in, even though he’s good. He’s always good, which is part of the problem, and some of the films he made in the years around 1981 are simply more interesting than Reds. Ian Holm earned his only Academy nom for his performance in Chariots Of Fire – again, I don’t love the film but it’s one you feel you need to watch as a film fan and Holm is perfectly fine.

The final two nominations are the least known – James Coco feels like another example of The Academy having to nominate someone for a Neil Simon piece – not a film most people will remember and the performance doesn’t stand out. Howard E Rollins was similarly more known for his TV work and in truth this has always felt like a strange nomination. Not because it’s a bad performance – it isn’t – but because there are so many bit players who are equally strong that you could make a case for any of them to have the nomination, and equally you could make the case that Rollins is the lead of Ragtime. For me it’s probably between Rollins and Gielgud, and am both happy with and conflicted by either choice.

My Winner: John Gielgud

Best Actor: Best Supporting Actor 1981: John Gielgud in Arthur

My Nominations: John Gielgud. Howard Rollins. James Cagney. Ronald Lacey.

Two make it to my list, and I add my own version of hate I can’t stand – the Veteran nomination. It’s my blog, I can contradict myself. I only started this Oscar journey for 1960 onwards, and Jimmy Cagney is one of the greatest performers of all time – he’d all but checked out by 1960. One of the biggest tragedies of that fact is that Cagney missed out on two of Hollywood’s finest decades – the 60s and 70s – just think of what he could have done had he worked with some of the writers, performers, directors who emerged in this period. So he gets a nomination, and he’s as good as anyone else in Ragtime. 

Sometimes you have to nominate someone purely, or mostly, based on the impact they had on you as an individual viewer. As you grow up you hear than many others felt the same impact. Ronald Lacey, as the scheming Nazi Toht (not Thot) in Raiders Of The Lost Ark is one such instance. Lacey exudes scum with charisma, and is the memorable villain of the piece over and above Belloq. Even with all of the boulders and booby traps and snakes which will live on in memory, Lacey’s sneering, sweating maw is one you’ll never tire of seeing being melted.

My Winner: Ronald Lacey

Let us know your winner in the comments!