The Big Red One – Get Rekt!

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Greetings, Glancers! We continue our journey of re-evaluating my favourite films from every year through the decreased bias inherent to The Nightman Scoring System (c). Today’s pick is my Number 10 from 1980 – Sam Fuller’s War epic The Big Red One. Not a War movie you hear many film fans mention, not one which tends to appear often on Best Of lists. Lets see how it scores.

Sales: 3: It made more than it cost, but was hardly considered a success beyond that. You can’t say it was a flop either, so a 3 seems like the best response.

Chart3: I’m forced to go with a more or less average score for this category given that Chart data isn’t as well documented for film as it is for music. Possibly this is one of those categories which needs to be modified into a new category. I’ll think about it.

Critical Consensus: 3It’s a tricky one – one the one hand it has been name in Best War Movies lists, but fairly low down the list – and critics have generally been positive, though not effusive or overwhelmingly so. The issue is that is it underseen and therefore not universally acclaimed. I’m happy with a 4 here, but 3 feels more accurate.

Director: 5: I’m happy giving a 5 here as it’s probably Fuller’s finest moment. It’s a hard-nosed, hard-boiled war movie which pulls no punches and is based on Fuller’s own experiences of the war. As such, you can’t go in looking for all out action, deep character study, or easy answers, but muddy morals, memorable shots, and gritty realism. I’m good with a 4 or even a 3 here based on your own preferences, but I’m being positive.

Performances3: The three lead actors are the three names you’ll know – Lee Marvin is Lee Marvin, Bobby Carradine has enough room to be charismatic, and Mark Hamill is almost unrecognizable, but everyone else does their job. Nothing is showy, no-one is given the chance to standout, but every one is human.

Music: 2. Pretty generic for the most part, the main theme is standard marching drums but with forgettable melodies. It’s fittingly more sombre than most War movie themes, but that means it doesn’t carry the same emotional musical weight.

Cinematography4: Adam Greenberg had mostly made cheap cash-ins of the Golan brand, but with The Big Red One he branched out leading to bigger films. It’s easy to see why – the Restoration cut of the movie is gorgeous and the photography from Africa to the Omaha landing and into the liberation of the Concentration camps is consistent in towing the line between beauty and chaos.

Writing3: Fuller’s movies are known for ‘showing more than talking’, while remaining thoughtful. The script is serviceable, but if you’re looking for reams of quotable dialogue you won’t find it here.

Wardrobe3: Fairly standard, WWII uniforms, WWI uniforms, and associated era clothing.

Editing3: An average 3 from me – does the job and neither adds much or takes much from the film, lacking some of the editing punch of Fuller’s other films.

Make up and Hair3: Perfectly fine, nothing bad, nothing you’d notice – it’s not that type of film.

Effects3: Your standard War movie fare with snapshot scenes of famous battles with the required effects.

Art and Set: 3: If you compare it with the earlier Apocalypse Now, or perhaps more accurately the later Saving Private Ryan, you can tell those films have a much broader and iconic visual style. Fuller was more into realism and a near docu-style.

Sound: 3: All good.

Cultural Significance: 3: I think 3 is the peak here, given hardly anyone has seen the movie or talks about it today. You can tell it had an influence but War movies, especially WWII movies, mostly disappeared from Cinema for the next 15 years.

Accomplishment4: Fuller gets a lot out of what is a small budget for a film of this scope. It looks and feels like a bigger movie, and revisiting his own past exploits, experiences, and nightmares must have been difficult.

Stunts3: Your standard War movie fare with snapshot scenes of famous battles with the required stunts.

Originality2: I’m being harsh with a 2 here, perhaps. But WWII stories had been around for forty years by this point and there wasn’t much ground which hadn’t been covered. We know War is terrible and Fuller shows that there isn’t much between whichever tribe you find yourself a part of once the bullets start flying.

Miscellaneous: 3: I don’t have much to add in this category – again something which will plague the older films, so I go with the average score.

Personal: 4: 1980 is a weird year for me – even with this being one of my Top Ten movies of the year, I don’t think this is a 5 for me. I love it, but if you compare it with my Number 1 of 1980 – that’s a pure 5.

Total Score: 63/100

A fairly low score perhaps, but it is nevertheless a film everyone should see. Let us know in the comments what you think of The Big Red One!

Best Cast – 1980

My Nominations: Altered States. The Blues Brothers. Caddyshack. The Elephant Man. The Empire Strikes Back. Heaven’s Gate. The Long Good Friday. Ordinary People. Raging Bull.

As always with this category, I present a range of films with either a combination of big names which must have been an extraordinary feat to pull together in a single film, or a smaller cast pulling off extraordinary feats of acting. Altered States features William Hurt in his film debut (and Drew Barrymore to a lesser extent), backed up by the (marginally) more established Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, and George Gaynes. More a film of ideas than people and performances, the cast nevertheless do well with a bizarre story.

The Blues Brothers takes a list of fully established comedians and throws them in the middle of some of the most famous musical icons of all time. When I was young I didn’t really know that most of the performers in the film were actual singers who had been around for decades, so believable are the performances. You could argue that outside of Fisher, Aykroyd, and Belushi the others are cameos, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that you have John Candy, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, Charles Napier, James Brown, Ray Charles, Frank Oz, Chaka Khan, Paul Reubens, Kathleen Freeman, Twiggy, John Lee Hooker and others popping up. Caddyshack pulls a similar trick, upping the list of comedians instead of having Blues Legends. It’s the only film you’ll find Chevy Chase and Bill Murray together, throwing in Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Michael O’Keefe, Brian Doyle Murray, and Sarah Holcomb.

The Elephant Man is the actor’s dream – great story, great characters, and a great director behind it all – then you look at the cast around you, from John Hurt to Anthony Hopkins, and from Anne Bancroft to John Gielgud, Freddie Jones, and Wendy Hiller. Some of those give, arguably, career best performances. Raging Bull is in a similar vein, with De Niro, Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty leading the way. You can’t avoid Ordinary People thanks to its Awards success and list of names – Robert Redford directing Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch, Mary Tyler Moore, Elizabeth McGovern, Timothy Hutton, M Emmet Walsh, Adam Baldwin and others.

Likewise, you can’t ignore The Empire Strikes Back. The core cast returns (minus those killed off), and we have a few new faces and voices joining and instantly fitting in and making an impact. You all know it, no point saying any more. The Long Good Friday is probably the least known film here with only Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren known to audiences outside of the UK. For British viewers, there’s a host of familiar faces – Nigel Humphries, Derek Thompson, Brian Hall, Gillian Taylforth, with the likes of Dexter Fletcher and Pierce Brosnan popping up in cameos. Finally, Heaven’s Gate, if you want to find out why it was so derided for yourself beyond simply hearing the criticism and stories, has a cast you can’t balk at – John Hurt, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, Jeff Bridges, Joseph Cotten, Kris Kristofferson, Brad Dourif, Geoffrey Lewis, Mickey Rourke, Terry O’Quinn – a mixture of big names and familiar faces most people will recognise even if they can’t place the name. Everyone is good too – not career best, but if you’re a fan of any of the performers, it’s a must see.

My Winner: The Elephant Man

Movie Review – The Elephant Man

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Makeup – 1980

My Nominations: Cannibal Holocaust. The Elephant Man. Inferno. Altered States.

It was the lack of a nomination, an award, any respect for the outstanding work on The Elephant Man in 1980 which prompted (finally) The Academy to introduce an official category. That means from next year I’ll have Official Nominations to look at for the first time, as well as my own picks. The Elephant Man is always going to be the winner this year, kicking off arguably the greatest decade of Makeup in Cinema’s history, with the great Christopher Tucker picking up my win. It’s not the only significant entry in Makeup this year, with Cannibal Holocaust’s realistic work enough to lead to official murder charges being placed on director Deodato’s head. Even now there is a gritty, disturbing realism to the blood and guts we are treated to. Inferno is less concerned with realism and more concerned with how memorable and shocking its kills are. This being Argento, you know you’re going to get some unforgettable set-pieces with garish makeup to boot. Finally, Altered States is something of a fever dream, and as such it relies on all manner of visual enhancement and trickery with Dick Smith’s makeup an important part of making the final product so trippy.

The Elephant Man review – David Lynch's tragic tale of compassion | The Elephant Man | The Guardian

My Winner: The Elephant Man

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Adapted) – 1980

Official Nominations: Ordinary People. Breaker Morant. Coal Miner’s Daughter. The Elephant Man. The Stunt Man.

A mixture of the interesting and the expected this year. Naturally, Ordinary People was the winner, the tale of suburban alienation striking a chord with those in charge. Coal Miner’s Daughter and The Elephant Man were dead certs to be nominated thanks to the calibre of people involved behind the scenes, and the same can be said for The Stunt Man. Breaker Morant is the offbeat choice, the tale of a (no matter which side of the argument you fall) bit of a scumbag military man who committed a series of War Crimes but claimed he was ‘only following orders’. The film was incredibly successful in its native Australia, possibly explaining this courtesy nomination.

My Winner: The Elephant Man

NEW The Elephant Man And Other Reminiscences by Sir Frederick Treves | Elephant, Man, Joseph merrick

My Nominations: The Elephant Man. Airplane! Altered States. Raging Bull. The Shining.

Only The Elephant Man to me is really worthy of coming across to my list given its quotability and heart. Airplane! is one of the many quotable comedies of the 80s and one of the first and finest examples of sketch type humour which would be expanded upon in the decade. Altered States gets a nomination because it’s a marvel it was able to make its way to screen with any sort of coherence, while Raging Bull always felt like a strange snub given the other praise and awards heaped upon the film. My final choice, and perhaps my controversial winner, is The Shining – a much colder ghost story than King’s novel but one with an equal, if different power. There’s no escaping some of the one-liners either, even 40 years on.

My Winner: The Shining

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Stuntwork – 1980

My Nominations: The Empire Strikes Back. The Stunt Man. The Big Brawl. The Blues Brothers. The Young Master.

What is always one of my favourite categories, because I’m a big silly action lovin’ boy, is a bit of a turd this year. There was a batch of War movies which don’t break any new ground, but the action genre was in a bit of a mire until the explosion which occurred later in the decade. With the name and plot of The Stunt Man you would rightly expect the film to contain a lot of stunts. In this instance that’s like saying The Wrestler has a lot of wrestling. There are stunts as this is the world the movie is set in, but they’re not the focus and they’re not pushing any boundaries. Still, there are a few nice car and chase gags. The Empire Strikes Back has a lot of practical action but we’re beginning to push action into the realms of gadgets, machines, and computers rather than solely having living performers putting their bodies on the line. It’s still one of the most action packed and stunt filled films of the year. In The Big Brawl and The Young Master Jackie Chan makes a few personal strides – into the US and as a director. Neither is one of his best efforts, but both features plenty of his trademark lightning fast and innovative fight scenes and acrobatic stunts. The clear winner for me this year has to be The Blues Brothers, thanks to its ridiculously excessive car chases, stunts, and pile-ups.

Incredible stunt driving in 'The Blues Brothers' 'was all real' - Chicago Sun-Times

My Winner: The Blues Brothers

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Visual Effects – 1980

My Nominations: The Empire Strikes Back. Altered States. Flash Gordon. The Fog. Superman II.

This year there was no official category, but Empire won a Special Achievement award. If there had been a category, Empire likely would have been the winner. There’s the argument that it doesn’t do too much over and above what was set up in A New Hope but when you consider the scale of Hoth and Bespin as well as all of the space battle stuff the foundations laid out three years earlier have been built upon tenfold. Altered States is a movie which takes a theoretical scientific approach into other states of consciousness as prompted by drugs, sensory overload and depravation etc, and as such the need to accurately convey these states on screen is vital for the film’s success. The effects are as dated as anything else from this time, but powerfully aid the film’s nightmarish quality. I’m loath to include effects as dated as those seen in Flash Gordon, but I guess a lot of kids would have been enchanted by them back in the day. With The Fog, less is more and the ever spreading fog and flashes of what lies within lead to a gripping atmosphere and plenty of suspense. Superman II doesn’t up the ante from 2 years earlier, but more of the same is good enough for a year like this.

Strawberry Dragon Project: Film Review: The Empire Strikes Back

My Winner: The Empire Strikes Back

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Costume Design – 1980

Official Nominations: Tess. The Elephant Man. My Brilliant Career. Somewhere In Time. When Time Ran Out.

It’s the clothes category again. It’s always the period piece which wins, and given the fact that I’m not much of a Period movie fan this isn’t a category I care about. A potential shame because there’s so much interesting Sci Fi and Fantasy out there which should be nominated here. Somewhere In Time isn’t a great movie, but I love the Matheson work and I think it deserves a callout here. When Time Ran Out – no idea why it’s here as nothing stands out about the Costumes or anything else. My Brilliant Career – period piece which is perfectly fine – The Elephant Man, equally deserving of the nomination but nothing exceptional. Tess is your winner out of this bunch.

My Winner: Tess

Costumes from the movie "Tess" directed by Roman Polanski (1979) | Vintage  costumes, Fashion film, Fashion

My Nominations: Tess. The Elephant Man. The Empire Strikes Back. The Blues Brothers. Fame. Flash Gordon. Heaven’s Gate. Kagemusha. Popeye. Xanadu.

Again, you could drop three of the official nominations and replace with three more suitable movies from the Academy’s favourite genres. You’d want to slap a Musical in here – The Blues Brothers is the most iconic and varied, Xanadu is insane, and Fame is your modern traditional musical so the most likely candidate. Heaven’s Gate could have had a nomination here – throw it a bone at least – and Kagemusha was in with a shot. Popeye, as much as I hate it, manages to look like the cartoon/comic and Flash Gordon is the same, but again with more variety. There’s a winner here, an obvious winner, and it’s The Empire Strikes Back and John Mollo.

My Winner: The Empire Strikes Back

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Art Direction – 1980

Official Nominations: Tess. Coal Miner’s Daughter. The Elephant Man. The Empire Strikes Back. Kagemusha.

I can see why Tess wins this. A literary adaptation and a costume drama given the Polanski treatment. It had to win something, right? I can’t deny the skill involved in making it look so good. But there’s at least two films officially nominated which it doesn’t stand a chance against. Coal Miner’s Daughter – it’s here to top up the number of nominations The Academy felt it should receive. The Elephant Man is on a level with Tess if not a step above, while Kagemusha benefits from Kurosawa’s switch to colour and Yoshiro Muraki’s attention to detail. You could say this was a veteran nod, but it’s deserved as the entire film is a feast for the eyes. Your only winner, surely, has to be The Empire Strikes back, expanding the living, breathing Star Wars universe to an endless array of locations each with their own design hinting at cultures stretching back centuries.

My Winner: The Empire Strikes Back

The effect of 'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back' can still be felt after 40 years | Space

My Nominations: The Empire Strikes Back. Kagemusha. The Changeling. City Of Women. Tess. The Elephant Man. The Fog. Inferno. The Shining.

I Bring over four of the official choices and add a batch of horror movies. City Of Women isn’t a horror movie but its dreamlike qualities and dazzling Circus like style certainly warrants a nomination. While Inferno is not as visually daring or dazzling as Suspiria, it does take things up a notch with its abstract stage like vision of New York complete with abnormal shadows and lights, curtains, apartment blocks, books, and cellars. The Changeling is quant by comparison but is more of an updated version of the creaking haunted house movies of the 60s. It retains much of the style of those movies with the grand old house set up to look as foreboding and as ominous as possible. The Shining takes the haunted house idea further, instead placing a familiar story inside the confines of a sprawling, senseless hotel, a labyrinth of illogical corridors and the excess of a world long dead. Finally, The Fog takes the ghost story to its next logical step by haunting an entire town, the seaside idyll of Antonio Bay with the vengeful spirits too busy stabbing and scaring than stopping to appreciate the boats, lighthouses, streets, homes, and churches which Carpenter, Cundy, and Wallace provide for us.

My Winner: The Empire Strikes Back

Let us know in the comments which movie you would pick!

Best Director – 1980

Official Nominations: Robert Redford. David Lynch. Martin Scorsese. Richard Rush. Roman Polanski.

If there’s one certainty about this year’s Academy Awards, it’s that Robert Redford should not have won Best Director. He’s a good Director, but he’s an Academy Director. Ordinary People is an Academy film. You get the sense that you could have handed the job to any Director for hire and the end result would have been fairly similar. This is a two horse race between Lynch and Scorsese. For me, Scorsese wins this because Raging Bull plays to his personal strengths more than Elephant Man does for Lynch. While Lynch doesn’t let the fact that this was a ‘big movie’ get in the way of his artistry, he’s not exactly going full Lynch. Polanski was going to get a nomination for anything at this point, so why not get one for Tess, and Rush is a bizarre nomination, there to make up the numbers. It’s Rush’s finest moment as a Writer and Director, but there are a number of other Directors who could have filled this spot.

My Winner: Martin Scorsese

This Is Overwhelming”: Why Martin Scorsese Almost Didn't Make Raging Bull | Vanity Fair

My Nominations: David Lynch. Martin Scorsese. Ken Russell. Samuel Fuller. John Landis. Federico Fellini. Irvin Kershner. Michael Cimino. Akira Kurosawa. Francois Truffaut. Stanley Kubrick.

Look at that list of names – every one of those guys either was an Oscar winner, or should have been. Outside of maybe Kirshner and Fuller, and possibly Landis, every one of these guys will appear on any Best Directors list. In reality you were never going to drop Redford from the official list, but Rush and Polanski could have been dropped. In reality, either one of Kurosawa and Truffaut should have made it on (both veteran nods, both Foreign Film nominees), and most likely Kirshner for The Empire Strikes Back. It was a sequel, so maybe not. Kubrick would have been nominated, except The Academy hates Horror. Altered States was too controversial and Heaven’s Gate was a flop. The Blues Brothers is too anarchic, they weren’t going to go for another War movie after Apocalypse Now so Fuller is out, and City Of Women was overlooked completely. Regardless, each of those movies and directors is more deserving, to me, of a nomination here than Redford, Rush, or Polanski.

My Winner: Martin Scorsese.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Cinematography – 1980

Official Nominations: Tess. The Blue Lagoon. The Coal Miner’s Daughter. The Formula. Raging Bull

Another instance of a fairly hefty snub. We all know Raging Bull should be winning this one, by some distance. Tess looks great, The Blue Lagoon actually doesn’t look that great especially in retrospect, and The Coal Miner’s Daughter is more a case of the movie needing to be nominated because it’s also in the bigger categories. The Formula is a long forgotten John G Avildsen movie which also features John Gielgud, George C Scott, and Marlon Brando. It’s not great, but with that list of names you have to give it a go. It looks fine, doesn’t need to be nominated, hasn’t a chance to win, and look at the films which were missed.

My Winner: Raging Bull

Michael Chapman, Cinematographer of 'Raging Bull' and 'Taxi Driver,' Dies at 84 — World of Reel

My Nominations: Raging Bull. The Empire Strikes Back. Altered States. The Big Red One. The Elephant Man. The Fog. Heaven’s Gate. Inferno. Kagemusha. The Shining.

What a banging list, all worthy, but only one an Official Nominee. I still think Raging Bull wins this so it’s of no consequence, but some of these come close and have stood the test of time. Altered States sees Russell and Jordan Cronenweth pulling out all the stops as reality blurs, while The Empire Strikes Back is arguably the best looking, best shot Star Wars movie. Adam Greenberg – known for his moody sci-fi work – cut his teeth in the big time many years into his career on The Big Red One, a downbeat grizzled war movie. The Elephant Man not getting a nomination is ridiculous, Heaven’s Gate was so destroyed critically and commercially that it was never going to get nominated (even though time has shown it to be a gorgeous movie), and Kagemusha deserved a nomination given the Western Producing influence (beyond the quality of the movie). My final three picks fall to the Horror genre – Inferno isn’t quite on the level of Suspiria but it’s only a slight notch down, The Shining is cold, distant, spacious and claustrophobic, and The Fog is one of the most underrated Horror movies in terms of how it looks, which is unfortunate because it nails the look of a campfire ghost story better than anything else I’ve ever seen.

My Winner: Raging Bull.

Let us know your winner in the comments!