Escape To Victory – Get Rekt!

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Greetings, Glancers! Today I run a more critical eye over my tenth favourite movie of the year 1981, seeking to ignore my bias and provide a fair score based on the 20 criteria I feel are most important in the creation of a film. Today’s movie is John Huston’s Escape To Victorythe story of a football match between Nazi soldiers and Allied Prisoners Of War.

Sales: 4. It made back almost three times its budget – but I don’t know how much in addition was spent on advertising etc. Of course, I don’t know how much it has made on home release and streaming since – streaming probably not so much. You can’t go less than 3 – I might be pushing it giving it the 4.

Critical Consensus: 3. A cult movie in that it’s really only a movie English football fans ever remember, and as such critical consensus was never great, most giving it average to positive reviews. It’s a strange subject matter and a strange cast, with an even stranger director and over time outside of its cult fandom the reviews which drop are equally average.

Director: 3. When most people think of John Huston, they think of his early Thrillers or his late dramas and most probably overlook this strange football movie. Huston was never afraid of tackling unusual subject matter and this was an attempt to make a rousing The Great Escape type movie. It’s not on that level, but the scenes of intrigue, the handling of character, and the shooting of the football are all entertaining.

Performances: 3. You have a bunch of footballers known for performing in a different way in front of cameras, and you have a post Rocky, pre Rambo Sylvester Stallone as the fish out of water. Then you have Max Von Sydow and Michael Caine hamming it up. It’s fun – not a movie about performances as much as spotting faces, but everyone is fun.

Characters: 3. Few of the characters are more than WWII movie stereotypes, with the added bonus of them being footballers. Stallone’s character is the plucky yank who hasn’t a clue how to play football, Caine is the Stalwart pragmatic Brit – you get it. You get behind them.

Cinematography: 3. It doesn’t have the benefit of looking as pretty or as grim as as other movies of this type, but those other movies don’t have football.

Writing: 3. It’s funny, it’s rousing. It lacks in the one-liners department and in terms of cynicism and getting to grips with the historical situation.

Plot: 3. A bunch of Allied POWs are plotting escape, as you do. The Nazis are bored, like a spot of footy, and decide to put on an exhibition match pitting the best of Germany against a load of starving amateurs. The POWs put together a team to play the match, then want to win the match, but also want to escape.

Wardrobe: 3. Sure.

Editing: 3. Yep. Good tension building between the match and the escape.

Make up and Hair: 3. Why not.

Effects: 3. Not applicable.

Art and Set: 3. Getting a lot of threes.

Sound And Music: 4. It’s Bill Conti so you know it’s going to be inspirational. Lots of military beats and plenty of nods to other pieces of music, including The Great Escape. It’s not as good as that – neither is the movie – but it’s still a good score and main theme, plus the noise of players and supporters during the match is well handled.

Cultural Significance: 3. I wish I could higher with this one – I mean, I wish the movie had a greater cultural significance beyond a select group of British football fans who remember it fondly telling their mates about it. But the film didn’t really change the War genre, it didn’t make football popular in the US, it never became a yearly festive favourite in the UK etc. I suppose it has inspired other football based movies. I should probably go with a 2 here, but it does have a devoted following and there’s always talk of a remake.

Accomplishment: 3. Getting this cast together, in fact even getting a film like this made at all, never mind in 1981 when no-one cared about WWII movies, is an accomplishment in itself.

Stunts: 3. Not strictly applicable, but there are a few scenes of action outside of the football, and I guess you could class some of the football as stunts too.

Originality: 3. There aren’t many POW films where the climax is a football match.

Miscellaneous: 3. Three seems to be the order of the day.

Personal: 4. It’s just a fun movie. It’s in the same vein as The Great Escape, that fist-pumping sticking your middle finger up to Adolf kind of movie without showing the true horrors of War or being a POW. Plus if you’re a football fan it’s probably the only legitimately good movie featuring football as a plot device – not to mention the fun of spotting the different players. A distinct lack of Liverpool players though.

Total Score: 63/100.

I guess that’s a fair score. It doesn’t leap out in any department, but overall it’s a fun oddity for everyone involved, all while being an entertaining watch with a rousing finale.

Best Cast – 1981

My Nominations: Body Heat. The Cannonball Run. Chariots Of Fire. Clash Of The Titans. Escape From New York. Escape To Victory. Ragtime. Raiders Of The Last Ark. Reds. Time Bandits. True Confessions.

I love writing about this category because it unveils those ‘statement’ movies, those moments in time where some of the biggest names in showbiz just happened to appear on screen together, or in the same piece of work. It also allows people to perhaps learn about some movies featuring big names which they may have been unaware of. Take True Confessions – a barely known film by a barely known Belgian director, yet it’s a neo-noir starring Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall. Also popping up are Burgess Meredith, Dan Hedaya, Charles Durning, and Cyril Cusack.

In terms of Statement movies, The Cannonball Run brings together a variety of big global stars – Burt Reynolds, Jackie Chan, Roger Moore, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, and Adrienne Barbeau. Everyone has their little moment to do what they’re known for, and it feels almost like a Variety show – fun to see them all together. Escape To Victory is similar, pulling together a range of real life football players and actors from around the globe – Pele, Ozzy Ardiles, Bobby Moore, John Wark, Mike Summerbee, Hallvar Thoresen, Michael Caine, Max Von Sydow, and Sylester Stallone – certainly one of the most unusual casts you’re ever likely to encounter.

If we’d had an Official Category, Reds would have been a near certain nomination considering the star power involved and its other category appearances – Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Gene Hackman, Paul Sorvino, Maureen Stapleton, Edward Herrmann, and M Emmet Walsh. Chariots Of Fire would have been guaranteed a spot – Nigel Havers, Nigel Davenport, Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, John Gielgud, Ian Holm, Patrick Magee, and Alice Krige. Ragtime would have been in with a shot – James Cagney, Mandy Patinkin, Brad Dourif, Elizabeth McGovern, Norman Mailer, Jeff Daniels, Mary Steenburgen, and Howard Rollins, while Body Heat would have been an outside chance with William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Mickey Rourke, Ted Danson, and Richard Crenna in tow.

Standing no chance of a vote are Time Bandits – Sean Connery, John Cleese, Ian Holm, Ralph Richardson, Kenny Baker, David Warner, Jim Broadbent, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Shelly Duvall, and Craig Warnock – and Clash Of The Titans with Harry Hamlin, Maggie Smith, Ursula Andress, Laurence Olivier, Burgess Meredith, and Claire Bloom. Escape From New York is eclectic – Kurt Russel, Lee Van Cleef, Issac Hayes, Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasance, Harry Dean Stanton, Charles Cyphers, and Tom Atkins. Finally, Raiders has the big star and a number of little known stalwarts for the time, but becoming icons on the back of their performances – Harrison Ford, Karen Black, John Rhys Davies, Denholm Elliott, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, and Alfred Molina. I honestly don’t know which to pick – I could go Raiders for iconic status, Reds for star power, or Cannonball for the novelty of it. I didn’t think I would, but:

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark

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Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Make-Up – 1981

Official Nominations: An American Werewolf In London. Heartbeeps

The first Official Award for this category saw its most honoured recipient pick up the win – Rick Baker for his game changing work in An American Werewolf In London. The only other nominee was another legend in the game, the late great Stan Winston for the barely seen Heartbeeps. It’s probably best it remains that way.

My Winner: An American Werewolf In London.

An American werewolf in London Jack makeup | Horror Amino

My Nominations: An American Werewolf In London. The Evil Dead. The Howling. Wolfen. Clash Of The Titans.

The Howling does a less impressive job than our winner because our winner focuses on much more than just the Werewolf or the kill effects, while Wolfen takes it down a notch again. The Evil Dead cares not for notches and smashes its way through every wall and ceiling of norms and expectations but in front of it. In another year it would be a definitive winner. Clash Of The Titans finally, features an array of make-up talents for its cast of human, Gods, and creatures.

My Winner: An American Werewolf In London.

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!