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

Karen Allen Looks Back On 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' 40 Years Later - Variety

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.

20 facts you might not know about 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' | Yardbarker

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 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.

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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

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Best Original Score – 1981

Official Nominations: Chariots Of Fire. Raiders of The Lost Ark. Dragonslayer. On Golden Pond. Ragtime.

There are fewer more mocked genres than Fantasy, with it being all but ignored by the Academy until LOTR. Dragonslayer is an anomaly then in that it received a nomination – maybe not all that surprising as Alex North provided the score. It’s interesting in that much of the music was recycled from pieces which didn’t make his score for 2001 and while seeming out of place on the surface, give the film a different edge. If anything, this nomination should have opened the door for Fantasy scores receiving nominations, but as the following year would prove, the Academy learned nothing and caused one of their most horrific snubs.

Chariots Of Fire was the official winner this year – difficult to argue with that as it’s another score that you know long before you see the movie. If the 80s were the decade of synth, this was one of the pieces which popularized the instrument, and is one of the finest uses – easily one of the most iconic movie scores of all time. It’s perhaps a shame then that it’s up against Raiders Of The Lost Ark – John Williams is going to get my vote once more. If there’s a soundtrack more iconic that Chariots Of Fire, or at least on par with it, then it’s this one – Williams twisting Star Wars melodies to concoct yet another heroic, rousing whole.

Our final two nominations stand no chance. Having said that, the main theme to On Golden Pond is utterly gorgeous in places – just that right blend of sad and happy which evokes the central themes of the movie. Ragtime too has a very good main theme and I get a lot of the same feelings with it as with the previous score. It’s a pity I’m not a fan of the era or style of music – it’s the slower, more emotional pieces I’m interested in.

My Winner: Raiders of The Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark (soundtrack) - Wikipedia

My Nominations: Chariots Of Fire. Raiders of The Lost Ark. Blow Out. Clash Of The Titans. The Evil Dead. The Road Warrior

Only the main two make it to my list. It’s another year and another Brian De Palma/Pino Donaggio effort – an underrated director/composer duo. Once again he gives a lot of poignancy and class to a film when a lesser composer would fill it with horror stereotypes, Blow Out being a score you can engage with outside of the movie. If Dragonslayer is nominated, then so too must be Clash Of The Titans, with Laurence Rosanthal’s adventurous score reminding us of his endless talents – he’s arguably TV’s greatest Composer and one of the finest composers to have never won an Oscar (having been nominated twice).

It’s another year and another John Carpenter nomination – his work on Escape From New York is every bit the equal to what Vengelis did on Chariots except that I much prefer Carpenter’s score and film.  The Evil Dead deserves a nomination, even if it is nowhere near as memorable as other Horror scores, but it does maintain a constant threat. For Your Eyes Only is my mandatory Bond nomination – Bill Conti providing his only score for the series, and something a little different to what we are used to. The Road Warrior expands upon the weirdness of the first movie’s music, giving more memorable cues and offering something more heroic and hopeful than the more horror, alien feel of the first.

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Let us know your winner in the comments!