Best Writing (Original) – 1980

Official Nominations: Melvin And Howard. Brubaker. Fame. Mon Oncle D’Amerique. Private Benjamin.

Be honest – how many of these films have you, or has the average person heard of. Fame should be a given, Private Benjamin is probably there too. There others? Unless you were there at the time and an Oscars nerd most people won’t be aware of the other three nominees. That’s not to say they’re not good choice or good scripts, but it does suggest that better or more viable options were overlooked. Melvin And Howard won a number of Awards this year – it’s a fine standalone and it hasn’t aged as badly as even some of the bigger comedies of the era. Even so, it’s not that funny – it’s the light sort of self serving humour The Academy always falls back on when they absolutely have to nominate a Comedy. It does get credit for being one, maybe one of the first, of those biopics about some random person with no discernible talent who meets with a stroke of bizarre luck, or whose story is so offbeat and little known that it just about deserves to be told.

Brubaker is a lower tier prison movie – by this point we’d seen a lot better and we would see better again in the future. Not happy with winning Best Picture, Robert Redford had to through his acting hat into the ring with this one but up against the titans who were nominated, Brubaker got relegated to Best Writing. The category was a little different in 1980, but given that it was clearly based on a book and it not an original story, it shouldn’t really be here. Fame tried to bring back the Musical by focusing on a younger set of characters and audience. It’s tolerable, cheesy, dated as hell as all Musicals tend to be within a few years of release. It doesn’t do nearly enough to rally against the dangers of fame to impressionable youth and those scavengers ready to exploit them. At least it broaches these topics and it’s merely a collection of songs and dances in pretty clothes. It’s not strong enough to be here.

Mon Oncle D’Amerique – you always know The Academy’s desperate or up to some funny business when it nominates a foreign movie here. Both Resnais and Depardieu were high on the list of ‘lets give these guys awards’ for The Academy which surely played a part in this being nominated, but it is a fairly interesting film both for the topics discussed, the real life people involved, and its structure. French Philosopher and Scientist Henri Laborit is the lead character, taking the audience on a virtual tour of his brain (and by extension the human psyche) via connected fictional stories. It’s the sort of nonsense you could see Charlie Kaufman tackling now. Private Benjamin is one of those classic fish out of water stories, elevated by a few funny moments and a star turn by Goldie Hawn. It’s a crap selection of movies all round and I’m not sure any deserve the nomination, never mind the win. I’ll go with the most entertaining one.

My Winner: Private Benjamin

See the Cast of 'Private Benjamin' Then and Now

My Nominations: 9 To 5. The Big Red One. The Blues Brothers. Caddyshack. The Empire Strikes Back. The Fog. Heaven’s Gate. The Long Good Friday. Used Cars.

The problem with this category this year is that there’s no stand out. There isn’t a single film you can point to as having the originality and the the dialogue and the one-line zingers you would normally expect a winner to contain. What you do have is you pick of comedies to choose from. Rather than go through each, as in truth they all strike the same anarchic nerve and each have their classic zingers – The Blues Brothers, Caddyshack, Used Cars – each have more memorable dialogue than any of the official nominees, while 9 to 5 surely deserves a nod if Private Benjamin gets one. I’m no fan of 9 To 5, but fair is fair.

That leaves us with a selection of unlikely heroes which were never going to be nominated. Heaven’s Gate had no hope even before it was released, and it was such a disaster that it basically destroyed the Auteur system until the 90s Indie scene offered some new hope. Upon re-evaluation, it’s a damn strong movie. It’s no Deer Hunter, but had the original vision been allowed to be seen, and had the thing been kept on budget, the last 40 years of cinema could have been very different. It plods, it’s bloated, but it’s somehow worth it. The Big Red One has seen less re-evaluation and is both less famous and less infamous than Heaven’s Gate, a Sam Fuller War movie with an interesting cast and one which questions the value and human cost of war before the swath of Vietnam movies would ask the same questions later in the decade.

The Long Good Friday is that rare example of a British gangster movie which I enjoy, and an Irish crossover movie which doesn’t embarrass. It didn’t make a huge splash in the US, but was popular enough that it set up Bob Hoskins for life. The Fog sees John Carpenter continue the unbelievable run kicked off with Assault On Precinct 13. It’s the perfect campfire ghost story blown up for the big screen, a terrific example of a simple, hokey premise given weight, drama, and scares thanks to a script which keeps things simple yet offers some self aware smarts over a decade before that became the norm.

My final choice is hardly unexpected. As the sequel to A New Hope, Empire had some big shoes to fill. The script more than lives up to the original by complicating relationships, offering new characters, worlds, and languages, peppering the movie with one-liners still in regular use today, and providing more of what people enjoyed about the first movie. Plus there’s the small matter of one of the greatest twists in movie history. As much as a Star Wars fan as I am, I would like to pick something else here – but I don’t see any other viable choice.

My Winner: The Empire Strikes Back

Let us know which movie you would pick as winner!

Best Original Score – 1980

Official Nominations: Fame. Altered States. Tess. The Elephant Man. The Empire Strikes Back.

Fame won the official award this year, but for me you think of the songs (or at least the title song) rather than the score. Deserves the nomination – not the win. Altered States getting nominated is pretty funny because… have you seen Altered States? It’s weird to me that such a weird and not remotely Hollywood film got nominated, but it’s wonderful that it did because it is a great score – horror movie strings and all manner of jump-scare sounds and offbeat rhythms. The Elephant Man is all carnival-esque rhythms and beats which recur over and over throughout the film reminding us of how most people feel towards Merrick even as his story progresses – the main theme for some reason always felt like a missing piece from The Godfather. 

The Empire Strikes Back builds upon everything that made A New Hope so good and adds a number of pieces which have become just as memorable and powerful – The Imperial March in particular becoming synonymous with ‘evil’. The pieces we know from the original often take on darker hues as you would expect given the nature of the film. Finally, Tess… not one of my most favourite Polanski movies, but another with a good score. If it has strings, if it’s emotive, then it’s for me.

My Winner: The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back (soundtrack) - Wikipedia

My Nominations: The Elephant Man. The Empire Strikes Back. The Blues Brothers. Cannibal Holocaust. Dressed To Kill. Flash Gordon. The Fog. Friday The 13th. Raging Bull. The Shining.

Only two make it to my list due to some other excellent scores this year. The Blues Brothers updates a number of Blues and rock standards while retaining their core power. It’s one of the only musicals I enjoy and definitely one of the few musical scores I can stand listening to. If Altered States is getting nominated, then there’s no way I’m not nominating Cannibal Holocaust. It’s a horrible, disgusting movie (I love it) but the soundtrack is downright beautiful – the choice of this wavering synth to play the main melody is perfect – beauty skewered. It’s weird because once you’ve seen the movie you can’t help but recall images from it when you hear the music, again making something so sweet leave the bitterest taste in your mouth. It’s a crime this wasn’t nominated with its outlandish disco beats and synthetic beeps and throbs merging with the more traditional strings wonderfully.

Keeping things Italian, Pino Donaggio follows in Riz Ortolani’s footsteps by creating another horror soundtrack which has a beauty all of its own, one which doesn’t (at least on the surface) seem to fit the film it was written for. Look deeper, like with Cannibal Holocaust, and it’s perfect. While Flash Gordon is mainly known for Flash’s Theme, the rest of the score by Queen helps to make a pretty bad film watchable beyond its camp value. Raging Bull’s score is a bit of a cheat nomination given that it’s a mixture of existing popular music from La Motta’s time, and other traditional classical pieces – but it’s the way they are mixed as a whole and how the score works alongside the dialogue and direction which earns its nomination.

Our final entries are all from horror films – if horror as a genre is (stupidly) usually passed over by the Academy for most categories, it should at the very least be a stalwart in this category. Out of my three picks, only The Shining stood any chance of officially being nominated – though its mixture of original and non-original pieces probably exlcudes it. No matter, it still works as an effectively creepy score, evoking birds eye views of cars travelling down winding rounds, empty ballrooms, long corridors, and little dead girls. Friday The 13th isn’t one of my favourite horror scores, but there’s no getting away from how famous parts of it have become, particularly the ‘ki ki ki, ma ma, ma’ and piercing strings of the main title. Finally, The Fog soundtrack is another winner by Carpenter – there haven’t been too many directors in the history of cinema who have also written the music for their own films, and none to the same level of success as Carpenter has. This one has all the creepy factors of his Halloween score, but it’s a little slower, more tense, more malevolent, but maybe lacking that all important widespread appeal motif. In any other year, this would be my winner…. in fact, Empire got my win from the officials so lets split the difference and give it to Carpenter.

My Winner: The Fog

Let us know what you pick as the Best Score of 1980!

Fanboys

Making a fan service movie, which is also about fan service/fandom, is a tricky prospect these days. Geek fandom and its associated privilege, is King. People can kick and grump and moan to force someone to lost their job, to force someone into a job, to keep dissenting voices out of fandom, or to cause enough of a stink so that the fandom eventually gets what it wants. Fandoms have always been a vague mire of toxicity and inclusive joy representing both the best and worst of humanity, and both aspects have only been exacerbated by the pervasive and all encompassing nature of social media. Fanboys was released as social media was beginning to explode, but it gets around some of these issues by setting the film in the more innocent, greener pasture of 1998.

If you were a Star Wars fan in 1997 and 1998, it was a particularly exciting time. I was a lad of 15 and a fairly large fan of the franchise – not as big as my older brother, not as rabid as others, but certainly keeping an eye online for snippets of information such as they were dispersed back then. Fanboys follows a group of typical 90s nerds – comic book and sci-fi fans, but not the entitled geeks of today, and not the bullied party avoiders of the 80s. Having recently left High School and each figuring out the trials of adulthood – whether that be living in your mom’s garage, following in your father’s footsteps, or working in a comic book store – the gang meet up at a Halloween party and reconvene in anticipation of Episode I. There is an undercurrent of anger due to one of the gang seemingly growing up and leaving his friends behind, but when it is revealed that one of the group has terminal cancer and only has a few months to live, the tension is put temporarily on ice. The main problem is that the dude wants to see Episode I before he dies, but it is due for release in six months while doctors have given him no more than four. The guys decide that the only solution is to break into the infamous Skywalker ranch and catch a pre-release copy, and so they set off on a road trip across the Country.

This being a Road Movie, it hits all of the expected trappings – every mile travelled brings a new discovery about a particular character and their coming of age, each new destination features an associated humorous interlude, and as the gang get closer to their goal they learn that the journey and those you make the journey with are often more important than the final destination. Being a movie about fandom, there are plenty of in jokes, cameos, and nerdy discussion – some more ill-advised than others – from recurring battle between Star Wars and Star Trek fans, from Billy Dee Williams appearing as a character called Judge Reinhold and cameos by William Shatner, Ray Park, Carrie Fisher, Kevin Smith and other, to Harry Knowles appearing as a character (played by an actor). Sadly the film became more known for its controversial re-shoots. Early buzz was positive and George Lucas was a fan, but later re-shoots attempted to add more raunchy humour and remove important character and story elements. These re-shoots were done by director Steven Brill, famous for only making shit movies, and when a genuine fan campaign was raised pleading for the original vision of the film to be released, Brill responded with a highly publicized and idiotic rant about fandom. Eventually the original vision was mostly restored, though director Kyle Newman had barely any time to complete. This seemingly resulted in a mish mash of a film, one which has fleeting moments of potential, genuine warmth, and humour, while much of the film feels a little disjointed and unsure of what it wants to be.

Star Wars fans should nevertheless get a laid back kick out of the movie. It’s harmless and has a collection of laughs to go with the decent performers from recognisable faces – Kristen Bell, Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler. Whether or not the reshoot controversy prevented the film from being a more rounded and well received movie we’ll likely never find out, but anyone looking for an underseen coming of age Road flick centred on friendship and fandom might want to give this a watch.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Fanboys!

Best Cast – 1977

My Nominations: Star Wars. Airport 77. A Bridge Too Far. Sorcerer. The Duellists.

I mean, I have to pick Star Wars again here, surely? You may say the cast don’t deliver the best individual or group performances of the year, but has there ever been a cast of performers creating a cast of more iconic characters in movie history? Every generation there’s a film which pulls the same trick, but in most cases those characters are based of an existing property. In any case, you have Mark Hamill perfecting the young man thrust into a huge adventure trope, Harrison Ford bringing the rugged space cowboy charm, Fisher as the feisty Princess, and Alec Guinness as the wise teacher – and that’s me being as simplistic as possible – and not mentioning James Earl Jones, Peter Cushing, Daniels, Baker, or Prowse.

Airport 77 brings together another sparkling cast – James Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Christopher Lee, Lee Grant, Olivia De Havilland, Joseph Cotten – just a pity the film isn’t great. Similarly, A Bridge Too Far brings the stars without quite hitting the heights – Sean Connery, James Caan, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Max Schell, Ryan O’Neal, Liv Ullman – it’s a ridiculous cast. Sorcerer pits the always reliable Roy Scheider alongside a still little known cosmopolitan cast including Amidou, Bruno Cremer, Ramon Bieri, Paco Rabal, and Joe Spinell. Finally, The Duellists is more condensed in terms of casting, but exceeds in terms of quality – with Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel, Stacey Keach, Albert Finney, Tom Conti, Cristina Raines, and Diana Quick all contributing.

My Winner: Star Wars

Best Visual Effects – 1977

Official Nominations: Star Wars. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

The Academy had persisted through the middle of the 70s with Special Achievement Awards, but by the time 1977 rolled around it became clear that more and more films were pushing the bar where Visual Effects were concerned and a dedicated category was needed like any other category. Having said that, it would still be a while before The Academy fully relented and gave a complete batch of nominees. Here, we have two of the seminal effects movies of the decade vying for the win. Both are great, but the win has to go to Star Wars. It just blew open the door for everything which came after and pioneered so much that it’s one of the most obvious wins of all time.

My Winner: Star Wars

My Nominations: Star Wars. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. A Bridge Too Far. Hausu. Pete’s Dragon. Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger. The Spy Who Loved Me.

I tryto spice things up by adding a few other notable entries – Pete’s Dragon is not a movie I enjoy but it did do some pioneering work in the merging of animation with live action. A Bridge Too Far is a war epic coming a few years too late, but still manages to bring plenty of effects to the table to extend the realism of the piece. The Spy Who Loved Me has all manner of amusing visual gags, while Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger continues Harryhausen’s amazing run with Cavemen, a Saber-Toothed Tiger, baboons, monsters, and plenty of nifty transformations.

My Winner: Star Wars

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Original Score – 1977

Official Nominations: Star Wars. The Spy Who Loved Me. Julia. Mohammed Messenger Of God. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. A Little Night Music. Pete’s Dragon. The Slipper And The Rose.

Well well well, John Welliams (Williams) was on a bit of a roll this year, with two nominations and one win – both scores of course being indisputable classics which are still listened to by thousands of people today. Lets not kid ourselves – Star Wars is winning this every day of the week. From the main theme, to Leia’s theme, to the Cantina theme, it’s littered with classics and is obviously one of the best and most famous movie scores ever. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is mostly known for the famous ‘do di do duh doo’ communication melody, but elsewhere the score has many other great pieces ranging from tense buildups and wailing melodies of foreboding.

The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most critically acclaimed Bond entries, netting three Oscar nominations. Marvin Hamlisch took over from John Barry and ironically got the first nomination of the series (Skyfall would pick up the second decades on) – his score patriotic, quintessentially Bond yet self mocking. Julia is one of George Delerue’s most suitably poignant efforts while Mohammed Messenger Of God (or The Message) isn’t a film you can see being made or becoming so successful today – Maurice Jarre’s blends East and West quietly. On to the other category and A Little Night Music picked up the official win – you already know how I feel about musicals. Pete’s Dragon is there too, never a favourite film of mine but the music is okay, and finally The Slipper And The Rose is a bizarre British live action musical of Cinderella with some decent songs and tunes.

My Winner: Star Wars

My Nominations: Star Wars. The Spy Who Loved Me. Julia. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Black Sunday. A Bridge Too Far. The Deep. Eraserhead. Hausu. Martin. Saturday Night Fever.

Does anything else stand a chance against Star Wars this year? Well, John Williams didn’t only make two scores this year – he ain’t no slacker – he also made Black Sunday – another string heavy piece which actually has a lot in common with his two official nominations though not as bombastic. A Bridge Too Far is yet another classic war epic with a massive cast  – you know I love those, and while John Addison’s score is not as memorable as others it does still have a great lead theme. The Deep isn’t a great film, but for some reason certain scenes have always stayed with me, usually those involving eels (Louis Gossett Jr never seems to have much luck with aquatic wildlife). The music is good though, reminiscent of Jaws of course, but going its own way too. I’d love it if Eraserhead had received a nomination here (or anywhere) so I’m adding it, for it’s washing, industrial, hissing noise.

The soundtrack to Hausu is great because it was completed before the film had actually been made, yet it manages to be as buck nuts as the film itself, sounding like a children’s TV show and a cheesy rock based musical. The soundtrack of Martin is one of the most beautiful, haunting, and underrated in horror, while we can’t have a discussion about soundtracks without mentioning one of the biggest selling albums ever – Saturday Night Fever – a soundtrack brimming with disco classics. If we’re going to include that, then we must also include Smokey And The Bandit – as much as I’m not a fan of disco, I hate country music more, yet both these soundtracks are great. Susperia remains Argento’s most famous film and probably Goblin’s most acclaimed score – reminding me of Rosemary’s Baby but with hissing and arcane whisperings and chants in place of the lullaby ‘la las’. It’s one of the few soundtracks I can put on and listen to the whole way through, a rip-roaring ride of devilish funk, rock, synth, screams, and more. It would be my winner if not for Star Wars. I think that’s quite enough soundtracks for one year.

My Winner: Star Wars

Let us know in the comments which Score of 1977 you would choose!

Best Make-up – 1977

My Nominations: Star Wars. Eraserhead. Hausu. The Island Of Dr. Moreau. Rabid. Suspiria.

There are a few here that I’d be happy picking as winner – for sheer disturbing power Eraserhead’s work is second to none and creates a nightmarish atmosphere and vision which is difficult to get through, while the invention in Hausu puts most other movies to shame. The Island Of Dr. Moreau continues what was started with Planet Of The Apes, while Rabid offers a more urban take on zombies, with all manner of bodily stuff going on. That leaves Star Wars and Suspiria, and out of those two Star Wars wins on scope alone.

My Winner: Star Wars.

Let us know in the comments which films you would nominate here!

Best Costume Design – 1977

Official Nominations: Star Wars. Airport 77. Julia. A Little Night Music. The Other Side Of Midnight.

This was a no brainer. Airport 77 is merely an excuse to give Edith Head her yearly nomination, while A Little Night Music is the Academy forcing another musical into the category, regardless of how bad it is. Julia and The Other Side Of Midnight are worthy nominees but being period pieces not so far removed from a recent period of history they don’t feel as startling as nominees from other years. Star Wars then creates a new Universe populated by planets and characters with their own individual fashions and styles. Even if the film only featured Vadar and everyone else wearing the same bland outfit, it would win. Of course we have iconic outfits on a conveyor belt, from the Stormtroopers to Leia’s various dresses, to Han’s space-age gunslinger garb… it’s one of the easiest Oscar wins in history.

My Winner: Star Wars

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My Nominations: Star Wars. A Bridge Too Far. The Duellists. New York New York. Jabberwocky.

It’s a little pointless again because we know what the winner is. A Bridge Too Far goes all in on the authentic costumes while The Duellists has more flair, New York New York hits the musical quotient if we must, and Jabberwocky recycles from Holy Grail with a few updates.

My Winner: Star Wars

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Art Direction – 1977

Official Nominations: Star Wars. Close Encounters. Airport 77. The Spy Who Loved Me. The Turning Point.

Similar to the Costume Category, this was always a one horse race. Not quite as one-sided as Costume as we have some notable nominees here, but we know Star Wars is the winner, what with its Death Stars and Millennium Falcons and Cantinas. Close Encounters is a close second, while Airport 77 and The Turning Point don’t offer anything out of the ordinary. The final option then is The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s always interesting to me when a Bond film is nominated for an Oscar, because it happens so infrequently. If there is one category it should have excelled in over the years, it’s this one with Ken Adam pulling magic from his hat on multiple occasions. Of course it took Adam to work on Barry Lyndon before The Academy paid attention to him (though he did get a nomination in 1956 too) but he finally got some respect for his epic Bond work this year thanks to his work on Stromberg’s base etc.

My Winner: Star Wars

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My Nominations: Star Wars. Close Encounters. The Spy Who Loved Me. A Bridge Too Far. The Duellists. Eraserhead. Hausu. Suspiria.

The Academy all out avoids some major picks this year. I bring over the three best nominees, but there’s no way you don’t nominate Suspiria here. It’s on, no questions. Similarly, Hausa just has to get on – if you’ve seen it, there’s no way you argue against it being here. A Bridge Too Far and The Duellists both deserve a nomination, though I’d be happy with either or, and that leaves Eraserhead as another film with such a unique look that it hasn’t really been replicated in the years since.

My Winner: Star Wars

Let us know in the comments which film gets your vote!

Best Original Screenplay -1977

Official Nominations: Annie Hall. The Goodbye Girl. The Late Show. Star Wars. The Turning Point.

As is usually the case with this category, it closely matches the Best Picture nominees. Annie Hall – not that different from the usual Woody Allen shtick although there are enough one-liners and rambling speeches to highlight. A modern viewer will find much of it hackneyed and cliched, but only because it has been copied so many times. The Goodbye Girl is standard Neil Simon fare – romantic comedies don’t do much for me, even when they are as well written as this, but it needs to be exceptional for me or speak on a personal level for me to rate it any higher than average. The Late Show is the anomaly of the bunch – the film no-one remembers. It’s another unfortunate case because it’s an interesting film merging noir with lighter moments and it’s certainly the type of film you don’t say anymore. The Turning Point doesn’t offer anything new and plays out like a standard soap drama. Star Wars created an enduring universe with a multitude of characters and places and dialogue which has become part of culture and daily dialogue, never mind the number of imitators which the story spawned.

My Winner: Star Wars

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My Nominations: Star Wars. Annie Hall. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Desperate Living. Eraserhead. High Anxiety. Martin.

Desperate Living…. I just like the idea of something like this getting nominated. Have you seen it? There’s more humour and weirdness in a couple of pages of this script than there are in many comedy writers’ careers. It’s… not for everyone. Close Encounters gets another nomination, Spielberg subtly working in Jewish and Christian allusions and more overarching themes of exploration, knowledge, and tolerance. Eraserhead also gets another nomination – a screenplay created almost entirely to allow for Lynch’s visuals and atmosphere. Mel Brooks knocks out another great script – it’s very difficult to get parody right but he does it once again with High Anxiety, while Martin was one of the first movies to bring vampires out of European castles and Victorian streets and into American suburbs, while at the same time subverting the vampire myth and offering insight into pained adolescence.

My Winner:  Star Wars

Let us know your winner in the comments!