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 Picture – 1980

Official Nominations: Ordinary People. The Coal Miner’s Daughter. Raging Bull. The Elephant Man. Tess.

This should be easy. Forget all of the nonsense about what The Academy wants to vote for, forget all of the nonsense about campaigning and politics and how simple it is to predict what will win based on the rest of Awards Season – all you should focus on is what deserves to win. Naturally that’s about as subjective as things come, which is why I’m a fan of Awards like this either being based on concrete metrics and data, or being made retroactively. I’d be much happier if The Oscars took place at a 2-3 years distance from release date as by that time you would see some of the influence and staying power of a particular film coming through.

Remember The Nightman Scoring System? If you don’t, click that link. That is roughly how films should be evaluated and scored. It’s a little simplistic but you can play around with the categories and make it fit. The system works. If you put these five films through that System, looking at how much money a movie made, looking at performance, directing, music, everything else – I’m fairly certain one movie would be the clear winner. Raging Bull is your clear winner for this year. An artistic, cinematic, and personal achievement, one which changed how we expect actors to perform, and one which acts as straightforward entertainment while not cheapening itself for mass consumption. It’s one of the best movies of the decade, and one of the best movies ever made.

Your second place choice is something you could make most of the same arguments for – The Elephant Man is also a stunning achievement but perhaps less accessible than Raging Bull if only for its subject matter. It’s a shame these came out in the same year – put The Elephant Man out in 1981 and that’s your winner. It’s about as accessible and mainstream as David Lynch gets. We’re left with the also rans. Tess is mainly here on the strength of Polanski’s other work – good film, just not Best Of The Year good. The Coal Miner’s Daughter is Oscar-bait – biography, musical, American Dream stuff. Similar almost to The Elephant Man and Raging Bull except those both upend the fist-pumping American Dream story and format. Again, good film, great lead performance – not year best worthy.

Which leads us to one of the divisive wins in Oscars history – Ordinary People. It’s not exactly spoken in the same breath as Raging Bull these days, but when it is it’s along the lines of ‘how the hell did this beat Raging Bull’. There’s one simple reason, and that reason is that The Academy loves Robert Redford. I’m not going to sit here and bad mouth the movie though – it’s a very good movie. Take Raging Bull and The Elephant Man out and this is your clear winner. It’s another incisive slice-down through, not the American Dream but the American Norm – an affluent family rocked and failing to cope with the death of a family member. It doesn’t need to be two hours long and while Redford’s first time directing is mature and assured, it doesn’t have the immediate or long-lasting impact of Lynch or Scorsese.

My Winner: Raging Bull

Original Raging Bull Movie Poster - Jake La Motta - Martin Scorsese

My Nominations: Raging Bull. The Elephant Man. The Empire Strikes Back. The Shining. The Blues Brothers. Cannibal Holocaust.

Only two of the true nominations make it over to my list, joining an all time infant terrible, an all time horror masterpiece, an all time cult classic, and one of the all time greats regardless of genre. Cannibal Holocaust – there’s no way anyone in their right mind would ever nominate this – it’s cheap, nasty, badly dubbed, and features real life animal cruelty and death. I am clearly not in my right mind, so it goes on the list. The film is unforgettable and parts of it will sneak up on you years later, like a trigger. How many films have had the impact this one had? Not only did it essentially create the Found Footage genre (regardless of whether you feel that’s a positive or negative, it remains a fact) but it also led to a genuine public outcry and Criminal Proceedings where the director had to prove he didn’t murder his cast. No other film on either list, or in 1980 can say the same.

The Blues Brothers is my idea of the perfect musical – the music is actually good, the musical interludes make sense, it doesn’t take itself seriously, plus it’s actually funny and mostly avoids any romance nonsense. Is it Best Of The Year quality…. probably not, but it has taken on that quality of transcending its release and remains a well loved cult favourite. If any Horror movie of the 1980s deserved Academy recognition it was surely The Shining. Frequently at or near the top of any serious list of the Best Horror Movies ever made, plus it was directed by Academy favourite Kubrick and starred Academy favourite Nicholson. This is maybe the glaring omission of the year – did we really need The Coal Miner’s daughter when we already had two better biopics this year? The Shining didn’t receive a single nomination, a travesty with hindsight and giving some weight to the argument that you need some time before trying to aware the best for something as subjective as film.

The final nomination from my side is what most people call ‘the best Star Wars movie’. I prefer Jedi, but I’m in the minority. It ups the ante from A New Hope, expanding the universe and the interweaving stories of each character, it blurs its own narrative constructs of morality and takes the tale far beyond the typical heroic journey, plus it has bad-ass action, a great soundtrack, and has arguably the most impressive and iconic visuals in the entire franchise. As Raging Bull already has my Official Win, I’m handing this one to Empire.

 My Winner: The Empire Strikes Back

Let us know in the comments which movies you would nominate and what your winner would be!

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!