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
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!