The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1981
God, I hate 1981. This year ends — actually, it doesn’t — it sits in the middle of a really terrible, five year stretch of Best Picture winners. Worst five-year plan this side of the Pacific. 1979 is Kramer vs. Kramer, a good film but not a Best Picture winner. 1980 is Ordinary People, one of the worst decisions of all time. 1981 is Chariots of Fire, perhaps the worst decision of all time. (When I get to it, though, in context it will make more sense than some of the other decisions. As a choice though, it’s the opposite of Sam Adams.) 1982 was Gandhi, a boring choice. 1983 was Terms of Endearment, a good film, but a weak choice in a weak year for nominees. Then, we got Amadeus, which broke the streak.But then the rest of the 80s were also a disaster (’85, ’87 and ’89 sucked, while ’86 and ’88 are up for discussion when the time comes), so, really, we had a really big cold streak after this too. This is just our lowest point.
I won’t even hide the fact that I hate this decision. Most times I’ll try to keep my opinions concealed enough so that when I get to Best Picture for this year there’s some sort of intrigue. Not here. This is universally proclaimed one of the top five, perhaps top three, worst Best Picture winners of all time. It’s that bad. We’re talking straight film. Nothing else. It really was bad. The rest of 1981 wasn’t so hot either. Sort of.
Best Actor went to Henry Fonda for On Golden Pond. It was the only choice, really, since they only nominated him once before — for The Grapes of Wrath — and he lost because of a blatant makeup Oscar for Jimmy Stewart. So there was no way he wasn’t winning here, and that’s that. Best Actress was Kate Hepburn, which was really insult to injury, since this was her fourth Oscar, and third in the span of 14 years. Right? ’67-’81? That span. She won three in that time. She also won for On Golden Pond. Best Supporting Actor was John Gielgud for Arthur, a decision I’m over the moon about. I love that movie so much. And Best Supporting Actress was Maureen Stapleton for Reds, which, to me, always felt like a career achievement Oscar mixed with a, “Hey, we know we don’t want to vote for you to win Best Picture, but we actually did like you more than we liked that other thing we voted for, so here’s another consolation prize.” The acting awards I guess weren’t so bad. I’ll need to look specifically to make my final decisions. But, overall, 1981 is a decent year marred by a horrible Best Picture choice. (more…)