The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1990

The 90s to me, Oscar-wise, are the opposite of the 80s. The 80s had two legitimately great Best Picture decisions, and the rest were either okay based on the categories, acceptable because they’re big epics, or just outright terrible. The 90s, however, really only have two out and out bad decisions. Most of the choices they made in the 90s are either great, acceptable, or we just disagree with the choice, even though we agree they were good films. This, to me, is one of the two terrible decisions (the other being The English Patient).

Dances with Wolves simply should not have beaten Goodfellas. Kevin Costner should not have won Best Director over Martin Scorsese (talked about here). It’s a universally accepted fact. Outside of that, the rest of the year is also pretty weak. Jeremy Irons wins Best Actor for Reversal of Fortune (talked about here). It was one of the weakest Best Actor categories of all time, and most acknowledge he won for a performance he gave two years earlier (in Dead Ringers, which he wasn’t nominated for). Best Actress was Kathy Bates for Misery (talked about here), which was a good decision based on the category. Not particularly strong historically, though. Best Supporting Actor was Joe Pesci for Goodfellas (talked about here), which, as we all know, is perfect. And Best Supporting Actress was Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost (talked about here), in which she played a literal magical negro. The fact that she won for this and not The Color Purple is laughable.

So that’s 1990 — terrible, ain’t it?


And the nominees were…

Awakenings (Columbia)

Dances with Wolves (Orion)

Ghost (Paramount)

The Godfather Part III (Paramount)

Goodfellas (Warner Bros.)

Awakenings This film is about Robin Williams, a doctor at a New York hospital, who notices one day that the catatonic patients the hospital has (who were victims of an encephalitis outbreak 40 years earlier) can still respond to stimuli. He proves this by throwing a baseball at one and watching her catch it, despite being otherwise completely catatonic. He then goes to a conference where they discuss the drug L-Dopa and decides to administer it to the patients. And, to his surprise, they all start to come out of their catatonia.

The film mostly follows one of the patients, played by Robert De Niro, who became catatonic when he was a child, and now wakes up 40 years older. And he adjusts to life now, and even finds a little romance. However, the drug is not a cure, so, over the course of the film, De Niro slowly returns to being catatonic. He starts to get tics, which become more and more apparent, so he allows himself to be taped in order to help doctors research the disease in the hopes that they will come up with something to permanently reverse the catatonia.

It’s a great, great film. It really is. One of those movies you can’t help but enjoy. De Niro is great, Williams is great (you can tell Williams is being serious because he has a beard), it’s a terrific film.

Dances with Wolves — Yeah…this one.

I really don’t understand what this movie is supposed to be about. If you’ve studied the western genre, then this film really doesn’t manage to tell that intriguing of a story. And if you study storytelling — it also doesn’t.

Kevin Costner is an army man during the Civil War. He gets hurt in battle, and they want to amputate his leg. He doesn’t want that. So, he rides out on a horse between the two lines, figuring he’ll be killed and can at least die with all his limbs in tact. However, doing this surprises the hell out of the other side, and actually helps them win the battle. So he’s rewarded for his bravery and then transported out west so he can heal. He’s put in a remote outpost (which is so remote that it’s basically been abandoned). There, he meets Indians. They are somewhat hostile to him at first (more like — testing him), but he goes to them peacefully to start talking to them. Diplomacy and all that. And he meets a white woman who was abducted by them as a child and has been living as one of them ever since. And he makes friends with them and learns their ways, and then they go on a buffalo hunt. Then, one day, the white soldiers come and mistake him for an Indian. Then they realize that he’s white and he’s sent back east. (Though the Indians free him and they ride off together.)

Again, I ask — what is special about this story? What is this story? Man goes out west. Man meets Indians. Man learns their ways. Man gets sent back. Man goes off to live with them. No story whatsoever. None. And this trope of the white man “becoming” one of them has been done countless times. So it’s not even remotely new. It really seems like the only reason this got such acclaim was because it was big and classy and epic in scale. Otherwise — what the fuck?

Ghost — Has anyone not seen this movie?

Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are in love. It’s sappy. They make pots to “Unchained Melody” and respond to “I love you” with “ditto.” Then he gets killed. But he wakes up as a ghost. He starts adjusting to ghost life but finds he’s still on earth because he has unfinished business. He seeks a way to communicate with her. He finds Whoopi Goldberg, a fake psychic who is actually able to hear him. So he uses her to contact Demi Moore, and then he ends up getting revenge on the dudes who killed him.

It’s sappy, romantic movie, but it’s also really great. It’s really only here because it’s likable/a good film and made a shitload of money. A film like this will always get on. Examples (since 1990): The Fugitive, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Full Monty, The Sixth Sense, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, The Blind Side, The Help. Go ahead and tell me any of those are guaranteed Best Picture nominees without the fact that they also grossed much more than most people probably anticipated when they came out. No way. They build up buzz, and that’s how they get on. That’s how this got on. It’s not that this (or many of those) shouldn’t be here, it’s just — that’s how it got here. Great film, though. Cultural classic.

The Godfather Part III — It’s The Godfather. You need to have seen it. And if you go through life blindly thinking this is a terrible movie, you are wrong. If it were a terrible movie, it would not be on this list. It is a good movie. It’s not as good as the first two Godfathers, that’s true, but how can you compare? There was no way this would be nearly as good as the first two, because you hit your dramatic high point at the end of #2. Still, this movie is really good. And you need to have seen it. It’s much too easy to say this one sucked. But trust me — watch this movie without trying to put it on par with the first two, and you’ll see that it’s good.

Goodfellas — It’s Goodfellas. Don’t even pretend like you haven’t seen it.

My Thoughts: You’re insane if you think any film other than Goodfellas should have won this award.

My Vote: Goodfellas

Should Have Won: Goodfellas

Is the result acceptable?: One of the worst choices of all time.

Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t sen Goodfellas, you’re dead to me.

You should probably see The Godfather Part III, you know, to round out the series. Just don’t set the bar too high like everyone else did. It’s not good next to the first two, but on its own, it’s a terrific film. In fact, I insist that you have to see this, because if you’re one of those people who won’t see this just because it’s “not as good as the first two,” you’re an idiot.

You also pretty much have to see Ghost, considering how culturally relevant it is. There’s a lot of famous shit in it. It’s also a terrific film. So, see it. (Not seeing Ghost is like not seeing Dirty Dancing — you’re missing out on an experience everyone has.)

You should also see Awakenings. It’s terrific. And also a story that somehow we’ve all seen without seeing it. I saw the film for the first time on the Quest, and yet, I felt as though I’d seen it already. It’s a story that’s been told in other formats. Still powerful, though. Really, really terrific.

And Dances with Wolves — I say it’s essential. Because you need to see what it is. It’s a Best Picture winner, and a divisive one at that. I think everyone should see it to formulate their opinion on it. I say it’s just like The English Patient. Nothing happens, there’s no conflict, nothing gets resolved, but it’s big and epic and just something the Academy votes for.


5) Dances with Wolves

4) Ghost

3) Awakenings

2) The Godfather Part III

1) Goodfellas

2 responses

  1. Michael

    I totally agree with your assessment of The Godfather Part III. It’s really a great movie when compared to everything else out there, but when compared with just its two predecessors it’s not so good.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm

  2. Chad

    My rankings are:
    1. Goodfellas
    2. The Godfather Part 3
    3. Dances with Wolves
    4. Ghost
    5. Awakenings

    August 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm

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