The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1988

1988 is another weak 80s year. They all seem to be weak, don’t they? Though, here, they made the best with what they had to work with. So that’s admirable.

Rain Man is a terrific film (if not a particularly strong Best Picture winner, historically), and is the film most people would choose among the nominees. Dustin Hoffman wins Best Actor for it (talked about here), and I think we can all agree he was terrific and deserved it very much (doubly so when you see his competition). And Barry Levinson won Best Director for the film as well (talked about here), which was gonna happen, since in a year like this — it’s gonna match. Best Actress was Jodie Foster for The Accused (talked about here), which was so richly deserved. Best Supporting Actor was Kevin Kline for A Fish Called Wanda (talked about here), which was a fun decision. Not terribly great historically, but when you see the category he was up against, you’ll be glad he won. Trust me. And Best Supporting Actress was Geena Davis for The Accidental Tourist (talked about here), which doesn’t hold up very well at all (Michelle Pfeiffer probably should have won instead).

So, overall, 1988 is a very successful year. That’s nice. I was born this year. You know what else came out this year? Moonwalker. So I like the Oscar year and all, and this decision, but seriously — Moonwalker


And the nominees were…

The Accidental Tourist (Warner Bros.)

Dangerous Liaisons (Warner Bros.)

Mississippi Burning (Orion)

Rain Man (United Artists)

Working Girl (20th Century Fox)

The Accidental Tourist — The film is about William Hurt as a man who write travel guides whose son was murdered during a robbery. He’s deeply depressed and his marriage is falling apart. And then he meets Geena Davis, a quirky dog trainer, who helps him come out of it and move on. That’s pretty much the film. It’s good, but I can’t see how it got here. It’s basically a romantic comedy that starts as a drama. Comedy in the sense that — it ends happily. I don’t really get it myself. Would anybody vote for this movie?

Dangerous Liaisons — Now here’s a film. This is kind of like a noir set in the 1700s. It’s about aristocrats who basically fuck with each other for fun. Glenn Close is the bitchy, scheming architect of the whole thing. She’s the woman who is seemingly virtuous in public, but behind closed doors fucks everyone. And of course, in those days, your virtue was everything. But she’s constantly fucking these younger men and uses sex to get what she wants. And John Malkovich is nobleman who desperately wants to sleep with her.  And what happens is — the young man she’s sleeping with (Keanu Reeves, actually) leaves her to go marry Uma Thurman. So Close, wanting to extract some revenge, tells Malkovich she’ll sleep with him if he goes and ruins Uma Thurman. Meanwhile, Malkovich also wants to marry Michelle Pfeiffer, and is doing his best to woo her. And the whole movie is about this backstabbing and scandal and intrigue — it’s so good. It really is. There’s such duplicitousness going on, it’s great. The way they speak versus the way they act, the way they carry on in public and then in private — its so good. It’s a film that’s so wonderfully evil.

Mississippi Burning — This is about the killing of three civil rights activists and the subsequent investigation of it. Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe are two FBI agents sent down to investigate the disappearance of the three boys. And they get to this town, and it’s clear that the boys were murdered (they were black), and that the town is covering it up (the Klan was involved) and they need to get enough information to convict those responsible. And Dafoe is the northern boy with no prejudices, and Hackman is the southern boy who grew up around this stuff. So Dafoe tries to get information, meanwhile he has no problem sitting with the blacks (which, of course, is anathema to the whites), whereas Hackman, knowing better, does the manners thing and uses their way against them. Of course, this doesn’t work that well, and eventually — well, it gets good. That scene with Hackman and the mayor in the barbershop is amazing. But — it’s basically a procedural of sorts, and it’s really good. Really, really good.

Rain Man — I hope everyone knows what this is about. Charlie Babbitt’s father dies, expects to be left all his money, finds out he has a brother. Goes to meet the brother. He’s autistic. He takes him on a road trip, basically expecting to find a way to have his father’s money sent to him. Along the way, he and Raymond bond. It’s a great, touching film. And if you haven’t seen this, I can’t understand what you have been watching instead.

Working Girl — Melanie Griffith is a secretary with ambition and ideas of becoming a businesswoman. One day, she tells off her creepy boss (Kevin Spacey, naturally) and is fired. She goes back to the secretary pool and is assigned to Sigourney Weaver. And Sigourney is seemingly a nice boss. She says she’s open to her ideas, and will listen to anything Griffith has to suggest. And things go well until Weaver breaks her leg on a skiing trip. So she ends up at home. Only she has important meetings to go to. So she sends Griffith in her place. And during these meetings, Griffith meets Harrison Ford. And she sleeps with him and starts to fall for him, and then realizes he works for the other company involved in the major deal, and they try to have a business and personal relationship. And then Griffith, during one of the meetings, when Weaver’s idea tanks, suggests her own idea, which goes over really well. And then the companies start to move on that, and then Weaver comes back from her injury and takes the idea as her own. And Griffith has to fight for her reputation, and there’s — well, it’s a romantic comedy, how do you think it ends?

I’m amazed this film is here. It’s nothing but a romantic comedy. I guess because it’s Mike Nichols? I don’t know. It’s okay, it’s just — I don’t get it.

My Thoughts: It’s a really weak set of films. The Accidental Tourist shouldn’t be here, nor should Working Girl. Dangerous Liaisons is great, but I wouldn’t vote for it. So it really comes down to Mississippi Burning and Rain Man. And honestly, I’m taking Rain Man. I love it, and, while it’s not the strongest choice in the world, it’s the best of what I had to work with.

My Vote: Rain Man

Should Have Won: I guess… Rain Man. Maybe Mississippi Burning. Weak year.

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. The category doesn’t have a clear winner, and to be honest, it’s nice to have something we can rally around against than having to bicker about any one of the other choices. The more you look at it, the more you realize this was an acceptable decision. It has to be.

Ones I suggest you see: What person hasn’t seen Rain Man? Don’t let it be you.

Mississippi Burning is a terrific, terrific film. Really amazing. One of the best films of the 80s, for sure. Not essential, comparatively, but amazing, and should be seen.

Dangerous Liaisons is a terrific film. Aristocrats being assholes to one another — it’s just so well done. All the scheming and dealing — it’s just amazing. You definitely need to see this. It’s so good.

The Accidental Tourist is — okay. Meh. I don’t really get why it’s here. I guess because Lawrence Kasdan was a critical darling of the 80s. Or because the year sucked. Either way — this is okay, but not really something I can recommend past that. It’s just okay.

Working Girl — meh. I don’t really care for it. I mean, it’s watchable. I’m just biased against it because of the Best Picture nomination. Otherwise, it’s a good 80s romantic comedy. Should not be here at all, though. Otherwise, solid film. (The best thing about it is knowing that nowadays, this film would star Katherine Heigl and really suck. And you can see how bad it would suck too as you watch it.)


5) Working Girl

4) The Accidental Tourist

3) Dangerous Liaisons

2) Mississippi Burning

1) Rain Man

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