The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1985

If there ever was a year that epitomizes the entire history of the Academy Awards in a nutshell — this is that year. You could use 1985 as a singular example for everything that has come before and after it. Let me explain:

Out of Africa wins Best Picture. A classical Oscar film if there ever was one. Big, sweeping, epic, a romance. And it epitomizes the Academy because they vote for this things blindly. Out of Africa is not a good film. It’s just a compiling of things the Academy loves. I bet if there’s one film Harvey Weinstein has learned from the most, it’s this one. Not to mention the added bonus of racism, since the vastly superior The Color Purple was deliberately shut out this year. It also wins Best Director for Sydney Pollack (talked about here). This marks one of the six times the DGA winner (Steven Spielberg) did not win the Oscar (hell, he wasn’t even nominated). Best Actor this year was William Hurt for Kiss of the Spider Woman (talked about here). Not a particularly strong performance, but he played gay (and in a very weak category). They love that. Best Actress was Geraldine Page for The Trip to Bountiful (talked about here). One of the single worst Best Actress decisions ever. Whoopi Goldberg was better in every way, and the Academy went with a veteran just because she was old. Okay. Best Supporting Actor was Don Ameche for Cocoon (talked about here), which — veteran Oscar, but also a terribly weak category (kinda like 2011). And Best Supporting Actress was Anjelica Huston for Prizzi’s Honor (talked about here). She was good in the movie, but how she beat Oprah Winfrey for The Color Purple or Meg Tilly for Agnes of God is beyond me.

But, when you boil down all of these decisions, you get what the Academy likes in each one — Best Actor, man playing gay. Best Actress — a white woman (either a star whose “time” it is, or in this case, a veteran they want to reward). Best Supporting Actor — a veteran. Best Supporting Actress — an up-and-comer. And Best Picture — just watch Out of Africa, you’ll see what I mean. I truly think this might be the lowest point of the 80s, this year. It’s so bad.


And the nominees were…

The Color Purple (Warner Bros.)

Kiss of the Spider Woman (Island Alive)

Out of Africa (Universal)

Prizzi’s Honor (20th Century Fox, ABC Motion Pictures)

Witness (Paramount)

The Color Purple — I love this movie. It amazes me that the Academy didn’t vote for this at all. This is, to me, the quintessential act of racism on the part of the Academy, simply because Out of Africa is so not a film that’s very good, and yet they shut this film out entirely (even depriving Spielberg of a Best Director nomination even after he won the DGA for the film!).

The film is about Whoopi Goldberg, a girl who is basically sold into marriage with Danny Glover. And he’s a domineering man who abuses her. And the film is about her learning to find her own voice and her own strength. And we follow her over many years as this happens. And we get side stories along the way, specifically of Oprah Winfrey and her marriage to Glover’s son, and her imprisonment for her rebellious nature when she insults the mayor’s wife. It’s just a great movie. If you haven’t seen it, do so. You can’t really give a synopsis to this movie without going over everything. Just experience it. You’ll see why it should have won.

Kiss of the Spider Woman — This is one of those movies where you go, “How can this be interesting?” and then you see it and go, “Damn, that was really good.”

Raul Julia is a revolutionary in Argentina who is arrested by the police an thrown in prison. There, he is tortured for information regarding the whereabouts of the other radicals. He is also thrown in a cell with William Hurt, a gay window dresser who was arrested for having sex with an underage boy. Hurt is flamboyant as hell, and keeps recounting this one film he saw that he claims was the most romantic movie he’d ever seen (which in reality was a Nazi propaganda film). And the two eventually become close, even though Hurt is spying on Julia in exchange for a lighter sentence. Though eventually Hurt refuses to spy anymore. And then Hurt is released, and Julia gives him contact information for the radicals and tells him they’ll help him and keep him safe. Meanwhile, Hurt is followed by the police, and is shot by both sides, the police thinking he’s with the radicals and the radicals thinking he brought the police to them, and is killed. Julia, meanwhile, is still tortured in prison and the film ends with him hallucinating after being given some morphine.

It’s a really great film. I don’t know how or why this film exists, and how someone decided to tell this particular story, but I’m glad they did. William Hurt is fantastic and this film is fantastic. Should this have won here? No, not really. But I like that it was nominated. It’s a good film.

Out of Africa — This is another one of those Best Picture winners that I don’t understand. What really is the point of this story? I mean at all.

Meryl Streep is a Danish woman who marries out of convenience. Her husband takes her to Africa to start a farm. They go, and basically everything goes wrong. He thinks he’s buying cows, and instead he buys a coffee plantation. And then he starts sleeping around on her, to the point where she catches syphilis from him. And meanwhile she strikes up a relationship with Robert Redford, a big game hunter. And they fall in love, and she leaves her husband, who can’t stop cheating. And then the coffee plantation burns down, and she breaks up with Redford (since he prefers living on the land from place to place), and then he dies in a plane crash), so she leaves, sad. And then she writes about her time, and it becomes this movie.

Again, I really don’t understand the point of this story at all, but much like The English Patient, it has all the elements of an Oscar winner. Which doesn’t at all mean it should be one. To be, this is an empty film. There’s absolutely nothing here worth the award it was given.

Prizzi’s Honor — What a great movie this is. It’s so — not of the norm.

Jack Nicholson is a mob hitman. He’s not very bright. He’s been sleeping on-again-off-again with the don’s daughter (Anjelica Huston) for a long time (this is made more humorous considering Nicholson was sleeping with Anjelica Huston in pretty much the same fashion). One day, at a wedding, he runs into Kathleen Turner, and is immediately smitten with her. He seeks her out and tries dating her. Meanwhile, he’s hired to go kill a man who stole a bunch of money from the mob. He gets there and kills the guy, and then finds out that Turner is the man’s wife. She says she had no idea about the money. Nicholson believes her. They go back home together and fall in love and get married. Meanwhile, Huston, upset that he’s fallen in love, tells her grandfather (the situation is like the end of The Godfather. Her grandfather is like Brando after Pacino took control) that Nicholson raped her and took her honor. So the mob basically tells Nicholson to kill Turner and Turner to kill Nicholson. And they try to get out of it, but eventually it comes down to a nice little showdown between the two of them. It’s a great movie. It really is. It’s so darkly funny. John Huston was almost 80 when he made this.

It’s a really great film and it’s nice to see it here. However, I’m not sure if this is a film that should have won Best Picture. Not up against The Color Purple.

Witness — Interesting film, this one. An Amish widow decides to take her young son to see her sister. Along the way, in the train station, the boy sees two men murder another man in the bathroom. Later, when questioned by police, specifically Harrison Ford, he ends up identifying a police officer (Danny Glover) as one of the killers. Ford realizes there’s corruption rampant, and ends up almost getting killed by the two killers. He realizes they are going after the boy next, so he disguises himself as an Amish and lives in the community to wait for the killers to come for the boy. And along the way, he starts sleeping with the mother, and then helping out the Amish. And then there’s a big shootout and such, and — you can guess how it ends. I will, say, though, that the film does not give quite the ending you’d expect, specifically on the romantic side of things. So that was nice.

It’s weird to think that this is here. It doesn’t seem like a film that would normally be nominated here (especially Ford being nominated for it as well). But whatever. It was never going to win, nor do I think it should have. It’s a solid thriller, though, so that’s nice.

My Thoughts: Does anyone not take The Color Purple here? It’s clearly the best film. Prizzi’s Honor is great, but probably shouldn’t even be nominated here. Kiss of the Spider Woman is an “acting” film at best (one of those films with a strong showing in the acting categories but not Best Picture). Out of Africa is so on-the-nose it’s ridiculous. (Plus there’s really no story there!) And Witness — seriously? Best Picture? There’s only one winner here. 1985 was such a bad year. They showed a real ugly side with this one, the Academy.

My Vote: The Color Purple

Should Have Won: The Color Purple

Is the result acceptable?: Just a terrible, terrible choice. In terms of film quality, definitely in the bottom ten of all time. The weak category helps it a little bit — but it’s still terrible since a better film lost.

Ones I suggest you see: You need to see The Color Purple. End of story. It’s Spielberg. You have no reason not to.

Kiss of the Spider Woman is a fascinating movie, and a good one, but I don’t know how wide an appeal it will have for people. Most people would probably think it’s okay at best.

Witness — it’s good. I don’t love it. But it’s good. Standard action film. Has the Amish. That’s something. Give me The Fugitive any day, though.

I think you should see Out of Africa. I think it’s pretty bad. But it won, so, you should see it to formulate your own opinion.


5) Out of Africa

4) Witness

3) Kiss of the Spider Woman

2) Prizzi’s Honor

1) The Color Purple

One response

  1. BlueFox94

    Interestingly enough, Kurosawa first tried to tackle “RUNAWAY TRAIN” in the late ’60s after his estrangement with Mifune and the Japanese film industry that began to fall as TV took over. It ended up shelved, though and he would participate and be cast off from the trainwreck (cough…) that was “TORA! (x3)” :(

    May 7, 2012 at 4:33 pm

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