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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1979-1980)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1979

All That Jazz

Apocalypse Now

Breaking Away

Kramer vs. Kramer

Norma Rae

Analysis:

All That Jazz is one of my ten favorite films of all time. It’s just perfect.

Bob Fosse wrote and directed a movie about Bob Fosse. Not just about Bob Fosse, but about how Bob Fosse is fucking up his life and basically killing himself with his behavior. That takes fucking stones.

This movie is a fucking masterpiece. And it would be my automatic choice in this category without even a moment’s hesitation, only… there’s kind of a problem. Which is in the form of…

Apocalypse Now.

This is the unquestioned masterpiece in the category. It’s Apocalypse Now. History has basically proven this to be the choice here, and even if people want to argue otherwise, that’s fine — I have to take this. I love All That Jazz, but Apocalypse Now is the choice in this category.

Breaking Away is a film I knew absolutely zero about going into this Quest, and even when I watched it. Went in totally cold. Took me about five minutes to realize, “What the hell is this?” And then I loved it. It’s just a joy of a film to watch. Always one that can put a smile on my face.

It’s about a lot of things. Mainly, cycling. A bunch of kids are good friends who just graduated high school and are figuring out what the hell they want to do with their lives. They come from working class families. They’re constantly fighting with the richer kids, who look down on them because they don’t come from money. The main guy is obsessed with the Italian cycling team. And we watch them hang out and get into shit and find girls and all that stuff. Eventually it comes down to a cycling race with the rich kids vs. the regular kids. It’s positively thrilling.

I like this movie a lot. I love that it was nominated for Best Picture because now so many more people will get to see this movie. It’s absolutely wonderful. Problem is, it’s legitimately a fifth choice in the category. The other four films are actual classics. You want firm proof that this is a fifth choice?

Apocalypse Now, All That Jazz, Kramer vs. Kramer, Norma Rae, Breaking Away. Which film do you not immediately recognize upon hearing its title? That’s what I’m saying. It sucks, but that’s reality.

Kramer vs. Kramer is just a wonderful film. I hate that people can shit on it because it won over an objectively more classic film that is more widely regarded as the better picture. But it’s still absolutely wonderful and would be a good winner a lot of the time.

Meryl Streep is a woman bored either her marriage who yearns for a chance to actually do something with her life. The opening scene is her telling her son she’s leaving his father (her husband) and that it’s not his fault. Then she walks out, leaving her husband, Dustin Hoffman, to raise the kid on his own. He’s a workaholic, who at first struggles with being a full time father and executive. Eventually, he finds a way to balance the two and becomes much closer to his son. And he becomes a great father. Then, Meryl comes back, looking for custody of their son. Hoffman refuses, since she walked out. And then a nasty legal battle ensues.

The genius of this film — and it’s all over the stories when you read about it — is that they don’t make anyone right or wrong. This is just what happens. And it really makes it ring true to life. A lot of people with divorced parents have a special affinity toward this movie because it does hit close to home. It’s quite wonderful.

Of course, I’m not gonna take it over Apocalypse Now and I’m certainly not taking it over All That Jazz. You’re talking two top ten all time films for me. I’m not opposed to this having won, but I’m also not gonna say I’d take it. It’s fine, but I have two choices I’d for sure take over this.

Norma Rae is an iconic film. A lot of people couldn’t really tell you what this was about. They just kind of know the broad strokes.

Sally Field works in a textile mill. She sees how horrible conditions are and is convinced that unionizing is the way to go. Naturally, the mill is retaliatory against those attempting to unionize. Nevertheless, she persists.

This is the famous image from the film:

It’s absolutely wonderful. When you see this as a Best Picture nominee, your first reaction is, “Of course.” Never gonna win. Even if it was a weaker year, I doubt this had the juice to win. But it’s still great. Fourth choice all around in the category, but still quite wonderful.

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The Reconsideration: It’s Apocalypse Now for me without hesitation. That movie is perfect and routinely makes the list of the ten best directed American movies of all time. It’s the perfect choice. And if it wasn’t gonna be that, the choice for me would be All That Jazz. I wouldn’t even think of taking Kramer vs. Kramer, which is saying something, since most years I’d have that as a top two choice and a legitimate contender for the vote. That’s just how this year worked out.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Apocalypse Now
  2. Kramer vs. Kramer
  3. All That Jazz
  4. Norma Rae
  5. Breaking Away

Rankings (films):

  1. Apocalypse Now
  2. All That Jazz
  3. Kramer vs. Kramer
  4. Breaking Away
  5. Norma Rae

My Vote: Apocalypse Now

Recommendations:

Apocalypse Now. Have you really not seen this already?

All That Jazz is perfect. Must see for all film buffs. I consider it one of the 100 most essential films ever made. If it’s not on that list, it’s in the next 100.

Kramer vs. Kramer is one of the most essential films ever made and a Best Picture winner. You’ve gotta see it.

Norma Rae is essential. You should know that based on the title alone.

Breaking Away is incredible. Very high recommend. One of the hidden gems of the entire Oscar Quest. A lot of people are gonna love this movie and most of you don’t even know it exists.

The Last Word: Apocalypse Now is the historical best choice. Kramer vs. Kramer is probably the second best choice, though I’d have preferred All that Jazz. I have no idea how All That Jazz would have held up as a winner. But Kramer vs. Kramer holds up great as long as you don’t include the “it beat Apocalypse Now” fact. Once you include that, it’s just a decent winner despite the obvious better choice that could have been had. It’s not great over Apocalypse Now, but as a winner on its own its solid. That’s the way to look at this one.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1980

Coal Miner’s Daughter

The Elephant Man

Ordinary People

Raging Bull

Tess

Analysis:

Coal Miner’s Daughter is a biopic of Loretta Lynn. Not being a country music person myself, I had no idea who she was outside of this movie. But that’s what good biopics do, make you familiar with people you might not otherwise be familiar with.

Sissy Spacek won an Oscar for playing Lynn, and when you see it, you understand why. Usually when a biopic is good and there’s a star turn in it good enough to win an Oscar, they tend to get Best Picture nominations. I get it. This is a very good film But once a movie like this gets into the big dance, usually it falls pretty quickly to the back of the pack.

I imagine this was fifth choice in 1980. Then again, it got the third most nominations, one off Elephant Man and Raging Bull, so maybe not. Though all five films were right there, in terms of overall nominations.

For me, it’s a fourth choice. I think for most people, it’s a fourth choice. Solid film, one you like, but not one you take.

The Elephant Man might be my favorite David Lynch film. Which is weird to say, since you’d think you’d like one of the weirder efforts, like Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive. Both of which I really like. Though I just really like this one for some reason.

It’s about John Merrick, the titular guy. John Hurt plays him, and he’s wonderful in the part. And it’s about Anthony Hopkins, a doctor, finding this dude being beaten and kept at a low rent circus and taking him in to treat him and study him. It’s really terrific.

My second favorite film in the category and my second choice overall. WE can discuss whether or not it’s the second best choice, historically, but either way, I wouldn’t take it. We all know what the choice is here.

Ordinary People is a film that is so derided because it won. And it’s really unfair. The film is fantastic. But… yeah, it shouldn’t have won. Still, though… not as bad as the hate would suggest.

Timothy Hutton is a boy fresh off a suicide attempt who has to go see a psychiatrist. He and his brother were in a boating accident and his brother died. That, along with the fact that his brother was the preferred child of the family and now his mother essentially hates him, is what drove him to suicide. So we see him slowly getting better through therapy and dealing with his fucked up home life, with his father trying to understand him and his mother essentially denying that her son even died and acting so incredibly cold toward her remaining son, since she secretly (and eventually openly) hates the fact that the wrong kid died.

It’s wonderful. A really great family drama. And, to answer the obvious, fuck no, I wouldn’t take this. I respect it, and like it, but this is third choice for me. Don’t like it nearly enough to take it, and honestly there really aren’t any years at all around this where this would be a top choice for me for a vote. Just one of those films I’m okay with and like a lot, but would never vote for. (Like Spotlight from a few years ago.)

Raging Bull is Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. It is. We all understand this. You may say he has multiple masterpieces, and that’s fair, but this is his crowning achievement.

Jake La Motta is a fighter you may not have heard of outside of this movie. And that’s what I was saying about great biopics.

This film is perfect, and this film is the choice.

This film is always the choice.

This is the film that everyone looks back on and goes, “How the fuck did this lose?”

And then you realize that the Academy ignoring Martin Scorsese was a sport for about thirty years.

Tess is based on Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a novel that, as an English major, I should probably know what it’s about. And I’ve seen this movie twice. Still couldn’t tell you what it’s about. Not a fucking clue.

It was directed by Roman Polanski and looks gorgeous. No idea what the story is. Literally gonna have to look on Wikipedia.

It tells the story of a country girl descended from a noble line who, when she makes contact with the apparent head of the family, is raped and left pregnant. After her baby dies, she meets a man who abandons her on their wedding night when she confesses her past. Desperate, she returns to her seducer and murders him.

Oh, okay. Well I guess that answers that.

This is a three hour movie. Seen it twice. All I remember is that it looks good and I was bored as fuck during it. Maybe third time’s a charm?

This is fifth choice for me. Even if people love this movie (and I’m sure there are a bunch), how do you take it over most of the other films in this category? Kinda hard to justify this over Raging Bull outside of, “Well, they took Ordinary People and I like Tess the most, so fuck it.”

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Raging Bull. I don’t even need to justify that. It’s Raging fucking Bull. 1979 and 1980 are two of the most no-brainer choices in history, and the Academy twice went with small family dramas instead. Okay. I’m gonna take the masterpiece instead.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Raging Bull
  2. Ordinary People
  3. The Elephant Man
  4. Coal Miner’s Daughter
  5. Tess

Rankings (films):

  1. Raging Bull
  2. The Elephant Man
  3. Ordinary People
  4. Coal Miner’s Daughter
  5. Tess

My Vote: Raging Bull

Recommendations:

Raging Bull. Do you need me to say it?

The Elephant Man is essential. Just all-around you gotta see it.

Ordinary People is a Best Picture winner, thereby making it essential. It’s also great. But also, if you wanna talk about this category you gotta see it.

Coal Miner’s Daughter is iconic. Not necessarily essential, but I’d see it if iI were you. Worthwhile. Very good. High recommend if it isn’t essential for everyone (it’s essential for Oscar buffs, though).

Tess is a movie I don’t particularly care for. It looks great, and it’s Roman Polanski, so that should get a lot of people to see it. I don’t particularly like it enough to recommend it, though.

The Last Word: Yeah, I think we all know what the score is here. Raging Bull would have been a top 20 winner all time. Ordinary People is a below average winner. Decent enough film that would have looked okay in a weak year. But not against Raging Bull. It looks positively terrible against Raging Bull. Definitely one of their more embarrassing-looking moments, historically.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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