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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1983-1984)

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.

1983

The Big Chill

The Dresser

The Right Stuff

Tender Mercies

Terms of Endearment

Analysis:

The Big Chill is one of the great hangout films.

A bunch of friends who lost touch after college get together after the suicide of one of their mutual friends. They all gather for the funeral and spend a weekend in the same house.

This is the kind of movie that’s been remade a bunch of times, using this format. This was the first one. It’s great. I love it. Not something that should have won Best Picture, but culturally, this feels like the 80s.

Probably a third choice for me. Like this movie a lot, but not something I’d take.

The Dresser is a good play turned into a good movie. No idea why they nominated it for Best Picture.

Albert Finney is an insane actor. He’s brilliant on the stage, but quite literally nuts when he’s off of it. Tom Courtenay is his dresser/personal assistant, who knows Finney’s quirks and behaviors and is used to dealing with them. Only now, Finney’s health is starting to deteriorate, and Courtenay is having trouble dealing with that.

This movie is a play on screen. It’s one of the most theatrical movies to be nominated for Best Picture. It’s actually shocking to me this got nominated here. But it’s the 80s. It was a weird decade.

Fifth choice for me. It’s all about the performances. The film itself is just decent. No way would I take this.

The Right Stuff is just a badass movie. It’s so great.

It’s about the first astronauts. Framed around Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier and breaking the altitude record, but it’s also about the Mercury 7 training to go into space.

I love this movie so much. This and Apollo 13 (both featuring Ed Harris) are the two space movies at the Oscars that I find myself wanting to vote for every time. And I’m always surprised (this one less so, just because of what it lost to) that neither won Best Picture. I’m probably gonna take this, but it’s close, because Terms of Endearment is also so good. We’ll see.

Tender Mercies is the film that won Robert Duvall his Oscar. That’s always how I’ve looked at it. It’s also Crazy Heart before Crazy Heart.

Duvall pays a washed up, alcoholic country singer. He wakes up at a gas station after a bender. It’s run by a widow. He starts working there for a room and the two start a relationship. And that helps him start to put his life back together.

It’s a good film. I don’t love it as much as I thought I should, but it is very good. Fourth choice all around for me, but solid.

Terms of Endearment is James L. Brooks’ first film, and probably his best film.

It’s the story of a mother and daughter. That’s it. Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger. Not much else to add. That’s the film. It’s fucking wonderful.

This is probably the right winner in the category. I’d normally take it hands down. Not every year. But this year. Though, I do really love The Right Stuff. So it’ll be a 50/50 there. But man, is this movie great. It’s known as a tearjerker, but it’s much more than that. It’s really good.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s either Terms of Endearment or The Right Stuff. Terms of Endearment is amazing and I love it, and I also really love The Right Stuff. I think I love The Right Stuff more, though Terms of Endearment is probably the better choice. But I really want to take The Right Stuff, so I’m gonna take The Right Stuff. It’s really good.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Terms of Endearment
  2. The Right Stuff
  3. The Big Chill
  4. Tender Mercies
  5. The Dresser

Rankings:

  1. The Right Stuff
  2. Terms of Endearment
  3. The Big Chill
  4. Tender Mercies
  5. The Dresser

My Vote: The Right Stuff

Recommendations:

Terms of Endearment is all time essential. Top 200 essential movie all time. Might be top 100, but either way, must see. Best Picture winner, and a tearjerker that actually earns the reputation the right way.

The Right Stuff is a film I consider essential. It’s a great space movie, and a real classic. I love this, and I think everyone ought to see it. Somehow it hasn’t held up as all-time essential, but I think all film buffs ought to see it.

The Big Chill is a fantastic film. One of the great hangout films of all time. An 80s classic. Essential for the decade, very high recommend for all time. Culturally (that is, within the culture of movies), this is something most should see.

Tender Mercies is essential for Oscar buffs. It’s a solid movie. Good Duvall performance. Worth a watch. Not something most people particularly need to see.

The Dresser is a solid film. Great performances, though very theatrical. Solid recommend for the performances, but otherwise not overly essential.

The Last Word: Terms of Endearment is the film that holds up the best here and it’s a solid Best Picture choice. Not like, top 30 all-time, but solid. In that middle range of movies that hold up. The Right Stuff would have been a decent winner, but I’m not sure how it would have held up. I just can’t see that one. Not in the sense of “I can’t see it holding up,” I mean, I just can’t visualize how it would have held up the way I can for some other years. Neither of the other films should have won. They made a good choice here. There may be a secondary choice, but the one they made is probably best.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1984

Amadeus

The Killing Fields

A Passage to India

Places in the Heart

A Soldier’s Story

Analysis:

Amadeus is a masterpiece beyond words. I fucking love this movie so much.

It’s about the rivalry between Antonio Salieri and Wofgang Amadeus Mozart. Mostly a one-sided rivalry. Salieri is the Emperor’s chamber musician until Mozart, this music prodigy, shows up. And Salieri hates him while also being so jealous of him he can’t put it into words. It’s a fascinating portrait of these two men and one of the greatest movies ever made.

This is the choice. There’s only maybe one other potential choice in this category that someone could take that I’d even be partially okay with. This movie is so good it basically wins this category by default.

The Killing Fields is that other potential choice. It’s dated and very 80s, but it’s still good and mostly holds up.

An American reporter and his Cambodian interpreter are stuck in the middle of the Cambodian Civil War. Eventually the Khmer Rouge emerge victorious, and everyone has to get out to avoid being killed. The interpreter ends up thrown in a labor camp, and the journalist does what he can to track him down and get him out of there.

It’s a really solid film. Very 80s, and very dated. But it’s still really good. A solid second choice in the category.

A Passage to India is David Lean’s final movie. For a dude in his mid 70s, it’s not bad.

Judy Davis and her likely future mother-in-law travel to India. Davis’s suitor lives there and she’s gonna see if she wants to live there. And while there, they discover the cultural situation between the Brits and the Indians. It’s a nice screenshot of colonialism. They befriend and Indian doctor. This goes well, until they go to visit some caves. Davis disappears and is later found frantic and bloody. The doctor is put on trial for attempting to rape her. It seems a lot like a trumped up charge by the colonials. It then turns into a trial film.

It’s pretty good. I actually don’t dislike it. I don’t love it, but I don’t dislike it. It’s classy and well-made. But to me, it’s the same level as the Merchant-Ivory movies that I don’t particularly care for. Fifth choice for me. It would be a better historical choice than that, but I wouldn’t take it higher than that.

Places in the Heart is one of those movies that epitomizes the “Oscar’ movie. It just feels like it’s designed to win over Oscar voters, which makes it trendy to hate on it and something you should feel guilty for liking.

Sally Field’s husband dies and she’s stuck on her own with a cotton farm that, if she doesn’t harvest a crop from it, will be turned over to the bank. Knowing nothing about farming, she’s determined to do this. So, with the help of Danny Glover, an itinerant handyman, and John Malkovich, a blind man, they make it work.

I do like this movie. Though there’s an entire subplot here with Ed Harris having an affair with another woman in town that just does not need to be in this movie. It’s not even part of the plot. I think without that this would actually have a better shot at the vote. Still wouldn’t have a chance over Amadeus, but maybe it could have been the second choice.

A Soldier’s Story is a really solid film. Based on a play, but they make it cinematic enough to translate.

A black sergeant is found murdered and an army investigator is sent to investigate. He is given three days, and none of the men want to talk. Especially since they all had motive — everyone fucking hated that sergeant. So we see flashbacks of how much an asshole this guy was while also going through with the investigation, trying to figure out which one of the men did it.

It’s really good. It’s bolstered by a great performance by Adolph Caesar as the sergeant, and early work by Denzel. Good stuff all around. Not something I take, but a solid nominee. Fourth choice for me.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I’m so glad Amadeus is so good, because I wouldn’t know what the fuck to do if it wasn’t here. I legitimately wouldn’t want to take any of these. Without Amadeus, my favorite movie is Places in the Heart, and that would be a fourth choice at best for me most other years. But Amadeus is here, so we’re good.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Amadeus
  2. The Killing Fields
  3. Places in the Heart
  4. A Passage to India
  5. A Soldier’s Story

Rankings:

  1. Amadeus
  2. Places in the Heart
  3. The Killing Fields
  4. A Soldier’s Story
  5. A Passage to India

My Vote: Amadeus

Recommendations:

Amadeus is essential. End of story.

The Killing Fields is 80s essential and a great movie. High recommend, essential for Oscar buffs, and definitely worth seeing. Fantastic movie.

Places in the Heart is is essential for Oscar buffs. As a film, it’s half a very good film and half a “meh” film. I’d give it a solid recommend. Not overly essential, but if you’re looking into the 80s as a decade and these “save the farm” type films, then this becomes one you need to see. Otherwise, just pretty solid.

A Passage to India is David Lean, so that makes it a certain degree of essential. It’s essential for Oscar buffs, and for fans of famous literary adaptations. Otherwise, I don’t love it. Light to moderate recommend. I’m not one to recommend this past the basics. You’ll know immediately whether or not this sounds like it’s for you.

A Soldier’s Story is a film I like a lot. Great performances, well made. Not essential, but a pretty solid recommend from me. Good stuff here.

The Last Word: Oh, Amadeus is one of the better winners all-time. It’s amazing. Nothing else comes half as close to looking good as a winner. That movie saved one of the weakest years in the history of the Oscars. Amazing choice.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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