Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Look Back at the 1982 Oscars - 30 Years Later

So I have looked back at the Oscar years that was 2002 and 1992, and now it’s 1982’s turn. As with 1992, I have not seen all the nominated performances, but I will still provide some notes (or an excuse) as to why that is the case. And I add an overlooked performance or movie or directorial effort (just one per movie) for each category.

Best Picture
1.    E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
The Academy takes some (deserved) shots for being far too populist sometimes – overlooking great films for audience friendly ones. And yet in 1982, you can argue they went the other way – rewarding the “important” film Gandhi (a film no one watches anymore, except in school or because they’re an Oscar completest) instead of one of the enduring classics that Steven Spielberg has ever made. E.T. is a legitimately great film, one that unless you’re an complete cynic, it’s impossible not to well up when you see it – every damn time. The Academy should have given in to their populist urges this year.

2.    The Verdict
Sidney Lumet directed many kinds of films over the years, but he may well be best remembered for his legal thrillers – and The Verdict is one of his best. It stars the great Paul Newman is one of his best roles – as an alcoholic lawyer who somehow finds his conscience as he sets out on what should be an open and shut case, but isn’t quite – because he finds he cares. The screenplay was written by David Mamet – one of his earliest and best – and the direction by Lumet is excellent, as is the entire cast. This is an expertly handled legal thriller – and while you may well see the ending coming, it doesn’t dim it’s impact.

3.    Tootsie 
Tootsie has undoubtedly aged a little bit in the past 30 years (it is very much a product of 1980s mainstream American filmmaking, and all that entails – including an annoying score), but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t an excellent comedy – and one that is slightly more serious than many. Dustin Hoffman is great as the actor who has worn out his welcome with everyone – until he dresses up as a woman and becomes a star. The film is about sexuality as well – and how confusing it can be – and has a message. But it’s still an hilarious movie – and one of the best mainstream American comedies of the 1980s.

4.    Gandhi (Winner)
I have nothing but respect for Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi – and that’s both a good and bad thing. As a standard issue biopic of a very important man, it is about as good as these things get – charting most of Gandhi’s life, and letting everyone know just why he was so important, in case you didn’t know. But I feel no love for it. Biopics have always been a weak spot of the Academy nominating the great (Lincoln) right alongside the average – like Gandhi. It’s a fine film, but I have never met anyone who felt the need to watch it twice.

5.    Missing
Costa-Gravas’ Z (1969) , the director’s previously nominated film is a great movie – really one of the best political thrillers ever made. By comparison, his 1982 film Missing is a disappointment. It is a good film – with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek as the father and wife of a young American who “disappears” in a country obviously meant to be Chile, and may have been killed by local forces because he was a left wing, foreign journalist – and not only that, but the American embassy officials may have helped the process along. This is a great story – and a controversial one – and yet the movie never seems to generate quite as much tension as it should. The performances are fine, but Costa-Gravas mucks about with too many stylistic excesses, and too many story telling tricks. He had the ingredients of a great movie, but instead made a good one.

Overlooked: There is no reason to expect that if the Academy were to run this race that they would even consider nominating The Road Warrior (released in Australia at the tail end of 1981, but not in America until early 1982), but damn it, they should. For an action movie made 30 years ago, this is still one of the most exciting the genre has ever produced – with great chase scenes, classic action, a great story and Mel Gibson at his no-nonsense best.

Best Director

1.    E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial  - Steven Spielberg
Spieberg has two director Oscars at home (and may well win a third this year for Lincoln), but I do think it’s a shame that he won those Oscars for only his “serious” movies – it almost remind me of John Ford who won three Best Director Oscars, but none for a Western. Spielberg is often at his best making his “popcorn” films – and E.T. is right near the top of that list. He was still the “wunderkind” at this point, and it’s understandable they didn’t quite feel the need to reward him an Oscar yet (but with three Best Director nominations, they should have), but he made the best film, and should have won this one.

2.    Das Boot - Wolfgang Petersen
Petersen had no chance of winning since his film didn’t get into the Best Picture race, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve to. His control in Das Boot is amazing – he is great at the action scenes, great at allowing his characters time to develop, and best when slowly ratcheting up the suspense to an almost unbearable degree. When a foreign director makes an action film this good, it’s inevitable that Hollywood is going to come calling – but it’s sad that Petersen left immediately. Despite how good films like In the Line of Fire, Oubreak and The Perfect Storm are, he never came close to matching Das Boot.

3.    The Verdict - Sidney Lumet
The great Sidney Lumet was nominated for Best Director 4 times (and screenplay once), but had to wait until very late in his life before they gave him an honorary award. That’s a shame, because few director’s had the same level of consistent, quality output while working in mainstream America for over 50 years (he has over 72 directing credit, although quite a few are television work). While he obviously wasn’t my top choice this year, I would have no problem with him getting a competitive Oscar for his gripping courtroom drama – he deserved it more than the winner.

4.    Tootsie  - Sydney Pollack
Pollack would win his Oscar three years after this – for Out of Africa, a fine, if rather dull film, but one that more fits the Academy’s definition of an Oscar film. Comedy directors often do not get the credit they deserve (hell, this year I am guilty of this saying David O. Russell is the least deserving of the director nominees). If Pollack, a fine if not great director, was ever going to win an Oscar, it probably should have been for this.

5.    Gandhi  - Richard Attenborough  (Winner)

Make no mistake – Gandhi is a fine film, and Attenborough’s direction of the film is also fine. It’s also rather dull – Attenborough takes no chances, never really challenges himself, his cast or crew or the audience with the film. It is a straight down the center movie that I respect – but don’t really feel much passion for either way.

Overlooked: It certainly isn’t surprising that the Academy didn’t nominate Ridley Scott for Blade Runner. For one thing, it is a genre film, and the Academy hardly ever nominates those. For another, only the less thought of narration driven version was released in theaters that year, and that wasn’t very highly thought of. Still, looking back 30 years, I don’t think anyone would argue that Blade Runner wasn’t the most influential film to be released in 1982. How would the sci-fi landscape be different today without it? I don’t know, but I do know it would be. (For the record, Blade Runner IS in my opinion a better film than The Road Warrior, but I felt the need to single out Scott, so I made the decision that I did).

Best Actor
1.    Tootsie  - Dustin Hoffman
Dustin Hoffman won two Oscars – for 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer and 1988’s Rain Man. It’s hard to argue that an actor as good as Hoffman, who has had such a long and great career as him, doesn’t deserve at least one, if not two Oscars. But I also don’t think he should have won for either of the films he did – he’s fine in Kramer vs. Kramer, but I don’t see it as being brilliant. And he’s about as good as he could be in Rain Man – but it is a one note role. But consider the complexity of his role in Tootsie –which is both comedic, and dramatic, and requires so much of him. Hoffman was often at his best in comedic roles – and at least one of his Oscars should have been for a comedy. (By the way, the poster for this movie comes from Poland. Does anyone want to explain to me why the hell Poland comes up with such brilliantly creepy posters for EVERY movie?).

2.    The Verdict - Paul Newman
The Verdict was Paul Newman’s 6th Oscar nomination (he would go onto get nominated 3 more times after it), and he still hadn’t won. The Academy felt so bad that in 1985 – when Newman was only 60 – they gave him a lifetime achievement award, and then the following year gave him the Best Actor Oscar for Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money. It’s a shame that the Academy didn’t give him his Best Actor Oscar three years earlier – as The Verdict stands as one of his best performances, and The Color of Money certainly does not (everyone knows it was a “makeup” award for overlooking him so often). Better yet, they could have given him an Oscar for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler or Hud to name but three of his earlier, brilliant performances that made the Academy give him a makeup award in the first place.

3.    Gandhi  - Ben Kingsley (Winner)

I’ve always said that if they make a biopic of my life (and I’m sure Hollywood is on it, because I’m fascinating), they should cast Ben Kingsley, because that guy can play anything. And it’s true. Who else through his career has been able to convincing play an Indian, numerous British and American characters, an Iranian, a number of Jews from around the world, and pretty much anything else. I wouldn’t have found it as odd if they had cast Kingsley instead of Anthony Hopkins as the black man in The Human Stain. When Gandhi came out, Kingsley was pretty much an unknown (the movie even daringly billed him as “Introducing Ben Kingsley”, even though he had been working on British television since the late 1960s. Anyway, it may seem like I’m hard on Gandhi, but I really have nothing bad to say about Kingsley’s performance – he is brilliant as the Indian leader. Do I think that Kingsley delivered better performances in films like Sexy Beast and House of Sand and Fog, yes, but I don’t really have a problem with his win, even if I don’t think his was the best performance of the year.

4.    Missing  - Jack Lemmon
Jack Lemmon is one of the best things about Costa-Gravas’ Missing. Even when the director goes too far with his directorial and storytelling tricks, Lemmon’s performance as a grieving father just trying to find out what happened to his son keeps the entire movie grounded. No, I don’t think it stands as one of Lemmon’s best roles, or that he should have been nominated – but he’s fine in the film.

My Favorite Year  - Peter O'Toole
I am a big fan of Peter O’Toole, and I did actually sit down to watch this one day – and didn’t make it very far  before I gave up – it wasn’t that it was bad, but I realized quickly, I just wasn’t in the mood. I do need to correct this at some point – when that will be is anyone’s guess.

Overlooked: I almost feel sorry for Werner Herzog, as he seems to always have been trying to get away from the even more crazy Klaus Kinski and never really could, because when Herzog cast him in movies like Fitzcaraldo he was pure magic. That Herzog is pretty much batshit crazy is well established (he’s also a genius by the way), but even he met his match in Kinski, who he fought with constantly, but always ended up casting anyway. Kinski’s best work in probably in Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God made a decade earlier, but as the mad title character in Fitzcarraldo, determined to bring the opera to the jungles of South America – which requires him to haul a boat over a mountain (I’ll be here all day if I continue to try and describe this – but do yourself a favor and see this film and Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams, a fascinating Making of Documentary of the film) Kinski is once again at his insane best. They were never going to nominate him, but damn it, they should have.

Best Actress
1.    Sophie's Choice  - Meryl Streep (Winner)
Meryl Streep’s second Oscar winning performance– her first for a leading role – ranks among her best screen performances, which means it certainly was worthy of the win. Alan J. Pakula’s film has a few problems, but none of them involve Streep’s gut-wrenching performance as a woman who survived the Nazis – but ends up an empty shell of a person, who wishes that she didn’t – although she does put on a sunny face for the world. This is a great performance by Streep. Unlike her other two Oscar wins (for 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer and 2011’s The Iron Lady) it really is one of her best.

2.    An Officer and a Gentleman - Debra Winger
Debra Winger was a major star in the 1980s – who pretty much gave it all up. When one her best remembered roles was in An Officer and a Gentleman, where she played the love interest for Richard Gere. Unlike many movie stars, Winger does not seem out of place playing a working class woman – we believe her. She is smart, sweet, tough and sexy – and more than that, she makes you invest in her character and the romance that blossoms between her and Richard Gere. Yes, the last scene is justifiably famous – but Winger is great throughout the film.

3.    Missing  - Sissy Spacek
Along with Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek pretty much saves Missing from the over direction of Costa-Gravas. She plays the wife of the missing man at the center of the film, but this is hardly just the dutiful wife part – it’s more complicated than that, as is her relationship with her father in law. Spacek has had a great career, and while I certainly wouldn’t call Missing one of her best roles (it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Badlands, 3 Women, Carrie or In the Bedroom) it is a fine performance.

Frances  - Jessica Lange
I love Jessica Lange, and the subject matter of Frances Farmer is certainly of interest to me. In fact, I distinctly remember back in high school (the 1990s) trying to find this movie, and not being able to. But that’s no excuse – it’s been on DVD for a few years now, and I haven’t gotten around to it yet. But it (and many others) is on my list.

Victor/Victoria  - Julie Andrews
At the risk of being called a hopeless cynic, I have to admit it – I’ve never really liked Julie Andrews. I’ve seen a few of her movies, and she can be quite good, but I’ve never been a fan, and that more than anything else has kept me from seeing this movie. I’m sure my wife would like it though, so one day, I’ll see it.

Overlooked: I’m admittingly kind of at a loss here, as I’m not sure what truly great performance they did not nominate. But if for no other reason than to spotlight Sam Fuller’s great last film, I’ll put down Kristy McNichol for White Dog. The film is violent, disturbing and controversial – as McNichol plays a woman who finds a huge white dog in her neighborhood, and slowly but surely realizes that the animal she has come to love has been bred to do nothing but hate. This dog has been trained to attack and kill any black person he sees. McNichol’s slow realization about who her dog is, is certainly the best (human) acting in the film. I’m not sure it’s a great performance, but it’s a great movie.

Best Supporting Actor

1.    The Verdict - James Mason
Perhaps I’m just letting my feelings for James Mason – a favorite of mine – get in the way here, but I do think it is a crime the three time nominated actor (for A Star is Born, Georgy Girl and this) never won an Oscar – not to mention the list of his performances that SHOULD have been nominated (Bigger Than Life, Julius Caesar, Lolita). Mason is great in The Verdict, a movie about an alcoholic (who surprisingly, isn’t Mason given his off screen demons), battling the big time (represented by Mason). A great actor and a great performance – and perhaps it should have won the Oscar. (Bonus creepy Poland poster for this one as well).

2.    An Officer and a Gentleman - Louis Gossett Jr. (Winner)
It was a tough call between this and Mason as to who to put at the top – so I went with my gut and put Mason there. But that doesn’t mean that Louis Gossett Jr. isn’t terrific as the drill sergeant, who pushes his recruits – especially Gere – and yet has some hidden humanity as well. This seems like the role Gossett was born to play (anyone want to argue he ever came close to being this good again? Didn’t think so). It’s hard to argue against a performance as good as this – but I do wish Gossett had a better career after winning.

3.    The World According to Garp - John Lithgow
The World According to Garp was one of my favorite books when I read it in high school – and I have resisted the urge to go back and reread because I am afraid I’ll be let done. But the film version of the book is merely average – it doesn’t have the same nihilistic sense of humor – it wants us to like the characters too much, when perhaps we shouldn’t like them at all. Anyway, getting to Lithgow’s performance – it is very good, and at the time was considered brave as Lithgow plays a transsexual. But the performance has aged poorly – not unlike William Hurt as the gay prisoner in Kiss of the Spider Woman – because both performances rely on the type of stereotyping that would make us uncomfortable now. Anyway, Lithgow is a terrific actor, and if he never won an Oscar, at least he can go home and cry on his pile of approximately 100 Emmys (okay, so I looked it up, and apparently, it’s only 5. Seems like every time I watch the Emmys though, he wins something).

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas - Charles Durning
Remember what I said about not liking Julie Andrews? Well, that goes double for Dolly Parton. And there is a reason why Burt Reynolds career sunk so low that Paul Thomas Anderson had to resurrect it with Boogie Nights – and there is a reason it sunk again. So despite my love of Charles Durning – a great character actor – I don’t see this changing any time soon. Besides, couldn’t they just have nominated for his comedic gem of a role in Tootsie?

Victor/Victoria  - Robert Preston
No further excuses necessary after my admission of not liking Julie Andrews. Robert Preston’s presence in the film never entered into my decision not to see it.

Overlooked: Despite winning a few critics’ awards, the Academy found no room for newcomer Mickey Rourke for his performance in Barry Levinson’s Diner. Rourke’s performance is the best in the movie as Boogie – the womanizing braggart, hairdresser and gambler who in a movie about the need to grow up, probably needs to do the most. This was one of the film’s that made Rourke the “next big thing” in Hollywood, until he screwed it up for himself, and spent years trying to get back on top before finally doing so in The Wrestler (although let’s be honest, he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire since). But Rourke should have received at the very least his first nomination here.

Best Supporting Actress

1.    Tootsie  - Jessica Lange (Winner)
When you get nominated for two Oscars in one year, quite often the Academy wants to give you ONE of those awards (and when you’re nominated against Streep in Sophie’s Choice in one category, you know which one you’re winning for). But that doesn’t make Lange’s work in Tootsie undeserving. She is excellent in the film, as a young actress who grows close to her mentor Tootsie – and then gets confused because her feelings are not all platonic, but she doesn’t think she’s a lesbian. It is actually a fine performance by Lange – certainly better than her work in Blue Sky (1994) which netted her a second Oscar (I really, really didn’t like Blue Sky).

2.    The World According to Garp - Glenn Close
Unlike John Lithgow’s performance in Garp, I don’t think Glenn Close’s nominated performance (her first of six nominated turns – and she’s still waiting for her win) has aged at all. In fact, I think it’s the best thing about the movie. Close is excellent as a woman who despises sex, and men, and according to her at least, had sex only once – with a comatose soldier at the hospital where she worked so she could get pregnant. Close’s work is so good in the film that I wish the film itself was better – so that all these years later, people actually remembered it.

3.    Tootsie  - Teri Garr
The fact that Teri Garr was nominated for Tootsie speaks volumes as to how weak this category was in 1982. There is nothing wrong with Garr’s performance’s as Hoffman’s best friend, whose feelings obviously run deeper than his do, but there is nothing in the performance that cries out to be nominated either, is there? She’s very good in the film, but the role itself just never rises to the level of the rest of the movie – and this isn’t meant as a criticism, but an observation.

Frances  - Kim Stanley
I talked about this one above – I am very interested in seeing it, I just never got around to it yet. I need to correct this.

Victor/Victoria  - Lesley Ann Warren
Okay, with three performances nominated, I have to admit – I need to see Victor/Victoria.

Overlooked: I have to admit that I’m not sure that if Drew Barrymore had not have grown up into a movie star whether I would still think she should have been nominated for her role in in E.T. and also I have to say that perhaps I need to see more films from 1982 (I have seen quite a few, but). Having said all that, Drew Barrymore is absolutely adorable in the film – sweet and innocent and has that childlike sense of wonder that is usually scared out of child actors. Should really have been nominated? Not sure, but I do know it’s one of my favorite performances in this category from 1982.

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