Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1978-1982

1978
Winner: The Deer Hunter
Director: Michael Cimino
Distributed by: Universal Pictures

You know the game Russian Roulette? Well you can thank this film for that, because it's basically the reason everybody knows about it, even if they don't know where it came from. Though it was first talked about in the late 30's, the game became infamous when it was seen onscreen being played by Robert De Niro and his fellow steelworker friends after being captured by the Vietcong (the scenes have thus caused controversy over their accuracy, in that historians don't believe the Vietcong ever made anyone play the deadly game). The film follows the lives of the three men, played by De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage. Meryl Streep plays the love interest of both De Niro and Walken's character. This was both Savage's and Streep's first major film role. The three men enlist to be sent to Vietnam, are captured, then after their escape the three go in very different directions. I'll say this now: this is a very long and heavy movie. This is probably the first major movie about Vietnam, which set about a new trend in war movies. The movie serves as a Vietnam counterpart to WWII's The Best Years of Our Lives. Both deal with people readjusting to the world around them after war time, but The Deer Hunter just feels much more real than Lives. De Niro and Walken both have powerful performances, not that I didn't expect that from De Niro, but Walken is sort of the side character guy that steals the show in most things, not the main actor. Of course, this is when Walken was strictly a dramatic actor, so don't expect the same Christopher Walken if you decide to give this movie a go. The Deer Hunter was met with almost universal praise, with critics calling it the best epic since The Godfather. Cimino's next film, Heaven's Gate, was such a flop that critics came back and basically decided that The Deer Hunter must be a bad film. The film has lost a bit of its luster, but is still a powerful movie about the effects of war on three men.

1979
Winner: Kramer vs. Kramer
Director: Robert Benton
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Kramer vs. Kramer is a divorce drama headlined by Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. After Mrs. Kramer walks out on Mr. Kramer and their son, Billy, Mr. Kramer is forced to become a better father. Of course, once he finally bonds with his son, Mrs. Kramer comes back into their lives and wants custody. An ugly custody battle ensues. This sort of movie shouldn't be all that surprising to my generation, as we were raised on movies with complicated family lives. Either the dad was a deadbeat and gone, or one was dead, or they were going through a divorce, or they already did and had split custody. Nothing new. Of course, this is over thirty years ago, when that sort of movie wasn't as prevalent, and the thought of everyone getting divorced wasn't quite the norm yet. What the movie did was give a voice to the changing roles of parents at the time. Hoffman's workaholic Mr. Kramer was forced to downsize his job so he could spend more time with his son. Though the court sides with Mrs. Kramer because of the traditional view that children need their mothers, it is Mr. Kramer who keeps Billy in the end. If it seems like Hoffman is doing to good of a job acting frustrated and down during the movie, it's not just your imagination. Hoffman was himself going through a messy divorce, so most of that emotion you see on screen is real. The question is, though, is this the best movie of the year and did it deserve the Oscar? Well if you consider that it was going up against Breaking Away and Apocalypse Now, than maybe not. Keep in mind that probably the best movie of the year, Alien, wasn't even nominated, namely because sci-fi isn't exactly considered Best Picture worthy material. I guess the Academy wanted to watch a divorce drama more than movies about aliens, bicycles, and Vietnam. Hmmm...what would a movie with all those things in it look like?

1980
Winner: Ordinary People
Director: Robert Redford
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Ordinary People deals with a family teetering on the edge after the oldest son dies in a boating accident. The younger son, who was also on the boat, feels survivors guilt and attempts suicide. After he fails he is sent to a mental hospital, but eventually returns back home to find that his mother (Mary Tyler Moore) is unable to accept him anymore. The only thing keeping them all together is the father (Donald Sutherland). If you want nothing but straight up family drama, then look no further than this movie. In fact, if you want to be sad, track this down, because this will somber you right up. I've always kind of wondered why this film won, but then I saw who directed it. Redford, being one of the biggest stars of the 70's, probably could have directed a film about rollerskating cowboys (oh wait, Cimino did that) and people still would have loved it. Of course, the movie isn't bad or anything, but better than its competition? We're talking about Coal Miner's Daughter, The Elephant Man, Tess, and Raging Bull. Yes, it's one of those years. Ordinary People's win in 1980 is considered to be one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. How this beat Raging Bull, I'll never know. Funny story: De Niro, who won Best Actor for his role in Raging Bull had FBI bodygaurds  protect him at the award ceremony and escort him out before Best Picture was announced. Why? Ronald Reagan had been shot the day before by John Hinckley Jr. who had shot the president to impress Jodie Foster, who had played the role of a prostitute in Taxi Driver, a movie De Niro headlined. At least he missed the disappointment the rest of Raging Bull's cast and crew felt.

1981
Winner: Chariots of Fire
Director: Hugh Hudson
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

All my childhood I figured this movie had something to do with chariots. But alas, I was deceived by my juvenile mind. No, it is instead a movie about British men running in the Olympics in 1924. Cue slow motion running music. The movie follows two men who take part in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, one a devout Scottish Christian, and the other a Cambridge-educated Jewish man. I won't bother putting any of the actor's names because you won't recognize them, except maybe Ian Holm, who plays Bilbo Baggins in this film...er....Britain's greatest running coach, Sam. So anyway, Sam coaches the two men so they can win the race and finally throw the ring into Mount Mordor....dang it! Stop trying to make this movie more interesting! The movie proves to be from the Oscar winning mold, as it won over communist era movie Reds (the last film to be nominated for all four acting prizes until Silver Linings Playbook), crime drama Atlantic City, the one where Henry Fonda get's his due AKA On Golden Pond, and action movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. As you can see, the Academy is allergic to action movies, so it's not a huge surprise that Raiders lost out. It's still disappointing though. Still, if I had the choice between a bunch of British men running around and one bad-ass archaeologist running from a boulder, I'm choosing the latter.


1982
Winner: Gandhi
Director: Richard Attenborough
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

If Richard Attenborough's name sounds a little bit familiar, it's because he was Dr. John Hammond in Jurassic Park. Yes, he was also a director. A Best Director winning director to be exact. And it's all because of this little film. Did I say little? I meant huge and epic and full of 300,000 extras. The film still holds the record for amount of extras in one scene. Many attempted to make a film about the life of the peace-loving Gandhi  but it's not as easy as you think it would be. David Lean attempted to make a movie about Gandhi after Bridge on the River Kwai, but instead did Lawrence of Arabia. Lean was later enticed to try again in the late 60's with Attenborough as Gandhi, but yet again more roadblocks prevented this from happening. It wasn't until there was peace in India and support from the Indian Prime Minister that the project was finally able to start. By this time it was 1980. Now Attenborough was directing and he chose Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. Yes, before Kingsley was in Sexy Beast, House of Sand and Fog, and Hugo, he was Gandhi  This is another long film, so strap yourself in if you plan on tackling this one. The film, while maybe not as popular as other Best Picture winners, is still considered the best choice for this year. I'm saying that even though both Tootsie and E.T. were nominees this year. Popularity doesn't always guarantee you a win in this race.

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