Skip to main content

"You're not paid to do your best. You're paid to win."

And the Oscar Should Have Gone To…
1982

Oscar doesn't often get it right. It doesn't often even pick the right nominees, let alone the right winner out of those nominees. I thought I might embark on an occasional revisit of those pictures up for the top prize in a given year, and see how they shake out. And, since The Verdict had been on my mind as unjustly missed (you can probably guess how this is going), 1982 felt like as good a year as any to start with. The full reviews can be found by clicking the links, but here, in summary, are those in contention, and their pros and cons.


E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

The popular movie, the crowd-pleasing blockbuster, is often to be found in the holy five (well, holy up-to-ten now), one cynically assumes simply to swell viewing figures, rather than to stand any chance of actually taking the top prize. Occasionally the popular movie is also the critically acclaimed one too, and occasionally it even wins out over basic sense (Titanic).

E.T. had been roundly celebrated as full of heart and innocence and wonder, and was loved by children and adults everywhere, but it's undiluted appeal to the emotions and the unjaded – and the sentimental – would increasingly become Spielberg’s biggest stumbling block as a wannabe serious filmmaker. His previous flirtations with Oscar – Jaws, Raiders – were unashamed thrill rides, whip smart and without a trace of mawkishness, and I’d have gladly seen either take the statuette (although 1975 simply had too much strong competition). E.T. left me relatively unpersuaded by its appeals to the universal, and while I can get behind it as an accomplished piece of filmmaking, I have to agree it was rightly passed over.

Gandhi

The one that went home happy, the little man in the nappy. One might have expected the previous year’s toweringly hubristic pronouncements that “The British are coming” to meet their just reward (with Revolution, they arguably did), and one might argue a tale of the Empire’s defeat was just that, but Gandhi really rather legitimised the idea of a resurgent British film industry in the wake of Chariots of Fire.

The truth was, neither were particularly remarkable pictures, both keenly trading on the nation’s increasingly sole export, heritage, for recognition. Chariots, a likable but low-key piece, had been considerably (entirely?) buoyed by a last-minute inclusion of Vangelis’ main theme, one that didn't even make it into the meat of the picture. So potent was it, it became the film, redressing it as a triumphant tale whose indomitable spirit caught the whims of voters.

Gandhi, on the other hand, was simply important. It was an important film made by a would-be important filmmaker, and it promoted important and weighty themes of resistance to injustice and strategic pacifism in the face of oppression. It couldn't really fail with the Academy, and it didn't, despite being rather stodgy and unapproachable, counting worthiness over insight into its subject and an ability to get to grips with the political situation its title character was opposing. It’s difficult to argue with the Kingsley’s win for actor (although at least two others were similarly meritorious) but Gandhi was definitely the over-inflated victor of the 1983 ceremony for no better reason than its perceived virtue.

Missing

Missing could be glad just to get a shoe in the door. Some will doubtless claim Costa-Gavras’ picture was the truly deserving true story of the awards, the one with current affairs legitimacy that even caused the US State Department to get in a tizzy. And its account of US corruption, engineering the coup that brought Pinochet to power in Chile and killing an American citizen – or being complicit in his death – who stumbled upon the fact, is incendiary material, and worthy of feting.

But the film itself is rather thin, the actual revelation of the conspiracy lacking dramatic nourishment. In its stead we have an indulgent, over-emphatic performance from Jack Lemmon, essaying ignorance to awakening, to fill the gap. The picture has a strong, fearful atmosphere, and an outstanding turn by Sissy Spacek as Lemmon’s daughter in law, but it's only ever half a great picture, one that saw the Academy unite in support of its subject matter but which wasn't quite up to the task of doing the material justice.

Tootsie

Tootsie makes no great claims of supporting a worthy cause. It’s simply a very well-observed comedy, even if some of the trappings (Dave Grusin’s score especially) date it to the era in which it was made. With enough screenwriters to toss an unpalatable salad, it's a miracle this comes together so well, and is so sustained, seemingly able to pluck endless ripe scenarios in support of Dustin Hoffman’s gender experimentation.

So much of this is dazzling, from a string of fine supporting players (Bill Murray, George Gaynes, Oscar-winning Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Charles Durning, and best of all Sydney Pollack as Michael Dorsey’s long suffering agent) to Pollack the director applying a supreme and deceptive lightness of touch. But it's Hoffman’s performances that make Tootsie shine, as he gamely plays on his own difficult reputation as an obsessive while displaying the comic timing of a great comedian. Comedies don't often win big at the Oscars, but in another year it would have been easy to see Tootsie, which did actually have something to say about some things, if not always very subtlety when it chose to say them outright, being rewarded. Ultimately, though, less fair than the film itself being missed is that Hoffman lost out.

The Verdict

If Missing portrays the awakening of a man who has gone through his life with his eyes blissfully closed to reality, The Verdict features one who has numbed the pain of that reality, stumbling through more than a decade-and-a-half of alcoholism, only to be offered the chance for salvation. This could easily have been become validating schmaltz, a Rocky tale of the broken man regaining the will to fight and coming out triumphant against the better-equipped, better-financed, and just plain better, opponent.

But, while it features all those vital elements, everything about Sidney Lumet’s film, from David Mamet’s sterling screenplay up, is disposed against the easy recourse, looking instead for the reality in the situation. Paul Newman gives one of his very best – if not his very best – performances, and he’s ably supported by the likes of Jack Warden, James Mason, and an odious Milo O’Shea. Frank may be the protagonist, and he may be fighting for what’s right, but his motives are decidedly murky in terms of his client’s best interests. He isn’t a hero. This is tale where, if he had failed, he’d only have himself to blame. Perhaps the one misstep in a fine, fine feature is the Charlotte Rampling character, used to over-egg the drama in a manner that is, in the balance of things, unnecessary.

And the Oscar should have gone to:

The Verdict, quite easily. Tootsie makes a strong runner-up, while I’d go as far as saying that winner Gandhi is the weakest of the finalists. But The Verdict remains the true classic of the five, and the one that has aged most gracefully.

I don’t intend to plough through all the remaining categories, so just a sprinkling of the main ones, and some of note, follows:


Best Director
Winner: Richard Attenborough
Should have won: Sidney Lumet

It fell to Lumet to receive the backhanded compliment of an honorary Oscar (meaning “Let’s get in there before you peg it”) in 2005, but he was nominated for Best Director four times, including The Verdict. Richard Attenborough barely manifested anything discernable to justify his award, while if Pollack really expected to be rewarded he would have nixed that Grusin score. Spielberg is an assured hand, but I don’t think E.T. is his strongest showing, which leaves Wolfgang Peterson, with both his most impressive film and most impressive directorial effort. But Lumet, who doesn’t put a foot wrong with The Verdict, edges him. Unlike The Wiz, Sidney’s in his element.


Best Actor
Winner: Ben Kingsley (Gandhi)
Should have won: Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie)

Kingsley definitely should have an Oscar at home, but it’s Best Supporting Actor for Sexy Beast. Much as I love Peter O’Toole’s performance in My Favourite Year, he didn’t need to do much in the way of acting to pull it off. So this is between Hoffman and Newman, and while The Verdict is the film Newman should have won the Oscar for over The Color of Money, Hoffman’s sheer dexterity in Tootsie is jaw-dropping. It’s just an outstanding performance by any standards.


Best Actress
Winner: Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice)
Should have won: Sissy Spacek (Missing)

Oh God, bloody Sophie’s Choice, a dreadfully self-important, dreary, overrated picture. I don’t have strong feelings here, other than it shouldn’t have gone to Streep, and Debra Winger’s performance in An Officer and a Gentleman, likeable as it is, is not the stuff of Oscars. I’d have no argument with Julie Andrews for Victor/Victoria or Jessica Lange for Frances, but Spacek in Missing, showing Jack Lemmon how it should be done, gets my sympathy vote.


Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Louis Gossett, Jr (An Officer and a Gentleman)
Should have won: John Lithgow (The World According to Garp)

I wouldn’t really argue with Gossett getting the statuette, just the film itself. Lithgow’s is probably the most affecting performance, and he’s an actor who really deserves to have won one by now. I’d put it between those two, as Charles Durning, James Mason and Robert Preston are all perfectly serviceable but don’t scream snub.


Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Jessica Lange (Tootsie)
Should have won: Teri Garr (Tootsie)

Lange’s fine in Tootsie, but it’s a nice part, not a remarkable performance (You wonder how much of it was a Frances sympathy vote). Everyone here is good (Glenn Close, Kim Stanley, Lesley Ann Warren), but Garr’s particular brand of put-upon is a master class.


Best Original Screenplay
Winner: Gandhi (John Briley)
Should have won: Tootsie (Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal)

Tootsie’s screenplay is such a consistently inventive piece of work, I’d put it ahead of the nearest contender (Diner), while the others (E.T., An Office and a Gentleman) are more about the execution than the genius of the writing. Needless to say, Gandhi’s screenplay doesn’t really impress.


Best Adapted Screenplay
Winner: Missing (Costa-Gavras and Donald E Stewart)
Should have won: The Verdict (David Mamet)

Mamet’s screenplay is so clearly something apart, you know the Missing award was basically a statement. Sophie’s Choice’s screenplay stinks.


Best Original Song
Winner: Up Where We Belong (An Officer and a Gentleman)
Should have won: Eye of the Tiger (Rocky III)

I’m torn actually, as they’re both superior slices of ‘80s cheese. One thing’s for sure, It Might Be You from Tootsie should never have been nominated.


Best Original Score
Winner: E.T. (John Williams)
Should have won: Poltergeist (Jerry Goldsmith)

E.T. is fine, but a bit too much in places, and Williams was doing so much better year-in, year-out at that point. Poltergeist is a smart, spooky piece of work, and it would have given Goldsmith a much-deserved Oscar.


Best Art Direction
Winner: Gandhi
Should have won: Blade Runner

Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?


Best Cinematography
Winner: Gandhi
Should have won: E.T.

I wouldn’t actually quibble with Gandhi getting this one, but both Das Boot and E.T. have just as strong work (how Blade Runner missed out, yet Tootise got a look in, though…)


Best Costume Design
Winner: Gandhi
Should have won: TRON

Iconic lycra, there.


Best Visual Effects
Winner: E.T.
Should have won: Blade Runner

Both Blade Runner and Poltergeist have better effects work than E.T., while The Thing, and Star Trek II, didn’t even get a look in (or for makeup, which Quest for Fire took).


Of missed contenders in the big awards, it’s the usual science fiction fare of Blade Runner and The Thing, but neither were exactly critically lauded at the time. Despite being released in 1982, Year of Living Dangerously ended up in the 1983 nominations, but would otherwise have figured.

Gandhi followed the frequent course of being the most nominated (11) and winning the most awards (8), although Tootsie was next with 10 and took home just the one. E.T. received 9 and won four, while reactionary An Officer and a Gentleman, a fine picture for Reaganite America, pulled two out of its 6 nominations.

Article edited to add:

My Top Five Films of the Year

5. Poltergeist

Spielberg’s anti-E.T. (the debate goes on, but many argue he ghost-directed this, rather than official helmer Tobe Hooper: given Hooper’s other work, it’s entirely plausible), with sinister spooks threatening a nice suburban family. Effective PG-shocks, and about the last time (I think) Spielberg didn’t keep a degree of a subsequent franchise control (you’d have thought he would have learned from Jaws).


4. The Verdict

Paul Newman and Sidney Newman at their best, in a genre that pays dividends even when it doesn’t play out to obvious effect (see also sports movies).


3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

The best Star Trek film – so good they keep copying it but never remotely as well – and featuring some of the very best performances by the original crew (Shatner in particular is mighty). Even Pauline Kael loved it.


2. The Thing

John Carpenter’s anti-E.T. in as much as it came out the same summer and one was a mega-hit while the other all-but flopped. But time has been very kind to the picture, now usually rated as the director’s best work, with effects that still look extraordinary and a dread end of the world depicted on a palpable, intimate level. 


1. Blade Runner

And this one is Sir Ridders’ best work, although it would be more pronouncedly downhill from him subsequently than for Carpenter, even if he then initiated a rather soulless upswing. A feverish, haunting marriage of performance, poetry, soundscapes and future noir imagery, Blade Runner remains seminal and was recently fortunate enough to get a great sequel (even if Scott pronounced it boring).


Popular posts from this blog

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

I work for the guys that pay me to watch the guys that pay you. And then there are, I imagine, some guys that are paid to watch me.

The Day of the Dolphin (1973) (SPOILERS) Perhaps the most bizarre thing out of all the bizarre things about The Day of the Dolphin is that one of its posters scrupulously sets out its entire dastardly plot, something the movie itself doesn’t outline until fifteen minutes before the end. Mike Nichols reputedly made this – formerly earmarked for Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson and Sharon Tate, although I’m dubious a specific link can be construed between its conspiracy content and the Manson murders - to fulfil a contract with The Graduate producer Joseph Levine. It would explain the, for him, atypical science-fiction element, something he seems as comfortable with as having a hairy Jack leaping about the place in Wolf .

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

Gizmo caca!

Gremlins (1984) I didn’t get to see Gremlins at the cinema. I wanted to, as I had worked myself into a state of great anticipation. There was a six-month gap between its (unseasonal) US release and arrival in the UK, so I had plenty of time to devour clips of cute Gizmo on Film ’84 (the only reason ever to catch Barry Norman was a tantalising glimpse of a much awaited movie, rather than his drab, colourless, reviews) and Gremlins trading cards that came with bubble gum attached (or was it the other way round?). But Gremlins ’ immediate fate for many an eager youngster in Britain was sealed when, after much deliberation, the BBFC granted it a 15 certificate. I had just turned 12, and at that time an attempt to sneak in to see it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind. I’d just have to wait for the video. I didn’t realise it then (because I didn’t know who he was as a filmmaker), but Joe Dante’s irrepressible anarchic wit would have a far stronger effect on me than the un