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).


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).