1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
* Indicates that the film/performance was not nominated for an Academy Award in this category

 

1980
Ordinary People
Actor: Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull)
Actress: Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner's Daughter)
Supporting Actor:Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People)
Supporting Actress: Mary Steenburgen
(Melvin and Howard)
Director: Robert Redford (Ordinary People)
Raging Bull
Actor: Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull)
Actress: Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner's Daughter)
Supporting Actor: Michael O'Keefe (The Great Santini)
Supporting Actress: Mary Tyler Moore
(Ordinary People)
Director: Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull)
 

The Academy favored Serious fair in 1980, awarding the top prize to Ordinary People, Robert Redford's directorial debut about a teenage boy grappling with the accidental drowning of his brother. It is an earnest, well-acted film (especially by Timothy Hutton in the lead role, who was delegated to the Best Supporting Actor category at the awards only because of the subordinate billing he received to the more famous stars playing secondary roles), and the selection of Mary Tyler Moore to play the boy's aloof mother was a brilliant piece of casting, showing the dark underside to the cloying optimism she displayed on television. But as well crafted as the film is, it is an incredibly depressing story that has a last-minute revelation which seems to be inserted only to manipulate the audience into feeling a false sense of optimism towards a character whose primary dilemma during the film is whether or not to commit suicide. Hutton's role is so gloomy and depressed that it never really becomes compelling and the resulting film has a disagreeably hollow center as its consequence.

Compelling is the only word for the lead character is Raging Bull, the volatile, self-obsessed boxer Jake LaMotta played so brilliantly by Robert DeNiro. The film has been named in many critics' polls as the best made in the 1980s, although it really is far too morose and disturbing a story to claim that title and the character of LaMotta - while undeniably intriguing - is such a repellent human being without any redemption that it occasionally makes one wonder what kind of statement director Martin Scorsese was trying to make in depicting this loathsome person's story. But it is hard not to admire a film with such a dark central character which doesn't resort to the contrivances that Ordinary People or 1980's other big prestige picture, The Elephant Man, employ to make their distressing protagonists more palatable to movie audiences, and presents LaMotta unapologetically as the appalling example of humanity at its worst that he was.


The Academy's distinction between a leading and supporting role has been murky since they began giving the supporting awards in 1936, when Spencer Tracy was nominated for Best Actor for his secondary role in San Francisco and Stuart Erwin was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his lead in Pigskin Parade. The confusion has never been cleared up, with Barry Fitzgerald being nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Going My Way, Marlon Brando, Peter Finch and Louise Fletcher winning lead Oscars for playing ancillary roles in The Godfather, Network and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and George Burns, Tatum O'Neal and Michael Caine being awarded supporting Oscars for playing primary roles The Sunshine Boys, Paper Moon and Hannah and Her Sisters. But one of the most blatant examples of a role being incorrectly classified was Timothy Hutton's Conrad Jarrett, which was unquestionably the leading role in Ordinary People. Hutton gave a fine performance, but his placement in this classification was unfair to fellow nominees Joe Pesci, Michael O'Keefe, Judd Hirsch and Jason Robards, who really did play supporting roles. Hutton's inclusion in this category raised no controversy at the time because he was listed below Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore in the film's credits, but his is the character which drives the film and his Oscar would have been more honest if it had been for Best Actor With Supporting Billing.


The Long Good Friday was a spectacular gangster film featuring a magnificent performance by Bob Hoskins as a tragic London crime boss. It was a true breakout role for the Cockney actor, who had also given an unforgettable television depiction of Shakespeare's Iago in Othello in 1980 and would rise to a brief period of stardom with his stage appearance as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls and films like Mona Lisa and Who Framed Roger Rabbit before choosing to cash in on his unexpected fame with a string of flops like Heart Condition, Super Mario Bros. and Mermaids and losing the artistic momentum that he had been building. But 1980 was a strong year for male performances, with Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull, Jack Lemmon in Tribute, Peter O'Toole in The Stunt Man, Robert Duvall in The Great Santini and John Hurt in The Elephant Man receiving nominations (and Timothy Hutton pulling a fast one by being listed in the inappropriate Best Supporting Actor race), it is understandable that Hoskins was overlooked. His costar Helen Mirren's brilliant work as the gangster's beloved ladyfriend is a much more dubious oversight, especially considering the nomination of Goldie Hawn for doing her typical ditzy blonde shtick in the box office smash Private Benjamin. Mirren is one of the finest actresses in the world, best known for her stage work and the British television series Prime Suspect and winning Oscar nominations for her performances in the films The Madness of King George and Gosford Park, and finally won her first (overdue) Oscar for her performance as Elizabeth II in The Queen in 2006.

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1981
Chariots of Fire
Actor: Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond)
Actress: Katharine Hepburn (On Golden Pond)
Supporting Actor: John Gielgud (Arthur)
Supporting Actress: Maureen Stapleton (Reds)
Director: Warren Beatty (Reds)
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Actor:Burt Lancaster (Atlantic City)
Actress: Meryl Streep
(The French Lieutenant's Woman)
Supporting Actor: John Gielgud (Arthur)
Supporting Actress: Maureen Stapleton (Reds)
Director: Steven Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
 

It's fun to ponder what goes through an Academy member's mind when they fill out their ballots for Best Picture. It's hard not to believe that there are frequently mental conversations that go "Spider-Man II was the film that I enjoyed the most and did the best job of delivering what it intended, but this is a Serious award and I have to choose something that isn't so artistically unpretentious." There must have been a lot of mental conversations like that one in 1981 when the Academy chose Chariots of Fire, director Hugh Hudson's account of 1924 Olympics, for its top prize - a sumptuously produced drama made by high pedigree British talent that is so unremittingly bland that it's difficult to remember anything about it (except for Vangellis' powerfully effective Oscar-winning score). If the Academy felt the urge to choose a high-minded drama for Best Picture, they might have gone with the far more ingratiating nominees Reds, On Golden Pond or Atlantic City, but in 1981 they seemed to be on a mission to award their top prize to the least entertaining film possible.

With this mindset, it's surprising that one of the most unpretentious and entertaining films ever made was nominated for Best Picture. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the seminal teaming of super-showmen Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, filled with some of the most celebrated scenes ever filmed (the opening sequence of Indiana Jones trying to retrieve a golden idol from its underground vault seems to have been parodied by every animated television series ever created). It is actually a credit to the Academy that Raiders was considered for the top prize at at all, since summer blockbusters are usually consigned to the technical awards and nothing else. But this first entry in the Indiana Jones saga has always been considered something unique, and time has proven it to be the most memorable film made in 1981, as well as the best.


Timing plays a huge part in the acting Academy Awards. It's doubtful that awards would have been given to John Wayne in True Grit, Paul Newman in The Color of Money or Jack Palance in City Slickers if they had won the Oscar already, while it's equally possible that Oscars might have been given to James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder, Bette Davis in All About Eve or Charles Laughton in Mutiny on the Bounty if they didn't already have a statuette at home. This kind of timing played a huge part in the remarkable Henry Fonda's Oscar win for his unremarkable performance in the senior tearjerker On Golden Pond. If Fonda had won the Oscar he deserved in 1940 for The Grapes of Wrath, it's doubtful that he would have received such recognition and the award would have gone to the 1960 Best Actor winner Burt Lancaster for Atlantic City, a performance that won almost all of the pre-Oscar awards. Of course in the Hindsight Award race, Fonda has already won for The Grapes of Wrath and Lancaster's Elmer Gantry award was taken by Anthony Perkins in Psycho, so it can be argued that we're just as guilty of rank sentimentality as the Academy.


When 1981 Hindsight Awards Best Actor Burt Lancaster was asked who he thought was overlooked in that year's Oscar race, he named Raiders of the Lost Ark star Harrison Ford for his performance as Indiana Jones. "He's a remarkably good actor," said Lancaster. "In that role you have to bring something special to it, to be funny as well as a good actor." Ford certainly was special as the thrillseeking archeologist and his sarcastic delivery brought as much to the classic film as Spielberg's lightning-paced direction. It's rare where an actor is nominated for an action/adventure film, and Ford is no exception, winning his only nomination for his dramatic turn as a policeman hiding out with the Amish in Witness. But he did his best work in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and while it may not be the kind of acting that gets Academy Award nominations, it is a performance that has taken its place as one of the great icons in film lore.

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1982
Gandhi
Actor: Ben Kingsley (Gandhi)
Actress: Meryl Streep (Sophie's Choice)
Supporting Actor:Louis Gosset
(An Officer and a Gentleman)
Supporting Actress: Jessica Lange (Tootsie)
Director: Richard Attenborough (Gandhi)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Actor: Ben Kingsley (Gandhi)
Actress: Meryl Streep (Sophie's Choice)
Supporting Actor: John Lithgow
(The World According to Garp)
Supporting Actress: Glenn Close
(The World According to Garp)
Director: Steven Spielberg (ET the Extraterrestrial)
 

Richard Attenborough spent twenty years trying to get his film about the life of Mahatma Gandhi made, and the result was a David Lean-like epic with a high-mindedness that borders on the preachy. The Academy loves sanctimonious films like Gandhi, and stories like the uphill making of films like Gandhi even more, so their selection of it as Best Picture is a perfectly understandable, if predictable, one. In fact, Gandhi is a fine film, with Attenborough's passion evident in every frame and wonderful performances by its cast, especially Ben Kingsley in the title role (the lone exception is Candice Bergan, who stands out like a sore thumb in her few awkward scenes as photographer Margaret Bourke-White). But 1982 was filled with fine films, with nominees ET the Extraterrestrial, Missing, The Verdict and Tootsie all being reasonable contenders for the Best Picture crown. But the best of these was Steven Spielberg's box office champ about the little alien trying to go home. ET was only the second science fiction film ever nominated for Best Picture (after Star Wars), and given the Academy's distaste for the genre and the backlash against the film after it became a cash cow for Universal, it's not surprising that it failed to win the Best Picture award against Attenborough's somber testimonial to the Great Spirit. But ET the Extraterrestrial is a vastly more engaging and memorable film, and should have been awarded the Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, and Sound Oscars in addition to the Oscars for Original Score, Visual Effects and Sound Effects Editing that it received.


The one award that Gandhi received that created any controversy was John Mollo and Bhanu Athaiya's for Best Costume Design, the predominant thinking being that the designers couldn't have contributed that impressive a result when the main character spent most of the film wearing a bedsheet. To be fair, this is a remarkably simplistic conclusion to reach when you consider that Gandhi features a cast of thousands, most of whom did not wear bedsheets. Even so, Gandhi's costume design is relatively unimpressive,and it's reasonable to assume that it received the award more because of the general admiration for the film as a whole than for the outstanding achievement in this particular category. In fact, a far more outstanding design was contributed by nominee Patricia Norris for Victor/Victoria, but she had the disadvantage of not working for a director who spent twenty years trying to get his film made.


Bill Murray wasn't nominated for an Oscar until 2003, when he was finally honored for his low key performance as a faded movie star trying to acclimate himself to Tokyo in Lost in Translation. In fact, while Murray's mainstay has been in broad commercial comedies like Ghostbusters and Stripes, he has contributed many interesting performances in low-profile films like Rushmore, Mad Dog and Glory, and even an engagingly offbeat Polonius in the misguided modern dress film of Hamlet. But his best work has been in two big box office comedies: Groundhog Day and Tootsie, neither performance receiving the singling out that they deserved. In truth, Tootsie is an appallingly overrated sexist film that puts forth the premise that women need a man wearing a dress to provide them with a role model of, in the film's own words, "how to project her own individuality without robbing a man of his." But it features charming nominated performances by Dustin Hoffman, Terri Garr and Jessica Lange, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar as a consolation prize when she was bypassed for the Best Actress Oscar for her superior work in Frances after having the bad timing to give it in the same year that Meryl Streep gave one of the greatest performances in movie history in Sophie's Choice. But Murray is the outstanding presence in Tootsie, and the film is never so amusing as it is in his brief scenes as Dustin Hoffman's roommate.

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1983
Terms of Endearment
Actor: Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies)
Actress: Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment)
Supporting Actor: Jack Nicholson
(Terms of Endearment)
Supporting Actress: Linda Hunt
(The Year of Living Dangerously)
Director: James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment)
Fanny and Alexander*
Actor: Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies)
Actress: Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment)
Supporting Actor: Jack Nicholson
(Terms of Endearment)
Supporting Actress: Sandra Bernhard
(The King of Comedy)*
Director: Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander)
 

Terms of Endearment was the overwhelming favorite at the 1983 Academy Awards, James L. Brooks' motion picture debut after immortalizing himself with work on television series like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Taxi (and later his crowning achievement, The Simpsons). The film won universal acclaim and most of the pre-Oscar awards, including the DGA Award for Brooks who would go on to win three Oscars for producing, directing, and writing it. But watched now, it's hard to understand what all the fuss was about, as Terms of Endearment comes off merely as a moderately clever soap opera. Well acted by Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson, the film's eccentric characters now seem quirky for the sake of being quirky and its major plot contrivance, MacLaine's daughter Debra Winger dealing with life-threatening cancer, seems more appropriate for a potboiler on the Lifetime channel than for the Oscar winner for Best Picture.

If this seems like harsh criticism of Terms of Endearment, it is in part because Brooks' comic melodrama was honored over Ingmar Bergman's astonishing five hour (in its original version) epic about the isolation and powerlessness of childhood, Fanny and Alexander. Foreign films were rarely well represented at the Oscars until recent years, but Bergman's masterpiece was an exception, being nominated for Best Director and Screenplay Written Directly For the Screen, and actually winning the Oscars for Foreign Film, Art Direction-Set Direction, Costume Design and Cinematography; a record total for a foreign language film that has since been broken. Fanny and Alexander is such a gracefully exquisite film that anything else released in 1983 seems almost vulgar by comparison.


Only six people have won the Best Director Oscar for the first film they directed. The fourth in line to make that accomplishment was James L. Brooks for his film adaptation of the novel Terms of Endearment. Brooks was brought onto the project by former screen star Jennifer Jones, who owned the movie rights to Larry McMurty's source novel and envisioned it as her comeback film. Brooks' vision for the film ultimately didn't include Jennifer Jones however, and he tactfully removed her from the project, casting Shirley MacLaine (who was excellent in the role). Brooks provided a witty, observant screenplay but his triumph is much more as a writer than director, and his camera eye is not remotely on the same lyrical level as Ingmar Bergman's for Fanny and Alexander or Bruce Beresford's for Tender Mercies. Brooks' subsequent output as a director has been a mixed bag, combining a hit (Broadcast News) with misses (I'll Do Anything, Spanglish) with an oddball collection of plusses and minuses (As Good As It Gets, whose mentally unbalanced central character - brilliantly played by Jack Nicholson - frequently comes off as much more disturbing than amusing), winning nominations as a writer and producer, but never again as a director.


The New York Film Critics awarded their Best Supporting Actress prize to Sandra Bernhard for her outrageous performance as Robert DeNiro's partner in crime in Martin Scorseses' dark comic masterpiece The King of Comedy. Berhard provided a volatile characterization as an obsessed fan who takes part in n outlandish plot to kidnap the film's Johnny Carson surrogate (played by Jerry Lewis in an overrated performance). The result was one of the most original and effective performances of the decade, overlooked by the Academy in favor of routine work by Glenn Close in The Big Chill and Amy Irving in Yentl. The King of Comedy was only Bernhard's second film and she was never offered such an effective part again, but her performance as Masha is an immortal testament to an unusual talent.

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1984
Amadeus
Actor: F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus)
Actress: Sally Field (Places in the Heart)
Supporting Actor: Dr. Haing S Ngor
(The Killing Fields)
Supporting Actress: Peggy Ashcroft
(A Passage to India)
Director: Milos Foreman (Amadeus)
Amadeus
Actor: F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus)
Actress: Mia Farrow (Broadway Danny Rose)*
Supporting Actor: Richard Burton (1984)*
Supporting Actress: Peggy Ashcroft
(A Passage to India)
Director: Ron Howard (Splash)*
 

1984 was a bland movie year, with no great films and only a handful of very good ones. The best was the Academy’s choice, Milos Foreman’s film version of Peter Schaeffer’s play about Mozart, Amadeus. Schaeffer did a terrific job of adapting the screenplay to the new medium, especially in making Mozart’s nemesis Antonio Salieri the instigator of the plot to take credit for Mozart’s Requiem Mass (in the play, an unseen third party is behind the scheme). Foreman made some bold casting choices in bypassing the famous names who had played the roles on stage (Ian McKellen and Tim Curry played Salieri and Mozart in the Broadway production, and Paul Scofield created the role of Salieri in the play’s premiere at the National Theatre of Great Britain), choosing virtual unknowns F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce, who responded to the gamble with brilliant Academy Award nominated performances. Abraham is particularly memorable in his Oscar-winning role as the jealous Salieri, and his failure to procure any additional quality movie roles is bewildering (he has had the most undistinguished film career of any Best Actor Oscar winner). Foreman’s direction occasionally lapses into bad taste (his attempts to elicit comedy from the behavior of members of the Austrian court are painfully broad), although he did get wonderful performances from Jeffrey Jones, Roy Dotrice, and Simon Callow (who created the role of Mozart in the London stage production) playing a Music Hall singer/manager who stages the premiere of The Magic Flute. Far less persuasive is Elizabeth Berridge as Mozart’s wife Stanzy, whose unconvincing performance comes off as incompatibly modern compared to her fellow cast members, and her lack of subsequent film success is much more understandable than Abraham’s.

The film also has the unsettling feeling of having a scene missing when Stanzy leaves Mozart because he has been obsessively working on The Magic Flute - an opera that has little chance of financial success - as he neglects his wealthy patron's lucrative commission of the Requiem Mass. But after her histrionic exit, she makes an unexpected return and has inexplicably cultivated the completely opposite conviction that the Mass is now killing Mozart and he is never to work on it again. In the version released in theatres, she has also acquired a sudden distrust of Solieri on her arrival, despite his being her secret confidante in everything leading up to that scene (the Director's Cut DVD restored an ommitted sequence where Salieri makes an aborted attempt to seduce her, explaining her dislike of him but not of the Requiem Mass). But despite its unevenness, Amadeus has some remarkable sequences, particularly the exciting climax where Salieri transcribes Mozart’s dictation of the Requiem (one of the most electrifying depictions of artistic creation in film history) and while it may have faced an uphill battle for the award in a stronger year, it was the deserving winner in 1984.


A trio of dramas depicting struggling farmers in the Depression came out in 1984 featuring Oscar nominated performances by three fine actresses: Sally Field in Places of the Heart, Jessica Lange in Country and Sissy Spacek in The River. Places in the Heart was the most successful of the dustbowl dramas, receiving nominations for Best Picture and Best Director and winning the Oscars for Best Actress for Field and Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for Robert Benton's sincere but episodic and somewhat tedious script. Benton's work, inspired by his mother, was clearly a labor of love but it lacked the strength and originality of nominated screenplays for Broadway Danny Rose and Splash.


There were a number of impressive performances by actors in supporting roles in 1984. It’s impossible to fault the Academy for their selection of Haing Ngor, whose performance as Cambodian photographer Dith Pran in The Killing Fields mirrored his own tragic experience as prisoner of the Khmer Rouge, but they overlooked several other remarkable performances in this category including Jeffrey Jones’ whimsical Emperor Joseph II in Amadeus and John Candy giving the finest performance of his tragically brief career in Splash.
But the best of this unappreciated lot was Richard Burton as O’Brien, the sinister Party insider in 1984. Burton had been wasting his talent on atrocious movies like Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Medusa Touch and Circle of Two in recent years, but managed to pull it together for one last great performance in the faithful adaptation of George Orwell’s novel that was filmed in the time period and locations in which the story was set. Burton was spellbinding as the tormentor of Winston Smith (memorably played by a perfectly cast John Hurt), but failed to receive a nomination despite the enormous sentiment towards his fine performance because of his death prior to the film’s release. Ralph Richardson died in 1984 as well, and it is possible that his posthumous nomination for Greystoke may have hurt Burton’s Oscar chances. It is doubtful that Burton would have won the award in the face of the overwhelming sentimental support for Ngor, but his O’Brien was a final glimpse of greatness from a talent that never seemed to fulfill its incredible potential and a nomination would have been a fitting tribute. Ngor, sadly, didn’t benefit from his Oscar glory in a manner that befits most Academy Award winners. He appeared in a handful of minor films after The Killing Fields and was ultimately gunned down in his own front yard by gang members who were intent on stealing a locket containing a photograph of his late wife.

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1985
Out of Africa
Actor: William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman)
Actress: Geraldine Page (The Trip to Bountiful)
Supporting Actor: Don Ameche (Cocoon)
Supporting Actress: Anjelica Huston (Prizzi's Honor)
Director: Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa)
Ran*
Actor: William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman)
Actress: Geraldine Page (The Trip to Bountiful)
Supporting Actor: Klaus Maria Brandauer
(Out of Africa)
Supporting Actress: Anjelica Huston (Prizzi's Honor)
Director: Akira Kurasawa (Ran)
 

Two austere dramas went head to head at the 1985 Academy Awards, with eleven nominations each for Out of Africa and The Color Purple. Out of Africa was the big winner, with seven awards to The Color Purple's zero, the latter total a huge surprise to pundits who expected the ceremony to turn into a show of support for Steven Spielberg (who wasn't nominated for Best Director despite his film's popularity in the other categories). In fact, neither film deserved the plaudits they received, both being maudlin, overlong bores featuring wooden performances by leading actors (Whoopi Goldberg and Robert Redford); but they fit the Academy criterium of self-importance to a tee. Of the two, Out of Africa (loosely based on the memoirs of Danish aristocrat Karen Dinesen) is certainly the superior film (Meryl Streep and Klaus Maria Brandauer both deliver excellent performances as Dinesen and her husband), but for all its pictorial splendor it is ultimately meaningless. It is a shame that the Academy was taken in by such empty opulence, as 1985 contained some delightfully inventive movies that weren't considered for the Best Picture Award: The Purple Rose of Cairo, Back to the Future, Brazil, and After Hours were quirky, original films that were wildly entertaining with something to say about the human condition, but perhaps not highfalutin' enough to be taken seriously by the Academy snobs.

There was one sumptuously produced epic that was so arty that it was based on a Shakespearean tragedy, but it was ruled out of the running because it committed the unpardonable sin of not being spoken in English. But the fact is that Ran, Akira Kurasawa's vision of King Lear, was not only the finest film released in 1985, it is one of the most towering artistic achievements of the twentieth century: Shakespeare's most timeless masterpiece brought to breathtaking life by the most inspired and original interpreters of his work on film. Ran did remarkably well at the Oscars for a foreign film, winning nominations for Director, Cinematography and Art Direction-Set Direction and winning the Oscar for Emi Wada's stunning costume design, but its failure to be nominated (and win) the Best Picture award over the vastly inferior Out of Africa and The Color Purple is proof positive that an Academy Award is not necessarily an indication of true quality.


The Academy occasionally gives their Best Song award to radio hits that have little connection to the film that they are associated with. The best example of this is "Say You, Say Me," whose only claim to being a film song was that it was played over the end credits of White Knights, a god-awful mess about an expatriate Russian dancer played by Mikhail Barishnikov trying to escape from the Soviet Union after his plane goes down. Lionel Richie's top 40 hit was a pleasant little ditty played so deeply into the end of the film's final scroll that you would have had to stick around to find out who the caterer was to hear it and had absolutely nothing to do with the story which had just unfolded (except that its lyrics were as nonsensical as the film's screenplay). A far better choice would have been "Miss Celie's Blues" from The Color Purple, which not only had the disadvantage of not being a radio hit, but being performed by one of the film's characters within the course of the story.


The conventional scripts for Witness and Out of Africa won the screenplay awards this year over the far more original nominees Back to the Future, Brazil, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Prizzi's Honor. With the Academy showing such pedestrian taste, it's not surprising that one of the most refreshing and inventive scripts of the decade failed to make the cut. Phil Hartman and Paul Reubens' screenplay for Pee Wee's Big Adventure made for a wild roller coaster of a film featuring one of the most unusual leading characters in movie history - not the type of film that usually receives Oscar nominations, but such an inventively original one that it's difficult to categorize it into a type at all.

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1986
Platoon
Actor: Paul Newman (The Color of Money)
Actress: Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God)
Supporting Actor: Michael Caine
(Hannah and Her Sisters)
Supporting Actress: Diane Wiest
(Hannah and Her Sisters)
Director: Oliver Stone (Platoon)
Platoon
Actor: Bob Hoskins (Mona Lisa)
Actress: Melanie Griffith (Something Wild)*
Supporting Actor: Daniel Day Lewis
(A Room With a View)*
Supporting Actress: Diane Wiest
(Hannah and Her Sisters)
Director: Oliver Stone (Platoon)
 

There were three great films up for the Best Picture Oscar in 1986: Woody Allen's Chekhovian Hannah and Her Sisters, the seminal achievement of the Merchant/Ivory partnership A Room With a View, and the Academy's choice, Oliver Stone's ride down a cinematic razor blade, Platoon. Any of these three masterpieces would have been a fine selection for Best Picture (Hannah and Her Sisters and Room With a View split the two screenplay awards), but Platoon is unique in being one of the few films set within the context of the Vietnam war which seems to understand what makes that conflict different from other wars America has fought in the past. It is not an easy film to watch - Stone keeps his audience constantly on edge with the same tension that the soldiers are under so that attending a screening of Platoon seems like an ultra-concentrated tour of duty in Vietnam. A far less pleasant experience than the elegant romance of A Room With a View or the intellectual angst of Hannah and Her Sisters, but of all the films that set themselves up to be about the experiences of combat soldiers in Vietnam, Platoon is the only one that completely delivers.


Paul Newman is one of the finest actors in movie history, and would have deservedly walked away with the Oscar for his nominated performances in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke or The Verdict. But for one reason or another other actors were honored with the award, so the Academy - apparently feeling that they were running out of time to honor this great talent - gave him the Oscar for one of his least interesting performances in The Color of Money. If Newman (who turned in another Oscar-worthy performance for Nobody's Fool in 1994, winning him his first New York Film Critic's Award) already had a statuette to his credit it's doubtful that he would have received a nomination for this unworthy sequel to The Hustler, and to give him the award over vastly superior work by Bob Hoskins in Mona Lisa and James Woods in Salvador makes it seem all the more lamentable that the Academy didn't always have better timing. Even Newman wasn't that enthusiastic about his finally winning the Oscar, choosing to be a no-show at the ceremony because it all seemed "too little - too late." It's hard to disagree with him.


Melanie Griffith
is one of the more difficult movie actresses to find roles for. Given the wrong part - Shining Through, The Bonfire of the Vanities, A Stranger Among Us - the result can be stupefyingly embarrassing, and even cast in a vehicle that on paper should fit her like a glove (such as Born Yesterday), there is always the chance that things can go horribly wrong. But when she is on top of her game (Body Double, Working Girl), Griffith can be very effective indeed. This was never truer than her performance as the unpredictable free spirit Audrey Hankel in Jonathan Demme's aptly-named Something Wild. Griffith is perfectly cast in the offbeat role of a beautiful young woman whose exhilarating nonconformity is frequently forced and usually dangerous, and delivers not only the best performance of her own checkered career, but the best female movie performance of 1986. The Academy, however, chose to nominate unexceptional work by Jane Fonda in The Morning After, Sissy Spacek in Crimes of the Heart and Kathleen Turner in Peggy Sue Got Married, awarding the Oscar to the sexy but ultimately forgettable performance of Marlee Matlin in Children of a Lesser God (the fifth nominee was Sigourney Weaver for her compelling tour de force as the ill-starred Ellen Ripley in Aliens), choosing to overlook the far more challenging achievement of Griffith.

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1987
The Last Emperor
Actor: Michael Douglas (Wall Street)
Actress: Cher (Moonstruck)
Supporting Actor: Sean Connery (The Untouchables)
Supporting Actress: Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck)
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci (The Last Emperor)
Broadcast News
Actor: Marcello Mastroianni (Dark Eyes)
Actress: Holly Hunter (Broadcast News)
Supporting Actor: Sean Connery (The Untouchables)
Supporting Actress: Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck)
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci (The Last Emperor)
 

The Academy went crazy about The Last Emperor in 1987, awarding Bernardo Bertolucci's epic about the life of Pu Yi, China's final emperor before the takeover of Mao Tze Tung's Communist regime, nine Oscars including Best Picture. The Last Emperor is a spectacularly beautiful film featuring (strangely unnominated) committed performances by John Lone in the title role and Joan Chen as the last empress, a magnificent production design and the typically lyrical Bertolucci direction. But for all these strengths, The Last Emperor is ultimately an unsatisfying film as a whole because its subject is a colorless figure who never accomplishes anything or even reaches any profound conclusions about the timing of his placement in history (Bertolucci and Mark Peploe's Oscar for Best Screenplay Based On Material from Another Medium was an award the film didn't deserve, even in this weak year for that category). He is simply a relatively bland man whose ancestral entitlement is cut off because of political factors outside of his control or realm of understanding.

A much more emotionally involving film is James L. Brooks' quirky love triangle about the turbulent life of network television newscasters, Broadcast News. Brooks' complex, entertaining script (which should have received the Oscar over John Patrick Shanley's comparatively conventional screenplay for Moonstruck) is well served by compelling performances by Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks (who was nominated in the inappropriate Best Supporting Actor category while costar William Hurt - whose role was no more contributive to the context of the story but who received higher billing than Brooks - was placed in the Best Actor division for his far weaker performance) and Richard Marks' outstanding film editing (which was regrettably overlooked in the Academy's tidal wave of recognition for The Last Emperor). In truth, Brooks the screenwriter was somewhat let down by Brooks the director who provided a characteristically flat look to the proceedings; but since the film was about television, Brooks' television-like directorial style seemed well-suited to the subject matter this time out.


1987 was the year that Cher got respect from the Academy, winning the Best Actress Oscar for the amusingly broad sitcom Moonstruck. Playwright John Patrick Shanley wrote a very funny script for the film and in a weaker year might have been the deserving winner. But Shanley's generic romantic comedy lacks the insightfulness of nominees Broadcast News, Radio Days, Hope and Glory or Au Revoir Les Enfants and should have been a distant also-ran, were it not for the popularity of the film within Cher's army of loyal fans. But because a film is popular does not mean that it contains the kind of quality that the Oscars are designed for, a philosophy that the Academy is not always quick to embrace.


When the fine actor Louis Gossett, Jr. won the 1982 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his unexceptional performance as an army drill sergeant in the weepie melodrama An Officer and a Gentleman, his award was apparently spurred by a desire to try and make up past injustices to performers of color. But five years later, R. Lee Ermey showed everyone how it was supposed to be done in Stanley Kubrick's muddled Vietnam drama Full Metal Jacket. Ermey had served as a staff sergeant in the Marines and was originally hired only to be the technical advisor on the film, but was so superior to the actor who had originally been given the role that he replaced him in the cast. Ermey received a Golden Globe nomination and the Best Supporting Actor award from the Boston Society of Film Critics for his career-making performance as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, but was overlooked by the Academy.

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1988
Rain Man
Actor: Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man)
Actress: Jodie Foster (The Accused)
Supporting Actor: Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda)
Supporting Actress: Geena Davis
(The Accidental Tourist)
Director: Barry Levinson (Rain Man)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit*
Actor: Tom Hulce (Dominick and Eugene)*
Actress: Jodie Foster (The Accused)
Supporting Actor: Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda)
Supporting Actress: Geena Davis
(The Accidental Tourist)
Director: Robert Zemekis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit)*
 

Rain Man struck a powerful chord with the movie-going public and the Academy in 1988 presenting the story of two brothers, one of whom is an autistic, as they bond during a cross-country road trip. It is a slickly made though dishonest film (It is highly unlikely that the autistic brother - a ludicrously overpraised performance by Dustin Hoffman - would be able to maintain any kind of composure in the excitement of the various episodes of their adventure, and Hoffman and Tom Cruise's famous appearance at a casino to take advantage of Hoffman's astonishing ability at card counting in matching suits is simply too cute for words), although undeniably entertaining and touching if you accept the film on its own manipulative terms. But as slickly made as Rain Man is, it is far too simplistic to be considered the best film of 1988 or any other year. The year's other nominees - The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaison, Mississippi Burning and Working Girl - are an uninspired lot that don't seem any more deserving of singling out than Rain Man (the strongest film of the nominees - Mississippi Burning - puts forth the absurd contention that the civil rights movement of the 1960s was driven by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI).

In this weak year, the most outstanding film bordered on the cartoonish - literally. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the most ambitious blending of animation and live action ever attempted, and is a once-in-a-lifetime meeting of Warner Bros. and Disney characters. The frantic style of the Looney Tunes crew fits into the manic comedy of the film far better than the gentler Disney bunch, although there is an outstanding appearance by Donald Duck (whose piano duet with Daffy Duck is the highlight of the film) and a surprisingly touching scene with Betty Boop as a cigarette girl. The performance that gives its basis in reality is the brilliant work of Bob Hoskins as Los Angeles private eye Eddie Valient, who is forced to travel deep into the bowels of Toon Town to disprove a murder charge against his client, cartoon star Roger Rabbit. Hoskins effortlessly shifts between playing with live action actors like Christopher Lloyd and Joanna Cassidy and reacting to his yet-to-be-drawn animated co-stars. Regretfully, he isn't provided any help by Charles Fleischer, who supplied one of the most obnoxious voice characterizations in cartoon history as the insufferable title character. Fortunately, the immortal Mel Blanc was still around to provide a master class on how to do such voices and with a little doctoring of the screenplay, Who Framed Bugs Bunny is one of the more enticing "what ifs" in film history. Of course executive producer Steven Spielberg wouldn't have enjoyed quite such a lucrative marketing tie-in with a preexisting character, so we'll never know how good the film might have been if a true movie star had played its title role.


Dustin Hoffman's Oscar for playing the autistic savant Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man began a decade-long trend for actors playing characters with physical or psychological disabilities to win the Best Actor award. Some brilliant portrayals were honored in that period to be sure, but (in large part because of the mental limitations of the character he was playing) Hoffman's was a one-note performance that didn't require him to interact with the other characters in any way (Tom Cruise had a much more difficult role as Hoffman's brother, who was tasked with providing nuance and variety in his reactions to Raymond's mumbling). Ironically, a far more effective performance by an actor playing a more demanding mentally challenged character was completely ignored in the awards race, but because Tom Hulce is not a movie star the caliber of Hoffman and Dominick and Eugene was not the box office hit that Rain Man was, Hulce was unfortunately overlooked for his brilliant performance of a brain damaged young man who is forced to deal with the limitations of his disability in a way that Hoffman's Raymond is totally oblivious to.


There are invariably oversights among the Academy Award nominations, and 1988 was no exception. Who Framed Roger Rabbit as a Best Picture entry was a noticeable omission, as were Tom Hulce, Bob Hoskins, John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda and Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers in the Best Actor category. And with the debut of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, this would have been the perfect time to present a lifetime achievement award to Mel Blanc (who sadly never received such recognition, passing away later in 1989). But the oversight that blew the roof off the Oscars this year was the snub of The Thin Blue Line, Errol Morris' powerful analysis of the dubious death sentence that drifter Randall Adams received for a murder he never committed, for Best Documentary. Morris' film was one of the most notable achievements of the year, but it was decreed by the Academy to be ineligbile for thr documentary award because of some reenactments that depicted events in Adam's case and therefore placed the film in the category of fiction, even though it did win the documentary award from the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review. The failure of The Thin Blue Line to receive a nomination for Best Documentary caused such an outcry that the Academy was forced to revamp its guidelines for that category and reconsider its view on reenactment scenes in documentaries. But even though the film failed to win the Oscar, The Thin Blue Line did cause Texas authorities to reopen Adams' case and ultimately release him, for which the drifter repaid Morris by suing him to try and get a piece of the film's unexpected profits.

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1989
Driving Miss Daisy
Actor: Daniel Day Lewis (My Left Foot)
Actress: Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy)
Supporting Actor: Denzel Washington (Glory)
Supporting Actress: Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot)
Director: Oliver Stone (Born on the Fourth of July)
Glory*
Actor: Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy)
Actress: Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy)
Supporting Actor: Denzel Washington (Glory)
Supporting Actress: Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot)
Director: Edward Zwick (Glory)*
 

1989 saw the premiere of a lot of very good films including such notable achievements as the brilliantly acted biography of cerebral palsy victim Christy Brown My Left Foot, Spike Lee's provocative racial drama Do the Right Thing, and Kenneth Branagh's only completely successful endeavor at filmed Shakespeare Henry V. When the scrambling for Best Picture was over, a pleasing little movie about the relationship between a black chauffeur and his well-to-do employer slipped through the cracks to win the top prize. Driving Miss Daisy was a exhilaratingly intimate character study that relied more on charm than on lavish production or high pedigree movie stars that most Oscar winners' credentials rely on. Based on Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize winning play and expertly acted by Jessica Tandy and particularly Morgan Freeman (who created his role in the original stage production), Driving Miss Daisy is a perfectly unobjectionable Best Picture selection, and it is refreshing to find such an unpretentious, simple film on the roster of Oscar fame. But the Academy didn't seem all that enthusiastic about its top choice, denying it the usually perquisite Best Director nomination for Bruce Beresford that accompanies a Best Picture (Wings and Grand Hotel are the only other Oscar winners not to receive a Best Director nominations, but they were both released in an era when only three directors could be nominated as opposed to today's five), and producer Richard D. Zanuck somewhat bitterly (and justifiably) objected to Bereford's lack of recognition in his Oscar acceptance speech.

The Academy might have saved itself the controversy by honoring a more characteristic Best Picture contender in Glory, director Edward Zwick's brilliant account of the first black Union Army regiment in the Civil War. Zwick's film takes the traditional movie cop-out of telling the black soldier's story through the eyes of their white commander (Matthew Broderick in a rather uncharismatic performance), but when the camera is trained on the brilliant work of Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Jihmi Kennedy and Andre Braugher, it is an unforgettable story about second class citizens who bask in the opportunity to prove that they are equal to anyone and in the end become venerated as the Honored Dead, and its serious subject matter would seem to be right up the Academy's alley. It's surprising that a movie with such solid Oscar credentials as Glory was overlooked in the Best Picture race, but (as Bruce Beresford can attest) these things aren't always that easy to predict.


The Academy loved Dead Poets Society, a cloying drama about a group of students at a stuffy boys school who are influenced by a self-styled progressive poetry teacher, nominating it for Best Picture, Best Director and the absurd selection of Robin Williams for Best Actor in a typically schmaltzy performance for his elongated cameo as teacher John Keating. It actually won the Oscar for Tom Schulman's manipulative and heavy-handed script where everyone in Williams' camp is a sensitive, misunderstood artist and the rest of the world are unfeeling ogres. In reality, Williams' Keating is an irresponsible dolt who thinks that poetry is all about undisciplined self-indulgent emotional outbursts and a dreadful teacher who refuses to even consider points of view that don't embrace his own conceited posing (he instructs his students to physically tear an essay that he considers "nonsense" out of their textbooks without ever bothering to explain why it is nonsense or giving them the opportunity to read it and make up their own minds about it). It is difficult to comprehend the respect that this pompous monument to self-absorbed teenage angst engendered when it came out, but to imply that it is the year's best anything seems to indicate that the Oscar voting was done this year by a group of gothic teenage girls who had read too much Sylvia Plath.


The Academy's dismissal of the powerful Glory in the Best Picture race is difficult to comprehend. Except for Denzel Washington richly deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar, the only recognition the film received was in technical categories (winning the Oscar for Best Sound and Best Cinematography and receiving nominations for its art direction-set direction and film editing) despite its brilliant humanity and finely etched characters. But this was a year when the Academy's tastes ran towards sickly sentimental pap like Field of Dreams and Dead Poets Society, and Glory delivered its message in far too uncompromising a fashion to be included with the year's best.

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THE TOP 10
FILMS OF
THE 1980s

1
Ran

2
Raiders of the Lost Ark
3
Platoon
4
Fanny and Alexander
5
Room with a View
6
Hannah and Her Sisters
7
ET
8
Raging Bull
9
Glory
10
Henry V

BEST MALE
PERFORMANCE Robert De Niro
in
Raging Bull

BEST FEMALE
PERFORMANCE Meryl Streep
in
Sophie's Choice