Heading further into the 80s, there was an almost unbroken string of wrong choices. Some, certainly debatable. Others, unquestionable. But, on the other hand, there were one or two toss-up years, where any of the nominees were worthy.
1986 was certainly a year for building up an Oscar race for the sake of making it interesting. Hannah and Her Sisters is one of Woody Allen's finest movies. But put any scene from that film against the march out of the arsoned village from Platoon. Yeah, I didn't think so. And who would've thought that out of that entire cast, Johnny Depp would be the "serious" actor 20 years later. Ah, hell. I still see him as that annoying 21 Jump Street guy and I didn't watch the show.
Winner: Out of Africa
Deserver: Toss Up
Frankly, there's not a really memorable film in the bunch. If I had to choose, I suppose I'd go with Witness or Prizzi's Honor. I thought Africa and the Color Purple were overrated and boring. I still haven't seen Kiss of the Spider Woman, so I can't comment there. 1985 was a year of ALMOST great films. Agnes of God, Silverado, White Nights, Ladyhawke, Mask. All at least watchable, but all somehow missed the mark. In fact, in retrospect, the only film receiving nods in 1985 that has had any staying power is Back to the Future. Can't see that winning in any year. Although, I always wondered, "What if Back to the Future was made in the 50s? Told from the perspective of the mother?" That would be interesting.
Very similar to 1985 in the sense that there were no great films nominated. Except for Amadeus. This film could have been done so many ways. For one, they could've used accents. But didn't. And it doesn't matter. They could've used name stars, but didn't. Mel Gibson, Kenneth Branagh or Tim Curry, instead of Tom Hulce. But it still works. I don't know if it's Peter Schaeffer's script, Milos Forman's directing, or what. It just works. The other nominees that year, solid films that fall short of greatness.
Winner: Terms of Endearment
Deserver: The Right Stuff
You can say it. It's because I'm not a chick. I can take it. TofE doesn't do it for me. The Right Stuff is perfect for my Star Wars addled brain. Ok, there's not much in common with Star Wars, but anyone who bothered to read the book The Right Stuff will tell you that the film is a minor miracle. Philip Kaufman is a genius for pulling that adaptation off in the first place. Which makes the whole thing absolutely shocking that Kaufman was not nominated for director nor screenplay. Shocking, I tell you.
Yeah, I know E.T. is a classic. But Tootsie is better. Tootsie should've been a one joke comedy. Lord knows we've seen enough of them to know how bad these films can go. But it's not. It's a damn serious film that has a lot of funny stuff happen. Gandhi just doesn't do it for me. How a film about a dude who did so many amazing things just drag on and on....So, why not E.T.? This may sound weird but E.T. was too easy. Tootsie could've fallen apart anywhere, but doesn't. For me, it's a greater acheivement.
Winner: Chariots of Fire
Deserver: Raiders of the Lost Ark
1981 is one of Hollywood's and the Academy's better years. So truly fine films made the cut. Reds, Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, but the two that really stood out were Chariots and Raiders. Chariots is a great film, don't get me wrong. But Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those all-time great cinematic experiences. You are taken to a completely unique time and place. It's amazing how many people can remember the first time they saw it. I know I was completely blown away and I saw it in a drive-in. As good as Chariots is, there aren't that many films from any year that beat Raiders.
Winner: Ordinary People
Deserver: Raging Bull
But not by much. People want to write off Ordinary People for a ton of reasons. It's actually more of a testament to how good Raging Bull is because Ordinary People is just as violent of a film, just not physically. Mary Tyler Moore...I want to write that again...Mary Tyler FREAKIN' Moore turns in a classic performance and her emotional self-destruct is just painful. Why did it beat Raging Bull? Same reason Crash beat Brokeback Mountain. More of us can relate to it. So why do I say Raging Bull deserved it more if Ordinary People is so damn good? Have you seen Raging Bull?
Winner: Kramer v. Kramer
Deserver: Kramer v. Kramer
I know what you're probably thinking. That Dustin Hoffman film over Apocalypse Now?! Yes, as a matter of fact, I am saying exactly that. It's much easier to say Apocalypse should've won now. But I think it's because of the legendary production problems and the miracle that it even got finished. Apocalypse is chock full of great scenes, but the overall story kind of left me blank. Kramer on the other hand has lost so many points over the years because of how much it's been copied, mainly by crappy made-for-TV movies. But I think a revisit to its brilliance is warranted. The performances alone make it worth watching. But the overall film itself is what puts it over the top. This could have easily fallen into the "message" picture bastion, but it dodges it beautifully and just tells a story that is at times both eloquent and simple.
Winner: The Deer Hunter
Deserver: The Deer Hunter
Michael Cimino's best film. Okay, that's saying nothing, but even today, it's a brilliant film. People tend to give it crap for the wedding scene and the events leading up to Vietnam, but the film doesn't work any other way. There were some other good nominees that year, namely Coming Home and Midnight Express. How Heaven Can Wait pulled a nod is lost on me. It looks like crap now, but I don't think it would've looked much better than. And it's one of the worst performances I've seen Warren Beatty give. No, The Deer Hunter was, by far, the most deserving film that year.
Winner: Annie Hall
Deserver: Star Wars
If those Academy Awards happened now, Star Wars would still win. Much like Raiders, it's a one-of-a-kind moviegoing experience. With the countless Special Editions, re-releases and the lousy prequel trilogy, it's easy to discount how good the original really was. It wasn't until this past weekend when I plopped down and watched the original theatrical release when I remembered what a great movie it is. Particularly when you are watching a version that hasn't been screwed with. Annie Hall is, in my opinion, Woody Allen's best film. But pit it against Star Wars and there's really no comparison.