Monday, November 19, 2012

The Katie-Bar-The-Door Awards (1984)

Having lived through 1984 in real time, I remember there being three obvious choices for the best picture award come Oscar time—Amadeus, A Passage to India and The Killing Fields. For me at least, none of them have really held up on repeat viewings.

Amadeus is the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his chief musical rival, Salieri. I hope to God you know who Mozart was and assuming you do, you know the music in this is sublime. But in terms of narrative, both Mozart and Salieri are reduced to cartoon characters—the gifted idiot and his Snidely Whiplash nemesis—that become progressively less interesting (to me) the second time around.

A Passage to India was one of those sumptuous David Lean cinematography-fests that packed ninety minutes of story into nearly three hours worth of running time. The acting is uniformly brilliant and the pictures are pretty, but Lean seemed to have learned all the wrong lessons from his masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. After starting out as a director of spritely adaptations of Charles Dickens novels (Great Expectations from 1946 is probably the best film based on Dickens ever), Lean became more and more long-winded and by the time he got to 1984, his story-telling had become completely ossified. This was his last movie.

Finally, The Killing Fields was Roland Joffé's take on the fall of Cambodia after the VietNam War and Pol Pot’s subsequent reign of terror that left as many as three million of his own citizens dead. The resulting film is a heartfelt if one-sided history lesson with a horror show in the middle. Granted, U.S. foreign policy in southeast Asia during the early 1970s was a mess, and what happened in Cambodia is one of the great tragedies of the 20th century, but unless you're in the mood to grind this particular axe for two hours—which I'm not—I can't recommend seeing The Killing Fields more than once.

Instead, I'm going with a couple of crowd-pleasers, The Terminator and This is Spinal Tap, which for all their low-budget limitations, are very nearly perfect and have entered the popular consciousness in way those other three films haven't.

The former was James Cameron's low-budget sci-fi film about a spunky waitress and the robot sent back from the future to kill her. What at first blush looked like the makings of a cheesy B-picture thriller turned out to be a moving love story, a tautly-told action picture and an interesting think-piece. It was also the beginning of a lucrative film franchise and was a career-maker for weightlifter-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. True, its selection means I've handed a top prize to a science fiction film for the third time in eight years (four, if you count Raiders of the Lost Ark), which seems like a lot to me, but the late 1970s to the early 1990s was a golden age for science fiction on film, what with the Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Indiana Jones and Terminator franchises in full swing. Like choosing screwball comedies in the 1930s, you gotta go with what's available.

(By the way, whenever I see The Terminator, I think what a pity that director James Cameron ever became so successful that he was allowed to work with unlimited budgets. Like many artists, limits forced Cameron to think creatively to realize the vision in his head. Without limits, his films have become increasingly bloated, obvious and, for me at least, much less interesting. But I digress.)

The best comedy, This is Spinal Tap, was Rob Reiner's hilarious mockumentary about a fading heavy metal band. Not only is it choke-on-your-own-breath funny, it also spawned an entire genre, both Christopher Guest mockumentaries and such television shows as The Office and Modern Family. Stuff like this never seems to win any awards, but it's won legions of loyal fans over the intervening decades. Count me among them.

winner: The Terminator (prod. Gale Anne Hurd)

PICTURE (Comedy/Musical)
winner: This Is Spinal Tap (prod. Karen Murphy)

PICTURE (Foreign Language)
winner: Un dimanche à la campagne (A Sunday in the Country) (prod. Bertrand Tavernier)

ACTOR (Drama)
winner: Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man and Paris, Texas)

ACTOR (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Steve Martin (All of Me)

winner: Judy Davis (A Passage to India)

ACTRESS (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Kathleen Turner (Romancing The Stone)

winner: James Cameron (The Terminator)

DIRECTOR (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap)

winner: M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple)

winner: Peggy Ashcroft (A Passage to India)

winner: Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap)


Marty DiBergi said...

Who the fuck is "Rob Reiner" and why can't I get any respect ?!?

theduckthief said...

Are there any different considerations when choosing the winner for movies that you saw as part of your everyday life rather than movies that you had to seek out to watch and see if they were any good?

Mythical Monkey said...

I think you have to see a movie outside of its original context to figure out whether you're reacting to the movie or just the moment. Some movies are groundbreaking or well-hyped or just a perfect reflection of the zeitgeist -- or maybe the popcorn was particularly fresh that day -- but you go back later and realize the movie itself isn't that good.

Or vice versa.

Especially vice versa, actually. I think when people complain that movies aren't as good as they used to be, they often mean that they don't like sitting through the 90% forgettable trash always around in the present. The fact is, Hollywood made just as many bad movies back in the day as they do now, we just never see them. The chaff burns away and all that's left is the wheat, and we imagine that wheat is all they grew.

Mythical Monkey said...

... and why can't I get any respect ?!?

"Hello; my name is Marty DiBergi. I'm a filmmaker. I make a lot of commercials. That little dog that chases the covered wagon underneath the sink? That was mine."

VKMfanHuey said...

...My ma loves Passage to India...I honestly can't make it thru the whole definitely need a bit of 'tighting up', editing-wise...

Spinal Tap is a fav...yeah, I'd go with that one all day... and I don;t know why, and you probably won;t believe it, but for some reason this afternoon the line 'There's a fine line between clever and stupid' popped into my head, in reference to something which most likely crossed the line... so there's your sign, I guess...

Another scene (paraphrased) which is classic... "I distinctly told them to put 'Spinal Tap' on the marquee FIRST, THEN 'Puppet Show!"


theduckthief said...

"The fact is, Hollywood made just as many bad movies back in the day as they do now, we just never see them. The chaff burns away and all that's left is the wheat, and we imagine that wheat is all they grew."

You're right. People think everything back in the day was a classic but people forget the garbage films because they don't get shown on tv or made into dvds and as such, pass out of human memory.