They Deserved Oscars: Part 1

My thoughts on movies that deserved Oscar nominations from 1980 to 1989.
February 25, 2010
This is a pretty long article, so as always, I encourage you to take your time with it.

I've been a fan of the Academy Awards for years now. I think back to the year 1994. The 66th Annual Academy Awards was the first ceremony I recorded. It was a natural...Sometimes it seemed like I was devoting more time to studying film history than learning what middle schoolers are supposed to be learning.

As I've become older, I've watched more and more movies from various genres and decades, and I've come to feel that some movies just didn't get enough credit.

The credit I feel they deserved was an Oscar nomination. While an Oscar nomination isn't always a requirement to be considered memorable, it would've been nice for certain movies to get a major form of recognition.

This will be a 2-part article, starting off in my favorite decade for pop culture, the 80s. The second part will conclude in the 90s, a decade that, although it isn't my preferred one for pop culture, did have a decent amount of movies I liked.

Starting off in 1980, I feel that Robin Johnson deserved a Best Actress nomination for "Times Square".

In this infamous New Wave movie, Johnson plays Nicky Marotta, a streetwise but psychologically damaged young punk music fan. When in a mental hospital, she meets Pamela Pearl (Trini Alvarado), the equally scarred daughter of a prominent New York politician. When the two run away, they form a bond over punk music, eventually forming a band called the Sleez Sisters. Along the way, they're manipulated by a DJ named Johnny LaGuardia (Tim Curry), and they face a battery of problems in an effort to find stability.

This movie was cut up by the executives at EMI Pictures, and the movie as it stands right now is sort of a lurching thing. The one thing that managed to stand out, though, was Johnson's performance.

Johnson was 16 when the movie came out, but her performance had the skill and experience of a woman twice her age. Her's was a performance that started in the depths of a tortured mind and came roaring out in a hard-edged voice that cried of rebellion and anger. Maybe it's because I've spent time among the insane, but her performance spoke of the truth that youth isn't always such a good thing. People are calling for your head, the same head you're trying to keep above water, you're surrounded by people who don't always respect you and who you don't always respect...Johnson's performance speaks to many who have seen this. Even though many reviewers feel the movie was disjointed, Johnson always was praised. Maybe the Academy just wasn't thinking young, but I think Johnson should have at least gotten a nomination.

We now move to 1981, where I'm about to make an odd choice.

I feel that "Mommie Dearest" deserved a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination.

The movie has been routinely savaged by many. I even said some bad things about it on another website. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized is that there's something about the screenplay that deserved acclaim. I think it's because it saw into the future, presaging the ways that parents would torture and even murder their kids.

Joan's (Faye Dunaway) beating with wire hangers and madly throwing cans of cleaner at her daughter Christina (Mara Hobel) may seem outlandish, but look up the names China Arnold and Elizabeth Renee Otte and then come back to tell me those scenes are ridiculous.

Whether Christina Crawford's claims are exaggerated or not, both on-screen and in real life, some parents are fucked up, and "Mommie Dearest" is proof of that.

It's onward into 1982, the year when Rutger Hauer gave a performance that deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but didn't get one.

I'm referring, of course, to his role as Roy Batty in "Blade Runner".

The motto of the Tyrell Corporation was "More Human Than Human", and the character that defined those words was Roy Batty. Hauer injected the character with a decency and goodness of spirit that you wouldn't expect from the role he was given. Batty seeks vengeance at first, looking to end the life of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) for what he did to Batty's fellow replicants, but at the end, Batty has seen what has happened, and he changes his thoughts about life...The large and small aspects of it.

Batty looks at life and sees a beauty that the so-called "humans" of the movie are blind, too.

It's all in his final monologue:

"Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave. I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion...I watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die."

The way he delivers that monologue can make you wonder who the real villain is. Hauer's was a versatile performance that showed how one person can hold many different emotions to the point where they're like many different people.

It was nominated for some technical Oscars, but there's more to "Blade Runner" than the technology, and I wish the Academy had seen that.

I wrote about this woman and the character she played in my 2008 article "Some Of My Fave 80s Women", and as we come to 1983, I once again would like to talk about Michelle Pfeiffer's role as Elvira in "Scarface".

Elvira is ostensibly just eye candy, but there's something in her that says there's more to her than meets those gorgeous eyes. When we first see her, it's like she's a Barbie doll coming down the elevator in a toy mansion, but we see that on the inside, she's looking to break free, even though she's yoked to her cocaine addiction.

She enjoys the high life (both literally and figuratively), but eventually comes to the conclusion that there's a steep price to pay for having a good time all the time. When she tears into Tony (Al Pacino) at a fancy restaurant, you want to say "Yes! Give it to that prick!".

It's a fantasy to think that a cathartic outburst can cure you of an addiction, but the fact that you don't see Elvira again once she leaves the restaurant speaks of how she finally found some courage in her.

Pfeiffer is truly able to capture the journey of a troubled young woman from being a walking sex doll to a lady who stands tall and proud. I think that the critical savaging and box-office failure of "Scarface" did a lot of damage in the Academy's eyes. I just hope that somewhere down the line we'll see Pfeiffer get an Oscar. One needs only view "Scarface" to see that Pfeiffer is an actress who, even if she was only in her early 20s, knew how hard life could be.

For 1984, it's time for us to go back to the beginning of a popular series. That series? "The Terminator".

It has always been a great frustration for me that "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" has gotten all the glory. The movie deserved its' accolades, but it's always made me wonder, "Hey, what about the original?". That's what I feel it deserved: A nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

What I find is original about the movie is that the fate of humanity is placed in the hands of a waitress, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). We're not talking about a person of great strength or great money, but someone who is just scraping by paycheck to paycheck.

In many sci-fi movies before "The Terminator", there were military types or scientists who took on these creatures with whatever means were needed. Granted, Sarah was helped out by a soldier from the future, but he instilled something in her that transformed her from a plain Jane into a powerful woman. Not everybody has a spine...Sometimes you need assistance to find your's. In the end, it isn't Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) who ends The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger)...It's the average Jane who saves us...Well, at least until the sequel.

Something else I noticed is that while Sarah did get frustrated at times, more often than not, she kept a cool head. I compare that to Hamilton's rantings and ravings in "T2", and for me, it is the quiet one you have to watch.

Teen movies of the 80s are often celebrated by those who were born in the 80s, and those were born before the 80s tend to fluctuate between "I love this movie" and "God, it's so bad". Since the members of the Academy were born before 1985, the next year I'll be discussing, they probably said "God, it's so bad" to "The Legend Of Billie Jean".

I thought this tale of teen rebellion was a good movie, but I can understand why the Academy may not have been interested in giving the performers or the writers credit. They've often gone for more adult titles in the major categories, while relegating the popcorn pictures to the technical categories. If they were to have given a nomination to this movie, I feel that the song "Invincible" should've been up for Best Original Song.

This song about fighting against the elements that can crush your spirit was performed wonderfully by Pat Benatar. The lyrics speak of how much life can suck, and how you need to take charge.

For example:

"This shattered dream you cannot justify.
We're gonna scream until we're satisfied.
What are we running for?
We've got the right to be angry.
What are we running for?
When there's nowhere we can run to anymore".

Those lyrics can serve as a wake-up call...The kind that says "Yes, people are going to dick around with you, but you can't mope. Stand tall and proud".

The Academy often likes inspirational movies geared towards adults. I wish they could've given credit to a song that's inspired many people in the 25 years since the movie was released, although it's difficult to tell what form the inspiration can take.

On a side note, Benatar always precedes her performances of "Invincible" by calling this movie "the worst film ever made" and other words along those lines. With all due respect to Ms. Benatar (one of my favorite 80s rockers), has she seen what typically airs on SyFy on Saturday night?

In 1986, the 5 nominees for Best Original Screenplay were "Hannah And Her Sisters", "'Crocodile' Dundee", "My Beautiful Laundrette", "Platoon" and "Salvador", with "Hannah..." eventually taking home the Oscar.

It was heavy-going with most of these movies, as they dealt with matters ranging from war ("Platoon") to the fracturing of relationships ("Hannah..."). I would like to have seen "True Stories" get a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

The story is a simple one: A stranger from an unknown locale (David Byrne) visits a small town in Texas and observes the goings-on there during an anniversary celebration.

The thing I find original about it is something that may not exactly seem all that original. Over the course of the past several decades, many movies have portrayed fly-over country as a land full of hypocrites, murderers, inbreds, deviants, ad nauseam. Very rarely does one come across a movie that speaks positively about life between the Coasts. Byrne managed to portray a group of people who are basically nice people. There are no rapists or murderers or gang members (although there is a preacher who believes in conspiracy theories)...It's just an average town. Byrne always has been a quirky fellow, but quirky doesn't always mean freaky...It can mean average, but just a little different from the norm. It's uplifting in a way, and I know the Academy does like uplifting stuff...I don't know why they passed this up, though.

In 1988, Byrne would take home an Oscar for helping to write the score for "The Last Emperor". It's better than nothing.

We now move to 1987, which saw the release of the cartoon "The Duxorcist".

I'm really surprised that this wasn't nominated for Best Animated Short. Thinking about it, though, ever since the major studios retooled their theatrical animation departments several decades back, the award usually goes to independent filmmakers.

This would've been a great chance to salute a veteran studio. The plot is a familiar one: Daffy Duck is in the exorcism business, and on a call to a client's house, he finds himself in some supernaturally silly situations (try saying those 3 words 3 times fast).

The writing was just as great as the titles of the Golden Age. There's this one line from the possessed client that still sticks with me:

"Mary had a little lamb, BUT I ATE IT!"

In a way, the sudden jolt reminded me of the Large Marge scene from "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure".

Maybe this title's chances were hurt by the fact that it was released theatrically with the box office bomb "Nuts", otherwise known as "What you'd have to be to imagine Barbra Streisand playing a $500-a-night hooker".

It's onward into 1988 for our next nominee. I feel that "They Live" deserved a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination.

The movie was based on a short story called "8 O'Clock In The Morning" by an author named Ray Nelson.

I think what made this movie worthy of a nomination is that it played on something we've all felt at one point or another, whether we want to admit it or not. The feeling is that, somehow, nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted. Usually, those feelings subside after they're thought, but sometimes they linger on.

Have you ever walked around and felt that everyone is conforming to a certain way of thinking and going about their business? Nada (Roddy Piper) needs a pair of magic sunglasses to see it, but for others, it's like a 6th sense.

I think what turned it off to most Academy members is that they viewed it as a brainless action title. The 5 minute long fight between Nada and Frank (Keith David) certainly didn't help matters. If the Academy could've seen past the blood-and-guts, they would've seen something that probably related to their fears of what could happen to their work or viewer's lives or even the world's existence. One never knows.

Part one is capped off (forgive the pun) with the year 1989, and a song that I feel deserved a Best Original Song nomination. That song was "Weird" Al Yankovic's "UHF", which, of course, was the theme to the movie of the same name.

The picture comes from the music video for the song. Of course, that's Yankovic impersonating Axl Rose.

What I think made the movie worthy of a Best Original Song nomination was its' accurate depiction of the ennui that can come from watching too much television.

I find myself thinking of the following lyrics:

"Disconnect the phone and leave the dishes in the sink.
You'd better put away your homework.
Prime time ain't no time to think".

In a way, I feel that Yankovic presaged the words that many critics would use to describe viewers of reality programs and listeners of most modern day music. I don't agree with those critical assesments, but what makes Yankovic's songs great is that he can take on many different guises. In the song, he plays programmer, critic and viewer. I feel that his craft was worthy of an Oscar nomination. One never knows how the Academy feels, though.

With that, part 1 has reached its' end, but we're not over yet. Part 2 is on the way, an article which will send me back into one of the most interesting times of my life...The 90s.

So, with that, the floor is open for discussions:

What 80s movies do you feel deserve Oscar nominations, but didn't get them? Would you have made different choices than I did?
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