By Julie Anderson
Yeah, baby! I love the Oscars. Love the winners’ speeches, both the emotional, bumbling, awkward ones and the knew-it-was-coming smooth and vain ones. Love to see all the Hollywood glitterati all seated together like they’re visiting royalty from the Land of Sequins and Cosmetic Surgery. And LOVE to see those gorgeous, artsy dresses float by on the red carpet.
The 83rd annual Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, February 27th this year, so mark your calendar. But, as we rub our hands together and muse on who might win this year’s awards, let’s think back on the 80’s, that innocent pre-CGI decade, and the films that took home the Big Daddy Award each year. I’ve taken a little trip to the film cellar and uncorked ten of the best movies the 1980’s had to offer. Pour a glass of your favorite bev and join me for a little reminiscence, won’t you?
Ordinary People won Best Picture in 1980. Directed by Robert Redford, it starred Donald Sutherland as Calvin, a grief-stricken father who’s in therapy after one of his two sons committed suicide. Mary Tyler Moore plays Beth, who always preferred the son who killed himself over the one who lived. So, all sorts of drama in this one. Not exactly a feel-good movie, it deals with clinical depression and family dynamics that aren’t, you know, all functional and happy and easily resolved. I’ll swirl my wine glass and describe this vintage film as a complex, meaty, and slightly bitter Shiraz.
Next up is Chariots of Fire, the Best Picture winner of 1981. And I can’t even READ that title without hearing the theme song: da na na-na-na NAAAA, NAAAAA . . . da na na-na-na NAAAAAA . . . My parents had HBO and I think this movie was on at our house at least three nights a week for months and months. It haunts me. Anyway, it’s a movie about the 1924 Olympics and two runners (an earnest churchy missionary-type Scottish guy and a darkly brooding rich guy) who compete in it. It’s very earnest, but also inspiring, and has a musical theater bit that I loved. (Three little maids from school . . . Three little MAIDS! FROM! SCHOOL!) After giving this one a whiff and a taste, I’ll call it complex, like the previous winner, but with some warm vanilla overtones; it’s a very drinkable Merlot.
1982 brought us Gandhi, which, as I recall, also played ad nauseum at our house. It’s how I first became familiar with Ben Kingsley, who portrayed Gandhi and his non-violent efforts to bring peace to India, which ended with his assassination. A stirring epic movie with lots of huge crowd scenes and inspiring biographical insights into the great spiritual leader. Rich and intense, with notes of cumin and cinnamon: this is one to pop open on a special night, sip slowly, and savor. A nice, full-bodied Cabernet.
Ah, Terms of Endearment, the 1983 Best Picture winner. One of my best friends and I are divided on this one. She described a horrible movie that her parents made her watch at some point, some emotional, maudlin drivel that shamelessly grabbed for her heartstrings. You know, she said, that Shirly MacLaine movie with Debra Winger and Jack Nicholson, where the daughter dies and leaves her kids behind? And I said, WHAT? You mean Terms of Endearment? I LOVED that movie! Although it is a shameless heartstring-grabber, and, unless your heart is made of coal (like that of my friend, apparently) you WILL cry during it. Which, personally, I love in a movie. To me, this one’s more of a fancy white dessert wine: thick, flavorful, and sweet, with hints of tart lemon. A luscious German Eiswein.
1984’s Best Picture winner is another one that I can’t look at without hearing a related song, except Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” wasn’t related in any way to this biographical film about Mozart. Here’s another movie that, thanks to HBO and my meager twelve year old social life, I’ve seen a heck of a lot of times. I’m a sucker for fabulous period pieces, and Amadeus is chock-full of wonderful costumes and wigs and furniture and theater scenes. I remember the scene where a befuddled, drunk Amadeus plays piano on his back, with his hands reversed, and, of course, his crazy, high-pitched laugh. Amadeus’s rival, Salieri, can’t come to grips with the fact that a loony, irresponsible, vulgar guy like Mozart has been blessed with such immeasurable talent. The story is a tragedy in many ways, but it’s also just a lush delight to watch and listen to. A juicy, exuberant Champagne with some nutty overtones: delicious!
Out of Africa was 1985’s best picture. An epic drama-romance starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Africa, so what do you expect? Glorious vistas, genteel romance, crinkly-hot Redford blue eyes? Yup. I remember it being a long one (and I remember correctly: it’s a whopping 2 hours and 42 minutes) and a bit slow for my early-teen mindset, but I’d be willing to give it another go since I’m all old and creaky and appreciative of Fine Cinematography nowadays. This one’s more of a stringent, chilled Sauvignon Blanc for me, with some odd hints of green pepper and melon floating around in there. Probably not appreciated on my first tasting, but totally worth another shot.
In 1986, the Academy named Platoon its best picture. I’m generally not a big fan of Vietnam war movies, or war movies in general, but I did like Platoon. I had a crush on Willem Defoe, and I recall indignantly correcting people when they said it wrong: It’s NOT “William,” it’s “Willem!” I loved his quirky good looks, the non-Ken-dollness of him. Ah, Willem. Anyway, Platoon is in fact a very serious movie, with a heavy dose of Christ metaphors thrown in. Plenty of room for some deep-thought musings, along with the gritty, wince-inducing war scenes. Let’s call this one a dark, bitter English beer, served at room temp. At first, a bit hard to get down, but so yummy that you drink it down to the foam and then want to order up another one.
The Last Emperor won for 1987. Like Out of Africa, it required a time commitment, clocking in at two hours and 42 minutes. And like Gandhi, it’s a dramatic biographic film. It’s fascinating, too: China’s last emperor was crowned at age three, imprisoned in the Forbidden City, and eventually released. As a sucker for fabulous scenery and period costumes, it’s the look of The Last Emperor that appeals most to me. It’s just a visual sensory delight. I’m going to call this one a ridiculously expensive rare-treat brandy: it smells like heaven and tastes like a bouquet of flowers is blooming in your mouth. Mmmm.
1988’s Best Picture was Rain Man, starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. I saw this again quite recently and must admit that, as much as Tom Cruise ghouls me out of late, he is awesome in this movie, as is Dustin Hoffman. Tom Cruise plays a role that seems made for him: a spoiled, cocky guy who grows a heart and learns to genuinely care about his autistic brother. Of course, this was before autism was a well-known disorder in the United States, and the variety of autism that Raymond, Hoffman’s character, had (magical mathematical skill) is super rare. But, Hoffman’s acting aside, this move is really about Cruise’s Charlie and his emotional growth. Loved it. A spicy, tangy, and richly satisfying red Zinfandel.
The last Best Picture winner of the 1980’s is Driving Miss Daisy, a feel-good movie about a friendship that blossoms between a elderly, wealthy white woman and her African American driver. It’s a gentle movie that makes its point quietly and delicately instead of shoving it in your face. Jessica Tandy’s Miss Daisy, the widow, is reluctant to let Morgan Freeman’s Hoke do anything for her at first, but she gets over it because he’s so polite and helpful. It’s both a commentary on race relations in the 1950’s and a warm character study. Enjoy this mellow, buttery Chardonnay on a rainy day when you want to curl up in a cozy blanket and feel good about the world in general.
And there they are, those gold star Oscar winners of the 80s, all lined up on the bar and ready for you to sample. Like all great films, they’ve only improved with age, so you really can’t go wrong, no matter which you choose. I plan to watch a few before this year’s Academy Awards so that I can see how 2011’s nominees compare.
May all the best movies win, may all the acceptance speeches be entertaining, and may all the nominees look gorgeous. Here’s to this year’s hopefuls and to all of the winners of the 80’s!