(For the record, the number 34 is entirely fabricated. I am not, in fact, keeping a tally of my star-struckedness.)
The epic movie marathon that was the 1956 Best Picture race is now over and I must admit that, when I sat down to watch the next film for Matt vs. the Academy, it was nice to know that I wouldn't be spending over three hours in front of the television screen. The first of 1984's nominees was...
Places in the Heart
Sally Field, Lindsay Crouse, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, John Malkovich, Danny Glover
2 wins, for Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay
In Waxahachie, Texas, during the Great Depression, Edna Spalding is attempting to recover from the devastating loss of her husband. In order to keep her two children housed and fed, she desperately needs to earn some cash. Since she is unable to afford the mortgage repayments, the bank manager urges her to sell the house. But Edna has a better idea. On the advice of a friendly unemployed black man named Moses, she plants cotton on her farm. The bank manager is unconvinced of this solution, so he persuades her to take on his blind brother-in-law as a tenant to help with the repayments. Battling a tornado, a slump in the cotton market and all sorts of prejudices - racism, sexism and blindism - this unlikely group must work together to bring in the crop.
Places in the Heart begins with a very slow pace. It's the deep South. It's the Depression. Understandably, things are slow. Even the accidental death of Edna's husband only heightens the film's energy briefly. However, the characters are so intriguing that it's enjoyable to spend time with this unlikely collection of acquaintances. I was definitely hooked by the story's powerful intensity. The tornado sequence, in particular, was genuinely heart-stopping, as was the tension created when Mr. Will, the blind man, attempts to rescue Moses from a Ku Klux Klan gang.
Speaking of the blind man, perhaps I've been spoiled by Al Pacino, but John Malkovich's eyes were not quite convincingly sightless. Maybe that's being picky, though. Sally Field (pictured) is affecting in the role that won her a second Oscar, prompting her famous acceptance speech, "You like me!" Also noteworthy is Danny Glover as Moses. Plus, for Lost fans, Terry O'Quinn, a.k.a. John Locke, appears in a supporting role.
As if the themes of death, the Depression and racism were not serious enough, writer-director Robert Benton also includes a major subplot involving the infidelity of Edna's brother-in-law. Heavy. It all works perfectly, though, without slipping into melodrama. One of the most moving scenes in the entire film is the very final shot. I'm not entirely sure I understood the exact meaning behind it, but it was powerful, nonetheless. That's precisely what I love about the art of film. It can make you feel all sorts of unexpected things without having the foggiest clue as to why you're feeling them.