Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Best Picture of 1981

The last few verdicts have proved to be simpler decisions than most and that pattern continues with 1981's evaluation. One clear favourite emerged in my estimation despite some commendable competition.

The nominees for Best Picture of 1981 are:
  • Atlantic City
  • Chariots of Fire
  • On Golden Pond
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Reds
Right off the bat, it is easy for me to remove Atlantic City from the running. Mostly because it just wasn't my cup of tea ... or any other beverage, for that matter. I don't really know what it was. On Golden Pond is next to go. While it contains much that is praise-worthy, its melodramatic tendencies kept me at a distance. To continue the earlier analogy, it may have been my cup of tea, but someone just put too many lumps of sugar in it.

Being the well-crafted film that it is, it is easy to see why the Academy selected it as their winner. And although it is difficult to find specific fault with Chariots of Fire, there was nonetheless something undefined missing - not a particularly constructive piece of criticism, I know - so I am compelled to say goodbye to those slow-motion runners also. A nice cup of tea, but perhaps not quite enough milk ... or maybe honey.

The most action-packed and overtly entertaining of the five, Raiders of the Lost Ark comes in a close second. Pure spectacle from the start, but the conclusion lacked a certain substance. To switch to a different hot drink: Raiders is like drinking an amazing hot chocolate, but discovering that there are no delicious gobs of gooey chocolate to slurp at the bottom of the cup. That's the best part!

That leaves us with Reds, Warren Beatty's intelligent exploration of communism in America. It was a relatively easy choice for me. Reds moved me far more than any of its competitors with its witty script and fine performances. Hence, it receives the Matt vs. the Academy stamp of approval. A spectacular cup of tea, even if you don't like tea.

Best Picture of 1981
Academy's choice:

Chariots of Fire

Matt's choice:


Your choice:

Vote for your own favourite with the poll above. Next up on Matt vs. the Academy, we will be taking a look at 1937, a year of ten nominees. Appropriate, considering this year's ceremony (in a little under two weeks) will feature the return of the ten-way Best Picture race.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 1937 are:
  • The Awful Truth
  • Captains Courageous
  • Dead End
  • The Good Earth
  • In Old Chicago
  • The Life of Emile Zola
  • Lost Horizon
  • One Hundred Men and a Girl
  • Stage Door
  • A Star Is Born
Also, over the next few posts leading up to the Oscars show, I will weigh in on my picks for the awards.


  1. First a nod to a few non-nominated films from 1981. I liked the visionary take on the King Arthur legend in John Boorman's Excalibur, some of the inventive set pieces in Herbert Ross's American version of Pennies from Heaven and especially Sidney Lumet's powerful Prince of the City. It's one of the best movies dealing with police corruption I've seen. By the way Matt, another impressive 1981 film was from down under - Peter Weir's Gallipoli. How do you rate it?

    Getting to the films at hand, here's a bit of Oscar trivia: All four of the acting awards winners were elderly, aging actors - the oldest collection of acting winners ever assembled, averaging 70.75 years old:

    •76 year old Henry Fonda (Best Actor for On Golden Pond)
    •74 year old Katharine Hepburn (Best Actress for On Golden Pond)
    •77 year old Sir John Gielgud (Best Supporting Actor for Arthur)
    •56 year old Maureen Stapleton (Best Supporting Actress for Reds)

    We see eye to eye on the bottom two films. I'll put Reds in third place. I was more absorbed watching it this time and really admire Beatty's direction and the performances of Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson. My second place film is also the same as yours: Raiders of the Lost Ark. For pure escapism it can't be topped.

    When I re-watched Chariots of Fire, I hadn't seen it in many years, yet I seemed to know nearly every line that was coming. I don't often remember dialog too long after I see a movie. I just love its script. So, I'll agree with The Academy if not most viewers on this one.

    1937 has a wonderful cross-section of films - from epics to comedies to great adventures. Locations range from China and Tibet to Europe to the big U.S. cities of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. You'll have to go it alone on One Hundred Men and a Girl, but I should be able to see the other nine. I actually got two under my belt this week already.

  2. It's been a long time since I've seen Gallipoli, but it is certainly one of the better achievements in Australian film. I do remember, though, thinking that the electronic music seemed somehow inappropriate for the time period.

    And now it occurs to me the random similarities it has with Chariots of Fire:

    * Released in 1981
    * Set in the early 20th century
    * Memorable score
    * Features men running on beaches

    Of course, the men on the Chariots of Fire beach don't all get gunned down ... so that's a difference...