Wednesday, June 15, 2011

1982 - Missing

Our friends at the Academy have announced a change to the recently-adopted rule concerning the number of nominees for Best Picture. After only two years of a ten-horse race, next year's shortlist will consist of anywhere between five and ten nominees, depending on how many films receive the requisite five percent of first-place votes during the nominating procedure. After studying the hypothetical results that this method would have produced in the past decade, it appears we may consistently have seen greater than five nominees, but fewer than ten. In other words, forcing only five nominees sometimes may have left some worthy films by the wayside, yet making it compulsory to cite ten films for the top award may have allowed one or two less than stellar pictures to sneak in.

Undoubtedly, this new change will have its critics. Some will certainly say that the Academy is changing its rules too often. Indeed, it seems plausible that this announcement is in response to criticism of its move to ten nominees two years ago. However, for me, at the risk of once again sounding like an Academy lackey, I'm going to put my hand up in support of this development. Each year presents us with a different number of excellent films, so it makes sense not to constrict the number of nominees. In that context, this approach seems the most appropriate way to gauge Academy members' opinions.

Meanwhile, we kick off our review of 1982's nominees for Best Picture with a look at...

Costa-Gavras & Donald Stewart
(based on the book by Thomas Hauser)
Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Melanie Mayron, John Shea, Charles Cioffi, David Clennon
Academy Awards:
4 nominations
1 win, for Best Adapted Screenplay

Beth (Spacek) and Charlie (Shea) are living in a politically volatile South American country when things get shaky. With a curfew in place, Beth is unable to get back home from visiting friends when she misses the last bus. The next morning, she arrives home to an empty house and her neighbour tells her that Charlie was arrested yesterday by the country's military officers. Attempts at some answers from the U.S. Consulate prove fruitless and soon Beth is joined by her father-in-law Ed (Lemmon) who has travelled from New York to help find his son. A conservative man with little respect for his son's leftist leanings, Ed initially rubs Beth the wrong way. But the two must learn to work together to unravel the mystery of exactly what happened to Charlie.

Even before the mystery of Charlie's disappearance becomes the focus, Missing's opening act is somewhat mysterious itself. As a result of the filmmakers' attempts at avoiding explicit references to certain real-life people and places, I found myself a little confused as to where exactly the film was set and, more importantly, why on earth the protagonists were there in the first place. Perhaps it is my lack of knowledge on South American history, for only a very small amount of research is needed to discover that the film's location is Chile during the coup d'etat of 1973.

There is an overt sincerity to this picture, right from the opening caption and accompanying narration that espouses its basis on documented fact. Declassified documents released well after the film was made seem to indicate that the U.S. government did actually have some involvement in the Chilean coup and yet, the film's sincerity still resembles the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist. Most, if not all, the government types are painted as corrupt and they are alleged to be complicit in Charlie's disappearance after he learns too much about the U.S. military's presence in the region. These details may indeed be accurate - my admittedly limited research revealed some compelling yet inconclusive circumstantial evidence - but, either way, the characters are a tad too black-and-white for my liking. Despite some superficial dialogue, the intense subject matter and the captivating suspense keep the narrative dangerously engaging. A little anti-climactic, perhaps, but the Academy saw fit to bestow a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar on the film.

Missing also boasts a superb cast. Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon (pictured) work extremely well together, resulting in them both being nominated for lead Oscars. Then, there is the cornucopia of well-known faces from television. As the subject of the film's title, John Shea (known to Lois & Clark fans as Lex Luthor) is charming and passionate. Melanie Mayron (an Emmy winner for thirtysomething) plays the inquisitive and supportive friend. Joe Regalbuto (famed as Frank Fontana in Murphy Brown) portrays another victim of the new regime. Finally, Jerry Hardin (known for his role as Deep Throat in the definitely conspiratorial-themed The X-Files) appears as a U.S. Army Colonel.

1 comment:

  1. I like the Academy's 5% rule. Last year I would have had a hard time deciding which of the ten nominees to chop. However, the previous year, The Blind Side certainly wouldn't have made my top ten. Of course, predicting the nominees will be a bit trickier. Since we won't know how many pictures will be nominated prior to the announcement, I guess we'll have to rank order ten predicted films.

    I don't really have much to say about "Missing." I saw it once in 1982, and while admiring the acting of Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, I wasn't crazy about the movie. It was too much like watching the evening news. Perhaps a documentary rather than a dramatized version would have been better. I did pick it up from my library, but after about a half hour, just didn't care enough to keep watching. So, this one will land at number 5 for sure, for me. I can easily pick a few films I would have preferred to see on the nomination list.