The Best Picture Race In Review: The 1980s

The Elephant Man (1980, directed by David Lynch)

Ah, the 80s! Ronald Reagan was president. America was strong. Russia was weak. The economy was booming. The music was wonderful. Many great movies were released, though most of them were not nominated for any Oscars. This is the decade that tends to drive most Oscar fanatics batty. So many good films that went unnominated. So many good nominees that failed to win. Let’s dive on in!


Coal Miner’s Daughter

The Elephant Man

Ordinary People

Raging Bull


Won: Ordinary People

Should Have Won: Ordinary People is actually a pretty good film. It may feel more like a made-for-TV movie than a feature film but it’s well-acted and it deserves some credit for not offering up any easy solutions. A lot of people would say that the Oscar should have gone to Raging Bull but, as well-directed and acted as that film is, Jake La Motta is such an unlikable character that it’s hard for me to really get emotionally invested in his story. My vote would have gone to David Lynch’s The Elephant Man. Lynch tells an inspiring story without compromising his surreal vision.


Atlantic City

Chariots of Fire

On Golden Pond

Raiders of the Lost Ark


Won: Chariots of Fire

Should Have Won: The victory of Chariots of Fire is an odd one. The music is great but the film itself isn’t particularly memorable. I really, really like Atlantic City but ultimately, my vote would go to Raiders of the Lost Ark, an adventure that doesn’t insult the intelligence of its audience.


E.T. — The Extra Terrestrial




The Verdict

Won: Ganhdi

Should Have Won: Gandhi is the epitome of the type of Oscar winner that won less because of any cinematic artistry involved in the production and more because of what it was about. To be honest, though, I’m not extremely enthusiastic about any of the other nominees either. Ultimately, I guess I would have to go with E.T. It’s a bit heavy-handed but it works.

(My pick for the best of 1982 would probably be …. I don’t know. Blade Runner? Diner? There are some really good 1982 films but it’s hard to find one that just leaps out and says, “This is the best of the year!” Actually, I’d probably go with Tenebrae, despite the fact that it wasn’t released in the States until 1984 and in a heavily edited version at that.)


The Big Chill

The Dresser

The Right Stuff

Tender Mercies

Terms of Endearment

Won: Terms of Endearment

Should Have Won: Terms of Endearment is good but I still would have voted for another Texas film, Tender Mercies.



The Killing Fields

A Passage to India

Places in the Heart

A Soldier’s Story

Won: Amadeus

Should Have Won: While Once Upon A Time In America is my pick for the best film of 1984, Amadeus is the best of the nominees.


The Color Purple

Kiss of the Spiderwoman

Out of Africa

Prizzi’s Honor


Won: Out of Africa

Should Have Won: Out of Africa is a pretty boring movie and Robert Redford is totally miscast as an Englishman. (To be honest, Redford is pretty much miscast as anyone but Robert Redford.) There were a lot of good films in 1985 that were not nominated: Brazil, Ran, Runaway Train, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, Mask, After Hours, and quite a few more. Of the nominees, I would have gone for the beautiful and haunting Witness.


Children of a Lesser God

Hannah and Her Sisters

The Mission


A Room With A View

Won: Platoon

Should Have Won: Here’s one of my favorite exchanges from King of the Hill. It’s Peggy and Hank’s anniversary. They have the house to themselves for the weekend. Feeling that the romance has gone out of their lives, Peggy’s depressed. Hank tries to cheer her up.

Hank: “C’mon, Peg, we’ve got the house to ourselves. Plus, I rented an R-rated movie.”

Peggy (briefly hopeful): “Really? What movie?”

Hank (pauses, looks down): “Uhmmm …. Platoon.”

Some people love Platoon and some people don’t. You can put me in the latter category. Oliver Stone achieves a dream-like intensity but good God, was Charlie Sheen ever a good actor? Of the nominees, I would vote for A Room With A View.

Among the films not nominated this year: Blue Velvet, Aliens, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stand By Me, Mona Lisa, Something Wild, and Top Gun.


Broadcast News

Fatal Attraction

Hope and Glory

The Last Emperor


Won: The Last Emperor

Should Have Won: How about Full Metal Jacket? Oh wait, wasn’t nominated. Robocop? Not nominated. Dirty Dancing? Not nominated. Oh well. Even if those films were nominated, I would still have voted for Hope and Glory.


The Accidental Tourist

Dangerous Liaisons

Mississippi Burning

Rain Man

Working Girl

Won: Rain Man

Should Have Won: Rain Man is actually pretty good but, of the nominees, my vote goes to Dangerous Liaisons.


Born on the 4th of July

Dead Poets Society

Driving Miss Daisy

Field of Dreams

My Left Foot

Won: Driving Miss Daisy

Should Have Won: This is an odd year. It’s kind of a weak line-up. Not nominated were films like Do The Right Thing, Scandal, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Enemies: A Love Story, and Henry V. Driving Miss Daisy gets criticized for obvious reasons but Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman both give strong performances. Born on the 4th of July has some good moments but Oliver Stone’s heavy hand eventually gets in the way and the scene where Tom Cruise-as-Ron-Kovic tracks down the parents of the soldier he accidentally killed only succeeds in making Kovic look like a selfish jerk. Dead Poets Society is, in many ways, just as heavy-handed as Born On the 4th of July but it’s also a lot more likable and I enjoyed the trio of Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Josh Charles. In the end, Dead Poets Society gets my vote.

Coming up in one hour — it’s time for the 90s!

One response to “The Best Picture Race In Review: The 1980s

  1. Pingback: Lisa’s Week In Review: 4/19/21 — 4/25/21 | Through the Shattered Lens

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