6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1980s


Rob Lowe and Snow White perform at the 1989 Oscars

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1980s.

Out of the Blue (1980, dir by Dennis Hopper)

After spending several years in the cultural wilderness, Dennis Hopper directed his best film, this downbeat study of a young girl, her junkie mother, and her irresponsible father.  From the film’s first scene, in which Hopper crashes his truck into a school bus to the film’s explosive ending, Out of the Blue is a fascinating trip into the heart of American darkness.  It was definitely too dark for the Academy.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982, dir by Amy Heckerling)

Fast Times would appear to take place in a totally different universe from Out of the Blue.  Still, it’s an unexpectedly intelligent look at growing up in the suburbs and it’s influenced practically every high school film that’s come after.  Plus, this may be the only movie in which Sean Penn was intentionally funny.  Despite good reviews and a cast full of future stars, Fast Times At Ridgemont High received not a single nomination.

Once Upon A Time In America (1984, dir by Sergio Leone)

Sergio Leone’s final film, this epic gangster film might be a look at how America grew and changed over the first half of the 20th Century.  It might be a trenchant critique of capitalism.  It might be an homage to the classic gangster films of the 30s.  Or it might just be a hallucination that Robert De Niro is having while visiting an opium den.  That critics are are still debating just watch exactly this film actually means says a lot about the power of Once Upon A Time In America.  However, because the film was originally released in a severely edited form, Once Upon A Time In America received not one nomination.

Brazil (1985, dir by Terry Gilliam)

Much like Once Upon A Time In America, Brazil is a brilliant film that was betrayed by the studio that distributed it.  Convinced that Terry Gilliam’s satire was too strange for American audiences, Universal Pictures initially released the film in a severely edited version.  Fortunately, Gilliam’s version was eventually released but the controversy undoubtedly hurt Brazil when it came time for the members of the Academy to select their nominees for Best Picture.

The Breakfast Club (1985, dir by John Hughes)

Perhaps the Academy understood just how unfair it was that Anthony Michael Hall had to write the essay while everyone else got either a makeover or a new romance.  For whatever reason, this classic high school film — perhaps the classic high school film — received not a single nomination.

Blue Velvet (1986, dir by David Lynch)

David Lynch was nominated for Best Director but the film itself proved to be just a bit too controversial for the Academy to give it a Best Picture nomination.  David Lynch described this film as being “the Hardy Boys In Hell” and it would have been an uncoventional, though very worthy, nominee for Best Picture.

Up next, in an hour or so, the 90s!

 

Never Nominated: 16 Directors Who Have Never Received An Oscar Nomination


It’s a sad fact of life that not everyone who deserves an Oscar gets one.  For instance, Alfred Hitchcock received five nominations for best director but never won once.

That said, at least Hitchcock was nominated!  Some of our greatest directors have never even been nominated!  This list below is hardly exclusive but still, these 16 directors have somehow never been nominated.  Ten of them could still be nominated in the future.  Sadly, for six, the opportunity has forever passed.

  1. Dario Argento

Sadly, Dario Argento will probably never be nominated for best director.  None of his films — even the early, acclaimed work — were typical Oscar films.  But, consider this: Argento is one of the most influential directors of all time.  Regardless of what might be said about some of Argento’s more recent films, his earlier films are classics of their genre.  Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebrae — his work on any of these films would have been worthy of a nomination.

2. Andrea Arnold

This British director is responsible for two of the best films of the past ten years — Fish Tank and American Honey.  She deserved a nomination for both of them (and a win for American Honey).  Hopefully, she will be recognized in the future.

3. Tim Burton

I’m not the world’s biggest Tim Burton fan but he has a fan base that will follow him almost anywhere.  It seems like every year, we hear that Burton has finally made the film that will win him some Oscar recognition.  Remember Big Eyes?  As I said, I’m not a huge Burton fan but, if I was to nominate him, it would probably be for his work on Sweeney Todd.

4. John Carpenter

Carpenter deserved all sorts of nominations for his work in the 70s and the 80s.  Being the rebel that he is, Carpenter will probably never get the Oscar recognition that he deserves.  (He did win an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short.)

5. David Cronenberg

It’s hard to believe that this Canadian director has never been nominated.  While it’s obvious that the Academy would never recognize Cronenberg’s earlier work (even if he did deserve some recognition for that exploding head in Scanners), it still seems like he’s destined to be nominated eventually.

6. Terry Gilliam

Much like Tim Burton, Gilliam sadly seems to be destined to be one of those directors who will have to be content with a devoted fan base.  Sadly, as of late, Gilliam’s become better known for the film projects that were canceled than the ones that were actually produced.  I would have nominated him for Brazil.

7. Werner Herzog

How has Werner Herzog gone his entire career without receiving at least one nomination for Best Director!?  I would nominate him for the chance to hear the acceptance speech alone.

8. Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan is another director who I’m shocked to realize has never been nominated.  He certainly deserved a nomination for Inception.  Maybe, just maybe, he’ll finally get some recognition for Dunkirk.

9. Lars Von Trier

With his controversial aesthetic and his talent for offending the masses, Lars Von Trier will never be nominated, no matter how much he might deserve it.

10. Joe Wright

Personally, I think that Joe Wright is responsible for two of the best films of the past ten years, Hanna and Anna Karenina.  Unfortunately, both were left out of their respective best picture races.  Even when Atonement was nominated for best picture, Wright did not receive a corresponding nomination.  Fortunately, with Darkest Hour, Wright will have another chance this year.

Best Director Joe Wright

And here are six directors who are no longer with us.  Sadly, these six will never have a chance to receive their first Oscar nomination:

  1. Mario Bava

Much like Dario Argento, there was never really any chance that the Academy would actually honor Mario Bava.  That’s a shame because Bava truly was one of the greatest directors of all time.  Check out Black Sabbath and Shock for proof.

2. Stanley Donen

It’s hard to believe that Donen wasn’t even nominated for Singin’ In The Rain.

3. John Frankenheimer 

It’s also hard to believe that Frankenheimer never received a nomination.  While he directed his share of bad films, he also directed Seven Days in May, The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds, and Ronin.

4. John Hughes

Not even for The Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!  Hughes may have been snubbed by the Academy but his films practically invented an entire genre.

5. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

This directing team was a major influence on Martin Scorsese.  Black Narcissus remains one of the most visually stunning films of all time.  The Red Shoes was nominated for best picture but Powell/Pressburger were snubbed.

6. Nicholas Ray

Everyone knows that Ray directed Rebel Without a Cause.  Personally, I think his work on Bigger than Life was even more worthy of a nomination.

No Safe Space: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story Of The National Lampoon (2015, directed by Douglas Tirola)


Drunk_Stoned_Brilliant_Dead_PosterThe documentary Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead pays tribute to National Lampoon.  Founded in 1970, National Lampoon was published for 28 years and, at the height of its popularity, its sensibility redefined American comedy.  When it came to National Lampoon, nothing was sacred and nothing was off-limits.  The success of National Lampoon led to a stage show called Lemmings and The National Lampoon Radio Hour, which featured everyone from John Belushi and Bill Murray to Chevy Chase and Harold Ramis.  Michael O’Donoghue, famed for his impersonations of celebrities having needless inserted into their eyes, went from writing for the Lampoon to serving as Saturday Night Live‘s first head writer.  National Lampoon’s Animal House, Vacation, and Caddyshack are three of the most influential film comedies ever made.  Everyone from P.J. O’Rourke to John Hughes to The Simpsons‘ Al Jean got their start at National Lampoon.

As influential as it was, National Lampoon is a magazine that would not be able to exist today’s world.  Just looking at the cover of most issues of National Lampoon would reduce today’s special little snowflakes to the point of hysteria.  In Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, National Lampoon‘s publisher claims that the Lampoon ultimately ceased publication because the religious right threatened to boycott any company that advertised in the magazine.  Today, it would be the “safe space” crowd complaining that the magazine did not come with proper trigger warnings.  Lena Dunham would look at one issue and go into a rage spiral.  Salon would publish a hundred hand-wringing think pieces about how National Lampoon was the worst thing since Ted Cruz.  Colleges would ban it and religious groups would still burn it.  National Lampoon was a magazine that went out of its way to be offensive to both the left and the right but, as editor-in-chief Tony Hendra puts it, the job of satire is to make those in power feel uncomfortable.  By poking fun at everything and challenging its readers, National Lampoon exposed the absurdity behind both the country’s prejudices and some of its most sacred beliefs.

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Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead follows the National Lampoon from its founding to its ignominious end.  Along with interviews with Lampoon alumni, it also features archival footage of both Lemmings and The Radio Show, providing glimpses of  Christopher Guest, Bill Murray, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Harold Ramis before they became famous.  There are also interviews with celebrity admirers of the Lampoon who talk about how the magazine inspired their own work.  It makes sense that Judd Apatow was interviewed and Kevin Bacon made his screen debut in Animal House but what was Billy Bob Thornton doing there?

Unfortunately, drunk, stoned, brilliant, and dead describes some of the most important and talented figures in the Lampoon‘s history.  The documentary especially focuses on Doug Kenney, the Lampoon’s co-founder.  Everyone interviewed agrees that Kenney was a comedic genius who was also often emotionally troubled and who would vanish for months on end.  After the initial critical failure of Caddyshack, Kenney disappeared in Hawaii.  His body was later discovered at the bottom of the cliff.  Did Kenney jump or did he slip or, as director John Landis suggests, was he murdered by a drug dealer?  Nobody seems to know but Kenney’s ghost haunts the documentary.  This collection of very funny people get very serious when it comes time to talk about Kenney’s death.  Even Chevy Chase briefly redeems himself after years of bad publicity when he gets choked up.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is tribute to both a magazine and a bygone era.  See it before it gets banned.

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Back to School #44: Some Kind of Wonderful (dir by Howard Deutch)


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For the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been reviewing, in chronological order, some of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable teen films ever made.  We started with two films from 1946 and now, we find ourselves coming to the close of the decade that is often considered to be the Golden Age of teen films, the 1980s.  For our 44th entry in Back to School, we take a quick look at 1987’s Some Kind of Wonderful.

Why a quick look?

Because, quite frankly, there’s not that much to say about it.

Some Kind of Wonderful is a story about an artistic, lower-class misfit who has a crush on one of the popular kids.  The only problem is that the popular kid is being cruelly manipulated by one of the richest students in school.  The misft also has a best friend who is totally in love with the misfit but the misft has somehow failed to notice this.  Eventually, the misfit does get to date the popular kid.  Both the popular kid and the misft are given a hard time by the members of their collective clique but they still manage to go on one truly amazing date.  Finally, the film ends with a big show down at a party and two people kissing outside.

Sound familiar?

If it does, that probably means that you’ve seen Pretty In Pink.  Some Kind of Wonderful is basically a remake of Pretty In Pink, the only difference being that the genders have been reversed and that the film is a lot more heavy-handed (and predictable) when it comes to examining class differences.   (Not coincidentally, both films were written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch and it must be said that when it comes to Some Kind of Wonderful, it’s easy to feel that both of them were simply going through the motions.)  The misfit is an aspiring painted named Keith (Eric Soltz).  His best friend is a drummer named Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson).  The object of Keith’s affection is Amanda (Lea Thompson).  Unfortunately, even though she lives in the same poor neighborhood as Keith and Watts, Amanda is dating the rich (and therefore, evil) Hardy (Craig Sheffer).

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When Keith finally works up the nerve to ask out Amanda, he doesn’t realize that she’s just broken up with Hardy and is on the rebound.  Watts is skeptical, telling Keith, “Don’t go mistaking paradise for a pair of long legs,” and I’m just going to admit that, as the proud owner of a pair of long legs, that line really annoyed me.  I guess it’s because I’ve known people like Watts, who always act like there’s something wrong with wanting to look good.

Shut up, Watts.

Shut up, Watts.

With the help of Watts and Duncan (Elias Koteas), the school bully that Keith managed to befriend in detention, Keith takes Amanda out on an amazing date and shows her a wonderful portrait that he’s painted of her.  At the same time, Hardy — angry because someone from a lower class is now dating his ex-girlfriend — starts to plot his own revenge…

There are some positive things about Some Kind of Wonderful.  There are two really good and memorable scenes that, momentarily, manage to elevate the entire film.  There’s the moment when Keith shows Amanda the painting.  And then there’s the erotically charged scene in which Keith and Watts practice how to kiss.  Koteas, Thompson, and Masterson all gives good performances.  Eric Stoltz is, at times, a bit too intense to sell some of the film’s more comedic moments but overall, he’s well-cast here.  (In fact, the only performance that I really didn’t care for was Craig Sheffer’s.  Sheffer one-dimensional villain only served to remind me of how good James Spader was in Pretty In Pink.)

That's no James Spader

That’s no James Spader

And yet, there’s just something missing from Some Kind of Wonderful, something that keeps this film from being … well, wonderful.  I have to wonder if I had never seen Pretty In Pink, would I have thought more of Some Kind of Wonderful?  Perhaps.  Whereas Pretty In Pink was full of the type of small details and clever moments that make it a joy to watch and rewatch, Some Kind of Wonderful is one of those films that you can watch once and enjoy it without ever necessarily feeling the need to ever watch it again.

Eric Stoltz is going to kill someone

Back to School #42: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (dir by John Hughes)


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Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. — Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

While I was rewatching the 1986 John Hughes comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for this review, I found myself thinking about all of the days (or, to be more precise about it, half-days) that I took off back when I was in high school.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like school.  Though I certainly didn’t truly appreciate it at the time, I actually had a pretty good time in high school.  I had an interesting and diverse group of friends.  I had lots of drama and lots of comedy.  I got good grades as long as it wasn’t a Math class.  (Drama, History, and English were always my best subjects.)  My teachers liked me.  But, at the same time, I couldn’t help but resent being required to go to school.  I do not like being told that I have to do something.

So, I would skip on occasion.  For some reason, it always seemed like my favorite classes were early in the day.  So, I’d go to school, enjoy myself up until lunch, and then me and a few friends would casually walk out of the building and we would be free!  There was a Target just a few blocks down the street from our high school and sometimes we’d go down there and spend a few hours shoplifting makeup.  Eventually, we did get caught by a big scary security guy who threatened to call our parents, made us return everything that we had hidden in our purses and bras, and then told us that we were never to step foot in that Target ever again.  And you know what?  In all the years since, I have yet to step back inside of that Target.

Interestingly enough, with all of the times that we skipped school, the worst thing that ever happened to me or any of my friends is that we got banned from Target.  We all still graduated, most of us still went to college, and, as far as I know, none of us have ever been arrested for a major crime.  None of us ever regretted missing any of the classes that we skipped.  For all the talk of how skipping school was the same thing as throwing away your future, it really was not that big of a deal.

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I think that’s one reason why, despite being nearly 30 years ago, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a film that continues to speak to audiences.  It’s a film that celebrates the fact that sometimes, you just have to take a day off and embrace life.  Technically, Ferris, Cameron (Alan Ruck), and Sloane (Mia Sara) may be breaking the law by skipping school and you could even argue that they’ve stolen Cameron’s dad’s car.

But, who cares?

You know who probably had perfect attendance in high school?  Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and seriously, who wants to grow up to be like that douchebag?

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Whenever I do watch Ferris Bueller (and I’ve seen it more times than I can remember because seriously, I freaking love this movie!), I always find myself wishing that real-life could be as much fun as the movies.  As much as I may have enjoyed skipping school and shoplifting, it’s nothing compared to everything that Ferris does during his day off!  Ferris goes to a baseball game!  He takes his friends to a fancy restaurant!  He goes to an art museum!  (And, much like Sloane, my heart swoons at this point because I would have loved to have known a guy who would skip school so he could specifically go to the museum.)  Perhaps most importantly, he encourages his best friend Cameron to actually have a good time and enjoy himself.

Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron

In Susannah Gora’s book You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried, an entire chapter is devoted to the making of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and, to be honest, it’s actually makes for rather melancholy reading.  Ferris Bueller was the last teen film that John Hughes directed and the book suggests that a lot of this was due to the fact that Hughes didn’t have as good a time making the film as audiences would later have watching it.  In the book, Mia Sara speculates that Hughes never bonded with the cast of Ferris Bueller in the same way that he did with the casts of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.

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And indeed, it’s hard to imagine either Ferris Bueller or Matthew Broderick popping up in either one of those two films.  Ferris is far too confident to relate to the angst-driven worlds of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, or Pretty in Pink.  True, he doesn’t have a car and his sister (Jennifer Grey) resents him but otherwise, Ferris’s life is pretty much care-free.  Not only does he live in a beautiful house but he’s also already come up with a definitive philosophy for how he wants to live his life.  You look at Ferris and you know that he probably grew up to be one of those people who ended up working on Wall Street and nearly bankrupted the country but you don’t care.  He’s too likable.

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His best friend, Cameron, is far more angsty but even his overwhelming depression doesn’t seem like it would be at home in any of Hughes’s other films.  If Cameron was a member of the Breakfast Club, he’d probably just sit in the back of the library and zone out.  Regardless of how much Judd Nelson taunted him, Cameron would stay in his shell.  If Cameron was in Sixteen Candles, it’s doubtful he would have been invited to the party at Jake Ryan’s house in the first place.  His depression is too overwhelming and his angst feels too real for him to safely appear in any film other than this one.  As a character, Cameron could only appear in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off because only Ferris Bueller would be capable getting Cameron to leave his bedroom.  On the one hand, the film may seem like a well-made but standard teen comedy where a lovable rebel defeats a hateful authority figure.  But, with repeat viewings, it becomes obvious that Ferris Bueller is truly about the battle for Cameron’s damaged soul.

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There’s a prominent theory out there that the entire film is supposed to be Cameron’s daydream and that Ferris either doesn’t exist or he’s just a popular student who Cameron has fantasized to be his best friend.  I can understand the theory because Cameron really is the heart of the movie.  At the same time, I hope it’s not true because, if this is all a fantasy, then that means that Sloane never said, “He’s going to marry me,” while running back home.  And that would be heart-breaking because I love that moment!

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may have John Hughes final teen film as a director (he would go on to write and produce Some Kind of Wonderful) but at least he went out on a true high note.

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Back to School #41: Pretty In Pink (dir by Howard Deutch)


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“Blane!  That’s not a name, that’s a major appliance!” — Duckie (Jon Cryer) in Pretty In Pink (1986)

(SPOILERS!)

Blane or Duckie?  Duckie or Blane?  Which one should Andi have gone to the prom with?

That’s the question at the heart of the 1986 film Pretty In Pink.  In Susannah Gora’s excellent book You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried (which, incidentally, has been an important source of information for this entire Back to School series of reviews), a good deal of space and debate is devoted to whether or not Andi (played by Molly Ringwald) should have ended up going to the prom with either Duckie (Jon Cryer) or Blane (Andrew McCarthy).  What’s interesting is just how passionate the arguments on both side of the debate get.  Those in the pro-Duckie camp, like producer Lauren Shuler Donner and director Howard Deutch, frame the debate as almost being a moral one.  Those on the pro-Blane side — people like John Hughes (who wrote the film’s script) and Andrew McCarthy — make a convincing argument that the audience wanted to see Andie with Blane.

Perhaps most importantly, Molly Ringwald — who not only played Andie but upon whom the character was largely based — makes little secret of which suitor she preferred.  Molly Ringwald is pro-Blane all the way.

Myself — well, I’m going to hold off on saying which side I come down on.

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Both Blane and Duckie have their flaws and their strengths.  Blane, for instance, comes from a wealthy family and spends too much time worrying about what his loathsome friend Steff (James Spader, who gives a wonderfully evil performance that justifies why he is quoted in Gora’s book as saying, “I figure I got a lock on this whole teen asshole thing,”) thinks.  But, at the same time, Blane is obviously more sensitive than the rest of his rich friends.  There’s a soulful sincerity to McCarthy’s performance and, until he breaks Andi’s heart by giving into peer pressure, he truly is every girl’s dream boyfriend.

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And then there’s Duckie.  As played by Jon Cryer, Duckie is the type of best friend that we all hope we’re lucky enough to have.  You never have any doubt that he’ll always be there for Andie and it just takes one look at how he’s dressed to understand that Duckie doesn’t care about peer pressure.  Duckie may be an outcast but, unlike Steff and Blane, he’s confident in himself.  And whereas Blane is always wrestling with doubt, Duckie knows that he loves Andie.  And if your heart doesn’t hurt a little when he confesses that fact to Andi, then you probably don’t have one to begin with.  Add to that, as cute and charming as Blane is, you know he’d never break out into a random dance routine.  Blane is no Duckie but, at the same time, Duckie is also no Blane.

And who Andie should take with her to the prom (or if she should even go at all) is an important question because, if anyone deserves to have the perfect prom, it’s Andie.  Not only does she work hard to support her alcoholic and depressed father (the great Harry Dean Stanton) but she has great taste in music (or, at least, she does for someone living in the 80s) and she makes her own clothes.  One reason why we love Blane is because he discovers that, even if Andie isn’t rich, she’s still the most interesting girl in the entire school.  One reason why we love Duckie is because he didn’t have to discover this.  He already knew it.

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The film, of course, originally ended with Blane giving into peer pressure and canceling his date with Andie.  Andie is heart-broken but refuses to surrender.  Wearing the pink dress that she specifically made for the event, Andie still goes to the prom and, as the film ends, she shares a dance with Duckie, the one who, all along, loved her unconditionally.

As is recounted in Gora’s book, test audiences loved the movie but hated that ending.  And so, a new ending was shot.  Blane shows up at the prom without a date.  He apologizes to Andie.  He shakes Duckie’s hand.  He tells Andie that he always believed in her, he just didn’t believe in himself.  (Watching at home, Lisa says, “Oh my God!” and wipes away a tear.)  As he leaves, even Duckie realizes that Andie belongs with Blane.  Andie and Blane are reunited in the parking lot and Duckie goes off with Kristy Swanson.

And you know what?  That ending — that ending is perfect.  Because yes, Duckie did love Andie but Andie loved Blane and the prom is a time to be with someone who you think you’ll love forever.  (Little realizing, of course, that you’ll eventually only think of your former prom date as being that guy who keeps inviting you to play games on Facebook.)  Pretty in Pink is one of the most romantic high school movies ever made and one reason it works is because the ending is all about celebrating that romance.  It may not be realistic and yes, it might even be borderline immoral to allow Blane to be so easily redeemed after breaking Andie’s heart but who cares?

The wonderful thing about romance is that it doesn’t have to make sense.

It just has to be.

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Back to School #39: The Breakfast Club (dir by John Hughes)


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Dear Mr Vernon,

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete and a basket case, a princess and a criminal.

Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

The Breakfast Club.

— Brian’s essay from The Breakfast Club (1985)

 That’s one thing that has always bothered me about The Breakfast Club.  The film, of course, is famous for being about five different high school students who are forced to spend a Saturday in detention with each other.  Over the course of the day, they start off as antagonists, separated by their own preconceived notions of who they are.  But, as the day progresses, they talk and they bond and they discover that they all have more in common than they might think.  And, at the end of the film, “basket case” Allison (Ally Sheedy) pairs off with “athlete” Andy (Emilio Estevez) and “criminal” Bender (Judd Nelson) pairs off with “princess” Claire (Molly Ringwald).  And while Claire is busy giving Allison a makeover and Bender is thinking about how iconic he’ll look when he raises his fist while leaving the school, “brain” Brian gets to write everyone’s essay.

Originally, all five of them were supposed to spend their time in detention writing individual essays about how they’re going to be better students and citizens.  But, in the end, only one essay is turned in and Brian is the one who writes it.  It’s always seemed a bit unfair to me that, while everyone else was getting to reveal a new side of his or herself, Brian was basically doing everyone’s schoolwork.  I know it can be argued that this shows that the other students finally appreciate Brian’s intelligence but everyone already knew he was smart.  In the end, Brian is the one who articulated what they all discovered during that Saturday detention but he also seems to be the one who gained the least from the experience.

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But, at heart, The Breakfast Club is a deeply ambiguous movie.  That’s one reason why, despite the fact that it was initially released the same year that I was born, the film still feels relevant today and why it remains one of the most popular high school films ever made.  Everyone can relate to at least one of the five students and I imagine that when most people watch it, they wonder how they would react to an aggressive character like John Bender or how they would handle the horrific story that Andy tells when asked what he did to get sentenced to detention.  And, at the end of the film, everyone wonders if any of the new friendships and relationships would actually last longer than a weekend.  When Bender asks Claire how she’s going to act if Brian approaches her on Monday, we all know what will probably actually happen if he does.  At the end of the film, you’re happy that they got that Saturday together because you know that, once Monday comes, it’s going to be like it never happened.

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I’ve watched The Breakfast Club a handful of times.  Whether I relate the most to Claire or to Allison usually depends on my mood. I think that a lot of people want to relate to Allison because, for much of the movie, Claire is unapologetically selfish and spoiled.  But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we’re all a lot more like Claire than any of us want to admit.

It’s also easy to relate to Allison because she’s not really a very well-drawn character.  While the other characters all come from an easily identifiable group, Allison is just there.  She’s a collection of strange quirks that don’t always have a clear motivation and, in the end, the only reason Allison works as a character is because Sheedy does such a good job playing her.  At the end of the film, Claire gives Allison a makeover and I have to admit that it always kind of breaks my heart to see how Allison goes from being strange to being very conventional.

Makeover

(In Susannah Gora’s excellent book You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried, Sheedy is quoted as saying that she didn’t feel very happy about it either.  According to her — and she’s correct — the only thing that really redeems this scene is the fact that Allison doesn’t quite pull off her new look.  She’s still a little awkward and you realize that she may have just been humoring Claire.)

As for the males, Anthony Michael Hall gets a lot of the laughs and Judd Nelson gets the best lines but Emilio Estevez gives the best performance.  We already know that Brian is insecure despite being intelligent and we expect that Bender is angry because he’s got an abusive father.  But when Andy explains why he, an otherwise nice and likable guy, committed a horrific act of bullying, it’s an amazing scene and Estevez plays it perfectly.

Estevez

In fact,  both Estevez and Sheedy are so good that I’ve decided that Andy and Allison did stay together after detention.  Eventually they got married and, right now, they’re living in a pretty house in the suburbs of Chicago.  Bender and Claire, however — there’s no way that lasted!

But, regardless of what happened on Monday, there’s no way your heart can’t soar a little when Bender lifts that fist above his head.

Bender and his fist

Back to School #35: Sixteen Candles (dir by John Hughes)


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The 80s are often considered to be the golden age of teen films and that’s largely due to the work of one man, John Hughes. A  former advertising copywriter and a contributor to National Lampoon, Hughes went on to direct and write some of the most influential films of all time.  By deftly mixing comedy with themes of alienation, rebellion, and youthful disillusionment, Hughes changed the way that teenagers were portrayed onscreen and his influence is still felt today, in everything from Juno to Superbad to Easy A to … well, just about any other recent film starring Michael Cera.

(Okay, I know Michael Cera was not in Easy A but it really seems like he should have been…)

Hughes made his directorial debut in 1984 with Sixteen Candles, a comedy about love, birthdays, and weddings set in an upper class suburb of Chicago.  (I have to admit that, much like with My Tutor, one reason that I like this film is because I like seeing where everyone lives.)  As the film opens, Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) is not having a particularly good time.  For one thing, everyone is so wrapped up in her older sister’s wedding that they’ve forgotten about Sam’s sixteenth birthday.  Her house is full of wacky grandparents (and one foreign exchange student named Long Duk Dong).  At school, Sam is in the unenviable position of being neither popular enough nor unpopular enough to actually be noticed by anyone.  Instead, she’s just there.  She has a crush on Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) but is convinced that Jake doesn’t even know that she’s alive.  (Of course, she’s wrong.)  She’s also being pursued by a character who is occasionally referred to as being “Farmer Ted” but is listed in the end credits as simply being “The Geek.”  (I’m going to refer to him as “The Geek” because Farmer Ted makes him sound like he should be killing people in a SyFy original movie.)  As played by Anthony Michael Hall, The Geek isn’t your typical high movie nerd.  Instead, he’s the outspoken and confident king of the nerds and he’s proud of it.  The Geek is madly pursuing Sam and has made a bet with his friends (including John Cusack) that he’ll not only have sex with her but he’ll prove it by bringing them her panties.  (BAD GEEK! — but fortunately, Anthony Michael Hall gives such an energetic and likable performance that you can forgive him.)

There are parts of Sixteen Candles that have not aged well.  And, by that, I’m mostly referring to the character of Long Duk Dong, who is so well-played by Gedde Watanabe that it’s tempting to ignore just how racist the portrayal of his character really is.  As well, I know that a lot of my more erudite friends would probably only briefly look away from their copy of Thomas Piketty’s Capital In The 21st Century, just long enough to pronounce that Sixteen Candles is essentially a film about “first world problems.”

Well, maybe it is.  But I don’t care.  I like it.  John Hughes’s script is full of classic lines and funny characters, Anthony Michael Hall is likable as the Geek, and, as played by Michael Schoeffling, Jake Ryan is the epitome of the perfect guy.  If your heart doesn’t melt a little when he says that he’s looking for true love, it can only be because you don’t have a heart.  And finally, Sam remains a character that we can all relate to.  As played by Molly Ringwald, she’s the perfect sullen everygirl.

Of course, an undeniable part of the charm of Sixteen Candles comes from the fact that it really is a film that could not be made today.  Sixteen Candles may take place in an entirely different world from films like The Pom Pom Girls and Suburbia, but it’s still just as much of a time capsule.

First off, there’s about a thousand apps out there that will make sure that you never forget anyone’s birthday.  If the film was made today, Sam’s parents would have checked their e-mail and found a message from Facebook telling them that “Samantha Baker has a birthday this week!”  They could have just written “Happy birthday to a wonderful daughter!” on her wall and half of Sam’s problems would have been solved.

Secondly, it’s doubtful that, if the film was made today, the Geek would be able to get away with just showing everyone’s Sam’s panties.  Instead, they would have demanded nude pics, which would have then been posted on the internet for the entire world to see.  And let’s be honest: “Can I send my friends naked pics of you?” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “Can I borrow your underpants for ten minutes?”

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*And, no, I haven’t read Piketty’s tome.  I have a life to live and movies to see.

 

Quick Film Review – Weird Science (dir. by John Hughes)


Today, the Shattered Lens is kicking off a special birthday celebration for our fellow contributor, Lisa Marie Bowman, with a set of “Lisa” themed reviews. My contribution to the Everything Lisa festivities is one of my favorite John Hughes films, Weird Science. I love this movie.

Weird Science is basically about two teens, Gary (Anthony Michael Hall, a Hughes favorite) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell Smith), who have the house to themselves and come up with a crazy idea to build themselves a girl. With the use of a computer and a modem, & a little Einstein & Mozart, they end up with Lisa (Kelly LeBrock), who acts as something of a genie in their lives. It requires a bit of suspension of belief but for the subject matter, it’s actually fun.

Neither Wyatt nor Gary are very popular individuals. They get picked on by a set of wisecracking bullies (played by Robert Downey Jr. And Robert Rusler), never get invited to any parties and are pretty much left to daydream about how cool they could end up being, only if. Wyatt also has his brother, Chet (a pre-Aliens Bill Paxton in a funny turn), who extorts things from him at every turn. This is where Lisa comes in.

One of the first things she does is to take the boys out on the town. It’s here that she asks them what her name is going to be. The boys decide on Lisa as the name, and she runs with it (even changing the license plate on the car). While the partying seems like something completely out of their comfort zone, by the end of the night, they’re well adjusted. Mind you, it’s helped with a lot of drinking and laughing.

Eventually, the boys slowly grow in popularity after being seen at the mall with Lisa and her throwing the biggest party in town at their house. Like with every John Hughes movie, there’s always a message here, and the boys go a little overboard in chasing their popularity when they try to create another girl for the bullies (which of course goes wrong in so many ways). Eventually, Lisa decides that what the boys really need is something that will build their character. Bringing in a group of Road Warrior-like motorcycle thugs, Wyatt and Gary engage in a standoff that they eventually win (which also wins them kudos).

I’ve seen this movie so many times, it’s ridiculous. When I got my first car, I decided to name it “Lisa”, after this movie and the line that a drunken Gary yells while Wyatt drives – “He doesn’t even have his license, Lisa!” While it may not be Hughes’ magnum opus, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it holds a special place for me.

A Happy Birthday shout-out goes out to our own Lisa. Have a great day today!!