“Oh God, they’re going to give an Academy Award to Rocky IV, aren’t they?”
~You, the Reader
We are now three articles and over 12,000 words into our ambitious attempt to re-award every single Academy Award from 1970 to 2009 while finding at least one way to screw over the favorite movie of every single one of our readers. It’s been a whirlwind ride, with some hard decisions and a lot of movies we had no clue even existed. But now it’s time to dive deep into the mid-to-late 80’s, a decade which has seen a lot of awards not only changing hands, but going to movies that weren’t even originally nominated. But then again, they thought shoulder pads were a great idea in the 1980’s, so it’s not surprising that the Academy messed things up back then.
Once again to hash out the rules. Each year is listed not by the film’s release, but by the date of the ceremony (so 1985’s entry is for films released in 1984, etc). We’ll tell you the original winners, and nominees, along with their IMDB user rating, and then will re-award that year’s Oscar. It could go to the same movie, but more often than not it’ll be going to someone else.
So let’s dive in, shall we? There were some pretty competitive years in this batch.
Re-Awarding the Academy Award for Best Picture (1985-1989)
Amadeus (8.3, 83rd top rated movie all time)
Amadeus won eight Academy Awards in 1985, which is actually more unusual than you’d imagine. The only other movies to win that many awards since West Side Story won 10 in 1961 was Gandhi and My Fair Lady, which also won eight Academy Awards in 1964. Admittedly, we stole away the previous eight-time-winner’s Oscar last week (we gave Gandhi‘s to Blade Runner), but Amadeus arguably ages better, and is definitely a more influential and pop-culturally relevant biopic that doesn’t feel like a biopic. Plus, it inspired one of the greatest moments in 30 Rock so it has that going for it.
At the very least, Amadeus took a historical figure we all knew and made him interesting and complicated through the lens of his (like, not actually in real life but artistic license, yo) enemy, while earning an Academy Award for F. Murray Abraham and proving that it is possible to take Larry Kroger from Animal House and get him a Best Actor Oscar nomination. It also took home awards for Writing and Directing, and the American Film Institute listed it as the 53rd best film on its “100 Years… 100 Movies” list. So this was definitely a solid Best Picture winner, but let’s see if anything came out that could take its place.
What Else Was Nominated
A Passage to India (7.4)
So this doesn’t really speak to this film’s quality, but we found this trailer for a DVD packaging of David Lean’s three greatest films, and the trailer literally goes, “Winner of BEST PICTURE and SEVEN ACADEMY AWARDS, Lawrence of Arabia… Winner of BEST PICTURE and SEVEN ACADEMY AWARDS, Bridge on the River Kwai…and…um…winner of two Academy Awards, A Passage to India.” Honestly, what’s really strange to us is that the three-pack of Lean movies doesn’t include Doctor Zhivago, which arguably is a better known and more historically important film.
Now, this is an adaptation of Santha Rama Rau’s play, which was an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel, all of which had the same name. The novel, released in 1924, is enough of a classic that this movie gets some residual, “Oh right, I’ve heard of that film title somewhere before.” But this film, which was only a modest box office success at the time, never really reached “iconic” status.
A Soldier’s Story (7.2)
It’s sort of telling that the tag line in this poster talks about how it is a “story you won’t forget” which we guess is technically true, since we’ve never heard of the fucking thing so how can we forget something we never had to remember in the first place? This was a Norman Jewison movie, who directed such Academy Award nominated films such as Moonstruck, Fiddler on the Roof, The Thomas Crown Affair and In the Heat of the Night. Yes, the guy who did Fiddler on the Roof was named Jewison. No, that’s not an offensive joke we shoehorned in here. No, seriously, that’s the dude’s name. He also directed Rollerball so, like, obviously he as an unblemished his resume. This particular film is about an African-American Army officer investigating the murder of a black sergeant in Louisiana towards the end of World War II, and deals largely with the racism inherent in segregated regiments in the U.S. Army at the time. It was a movie that was pretty well received, and despite tight budget constraints managed to do quite well in the box office (it made $21 million off of a $6 budget), but it’s not a movie people are still talking about in 2018.
Places in the Heart (7.3)
So you know how Sally Field did that whole, “You like me, you really like me” speech when she won Best Leading Actress for Norma Rae? Well, nope, because that was her Oscar speech for this movie, which you definitely had to struggle to remember existed. We literally just asked one of our staffers if she had ever heard of this movie, to which she replied, “I think I’ve seen it. Was Natalie Portman in that?”
Anyway, this is a movie about a Texas widow during the Great Depression trying to save her farm with the help of a blind white man and a poor black man, because Oscars. It actually got John Malkovich the first of his two Oscars nominations (it seems strange that he’s only been nominated twice, without having won, right?) and won Best Screenplay on top of Field’s statue. The film was well reviewed, and also features Terry O’Quinn, Ed Harris and Danny Glover, but it’s definitely one that sort of blends in historically with all the other Sad Period Dramas of the 80s.
The Killing Fields (7.9)
Did you know that Haing S. Ngor, the man who won an Academy Award for basically reliving the time he was actually tortured in real life by the Khmer Rouge, ended up getting straight up murdered in a robbery/potential assassination just 12 years after this movie came out? Like, just to make a super depressing film even more depressing. That said, of all the films that were nominated but didn’t win this year, this is probably the only one you’ve heard of that wasn’t Amadeus. And this movie is an important one that has aged fairly well, and has been included in “best movie” lists as recently as 2016 (when Empire magazine ranked it 86 on their list of 100 best British films which, like, listen, it’s a pretty shit list, but it still means people are talking about it, okay?)
Of the nominated films, this one has the best chance of pulling an upset. But can it?
And the Revised Winner is…
Nope. Granted, there were some great movies released in 1984 that didn’t get any Oscar nods, like One Upon a Time in America (8.4, 69th [nice] top rated movie all time) and The Terminator (8.0, 228th top rated) which both came out that year. And you could almost make a case that The Terminator deserves it because of how important it was to both the action film genre as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s post “talking about how exercising feels like ejaculating” career. But we think the Academy got this one right, actually.
Out of Africa (7.2)
Out of Africa won seven Academy Awards (looking at the above picture you can deduce our powers of research), including Best Director for Sydney Pollack, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography. It’s an epic romantic drama with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep (it should go without saying that Streep was nominated for an Oscar here, as she is contractually obligated to receive a nomination for at least one film a year) that documents the love affair between a Danish baroness and a big-game hunter in colonial Kenya. If that sounds like it’s going to be such a long movie, well how does 2 hours and 40 minutes strike you?
Impressively, Out of Africa is one of the only movies to win Best Picture and also have a Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Like seriously, there are only five movies that can make that claim, and all but one of those were released in the 1930s when movie making was more of a hobby than anything else. We’re pretty sure this statue has gotta go somewhere else.
What Else Was Nominated
Kiss of the Spider Woman (7.4)
William Hurt won an Academy Award here for playing a transgender woman in prison for having sex with an underage boy, who is jailed with a leftist political prisoner in Brazil, so they were just a few squares away from Oscar bingo from the get-go. Kiss is kind of a hard movie to describe, as it largely revolves William Hurt’s character passing the time by narrating various films she likes to a political prisoner (played by Raul Julia), while actually trying to get information from him in exchange for parole, while she then actually ends up falling for him, and they totally do it, and like, everyone eventually dies or something. Again, it’s convoluted, and the IMDB synopsis of “A gay man and a political prisoner are together in a prison. The gay man narrates the story of two fake movies and his own life,” is both A- hella vague and B-hella problematic in its pronoun usage, get your shit together IMDB.
Anyway, this was a well-reviewed movie that apparently holds up surprisingly well—it was re-screened at Cannes in 2010. But while it’s often referred to as a trailblazing film, but its place in history is definitely niche. Like, does it deserve a statue more than Out of Africa? Yeah. Will it get that statue? Unlikely.
Prizzi’s Honor (6.8)
Yo, so this is just like, Mr. and Mrs. Smith only with Kathleen Turner and Jack Nicholson in the Pitt and Jolie roles, and an Oscar-winning supporting turn from Anjelica Huston? We’re not totally off base with that comparison, right? Like, clearly this is less of a popcorn movie, and more of a dramedy with eight Academy Award nominations, but like, it’s Oscar Mr. and Mrs. Smith, right?
The Color Purple (7.8)
The Color Purple is one of two films with 11 Academy Award nominations to not win the prize. The other film, The Turning Point, is a movie we had forgotten the name of despite having written about it only last week. Of the two, The Color Purple is still pretty well known, though that is largely because it’s a Spielberg film, though you might recognize it because of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel it was adapted from. This movie was originally named the best movie of 1985 by Roger Ebert, who walked back on that in 2004 saying, “I can see its flaws more easily than when I named it the best film of 1985, but I can also understand why it moved me so deeply.” The movie hasn’t aged great, but it does feature some strong performances and feats of storytelling, and it also marked Whoopi Goldberg’s major motion picture debut (she was in an avant-garde ensemble film in 1982, but that doesn’t count as a real “movie” let’s be honest), for which she was widely praised and was nominated for Best Actress.
Witness is also known as “that movie where Harrison Ford pretended to be Amish” and also “the only time Harrison Ford has been nominated for an Academy Award.” Of the nominated movies, Witness and The Color Purple are the only ones that the most people have seen, and while that doesn’t necessarily make it the best film of the year, it does make a compelling argument. It was well-reviewed, and as a crime thriller it aged quiet well. Also there’s a scene with an Amish lady’s boobs, which doesn’t make it any more Oscar-worthy, it’s just a scene that our film screener remembers most from watching it as a teenager.
And the Revised Winner is…
Rocky IV (6.8)
(But Seriously, Back to the Future [8.5, 44th top rated movie all time])
This was one of the hardest to re-award. There are a whole lot of nominated movies that were like, fine, but nothing special, and other movies that should have been nominated but weren’t. Like, Out of Africa, despite its Rotten Tomatoes status, does have its backers, and Witness has Amish boobs, and The Color Purple had Spielberg at his prime. But this year also gave us a lot of Best Picture worthy films that didn’t get nominated, including our final winner (this decision came down to Back to the Future and the classic Kurosawa retelling of King Leer, Ran, though you could also make a case for Terry Gilliam’s Brazil). But ultimately we decided that Back to the Future ended up being so culturally important that we had to give it the statue here.
By the way, as a sidebar, 1985 was an insane year for movies that aren’t exactly “Oscar material” but have gone on to be classics. The Breakfast Club, The Goonies, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and, of course, Rocky Fucking IV all came out this year. There was also Rambo: First Blood Part II, Commando, Real Genius, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, St. Elmo’s Fire, Better off Dead, Clue, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Teen Wolf, and Fletch. Oh and Cocoon came out that year, but honestly, fuck Cocoon.
Platoon (8.1, 186th top rated movie all time)
We’re going to go out on a limb and say that this is Oliver Stone’s best film, which really isn’t exactly a controversial statement. Stone was a Vietnam veteran, so when he makes a film about hellishness of war, that’s going to speak more truth than JFK conspiracy theories. Stone, who had previously received a Best Screenplay nomination for Midnight Express, won Best Director and was nominated for Best Screenplay this year, while Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe received acting nominations. But how good was Platoon, really? They decided to make Charlie Sheen the main character, and it still was good enough to win an Oscar. That’s pretty impressive right there.
It’s widely considered one of the best films about the Vietnam War, and is as powerful to watch today as it was when it was released. It’ll take a pretty solid film to knock it out of contention.
What Else Was Nominated
A Room with a View (7.4)
Like, we were going to think of some big write up for A Room with a View but like, there’s only so many Period Romances we can sit through before we just stop caring. Sorry to Judi Dench, Helena Bonham Carter, and Maggie Smith for the snub.
Children of a Lesser God (7.2)
Back before she was “that deaf woman on The West Wing,” Marlee Matlin was “that deaf woman from Children of a Lesser God who got an Oscar nomination that one time.” Also, this came out during that a period in the 80’s where William Hurt was doing his best Jennifer Lawrence circa 2013 impression. In a three year span he won for Kiss of the Spider Woman before being nominated here and the following year for Broadcast News.
Anyway, in case you have kind of heard of this movie but haven’t seen it (so like, everyone reading this who is not old enough to have adult children), it describes a romance between a hearing speech teacher at a school for the deaf and a deaf custodian who works there. It has a few little neat historical footnotes attached to it—it was the first female-directed film to be nominated for Best Picture, and Marlee Matlin was the first (and so far only) deaf performer to win an Oscar, and when she won it she was the youngest Best Lead Actress winner in Oscar history (a record she still has, wining the award at the age of 21).
Hannah and Her Sisters (8.0)
Ah yes, who can forget this classic Woody Allen film, which follows Hannah, and her sisters. Okay, admittedly we’ve seen this movie, but after a while all of the Prestige Woody Allen films from the 80s kind of meld together. Like, there are complicated romantic entanglements with older characters, there’s random affairs, and Woody Allen insists on acting in the damn thing for some God-forsaken reason. It made $40 million at the box office, making it (at the time) the highest grossing film Woody Allen had put out (without accounting for inflation) and it was an overall okay comedy film (like, it’s fine, pretty good actually). It is one of the Woody Allen movies that people still remember, which is impressive considering that there are about 103 different Woody Allen movies of fair-to-okay quality that generate a lot of white noise on that front. A reader poll from The Guardian listed it recently as the 4th best film of Woody Allen’s career, but they also only listed Midnight in Paris as 9th so they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about.
But really, the question is, are we really willing to knock off Platoon for the fourth best Woody Allen film?
The Mission (7.5)
Ah yes, nothing like a film based in 18th-century South America where a Spanish Jesuit and a converted slave hunter try to defend a native tribe against Portuguese aggressors starring *squints* the Italian-American actor Robert De Niro and *squints even harder* the like, super British Jeremy Irons. This has enough user ratings on IMDB for us to think that our own ignorance is to blame for the fact that we had no idea this movie existed, but then again for whatever reason every single movie Robert De Niro stars in tends to be like crack for the kind of people who rate movies on IMDB, so who can say. What is that demographic, anyway? Divorced dads? Anyway, if you’re a divorced dad, sorry we didn’t know about this film. It’s 65% on Rotten Tomatoes currently, and it was considered a commercial flop at the time, so we don’t really feel that bad not knowing about it before today.
And the Revised Winner is…
We gotta let Platoon keep this one, if only because we don’t want to get on the wrong side of these folks. Aliens and Stand By Me came out this year too, but again, Platoon’s gotta stay. Who are we going to give it to, Hannah and Her Sisters? If we give this to Hannah and Her Sisters, Sgt. Barnes is going to make sure Hannah and Her Sisters aren’t able to take that trophy home, you understand?
The Last Emperor (7.8)
So apparently if you wanted to win an Oscar in the 1980s you either filmed a super long, super expensive film that takes place in the past outside of the United States, or set your film in the United States, but made it a Sad Drama. Seriously, so far in the 1980s the original Oscars went to Ordinary People (Sad Drama), Chariots of Fire (British runners in Paris in the 1920s), Gandhi (3 hours of a British dude in brown face), Terms of Endearment (Sad Drama), Amadeus (Mozart in 18th century Austria), Out of Africa (3 hours of characters IN Africa), Platoon (Vietnam War counts as foreign and in the past), and now this. One of our correspondents, and this is true, spent literally ten years thinking that Eddie Murphy was in this movie until she realized she was confusing it with The Golden Child, and we can’t really blame her.
Anyway, it’s an epic film about Puyi, who was a ruler in China. We can give you three guesses about what he was known as. The movie follows his brief ascent to the throne all the way through the Chinese revolution and his subsequent imprisonment and “political rehabilitation” which is an ominous way to describe “we’ll let you out of this room if you shut up and do as you’re told.” It won all nine Academy Awards it was nominated for, though most of those were technical awards. The film is now generally considered to be, like, good, not great. But also very pretty, we guess?
What Else Was Nominated
Broadcast News (7.2)
Like Terms of Endearment, James L. Brooks wrote and directed Broadcast News which is less a Sad Drama and more a romantic-dramedy-love-triangle kind of movie. It follows William Hurt’s character Tom, the “charismatic, but unseasoned” (read as: handsome but bad at his job) news anchor, Albert Brooks’ Aaron, the gifted (read as: talented but not handsome) newscaster, and Holly Hunter’s Jane, the neurotic (read as: ugh, probably some shit like “women amiright”) producer who is in in love with Tom, but whom Aaron is in love with. It was fine. All of those actors got Oscar nominations for their performances, and it was both a commercial and critical success that was nominated for seven Academy Awards (though it went home empty handed). It was fine.
Fatal Attraction (6.9)
Are we the only ones shocked that this got nominated for Best Picture? Like, this seems surprising doesn’t it? Also, fun fact, 1987 was a hell of a year for Michael Douglas. He starred in this, and Wall Street that year (he got a statue for the latter, which did not get a Best Picture nod). We can’t say definitively that this is the only film to have been nominated for Best Picture that involved a pet bunny getting boiled to death, but God we kind of hope it is?
Hope and Glory (7.4)
We’ve never heard of Hope and Glory, but as you can see from the very British poster up there, this movie was super British. It was written, directed and produced by John Boorman, who last appeared on this list with his undoubtedly NOT British film, Deliverance. This falls into the classic category of “comedy films that also take place during World War II, so it’s both goofy and sad,” films that seem to pop up every five or ten years or so. This one in particular follows a family’s experience of the London Blitz, through the eyes of their young son. It made $10 million at the box office, and was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning none of them. While it was a critical success, it’s another one of those movies you’re like, “Huh, never heard of it. Hell, I’ve never even seen that on TBS or anything.”
Moon Struck (7.1)
A.k.a. “I forgot what this movie is about but I remember Nicholas Cage is in it, and oh yeah that’s right Cher won an Oscar once.” If you need a refresher on the plot, Cher plays a widowed 37-year-old Italian-American woman who falls in love with her fiancé’s estranged brother, who is played by Nicholas Cage, but honestly this is a movie that we probably don’t need to describe much, as a lot of people have seen it in the ensuing years. It ended up the fifth highest grossing film of the year, and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 93%. And honestly, it’s nice to see the Academy finally give a little love to a comedy film. That’s why we have to take away the Oscar for The Last Emperor and give the statue to…
And the Revised Winner is…
The Princess Bride (8.1, 213th top rated movie all time)
BOOM! Ha, we went full on out-of-left-field with this one. We told you we were going to be going crazy with the 1980’s Oscars, and boy did we do that here. Now, Full Metal Jacket (8.3, 93rd top rated movie) could easily take this spot, but we’re those assholes who talk about how “just because the first half of your movie is a classic doesn’t make the whole thing a classic” in regards to that movie. And also, while The Princess Bride was underappreciated when it came out, it has grown into a culturally essential film as time went by. The biggest reason why we feel we even have to justify this position is that it’s viewed as a “family friendly” film, which doesn’t feel “Oscar-worthy.” But we disagree, this movie is Oscar-worthy as hell. So fuck it, we’re giving them the statue.
Rain Man (8.0)
Rain Man is probably a movie you couldn’t get away with making today, but then again I Am Sam was getting acting nominations as late as 2001, so who knows. You all know this movie, so we don’t need to explain it to you, but we do think it’s funny that the Wikipedia page for the movie makes an effort to point out that, despite what Rain Man says, it is not illegal to card count in the United States.
What Else Was Nominated
Dangerous Liaisons (7.6)
Did you know that Glenn Close was nominated for an Academy Award five times in the 1980s alone? And she’s never won. After being nominated for Fatal Attractions, she decided to continue her streak of being in two-word films with perilous titles by taking the leading role in Dangerous Liaisons. This film, however, included neither Michael Douglas nor dead pets. Or at least we think that’s the case. We haven’t watched it because it’s a period film that takes place in France, and we are not about that life here at America Fun Fact of the Day.
Mississippi Burning (7.8)
Would you believe that a movie with Middle America city or state name in the title managed to get an Academy Award nomination for Frances McDormand? We know, unheard of! But seriously, we can’t get over the fact that five of Frances McDormand’s six Oscar nominations were for Mississippi Burning, Fargo, North Country and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Can you call that type casting if all the movies were like super different? Probably, right?
Anyway, this got mixed reviews at the time it was released. It stars Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe as two F.B.I. investigating the disappearance of some Civil Rights activists. It was the cause of some controversy, because the whole “fictionalization of events to include white F.B.I. agents rolling in to save the day” narrative was pretty tone deaf even for then.
The Accidental Tourist (6.8)
Yet another Best Picture nominated film starring William Hurt in the 1980’s, this one shockingly did not warrant a Best Actor nod for Hurt, though Geena Davis won for Best Supporting Actress. The Accidental Tourist was written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire Strikes Back, The Big Chill, and The Bodyguard because he will not let you label him. This film, which he adapted from a best selling book, is about an emotionally distant travel guide writer whose son died and whose marriage is failing. Brought to you by the writer of Solo: A Star Wars Story!
This isn’t the best movie to come out this year, but we have to say to our buddy Larry K, we’re impressed at your range, buddy!
Working Girl (6.7)
Mike Nichols directed Working Girl, a box office hit that garnered Academy Award nominations for Sigourney Weaver, Melanie Griffith and Joan Cusack, while earning an Academy Award for Best Song to Carly Simon. So that’s cool. Harrison Ford was also in it and, for a guy known as a blockbuster commodity, Harrison Ford was in a lot of movies in the 1970s and 1980s that were nominated for Best Picture. Seriously, he starred in this, A New Hope, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Witness and The Fugitive while appearing in Apocalypse Now. Not a bad list of movies.
Anyway, yada yada yada the movie’s about Sigourney Weaver breaking her leg and her secretary, Melanie Griffith, pretending to be her to push her career forward. Harrison Ford is the love interest. People liked it.
And the Revised Winner is…
Die Hard (8.2, 122nd top rated movie all time)
Fuck anyone who dares try to talk us out of this one, Die Hard gets the Oscar for Best Picture in 1989 and none of you can stop it from happening. While Rain Man doesn’t age particularly well (and we honestly can’t forgive it for starting the trend of “have actors play mentally challenged people to try to score an easy Oscar”) 1988 saw the release of a lot of haute culture films that have been embraced by critics and fans alike ever since. There’s Cinema Paradiso (8.4, 53rd top rated), Grave of the Fireflies (8.4, 57th top rated), and also films like The Last Temptation of Christ and My Neighbor Totoro (8.2, 132nd). But fuck all of those movies, Die Hard. DIE HARD! DIE HARRRDDDD!
By the way, 1988 was a great year for comedies. It saw the release of Big, A Fish Called Wanda, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Bull Durham, Beetlejuice, Mystic Pizza, Scrooged, Hairspray, Coming to America, Willow and Heathers. But it also was the year that Die Hard came out which, now, will be known by its proper name, Academy Award Winner for Best Picture in 1989, DIE FUCKING HARD.
DIE HARD! Stop it, let go, you can’t stop us from making this final, THE WINNER FOR THE LAST ACADEMY AWARD OF THE 1980s IS DIE FUCKING HARD!
Ahem. Anyway. That does it for our 1980’s awards. Unlike the 70s, things got pretty wild and unpredictable in this decade. We’ll see if that still proves to be the case as we move on to the 90’s.