Monday, May 23, 2016

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Best Picture, 1983

Our month-long celebration of the year 1983 nears its end. Beginning Wednesday, I'll begin naming my honorees in 18 categories for the Retro Hollmann Awards. But before I do - let's end the actual Oscar coverage the way all Oscars end, with Best Picture of the Year.

And what do all five nominees have in common? They are about people who need each other. Friends, lovers, business partners, researchers, family. These are stories of people who cannot survive without one another, for a whom a life without their community is a hollow existence. It's a sentiment at the core of The Big Chill - Glenn Close's Sarah believes she was at her best when she was with this formerly tight-knit group of college friends, and when one member of their group objects to the idea, Kevin Kline's wittily and sincerely observes, "How much love, sex, fun and friendship can a person take?" (It also became the movie's tagline)

Similarly is The Right Stuff about a family created out of circumstance. Only seven men are chosen to be the first Americans in space - they are each other's navigators, engineers, safety officers, communications liaisons. They depend on each other to make it back home, and they aren't home, their wives are keeping each other company.

The Dresser also has co-workers who depend on each other, in this case a little too much. Sir, the noted Shakespearean actor, not only depends on Norman to get him dressed and ready for each performance, he also depends on him to help maintain his sanity. Norman, himself dependent on the bottle, needs Sir just as much - he needs someone who needs him, he's dependent on dependency.

Just as wrapped around each other are Aurora and Emma, the mother-daughter duo at the heart of Terms of Endearment. Even though Aurora pursues her own romance, even though Emma moves out of state twice-over, even though they don't seem to get along for a good half of the movie -- they need each other. They constantly talk on the phone, they know everything about each other (even sex things!), one is the anchor for the other.

And then we come to the couple that saves each other. Mac Sledge is a former country-western star, a drunk. Rosa Lee is a widow, a single mother, making it on her own in a ramshackle motel/gas station. But when they meet, she gets him sober, he builds a life for her and her son, and they take care of the surrounding land to allow for a farm. And Rosa Lee thanks God for these Tender Mercies.

It's a strong lineup. Terms of Endearment came out on top, but maybe I have a thing or two to say about that. Maybe I'll say it after the jump.

The Big Chill
Hilarious and sad, full of pride and regret, equally nostalgic and cynical about nostalgia. You'd have to love someone to put up with this many contradictions. Luckily, the ensemble at the center of The Big Chill is so human, so full of heart, so recognizable - you have to love them.

The Dresser
Weirdly funny, oddly haunting by the end. Its emotions sneak up on you. Not every moment with the larger ensemble feels necessary, but they do feel like a troupe that's been together a length of time. Would that Finney was a little less shouty, but there's no denying the chemistry between him and Courtenay.

The Right Stuff
I love three hour-plus movies. I love historical films. I don't love space - and the fact that The Right Stuff makes me care about every aspect of it, from the astronauts to the politicians, is a testament to its strength. My God, it makes you proud to be, not just an American, but a citizen of this world, just to see the heights that ordinary people can achieve.

Tender Mercies
Modest, quiet, and honest. You won't realize its big moments have come until they've already gone, but you feel the effects.

Terms of Endearment
Anchored by Debra Winger's sublime performance as Emma, Terms is a hilarious trip through life. Years pass with the speed of time, and like a lifetime, it is over before we're ready (though that could also be a structural flaw but anyway). Its wit is organic, depending less on "zingers" and more on specific situations. And even if it's not everyone's story, we recognize the characters in it.


And obviously, my vote for Best Picture goes to...


At least, my vote for this lineup goes that way. But would that be my overall choice for Best Picture of the Year? You'll have to check out the Retro Hollmann Awards for 1983, Wednesday - Friday.

Tomorrow, Casting Coup Tuesdays takes a fresh look at Tender Mercies.

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