We can finally talk about Oscar's favorite films of 1984. That year was a perfect meeting of audience appeal, industry appeal, and genuine quality - three distinct things, strangely. Of the year's Top Ten box office hits, only three - Gremlins at #4, Police Academy at #6, and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock at #9 - did not go on to nominations at the Academy Awards.
Today's different: of the nominees we're discussing today, only two - Romancing the Stone at #8, 2010 at #17 - even hit the Top 20. We concern ourselves today not with performances, screenplays, directors or even music. These films saw their Academy accolades in craft, technical, and specialty categories: Art Direction, Costume Design, Documentary, Editing, Makeup, Sound, and Visual Effects.
nominee: Best Art Direction (lost to Amadeus), Best Costume Design (lost to Amadeus), Best Makeup (lost to Amadeus), Best Sound (lost to Amadeus), Best Visual Effects (lost to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)
More narratively focused than Kubrick's 2001, to which it serves as a sequel. Still manages to not completely destroy the mystery and ambiguity of the original, mostly because the actual plot elements...are lost to time. Do not remember any of them. I do remember some of the visuals and the love between John Lithgow and a Cosmonaut, which I quite liked. Art Direction nomination is as much a nod to its rebuilding 2001 sets not by looking at old blueprints (Kubrick destroyed them) but by going frame by frame, as it is an acknowledgment of the new sets (the Earth stuff is even better than the space stuff!).
The Cotton Club
nominee: Best Art Direction (lost to Amadeus), Best Editing (lost to The Killing Fields)
Two friends, one a white cornetist, the other a Black dancer, get mixed up in showbiz and crime in 1920s New York. Accidentally watched the Director's Cut, then watched the theatrical cut - which I usually wouldn't do, except I really liked this movie. Theatrical cut makes Gregory Hines' parallel plot into a subplot, removes Lonette McKee's best song. But it keeps a lot of what makes the movie work, including the Hoofers' Club and the finale, and gooses Larry Fishburne's subplot. More crime musicals, please! Surprised it didn't make it in for Costumes or Sound!
nominee: Best Sound (lost to Amadeus)
No VFX? No Costume Design? No Art Direction? David Lynch's take on the space opera classic is hobbled by a runtime that can't do justice to the cast, story, or overall vision. Kyle MacLachlan is genuinely great in his arc from kid prince to warrior God-king, with a certain foreboding about what that could mean. Sadly not great, but enough of it works.
Romancing the Stone
nominee: Best Editing (lost to The Killing Fields)
Romance novelist becomes entangled with an adventurer while trying to save her sister from drug dealers in South America. Given how well this movie did, and how much its premise is part of the surprise hit status, I'm surprised it didn't also manage an Original Screenplay nod! Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas do a modern spin on old Hollywood archetypes, and they are great at them. Great together, too. Editing - why not? Not just comic beats, but action, momentum. Great stuff.
The Times of Harvey Milk
winner: Best Documentary Feature
Harvey Fierstein solemnly narrates this story of the San Francisco councilman's rise and shocking assassination - at times, you hear the fury in his tone, especially in the last third. Intelligent, passionate film, gets into the specific political issues intelligently, nicely summarizes the significance of Milk's overall visibility to the Gay Rights Movement. There's anger and compassion throughout, a tricky balance. A great winner.
Tomorrow, a look at a specific category - the nominees for Best Song Score: The Muppets Take Manhattan, Purple Rain, and Songwriter.