The 80s yielded one great Best Pic winner: ‘Platoon’

Posted by · 5:04 pm · May 10th, 2008

Ten awards for Best Picture were handed out throughout the 1980s, one of the worst decades for film in history, and I’d wager that only “Platoon,” the Oscar winning giant of 1986, can lay claim to being a great film.

Oh, that is not to say there were not great films made in the 80s; there were indeed, but nobody went to see them, despite rave reviews. Many of the decade’s very best films were released and abandoned, to be re-discovered on video, at that time a very new addition to the film industry.

“Raging Bull” ended up being the finest film of the decade, hell one of the five greatest films of all time, yet Oscar did not see it that way. Somehow, Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece lost the Oscar for Best Picture and the New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Film to Robert Redford and “Ordinary People” — a well crafted film, but hardly the raw and angry work of the former.

That same year would see the releases of “The Empire Strikes Back” — a superior film to the first “Star Wars” installment, yet snubbed for a nomination for Best Picture — and Richard Rush’s “The Stunt Man,” which might have been a strong choice for a nomination as well.

I doubt many would argue that most of the best films of the 80s were unnoticed by the Academy and audiences, among them “Blow Out,” “Prince of the City,” “Shoot the Moon,” “Under Fire,” “Once Upon a Time in America,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Blue Velvet,” “At Close Range,” “Stand By Me,” “Empire of the Sun,” “Bird,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “Drugstore Cowboy,” “Crimes and Misdamenors,” and “Glory.” That’s just a handful of those pics snubbed in the big race yet residing among the greats of their respective years.

There were, of course, great films that managed a Best Picture berth that happened, as is many times the case with the AMPAS, to lose to lesser films. Examples include “Reds” losing to the insufferable “Chariots of Fire,” “E.T.” to that old-fashioned travelogue “Gandhi” and “The Right Stuff” to the damned fine “Terms of Endearment,” which is still the best film made about the mother-daughter relationship.

“Out of Africa” was a superb film to look at, well acted by Meryl Streep, who anchored the effort with a powerful performance. But it was simply not a better picture than the black comedy “Prizzi’s Honor!”

No argument with “Platoon,” though “Hannah and Her Sisters” or “Blue Velvet” would have been honorable winners as well.

Never have I believed “The Last Emperor” was a better film than “Empire of the Sun.” To this day I am haunted by that final moment when Christian Bale, staring up to the heavens with ancient eyes, being embraced by his mother after so long alone, finally closes them, at peace.

I have said enough about “Rain Man” winning over Socrsese’s gutsy “The Last Temptation of Christ,” though I am not stupid; “they” do not give Oscars to that sort of film. The Academy has never developed that kind of courage. If they had, “A Clockwork Orange” would have won back in 1971.

Moving into 1989 and the end of the decade, I think we all know that “Do the Right Thing” or “Glory” was a better choice for Best Picture that than “Driving Miss Daisy,” though that film allowed the Academy to make a safe choice for the time.

Thank God for video, laserdisc and now DVD, which allowed many of the great films of the 80s to find an audience in the homes of movie lovers around the world.

Video gave this generation the chance to become more cinematically savvy than any before it because they had films at their fingertips, where truly great efforts could fine a second life (where would “Blade Runner” be without video?). Films could also slowly make money if they had failed upon release.

I am sure many of the comments coming in are from folks who first saw many of the films we are discussing on video or DVD for the first time.

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19 responses so far

  • 1 5-10-2008 at 6:48 pm

    Jamie said...

    What do you think of Tootsie?

  • 2 5-10-2008 at 7:35 pm

    Isaac Richter said...

    You skipped 1984. The winner that year was Amadeus, which I though was a superb film. I love the music, and Abraham’s performance is top notch. What did you think of that one? Also, don’t hate me for saying this, but I hated Raging Bull because I hated Jake LaMotta as a character (I was never given a reason to care about him, so I couldn’t connect with the film). Rain Man is one of my favorite films (for personal reasons, it helped get through some personal struggles). Other than that, I mostly agree with you.

  • 3 5-10-2008 at 11:44 pm

    Whitney said...

    I completely agree. Something giant and corporate grabbed Hollywood after the innovation of the 70s.


  • 4 5-11-2008 at 12:27 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    This – Is – Spinal – Tap!
    And how could you forget Raiders??? Especially with Christal Skull coming up

  • 5 5-11-2008 at 8:27 am

    Blake said...

    I’m shocked you didn’t mention Amadeus either, whether you liked it or not. Many argue it’s one of very best of the 1980s, and rightfully so. I didn’t understand it when I was a kid, but having recently rewatched it, I was blown away by how masterfully it captured the world of competitive artists. For a mediocre artist, there is nothing more painful than seeing another’s genius right before your eyes.

  • 6 5-11-2008 at 9:29 am

    Silencio said...

    I third their comments. How do you ignore Amadeus? How? I’m stunned.

    Most of the other films you mentioned I haven’t seen, so no comment there.

  • 7 5-11-2008 at 12:36 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Oliver Stone’s Wall Street was released in 1987…might be Stone’s most focused and coherent movie of his career. Yes, Platoon is better — it’s subject matter warrants that — but Wall Street is oh so fine. The scene when Sheen confronts Douglas in Central Park is classic. And the closing shot of Sheen arriving at the courthouse continues to be thought provoking.

    Speaking of snubs, Christian Bale deserved a nomination for his role in Empire of the Sun.

  • 8 5-11-2008 at 1:59 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Personally, I don’t think Platoon looks all that great today – it’s impressively executed storytelling, but its not as surprising or as formally exciting as some of Stone’s later efforts, even if they weren’t as fully realized. Hannah and Her Sisters, on the other hand, has aged beautifully – its intricate, novel-like construction lets it reveal something new on each viewing. It should have won hands down. But that’s me.

    I agree with the other commenters that Amadeus is the pick of a very skinny litter. The Academy’s taste has certainly improved in the last couple of years, the odd bizarre misstep nothwithstanding.

  • 9 5-11-2008 at 5:16 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Gittes: Really??? I think “Wall Street” ages worse than any other film of all time, it seems. It pains me to watch it unless I’m somehow listening to “Sussudio” and snorting a gram.

  • 10 5-11-2008 at 6:58 pm

    Isaac Richter said...

    I had to read Wall Street for a Screenplay Analysis class. Seriously, Oliver Stone is a horrible writer. He’s not subtle at all, he writes scenes that are obviously written, and he doesn’t know how to cut down on monologues. It doesn’t matter in films like Platoon and JFK, because he more than makes up for it as a director, but Wall Street doesn’t quite work. Also, I’m going to watch Empire of the Sun either tonight or tomorrow morning, per John Foote’s recommendation. I’ll let you know what I think of it.

  • 11 5-11-2008 at 8:07 pm

    Earl Cooper said...

    Bless you for mentioning Empire of the Sun. Few people have seen it sadly and it was a powerhouse.
    How about Brazil? How about Blood Simple?
    Today with the support given to independent films, it might have had a real chance at some nominations. Another similar example is Matewan.
    What has really fixed the Oscars somewhat is the extra attention given to small independent films.
    I do not know why it happened but it has been a blessing. 20 years ago Memento would not have been nominated for anything.

  • 12 5-11-2008 at 10:03 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Tapley: Uh, what? If Wall Street is on TV I can’t turn it off. Douglas has never been better. Blue collar (Martin Sheen) vs. 1980’s-Reagan economics /Capitalism…the character arc of younger Sheen…

    Wall Street ages worse than any other film of all time…? C’mon, that just isn’t true.

  • 13 5-12-2008 at 12:24 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    For me, nothing could be truer. Sorry. Every time Douglas whips out that brick-sized cell phone out in the shore, I spit out my Crystal Pepsi with laughter.

  • 14 5-12-2008 at 6:44 am

    John Foote said...

    Got to agree heartily with Kris…Wall Street stinks! It did then and it does now. Michael Douglas’ best work?? Hardly, ever seen a brilliant little film called Falling Down, or better yet, Wonder Boys?? He spews out sayings not real dialogue in Wall Street and Sheen looks as always dazed and confused. No film has suffered the ravages of timemore than this, but it was never good to begin with…

  • 15 5-12-2008 at 9:34 am

    Walter Hollmann said...

    I like Platoon fine, but Hannah and Her Sisters was definitely the Best Picture of that year. Either that or A Room with a View. Both get better and better with subsequent viewings.

  • 16 5-12-2008 at 9:07 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Well I guess I’m in the minority here. I thought that scene on the beach when Douglas whips out his cell phone was great. Yes, Stone should have casted Tom Cruise and not Sheen – Cruise apparently lobbied hard for the role, too. ( Stone, after all, has brought out the very best in Cruise – Born on the Fourth of July)

    Foote: I haven’t seen Falling Down; I should check it out, and Douglas was good in Wonder Boys but what will Douglas be best remembered for when he passes on? Gordon Gekko.

    I could write an entire essay on why I think Wall Street is a great film but that’s for another time I suppose, but saying Wall Street ages worse than any other film is not a true statement. Sorry. However, since I respect Mr. Foote’s and Mr. Tapley’s opinion –and usually agree with them –I’ll watch Wall Street again with a more, uh, critical lens.

    BTW, a column about movies that have aged the worse would be fun.

  • 17 5-13-2008 at 6:26 am

    John Foote said...

    Mr. Gittes…but is he being remembered because he was terrific in the role OR because he won the Oscar? What will Begnini be remembered for? Again because he was terrific (which he was not) or because he won the Oscar…great case in point Marlee Matlin…nothing special in the role she won for, and will be remembered because she won an Oscar…nothing more.

  • 18 5-13-2008 at 1:28 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Foote: I would argue that Douglas will be best remembered for playing Gekko and his “Greed is good” speech because most people believe he was terrific in that role – regardless of the Oscar. In fact, don’t most people instantly think of Gordon Gekko when Douglas’ name is brought up? Right? Kinda like how most people associate Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector…fair or not…

    Though, Romancing the Stone and Basic Instinct are up there I guess – for some people anyway.

    Funny story: While the movie Disclosure was being filmed, Douglas tried to sneak on a private golf course in my hometown of Bainbridge Island, Washington. Well, he got caught and apparently his celebrity status wasn’t enough, so Douglas was removed by security on sight.

  • 19 5-09-2009 at 9:38 am

    Harmonica said...

    What about AMADEUS (1984)????