LIFE WITHOUT OSCAR: 1979 and 1980

Posted by · 7:00 pm · September 28th, 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

After I saw “Apocalypse Now,” I thought to myself that it was a much, much better movie than “Kramer vs. Kramer.” A quick glance at the internets revealed that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had already determined that “Kramer vs. Kramer” was in fact, the better film. How could I be so wrong? Oh well, can’t argue with those arts and sciences people.

That same bunch nominated Edouard Molinaro as Best Director, for a foreign film about a gay couple no less. Who says the Academy isn’t progressive? They also awarded Meryl Streep her first Oscar on her second attempt, clearly worried that there may never be another chance to honor her.

Family drama continued to dominate as the 1980’s rolled around when “Ordinary People” scooped the top prizes for Robert Redford. Poor old Marty Scorsese sentiment began right around then, but it should be noted that it was kind of his fault that the ceremony was delayed a day, after “Taxi Driver” obsessed John Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan for Jodie Foster. Take it away, Johnny Carson!

Miss Piggy: Jonathan, you saw “The Muppet Movie.” Can you stand there, in your rented tuxedo, and tell me that I am not Oscar material?
Johnny Carson: Oscar Mayer maybe.

1979 – “Real Life” (Albert Brooks)

I’m not sure what exactly keeps this film on the fringes but it’s meager 857 votes on IMDb suggest that it remains a little seen classic. Perhaps it was so ahead of its time that it baffled the public more than amused it, but now is the perfect time to see and appreciate Albert Brooks’s razor sharp debut. This is a film that came nineteen years before “The Truman Show,” which itself was considered prescient. It was also five years before “This is Spinal Tap,” which largely gets the credit for inventing the mockumentary. All this is to say that Brooks was a trailblazing and original comic genius from the beginning (an adjective fitting for a man who was born with the name Albert Einstein).

Trivia hounds may already know that Lorne Michaels’s original conception of “Saturday Night Live” was to feature Albert Brooks as the host for every episode, but he backed out and suggested they use a different person every week. Instead, he had a pre-filmed short segment in each episode of Season 1 that served as a practice ground for his unique style. Talking directly to the camera, ridiculous scientific centers and research to back up his absurd ideas, deadpan delivery, etc. It was a coincidence that I watched them all shortly before discovering “Real Life,” and the similarities were striking. But outside of his own work on “SNL,” I can safely say that there was no precedent for this type of film in the multiplex.

Brooks plays himself, director of a film that is trying to eliminate all artifice and capture a real American family going about their daily lives. Any hint of staging or bravado for the camera’s benefit is strictly discouraged, but of course, the intrusion of Brooks and his cameras eventually leads to the family’s downfall. Charles Grodin is perfectly cast as the Everyman, a small town veteranarian, and it was a bit of a gamble casting a recognizable face in the role, but of course Grodin melts away into the character. The scene where he operates on a horse and his subsequent meeting with Brooks are pure gold.

There’s plenty of room for Brooks to poke fun of the Hollywood studio system, the relationship between technology and convenience, the nuclear family and most importantly, himself. In fact, if there’s one flaw to the film, it’s that Brooks sometimes focuses the film too much on himself and not his other characters. He’s an able performer obviously, (and a later Oscar nominee for “Broadcast News”) but too much comedic self-flagellation can circle back to narcissism. Luckily, the film never dwells in the same spot too long and consistently surprises until a showstopping finish.

1980 – “Airplane!” (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker)

The directing team of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (ZAZ) had already dabbled in irreverence and rapid fire pop culture referencing with “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” but applying it to a defined narrative and viciously skewering the cliches of popular movies, they gave birth to a new genre of film and maybe, the funniest movie of all time.

In preparation for writing this column, I rewatched the trailer and I swear I laughed more in the three minutes than during most feature length comedies released today. Every single joke kills! There’s not much to talk about other than how hilarious the movie is, but there is one key component that sets the bar. The casting of Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack and Peter Graves is truly inspired. Not a comedian in the bunch, just a collection of great actors willing to play it straight no matter the cost. Of course, it’s hard to imagine a spoof now without Leslie Nielsen.

The problem with spoof films today, ranging from the deplorable Friedberg/Seltzer movies to the slightly less deplorable “Scary Movie” franchise, is that they are content with recognition being 100% of the joke. Specific scenes from popular films are copied down to the letter, minus one or two riffs. “Airplane!,” “The Naked Gun” and “Top Secret!” are operating on a much different mindset. Conventions are the victims of their satire, not scenes. A much closer kin amongst contemporary cinema would actually be “Team America: World Police” in my opinion.

Anyway, no need to get too philosophical about “Airplane!” It’s hilarious. It’s dumb. But really, it’s smart.

Those are my picks. What do you guys think?

[Photo: Rent That Shit]
[Photo: Metro]

→ 22 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Life Without Oscar

22 responses so far

  • 1 9-28-2010 at 7:34 pm

    N8 said...

    Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

  • 2 9-28-2010 at 7:42 pm

    Harmonica said...

    I’ve been watching the film nonstop for about two weeks (that and Get Him to the Greek). Fantastic. Peter Graves’ is probably the most hilarious supporting performance I can think of.

  • 3 9-28-2010 at 8:02 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I meant to write more about Real Life’s subtle shadings on the concept of an documentarian’s responsibility to his subject, and as an extension, an artist to his art. Oh well. Just watch it.

  • 4 9-28-2010 at 8:25 pm

    Andrew Rech said...

    For ’79 Cronenberg’s ‘The Brood’

    I know it receive a bunch of Oscar noms and a couple of wins but I can’t sing the praises of All That Jazz enough. The Air-Otica sequence? Burns up the screen.

    Anyways back to films that qualify. Hm for ’80 is it cliché to say The Shining? I don’t LOVE it like some people do, but I respect it, though I suspect it’s not your cup of tea. Otherwise I can only think of the doc ‘Gates of Heaven’. Pretty weak year.

  • 5 9-28-2010 at 8:37 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    You don’t think I like The Shining? Blasphemy. I love everything Kubrick touched.

  • 6 9-28-2010 at 8:41 pm

    Andrew Rech said...

    Well there have been films I would’ve thought would be right up your alley, only to find out you think they’re terrible, like 8 1/2.

  • 7 9-28-2010 at 8:54 pm

    MovieMan said...

    I definitely would’ve put “The Shining” for 1980.

    “Airplane!” is a four-star gem, but I would say “Dr. Strangelove” is funnier, honestly (as well as the funniest movie I’ve ever seen). Still, it’s a comedic masterpiece and should’ve gotten Oscars for almost everything. Leslie Nielsen, for instance. Perfect film.

    “Real Life” is extremely solid, but not exactly amazing, I don’t think. Brooks has done better (“Blazing Saddles,” “The Producers,” the absolutely perfect in every way “Silent Movie”), but nevertheless this was a gateway film for a lot of things. It’s nothing to sniff at. Brooks was still working on a higher level than most comedy directors in this generation.

  • 8 9-28-2010 at 9:22 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Wrong Brooks MovieMan.

  • 9 9-28-2010 at 9:24 pm

    Rashad said...

    “Specific scenes from popular films are copied down to the letter, minus one or two riffs”

    Airplane did this too with Zero Hour

  • 10 9-28-2010 at 9:45 pm

    Speaking English said...

    For ’79, “The Black Stallion.” I recognize it was nominated for two Oscars, but that Caleb Deschanel’s stupendous cinematography wasn’t one of them is enough to warrant its mention here. What an underrated film.

  • 11 9-28-2010 at 11:21 pm

    Glenn said...

    I love, to this very day, that the Golden Globes nominated “Airplane!” (or as it’s called in Australia, “Flying High!”) The funniest movie ever made? I think this is one movie that you could give the title to and most people wouldn’t question it. Hysterical. A screenplay nomination might have been nice, don’t you think?

  • 12 9-29-2010 at 9:37 am

    Charles said...

    I think for 1979, “Alien” should be on the list. It’s a genre picture, but it aimed a lot higher and has been massively influential. It’s consistently rewatchable and can be seen on multiple levels. It’s also effectively frightening and disturbing, which is rare.

  • 13 9-29-2010 at 10:16 am

    David Morgan said...

    Even ignoring “Apocalypse Now” and “All That Jazz,” 1979 was a pretty good year:

    “The Black Stallion”
    “Camera Buff”
    “Gal Young ‘Un”
    “The Marriage of Maria Braun”
    “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”
    “Nosferatu the Vampyre”
    “Wise Blood”

    1980? Yep, “The Shining,” with honorable mentions to:
    “The Empire Strikes Back”
    “The Big Red One”
    “Breaker Morant”
    “The Long Good Friday”

  • 14 9-29-2010 at 10:46 am

    Dominik said...

    1979: “Manhattan” and “Breaking Away”

    1980: easy call: “Raging Bull”

  • 15 9-29-2010 at 12:42 pm

    Rashad said...

    I agree Charles. I think Alien is one of the best movies ever.

  • 16 9-29-2010 at 1:14 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    After all these weeks, some of you still aren’t getting the concept of this column: it’s about recognising the best films of a given year that received no Oscar nominations whatsoever.

    “Alien,” “The Black Stallion,” “Manhattan,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Breaker Morant,” “Breaking Away” and “Raging Bull” were all nominated for (and, in some cases, won) Oscars in their respective years.

    Anyway, love that Chad chose “Airplane!” for 1980 — it’s amazing how well that film holds up. Also, Julie Hagerty totally deserved a Best Supporting Actress nom.

    Agree with many of the titles suggested thus far, but would also like to throw in Joseph Losey’s “Don Giovanni” for 1979 and Brian DePalma’s “Dressed to Kill” for 1980.

  • 17 9-29-2010 at 2:47 pm

    Edward L. said...

    Another good column with a good pair of choices. For me, the best non-nominated films are:

    1979: The First Great Train Robbery and La luna 1980: American Gigolo and The Shining

    Wonderful films all.

  • 18 9-29-2010 at 3:32 pm

    Emi said...

    For 1979, I’d pick one of my favorite films and my favorite Fassbinder, The Marriage of Maria Braun.

  • 19 10-04-2010 at 8:47 am

    John said...

    “they are content with recognition being 100% of the joke”

    Family Guy is very, very guilty of this.

  • 20 10-05-2010 at 8:19 am

    Mike Smolinski said...

    1979: The Seduction of Joe Tynan

  • 21 10-06-2010 at 6:14 pm

    ChrisP said...

    For ’79 – The Onion Field has left a lasting impression for me. James Woods is phenomonal and the scene with John Savage and his baby makes me tense up thinking about it. It’s been over ten years since I watched it, but it’s still very fresh in my mind.

    Also The Wanderers, Over the Edge, and Going in Style

    For ’80 – Airplane! is a great pick – I think it’s one of the funniest movies ever made and nothing has bested it since it has come out.

    Not sure if it counts for ’79 or ’80, but The Long Good Friday is the best mob movie ever made. Seriously.

  • 22 10-13-2010 at 2:14 pm

    brendan said...

    Real Life is my favorite comedy of all time, no question. Charles Grodin and Albert Brooks are both amazing. If you’ve forgotten what a comic genius Grodin was Real Life, the original Heartbreak Kid, and Midnight Run are great reminders.