LIFE WITHOUT OSCAR: 1983 and 1984

Posted by · 7:01 pm · October 12th, 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

1983 was dominated by James L. Brooks and his sentimental weepie, “Terms of Endearment.” I can’t imagine it deserved the award, but I also have no room to complain since this is one of the few Best Picture fields where the winner is the only title I’ve actually seen.

Linda Hunt won Best Supporting Actress for “The Year of Living Dangerously,” playing a man. Felicity Huffman would come close to doing the same in 2005, while Sarah Jessica Parker sees her efforts continually overlooked film after film (I kid, I kid).

1984 was a battle royale between “Amadeus” and “A Passage to India,” with Milos Forman’s biopic eventually emerging triumphant. This year also saw Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid” nominated in the same ceremony that awarded the first acting Oscar for an Asian to Haing S. Ngor.

Take it away, Sally Field- “The first time I didn’t feel it. But this time I feel it! And I can’t deny the fact that you like me! Right now, you like me!”

1983 – “The King of Comedy” (Martin Scorsese)

Guess what guys? “The King of Comedy” is the best film Scorsese has ever directed and the best performance De Niro has ever given. Crucify me if you want, and take nothing away from their amazing work on “Raging Bull,” but the amazing balancing act of comedy, pathos, satire, commentary and psychology on display here is truly a once-in-a-career success.

Let’s start with De Niro. Few would argue that he’s in the conversation of the greatest actors of all time. His subtle, dramatic chops are legendary and he’s even garnered praise recently for both his deadpan (“Meet the Parents”) and broad (“Analyze This”) comedy skills. He’s never been funnier than as Rupert Pupkin, simply because he never lets the absurdity of the circumstances stop him from playing it 100% straight. It’s the type of deeply troubled character that a lesser actor would want to keep a slight distance from, particularly in a comedy, but De Niro dives in headfirst.

He’s matched by Jerry Lewis, unorthodoxly playing both a version of himself and the straight man. His mix of old school Hollywood cadence with Scorsese’s new school style makes for an interesting playdate and I imagine many were surprised when they saw Lewis so subdued and bitter back in 1983. Variety’s dismissive pan of the film and its anemic box office results seem to indicate that the film just didn’t connect with audiences at all at the time, although now it can be viewed as decades ahead of its time.

Principally in the theme of the media making celebrities out of criminals and the psychologically impaired for our entertainment. Just how psychologically impaired Ruper Pupkin is never becomes concrete, which is one of the real joys of the film. Scorsese expertly lets the exact nature of his main character slowly emerge through inventive cutting, fantasy sequences and De Niro’s tour de force, but is also quick to allow our allegiance to him form.

I can’t say enough about the film and the performance. It’s biting, witty, bold and prescient.

1984 – “Gremlins” (Joe Dante)

’84 is another weak year for eligible titles. What am I missing guys? And yes, I’ve seen “This is Spinal Tap.” Anyway, let’s take nothing away from “Gremlins,” which is a fantastic family(?) horror/fantasy/comedy/adventure. In a way, it embodies everything about the cinema of the 1980’s in one delectable stew. Puppets, Steven Spielberg’s guiding hand, dark films for children, Judge Reinhold and word-of-mouth box office success.

The puppets are the true stars, with Michael Joyce and his crew amazingly robbed of any kind of Oscar consideration. The cuddly mogwai and his sinister offspring never look 100% real, but also never feel less than 100% present in the scene, which is a trade off I’d take any day of the week. By the end of the film, they are all individual characters as identifiable as any of the humans.

That’s also partly because the humans aren’t exactly intricately fleshed out characters. Zach Galligan is your everyday neighborhood nice guy, Phoebe Cates his wholesome girlfriend. Hoyt Axton the well-meaning father and Corey Feldman an annoying brat. The only time the characters step out of their stock outlines is a sucker-punch of a scene involving Cates and her disdain for Christmas. Weirdly out of place, but also exhilaratingly out of place for a supposed kids movie.

Joe Dante keeps things brisk and entertaining, while cinematographer John Hora has a lot of fun with the snowy environment and a great job with the unenviable task of lighting puppets to make them look real. The overall film has a great undercurrent of dread and anti-cheer, underlined by that Cates revelation. Throw in Jerry Goldsmith’s properly chaotic and driving score and it all adds up to a great deal of fun.

Those are my picks. What do you guys think?

[Photo: Arts Meme]
[Photo: Killer Films]

→ 38 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Life Without Oscar

38 responses so far

  • 1 10-12-2010 at 7:14 pm

    kel said...

    Actually, Miyoshi Umeki won for SAYONARA. Also, Ben Kingsley for GANDHI. Also, Olivia de Havilland and sister Joan Fontaine were born in Asia to a military father

  • 2 10-12-2010 at 7:17 pm

    N8 said...

    Two solid titles here.

    I’m close to agreeing with you on “The King of Comedy” being Scorsese’s best.

    And “Gremlins” has always been a seasonal favourite of mine.

  • 3 10-12-2010 at 7:35 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “Gremlins?” Above, say, oh, “Paris, Texas?” Wow.

  • 4 10-12-2010 at 7:37 pm

    Speaking English said...

    And “The Right Stuff” clearly should have been the winner in 1983. See it.

  • 5 10-12-2010 at 7:40 pm

    Rashad said...

    Gremlins deserves all the praise in the world.

    1984 is a terribly underrated film.

  • 6 10-12-2010 at 7:57 pm

    ScottC said...

    Love the 1983 pick, and I think there’s a strong case to be made for it being De Niro’s best performance. I wouldn’t say it’s Scorsese’s #1, but its one of his best.

  • 7 10-12-2010 at 8:26 pm

    Jordan Cronk said...

    Well, four that I can think of that are better than these would be Nostalghia, Stranger Than Paradise
    Paris, Texas, and Once Upon a Time in America.

    With that being said, I have a spot in my heart for both of these, and for completely different reasons.

  • 8 10-12-2010 at 8:29 pm

    Jordan Cronk said...

    Oh, and also Cassavetes’ Love Streams and Bresson’s L’argent.

  • 9 10-12-2010 at 8:43 pm

    Jacob S. said...


  • 10 10-12-2010 at 8:56 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “Ghostbusters” was nominated.

  • 11 10-12-2010 at 9:06 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    kel- Good call on Umeki. Not sure the others count.

    Speaking English – Paris, Texas I need to see

  • 12 10-12-2010 at 9:11 pm

    Patriotsfan said...

    I like the Sarah Jessica Parker joke. As for 1984, I would definitely take This is Spinal Tap over Gremlins, but if your not going to go for that, how about The Terminator?

    I’m a huge fan of the original Terminator because it is a dark, relentless sci-fi/horror film with a cool techno sound track. Michael Biehn gives a great underrated performance, and for me, this is easily Schwarzenegger best performance (even though, or maybe because, he hardly says anything). Plus there is a scene where Schwarzenegger shoots up a police station. That’s enough for me.

  • 13 10-12-2010 at 9:16 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Interesting… you seem like the type of person who would have seen “Paris, Texas.”

  • 14 10-12-2010 at 9:17 pm

    al b. said...

    Love the dig on Parker! Gremlins is a fantastic choice! I’ve seen it at least 10 times and each time, it just gets better! Billy Peltzer is one of the great movie protagonists!

  • 15 10-12-2010 at 9:22 pm

    Jeorge. said...

    ‘Blood Simple’ would be a pretty good pick for 1984.

  • 16 10-12-2010 at 11:01 pm

    par3182 said...

    I agree ‘King of Comedy’ is Scorsese’s best; but let’s not forget the best supporting actress of ’83 – Sandra Bernhard.

    As for ’84 – I’m on the ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ bandwagon.

  • 17 10-12-2010 at 11:10 pm

    Andrew Rech said...

    For ’83 Videodrome.

    I think ’84 is one of the better years of the 80’s and you need to get on Paris, Texas right away. Was it Guy that posted that still of Nastassja Kinski looking over her shoulder a while back? You need to see every last bit of that gorgeous film and Kinski’s beautiful performance.

    Also for ’84, Pedro Almodóvar’s What Have I Done to Deserve This? A really really underrated film of his. Where else would you find alcoholics trying to write fake memoirs of Hitler in his handwriting and a sex addicted dentist?

  • 18 10-12-2010 at 11:48 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Count me in on the This is Spinal Tap bandwagon as well. People tend to dismiss it because of its cult status, and I’m not sure why.

  • 19 10-13-2010 at 12:13 am

    Glenn said...

    “King of Comedy” for sure. My second favourite Scorsese after “Taxi Driver”.

    As for ’84? “Paris, Texas” all the way.

  • 20 10-13-2010 at 12:44 am

    Edward L. said...

    For me, the best non-nominated films were Scarface for 1983 and Stop Making Sense for 1984.

    And Chad, if you haven’t seen Tender Mercies from 1983’s crop of BP nominees, it’s well worth checking out.

  • 21 10-13-2010 at 3:05 am

    Carson Dyle said...

    Secret Honor for ’84.

  • 22 10-13-2010 at 4:41 am

    Jim T said...

    Gremlins rule!! One of the best examples of creepy fun.

  • 23 10-13-2010 at 6:07 am

    RJL said...

    1983: The King of Comedy
    1984: All of Me

  • 24 10-13-2010 at 6:14 am

    the other mike said...

    what year did Trading places and Delirious come out? they’d be my pick

    King Of Comedy? Brilliant. seen it a few times and is one of those films that never ages for me.

  • 25 10-13-2010 at 6:16 am

    John H. Foote said...

    83 and 84 were interesting years for who was NOT nominated — in 83 the superb political thriller thriller Under Fire should have been a Best Picture nominee, though I have no issue with Terms of Endearment winning all that it did — best film ever made about mothers and daughters, and that will always be a relationship guys possess no insight towards — in 84 Amadeus was clearly the Best Film, though Once Upon a Time in America should have been among the nominees, along with Moscow on the Hudson and Robin Williams brilliant transformation into a Russian sax player who defects and builds a life in NYC — lots of good can be said about Jessica Lange’s powerful performance in Country which I preferred to Field’s win —

  • 26 10-13-2010 at 7:57 am

    James D. said...

    I haven’t seen The King of Comedy since I was too young to appreciate it. I need to check in on it this weekend.

  • 27 10-13-2010 at 8:49 am

    Chrisp said...

    1983 – The King of Comedy is my #2 of 1983, right behind the film that deserved the Best Picture win – The Dresser.

    1984 – The Terminator is pure awesome-ness. Relentless, hyper-violent 80’s pulp. Beyond that, The Hit with Terence Stamp, John Hurt, and (an Oscar nomination deserving) Tim Roth. Without a doubt, Stephen Frears best film.

  • 28 10-13-2010 at 9:32 am

    Casey Fiore said...

    Scorsese, myself, and my mother all agree that The King of Comedy is De Niro’s best work. I know I’m the only one who can appreciate the significance of my mom’s taste for this movie but if you knew how much my mom hates anything that isn’t bright and sunny and psychologically reaffirming then you’d bet the house that De Niro kicks a lot of ass as Rupert Pupkin.

  • 29 10-13-2010 at 10:25 am

    the other mike said...

    what year did Scarface come out?

  • 30 10-13-2010 at 11:09 am

    Jeremy said...

    I still think “Blood Simple” is the Coens’ best film, so it’s my choice for ’84, though I’d also throw “The Terminator” in the mix.

  • 31 10-13-2010 at 12:23 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...


    I can’t judge you since I’m a devoted Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) fan.

  • 32 10-13-2010 at 1:07 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Scarface is horrible.

  • 33 10-13-2010 at 2:04 pm

    interstellar said...

    others said the terminator for 1984;
    so I say “the meaning of life” for 1983. And I mean it.
    After all there are movies that won oscars, and movies you would watch again and again…

  • 34 10-13-2010 at 2:20 pm

    Langston said...

    Paris, Texas.

  • 35 10-13-2010 at 5:05 pm

    El Rocho said...


  • 36 10-13-2010 at 6:09 pm

    Glenn said...

    I agree with Par3182 about Sandra Bernhard. That performance is phenomenal!

  • 37 10-13-2010 at 11:31 pm

    the other mike said...

    Scarface horrible? Chad, thats elitist.

  • 38 10-14-2010 at 12:17 pm

    average joe said...

    I had the pleasure of seeing King of Comedy at the Grauman’s Chinese for the TCM festival a few months ago. Awesome experience. Lots of empty seats though, lots of people missed out. Of course, it probably didn’t help that the screening was sandwiched in between The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and the North American premiere of the restored Metropolis