Sunday, December 5, 2010

1987 Retro By Cam Cannon

What Shoulda Won Best Picture: 1987

Most of the movies I’ve seen from 1987 are not what I would call decent. It was feast or famine. I loved several. I hated many. The Academy’s nominees for best picture…

The Last Emperor: Bertolucci’s beautiful portrait of China’s last emperor. Beautiful is, of course, code for boring. Anytime someone says a movie is beautiful, chances are it’s a long, glacially paced affair. In this case, they took an interesting story and decided to make it…beautiful. Shocker, this would take home the prize.
Broadcast News: Great characters, witty dialogue, a love triangle that ends on the melancholy side…I love every single second of it. Smart, not smug, mainstream, but not cloying or cute.

Fatal Attraction: The movie everyone was talking about. A genuine crowd pleaser that served as a template for many thrillers to come. Adrian Lyne’s second cry for help. Dude has issues with women. Big time. Issues.
Hope and Glory: One of two WWII Oscar-bait movies that year, both featuring children in the lead role. The other was Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun,” starring the already-intense Christian Bale.

Moonstruck: Norman Jewison’s comedy that forever altered any trailer advertising a movie starring Cher.
What should have been nominated? If I may be so bold:

Broadcast News: Line up to take a swing, James L. Brooks haters. I know you’re out there.
The Untouchables: I got a per-mit for that. In researching this piece on Wikipedia, I found that Vincent Canby called it, “vulgar, violent, funny, and sometimes breathtakingly beautiful.” So much for my theory on what people really mean when they say a movie is beautiful.
Raising Arizona: Mighty fine cereal flakes, Mrs. McDonough.
Full Metal Jacket: Devoid of any emotional core, filled with dark humor, and anchored by R. Lee Ermey’s signature role. Also the inspiration for one of the funniest SNL skits of the era, with Phil Hartman as a less witty version of the drill sergeant. What’s that? Vincent Canby called it beautiful? Well, shit.
My Life as a Dog: If you haven’t seen this foreign film, put it in your Netflix queue. Funny, sad, unpredictable, and endlessly entertaining.
Holy cow. Cam Cannon just put a foreign language film on his favorites list. If you think I’m gettin’ all uppity, don’t worry. “My Life as a Dog” barely edged out “Can’t Buy Me Love” to make my list.
This is a tough choice, but it comes down to two movies for me…

“My Life as a Dog.” Okay. I can admit it. While I’ve always loved this movie, I grew to like it even more working at Blockbuster in West Hollywood, CA. Why? Because it made me feel cool. Snobs would come in, ask for us to recommend a good foreign film to them, and I would think, “Rent a damn American movie, why don’t you?” But then, I would trudge to the foreign films, and because they were snobs, they would feel very pleased and smug about the fact that they had seen most of them. Except that hardly any of them had ever seen “My Life as a Dog.” Another few had seen was “Man Bites Dog,” and so I would recommend it to them. And feel cool and smug. At least I can admit it, which makes me very similar to Tom Grunik in my choice for Best Picture 1987…

“Broadcast News”…played by Best Actor Nominee William Hurt. Tom is dense. Dumb, even. But he kinda owns it, definitely admits it, and figures out how to use his charm and good looks to advance his career in the business of TV news. The movie is basically a love triangle between dim bulb Tom, the newest member of a fictional national news team, know-it-all perfectionist producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), and smug mensa nerd Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks). On the surface, each of these characters is nothing short of unlikable. But Brooks has them acknowledge and wrestle with their own flaws, and, right up until a late twist, we’re kinda rooting for all of them.

Brooks’ comedy is always character based. Tom is funny because he’s so incredibly ignorant. On the other hand, Jane is whip-smart, and the some of the biggest laughs stem from the fact that she considers this a burden, as in this exchange:
Network President: It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you’re the smartest person in the room.
Jane: No. It’s awful.
But the funniest character is hopeless, un-telegenic nerd Aaron, who has clearly learned to use humor as a defense mechanism. It’s his journalistic nose for the truth that leads to the ultimate revelation about the empty suit that is Tom. He’s the conscience of the movie, and perhaps is representative of the director himself.
Brooks clearly has a point to make with “Broadcast News.” A little over halfway into the movie, before he’s let his bitterness consume him, Aaron gently informs Jane that Tom “…while a nice guy, is the devil,” before the following rant, which sums up the movie and Brooks’ point:
“What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I’m semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing… he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance… Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he’ll get all the great women.”

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