the first film I ever bought on video

My Top 20:

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  2. Gallipoli
  3. Reds
  4. Atlantic City
  5. Excalibur
  6. The French Lieutenant’s Woman
  7. Ragtime
  8. Body Heat
  9. Superman II
  10. Pixote
  11. The Boat is Full
  12. Man of Iron
  13. Absence of Malice
  14. Buddy Buddy
  15. The Fox and the Hound
  16. Chariots of Fire
  17. My Dinner with Andre
  18. Four Seasons
  19. Zoot Suit
  20. Pennies from Heaven

note:  A strange year.  There is a clear demarcation line between my Best Picture nominees (the top 5) and the rest.  They are my only **** films of the year – the next several films are all very high ***.5.

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Chariots of Fire
  • Best Director:  Warren Beatty  (Reds)
  • Best Actor:  Henry Fonda  (On Golden Pond)
  • Best Actress:  Katharine Hepburn  (On Golden Pond)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  John Gielgud  (Arthur)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Maureen Stapleton  (Reds)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  On Golden Pond
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Chariots of Fire
  • Best Foreign Film:  Mephisto

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Atlantic City
  • Best Director:  Warren Beatty  (Reds)
  • Best Actor:  Burt Lancaster  (Atlantic City)
  • Best Actress:  Meryl Streep  (The French Lieutenant’s Woman)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  John Gielgud  (Arthur)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Maureen Stapleton  (Reds)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  On Golden Pond
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Atlantic City
  • Best Foreign Film:  Pixote

It almost sank a studio, was trashed by critics, earned the Razzie for Worst Director (among five noms) and yet there it is at #600.

Top 5 Films  (Top 1000):

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark -  #179
  2. The Road Warrior: Mad Max 2 -  #391
  3. Blow Out -  #452
  4. Reds -  #525
  5. Heaven’s Gate -  #600
  6. The Woman Next Door -  #688
  7. Atlantic City -  #749
  8. Excalibur -  #895
  9. Cutter’s Way -  #922
  10. Four Friends -  #983

Top 5 Films  (1981 Best Picture Awards):

  1. Atlantic City
  2. Chariots of Fire
  3. Reds
  4. On Golden Pond
  5. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Top 10 Films  (1981 Awards Points):

  1. Reds -  1707
  2. Atlantic City -  1381
  3. On Golden Pond -  1189
  4. Chariots of Fire -  983
  5. Raiders of the Lost Ark -  845
  6. The French Lieutenant’s Woman -  748
  7. Arthur -  630
  8. Ragtime -  423
  9. Pixote -  312
  10. Pennies from Heaven -  289

The #1 grossing film of 1981 ends with possibly my favorite matte painting of all-time. (Raiders of the Lost Ark, of course)

Top 10 Films  (Box Office Gross):

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark -  $209.56 mil
  2. On Golden Pond -  $119.28 mil
  3. Superman II -  $108.18 mil
  4. Arthur -  $95.46 mil
  5. Stripes -  $85.29 mil
  6. Cannonball Run -  $72.17 mil
  7. Chariots of Fire -  $58.97 mil
  8. For Your Eyes Only -  $54.81 mil
  9. The Four Seasons -  $50.42 mil
  10. Time Bandits -  $42.36 mil

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark -  #60  (1998)  /  #66  (2007)

Ebert Great Films:

  • Body Heat
  • My Dinner with Andre
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • The Big Red One
  • Atlantic City
  • Pixote

Nighthawk Golden Globes:

Beatty and Keaton so should have won the Oscars for Reds (1981)

Drama:

  • Picture:  Gallipoli
  • Director:  Peter Weir  (Gallipoli)
  • Actor:  Warren Beatty  (Reds)
  • Actress:  Diane Keaton  (Reds)
  • Supporting Actor:  Howard Rollins, Jr.  (Ragtime)
  • Supporting Actress:  Maureen Stapleton  (Reds)
  • Adapted Screenplay:  The French Lieutenant’s Woman
  • Original Screenplay:  Atlantic City

Comedy:

  • Picture:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Director:  Steven Spielberg  (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Actor:  Harrison Ford  (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Actress:  Karen Allen  (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Supporting Actor:  John Gielgud  (Arthur)
  • Supporting Actress:  Liza Minnelli  (Arthur)
  • Adapted Screenplay:  Buddy Buddy
  • Original Screenplay:  Raiders of the Lost Ark

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Picture:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Director:  Steven Spielberg  (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Actor:  Warren Beatty  (Reds)
  • Actress:  Diane Keaton  (Reds)
  • Supporting Actor:  Howard Rollins, Jr.  (Ragtime)
  • Supporting Actress:  Maureen Stapleton  (Reds)
  • Adapted Screenplay:  The French Lieutenant’s Woman
  • Original Screenplay:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Editing:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Cinematography:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Original Score:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Sound:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Art Direction:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Visual Effects:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Sound Editing:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Costume Design:  Ragtime
  • Makeup:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Original Song:  “One More Hour”  (Ragtime)
  • Foreign Film:  Das Boot
  • Animated Film:  The Fox and the Hound

Judi Bowker was cute in Clash of the Titans, but good god was she bad

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Best Line (Comedic):  “We’re Americans.  You know what that means?  That means our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world.”  (Bill Murray in Stripes)
  • Best Line (Dramatic):  “Good God.” “Yes, that’s just what the Hebrews thought.”  (William Hootkins and Denholm Elliott in Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Best Opening Credits:  Superman II
  • Best Ending:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Best Scene:  the truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Performance to Fall in Love With:  Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Worst Attractiveness / Acting Ability Ratio: Judi Bowker in Clash of the Titans
  • Best Ensemble:  Ragtime
  • Funniest Film:  Stripes
  • Best Guilty Pleasure:  Cannonball Run
  • Worst Film:  Piranha Part Two

Film History: MGM buys United Artists.  The WGA has a three month strike.  Henry Fonda wins his only Oscar for his final film role, On Golden Pond.  Longtime New York Times critic Bosley Crowther dies.  William Wyler dies in July, Robert Montgomery in September and William Holden in October.  Natalie Wood drowns on 29 November.  Edith Head, by far the most honored costume designer in film history, dies on my seventh birthday.  Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Iron wins the Golden Palm at Cannes.  Harrison Ford becomes the first film star to have three films gross over $200 million and Steven Spielberg becomes the first director to have two films gross over $200 million.

Academy Awards: For the only time between 1964 and 2005, all five Best Picture nominees are nominated for Best Director.  Warren Beatty becomes the first person to receive four Oscar nominations for the same film more than once.  Chariots of Fire becomes the first film since 1966 to win a Screenplay Oscar without a WGA nomination and the first Best Picture winner since 1961 not to have a lead acting nomination.  For the first time since 1967, three films are nominated for Actor and Actress (On Golden Pond, Reds, Atlantic City).  On Golden Pond becomes the fourth film in seven years to win Actor and Actress, something that happens only 3 other times in Oscar history outside of that stretch.  Reds has the most nominations in 15 years (12), but still fails to win Best Picture.  Reds becomes the last film (to date) to earn nominations in all four acting categories.  Ragtime becomes the only film to end up among the top all-time films for nominations with no Best Picture nomination and nominations without any wins (8) – in other words, of the 166 films to date that have earned 8 Oscar nominations all of them have either been nominated for Best Picture (160 films) or won an Oscar (the other 5) except Ragtime.  The Academy finally institutes the Best Makeup category, therefore assuring nominations and Oscars for horrendous films for years to come.  Hungary wins its only Best Foreign Film Oscar in 8 tries.  Only 26 feature films are nominated for Oscars – the lowest total since 1934, and only 7 films win an Oscar – the lowest total since 1933.  No year since has had fewer films nominated (only two years have had fewer than 30 and they both had 29) and only 1997, with Titanic‘s 11 Oscars has had as few winning films.

Their biggest screw-up, aside from the Oscar for Screenplay for On Golden Pond, is the absence of a Screenplay nomination for Raiders.  But, in spite of the 8 noms and the 5 Oscars, they under-estimated Raiders.  Certainly it should have been in both the Actor and Actress race (instead of Dudley Moore and yet another of the same Marsha Mason performances in a Neil Simon script).  They also should have had both the Excalibur supporting players (Williamson and Mirren) instead of the bland performance from Only When I Laugh (which really is a pretty bad film).  Outside of that, there is the fact that Heartbeeps, Heaven’s Gate, Outland, and Endless Love all had as many Oscar nominations as Excalibur, Body Heat and Gallipoli combined.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for On Golden Pond
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Original Song for “Endless Love” from Endless Love
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  Heaven’s Gate
  • Best Eligible Film with No Oscar Nominations:  Gallipoli
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Supporting Actress
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Supporting Actress, Editing, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Effects Editing (Special Award)

Golden Globes: Reds becomes the first film nominated for all 7 major awards at the Globes since Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 1966 (it won’t happen again until 2002 with Chicago), but it only manages to win Director.  On Golden Pond and Arthur are the big winners, with Pond taking home Picture, Screenplay and Actor and Arthur winning Picture (Comedy), Actor (Comedy), Supporting Actor and Song.  Chariots of Fire is ineligible for Best Picture, but wins Best Foreign Film (it is the first Oscar winner to fail to earn a Globe nomination for Picture since 1973).  In the rare year where all 5 DGA nominees are nominated for Picture and Director at the Oscars, only two of them are nominated for Picture and Director at the Globes – Reds and On Golden PondAtlantic City and Raiders are both nominated for Director, but not Picture (it is the only nomination for Raiders, which becomes the first film in 18 years to earn a Director nomination but no other nominations) and Chariots of Fire is nominated for neither.  Instead, Ragtime and Prince of the City both earn Picture and Director nominations with The French Lieutenant’s Woman picking up the final Picture (Drama) slot and winning Actress.

Awards: Atlantic City and Reds are the big winners at the critics awards – not just winning two Best Pictures each (NSFC and LAFC for Atlantic, NBR and NYFC for Reds), but a handful of other awards as well.  Atlantic City takes home four Best Actor awards (NYFC, NSFC, LAFC, BSFC), three Screenplay (NYFC, NSFC, LAFC) and one Director (NSFC).  The 340 points from the four awards from the National Society of Film Critics for Atlantic City is a record for the group (later tied, never exceeded).  Reds, on the other hand wins Supporting Actor from NBR and BSFC, Supporting Actress from NSFC and LAFC, Director from NBR and LAFC and Cinematography from LAFC.  Chariots of Fire ties for Best Picture with Reds at the NBR, Pixote wins Best Picture in Boston and Steven Spielberg wins his first critics award for Best Director from Boston for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

For the first time, all five DGA nominees are nominated for Picture and Director at the Oscars (something that won’t happen again until 2005) and all earn WGA noms except Chariots of Fire.  With only a DGA nomination, Chariots of Fire is the least successful film in the history of the Guild Awards to go on to win Best Picture at the Oscars.  Reds becomes the first film since The Lion in Winter to win the DGA and WGA but not win Best Picture at the Oscars.  On Golden Pond, Rich and Famous and Arthur are the other three WGA winners.  Reds and On Golden Pond are also both nominated for the ACE (American Cinema Editors), but lose to RaidersRaiders also wins one of the two Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards with Wolfen winning the other.

For the second year in a row, Picture, Director and Screenplay at the BAFTAs go to three different films.  Chariots of Fire wins Picture (and Supporting Actor and Costume Design among its 11 nominations), Atlantic City wins Director (and Actor among its 4 nominations), and Gregory’s Girl wins Screenplay (among its three nominations).  All three films are nominated for Picture, Director and Screenplay along with French Lieutenant’s Woman (which wins Actress, Score and Sound among its 11 nominations).  Raiders is the final Picture nominee but misses out on Director and Screenplay and only manages to win Art Direction.  Reds and On Golden Pond wouldn’t be eligible until the next year.

John Boorman's epic take on the Arthur legend: Excalibur (1981)

Under-appreciated Film of 1981:

Excalibur (dir. John Boorman)

My first instinct was to write about Gallipoli.  After all, it isn’t in the Top 1000 and didn’t receive a single nomination from any group.  On the other hand, I didn’t want to watch it again because it’s so damn depressing and I wasn’t in the mood to write positively about Mel Gibson.  So, instead, I’m going with Excalibur, which only managed a Cinematography nomination at the Oscars and a Costume Design nomination from the BAFTAs.

There are some flaws to be had in the film, no doubt.  It is an awfully bleak rendition of the Arthur legend, it lacks in acting prowess from two of the major leads (Nigel Terry is solid as Arthur, but Nicholas Clay is fairly bland as Lancelot and Cherie Lunghi competes for the Worst Attractiveness / Acting Ratio) and the later part of the film seems condensed.

But there are great things to be found in the film as well.  In a year where On Golden Pond, with its trite script and lackluster technical qualities earned nominations for Picture, Director, Editing and Sound and won for Best Adapted Screenplay, Excalibur was nominated for none of these.  But it is fascinating to look at, is marvelously filmed, has inspiring art direction, great costumes and makeup, solid effects, is well constructed, has a solid script and great direction.  While the leads are problematic, the two primary supporting roles – in a sense, the roles that the film really revolves around are played with great gusto and inspiration by Nicole Williamson as Merlin and Helen Mirren as Morgana.

Here’s what a good chunk of it comes down to.  There are a lot of films that have been made about the Arthur legend over the years.  But this is the only satisfying one.  There is, of course, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but that isn’t really the legend.  This film attacks the legend with energy – it is made on an epic scale, makes great use of the myth, making sure to cover all the fascinating parts of the story (Uther, Sword in the Stone, Lady in the Lake, Guinevere / Lancelot affair, Holy Grail, Passing of Arthur).  It finds great ways to simplify when necessary (combining Excalibur with the Sword in the Stone; finding a way to dispose of Merlin during the fall of Camelot; combining Lancelot, Percival and Bedevere into one character), but is always clear in what is happening.  It never delves into humor, keeping the story serious and is always compelling.  For one of the great stories of all-time, one that keeps bringing people back, one that I have been reading for 30 years, this is the one film version that gets it the most right.

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