A perfect example of the populist Best Picture winner: Dances with Wolves, which beat out GoodFellas in 1990

The 63rd Academy Awards for the film year 1990.  The nominations were announced on February 19, 1991 and the awards were held on March 25, 1991.

Best Picture:  Dances with Wolves

  • GoodFellas
  • The Godfather Part III
  • Awakenings
  • Ghost

Most Surprising Omission:  Reversal of Fortune

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Miller’s Crossing

Rank  (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #22

The Race:  By the end of the summer, the big box office hits were earning some interest in some of the performances – Julia Roberts’ star turn in Pretty Woman, Al Pacino’s comeback in Dick Tracy and Whoopi Goldberg’s scene-stealing in Ghost, but none of the critics were bowled over.  The critics were waiting for Marty Scorsese’s new gangster film, GoodFellas.  When it opened, it was an immediate critical hit – critics were as quick to proclaim it the best film of the new decade as they had Raging Bull the best of the previous one.  But Scorsese was also producing – in this case, a fifties style noir film called The Grifters from Stephen Frears.  The film, and star Anjelica Huston, started getting all sorts of praise and Scorsese had truly returned to the Oscar fold.

Oliver Stone was also playing producer.  His film was Reversal of Fortune, the story of Allan Dershowitz’s time on the Claus von Bulow case.  Directing was internationally acclaimed Barbet Scroeder and playing von Bulow was Jeremy Irons, whose great work through the decade had yet to be noticed by the Oscars, though the reviews instantly made it clear that Oscar could ignore Irons no longer.

Also having escaped Oscar’s notice so far was Kevin Costner, in spite of The Untouchables, Bull Durham and Field of Dreams.  Now he was directing his first film – a three hour epic Western, much of it in Lakota, and telling the story of the Native American view of the American settling of the West.  But all skepticism was swept aside as soon as the film opened.  Orion Pictures opened it slowly, for the first two weeks in just 14 theaters, but the result was tremendous and when they opened it wide, it immediately started making money.  It then, without ever reaching the top spot in the box office, continued to make money.  By the time of the Oscar nominations, it had made over $100 million and by the time of the ceremony, it had been in the top 10 of the box office for 18 straight weeks.  It would eventually become the third biggest film of the year and by far the biggest film to not ever rule the box office (a record it would hold for 14 years).

But the film that everyone seemed to be waiting for, and dreading at the same time, was the third installment of The Godfather.  After many delays, Francis Coppola had finally gotten the final chapter in the story of Michael Corleone underway.  But it started going over budget, he had to sink his own money into it and Winona Ryder had to drop out due to exhaustion.  With enough of his own money put into the film to ensure completion and his daughter Sofia replacing Ryder, Coppola was rushing to finish the film in time to open on Christmas Day and qualify for the Oscars.

Before it could open, the awards started coming out.  The National Board of Review gave Best Picture and Director to Dances with Wolves.  Their Top 10 included GoodFellas, Reversal of Fortune, The Grifters and two films that had been getting some good critical attention: Barry Levinson’s Avalon, which completed his Baltimore Trilogy, and Penny Marshall’s Awakenings, about the relationship between a doctor (played by Robin Williams) and a patient who awakens after years asleep (played by Robert DeNiro).  DeNiro and Williams also tied for Best Actor, which only helped Awakenings, as it was just about to hit theaters.

But now the awards were all about GoodFellas.  It would go on to win Picture and Director from the LA Film Critics, the New York Film Critics, the Boston Society of Film Critics, the National Society of Film Critics and the Chicago Film Critics.  It was quickly, before Coppola’s film even hit theaters, making itself the gangster film of choice.  Coppola’s film did open on Christmas Day, to somewhat mixed critical responses, a tremendous amount of press and a critical dubbing of Sofia’s acting.  It also earned an instant boost from the Golden Globe nominations, two days later – it received 7 nominations, the most for any film in nine years.

Joining Godfather in the Best Picture – Drama category were Dances with Wolves (6 noms), GoodFellas (5), Reversal of Fortune (4) and Avalon (3).  Ghost, Pretty Woman and Dick Tracy were all up for 4 awards, including Best Picture, but it was in one of the least regarded Comedy fields in years, and they would all go on to lose to Green CardGodfather‘s nomination lead would be for naught as it would lose all of them and Dances would sweep Picture, Director and Screenplay.  Of the other Drama nominees, only Reversal of Fortune would manage any wins – for Irons.

With Dances, GoodFellas and Godfather taking three of the slots (strongly aided with Directors Guild nominations for all three), the other contenders began to emerge.  The previous year, the Producers Guild had held their first awards and their eight nominees had included all five Best Picture nominees.  This year, they only chose three films and they passed over both gangster films in favor of Dances with Wolves, Avalon and AwakeningsAvalon also earned Directors Guild and Writers Guild nominations.  The final slot would go to Cinema Paradiso, which was unlikely to make it into the nominees.  Among the WGA nominees contending for the final Oscar slot were Ghost, Pretty Woman, Awakenings, The Grifters and Reversal of Fortune.

The Results:  Hearing on the radio in the morning the news of the nominations, the commentators started hailing the success of Dances with Wolves (12 nominations – the most in 9 years), The Godfather Part III (7 nominations), GoodFellas (6 nominations), Ghost (5 nominations and a surprise Best Picture nomination) and Dick Tracy (7 nominations).  Lost in Dick Tracy‘s success was that, except for Al Pacino’s nomination for Best Supporting Actor, all the nominations were in technical fields.  It was Awakenings that had slipped into the final Best Picture slot, even though it only had 3 nominations.  Awakenings and Ghost had managed to push out The Grifters and Reversal of Fortune, though the latter two films were both nominated for Director and Adapted Screenplay and were front-runners for the lead acting awards.  Avalon had managed only four nominations and had been left out of the Picture and Director races.  (By the way – if The Grifters and Reversal of Fortune bounce Ghost and Awakenings, my rank for this year moves from #22 to #6).

Aside from a huge lead in nominations, Dances soon won the Producers Guild Award.  This began to be par for the course as it would go on to win the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild, the American Cinema Editors and even the American Society of Cinematographers.  Going into Oscar night, it seemed like the only question was how many awards would it win?  On the big night, it stumbled at first – winning only one of its first four nominations.  But after that, it was gold, taking home 6 more Oscars.

The pride of Villa Park High School: Kevin Costner winning Best Picture and Director for Dances with Wolves (1990)

Dances with Wolves

  • Director:  Kevin Costner
  • Writer:  Michael Blake  (from his novel)
  • Producer:  Jim Wilson  /  Kevin Costner
  • Studio:  Orion
  • Stars:  Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant, Wes Studi
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Costner), Supporting Actor (Greene), Supporting Actress (McDonnell), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design
  • Oscar Points:  590
  • Length:  181 min
  • Genre:  Western
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Box Office Gross:  $184.20 mil  (#3 – 1990)
  • Release Date:  9 November 1990
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #2  (year)  /  #73  (nominees)  /  #27  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress (McDonnell), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup
  • Nighthawk Points:  350
  • First Watched:  Thanksgiving 1990 at the City Cinema with my brother John

The Film:  Dances with Wolves is one of those films that I label as populist, which seems ironic as I have just returned from a conference of historians that began with a discussion of the term populism.  But Dances was the first of three films that all did the same thing – it got great critical reviews (better than the latter two examples), had big box office (not as big as the latter two), got mostly passed over by the critics awards (though it won the NBR – the most populist of the critics awards) in favor of one specific film, but then went on to take the Globes, the Guilds and the Oscars.

There were clear differences here.  GoodFellas, Pulp Fiction and L.A. Confidential were the critics darlings.  GoodFellas won five Picture and Director awards.  Pulp Fiction won four Picture awards and swept Director and Screenplay.  L.A. Confidential swept all three.  They are all remembered as some of the best, if not the best films of the decade.  But combined they only went 4 for 22 at the Oscars and their combined box office gross wasn’t much more than Dances’ gross alone.  On the other hand, Dances with Wolves, Forrest Gump and Titanic were all tremendous box office successes, they all did won Picture and Director at the Globes, they all set new records for nominations and awards at the guilds and they took home 24 Oscars – more than the three critical favorites even had nominations.  Clearly they had widespread popular appeal (they even affected the ratings – the Gump and Titanic Oscars have the highest ratings of the last 25 years).

But the similarities really end there.  Forrest Gump is a well-made but flawed film.  Titanic has amazing production values but is undermined by a script so stupid that it is perhaps the reason for many of the tears.  But Dances is quite frankly a first-rate film, the second best film of the year, better than the three previous Oscar winners and was a good choice — it just wasn’t the right choice.  In fact, I remember a Far Side cartoon with three people standing around, complaining that the film is unfairly critical of the soldiers and that the buffalo hunt looks fake, in a big empty room with the caption “The Didn’t Like Dances with Wolves Society.”  After all, 21 years after the last (and only) Western to make $100 million had been released, this was the third highest grossing film of the year – a 3 hour revisionist Western.  Kevin Costner was one of the biggest stars in the world, but clearly there was enormous popular appeal and there were few people other than us critics who were disappointed by the win and really only my old roommate Jonathan Miller who actually was mad because he didn’t like the film.

Dances could also be attacked today on the rather “new age” aspect of the film.  It certainly is a much more enlightened film than any other previous Western.  And some of these views are attacks on Costner, who many saw as a typical Hollywood liberal trying to rewrite western history (there are two major ironies here – the first being that Costner went to high school in the deeply conservative Orange County at the same time that an Orange County native, Richard Nixon, was in the White House; the second is that this is the first Western to win Best Picture since 1931 but would be followed just two years later by another Western – the must more conservative Unforgiven, made by that Republican stallwart, Clint Eastwood).  But the enlightened approach really opens up the film – not just empty canyons and stark deserts that are beautifully but violently photographed.  This is a film of the plains, beautifully directed with incredible sound, art direction and costume design (and makeup, which, unlike all the other technical aspects, did not earn an Oscar nomination).  But what is most impressive is the editing.  I remember seeing the film in the theater over Thanksgiving weekend and being surprised as it started winding down, as it didn’t seem like it had been two hours, let alone three.  It moves along so crisply that you don’t notice the epic length.

But the key thing is that Dances, like Gump and Titanic after it, is very much an Oscar film.  All of them deal with things on an epic scale (part of the reason that all three did well in the technical categories — both in nominations and in wins), they all have romance, they all are films which draw in the everyday moviegoer and draw them back.  In spite of their lengths, they can all be date films – something that GoodFellas, Pulp Fiction and L.A. Confidential could never be.  Still, we can just count ourselves lucky that Dances is that rare film that actually was deserving of its accolades, even if it was only the second best film of 1990.

GoodFellas (1990) is the best film of the nineties. Case closed.

GoodFellas

  • Director:  Martin Scorsese
  • Writer:  Martin Scorsese  /  Nicholas Pileggi  (from the book Wiseguy by Pileggi)
  • Producer:  Irwin Winkler
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Lorraine Bracco, Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Pesci), Supporting Actress (Bracco), Editing
  • Oscar Points:  250
  • Length:  146 min
  • Genre:  Crime  (Mafia)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Box Office Gross:  $46.83 mil  (#26 – 1990)
  • Release Date:  21 September 1990
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1  (year)  /  #8  (nominees)  /  #11  (all-time)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Liotta), Actor (DeNiro), Supporting Actor (Pesci), Supporting Actress (Bracco), Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Costume Design
  • Nighthawk Points:  670
  • First Watched:  on video in August 1991 after getting my wisdom teeth pulled

The Film:  Part way through the film, we watch Henry Hill, played perfectly by Ray Liotta, hand his car keys to a man on the street and steer his date, Karen, played even more perfectly by Lorraine Bracco in a performance that seems to cross Debra Winger’s acting ability and sexiness with a genuine Brooklyn accent, towards the club across the street.  You know what happens next.  Of course, if you don’t know what happens next, then you need to watch GoodFellas, because, even if you’ve seen it before, if you can’t remember this scene, you can’t remember the film.  Hell, if you’ve seen the film and you can’t remember the scene then what the hell would you be doing reading a review of the film at all?  And if you haven’t seen the film, then what the hell is wrong with you?  It’s the best film of the decade, one of the best films ever made, the film that proves more than any other that Martin Scorsese is the great American film director.

What happens next, of course, is one of the greatest shots ever put on film; possibly the greatest.  We follow Henry and Karen down the side stairs, into the kitchen, past all the help, who all seem to know Henry, and out into a completely packed Copacabana, through the waiting crowd just hoping for a chance to get a seat and down to the front row where a table is placed specially for them.  And all of it takes place to the Crystals’ great hit “Then He Kissed Me.”  It is not only a great song – a perfect example of the wonders of the Wall of Sound, but it is a stark reminder of the journey we have come on with Scorsese.  Seventeen years before, in another film with Robert DeNiro, Marty had used another brilliant Wall of Sound song to, as Nuke Laloosh would say, announce his presence with authority.  And this scene, the best steadicam shot ever put on film brings us back to those opening credits of Mean Streets and opens the whole world of Scorsese’s career in one instance.

Of course, you can have one great scene.  It doesn’t make a movie.  But what we have here is a complete film.  From the opening moments, where we focus in on the three men in the car and the noise they keep hearing until we get that close-up of Henry’s face and that great line; “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster,” right up to Henry staring at the screen and explaining that he gets to live the rest of his life as a shnook, the energy never stops.  Ever shot is crisp and clean (it boggles my mind that the Cinematography wasn’t nominated), every scene flows perfectly with the ones before and after, the costumes are perfect, every set looks like it is straight from life.  There is the acting, of course.  Joe Pesci won the Oscar and Lorraine Bracco was nominated (and should have won) and DeNiro would probably have been nominated if rules didn’t prevent multiple nominations in the same category.  But Ray Liotta is the heart and soul of the film and his pitch perfect delivery of every line (“You’re a funny guy.”) never got the credit from the awards groups that it deserved.

But the lion’s share of credit on this film goes to Scorsese.  Every scene is directed at such a perfect level, the touch of Scorsese always felt, but never overtly overloading what we see.  It is even the first script that he wrote (co-wrote with Nicholas Pileggi, whose book provided such a perfect blueprint for the film) since Mean Streets.  But there are the things that Scorsese does better than anyone.  Just look at the montage late in the film of the death and destruction following the Lufthansa heist.  Many directors could have done a great job with that montage.  But it is Scorsese’s talent for always having the right music that brings the wonderful Piano Exit from Layla across those scenes, and that is what makes it.

The Godfather Part III (1990) bears the burden of its successful predecessors

The Godfather Part III

  • Director:  Francis Ford Coppola
  • Writer:  Francis Ford Coppola  /  Mario Puzo
  • Producer:  Francis Ford Coppola
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Stars:  Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Talia Shire, Sofia Coppola, Diane Keaton
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Garcia), Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Song (“Promise Me You’ll Remember”)
  • Oscar Points:  205
  • Length:  162 min
  • Genre:  Crime  (Mafia)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Box Office Gross:  $66.66 mil  (#17 – 1990)
  • Release Date:  25 December 1990
  • Ebert Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #21  (year)  /  #260  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Supporting Actor  (Garcia)
  • Nighthawk Points:  30
  • First Watched:  January 1991 at the Century Drive-In in Orange, CA with Jake Bassett (double feature with Kindergarten Cop)

The Film:  Can we watch and review films for what they are?  Does anyone today watching How Green Was My Valley, Ordinary People and Dances with Wolves watch the films for what they are or for what they are not – namely Citizen Kane, Raging Bull and GoodFellas?  Likewise, in one sense, the two most unfairly attacked films of all-time may be The Phantom Menace and The Godfather Part III — films that no one seems to be able to watch for what they rather than for what they are not – namely, the far more popular (and, let’s face it, better) previous films in each series.  Both films were made after long lay-offs and both, in a sense, by directors looking to reclaim their impressive 70’s reputations; Coppola, after a series of critical and commercial misfires and Lucas after a 22 year break from directing.  They both had to contend with immense scrutiny, overbearing publicity and sky-high expectations.  Both achieved measures of critical and commercial success, and if viewed on their own we might see Menace as a wildly entertaining sci-film and Godfather Part III as an ambitious but somewhat flawed gangster epic.  But both were also fiercely criticized – criticisms that became increasingly personal, as Coppola was attacked over the casting of his daughter and Lucas was savaged over the creation of Jar-Jar Binks.  Yet, both aspects fit quite well into what had been established in the previous installments of each saga; after all, Coppola had made extensive use of his family to critical and Oscar acclaim and Jar-Jar is really only different from the Ewoks in that he speaks an understandable language.  So it’s not The Godfather, just like Phantom Menace isn’t Star Wars.  But, in all fairness, shouldn’t we look at this film for what it is, rather than what it is not?  And if we look at them for what they are, they are far better than they are generally given credit for being.

It is a well-made, ambitious film.  The well-made part really isn’t up for debate.  It has strong cinematography, solid editing (the parts of the film that slow it down are really more weaknesses in the script rather than problems with the editing), and it does the same kind of job reconstructing 1979 that the first two films did for the forties and the fifties.  It also has strong acting from Al Pacino (his best leading role since the seventies), Andy Garcia (finally proving himself to be a star) and Talia Shire (really bringing out the bloodlust in her character – a nice development from her previous two films – in some ways her character has the most development over the course of the series).

And it is, without question, ambitious.  It wants to bring a close to the saga with a triumph.  In some ways it does this – it manages to nicely intertwine the history of the Corleones with the strong goings-on in the Catholic Church in 1979 and the way the script makes this all seem like part of a larger plot makes it all the more interesting.  It also nicely brings in the next generation (it is true that Sofia Coppola is not particularly good – though, watching it again, I didn’t think she was bad as I had initially thought, except her final line “Daddy” is really pretty badly delivered).  More importantly, it ends at exactly the right moment.  By going out with that final shot it shows that this story, no matter the over-bearing presence of Vito in the first film and half of the second film, that this really is the story of Michael Corleone.  I thought that when I actually read the novel and this film really makes that clear.

Perhaps it was all the press, perhaps it was Paramount really pushing the film, or perhaps it was the fact that the both the first two films won the Oscar.  But while so many crappy sequels to the great films of the seventies like The Exorcist, The Sting and Chinatown have just been ignored, this film still managed to make it into the Oscar race – the re-emergence, at last, of Coppola, after a decade in the wilderness.

But to me, the film is kind of summed up here: Robert Duvall refused to be in it because of the difference in pay between him and Pacino.  So they replaced him with George Hamilton.  Seriously.  They replaced Robert Duvall with George Hamilton and the film still manages to make it work.  That alone is an impressive achievement.  And the film does exactly what the other films had done – take great actors and install them seamlessly into the action – in this case Eli Wallach and Joe Mantegna.  In fact, if there was anything that was distracting watching the film this time, it wasn’t memories of the first two, it wasn’t Sofia’s acting (and her acting fiasco was really a blessing, because it moved her into other areas and she discovered that she is a hell of a director and writer); it was the presence of Joe Mantegna.  And this isn’t Mantegna’s fault and it isn’t Coppola’s fault.  But unfortunately, every time Mantegna would speak, all I could hear was Fat Tony.  So, while hard to take him seriously, I suppose that’s not so bad.  Fat Tony is a great character after all.

Awakenings (1990) is a better film than I had remembered

Awakenings

  • Director:  Penny Marshall
  • Writer:  Steven Zaillian  (from the book by Oliver Sacks)
  • Producer:  Walter F. Parks  /  Lawrence Lasker
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Stars:  Robin Williams, Robert DeNiro, Penelope Ann Miller
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (DeNiro)
  • Length:  121 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (True Story)
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Box Office Gross:  $52.09 mil  (#23 – 1990)
  • Release Date:  22 December 1990
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #23  (year)  /  #274  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Points:  none
  • First Watched:  on video in 1991

The Film:  It wasn’t nearly as sappy as I had remembered.  Even as a teenager I seemed to think of this film as overly emotional, overly simplified.  But perhaps I just needed some time to grow into it a little.  Certainly it is nothing like Patch Adams, which is overly emotional and overly simplified and also stars Robin Williams as a rather odd doctor.  But this is a very good film, an honest film with honest emotions about the way that people interact.

Perhaps these people needed Oliver Sacks.  Of course in the film he’s not called Sacks, he’s Dr. Sayer, but this is the story of Oliver Sacks and how his rather unconventional methods of treatment actually worked for a short while with a number of patients who had been afflicted by sleeping sickness decades before and allowed them to enjoy a brief period of life once again.  While Robin Williams had long before shown that he was a talented actor (he already had two Oscar nominations), this was the first film that really gave him a dramatic role without any attempts at comedy at all.  He is a man who approaches people from the side and that’s why he seems to be able to relate to his patients, who have barely moved for decades.  But he makes a breakthrough with some, then, with the use of a new drug, brings life to an entire group of patients.  The main patient is played by Robert DeNiro and DeNiro gets to flex his acting muscles in all sorts of ways, first as the debilitated patient, then as an old man who never got to adapt from being a kid, then to a struggling patient trying to deal with the strange things happening to him.  In the middle, he gets to fall in love with the lovely Penelope Ann Miller, in the short period where she was a minor star.  But everyone always knew DeNiro could act (and it was DeNiro who earned the Oscar nomination) and it is Williams who manages to find the heart of the story, a man so dedicated to these patients that he didn’t even want, that this would lead an entire career.

If nothing else, this movie can be a stepping off point to allow you to discover the amazing journeys that Oliver Sacks has taken, a kind of literary road map through various neural disorders and they include some of the finest (and biggest selling) non-fiction books of the last few decades (most notably The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars and Musicophilia).

Nice date movie goes Oscar: Ghost (1990)

Ghost

  • Director:  Jerry Zucker
  • Writer:  Bruce Joel Rubin
  • Producer:  Lisa Weinstein
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Stars:  Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Goldberg), Editing, Original Score
  • Oscar Points:  240
  • Length:  127 min
  • Genre:  Fantasy  (Romance)
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Box Office Gross:  $217.63 mil   (#2 – 1990)
  • Release Date:  13 July 1990
  • Ebert Rating:  **.5
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #41  (year)  /  #317  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Visual Effects
  • Nighthawk Points:  20
  • First Watched:  July 1990 at the Century Cinedome in Orange, CA with Deborah Edelman

The Film:  This is a film whose success and charm entirely resides in its ability to move us emotionally.  When we take a step back and actually think about any part of the film, or even the film as a whole, it absolutely does not add up.  It becomes an exercise in the kind of film that young females push to the top of the box office.  This film is certainly where the love for Patrick Swayze seems to stem from for so many admirers (many might mention Dirty Dancing, but Ghost not only made far more than Dirty Dancing, but accounts for nearly 40% of the box office gross of all of Swayze’s films combined).

On the one hand, you can understand the reluctance of writer Bruce Joel Rubin to turn over his romance / fantasy screenplay over to one of the directors of Airplane! and Top Secret.  On the other hand, had Rubin looked at his script?  It was already ripe for parody (the pottery love scene is perfectly parodied in Naked Gun 2 1/2 – directed by Jerry Zucker’s brother David).  Though it would somehow manage to win the Oscar, it wasn’t exactly high-handed stuff.  Lines like “ditto” might turn teenagers into mush, but it isn’t exactly going to win the WGA (the Oscars are a different matter of course).

But the fact remains that the film does manage to move most people emotionally.  It was charming to watch it again.  It was nice to remember what was so charming about Patrick Swayze, to be reminded that Demi Moore, once upon a time was a gorgeous actress who actually had some semblance of talent and that Whoopi Goldberg wasn’t one of the most annoying people on the planet.  Actually, ignore that last part.  It is solidly made, uses a truly great 60’s pop song very well (even using the instrumental version at the conclusion of the film), has a good score, has lines that people still remember 20 years later and had some solid acting.

As mentioned above, Ghost took an odd path to the Oscars.  It was the biggest box office hit of the year (Home Alone, the one movie to outgross it, didn’t come out until Thanksgiving).  Somehow, it managed to earn 4 Golden Globe nominations because perversely it was considered a Comedy (perhaps they considered it too light weight to be in the Drama category? – this theory could potentially also explain why Batman was nominated in the category the year before).  It failed to win any of the awards (surprisingly it is one of six instances in the last 20 years when a film lost the Comedy category and was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars when the winner wasn’t – but it had only happened twice before this – in 1969 and 1983).  At the guilds, it was nominated for the Writers Guild (losing to Avalon), the ACE and the ASC (losing both to Dances).  The only thing it really had going it for it was the box office – Avalon had done well with the guilds and the Globes, Reversal of Fortune had done well at the Globes and The Grifters was high on critical acclaim and the Independent Spirit Awards.  Yet, somehow Ghost rode that box office high (it made more in its opening weekend than its three main competitors made in their entire theatrical runs).  It was a real WTF moment when it was nominated and there are probably a bunch of Academy voters who would take that vote back, but it could have been a lot worse.  It’s as good as the film that won the year before and much better than winners from the recent past (Out of Africa) and future (Braveheart).  It’s a charming romance that was a huge hit and managed to sneak into the race.  There have been much bigger Academy mistakes.

Advertisements