Academy Interest

As we bring you another batch of Oscar Best Picture winners,it is tempting to ask — would these have won if they were made today?

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: February 27, 2010 11:20:46 pm

As we bring you another batch of Oscar Best Picture winners,it is tempting to ask — would these have won if they were made today? Of our three choices,our vote goes to Terms Of Endearment,which swept five Oscars in 1983 — Best Picture,Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine),Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson),Best Director and Best Screenplay Adaptation (both James L. Brooks).

As a possessive mother-from-hell,MacLaine is outstanding. You see her in her flouncy,ridiculously frilly,desperate-to-be-young dresses as she flirts with all her admirers,never letting them come within striking distance. Until former astronaut Jack Nicholson hovers into view,pawing young women,getting drunk,splashing noisily in his pool. This one is no pliant pet,she soon gets to know. Lunch with him may be safer than dinner,but only marginally. When she finally invites him to show her etchings,in a great role reversal,you can see just how completely they enjoy all the romping,and the stomping.

Everything else is wonderful,too. The raspy-voiced Debra Winger,as the daughter who wants to get away from her domineering mom and still stay within distance,is utterly believable. As is her cad of a husband,who’s having it off with a colleague,but is still committed to his wife and children.

It has that immortal line,with Nicholson telling MacLaine,“You’re some kind of gorgeous woman,but I’m the wrong kind of man.” Twenty-seven years later,it’s still something a man petrified of commitment will say to a woman. If he has the wit,of course.

Ordinary People,about a close family under tremendous stress,stands less of a chance of winning the top one today. Not because the story is any less relevant. The death of a loved son can cause the kind of grief that never ends,but in judging this four-Oscar winner today (Best Picture of 1980,Best Director for Robert Redford,Best Supporting Actor for Timothy Hutton,and Best Writing and Screenplay for Alvin Sargent),we have the benefit of hindsight. This was Redford’s debut feature,and you can see the lack of experience showing up here and there. We also know the films he went on to make later,and several of them were better,for which the big award would have been more suitable.

Conrad (Hutton) is the surviving son,and Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland the grieving parents. A boating accident is responsible for the death of the older brother,but Conrad never lets himself off the hook for it. Nor does his mother,who’s cold and distant,not knowing how to reach out to either the son or the father. Hutton is very good,but we would have awarded the underrated Sutherland,who plays the father who is left to keep his family together,even as he struggles to come to terms with his own loss.

Movies starring con men usually don’t get Best Picture. But you can see why The Sting got it in 1973. It has two of the best-looking men in Hollywood,Paul Newman and Robert Redford. A script with the smarts. And a score which rocked: each of those elements is as fresh today as it was back then,especially the lovely lilting piano riffs which play through the film. Hum along.

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