E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Robert MacNaughton, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote (his feature film debut)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Summary: A troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape earth and return to his home-world

Other Nominations: Director, Original Screenplay, Original Score*, Sound Mixing*, Sound Editing*, Cinematography, Film Editing, Visual Effects*

This is actually my first time watching this movie, so I bring no nostalgia into this. With that said, its reputation as an outstanding family film is well-deserved. The movie has a sincerity and genuine emotion that a lot of family films lack and it has a simple but effective premise with themes of childhood innocence and wonder vs. adult cynicism. It’s a movie that knows how to use the medium to full effect-we get a good, slow introduction to E.T. where we only see glimpses of him until we finally get a full reveal, which keeps his mystery; we also have the “evil” government agents being this dark and looming presence, emphasized by the fact that we don’t even see their faces until there’s 35 minutes left; it’s pretty blatant, but effective.

There’s a lot of real craftsmanship here from the other elements. Obviously John Williams’ score is excellent, as is the creature design for E.T. (both in visuals and audio) and the cinematography, especially the lighting. However, the one other thing I’d like to mention is how good Spielberg is with child actors. This has always been a hallmark of his, but here the three main actors in the movie are kids (well, one’s a teen but still), which is a very risky proposition and if they don’t work, the film doesn’t work; nevertheless, he gets great performances out of all of them, even more remarkable given 2 of the 3 didn’t do much of anything before or after this movie.

Overall: A family classic that has stood the test of time, E.T. has an emotional sincerity that most in the genre lack, along with an incredible technical polish and good child performances.

Rating: A-

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*Gandhi (1982)*

gandhi

Starring: Ben Kingsley, Rohini Hattangadi, Roshan Seth, Saeed Jaffrey, Virendra Razdan, John Gielgud, Edward Fox, Ian Charleston, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, Trevor Howard

Director: Richard Attenborough

Summary: The legendary Indian leader uses peaceful means to free his homeland from British rule

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Kingsley)*, Original Screenplay*, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Art Direction*, Cinematography*, Makeup, Costume Design*, Film Editing*

For better or worse, this is the most “Best Picture Winner” kind of movie humanly possible. It’s an extremely polished film on a major historical figure that has a great lead performance from Kingsley (who’s about as close in look to Gandhi as you can get as well) and it feels sincere in its admiration for its subject and the director really wanted to tell this story (vs. this just being made solely as Oscar bait); however, it just didn’t movie that needle for me all that much with a couple of exceptions. The first 1/2 hour where Gandhi begins to find his calling and the last 1/2 hour where they address Gandhi’s biggest failure, the lack of a united Indian state with Muslims and Hindus, are both very good, but the middle 2 hours plus (yes, it’s really long) feel very by-the-book when it comes to this kind of historical epic biopic of a lionized historical figure. A big issue for me is that we kind of cycle through the same 3 or 4 scenes over and over again, which is probably accurate and drives home a narrative, but doesn’t make for the most interesting story. It’s very well-made but personally, I probably would have rather seen the sequel instead (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfvLcozLwtE).

Overall: Well-made biopic of the leader of the Indian independence movement, but the middle two hours of this long film drag and it’s exactly the kind of film that wins Oscars (which it did), for better or worse.

Rating: C+

Missing (1982)

missing

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, John Shea, Melanie Mayron, Charles Cioffi, David Clennon
Director: Costa-Gavras

Summary: An American businessman gets a new perspective on his country when his son disappears in a military coup in Chile
Other Nominations: Actor (Lemmon), Actress (Spacek), Adapted Screenplay*

The movie bears a lot of similarities to Costa-Gavras’ previous Best Picture nominee, Z (which was excellent)-both involve military coups of democratically-elected socialist governments that were backed by the United States (although Z doesn’t spend that much time on that last point). It vividly depicts how horrific the coup was with some really impactful scenes of terror, which makes the audience even more disgusted with the eventual revelation that the U.S. heavily supported it (although the U.S. still to this day denies it). In terms of the strongest of these scenes, it would have to be the one in the morgue which is shot, blocked and paced perfectly for maximum effect.

Both Lemon and Spacek are great, I liked their characters and how they played off one another; it was also rare to see Lemmon playing an assholish, unlikeable character (or at least he starts that way), but he does well for all the aspects of his character. This is one reason why the last 30 minutes or so were a bit of a letdown for me, as Spacek’s character kind of gets shoved off to the side and we don’t see much of her, or at least her saying or doing anything interesting. For me, it lacked the impactful ending that Z had, and that for me is why I consider his previous BP nominee superior.

Overall: Political drama that discusses a mostly ignored chapter of American history (our foreign policy towards South America in the 70s and 80s) with some great performances and impactful scenes, although the ending isn’t all that strong.

Rating: B+

Tootsie (1982)

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Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Bill Murray, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, George Gaynes, Sydney Pollack, Geena Davis (her debut)

Director: Sydney Pollack

Summary: An unemployed actor masquerades as a woman to win a soap-opera role

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Hoffman), Supporting Actress (Lange)*, Supporting Actress (Garr), Original Screenplay, Original Song (“It Might Be You”), Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Film Editing

One of the better comedies of the 80s, although it definitely has higher aspirations than just being funny-while the premise of a man dressing up in secret as a woman has been done to death by now (Mrs. Doubtfire, Big Momma’s House, Juwanna Mann, the list goes one with Some Like It Hot of course preceding it), this movie actually tries and succeeds in exploring gender dynamics and societal perceptions. It’s not uproariously funny or super-insightful, but it’s pretty good at both, and that’s an accomplishment in itself. The cast is really strong, with Hoffman doing about as good a job as possible in a demanding role, where he has to be both funny and be taken seriously while as a woman, Murray basically just being Bill Murray (aka the perfect straight man), and Lange and Garr doing well in their respective roles too (although I’m not sure how Lange was nominated for supporting actress as she is unquestionably the lead). Also, how did it not get a makeup and hairstyling Oscar nomination? There were only 2 nominees that year, but it’s a way more obvious nominee than Gandhi was.

One last note: every music cue from the score/soundtrack could be a theme for an 80s sitcom, and this started distracting me after a while.

Overall: A very solid comedy that does a good job exploring gender dynamics, and Hoffman is great in the lead.

Rating: B+

The Verdict (1982)

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Starring: Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason, Milo O’Shea

Director: Sidney Lumet

Summary: An alcoholic lawyer struggles to redeem himself by pursuing a high-stakes malpractice case

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Newman), Supporting Actor (Mason), Adapted Screenplay

I was somewhat disappointed with this movie based off the critical acclaim it has. Newman’s really good of course (and Rampling ws very attractive when she was younger) but the story felt pretty formulaic to me and I think they went too far with the villains. We’re obviously going to root for Paul Newman’s underdog one lone guy trying to do justice vs. evil hospital, law firm and judge, but they went with the bluntest methods possible to make the audience hate our villains: Mason is British and his voice just screams “wealthy guy”, along with the main room of the firm having a freakin’ fireplace and white-glove servants serving lunches, and them sending away star witnesses on forced vacations so they can’t testify; the judge just hates Paul Newman from the outset and his courtroom performance would likely have led to a retrial if the verdict went against Newman. For something trying to be a serious drama, a little more nuance or even the barest of humanity from any of the people opposing Newman would have worked. You can have a pure evil villain in something totally serious, but you have to go about it the right way, and here it felt over the top to me.

I thought the movie had a really strong ending (last 20 minutes or so), but there was one major bone I had to pick with it and it requires getting into spoilers…

If this was real life and not a movie, the judge would (and should) have overturned the jury verdict of guilty with a Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (JNOV) due to the fact that no reasonable jury could have come to the outcome they did based on the admissible evidence; with that said, Newman would have strong grounds for appeal for a new trial based on the judge’s conduct, but nonetheless he would have lost in court.

Overall: Pretty solid legal drama with a good central performance from Paul Newman, but the villains in the movie were a little too ham-fisted for the kind of serious dramatic story they were trying to tell.

Rating: B-

1982 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1982

Fanny and Alexander: Nominated for 6 Oscars (winning four) in 1983 after being released internationally in 1982, this was Ingmar Bergman’s last great effort and if you watch the complete version, is one of the longest movies ever made at 5 hours, 12 minutes; the “short” version is a mere 3 hours and 8 minutes. It’s quite haunting (both figuratively and literally) and features some of the best child acting you’ll ever see (from the title characters). Named as the 16th greatest film of all-time on the last Sight and Sound Directors Poll.

Blade Runner: Upon its original release, it received a mixed reception from critics with some saying it was all visual sizzle and no steak and some saying it was slow. However, it immediately gained a cult audience who saw it as the sci-fi classic as it was, and this only grew after the very well-received director’s cut was released in 1991 with Harrison Ford’s narration removed and a completely different ending. Besides the vision of the future that was endlessly copied by everyone for the rest of the decade (in both the U.S. and Japan), it also asked great questions about how technology may change our perception of what is human, and it featured excellent performances from Ford and Rutger Hauer. In the National Film Registry.

The Thing: My favorite John Carpenter film and on the Mount Rushmore of movie remakes (from 1951’s The Thing from Another World); it was actually released on the very same day as Blade Runner, which probably hurt the box office of both (that, and neither got very good reviews). First, it has some of the best special effects ever, with amazing creature designs and tons of creativity and the kind of visceral flair you never see these days with computer effects. Second, it does a wonderful job of getting across the isolation of the characters in the arctic, as well as suspense from one of the best scenes in any sci-fi movie (the blood testing scene).

Conan the Barbarian: The movie made a star out of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was previous known best as a bodybuilder and for the documentary Pumping Iron, and I really can’t imagine anyone else as Conan-it was the role he was born to play; I also can’t imagine anyone other than John Milius at the helm, as he was one of the great macho directors of all time and a legendary character in his own right. The other thing I would highlight is the score from Basil Poledouris, which is one of the best of all-time and one of the worst Oscar snubs of all-time in my opinion-it oozes manliness and power, yet gives the movie way more class than other sword and sandal films. He sadly never received an Oscar nomination for any of his work (which also included Robocop and its fantastic theme, The Hunt for Red October and Starship Troopers) before his death in 2006 at age 61 from cancer.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Pretty much universally considered the best Star Trek movie, it saved the series after the lackluster reaction to the first film (which resulted in creator Gene Roddenberry essentially being taken off all future projects). It is far more action-oriented than its predecessor and has a memorable and compelling villain-Ricardo Montalban, reprising his role as Khan from the series, who is cunning and ruthless, but his arrogance proves to be his downfall; oddly enough, Khan and Captain Kirk never actually share a face-to-face scene with each other in the film though. The famous ending packs a lot of emotional impact and is a fantastic sendoff, although this is lessened somewhat knowing what happens in the sequels.

Tron: Yes, this really might have been the best year ever for sci-fi and fantasy films. While not a great film, this was another milestone for sci-fi films because of its computer-generated special effects which were cutting edge at the time. While a box office disappointment at the time, it has since become a cult classic and many years later got a mediocre remake that is only remembered for Olivia Wilde being really attractive in it.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High: One of the most famous teen comedies of the 80s, and one where almost everyone was an unknown, from stars Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold and Phoebe Cates, to bit-parts for Nicholas Cage, Forrest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards, and the film debuts of its director Amy Heckerling (Clueless, Look Who’s Talking) and screenwriter Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, Say Anything…). In the National Film Registry.

1982 Nominees in Review

E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial: A-

Missing: B+

Tootsie: B+

The Verdict: B-

Gandhi: C+ (Won Best Picture)

A second straight year where the Best Picture winner was, in my opinion, the weakest of the nominees, although Gandhi is definitely superior to Chariots of Fire. E.T. and Tootsie aren’t the kind of movies that win Best Picture (which is why I’m surprised the latter of those got nominated instead of Oscar Bait incarnate Sophie’s Choice, which was nominated for 5 Oscars, winning Best Actress for Meryl Streep), but among the others, I thought Missing was the best of the best of the lot and had a lot going for it until the end where it sort of petered out for me.

For 1983: Kevin Costner in an early role was supposed to play the man whose death kicks off the events of the whole movie, but all his scenes actually showing him were cut; two of the earliest examples of movies that made zero dent at the box office getting Best Picture nominees on the strength of their critical acclaim-they finished #78 and #100 for 1983; this film was released around the same time one of its subjects was running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President-it did not help him; and James L. Brooks won three Oscars for a single movie, as producer, director and writer.