Children of a Lesser God (1986)

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Starring: Marlee Matlin (her film debut), William Hurt, Piper Laurie, Philip Bosco

Director: Randa Haines (her first feature film)

Summary: A teacher at a school for the deaf falls for a deaf custodian

Other Nominations: Actor (Hurt), Actress (Matlin)*, Supporting Actress (Laurie), Adapted Screenplay

I enjoyed this one quite a bit. It’s briskly paced while still getting all the information it needs to across, and there’s great chemistry between Matlin and Hurt-that the two had a relationship in real life after the movie (even if it eventually ended badly) doesn’t surprise me. Matlin does a wonderful job of getting everything across just with body language and facial expressions. That she’s the youngest Best Actress winner at age 21 just makes her performance ever more remarkable. The characters grow and play off each other in ways that feel logical, when each character is being unreasonable, the movie calls them out on it. I would say it gets sappy in the last 20 minutes or so however. Also, ”hip teacher reaches students through untraditional methods” movies really were all the rage in the 80s and 90s (Dead Poets Society, Stand and Deliver and Dangerous Minds just off the top of my head).

It never really touched me emotionally, which is the sign of a great romance movie, but even so it’s still a really good movie that could have gone wrong in so many ways but mostly avoids all the pitfalls and delivers an intelligent romance movie

Rating: B+

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

hannah

Starring: Mia Farrow, Woody Allen, Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Dianne Wiest, Max Von Sydow, Carrie Fisher, Maureen O’Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan (his final film), Sam Waterston, Julie Kavner (aka Marge Simpson), Daniel Stern

Director: Woody Allen

Summary: Three sisters deal with their troubled relationships amidst the wonders of New York City

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (Caine)*, Supporting Actress (Wiest)*, Original Screenplay*, Art Direction, Film Editing

Great ensemble piece that does an exceptional job of fleshing out its large cast of characters, giving the five main ones distinct and interesting personalities and plots-something that’s always difficult with these kind of movies. The cast is very strong across the board, even if I’m not sure I would have singled out Caine specifically for Academy Award consideration, much less a win; Wiest is excellent though and deserved her award. I was surprised that it really was more of a drama than a comedy (although there’s certainly plenty of funny lines/moments), but one of Allen’s many strengths is that he can balance those out into a tonally coherent movie as he does here. Overall, it definitely warmed up to me more and more over the course of the film and I was really enjoying by the end.

Rating: B+

The Mission (1986)

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Starring: Jeremy Irons, Robert De Niro, Ray McAnally, Chuck Low, Ronald Pickup, Liam Neeson

Director: Roland Joffe

Summary: Two missionaries fight for the rights of South American Indians against colonial landowners in the 1750s

Other Nominations: Director, Original Score, Art Direction, Cinematography*, Costume Design, Film Editing

This is an interesting one to discuss. The film is esthetically excellent, with outstanding locations and sets, cinematography and costumes. The score is exceptional, and different than what I’m used to from Morricone-that it took him another 30 years after this to finally get his Oscar is ridiculous for obvious reasons, especially considering the winner for original this year was Herbie Hancock for “Round Midnight”, which extensively used existing pieces of music. De Niro was the innovator of “I’m going to stand out by putting himself through horrible things” (like gaining loads of weight for Raging Bull); here, he climbs barefoot up a waterfall and through mud while carrying a bag of armor (plastic or not, it still would suck); Dicaprio took note. Regardless of that, both he and Irons were really good, and I’m a little surprised neither got a nomination.

As for the characters and story…they’re quite problematic actually and all of the great visuals and the wonderful score feel misused in a lot of ways sadly. Setting aside the issue of whether or not the idea of missionaries trying to convert natives to Christianity is a good one to begin with, the film’s focus is entirely on how great and noble these Jesuit missionaries are and agonizing over their sacrifice and how much they’ve been betrayed by their own church-the natives, the ones actually being pushed out of their own homes are mostly window dressing. The film only addresses the elephant in the room with a single line in the movie-that these natives would have been 100% better off if Irons and De Niro had never shown up at all in the first place.  

This is a hard movie to rate, but for me all its visual and audio beauty and strong performances, they simply can’t make up for some fundamental issues with how it’s told, so I can’t give it a truly positive review.

Rating: C+

*Platoon (1986)*

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Starring: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, John C. McGinley, Kevin Dillon, Keith David, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Depp

Director: Oliver Stone

Summary: A young recruit in Vietnam faces a moral crisis when confronted with the horrors of war and the duality of man

Other Nominations: Director*, Supporting Actor (Berenger), Supporting Actor (Dafoe), Original Screenplay, Sound*, Cinematography, Film Editing*

For most anyone under the age of 30 (myself included), it’s kind of hard to believe that Charlie Sheen starred in a movie that won Best Picture..cocaine is a hell of a drug kids. This is a great movie that does something a little different than most of the “war is hell” movies that came before it, because of how it depicts American soldiers. My grandfather (who served in Europe during WWII) thought Platoon was the most true to life war film he’d ever seen, mainly because it depicts soldiers as flawed, human people that totally span the spectrum of decency; drug and alcohol and drug use is regular as possible so they can dull the pain and COs are often at each others necks. While there are roughly “good guys” and “bad guys” in the platoon, the film emphasizes how anybody could be pushed to doing horrible acts during wartime, as the environment is fundamentally poisonous to humanity.

I thought the more stripped down approach cinematography wise (compared to something like Apocalypse Now, which certainly had some visual flourish) worked in its favor for the type of story they wanted to tell and I probably would have given it the Oscar over The Mission (which is lavish and beautiful, but in a way that doesn’t fit quite as well with the story being told). The film famously used Adagio for Strings throughout and it works extremely well, although I think they overused it just a bit. The only other choice I didn’t agree with is that a certain character’s death is incredibly overdramatic and it feels out of place with the rest of the movie.

Rating: A-

A Room with a View (1986)

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Starring: Helena Bonham Carter (in her first feature film), Maggie Smith, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow, Judi Dench, Rupert Graves (in his first feature film)

Director: James Ivory

Summary: An Englishwoman visiting Florence is torn between her strait-laced fiance and a young bohemian

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (Elliott), Supporting Actress (Smith), Adapted Screenplay*, Art Direction*, Cinematography, Costume Design

I expected great looking sets, locations and costumes based on the premise and production company alone, and I expected the strong performances from top-to-bottom because, well just look at that cast-six of the seven with the biggest roles have been knighted. One thing I was surprised about was the warmth and sense of humor in the movie. That humor and warmth helped set the story apart from other similar films in spite of it being filled with numerous tropes of the romance genre and it going basically how you would expect from beginning to end. It also does better than most in making the “third guy in the love triangle who the woman is officially attached to but doesn’t love” interesting, not only through Day-Lewis’ excellent performance basically playing a snobby-stuffy guy, but because it doesn’t make him out as a villain and instead as simply the wrong choice for our lead. Not one of my top films in the romance genre I’ve reviewed here, but I can see why it got nominated and it makes the most out of the source material.

Rating: B

1986 in Review

One Interesting Film from 1986

In a world where every week at the box office, there’s a seemingly endless number of needless remakes and sequels, it’s refreshing to look back at a remake that surpasses its original in pretty much every way-David Cronenberg’s sci-fi horror classic, The Fly.

Cronenberg is legendary for body-horror, and nowhere is that more evident than here, as we see some of the best practical makeup effects in the history of film (which won an Oscar) displaying the deteriorating condition of Jeff Goldblum as he goes from a normal human to a human-fly hybrid over the course of the film. Beyond just its effects, it’s an intelligent film about the hubris of man, and the fear shared by all of humanity that it cannot escape-aging and disease, with good characters and acting (this being Goldblum’s signature performance IMO) that make us care about the main character’s declining health and sanity, as well as his girlfriend’s well being and safety. It’s personally my favorite Cronenberg movie, and one definitely worth checking out if you are a sci-fi or horror fan.

Other Notable Films from 1986

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Hoosiers

Top Gun

Caravaggio

Mona Lisa

Aliens

Blue Velvet

Highlander

Labyrinth

Little Shop of Horrors

She’s Gotta Have It

1986 Nominees in Review

Platoon: A- (Won Best Picture)

Hannah and Her Sisters: B+

Children of a Lesser God: B+

A Room With a View: B

The Mission: C

One of the better years for nominees this decade. It’s definitely appreciated that all of them were just under or over 2 hours in length, and that none of them were a bore like some certain Best Picture winners that took place in Africa in recent years in my timeline. I think Platoon earned its Best Picture win, as it had a lot to live up to compared with something like Apocalypse Now, which felt like a defining Vietnam War movie for me when I saw it; even though they both covered the war, they did so in different ways and are very different stylistically and are both great movies. Beyond the winner, we had a really strong group, with the exception of The Mission, which looks great but has some major problems right under the surface in how they told their story.

For 1987: James L. Brooks continues to be the man with the midas touch; Michael Douglas won Best Actor in 1987 for Wall Street, but this is the movie he starred in that year that got nominated; A movie so forgotten that it’s a 1987 Best Picture nominee and isn’t even viewable on iTunes/Amazon Video/etc. and is not rentable on Netflix; The first western movie made in China with the okay by their government since 1949; and a movie starring two of the most unlikely Best Actor and Actress winners ever in Cher and Nicolas Cage.