1987: The Year in Pictures
November 14, 2007
One of the areas in which Yesterday’s Salad surely excels is verisimilitude. Not only do we feature commentary on the issues of the day (the strike, Anne Hathaway, pretty feet, and cereal) and have scads of saladeers covering all that is good with society, we also occasionally feature reviews of the best picture/best director nominees as the awards occasionally dominate my life like nothing else. Still, somewhere between 17 and 20 awards years into my project (and Nate’s project) of watching every nominee for these categories, it is safe to say that there have been very few years like 1987. It was a year when Hollywood came of age, found romance, embraced the passive, and did so mostly in the form of light comedies. In fact, I’m still mystified at just how bizarre the year actually was. For the purposes of my sanity, I’m kind of glad that it’s not 1987 all the time.
My Life as a Dog: As I mentioned in the 1988 review, the best way to describe most of the movies on this list is with the adjectives “light-hearted” and “charming.” And is there a movie more light-hearted and charming than My Life as a Dog? A coming of age story told against the backdrop of early cold war, semi-industrial Sweden, My Life as a Dog has been called one of the greatest movies ever made about children. In the Criterion essay, Michael Atkinson singled the movie out for its representations of “the contentious struggle to understand or at least withstand the bulldozing machinations of the adult world.” (see here) One of the ways this comes through is in the film’s structure, or rather it’s anti-structure. Like an anti-novel, the movie toys with the conventions of the act structure. Recognizable conflicts are avoided, and exchanged for other, more tangible struggles. The mother’s illness, which is in many ways the expected main conflict, is more of a pretense, a reason to explore the real conflict of displacement and fitting in. This theme is then further developed through the tomboy character, struggling with her emerging sexuality and its effect on her boyish life. Jacqueline Rose once said that Peter Pan, “shows innocence not as a property of childhood but as a portion of adult desire,” and the same mostly holds for My Life as a Dog. I say mostly because our protagonist’s innocence comes from his trust of others, an innocence that does not necessarily disappear with age, and his love of animals (see: Tony Soprano). Rose is right, in a sense; the childhood of My Life as a Dog is certainly an adult desire. Grade: A/A-
Fatal Attraction: There is some debate as to whether or not a director is the author of the movie (the auteur theory) or whether the writer should most correctly be termed the film’s author; as I’ve mentioned before, no-one gives credit to actors. In an article discussing this question, A Sanford and Michelle Wolf come to the conclusion that the director is at best a stylist, imparting a particular mis-en-scene and look on her film (source) and little more. If that is true, Fatal Attraction has pitch perfect direction. The movie is wonderfully executed: well acted, well set, and expertly paced. Adrian Lyne does an outstanding job with the pacing of this movie. It’s particularly impressive that many of these scenes still jolt us today, even after we’ve seen them mocked on some iteration of “I Love the 80’s.” But the most impressive thing about the movie is the way it walks the line between thriller and love story–which it is at heart. No matter how crazy Glenn Close gets, the palpability of her love is still present. A-
Hope and Glory: It’s somewhat amazing that the academy recognized two lighthearted, charming, coming of age stories in the same year. It’s also fitting that Hope and Glory was nominated for best picture, while My Life as a Dog was nominated for best director. Lasse Halstrom, having also written My Life is a real auteur, deserving of individual recognition, while Hope and Glory deserves inclusion because of its broader purpose. This romantic coming of age story is an honest recounting of life against the backdrop of World War II England and the horrors of the blitz. As such, it is a necessary addition to the canon of WWII films which glorify the front and leave out sacrifices made at home–sacrifices of fathers, husbands, and normalcy. It’s not a great movie, but a charming and funny and lighthearted one that succeeds as addition or flip-side. B+
Moonstruck…is not that funny. I do not understand how this movie makes the list of all-time top comedies. There is one really funny scene in the entire movie and that scene was used in the trailer, meaning everyone who watched Moonstruck in the theater had their hopes dashed, and their humour-lust unsated. Still, from Cher on down, the acting in Moonstruck was top-notch. Nick Cage is probably one of the more underrated actors in the history of Hollywood (though this probably has more to do with his bizarre film choices than it does our inability to recognize his genius) and he gives another excellent performance in this movie. But there are much better love stories, and much better comedies, and I found myself most interested by the film’s portrayal of its community. The Italian neighborhood is so wonderfully drawn that the viewer can’t help but want to be a part of it’s world. I wonder if places like that still exist. B+
Broadcast News: A better example of a romantic comedy is easily found in Broadcast News. “Accidental Tourist” William Hurt owned the ’80s, and he owned his role here as a moronic-yet-sweet (and certainly talented) news anchor. Too bad he has no concept of how to write the news. Albert Brooks and Holly Hunter further display excellent comic timing, bringing to life jokes that could have been remarkably dull, and Jack Nicholson is at his best in a low-pressure supporting roll. The movie’s message (network news bad, vandals good) is simple and had been handled many times before, but Broadcast News does a good job of emphasizing the point without being preachy (unlike Network). Perhaps the movie’s only misstep is its end, and its use of the “…years later” device, a device that only cheapens the growth made by the lead actors. A-
The Last Emperor: Best Picture is a producer award. The award is given to the producers and not to the director (although there is regularly overlap). For this reason the award more often goes to epics than it does to smaller romantic comedies. And in a year of smaller romantic comedies and coming of age stories, a giant, epic size coming of age story, one that continually announces its own monumentality, was destined to win, even if that movie was horribly flawed and way too long. It has been astutely pointed out by Roger Ebert that the protagonist is the opposite of the protagonist in most epics. He is passive and allows history to shape him rather than the other way around. He is consistently a tool of imperialism, be they a “benevolent” British orientalism represented by the excellent Peter O’Toole, the more damaging Imperial Japan, and later Maoist China. It is also safe to say that the movie is at its best when O’Toole is around. The character could have easily been a caricature, but O’Toole’s understated and refined performance prevented that. Unfortunately, the movie drags whenever he is not on-screen. It’s a real shame that so much film-time elapses before his first appearance, and so much takes place after his last. The movie could have easily cut a half-hour from the childhood scenes. B. A very impressed B.
Real Best Picture: My Life as a Dog
Producer Best Picture: The Last Emperor