1985 was one of those years where everything is endowed with a sense of monumentality. Gone were the light comedies of yesteryear (or yester-yesteryear; see, or don’t see, the Oscars-lite of 1987: Where Everybody Comes of Age!), replaced by a series of Epics and career making performances. It was also the year where Sydney Pollack took home the Best Director statue and Best Picture statue for what really is one of the most wonderful love stories of the second half of the twentieth century, Out of Africa. Sydney Pollack was not one of the directorial luminaries of his generation; he was, at best, the 7th most prominent director of the Hollywood Renaissance. But he was an excellent, unassuming filmmaker who excelled at unironic love stories. He was also a terrific character actor. In the last stage of his career, Pollack got to play that guy, the one lurking in the background who really knows what’s going on, the one you’d have asked for help at the start of the movie if he weren’t so ominous looking. The best of these roles was probably Victor Ziegler in the underrated Eyes Wide Shut. With Pollack’s Ziegler, you’re never too sure what to believe, yet his character has a stability that the others don’t seem to possess. In this often illusory film, Pollack is the perfect emotionless center. Cold, rational, otherwise disposed. In a word: perfect.

But one year, Pollack really was the best filmmaker, the master of the cinematic universe. With that, we turn to 1985.

Wild Card: Ran. A very good film with terrific battle scenes, that happens to be one of the most interesting adaptations of all times. Ran turned one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays into a Samurai epic, perfectly placing the play in its new cultural context. In fact, Ran might be the second-best Shakespeare adaptation of all-time, behind only the brilliant 10 Things I Hate About You. Ran, however, suffers from a decided lack of freshness. It never escapes the sense of being familiar Kurosawa territory, it never breaks out into any new ground. For an action-epic, it’s also a bit on the slow side. A very well-made movie, but not one of the director’s classics. B+

Nominees: Witness. Witness was one of the unquestioned highlights of the mid 1980s, if only for the sheer number of genres it was able to combine into one still coherent movie: star-crossed lover movies, fish out of water movies, buddy cop movies, buddy cop gone awry movies, sudden action movies, barn-raising instructional videos, and Harrison Ford sure is handsome movies. A highly entertaining movie, Witness deserves to have been mimicked so many times; whether those deserve to be watched is another question entirely. A- Read the rest of this entry »