Two Rom-Coms and a Thriller: Re-Evaluating the 1988 Oscars

Inspired by my older-movie-watching and the Vanity Fair podcast Little Gold Men (which is trying somewhat unsuccessfully to stretch an award season podcast into a weekly year-round one), I’ve decided to look back at the bizarre combination of movies nominated for the 1988 Oscars. Ideally, I would [re-] watch all the movies, but I don’t want to watch them all, so I won’t.

Let me just run down the Best Picture nominees:

 

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Winner, hard pass for me
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Kind of a rom-com
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Thriller
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Historical something, pass
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Definitely a rom-com

 

This is an odd slate of movies chosen to represent the best of the year. It’s kind of like the Best Picture-Musical or Comedy slate from every Golden Globes. Perhaps in ’88 there was a lot of back-room maneuvering, because the winners are baffling.

The Last Emperor, about the Chinese Emperor Puyi, is the most Oscar-y: historical epic with beautiful visuals. But if it is a cinematic achievement, it’s one we rarely discuss today. Buzzfeed ranked it 65th in its ranking of Best Picture winners.

If we judge from cultural impact/staying power, Fatal Attraction wins hands-down. Its commentary on gender, consumption, and sex still inspires discussion. It was also the highest-grossing movie of 1987, so there’s a compelling argument that it best captures the zeitgeist of the year. And how else do we retroactively adjudicate Oscar movies, if not to measure their lasting power? Fatal Attraction wins.

 

Now to the two odder nominees:

Moonstruck is a completely silly romantic comedy where Cher accidentally falls in love with her fiancee’s brother, Nicolas Cage. Cage plays the part so big, as a passionate and emotional Italian man who can’t help his instantaneous attraction to Cher.

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They’re so goofy together. It’s a fun movie, but it’s insane that these performances netted both Best Actress awards (Olympia Dukakis won Supporting) and Best Original Screenplay. It’s kind of like if a better version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding won Oscars (although that was the year of Chicago, which was also a silly movie. Maybe the Oscars have just taken themselves way too seriously lately?)

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He lost part of his hand in an accident, natch

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Listen, Cher, Imaletyoufinish, but Glenn Close should have won the Best Actress Oscar. She’s been nominated 6 times for an Oscar and has yet to win–if only we could get the internet trolls who lamented Leo’s paltry 4 nominations to get on #TeamClose.

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The other acting awards went to Michael Douglas for Wall Street (earned it, and I did not know it was the same year as Fatal Attraction, see 80s zeitgeist) and Sean Connery in The Untouchables (haven’t seen it, don’t care).

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Which brings me to always-a-bridesmaid-but-never-a-bride Broadcast News. Nominated for 7 awards, it didn’t take home any. It’s a movie about the changing world of news (its critique came somewhere between Network and The Newsroom) and the increasing preference for celebrity newscasters who can sell the stories over journalists who find and write the stories. While it sets up this dilemma, Broadcast News is oddly ambivalent about it. The two poles are epitomized by the male leads, Albert Brooks representing good journalism and William Hurt representing good showmanship.

Our protagonist is a stressed but eminently capable producer, Holly Hunter,  who needs a good cry every morning and ends up in a love triangle with Brooks and Hurt.

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She’s delightful, but I’m not sure James L. Brooks is good at writing women

 

Brooks seems to be the obvious choice, he also shows himself to be misogynistic, aggressive, and jealous.

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I love her reaction to his declaration of love

 

Hurt is vapid, a little manipulative, a little dim, and yet is perfectly kind throughout.

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I have to admit, I think this movie has a bit of a gender problem (the example of a manufactured story they offer is one about the prevalence of date rape). But the debate between Devin and Amy on the Canon podcast made me think a little more highly of the movie. Ultimately [spoiler alert] when Hunter doesn’t choose either of them, we see that time marches on toward Hurt’s style of the news.

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I think its choice not to take a stand hurt its Oscar (and maybe even canon) chances. Instead of a movie with a political/cultural message, Broadcast News just appears to passively comment on it. But it has some great dialogue. (I just know Sorkin watched it every time he got stuck writing The Newsroom).

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I’d like to retroactively give it an Oscar–maybe an acting one? We could give Best Supporting Actor to Albert Brooks  instead of Sean Connery. Or Best Screenplay, since Moonstruck won enough already.

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He deserves some recognition for this

Is this fun? I kind of like it. Next up is probably the 1984 Oscars since I just watched Terms of Endearment.

 

3 thoughts on “Two Rom-Coms and a Thriller: Re-Evaluating the 1988 Oscars

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