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OSCAR NOMINATIONS CIRCA 1987

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: With this week’s announcement of the 2015 movies up for Oscars, let’s look back on what Oscar was nominating — and overlooking — nearly 30 years ago. This ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column, with the headline, ‘Oscar nominations almost on target,’ ran in the Deseret News on Feb. 15, 1987. Note the argument about female directors. It’s now 2015 and there have been only four women nominated as best director, and only one of those has won. That’s not progress. And the idea that so many independent films being nominated might make Hollywood sit up and notice? Boy, was I naïve. These days independent films truly dominate the Oscars.

How strange to find myself in the unique position of not only agreeing with most of the choices for this year’s Oscar nominations but even defending Academy voters in the process.

Of course, I have my complaints (one must be critical to qualify as a critic) — and the first is a biggie.

Let’s cover that first since my latent journalistic instincts require that bad news be at the top of the story: Why in the world was Randa Haines left out in the cold without a nomination as best director while her film, “Children of a Lesser God,” was named as a best-picture nominee (not to mention Marlee Matlin, William Hurt and Piper Laurie dotting the acting nominations)?

Actually, of course, Haines was left off because her peers left her off. When choosing nominees for Academy Award nominations, members vote in their own categories — actors for actors, screenwriters for screenwriters, etc. That also means directors for directors.

Haines, who did get the nominations from the Director’s Guild, was recognized by the gamut of directors there — from television, commercials, etc., as well as movies.

But the Academy member-directors upheld the belief that most Academy voters are old-guard narrow-minded male chauvinists. Aside from deserving the nomination, it has been well publicized that she would have been the first American woman ever nominated as a director. (Italian Lina Wertmuller received a nomination for “Seven Beauties” some years back.)

No hasty groundbreaking here.

        

Worse, however, is the choice that replaced Hines in the directing category, David Lynch for “Blue Velvet.”

Granted “Blue Velvet,” as controversial as it is (the only film in recent memory to land on just as many critics’ year-end worst-10 lists as best-10 lists), is a well-crafted movie, but the Academy didn’t give the film any other nominations. If it can qualify as the best-directed movie of the year, why can’t it qualify elsewhere?

Strange ducks, these Academy voters.

Some of the actors who have been nominated for this year’s Oscars also seem odd choices.

Jane Fonda, though she is good in “The Morning After,” is not really that good. Besides, the movie as a whole is a loser, and she’s won twice before. What is she doing in the best-actress category?

Tess Harper, whose work I’ve admired in other movies (chiefly “Tender Mercies”), is a cartoon in “Crimes of the Heart,” playing her role much too broadly in comparison to the other actors in that movie. She shouldn’t be up there with the other supporting-actress nominees.

OK, that’s the negative — let’s get to the positive.

The most pleasant surprise about the Oscar nominations is the dominance of independent films that really were last year’s best. And that shows up among nearly all the actors nominated in the two major categories.

Who would have dreamed a jazz musician would be nominated as best actor? But that is the case with Dexter Gordon for “Round Midnight,” and he was great. (My only complaint in this case is that “Round Midnight” wasn’t also nominated for best picture, best director and about a dozen others.)

And despite his win last year for “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” William Hurt deserves his slot as well — he is magnificent in a very difficult role in “Children of a Lesser God.”

Likewise Bob Hoskins gives a powerhouse performance in “Mona Lisa” and the hitherto unrecognized James Woods does the same in “Salvador.” But Paul Newman is also superb in “The Color of Money,” and if he is the winner, as everyone thinks he will be this year, I’ll have no complaints (even though that’s a studio film — and a sequel to boot).

On the best-actress side, Marlee Matlin is incredibly moving in “Children of a Lesser God,” but she has some tough competition from Kathleen Turner’s great performance in “Peggy Sue Got Married.” Sigourney Weaver is also excellent in “Aliens,” as is Sissy Spacek in “Crimes of the Heart” (though her costars, Diane Keaton and Jessica Lange, were also quite good).

And except for the aforementioned Harper, I have no quarrel with any of the supporting-actor nominees either.

But it is the best-picture nominees that point up how independently produced movies have taken over the reigns of quality. While such big-budget studio features as “Top Gun,” “The Karate Kid, Part II” and “Star Trek IV” may have taken in all the money, it was the low-budget, independent productions that were the year’s artistic, quality efforts.

“Platoon” and “A Room with a View,” which earned the most Oscar nominations — eight each — were both turned down by every studio in Hollywood. Several times each. And “Children of a Lesser God” and “The Mission” were also reportedly tough sells. “Hannah and Her Sisters” was our annual Woody Allen movie but still a low-budget, independent production.

Perhaps the nicest aspect of all this, however, is that these movies will now all be seen by a wider audience. It’s a fact that movies that get Oscar nominations experience a rebirth of sorts, and those that win get even bigger audiences.

If this past week’s nominations get more people going to “Round Midnight” or “A Room with a View” or “Children of a Lesser God,” then I say that’s good news. As the box-office revenue for those films goes up the studios might even sit up and take notice.

I can hear the boardroom conversation now: “Gee, you mean if we make good movies people will still pay to see them?”