What Oscar Liked
The Oscar nominees for Best Picture were the Mozart bio Amadeus (11 noms / 8 wins), the legendary David Lean's swan song A Passage to India (11 noms / 2 wins), Roland Joffé's war drama The Killing Fields (7 noms /3 wins), Robert Benton's farm widow period piece Places in the Heart (7 noms / 2 wins) and the stage to screen transfer A Soldier's Story (3 noms / 0 wins) still one of a scant handful of predominantly black movies to be shortlisted for the industry's top prize. It featured Denzel Washington in one of his earliest roles.
For a speculative AMPAS top ten I'd add these five as "runners up" since they were probably on multiple Best Pic' ballots: Barry Levinson's all star baseball drama The Natural (4 nominations), The River (4 noms and one special Oscar) another farm drama pictured left with Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek as the Mr & Mrs, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (3 noms), John Huston's alcohol-soaked Under the Volcano (2 noms) and maybe 2010 (5 noms... though all were technical).
What Audiences Liked
I'm not using actual box office numbers per se but I am adjusting for inflation (reports differ across the internet) to give you a vague "range" of box office success comparable to today's hits.
- Ghostbusters & Beverly Hills Cop $400+
- (websites disagree on which film won the year. Both were massive hits)
- Indiana Jones & Temple of Doom $300+
- Gremlins $250+
- The Karate Kid $100+
- Police Academy $100+
- Footloose $100+
- Romancing the Stone $100+
- Purple Rain, Star Trek III and Splash $100+
- (websites disagree on which order those three came in, too)
What Nathaniel liked
This is an unholy amalgam of what loved back then, what I caught later, and how I remember them as an adult. It is by no means definitive. If I could add 8 hours to each day I'd probably use 4 of them for re-screenings of old pictures in order to finally nail down these retroactive lists. The List is Life! Consider these ten pictures rental suggestions if you're the cool kind of movie fanatic (i.e. the kind that understands that cinema is ∞ and exists outside of whatever year you're living in)
Honorable Mention: Careful He Might Hear You was hugely lauded in Australia and made a tiny critical splash in the US. The acting was phenomenal. Wendy Hughes won raves and Nicholas Gledhill offered up one of the best child performances I've ever seen. Alas, I don't remember details, just that it unnerved me something fierce. Netflix doesn't offer this one. So sorry.
10 Splash - Ron Howard's best movie if you ask me. You heard me. He's so much better at fluff than at serious drama. I wish he'd stick to fluff. It's not shameful to be good at that. Why do I love Splash so? Well, I do have a thing for mermaids. But perhaps it just comes down to Madison, her crimped hair, her unpronounceable name and her nude walk on Ellis Island. I've loved Daryl Hannah ever since.
09 Another Country was an English boarding school drama of clashing sexualities and politics. It often gets credited with being the feature debut of three new stars: Cary Elwes, Rupert Everett and Colin Firth. Firth and Everett had great chemistry onscreen but they apparently hated each other, only ending their long feud last year (!)
08 Romancing the Stone - previously discussed
07 Gremlins -I looooved this movie at the time and though I haven't seen it in years I suspect it's still richly macabre, clever and weird. If you've seen it recently, am I right? The concept itself was so terrific. One might say it impishly fused Jekyll & Hyde terror with pet ownership angst. We never know what our furry friends are thinking. What demons lurk within them just waiting to get out?
06 Places in the Heart -I remember this movie being quiet and gracefully moving (especially the ending) but it got a bad rap for what I assume were several reasons: Sally Field's infamous "you like me!" acceptance speech, the glut of farm dramas, not being as popular as Benton's previous Oscar hit Kramer Vs. Kramer, and accusations of sentimentality (especially the ending).
05 Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes is the style of movie I'm kind of hoping the upcoming The Wolf Man apes. It was a seriously expensive looking, prestige adaptation of a mythic character that's usually treated with haphazard 'make a quick buck' B movie gloves. This film briefly threatened to ruin Andie MacDowell's career (Glenn Close was called in to dub her voice) and briefly made French actor Christopher Lambert an international star. Within the next few years he was co-starring with the likes of Isabelle Adjani and Catherine Deneuve onscreen and Diane Lane offscreen and starring in the Highlander franchise.
04 This is Spinal Tap -It's hard to remember that Rob Reiner directed this film which starred Christopher Guest (among others) and which seemed to birth the whole Guest dominated mockumentary genre but damn if this movie isn't über hilarious. My favorite bits are the whole Anjelica Huston / Stonehenge debacle and the quotable "this one goes to 11" idiocy.
03 The Terminator - I'll discuss tomorrow... we'll use it to wrap up the 1984 party.
02 The Times of Harvey Milk won the Oscar for Best Documentary and, if you can believe it, it's even better and more moving than last year's Gus Van Sant picture Milk.
01 Amadeus, or Salieri vs. Mozart: Death Match, was a "wow" on just about every level in the 80s. Most surprisingly it was a major hit, finishing 12th at the box office for all 1984 films and earning, in today's dollars something like $100 million at the box office. Can you imagine a 160 minute costume heavy biopic with and about classical music doing that well today? Neither can I. I wonder if it holds up. Has anyone seen it recently?
All that and no room to mention The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension, Irreconcilable Differences, Sixteen Candles, The NeverEnding Story and Birdy. Anyone love or hate those? A few of them I barely remember a frame of but I was into them at one point for better or worse. Two films I should definitely revisit: Blood Simple and Stranger Than Paradise both of which I was too young for when I first saw (not in 84). I didn't "get" them. I have never seen the much loved Paris, Texas and am deeply ashamed.
Were you even alive in 1984? Maybe people have forgotten your birthday. It happens.
Share your movie memories of any of these plentiful pictures in the comments... even if you didn't see them until the 21st century. For those of you who lived through it, put on some Prince or Madonna if it'll help jog your memory.