Monday, June 5, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1990

The Contenders:

Dances with Wolves (winner)
The Godfather, Part III

What’s Missing

Ah, 1990. There are plenty of movies that I like from 1990, but it’s the rare one that seems like it genuinely belongs in contention for Best Picture. It’s a weird year in that respect, because while I don’t love most of the nominees as eligible for this award, there aren’t a lot of things I can suggest as legitimate replacements. Home Alone is certainly influential in a lot of ways, and the same could be said of Edward Scissorhands, even if I think it’s not nearly as good as everyone seems to believe. On the horror front, Tremors, Flatliners, and The Exorcist III were all released in 1990. The best horror-related films of 1990, though, are Jacob’s Ladder and Misery, both of which I might actually consider. I like My Blue Heaven more than it deserves. The French version of Cyrano de Bergerac is great, although the best part of it is the nominated performance of Gerard Depardieu. I haven’t seen Wild at Heart, but from what I know, a lot of people think it’s worthy of some consideration. The big miss in my opinion is The Grifters, which really should be here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It’s no surprise that I’m putting The Godfather, Part III in last. I’m of the opinion that this is a better movie than most people think it is, but that’s only because most people remember it as a complete train wreck. It’s not, but it has a lot of problems. Perhaps its biggest problem is that it’s the third movie in one of the most highly-acclaimed film series ever made, which makes it not unlike Alien3. It’s clearly the least of the trilogy, and I’d much rather see The Grifters in contention than a film that is decent but also a massive letdown.

4. The problem with Dances with Wolves is that it doesn’t show any restraint. It takes a pretty standard story (man meets noble “savages” and discovers their way of life is better than his) and puts it on a sweeping landscape and blows it up to epic length. Again, it’s not a bad movie; I’m not convinced it’s a great one. It’s far too long for the story it wants to tell and I think it falls prey to Kevin Costner’s bloated ego at the time, making it bloated itself. With a serious trim, I’d like it a lot more than I do. I don’t hate it, but Best Picture? Nah.

3. The best part of Ghost is Whoopi Goldberg, and she won pretty much every important supporting actress award for the year. I don’t completely hate the nomination of Ghost because I think it’s a pretty good film, but it’s not one I could ever really see winning. My problem with it, despite its having some truly iconic moments, is that it eventually falls prey to the Hollywood ending. It ends up being more formulaic than I would like in the last act, and its dip into thriller territory in the third act doesn’t really fit with the rest of the movie.

2. Awakenings is the first of the five nominees where I think I’m completely satisfied that the film deserved to be in the running. It has everything that Oscar is looking for in a Best Picture candidate. We’ve got a doctor attempting a new, radical treatment against the advice of the medical profession and the damn thing works. And it’s based on a real story. It also features a monster performance from Robert De Niro and a fine one from Robin Williams. It isn’t a film I’d go back to that often, but it’s one that pushes all of the right buttons.

My Choice

1. For my money, the two best films of the year in terms of what Oscar looks for in a Best Picture are The Grifters and Goodfellas. The truth of the matter is that I like The Grifters more as a film, but I think Goodfellas is objectively the better movie. I’d have a much more difficult decision had both of them been nominated, and I can’t say that I wouldn’t go for The Grifters in an open field. But, ties and virtual ties always go to the Academy on this blog, so Goodfellas gets my vote as the movie that was robbed.

Final Analysis


  1. 1990 was the fourth year in a row where I made the effort to see all the movies nominated for Best Picture before the award was given out, and I remember thinking it was a weak slate. Good movies all. I agree with you about Godfather III being better than its reputation. I think Dances with Wolves and Goodfellas are both somewhat over-rated. I found Ghost watchable and enjoyable, but what is it doing in this category? And Awakenings didn't bore me but it also didn't do a lot for me.

    I've never seen The Grifters. It seems like a big blind spot right about now.

    I checked my IMDB list to see what I have listed as my favorite movie for 1990. It's a tie! Between "Wild at Heart" and "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead."

    I've seen them both multiple times and I would take either one over anything that was nominated for 1990.

    1. Wild at Heart is one I still need to see. I have seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It's cute, but I can't say it's great.

  2. For me, Goodfellas is the easy #1 for 1990. Scorsese was robbed big time with that. I also agree that The Grifters is a fantastic movie worthy of consideration. I also love your assessment of The Godfather Part III, too. That's exactly how I feel about that movie.

    1. In a way, it's how I feel about Alien3, too. It's better than people remember and damaged significantly by being the third movie after two truly beloved films.

      So far, all of the 1990 wrap-ups I've done have have ended with Goodfellas on top.

  3. Yeah, I'm 100% on GoodFellas deserving to win. I really like Ghost, too. And I'm more with you on Godfather 3 than Alien 3 on your thoughts there (Godfather 3 is decent. Alien 3 blows no matter how you look at it). Also, if I remember correctly, I really didn't like The Grifters much at all.

    1. I remember you not liking The Grifters. You're wrong about that, of course, but I don't hold it against you.

  4. I didn't hate any of these films but neither did I love any of them either. Ghost is the one I enjoyed the most for what it was-a romantic drama with a killer supporting performance by Whoopi-and one that I return to more than any of the others but it's in no way Best Picture worthy.

    It's a lean year and if I could my vote would go to The Grifters. Goodfellas was fine but nothing Scorsese hadn't done before.

    I liked Edward Scissorhands more than you and would have liked to see it in the running, it's at least inventive. Others that to me are more worthy of consideration than what's here are Longtime Companion-a small but powerful film that was just too small to stand a chance though Bruce Davison did score a Supporting Actor nom-and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and perhaps Back to the Future III though it's very light but a huge improvement over the second.

    1. It is kind of a down year, isn't it? Nothing really jumps out at me aside from Goodfellas (we'll disagree a little there) and The Grifters as even being particularly noteworthy.

      Ghost is fine, but it really is all about Whoopi.

  5. From among the nominated films Goodfellas absolutely earns its place in the top 5. Arguments can be made for or against the other four -- all solid films, but maybe there were better choices.

    I recently caught up with Miller's Crossing and loved it -- maybe the only other movie I'd consider as best of the year. Pretty Woman is of course flighty but it's long-term cultural impact has been undeniable. Misery would likely make my top 5. Other fun-but-not-great movies from 1990 include The Freshman, The Hunt For Red October and Kindergarten Cop.

    1. I think I'd like to see Misery in the mix as well, although the main reason to see it is Kathy Bates. Misery should have been up for adapted screenplay as well--the changes it makes from the book are intelligent and don't affect the story, and the hobbling scene is far more disturbing in the movie than it is in the book.