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Best Picture Movie Marathon, Part 54

Part 54: 1988


MOVIES:

  • Moonstruck

  • Fatal Attraction

  • Hope and Glory

  • The Last Emperor (winner)

  • Broadcast News (hidden gem)

Moonstruck

Director: Norman Jewison

Starring: Cher, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello, Julie Bovasso, Louis Guss, John Mahoney, Feodor Chaliapin Jr., Anita Gillette, Leonardo Cimino, Paula Trueman, Nada Despotovich, Robin Bartlett, Helen Hanft, David S. Howard, Robert Weil

Oscar Wins: Best Actress (Cher), Best Supporting Actress (Olympia Dukakis), Best Original Screenplay

Other Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Vincent Gardenia), Best Director, Best Picture


In the game of “Desert Island Movie Picks”, Moonstruck sits comfortably at my #2 spot (topped only by Rushmore). Although it’s certainly no underdog – it won 3 Oscars and was one of the most financially successful movies of 1987 – it’s not what one would call a “good movie”. In fact, it’s actually pretty strange. It stars Cher and Nicolas Cage…it is a romantic comedy obsessed with death…and it’s so stereotypically Italian that many place it alongside The Godfather and Goodfellas in the list of classic Italian-American movies. Not to mention it’s filled with so many B-level quotable lines that if you were to lift up your arm and yell, “I lost my hand!”, most people will know what movie you’re talking about.


But on a much more serious note, Moonstruck is the perfect movie about being imperfect…a romance for the unromantic. It’s a love story not set in summer, but in the dead of winter. It’s not a story about eternal love, but about love that ends and begins again.

At the start of the movie, Loretta Castorini (Cher) accepts a proposal from her casual beau, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). Already a widow in her late 30’s, Loretta agrees to marry Johnny not so much out of love as out of weariness. The fact that Johnny doesn’t even know how to propose to a woman – not to mention the fact that he forgets to give her an engagement ring – might also indicate he’s not really in love with Loretta, either. But, Johnny’s mother is dying, and someone has to take care of him.


Before flying out to Sicily to sit by his mother’s deathbed, Johnny gives Loretta a job: in addition to planning their wedding, he asks her to persuade his estranged brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), to come to the wedding. But Ronny isn’t a forgiving man. “What’s wrong can never be made right!” he screams.


In an effort to better understand Ronny’s anger, Loretta asks to just talk to him, which leads to fighting, which leads to kissing, which leads to “…the bed”, as Ronny says. The two quickly find themselves deep in a passionate affair that has Loretta questioning everything.

Meanwhile, Loretta’s father, Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) is also having an affair. His wife, Rose (Olympia Dukakis) knows he’s sleeping around and spends the entire film questioning why men might need more than one woman. One night, when Cosmo is entertaining his side-piece, Rose goes to dinner and meets a professor (John Mahoney) who never quite learns his lesson about dating his undergraduates. “Why do men chase women?” she asks him. He tells her a story of how he gravitates towards women who look at him the way he always wanted to be seen, as a smart, brilliant professor. “I think it’s because they fear death,” Rose retorts.

If Moonstruck has a through line, it’s about things that are wrong getting made right, even if new wrongs have to be committed along the way. The bad blood between Ronny and Johnny involved an accident with a bread slicer, where Johnny distracted Ronny, causing Ronny to cut off his own hand. Subsequently, his then fiancée left him. Ronny has held onto this anger, blaming Johnny for his heartbreak. Another quotable Cage outburst: “I ain’t no freakin’ monument to justice!” happens when he tells Loretta the story of how he lost his hand – the joke of course being that a monument is exactly what he has become – a tribute to his own pain.

In her own way, Loretta is no different. She’s a woman convinced she’s plagued with bad luck and is doomed to be alone forever. Marrying Johnny would be safe, she thinks. Johnny is the appropriate choice, but does that make him the right one? Not according to Ronny. “We’re here to ruin ourselves…” he says. “…and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die!”


“Love is merely a madness,” Shakespeare said, and Moonstruck certainly shares that spirit. No one in this movie acts reasonably, or even normally. Yet it feels completely true. People in love often act ridiculous and passionate. We are constantly searching for answers and solutions, finding someone that makes us feel happy, or loved, or younger. And sometimes, some of us are even lucky enough to love the wrong people, who might just be the right people after all.

 

Fatal Attraction

Director: Adrian Lyne

Starring: Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Stuart Pankin, Ellen Foley, Fred Gwynne, Meg Mundy, Tom Brennan, Lois Smith, Mike Nussbaum, J. J. Johnston

Oscar Wins: No wins.

Other Nominations: Best Actress (Glenn Close), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Archer), Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture


SPOILER WARNING! Some major spoilers appear in this review. Just an FYI before you start!


Next to the decapitated horse head in The Godfather, the most famous mistreated pet in movie history might be the white rabbit in Fatal Attraction. The infamous bunny scene helped give birth to a term describing a predatory woman, someone who’s mental state is as screwy as the coils of her hair. She says she just wants a night of mutual pleasure, but she’s not to be trusted. This “bunny boiler” will single-handedly ruin your life.


Like Dan and Alex, Fatal Attraction might have been great if it weren’t for one pesky thing: the ending. This film is so good for so long that you can almost feel the moment when things abruptly take a turn.

Dan (Michael Douglas) is a happily married man. He adores his wife, Beth (Anne Archer), and his 6-year-old daughter, Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen) and has no strong misgivings about either of them on the night he meets an attractive, mysterious woman named Alex (Glenn Close) at a business party. She’s flirtatious and fun and agrees to accompany him for a drink on a night Beth is out of town visiting her parents.


What happens next is no surprise. When the wife’s away, the husband can play. They explore their passionate affair everywhere from the freight elevator at Alex’s apartment to her kitchen sink. They even play house for a bit, taking Dan’s dog to the park and going for strolls in the park. But Dan has made it very clear that he has no intentions of divorce and he sees his affair with Alex as “…two adults who saw an opportunity and took advantage of it.” But Alex sees things differently.


Once Beth and Ellen return, Dan tries to assimilate back to “normal” life, but Alex will not be ignored. She turns obsessive, phoning his house in the middle of the night, showing up at his office unannounced, even attempting suicide in an effort to gain his attention. In her penultimate act of rage, she disposes of Ellen’s pet bunny on the family stove.

As the film progresses, one can’t help but wonder why Beth would stay with Dan. Despite his infidelities, his actions have also brought danger to her and her daughter. But not a lot about Fatal Attraction makes sense anyway. The screenplay tries to convince us that Dan is still a good guy…and Beth is right to stay with him, even after he confesses he slept with Alex and, perhaps, even got her pregnant. It also tries to convince us that Alex is the monster here, but never bothers to explain why she is the way she is. A scorned lover? A messy divorce? Daddy issues? We’re never able to sympathize with Alex, so her turn to obsession doesn’t really matter as much as it would if we knew a little bit more about her.


This, in my opinion, is also where the movie takes a turn for the worse.

In the final act, the film skirts the possibility of diving deep into the psychological undertones of Alex in favor of a slasher-type finale. It’s a cheap conclusion and one that doesn’t quite match the buildup that led to it. It probably would have been better with the original ending (which American test audiences hated), in which Alex’s successful suicide leaves Dan framed for murder. Glenn Close herself even fought for the original ending, claiming that Alex’s decent into homicidal rage was highly implausible. But, she had no choice but to relent. Instead, we’re given a Dirty Harriet-style shootout between virtue and vixen. American viewers always need a hero, it seems.


On the plus side, Fatal Attraction is an excellent example of how to scare an audience, even when the audience knows what’s coming. Alex’s actions at the peak of the third act are made even scarier when you realize how easy it would be for someone to do this in real life. When Alex drops by Dan’s home, pretending to be a stranger interested in buying their house, or when she picks up Ellen from school and takes her to an amusement park…these moments help Fatal Attraction sit comfortably atop some of the best thrillers of modern cinema…but, like any passionate affair, it’s over as quickly as it started. Fatal Attraction may look fun and sexy from afar but, unfortunately, I left unsatisfied.

 

Hope and Glory

Director: John Boorman

Starring: Sarah Miles, David Hayman, Derrick O'Connor, Susan Wooldridge, Ian Bannen, Sammi Davis, Jean-Marc Barr, Sebastian Rice-Edwards, Geraldine Muir

Oscar Wins: No wins.

Other Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture


There seems to be something about war that appeals to the imagination of little boys. Bombers, fighter planes, rockets and tanks are thrilling at that age, when you are old enough to bask in their glory, yet too young to know what they actually do.


For little Bill Rowan (Sebastian Rice Edwards), toy soldiers are the only casualties of war and neighborhood bullies are the only clear and present danger. Blimps fly over his house like big parade floats and his shrapnel collection is one of his most cherished possessions. When the air raids sound, it means no school! “Thank you, Adolf!” shouts one girl, tossing her gas mask into the air.

Though World War II literally rages in his backyard, Bill doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation. His father, Clive (David Hayman), is a fighting soldier, yet still pops in whenever he gets a brief furlough. His mom, Grace (Sarah Miles) does her best to distract her kids from the terrors outside and Bill’s older sister, Dawn (Sammi Davis) finds comfort, in more ways than one, with a Canadian soldier.


As a young boy of 10, Bill sees life around him from a child’s perspective. Everything he’s witnessed in war-torn London seems beyond his full comprehension. When a classmate looses her mother in a bombing, Bill and his 5-year-old younger sister Sue (Geraldine Muir) ask her if she wants to play. They don’t know what else to do.

Like most kids of the time, Bill is surrounded by women. With almost all the men off at war, mothers, sisters, grandmothers and aunts are left to care for their families. While Bill would like nothing more than to play catch in the backyard with his dad, he instead spends his time listening to his mother confess to a friend that she never got used to sleeping in the same bed as her husband. He learns his mother pines over another man. He watches his older sister have sex. He learns where babies come from and how they’re born.


Similar to the recent film, Belfast, Hope and Glory is mostly a story about a family, set against the backdrop of war. This movie isn’t at all concerned with the tragedy of the setting, or of the meaning behind it, but only with the specific experience of war for a young boy. It’s not so much about war as it is about memory. When we’re young, what happens is not nearly as important as what we think happens…and how those memories, real or not, form and shape who we become.

 

The Last Emperor

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring: John Lone, Richard Vuu, Tijger Tsou, Wu Tao, Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole, Ying Ruocheng, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Maggie Han, Ric Young, Vivian Wu, Cary-Hiroyuki, Jade Go, Fumihiko Ikeda, Fan Guang, Henry Kyi, Alvin Riley III, Lisa Lu, Basil Pao, Dong Liang, Henry O

Oscar Wins: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture

Other Nominations: No other nominations.


Ahh the wise age of three years old. The world is still new. Food is still new. Motor skills are developing, thoughts are processing. For some of us, three is when we’re given our first tricycle, our first playpen, our first set of Tinker Toys. But mediocre toys weren’t good enough for Pu Yi (Richard Vuu as a child, John Lone as an adult), who – at age three – was given the Dragon Throne as emperor of China.

The Last Emperor is a grand epic detailing the life of the final emperor of China, from his ascension to his abdication (just 4 years later), and then his eventual uselessness. Filmed in the Forbidden City, this film is an interesting look at how Pu Yi’s royal rise and fall mirrored that of China’s. For me, the fascination here had little to do with Pu Yi and more to do with a part of history I knew next to nothing about.


Little Pu Yi can do anything he wishes except leave the great Forbidden City in Peking. Named the next emperor by the dying breath of Empress Dowager Cixi, Pu Yi has a lot of growing up to do. He has no idea of the power bestowed upon him at the tender age of three, yet loves the army of eunuchs and maids catering to his every whim.

After China becomes a republic in 1912, Pu Yi is forced to abdicate his throne (he is 7 at this point). His domain has been shrunk to The Forbidden City itself and he is ironically forbidden to leave. He can’t even attend the funeral of his own mother. He is a prisoner in the most glorious gilded cage ever created.


In order to further Pu Yi’s education, a tutor named Reginald Johnston is brought in (Peter O’Toole), ala The King and I but with much less singing…well, no singing. But there are some things ol’ Reggie can’t teach Pu Yi, first and foremost, how to have sex. For this, he takes on two wives, Empress Wanron (Joan Chen) and a secondary consort, Wenxiu (Wu Junmei). But not every woman likes playing second fiddle to someone else…

In 1924, Pu Yi is finally removed from The Forbidden City and exiled to Tientsin where he lives a life of debauchery. He’s eventually instilled as the “Emperor” of the newly created Manchukuo (Manchuria) by the Japanese, where he remains until the end of World War II.


Meanwhile, his love life is in shambles. Wenxiu, who is sick of being second-best, asks for a divorce, which Pu Yi refuses to grant. Wanron is also unhappy and becomes a disillusioned opium addict (with her own piece on the side).

At the conclusion of the war, Pu Yi is captured by the Soviet Army and arrested. He’s forced to pen his autobiography and spill all his secrets, which we see at the beginning of the film and which serves as the springboard for the flashback that takes us back in time to when he was crowned emperor.


For the most part, The Last Emperor is kind of a bummer. Not only does the film drip with sadness that accompanies the end of an era, but there’s also a profound sense of loneliness that haunts Pu Yi. He has no friends, no family, no support, no heir. He’s fighting a losing game, and he’s doing it alone.

Even worse, Pu Yi is an extremely cold man…no thanks to how he was brought up. Though he was surrounded by eunuchs and maids, he was deprived of comfort, love and kindness. This coldness accompanies him throughout his childhood and into adulthood, making it hard to empathize with Pu Yi, but easier to understand him and his actions.


The final moments of The Last Emperor are very Hollywood. An ancient Pu Yi returns to the Forbidden City, only to see it’s become nothing more than a tourist attraction. What was once a glorious empire is now destined to live on between the pages of books and tourist pamphlets. It’s a sad ending, yet a realistic one…not just for Pu Yi, but for kingdoms all over the world that have been forgotten by time.

 

Broadcast News

Director: James L. Brooks

Starring: William Hurt, Kimber Shoop, Albert Brooks, Dwayne Markee, Holly Hunter, Gennie James, Robert Prosky, Lois Chiles, Joan Cusack, Peter Hackes, Christian Clemenson, Jack Nicholson, Leo Burmester

Oscar Wins: No wins.

Other Nominations: Best Actor (William Hurt), Best Supporting Actor (Albert Brooks), Best Actress (Holly Hunter), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture


There is a certain group of people that I will never understand – those driven by high-pressure, high-stress, deadline-driven jobs. Emergency rooms are filled with them, as are law firms, PR agencies and newsrooms.


Why people are attracted to these strenuous jobs is beyond me. I’m sure some of it has to do with that adrenalin charge that comes with delivering something at the last minute, a rush that comes with being an instant hero (or an instant failure). For others, perhaps it’s an escape for not having to spend time with themselves…those who get an earful at family gatherings for being “married to the job”, rather than committing themselves to another person. Yet Hollywood would have us believe there’s a third type – those who believe so much in the power of truth and storytelling that nothing else matters. Those so dedicated to the job that they’re actually rewarded and promoted for a job well done. Those who happily go above and beyond not for the money, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is this type of person. Single and in her 30’s (GASP!), Jane’s first love – her true love – is her job. As a news writer and producer for the Washington bureau of a TV network, Jane is smart, fast, and really good at what she does. In fact, she’s never more in control, more actually herself, than when she’s in the middle of a chaotic control room calling the shots.


Being successful isn’t without its problems, though. Jane feels as if she’s repelling those she’s trying to seduce and she can’t help but wear her emotions on her sleeve, collar, and oversized 80’s shoulder pads.


Jane’s work bestie is Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), a bright, aggressive reporter who is hopelessly in love with her. She has friendzoned him time and time again, but he still holds a candle for her. As a reporter, Aaron is one of the best in the business, but he’s not especially great on camera. However, Jane adores working with him because he’s truthful in his reporting, a value Jane holds near and dear.

While on a work trip, Jane meets Tom (William Hurt), a sportscaster who leaves Jane smitten. Initially Tom gives Jane a little taste of her own medicine by friendzoning her as well, but she quickly loses interest when he cheerfully admits he has little education, is not a great reader, and doesn’t know much about current events.


However, things change when Jane’s network hires Tom as their new anchor. He may not be as smart as Aaron, but he’s a natural on camera. Great for the network, terrible for Jane. Things get even worse when romance begins to bloom between Jane and Tom, as poor Aaron tries to remind her that Tom represents everything she hates.

Much of the plot of Broadcast News centers around a piece that Tom does about date rape. Listening to one woman’s story, he is so moved that a tear trickles down his cheek. Whether or not those tears were sincere means a lot to Jane, someone who hates the idea of TV becoming “show business”. Part of her has to know she can’t fully trust Tom, but the other part of her can’t say no to the steamy romance happening behind the scenes. They work well together, especially when the cameras are rolling, and it turns out to be great foreplay for both of them…but at what cost?


The coup de grace comes when Jane finally learns the truth behind Tom’s game. “You can get fired for things like that!” she screams at him. “I got promoted for things like that!” he responds. Jane may have won the battle but Tom’s view of the journalistic world, and really the world at large, have long since won the war.

Crying is also a big theme in Broadcast News. At one point, Aaron says it’s best to get out (leave your job) when you can still cry about leaving. Aaron, who knows he’s way better than the job he has now, knows he should have left the job years ago. Jane, who loves what she does, can’t stop crying about it. And Tom, who is a total phony, can’t even produce a real tear. While it would be easy to say Jane’s outbursts are just due to the stress of the job, the physical act of crying seems to speak to the authenticity of the person, the realness of them…something Jane takes very seriously…and something the network doesn’t seem to care about at all.


While Broadcast News certainly has a lot to say about television and honesty in journalism, it also explores how relationships can change, evolve and stay the same. We can respect the talent of those who hurt us; we can be friends with those we hate sometimes; and we can be in love with those we may never be with. It’s right, it's real, and it sucks sometimes. But hey, that's show business.

 


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