Oscar History

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« Dee Rees Bringing Flo Kennedy, Gloria Steinem, and The Fight for the ERA to the Big Screen in "An Uncivil War" | Main | Doc Corner: Laura Poitras' Risky Business »

New Podcast: Desperately Seeking Smackdowns

Nathaniel welcomes our first all Los Angeles panel for this discussion of the 1985 film year. Comedian/Writer Louis Virtel (Billy on the Street), Producer/Writer Abdi Nazemian ("The Authentics"), Actress Nora Zehetner and Director/Writer Michelle Morgan (It Happened in L.A.). We just wrote about the Supporting Actress nominated performances of 1985 but now it's time to zoom out on the films and the film year itself when Oprah Winfrey and Madonna began their global takeovers, Anjelica Huston became a third generation Oscar favorite, and Out of Africa eventually won Best Picture.

Smackdown '85 Companion Podcast
(58 minutes)
00:01 Anjelica vs Oprah with a little Amy Madigan on the side
10:00 Our entire group has a Jane Fonda "problem" - shout-outs to Klute and lots of head-scratching over the plot of Agnes of God
20:00 Meg Tilly and Jennifer Tilly and Oscar trivia
22:00 Should they remake The Color Purple?
28:00 Syphilitic Out of Africa, Divisive Prizzi's Honor and their Oscar wins
35:30 Desperately Seeking Susan and Oscar's resistance to both Madonna and comedy

46:30 Twice in a Lifetime's weird messages and cathartic makeovers
49:40 Individual favorites from the year from each of us including (but not limited to): Clue, The Breakfast Club, The Goonies, Mask, The Legend of Billie Jean
55:00 Farewells and Credits

You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of the post or download from iTunes. Don't forget to read the smackdown and continue the conversations in the comments! 

Desperately Seeking Smackdown

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Reader Comments (38)

Love all of this. The commentary, the picks that weren't nominated - everything.

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Wonderful Nathaniel! That's my gym podcast set!

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Lewis

For the record, Stinkylulu already did the 1985 smackdown, though only two people took part on the panel... as far as I recall 1981, 1986 and 1987 are the three 80s years that remain un-smacked

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterslayton

Oh oops just saw that you already did this one!

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterslayton

Please do 87,Gr8 podcast,Are most people of the opinion that Bancroft and Fonda are bad or simply miscast,thanks for entertaining me.

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

John Landis directed the Vic Morrow (Jennifer Jason Leigh's father) Twilight Zone segment.

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

SO GLAD someone pointed the ickiness between Sheedy and Hackman. That porch scene when he gives her the lingerie was so creepy. She played the whole scene like she wanted to make out with him.

And also glad Nat pointed out how off the bar scene was. All his friends are cheering for him to kiss a stranger when they know he's married? Just did not read real to me.

The Color Purple has some fantastic actors so it would be weird to see other actors take on those roles, but I'd love to see what someone like Dee Rees could do with that material. Spielberg went as big and bold and unsubtle as possible. Overall the movie is effective, but a lot of the individual parts are awfully heavy-handed and he really didn't seem to grasp the gravity of the situation like, oh, say, 14-year-old Celie being forced to shack up with Danny Glover against her will. Her first day having to scrub down his disgusting kitchen is not time to turn the movie into a sitcom! But, as pointed out, a movie version of the musical could be great.

Nat, you mentioned on Twitter getting a new mic. Did you use it on this podcast? Because I had a hard time understanding you. You sounded more distant and muffled than usual. But otherwise, love this series!

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

DJ DeeJay -- i did use it on this new podcast (sigh). I think the problem may have been that I had to reduce file size? Let me just say that I envy that so many other people seem to have such ease with podcasting and I will never understand how so many podcasts sound so professional when it is so freaking difficult! (and the new system was not cheap either!). Sigh

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Such a fun conversation!

It wasn't just the bar scenes in "Twice" that were off; it was most scenes. The family laughs like a studio audience at the opening of a greeting card!

"Legend of Billie Jean" is definitely a must, but I maybe love "Just one of the guys" even more. It was somehow ubiquitous on cable but still underappreciated. Best quotes: a swooning classmate describes the teen drag king makeover as "He dresses like Elvis Costello, but he looks like the karate kid!" And when the lead tries to reveal her true gender in the climactic prom scene, a disbelieving friend retorts, "Yeah sure, and I'm Cyndi Lauper." Never change, 1985.

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Thanks for an entertaining podcast (as usual!).

Out of Africa is definitely worth a rewatch. I've seen it a few times over the years and it grows. It's subtle and romantic and so elegantly made. It's got some fascinating things to say about possessiveness and relinquishing it to be happy.

You're right that they put something under Jack Nicholson's upper lip for Prizzi's Honor. Nicholson said that he had observed how some Italian gangsters have a way of talking wherein their top lip doesn't move and he wanted to achieve that for the film.

Anfd I'm definitely there for Agnes the musical starring Jennifer Tilly! (And I'm loving the love she's getting for Bullets Over Broadway. She's so great in that.)

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Baby, are you on Google Play?

But looking forward to listen to this while working out. I haven't gone in days.

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

Thanks for all your hard work on this podcast, they are so much fun to listen to.
Winfrey may have won over the panel but Angelica Huston had paid her dues, Oprah was too much of a newcomer to be a threat to win.
Glad to see so much love for Fonda,Turner,and Madonna.

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Spielberg being associated with The Twilight Zone deaths (although by name only) is a fascinating theory. I once went down a Crime Library rabbit hole reading all about the tragedy and subsequent trial. Horrifying stuff.

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

1985 is a peak year for Oscar middlebrow: the kinds of movies that Oscar considered Prestigious and Important and still commanded box office. Call it the film equivalent of a Steve Winwood single hitting #1 the following year. Such a thing looks as bizarre now as OUT OF AFRICA making buckets of money despite no one liking it.

A.O.Scott called it "the last gasp of a noble middlebrow ideal" several years ago: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/movies/awardsseason/21scott.html

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred

Alfred: Thanks for the link to the A.O. Scott article, which I hadn't seen before. It's a fascinating read. But it's not a demonstration of how no one likes Out of Africa. For a start, when Scott mentions "the last gasp of a noble middlebrow ideal", he is referring not just to Out of Africa but to the group of films that made Streep's name in the first ten years or so of her film career. But, crucially, he is doing so fondly – hence the line that immediately follows the quote: "They were ambitious, unapologetically commercial projects intended for the entertainment and edification of grown-up audiences, neither self-consciously provocative nor timidly inoffensive." I agree with that. The only thing I'm inclined to disagree with Scott about in this article is the notion that it's a "last gasp". I would argue that the years since have seen a continuation of this vein of filmmaking, in films such as Dances with Wolves, Schindler's List, The English Patient, Spotlight – although we can see (as evinced by Spotlight, for example) – that these films seem to have a harder time finding an audience in cinemas these days. Out of Africa is not the greatest film ever made, but in its themes, its ambition and its execution it's worthy of fresh appraisal.

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

I hate remakes but The Color Purple needs one. It's a lovely movie and you cry a lot, but the key issues are poorly handed and the acting is all over the place, especially the male roles. I blame Spielberg and the screenplay, of course. The subplot with the kids in Africa is rushed and over the top.

If I had a time machine I would bring back Young Whoopi and recast the others.

I was a kid in 1985 and I distinctly remember how I read the scene with the kiss. For me it was: "Man treat these poor women so badly that they need to kiss and comfort each other". Clearly, it can be handled better.

P.S. I miss Nick Davis.

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Stop rewriting history, people! This is getting scary. People were madly in love with Out of Africa. The soundtrack was everywhere and it even had an impact on fashion.

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Agnes of God is a movie about faith or the lack of it, so the "what happened" question will always depend on one's view. I like that is open. Same goes for Doubt.

Personally, I think she was raped. I also believe that the Mother Superior knows it from the beginning, but she just can't accept it because it would rock her own world and position.

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I am still madly in love with Out of Africa. It is one of my favorite movies. Apparently I am not alone. Go over to Amazon and take a look at how many times it's been rereleased blu-ray, DVD or VHS. (Oh, I'll tell you: fifty-eight.)

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

By the way, I miss Nick Davis, too. Some of the comments on this podcast were interesting. I'll leave it at that!

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Well, critics weren't madly in love with OOA. It did well at the box office, sure, and for years I'd see that formidable double VHS copy in my friends' parents' collection.

I cited the Scott article because while I don't agree with his nostalgia I thought it important he categorized these kind of prestige pictures, which still get Oscar nominations or wins (LION, THE KING'S SPEECH). They exist in a nether world: most of them are dully virtuous and display a basic level of craftsmanship.

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred

Alfred: Many critics at the time were very impressed with Out of Africa. The IMDb list of critics' awards that the film won or was nominated for is one indication of the general level of acclaim the film received. It slightly puzzles me that the film's reputation has faded somewhat; it's good to hear that there are still viewers who love it. I know what you mean about "dully virtuous" - but it depends on one's definition of dull. For me, Out of Africa is thrilling. And its craftsmanship isn't basic, it's A++. That stuff is difficult to do - and doubly difficult to do it the way Pollack and team do it, i.e. without showing the effort.

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

I'd love to see a movie musical version of "The Color Purple" with Cynthia Erivo as lead. That could be stunning! Not here for a regular remake tho. I don't think these classic performances would be surpassed or Spielberg's direction. Yes, the heavy-handed screenplay that veered far from the novel is a big problem. Is that enough of a reason to remake? A female director for the movie musical would be thrilling. Ava DuVernay? Dee Rees? Gina Prince-Bythewood? Fabulous!

Wild, tangential podcast lol. You guys talked about "Desperately Seeking Susan" more than you did some of the nominees! I certainly hope to see it one day. Now I know never to try seeing "Twice in a Lifetime"! Yikes.

I also miss my beloved Nick Davis!!!

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDorian

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who got to the end of AGNES OF GOD and thought "okay...so, what happened?"

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKieran Scarlett

Dorian and Suzanne and Peggy Sue -- Nick will return. The Smackdowns are always rotating panels but Nick is on at least the next two regular podcasts :)

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nick D ha the ability to sum up an essay of thoughts into one or two quick quips. Him, Nathaniel and Kaite are the dream team!

Love you guys.

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Lewis

1985 was a very difficult year for the Best Actress category. Really populated by great performances. There was the unbeatable 8-time nominee Geraldine Page, Meryl Streep, Whoopi Goldberg and Jessica Lange. But the fifth spot (which went to Anne Bancroft) should have been either for Norma Aleandro for The Official Story (who won the NYFCC and Cannes) or Cher for Mask (co-winner of Cannes with Aleandro).

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

I would've replaced Streep and Bancroft with Aleandro and Cher.

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred

Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo would have been another worthy nominee.

October 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Edward L.- I agree with you totally and it's hard to believe all the years working with Woody Allen did not make Mia Farrow an oscar nominee even once. The Purple Rose of Cairo at least should be the first for her but again that was the tough year for best actress.

October 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Mia Farrow's first should have been for Rosemary's Baby! I cannot believe the Academy didn't nominate her for that performance. I love Hepburn in Lion in Wintor but Mia should have WON that year!

October 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

As an Oscar loving moviegoer who was an adult in 1985 there were a few things I remember about the supporting actresses of that year.
1. "Prizzi's Honor" was an early Oscar contender including Angelica Huston who was considered a shoo-in to win. She actually swept most of the precursor awards.
2. I never saw "Twice in a Lifetime" but Amy Madigan was singled out in most of the reviews so it was not a surprise when she was nominated.
3. Margaret Avery blew her chances with a bizarre Oscar ad where she's talking to God and not Academy members.

Thanks for an entertaining podcast. I'm now interested in checking out "Twice in a Lifetime" "Desperately Seeking Susan" "Clue" (again) and "Prizzi's Honor" (again). I'm not yet convince about "Legend of Billie Jean". Saw "Clue" and "Goonies" in the theaters. Me and the two other people in the theater at the time seemed to enjoy them.

October 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJeff D.

Oh, also, re: a standing ovation for Cynthia Erivo in Color Purple mid-show as opposed to just at the end - that also happened when I saw Raul Esparza in Company on Broadway. His "Being Alive" was so thunderous, so nakedly emotional and powerful in a way I've never seen that song done before or since, and the audience leapt to its feet as soon as it was done AND stood again at curtain call.

None of this is to take away from Erivo's achievement and I do hope they'll get her performance on the big screen soon.

October 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

It's funny how old I felt listening to all the love for Clue and Goonies - those are def films loved by a certain generation (i.e.those who were tweens or teens in the 80's - I was in my 20's). I still have never seen either and don't have any real burning desire to seek them out.

I disliked The Color Purple when it was released, as I felt it Disney-fied the book (I was obsessed with the book at the time). Saw it again last year and I still think tonally it's far too whitewashed, and that Spielberg is mostly to blame. But I loved Oprah in it. She's never been better. I agree with her win for the Smackdown.

Madonna brilliant in Evita? Hmmm. I think it's a bad film, and that Mads is a self-conscious actress. Even in Desperately Seeking Susan, which everyone seems to agree features her best performance, she comes off a bit self-aware. Probably time to give that a rewatch, haven't seen it since '85.

It's funny how interesting Twice in a Lifetime sounds! Sometimes it's fun to watch the not-so-good flicks after you folks give them the once-over. I actually watched The VIPs b/c of The Smackdown and glad I did, but you all nailed it, totally!

Thanks again, as ever. I wish there was a Smackdown every month!

October 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Agreed, Rob, although Madonna's performance in EVITA is not entirely her fault; it's a dreadful idea for a musical. Not only do the song suck, but asking me to care about the wife of a fascist dictator whose myth fooled millions offended me at the time. If Alan Parker had accepted the myth instead of posing Evita as a Noble Woman it might have worked.

I could be wrong. It's been 20 years since I laughed out of the theater.

October 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred

This podcast was too messy, unfocused and kind of shallow. This felt really subpar compared to the usual standard of movie discussion that the smackdown fosters.

A very weak panel, I'm sorry to say, and in such a great year for the category, what a letdown. I mean, one of panelists didn't even watch the movie for the winning performance, what the hell!

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

@ Jeff D - The Color Purple novel is epistolary and in many occasions Celie writes letters to God, that start as "Dear God...". Those Avery ads were riffing on that. It really isn't as bizarre as it seems at first glance if you are not familiar with the novel. One can think it was tasteless, but it wasn't out of left field, as I believe most people at the time were aware that she was referencing the book, since the novel had just won the Pulitzer a few years before and it was a popular read.

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Good post like very much

March 31, 2018 | Unregistered Commentervidmate online

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