Archive for July 23rd, 2015


by Sam Juliano

Note:  The following is a transcript of an extended conversation I had back in the fall of 2002 within the student union building at Montclair State University with a good friend, and a fellow movie fan, English literature graduate student Bill Riley.  The section of the talk printed here is the one dealing with Robert Redford’s 1980 award winner ‘Ordinary People.’

Sam:  Bill, have you ever found it more than a little curious that the 1980 Best Picture Oscar winner Ordinary People has suffered such an extensive backlash with critics and movie goers since it won, with some even going so far as to assert that it isn’t even a good film?!

Bill: Sam, I have in fact.  What makes it even more difficult to fathom is that the film won far more than the Oscar –  I recall it copped the Best Picture prize from the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle and similar citations from other groups nationwide and abroad.

Sam: So basically, most critics and moviegoers -or at least a good number of them- thought Ordinary People was the best American film of that year.

Bill: Pretty much so, I’d reckon.  Backlash is a potent force in arts competitions, and resounding success will always bring on more scrutiny and the Monday morning quarterbacking.  Success breeds it.  I’d say backlash includes the heightened voices of the devil’s advocates, naysayers and those who are thinking in terms of “I told you so.”  Those are the ones likely to admonish those who commit the mortal sin of overrating a motion picture.  (snickers)

Sam:  I know just what you mean Bill.  Oh it won the Oscar for Best Picture, so it has to be Oscar bait, unworthy or just plain forgettable.  Heck, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Godfather, On the Waterfront, Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia won Best Picture Oscars too.  Does it make them overrated or undeserving?  Hmmm.

Bill:  Yeah, and my beloved Amadeus and The Last Emperor won Best Picture as well.

Sam:  I never disputed that the Oscars are a joke for all sorts of reasons.  Many voters don’t see all the films, studio money often buys nominations, and the group is generally myopic to recognizing foreign language films in the major categories.  Timing means more than artistry three-quarters of the time, and the time between the nominations and the actual awards can be framed as a shameless rat race.  Yet, they do make some good choices if for no other reason than the odds are on their side.  Every awards organization gets it right some of the time.  I’d like to say that I continue to believe that Ordinary People’s reputation was negatively impacted because of its Best Picture win.  The reason is because it won over Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, a film that most think was superior.  Some, like Roger Ebert, named it the best film of the 1980’s, and those in that camp will always take Oscar to task for snubbing it. (more…)

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