And the (80’s Teen Film) Oscar Goes To…

The Breakfast ClubThere’s a lot of complaining about the Academy Awards each year. I’ve done my own share of griping. I still haven’t got over Crash winning Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain. I mean, come ON! And don’t think I’m being gay-istic. I’m (almost) just as peeved that Mickey Rourke lost out to Sean Penn for Best Actor. Seriously, the Wrestler was AWESOME. Oh, and how in the world did Bruce Springsteen not get nominated for Original Song for that movie? Ugh…

A lot of complaints against the Academy revolve around particular genres of movies and how they’re respected enough. Comedies and comedians feel they get no respect. Animation lovers feel underrepresented. Indie fanatics claim they’re dogged by the big studio machines. Well, to all of them, I say CRY ME A RIVER. There is one genre that has NEVER been given one iota of respect and never will be, I’m afraid: The Eighties Teen Flick.

You don’t think I can hear you scoff from back there? Well, while it’s a true a lot of 80’s films were trash, some were indelibly trash-tastic, and a few were truly great movies, no matter what standard you place them under.

So without further ado, I give you the EIGHTIES TEEN FILM ACADEMY AWARDS!!!

Best Supporting Actress Nominees

Phoebe Cates “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” (THE most beautiful girl of the 80’s alongside Brooke Shields)
Shannen Doherty “Heathers” (Shannen convincingly playing a bitch? You don’t say!)
Mary Stuart Masterson “Some Kind of Wonderful” (She rocked the heck out of those drums and the chaffeur uniform)
Ally Sheedy “The Breakfast Club” (She was the first Riot Grrrl)
Lily Taylor “Say Anything” (She was the second)

Bring back any memories, you scoffers you? Already, we’ve got amazing performances from some undeniably awesome movies. This is a tough one. Phoebe and Lily’s roles aren’t quite big enough (although I always wished Lily would put out an album), and let’s face it, Shannen was just being Shannen (to give her an award would just encourage petulant behavior).

That leaves the Mary Stuart’s tough-as-nails-on-the-outside-but-filled-with-love-and-longing-on-the-inside act versus Ally’s… well, pretty much the same act. They both have incredible moments that have stayed with me after all these years. Who can forget Ally’s “dandruff as snow” masterpiece or her revelations that she’s not a nymphomanic but a compulsive liar. Mary Stuart suffers from the fact that “Some Kind of Wonderful” isn’t heralded as a classic the way “Breakfast Club” is, but I dare anyone who’s seen it to not having been moved when she finally receives those earrings, Eric Stoltz’s very “future,” at the end. She had to work so, so hard to get them, too. The kissing lesson, driving Eric and Lea Thompson on their date in spite of her jealousy, having to watch from afar in tears as they kiss.

Mary Stuart MastersonIt’s a tough, tough call, but I gotta go with Mary Stuart. Ally Sheedy gets all prettied up at the end, and although she gets the guy as a result, she loses her Goth power and becomes just another Pretty Girl. But Mary Stuart stays true to who she is and STILL gets exactly what she’s longed for so long. Now THAT’s true girl power.

Winner: MARY STUART MASTERSON

Best Supporting Actor Nominees:

Jon Cryer “Pretty In Pink” (DUCKIE! He got robbed at the end. Andrew McCarthy? I mean, come ON!)
Robert Downey, Jr. “Less Than Zero” (Played a drug addict convincingly; you don’t SAY!)
Anthony Michael Hall “Sixteen Candles” (And a comic prodigy is born; he was the Jim Carrey of 80’s Teen Flicks)
Judd Nelson “Breakfast Club” (He hollers and flares his nostrils throughout like he’s tried kimchi for the first time)
Sean Penn “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” (The ultimate beach bum/stoner/blond airhead archetype)

Sean PennNot as stellar a group as the ladies, in my opinion, but still pretty strong. But one man stands far above the others, and that’s Madonna’s ex-husband himself. He may not have deserved his recent Oscar for “Milk” (not that he wasn’t good, but again, The Wrestler was just awesome), but he sure deserves one for this performance. His performance, especially in his face-offs with that cranky teacher of his, was pure gold.

The Winner: SEAN PENN

John HughesThe John Hughes Best Director Award Nominees:

John Hughes
John Hughes
John Hughes… (you get the picture)

The Winner: JOHN HUGHES (The man basically directed the decade itself)

Best Actress Nominees:

Jennifer Jason Leigh “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” (her heavy performance kept her storyline from turning into an ABC Afterschool Special)
Molly Ringwald “Pretty In Pink” (She was, indeed)
Julia Roberts “Mystic Pizza” (Julia’s first starring role on her way to super Julia-dom)
Winona Ryder “Heathers” (A reluctant teen killer whose sharpest weapon was her wit and her tongue)
Daphne Zuniga “The Sure Thing” (Her response to a mooning pack of jackasses will live on in infamy)

The Eighties weren’t ripe with plum roles for women, but these five took theirs and made them work in a big way. Jennifer Jason probably lags a bit behind the others, because she was a bit TOO dark and heavy (it IS the 80’s we’re talking about). Julia and Daphne were both excellent, but really, it’s Molly and Winona who are at the top of the peak. “Pretty In Pink” is the ultimate Molly showcase, as she displays her full arsenal of eye-rolls, lip-bites, and shoulder-squarings as she fights the power (i.e. the “Richies”) to win the love of Andrew McCarthy (oh, why not Duckie, Molly?). As for Winona, she too displays every teen-girl mannerism known to man to great effect, the dead eye stares, the shrill voice filled with disbelief, the nervous smile dreading what’s going to come next in her involuntary killing spree.

Molly RingwaldIt’s possibly the toughest race to call, but in the end, I’ll take Molly. She was really at the peak of her fame and talent here, and the movie squarely depends on her shoulder pads, while Winona has the ample support of Christian Slater (at HIS peak) and the bitch crew of Heathers.

The Winner: MOLLY RINGWALD

Best Actor Nominees:

Matthew Broderick “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (Still a successful working actor, but probably still referred to as “that Ferris Bueller guy” more times than he’d care to hear)
Tom Cruise “Risky Business” (Boy, we haven’t heard much from THAT guy since then; have we?)
John Cusack “Say Anything” (The Robert De Niro of the 80’s at the peak of his powers)
Ralph Macchio “The Karate Kid” (Wax on, wax off!)
Christian Slater “Heathers” (It seemed at that time that he really WOULD be the next Jack Nicholson)

Again, they all have their moments. Ferris singing at the ticker tape parade in New York. Tom in his underwear. John, his boombox, and “In Your Eyes.” Ralph and that crane kick. Christian and his pee-inducing gun.

But it’s not that a big a contest in my book. Lloyd Dobbler is simply the most fully-realized GUY character in all of movie history. How could Diane Court or ANYONE not fall in love with him? Who wouldn’t want Lloyd standing outside their window playing “In Your Eyes”? Even now, I can’t help but sigh.

The Winner: JOHN CUSACK

And now the biggie…

Best Film Nominees:

The Breakfast Club (Everyone in the cast in full sync to full effect)
Heathers (Puts a dark, demented twist on the whole genre; it KILLS, literally)
The Last American Virgin (Has the most devastating ending in film history; PSYCHO wishes it were half as traumatic)
Lucas (Corey Haim and Charlie Sheen both seemed so innocent back then)
Say Anything (Again, two words: Lloyd. Dobbler.)

Classics, one and all. I’ve tried to be as objective as possible about this. Personally, I’ve actually watched “Some Kind of Wonderful” more than any other 80’s film for the glorious ending (I used to put it on constantly when I was working at a video store as a teenager, to the point that customers would turn to me and ask, “Again???”). But I can recognize its flaws (Eric Stoltz was way too stiff in the pivotal lead role), which kept it from being nominated.

Out of the list, “The Last American Virgin” may be the most questionable pick. But it’s a remarkable film, and its gradual transition in tone from unapolegetic 80’s trash-ness to emotional melodrama to an ending so unbelievable in devastation and cruelty (both to its main character and to the audience) puts it in a category all its own.

John CuzackThe remaining four are all absolute classics and deservedly heralded as such. But in the end, there must be a winner, and that’s Say Anything. It’s romantic, funny, and touching, but none of it feels contrived. It is, of course, a simple love story following the timeless storyline of Boy meets Girl, Boy loves Girl, Girl loves Boy, Evil Dad keeps them apart, Boy gets Girl back, Evil Dad goes to jail. But each step in that process is handled with utmost grace and tender loving care. A great example is the iconic boombox scene, which could have inspired a million Molly Ringwald-style rolling of the eyes if it wasn’t handled so artfully. And that’s just what Say Anything is without question: art. Remember that the next time you want to scoff away the Teen Films of the Eighties.

And now, so that we may re-live the Boombox Moment:

Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes

May we all find a Lloyd Dobbler of our own…

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