I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ordinary People, 1980

Rated R

I can't say I enjoyed this film but it was interesting. It depicts the heart-wrenching story of an upper-class suburban family who is dealing with grief, each member in his/her own way. I figured this film was based on a novel because there were inner dialogues. It’s difficult to translate what is known as “third-person voice” to the screen otherwise. I was right- this best-selling novel came out in 1976.

We learn, through flashbacks and references, that the older son of the family accidentally drowned while out fishing with his younger brother. The surviving high-school-aged son is understandably self-tormented and even suicidal. He spent some time in a mental hospital. The family doesn’t bring up the tragedy and instead walks on eggshells avoiding conversations about feelings. The mother specifically, played by Mary Tyler Moore, disgusts me. I know I shouldn't judge- everyone deals with grief in a different way- but the way she acts as if nothing has happened and doesn’t reach out to her grieving son saddens me. It becomes obvious that she’s always favored/preferred her older son even though she doesn’t cry at his funeral (!), and it’s even more obvious that she’s not getting the help she needs to heal. I wanted to reach in and bear hug Conrad (the surviving son).

The father has a healthier relationship with his son, seems more open to communication, (which is refreshing to see in a father and a husband), and it’s because of him that Conrad agrees to see a psychiatrist. (This part of the film becomes very “Good Will Hunting”- in fact, I wondered if Robin Williams and Matt Damon watched these scenes before filming their own bonding sessions.) The psychiatrist, played by Judd Hirsch, (who plays David Levinson’s very Jewish father in “Independence Day”) is equally fantastic and gives us my favorite line (below).

Newcomer actor, Timothy Hutton, plays the teenage lead in this his debut film. In addition to being in high school and all the drama that implies, Conrad’s also balancing his own guilt and grief, dealing with insensitive adults (including his swim coach), and trying to make/keep friends. I think Hutton is a terrific actor in this film and deservingly won the Best Supporting Actor award for his honest portrayal of this complex character (although I really can’t figure out why it was considered a Best Supporting role…) making him the youngest winner in that category, at age twenty. Interestingly, Donald Sutherland, who plays the father quite brilliantly as well, was denied a nomination. In fact, he’s never been nominated in his whole career, which surprises me because I think he’s a good actor. (You may recognize him from “The Hunger Games”, “Cold Mountain”, and “The Italian Job”, to name a few.)

This film certainly isn’t a “feel-good” movie and won’t leave you with a happy ending (a nice ending piece of dialogue- yes, but a nice ending- no). But if you’re up for a film filled with good acting and deep issues, this is a pretty good one. I shed a few tears at times and feel I learned a few parenting lessons from it.

"Ordinary People" was up against "Tess", "Coal Miner's Daughter", "The Elephant Man", and "Raging Bull". I've heard of all of those but seen none of them. Interestingly, most of the films were about "ordinary", struggling, "real life" people. The winning film walked away with four awards from its six nominations, including Robert Redford for Best Director. Some may think the movie “The Shining” was snubbed a nomination this year; I will never know if I agree because I will never see that movie.


The mother hands out true candied-apples to trick-or-treaters on Halloween, served on a silver tray and all. Did people seriously do that in the early 80’s?? Where would kids put them? Did they have to scarf them down before making it to the next house? ‘cause those were big apples...


All of the psychiatry sessions are brilliant, but the last one that they had together was especially poignant. Conrad finally admits that he’s afraid to feel, inferring it’s easier for him to go numb. Dr. Hirsch responds, “Feelings are scary and sometimes they’re painful. If you can’t feel pain, then you’re not gonna feel anything else either. You’re here and you’re alive.”
Denial is a powerful thing.

Communication is key. Keeping emotions and thoughts bottled down does damage to oneself and one’s loved ones. Find help.

Forgiveness is also key. I think this goes hand in hand with communication and healing.

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