When I decided that Terms of Endearment was to be my next Oscar Best Picture Winner, I did not know what type of a film it was. With a character driven plot, Terms of Endearment follows the lives of a mother and daughter that have a strong yet unique bond. While this film was not my favorite, it had some outstanding performances in it that made the film compelling and worth watching.
If there was a single word that could describe this film it would be dysfunctional. When I say dysfunctional I am not referring to the camera shots or direction of the film, I am talking simply about the characters themselves. The film focuses on the mother/daughter duo Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and Emma Greenway Horton (Debra Winger). It becomes clear early on that despite thinking about the world in very different ways, Aurora and Emma are best friends. Married to professor Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora moves to Des Moines Iowa for Flap to pursue his career. Eventually having three children, Tommy Horton (Troy Bishop), Teddy Horton (Huckleberry Fox) and Melanie Horton (Megan Morris), the two sink into a fairly unhappy marriage. With Flap unable to deal with the pressures of having a family and Emma trying to raise the children on her own both have affairs, Flap with a young college student and Emma with Sam Burns (John Lithgow). Flap job eventually forces them to move to Kearney, Nebraska and their marriage continues to fall into disarray. The Horton’s lives are tragically put into perspective however when Emma finds a cancerous lump under her armpit.
Meanwhile, without her daughter there, Aurora Greenway is forced to live her own life. Still in constant contact with her daughter, Aurora and Emma talk on the phone often. Working her way through a string of interested gentlemen, including Vernon Dahlart (Danny DeVito), Aurora is attracted and drawn to her neighbor, Astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson). Aurora is a dramatic woman that needs to be in control of every situation while Garrett is a crude, fly by the seat of his pants, drunk who does not like to be tied down. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is watching Aurora and Garrett both adapt and deal with each other’s misgivings to eventually meet each other in the middle to create a workable relationship.
While the directing and script for this film were good, there were two aspects of film that absolutely blew me away. The first was character development. Not only do the characters in this film all have fairly large flaws but the film’s script accentuates and hinges upon these flaws. Throughout the film the characters are really forced to acknowledge and deal with their own flaws as well as many of the other characters’ flaws. It allows the characters to really grow, even if it is for the worse. The other aspect of this film that I found to be amazing was Jack Nicholson. Earning himself a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Nicholson stole the screen every time he was on it. Playing a misogynistic astronaut that has far outlived his glory days, Nicholson’s character learns to be an actual adult while cultivating a relationship with Aurora.
In my mind, Terms of Endearment is not a Best Picture winning film but when it comes down to it, none of the other Best Picture nominees, the Big Chill, the Right Stuff, Tender Mercies and the Dresser, were any more deserving. The film’s director and writer, James L. Brooks, took home an Oscar for Best Director and Best Writing and Shirley MacLaine earned her own Oscar for Best Actress. I would give this film a 6.5 out of 10. While I thought Jack Nicholson gave an outstanding performance I found the film to be somewhat boring and depressing and most of the characters did not get the final outcome the film seemed to be working towards.
Now, before all you readers out there scoff at me and wonder how someone can call themselves an entertainment editor if they haven’t seen the Departed, which by the way is a very rude thing to do, I HAVE seen the Departed. My goal while writing these Best Picture posts is not to watch all of the Best Picture winners I haven’t seen but to watch and review every Best Picture winner. That means I am re-watching the ones that I have already seen and I am glad I decided to do so. I forgot what an outstanding movie The Departed is until I watched it again, remembering why it earned director Martin Scorsese his first Best Director win.
Another film with a fairly complex plot that can be stripped down and explain at its most basic in a paragraph. Ultimately the story revolves around two men, both going undercover and eventually tasked to find one another. The film takes place in Boston crime scene which is run by the Irish-American mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). The film opens with Costello enlisting the help of a young boy, obviously meaning to take the boy under his wing. The film then jumps into the future showing the boy, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), graduating from the Police Academy. Graduating opposite Sullivan is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young man who grew up in a world of crime and has decided to try and change his fate. Sullivan eventually gets accepted into the Special Investigations Unit, where he acts as a mole for Frank Costello. Quickly flagged by Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Staff Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) as a man comfortable around crime, they enlist Costigan to infiltrate Costello’s operation as an undercover agent. As both Costigan and Sullivan delve deeper and deeper into their own fake identities, they are each giving opposite tasks. First Sullivan is just to be Costello’s eyes and ears in the police force and Costigan is tasked to try and bring down Costello’s operation from the inside. As both make mistakes and suspicions arise, Costigan is eventually asked to find the rat in the police force while Sullivan is ordered to find the rat in Costello’s gang. The two end up having to hunt each other.
While watching this film, I found it absolutely impossible to pick a best performance. Each time I had decided on an actor, another stepped on screen to change my mind. No matter how big or small the role, everybody came ready to prove their brilliance. Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin fit in perfectly as the head of the local undercover unit and head of an FBI task force respectively. Wahlberg played alongside Sheen, a ruthless asshole helping run Costigan’s undercover mission. Vera Farmiga stars as one of the only main, female characters in the film, playing the psychiatrist Madolyn. While Sullivan meets Madolyn one day in the elevator and the two start a long relationship together, Costigan is assigned to talk to Madolyn as a part of his fake firing so he could go undercover. The two eventually form an oddly inappropriate relationship that leads to Madoyln remaining in both the main character’s lives.
The three main characters of the film command the screen with the skill expected of such veteran actors. Nicholson embodies the rough and tough gangster, giving the man an almost bipolar personality. Controlling a gang of rough and tough mobsters, played by an intimitading crew of actors, Costello can be happy one moment and the next be brutally torturing a member of his crew. Damon and DiCaprio mirror each other perfectly through the film, playing two spies doing the same task for different sides. While Costigan begins in chaos, fighting through it to get a foothold in Costello’s gang, Damen seems to be perfectly in control in the film’s start. Costigan harnesses the increasing chaos around him to allow him to survive his time undercover while Damen’s loses his calm composure and lets his job and life spiral wildly out of control.
The Departed didn’t just win the 2006 Oscar for Best Motion Picture, it also delivered Scorsese his first win for Best Director. Already nominated for Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York and the Aviator, Scorsese finally beat out his competition and earned the well-deserved win. The Departed had to battle a number of different great films for title of best picture. Beating out Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine and the Queen, I can honestly say that the Departed deserved the win in 2006. With amazing performances and a soundtrack to die for, I give this Best Picture Winner a 10 out 10 and, if you can stomach a fair amount of brutal violence, would recommend it to any movie lover.