Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is Terms of Endearment (1983).
For a guy who now seems best known to the world for developing The Simpsons, James L. Brooks has always had an incredible cinematic ability to infuse the hilarity of his comedy with the full breadth of human emotion. With Terms of Endearment, his directorial debut, we follow the difficult relationship between a mother and daughter over the course of many years as the mother (Shirley MacLaine) disapproves of her daughter’s (Debra Winger) marriage which subsequently begins to falter. Meanwhile MacLaine’s character begins her own romance with Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson), a drunken retired astronaut who brings a welcome dose of goofy comedy and the iconic beach drive scene with him. It’s a film that manages to move through topics like cancer and adultery and the breakup of a relationship between a parent and child all with the appropriate delicateness to feel like it really has something to say about the way we are all permanently connected to some people without diving too far into melodrama and while still allowing moments to breathe and have a good time. Like life, there are always good moments around the corner and looking back on it, they are the ones that stand out more. Unfortunately, Brooks has done work since that covered some similar ground so much more skillfully that this pales in comparison and felt a bit of a disappointment.
The Real Best Picture:
Terms of Endearment is very good but The Right Stuff is the only film that year to show the heroes of the Space Age hobbling down a hallway with tubes up their butts so it is very clearly the best.