Annal: 1981 Academy Award® for Best Motion Picture

Results of the Academy Award® in the year 1981.

Film:Ordinary People

Ordinary People

Robert Redford

Robert Redford made his Oscar-winning directorial debut with this highly acclaimed, poignantly observant drama (based on the novel by Judith Guest) about a well-to-do family’s painful adjustment to tragedy. Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland play a seemingly happy couple who lose the older of their two sons to a boating accident; Timothy Hutton plays the surviving teenage son, who blames himself for his brother’s death and has attempted suicide to end his pain. They live in a meticulously kept home in an affluent Chicago suburb, never allowing themselves to…

Film:Coal Miner's Daughter

Coal Miner's Daughter

Michael Apted

Sissy Spacek won a much-deserved Oscar for her lead in this entertaining biography of country-music legend Loretta Lynn. British director Michael Apted (Gorillas in the Mist) brings fine texture to the Kentucky backwoods section of the film, where the teenage Loretta meets her future husband (Tommy Lee Jones), who ultimately pushes her into show business. Lynn’s adult life is well covered, from her spouse’s philandering to her own on-stage crackups; but between the chapter-and-verse recollections, the script by Thomas Rickman is layered with life and…

Film:The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man

David Lynch

You could only see his eyes behind the layers of makeup, but those expressive orbs earned John Hurt a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his moving portrayal of John Merrick, the grotesquely deformed Victorian-era man better known as The Elephant Man. Inarticulate and abused, Merrick is the virtual slave of a carnival barker (Freddie Jones) until dedicated London doctor Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins in a powerfully understated performance) rescues him from the life and offers him an existence with dignity. Anne Bancroft costars as the actress whose visit to…

Film:Raging Bull

Raging Bull

Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s brutal black-and-white biography of self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta was chosen as the best film of the 1980s in a major critics’ poll at the end of the decade, and it’s a knockout piece of filmmaking. Robert De Niro plays LaMotta (famously putting on 50 pounds for the later scenes), a man tormented by demons he doesn’t understand and prone to uncontrollably violent temper tantrums and fits of irrational jealousy. He marries a striking young blond (Cathy Moriarty), his sexual ideal, and then terrorizes her with never-ending accusations of…

Film:Tess

Tess

Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski adapted Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles and came up with this moody, haunting film starring Nastassia Kinski as the farm girl who is misused by the aristocrat for whom she works and who is then caught in a marriage where her initial happiness soon turns to grief. Fans of the novel may feel unpersuaded by Polanski’s effort to marry Hardy’s Dorset vision with his own fascination with psychosexual impulses toward survival, but the film is an often stunning thing to see, and Kinski’s sensitive, intelligent performance lingers in the memory. —Tom Keogh

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