In 1980, Raging Bull loses to Ordinary People. Sometimes we need a little time with our art.
During the 1980 Best Picture race, the Academy needed a standing eight count to clear its collective head. If it had gotten one, it would’ve seen the truth. Art can be immediate — instantaneous even — and a piece can stab you right in the heart the moment you see it. But it can also be too much to comprehend at the point of experience and the remove of time is required to fully appreciate it. That’s the story of the 1980 Best Picture.
Look, I don’t hate Dances With Wolves. Unlike most of my film-snob friends, I actually have a soft spot for it. I remember watching it in the theater and being moved enough to want to see it again. I cheered when the tatonka finally showed up and Kevin Costner’s Lieutenant Dunbar got to ride to the American Indian camp and rouse them to the hunt. And speaking of Costner, I really like him, too. From Silverado to Company Men to the vastly underrated Thirteen Days, Costner’s appearance on screen always brings a smile to my face. And he directed the film with craft and artistry. So I have no problem with Dances With Wolves (and Costner himself) getting nominated in 1990.
But if you’re asking me to be OK with the fact that both the film and Costner beat Goodfellas and Martin Scorsese? The answer would have to be: Go fuck yourself. Because that is undoubtedly the greatest travesty in Oscar history.
With the possible exception of Salman Rushdie, no one lived life in hiding as publicly as Henry Hill, who beat the odds on Tuesday by dying, in a hospital, at 69, of a long illness. It was (probably) a lifetime of smoking that did him in, not a hot-lead overdose or an ice-pick to the endocranium, so he won, kind of.
Sixty-nine is old for a Mob turncoat expelled from federal witness protection for all manner of criminal backsliding. But it's fairly young for a celebrity, and that's what Henry Hill was when he died — a celebrity, in that a celebrity is almost always a chimera of fictional character and actual human being.
Just like serial killers, sociopathic children, and nudists, celebrity stalkers are much more fascinating when viewed through an artistic lens. A real person with a serious mental illness is not so much fascinating as he is sad. The people who stalk their psychiatrists, their exes, and, of course, celebrities and microcelebrities range from the seriously confused to the dangerously delusional, but the fear-inducing capabilities of a stalker may be misleading. According to The American Journal of Psychiatry, “Stalkers who are strangers and overtly mentally ill produce the most fear in victims, but those who assault are most likely to be rejected ex-partners." Maybe that’s why Fatal Attraction is more chilling than The King of Comedy.