Since Rain Man took home the 1988 Oscar for Best Picture (as well as Best Director, Actor and Original Screenplay), there has never been another winner quite like it. A hot-headed Los Angeles hustler (Tom Cruise) and the autistic older brother (Dustin Hoffman) he didn’t know he had drive across the country in a 1949 Buick convertible and come to understand, accept and love each other. That’s pretty much it, anchored by an iconic performance from Hoffman (“Gotta watch Judge Wapner…I’m an excellent driver”) that has grown larger in the culture than the film itself. Even though Rain Main was the highest grossing film of that year, scanning the list of the other Best Picture nominees — The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning, and Working Girl — I’m personally struck that 20 years later, the Academy could easily have voted any of them for the top prize over this relatively simple and straightforward story of sibling redemption.
That’s just what we’re asking Hollywood to do, in fact, in our Recall the Gold survey of the major Oscars categories from 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years ago, and now, PopWatchers, we’re asking you to weigh in too. The Accidental Tourist won acclaim for its finely modulated, seriocomic portrait of the private anguish of a tour guide author (William Hurt) after his son’s untimely death. Geena Davis won a surprise Oscar for her supporting performance as the wacky dog trainer who melts Hurt’s heart, but the film also may have come off as too small and ponderous for some voters. Dangerous Liaisons ran no risk of seeming small, with its grandly melodramatic tale of sexual deceit in pre-Revolutionary France. But director Stephen Frears wasn’t nominated, and no film had won Best Picture without a best director nomination since 1932’s Grand Hotel. (Incidentially, that record would be broken just a year later when Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture.) Mississippi Burning, one of the few Hollywood films to depict the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, came under intense scrutiny for fudging some of the facts of the real life murder investigation it depicted. And although Working Girl is pretty much a gem of modern workplace romantic comedy, romantic comedies almost never win Best Picture.
So, PopWatchers, is Rain Main still definitely, definitely the big winner in your eyes? Or is another film a better Best Picture? Vote in our poll below; if you need a reminder of each film, check out clips from each film after the jump (although some of the language is NSFW). While you’re at it, if you haven’t already, vote in all the other polls from our ongoing walk down Oscar’s memory lane. On Thursday, Dec. 18, we’ll take a look at the 2003 Best Actress race, and you can check out coverage of this year’s awards contenders in Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch blog.
The Accidental Tourist
Rain Man (language NSFW)
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