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Ordinary People

For a few of these Oscar winners, I go in with absolutely no preconceived notions. In most cases, this is because over the years the movie has faded into obscurity. That is certainly the case with 1980ís Ordinary People.

Timothy Hutton makes his film debut as Conrad Jarrett, a high school student whose brother died in a boating accident and he responded by slitting his wrists. Mary Tyler Moore plays his ice hearted mother, whoís main goal in life seems to be burying all semblance of honesty in favor of avoiding embarrassment. Donald Sutherland plays Conradís father, who starts out being completely whipped by his wife, but in the end breaks down and goes to see Conradís shrink.

Unlike in some best picture winners, the characters are very well developed. Thatís not the problem. The problem is that along with character development, you need something that resembles a plot. This movie is two hours of a family trying to avoid talking about the eldest sonís death. We know what each character is thinking, and going through, and Robert Redford does his best to pull some great performances out of the three main actors, but the first hour is just yawn inducing, and the second hour plays like a movie of the week. Though there are some good performances, including from Hutton, which won him the Oscar for best supporting actor, even though he was the star of the movie, however all of them flirt constantly with overacting, which only adds to the movie of the week issue.

The movie seems to go out of its way to find some sort of drama to thrust these people into, like Conrad punching out a former swimming teammate, followed by a scene of him sitting in his car while another teammate tries to grieve with him over the loss of his brother. When Conradís mother finds out heís quit the swim team, we get even more of the movie of the week vibe as they yell at each other, he runs off, and then his mother yells at his father.

Overall there might not be enough here to fill a feature length film. It works as a character study, and thatís about it. By trying to stretch all this out over two hours, we get dangerous lulls where you just keep hoping something else happens before you fall asleep, followed by some overwrought scene that makes you regret wishing something would happen.

Elsewhere in 1980, you had one of the most memorable moments in movie history, as Darth Vader reveals he is in fact Anakin Skywalker in the single biggest twist in cinema history. But hey, letís nominate two hours of a family not talking and just ignore Empire Strikes Back. Raging Bull did get a nomination, but apparently a biopic of a troubled boxer was not as compelling as two hours of family angst. Add in the single most quoted movie of my lifetime, Caddyshack, and the movie that made Dan Akroyd think he was a blues musician and made the SNL gang think they could make movies, The Blues Brothers. You also had Somewhere in Time filmed on Mackinac Island, and if Mackinac Island is too small for you, thereís Nine to Five, filmed on Dolly Partonís tits.

Ordinary People canít quite compare to those movies where something actually happens, the big three from that year being Empire Strikes Back, Caddyshack, and Raging Bull. Itís a toss up between those three as to what should have won, but I think given de Niroís performance and the amazing direction from Martin Scorsese, I have to go with Raging Bull.


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