Welcome to an exciting year-long project here at The Nerdy. 1981 was an exciting year for films giving us a lot of films that would go on to be beloved favorites and cult classics. It was also the start to a major shift in cultural and societal norms, and some of those still reverberate to this day.
We’re going to pick and choose which movies we hit, but right now the list stands at nearly three dozen.
Yes, we’re insane, but 1981 was that great of a year for film.
The articles will come out – in most cases – on the same day the films hit theaters in 1981 so that it is their true 40th anniversary. All films are also watched again for the purposes of these reviews and are not being done from memory. In some cases, it truly will be the first time we’ve seen them.
This time around it’s Nov. 20, 2021, and we’re off to see Whose Life Is It Anyway? and Ragtime.
Quick side note: Since we launched this series this year, we’ve discovered that Vintage Video Podcast is doing the exact same project with two differences: First, it’s audio (naturally), and second, they are doing every major film. We’ve listened to numerous episodes and it’s fun checking off their thoughts against my own. Check them out over at Vintage Video Podcast.
Whose Life Is It Anyway?
Whose Life Is It Anyway? was the first movie of 1981 I hit that was so clearly Oscar bait. Matter of fact, both films for today feel that way, but what does that mean for them as movies?
You can sum up Whose Life Is It Anyway? as “Richard Dreyfuss sits in a bed and acts like Richard Dreyfuss while you’re supposed to believe he feels endlessly sorry for himself.” Sculptor Ken Harrison is paralyzed following a car accident with no hope of ever recovering. From there we spend the rest of the story with him in a hospital bed as he begins to… kind of?… push people away. It feels more like he just suddenly decides, “Okay, now it’s time for you to leave the story.”
Eventually he decides he wants to end his life and has to begin a legal fight to win that right. And then it moves on to just moves through another series of uninspired story choices.
Nothing about this film felt natural. It just felt like an endless checklist of expected and totally unsurprising checklists. And having Dreyfuss quipping his way through the film with the delivery you totally expect from him, it just makes for a very boring few hours.
Movies such as this should totally exist, but you should at least try to do something unexpected with them or just possibly dial way, way back on the jokes.
Ragtime is another obvious cry for Oscar nominations, but at least with this movie it felt a bit more earned as there was a lot of love poured into every aspect of it. But it was definitely not perfect.
The film follows far too many characters for the first half of the film to just dump the majority of them in the last half. Somehow the film turns from what seemed to be a commentary on the wildly different classes of the early part of the 20th century to spend the last half foregoing all of that and becoming 100% about racism. You find out the resolutions of what happened to a lot of the characters at the end, but without some very necessary information for the moments to have any emotional impact.
But at the same time you still find yourself engaged throughout the runtime of the film. It is just in the ending moments that you really begin to get frustrated with some of the closing story choices. Between some gorgeous cinematography, great performances, and impeccable costuming, you still enjoy the film, but you walk away feeling very unfulfilled.
Come for the spectacle, but don’t expect much more from it.
1981 Movie Reviews will return on Dec. 4 with On Golden Pond and Reds!