Terms of Endearment (USA, 1983) [contains spoilers
I really enjoyed this one, but I also have to sleep some time. More about it tomorrow.
Comedy/drama about the relation of a mother and her daughter over a period of thirty years. I won't get into details about the characters because it makes zero sense unless you've actually watched the movie. Suffice it to say, this movie is all about character development, which is superbly done thanks to a synergy of great acting, smart dialogues and a director (James L. Brooks) who knows exactly what he wants as final result.
What made me wonder is this: how come a movie that was a success back in 1983 is forgotten today. To be clear, this movie was not simply a success, it was arguably the best Hollywood movie of 1983: a commercial and critical success with lots of star power (Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito), it won five Oscars [Best Picture, Director, Writing (Brooks), Actress in a Drama (MacLaine) and Supporting Actor (Nicholson)], and received six more nominations.
Looking back at other movies that won Best Picture in the 80s, several are still celebrated today: Amadeus, Platoon, The Last Emperor, Rain Man. Instead "Terms of Endearment", if remembered at all, it's because of the love story subplot between MacLaine and Nicholson - mainly due to Nicholson fans uploading clips on YouTube. So, what is it that turned a success into a minor movie?
To my mind, the main reason is cinematography. This is what often separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of cinema history. The Man with the Movie Camera has little emotion in it but lots of innovative cinematography and editing, and is still highly regarded. Even those who dislike Sergei Eisenstein's communist politics watch his movies for his montage. Similar things can be said about the movies of Werner Herzog or Jean Luc Godard. Unlike them, Terms of Endearment has nothing innovative or artistic to show off in the cinematography department. Brooks is a television man and uses the camera in ways that many of us identify with television.
The same goes for the soundtrack, the aesthetics (the haircuts and clothes of the 80s are unmistakable) as well for the way that the plot reaches its climax: turning within a few minutes from a light comedy into melodrama. Brooks uses tropes that come straight from 80s soap operas: a beautiful and wealthy but lonely woman, her conflicts with her daughter, the everyday difficulties of marriage and children. Personally, I would not blame him one bit for any of that - he wanted to go for a mother-daughter melodrama with a distinctly American flavour and he achieved his aim to perfection. He made an enjoyable movie with realistic characters, emotional significance, and some clear messages to take away - this is nothing to scoff at. But modern audiences might protest that if this were the kind of entertainment they wanted they might as well rewatch a season of Dallas.