Top Ten 1981

1. Reds
2. Diva
3. Man Of Iron
4. Coup de Torchon
5. My Dinner With Andre
6. Muddy River
7. Absence of Malice
8. Chariots of Fire
9. Mur Murs
10. Excalibur


The standout work of the year was Paul Newman entering a very strong golden age with his terrific performance in one of Sydney Pollack’s sharpest films, Absence Of Malice. You know you’ve got a great role when you make us feel sympathy for you while you’re beating up Sally Field.

Honour Roll: Alan Alda, The Four Seasons; Klaus Maria Brandauer, Mephisto; Henry Fonda, On Golden Pond; Philippe Noiret, Coup De Torchon


Marsha Mason had a great run at the Oscars, four nominations in eight years, three of them for scripts by her then-husband Neil Simon (two for co-starring with James Caan). She was never more bewitching or sympathetic as she was in the adaptation of his play The Gingerbread Lady, Only When I Laugh, as a successful Broadway actress who is trying to get back her equilibrium after drying out in rehab. A pre-cursor to John Sayles’ Passion Fish, Mason can’t deal with life without throwing a sarcastic barb at everyone who approaches her with love or concern, and the actress is deft at lobbing these prickly lines at her co-star while being wholly sympathetic the entire time. The scene where she is rehearsing a play and gives into the layers of frustration between role and life is simply astounding.

Honour Roll:  Isabelle Adjani, Possession; Carol Burnett, The Four Seasons; Katharine Hepburn, On Golden Pond; Diane Keaton, Reds


John Gielgud’s dry, witty performance as Dudley Moore’s butler in Arthur features an intelligent undertone to all of his admonishments of his employer, but there is also a veneer of affection that is never sentimentalized. Gielgud is one of the greatest actors who ever drew breath, and it is of great satisfaction to see him maintaining the same level of intensity in his old age as he possessed in his younger days on stage (not that I ever had the privilege personally) and in film.

Honour Roll: James Coco, Only When I Laugh; Guy Marchand, Coup De Torchon; Sean Penn, Taps; Howard E. Rollins, Jr., Ragtime


No Mame is complete without her Vera Charles, and Neil Simon isn’t above giving even the most tender and nuanced character study a comical foil. In Only When I Laugh, Marsha Mason’s lead gets two, the gay best friend and the conceited actress played by Joan Hackett. The actress is so deft at the comedy she is portraying that her performance is always a fully realized, three dimension human being, her desire to stay young and attractive not a miserable joke but the pains of a woman trapped in a limited world. Sadly, this was Hackett’s last major role as she died of cancer barely two years later.

Honour Roll: Stephane Audran, Coup De Torchon; Sandy Dennis, The Four Seasons; Elizabeth McGovern, Ragtime


There were prehistoric movies made before Quest For Fire, but afterwards it was impossible to watch any of them…and none since have matched it either. Jean-Jacques Annaud does the unthinkable by creating not only a convincing sense of time and place as he examines the progression of human kind’s early discoveries of the earth’s elements, he actually makes it dramatically compelling. Fascinating stuff, a film whose accomplishments will always exist beyond the limits of my imagination.

Honour Roll:  Kohei Oguri, Muddy River; Istvan Szabo, Mephisto; Bertrand Tavernier, Coup De Torchon; Andrzej Zulawski, Possession