'Dangerous Liaisons' & 'Broadcast News': Best Picture Oscar Contenders

Dangerous Liaisons Glenn Close John Malkovich Michelle Pfeiffer
Dangerous Liaisons with Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Next in line in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' “Great To Be Nominated” series is Stephen Frears' 1988 best picture nominee Dangerous Liaisons, which will screen on Monday, July 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Actress Swoosie Kurtz (who plays Madame de Volanges) and producer Hank Moonjean will take part in an onstage discussion following the screening.

In my opinion, Dangerous Liaisons – despite one major flaw – was the best of the five Oscar nominated films of 1988. (For the record: The winner was the crowd-pleasing mediocrity Rain Man. The other three nominees were Mississippi Burning, Working Girl, and The Accidental Tourist.)

Set among the decadent milieu of 18th-century French aristocracy, this film adaptation of Christopher Hampton's play (based on Choderlos de Laclos' novel) is as thematically uncompromising as it is visually elaborate. The aforementioned major flaw was the casting of John Malkovich as one of the story's chief villain-seducers.

Not for a moment could I believe that Michelle Pfeiffer – or any other woman, for that matter – would fall in either lust or love with Malkovich's heel. Glenn Close, however, is excellent as the overly powdered, overly bewigged, and overly bosomed villainess, and so is Pfeiffer as Malkovich's chief victim. Also in the cast are Keanu Reeves, Uma Thurman, and veteran Mildred Natwick in her final film appearance.

Dangerous Liaisons received a total of seven well-deserved Academy Award nominations and took home Oscars for Art Direction (Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Gerard James), Costume Design (James Acheson) and Writing - Screenplay based on material from another medium (Hampton). It was also nominated for Best Picture (Norma Heyman and Moonjean, producers), Actress in a Leading Role (Close), Actress in a Supporting Role (Pfeiffer) and Music - Original Score (George Fenton). Strangely, Frears failed to nab a best director nod.

In 1989, Milos Forman's Valmont – another adaptation of Les Liaisons dangereuses – came and went without causing much of a stir. Adapted by Jean-Claude Carrière, the film starred Colin Firth, who happened to be a much more believable Valmont than Malkovich, Annette Bening, and Meg Tilly. But despite its capable cast, director, writer, and technical personnel, Valmont felt and looked like a faded carbon copy of Dangerous Liaisons.

Dean Parisot's Oscar-winning live action short The Appointments of Dennis Jennings, featuring Steven Wright, Rowan Atkinson, and Laurie Metcalf, and Cordell Barker's Academy Award-nominated animated short The Cat Came Back, a National Film Board of Canada production about a man who can't get rid of a determined yellow cat, will be screened prior to the feature.

Individual tickets for the remaining screenings in part four of “Great To Be Nominated” are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Tickets may be purchased by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets also may be purchased online at www.oscars.org/events. There are no minimum order requirements and no transaction or processing fees. Tickets may be purchased online until noon PDT on the day of the event.

Curtain time for all features is 7:30 p.m., and pre-show elements will begin at 7 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.

Photo: © A.M.P.A.S.

Broadcast News Albert Brooks Holly Hunter William Hurt

Next in line at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' “Great To Be Nominated” series is James L. Brooks' 1987 best picture nominee Broadcast News, which will screen on Monday, July 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Co-producer Penney Finkelman Cox, actor Christian Clemenson, costume designer Molly Maginnis, and music editor Robert Badami will take part in a panel discussion following the screening.

Unlike most Hollywood fare, Brooks' films as a director – Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, As Good as It Gets, Spanglish (I haven't seen I'll Do Anything) – are geared for adults. Those adults, however, must be not only willing but downright eager to swallow every cliché in the book, accept self-conscious banter as “witty dialogue,” and swim in an ocean of sentiment that feels as sticky as the brain of William Hurt's Broadcast News television reporter. (Admittedly, compared to the current crop of “news” personalities plaguing U.S. TV screens, Hurt's dishonest dolt looks like a model of intelligence and integrity.)

U.S. critics and audiences clearly don't have a problem with Brooks' approach to storytelling, as the first three of the aforementioned five films have gone on to earn large sums at the box office and to win numerous accolades.

Broadcast News, the story of a network news producer (Holly Hunter) who must decide between a tall but vapid reporter (Hurt) and a not-so-tall but ethical reporter (Albert Brooks), has its moments, but the film ultimately fails to deliver partly because Brooks must pander to his (sitcom) audience, and partly because I found it impossible to believe that anyone — let alone an intelligent woman like Hunter's producer – could be interested in someone like William Hurt's reporter, especially considering that Hurt is hardly the warmest or most charismatic of actors. (That's why it was such a pleasant surprise when I saw his mesmerizing psycho turn in A History of Violence a couple of years ago.)

Hunter, however, does well as the feisty producer, while Brooks is excellent as the guy who gets the right stories but who can't get the right girl. Jack Nicholson appears in a brief role that should have been left on the cutting-room floor.

Broadcast News received a total of seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (James L. Brooks, producer), Actor in a Leading Role (William Hurt), Actor in a Supporting Role (Albert Brooks), Actress in a Leading Role (Holly Hunter), Cinematography (Michael Ballhaus), Film Editing (Richard Marks) and Writing - Screenplay written directly for the screen (James L. Brooks). (For the record, the winner that year was Bernardo Bertolucci's sumptuous but vapid The Last Emperor.)

Bryan Gordon's Oscar-winning live action short Ray's Male Heterosexual Dance Hall, about an unemployed man who must dance the dance in order to make the right business connections, and Bill Plympton's Academy Award-nominated animated short Your Face, about a man whose face undergoes bizarre transformations while he sings, will be screened prior to the feature.

Passes for the remaining screenings in part four of “Great To Be Nominated” are $30 for the general public and $25 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. A $5 discount is available for those who wish to renew their passes from parts one, two or three of the series. Individual tickets are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Passes and tickets may be purchased by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets also may be purchased online at www.oscars.org/events. There are no minimum order requirements and no transaction or processing fees. Tickets may be purchased online until noon PST on the day of the event.

Curtain time for all features is 7:30 p.m., and pre-show elements will begin at 7 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.

Photo: © A.M.P.A.S.

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1 Comment to 'Dangerous Liaisons' & 'Broadcast News': Best Picture Oscar Contenders

  1. Angela

    Malkovich exuded a raw, undeniable sexuality that no other actor could possibly have mustered. His performance as Valmont was compelling and beyond believable…one of my top 5. Malkovich could seduce me any day of the week.