Graeme Robertson on why The Big Chill should have won over Terms of Endearment at the Academy Awards…
The Oscars celebrating the best of 1983 is something of a strange case. Looking at the line-up of the Best Picture nominees I was struck by the way in which all of the nominees, bar one, where small-scale emotional dramas, with Philip Kaufman’s NASA drama The Right Stuff being the only “epic” of the lineup. The film that took home the coveted Best Picture award was James L Brook’s much loved (and much cried over) drama Terms of Endearment which also took home a raft of awards in the other categories.
But this is my series so I’m going to anger everyone who loves this film by suggesting the top trophy should have gone to another film My choice for Best Picture of 1983 is Lawrence Kasdan’s bittersweet “baby boomer” reunion comedy/drama The Big Chill, a film that has something of a special place in my heart and a film that I partially credit with helping me to overcome some troubles in my own life.
A group of old school friends are brought together by the tragic suicide of one of their group, with the tragedy allowing for the group to become reacquainted, to revive old romances, grief together, laugh together and to celebrate the joy of their friendship.
The casting of this films is impeccable with each actor perfectly inhabiting their characters to make them feel real and relatable, with each actor also being given their fair share of moments to really dive into their characters personalities and histories with each delivering truly stellar work. Kevin Kline especially shines in his role, with the actor’s usual charisma and perfect comic timing and delivery making him easily the funniest character of the bunch and possibly my favourite character.
While Kline is my favourite, that’s not to say the rest of the cast is poor, with the likes of Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum (always a plus), Tom Berenger, JoBeth Williams, William Hurt (who seems like he’s trying to out Goldblum his co-star), Mary Kay Place and Meg Tilly all delivering outstanding work, with the ensembles great on-screen chemistry making you really believe that these characters where at one point close friends. The film also features an early on-screen appearance (sort of) from a then unknown Kevin Costner as Alex, the friend whose death reunites the main gang, though all scenes showing his face have been cut from the final film, still its an interesting footnote in the actor/directors long and illustrious career.
Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan might be better known for his work a writer or co-writer on massive blockbuster franchises with Raiders of the Lost Ark and no less than 3 (soon to be 4) Star Wars films to his name, but with The Big Chill he demonstrates that he is just as (if not more so) capable of crafting small-scale dramas as he is giant epics.
The story is tightly constructed and the characters are richly written with each bringing their own baggage to the reunion, some of it funny, some of it sad but all of it fascinating. The dialogue is often witty and laced with humour and pathos with it just sparkling in the mouths of the actors, such as a hilarious MST3K style riff on the opening credits of TV actor Sam’s (an underrated Tom Berenger) hit cop show, or a sombre moment from Sarah (an Oscar-nominated Glen Close) as she tearfully mourns over their lost friend.
The film is also full of wonderful moments of fun and friendship with the obvious highlight being a joyfully goofy dance scene to the tune of “Ain’t to Proud to Beg”. Yes, it is a bit cheesy, but it’s also a lot of fun with the silly dance moves of the cast only just serve to make you love them all the more.
Also, the soundtrack to this film is amazing, with it being full of classics and few of my absolute favourite songs from the likes Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and The Rolling Stones to name a few. It’s easily one of my favourite film soundtracks of all time.
In the introduction to this piece, I hinted that the motivation behind my selection of The Big Chill as Best Picture of 1983 was because of how I feel it helped me personally, and that is true.
Five years ago, I was faced with a situation identical to that shown in the film, as I was forced to deal with the sudden passing of a lifelong friend. Of course, this passing left me deeply saddened to say the least and I found myself somewhat struggling to recover for a time. Then one night by chance I stumbled across this film in the TV listings and after reading the synopsis I decided to watch it out of some kind of strange curiosity.
The film struck a nerve with me as I realised that while it’s perfectly natural to mourn the passing of a friend, you mustn’t let this grief consume you, instead you should remember the happy times and celebrate the friendship that meant so much to you. Most importantly, however, the film shows its important to appreciate the friends and family that you still have because(brace yourself from some serious cheesy sentimentality) they’re the ones that will be there to keep you warm when you’re faced with your own “Big Chill”.
While I fully respect the opinions of those who feel the Best Picture trophy of 1983 should have gone elsewhere (again I’d love to hear your thoughts) but The Big Chill is just such a special film to me personally that I can’t think of any other film more deserving of the top prize.
I love The Big Chill. I love the way that it makes me feel whether that be laughing at the funny dialogue, trying desperately not to dance like an idiot to the wonderful soundtrack or finding myself deeply moved by the film’s story and characters whose shoes I can place myself in.
Quite simply, The Big Chill is a wonderful film that will forever hold a special place in my heart and that’s why it’s my pick for Best Picture of 1983.
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