1981 Oscars 53rd Academy Awards

1981 Oscars 53rd Academy Awards

  • Winners Announced: March 31, 1981
  • Held at: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, California
  • Host: Johnny Carson
  • Eligibility Year: 1980

Oscar Trivia for the Film Buffs

  • Host with the Most: Johnny Carson, famed for his long-running The Tonight Show, returned to host the Oscars, showcasing his quick wit and effortless charm.
  • First-Timer’s Luck: Ordinary People, a film about the disintegration of an upper-middle-class family in Illinois, marked Robert Redford’s directorial debut and won Best Picture.
  • Two Legends, Two Films: Both Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci won Oscars but for different films. De Niro took home Best Actor for his role as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, while Pesci secured Best Supporting Actor for Goodfellas.
  • Country Roads to Stardom: Sissy Spacek won the Best Actress award for her role as country music legend Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Her performance involved singing Lynn’s hits herself.
  • Musical Genius: John Williams, a name synonymous with film scores, won Best Original Score for his work on The Empire Strikes Back, adding another trophy to his extensive collection.
  • A Soviet Story: Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, a Soviet film about the lives of three women in Russia, won Best Foreign Language Film. It was a nod to international cinema during the Cold War.
  • Political Stance: The 1981 ceremony was the last time the Academy advised winners to avoid making political statements during their acceptance speeches, a guideline that has since changed.
  • The ceremony was originally scheduled for the previous day but were postponed due to the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
  • The lack of recognition for Christopher Tucker’s make-up work on The Elephant Man prompted the creation of the Academy Award for Best Makeup the following year.

1981 Oscar Nominees and Winners

Best Picture:
Ordinary People – Ronald L. Schwary, producer (WINNER)
Coal Miner’s Daughter – Bernard Schwartz, producer
The Elephant Man – Jonathan Sanger, producer
Raging Bull – Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, producers
Tess – Claude Berri, producer; Timothy Burrill, co-producer
Best Director:
Robert Redford – Ordinary People (WINNER)
David Lynch – The Elephant Man
Martin Scorsese – Raging Bull
Richard Rush – The Stunt Man
Roman Polanski – Tess
Best Actor:
Robert De Niro – Raging Bull as Jake LaMotta (WINNER)
Robert Duvall – The Great Santini as Lt. Col. Wilbur “Bull” Meechum
John Hurt – The Elephant Man as Joseph Merrick
Jack Lemmon – Tribute as Scottie Templeton
Peter O’Toole – The Stunt Man as Eli Cross
Best Actress:
Sissy Spacek – Coal Miner’s Daughter as Loretta Lynn (WINNER)
Ellen Burstyn – Resurrection as Edna Mae McCauley
Goldie Hawn – Private Benjamin as Judy Benjamin
Mary Tyler Moore – Ordinary People as Beth Jarrett
Gena Rowlands – Gloria as Gloria Swenson
Best Supporting Actor:
Timothy Hutton – Ordinary People as Conrad Jarrett (WINNER)
Judd Hirsch – Ordinary People as Dr. Tyrone C. Berger
Michael O’Keefe – The Great Santini as Ben
Joe Pesci – Raging Bull as Joey LaMotta
Jason Robards – Melvin and Howard as Howard Hughes
Best Supporting Actress:
Mary Steenburgen – Melvin and Howard as Lynda West Dummar (WINNER)
Eileen Brennan – Private Benjamin as Doreen Lewis
Eva Le Gallienne – Resurrection as Pearl
Cathy Moriarty – Raging Bull as Vikki Thailer Lamotta
Diana Scarwid – Inside Moves as Louise
Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen:
Melvin and Howard – Bo Goldman (WINNER)
Brubaker – Screenplay by W. D. Richter; Story by W. D. Richter and Arthur Ross
Fame – Christopher Gore
Mon Oncle D’Amerique – Jean Gruault
Private Benjamin – Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer and Harvey Miller
Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium:
Ordinary People – Alvin Sargent based on the novel by Judith Guest (WINNER)
Breaker Morant – Jonathan Hardy, David Stevens and Bruce Beresford based on the play by Kenneth G. Ross
Coal Miner’s Daughter – Thomas Rickman based on the autobiography by Loretta Lynn with George Vecsey
The Elephant Man – Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and David Lynch based on the books The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Sir Frederick Treves and The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu
The Stunt Man – Screenplay by Lawrence B. Marcus; Adaptation by Richard Rush based on the novel by Paul Brodeur
Best Foreign Language Film:
Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) (WINNER)
Confidence (Hungary)
Kagemusha (Japan)
The Last Metro (France)
The Nest (Spain)
Best Documentary Feature:
From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China – Murray Lerner (WINNER)
Agee – Ross Spears
The Day After Trinity – Jon H. Else
Front Line – David Bradbury
The Yellow Star: The Persecution of the Jews in Europe 1933-45 – Bengt von zur Muehlen and Arthur Cohn
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Karl Hess: Toward Liberty – Roland Hallé and Peter Ladue (WINNER)
Don’t Mess with Bill – John Watson and Pen Densham
The Eruption of Mount St. Helens! – George Casey
It’s the Same World – Dick Young
Luther Metke at 94 – Richard Hawkins and Jorge Preloran
Best Live Action Short Film:
The Dollar Bottom – Lloyd Phillips (WINNER)
Fall Line – Bob Carmichael and Greg Lowe
A Jury of Her Peers – Sally Heckel
Best Animated Short Film:
The Fly – Ferenc Rofusz (WINNER)
All Nothing – Frédéric Back
History of the World in Three Minutes Flat – Michael Mills
Best Original Score:
Fame – Michael Gore (WINNER)
Altered States – John Corigliano
The Elephant Man – John Morris
The Empire Strikes Back – John Williams
Tess – Philippe Sarde
Best Original Song:
“Fame” from Fame – Music by Michael Gore; Lyrics by Dean Pitchford (WINNER)
“9 to 5” from 9 to 5 – Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton
“On the Road Again” from Honeysuckle Rose – Music and Lyrics by Willie Nelson
“Out Here on My Own” from Fame – Music by Michael Gore; Lyrics by Lesley Gore
“People Alone” from The Competition – Music by Lalo Schifrin; Lyrics by Will Jennings
Best Sound:
The Empire Strikes Back – Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker and Peter Sutton (WINNER)
Altered States – Arthur Piantadosi, Les Fresholtz, Michael Minkler and Willie D. Burton
Coal Miner’s Daughter – Richard Portman, Roger Heman and Jim Alexander
Fame – Michael J. Kohut, Aaron Rochin, Jay M. Harding and Chris Newman
Raging Bull – Donald O. Mitchell, Bill Nicholson, David J. Kimball and Les Lazarowitz
Best Costume Design:
Tess – Anthony Powell (WINNER)
The Elephant Man – Patricia Norris
My Brilliant Career – Anna Senior
Somewhere in Time – Jean-Pierre Dorleac
When Time Ran Out – Paul Zastupnevich
Best Art Direction:
Tess – Art Direction and Set Decoration: Pierre Guffroy and Jack Stephens (WINNER)
Coal Miner’s Daughter – Art Direction: John W. Corso; Set Decoration: John M. Dwyer
The Elephant Man – Art Direction: Stuart Craig and Robert Cartwright; Set Decoration: Hugh Scaife
The Empire Strikes Back – Art Direction: Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, Harry Lange and Alan Tomkins; Set Decoration: Michael Ford
Kagemusha – Art Direction and Set Decoration: Yoshiro Muraki
Best Cinematography:
Tess – Geoffrey Unsworth (posthumous award) and Ghislain Cloquet (WINNER)
The Blue Lagoon – Néstor Almendros
Coal Miner’s Daughter – Ralf D. Bode
The Formula – James Crabe
Raging Bull – Michael Chapman
Best Film Editing:
Raging Bull – Thelma Schoonmaker (WINNER)
Coal Miner’s Daughter – Arthur Schmidt
The Competition – David Blewitt
The Elephant Man – Anne V. Coates
Fame – Gerry Hambling
Academy Honorary Award:
Henry Fonda
Special Achievement Award:
The Empire Strikes Back (Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren and Bruce Nicholson) for Visual Effects
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