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The Oscars are the gold-standard award for filmmaking. Typically, movies that win an Oscar don't stay obscure.

Typically.

A look at the 61st Academy Awards in 1989 reveals the winner of Best Live Action Short Film was The Appointments of Dennis Jennings, written by Dean Parisot and Steven Wright. Besides Wright, it also stars - Rowan Atkinson?

That’s right. Mr. Bean and one of comedy’s great one-liner practitioners won an Academy Award. Despite The Appointments of Dennis Jennings' award-power, it's totally understandable if you didn't know about it - check it out on YouTube.

HBO

Pretty pastoral for Mr. Bean.

The Appointments of Dennis Jennings follows Wright as Dennis Jennings, an introverted, quirky man blissfully oblivious to his surroundings. Opening in an autumn woods, there are gunshots and Atkinson runs for cover. The short then returns to three months earlier. 

Wright sees a psychiatrist throughout the film, played by a vaguely German-accented Atkinson. Jennings’s titular appointments progress as the movie jangles along, and it is clear that the psychiatrist is no Mr. Bean - he's openly hostile to Jennings. The future loveable dimwit makes fun of his own patient to other psychiatrists in a restaurant, all of whom share a laugh at Dennis's expense. 

The disrespect escalates. While watching the news, Jennings sees his psychiatrist making out with his girlfriend. 

HBO

Someone drop a piano on this man.

The film then returns to the opening woods, where Jennings shoots at the psychiatrist, then finally ends with Dennis visited in prison by, yes, another psychiatrist.

Jennings could charitably be called odd character: one who watches the news, listens to news radio and plays music on a record player all at the same time. 

On a whole, the film is loaded with Steven Wright-esque gags and one-liners, my personal favorite being the exchange where Jennings’s girlfriend thanks him for the candlelit dinner, and he says, “Well, I know you like fire.”

Another gem is a newspaper headline announcing “Time Will No Longer Tell.” So, yeah, the movie's funny, but it’s also rather dark. 

Jennings is a painful character to watch. His blissful unawareness is preyed upon. He moves through the world in peculiar ways, and his psychiatrist, the closest thing he has to a friend as far as we can tell, despises him. He’s someone who gets walked all over.

 Underneath the surrealist jokes, it’s a film about isolation and how people perceived as odd are often treated as nothing more than nuisances.

HBO

We so feel you, Dennis.

Comedy is often birthed from darkness, so there's nothing surprising about it hovering over this movie. 

But there is something jarring about watching the quintessential deadpan comedian starring alongside the guy who’s playing totally opposite how we know him best: as the affable Mr. Bean. 

Oscar voters felt the collision back in 1989, but I'll bet you'll feel it even harder today.

Top Image: HBO

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