Atlantic City (1980) has the distinction of being the only Canadian dramatic feature ever to be nominated in the best picture category at the Oscars. Burt Lancaster's rich and at times comic performance combined with John Guare's almost flawless script and Louis Malle's elegant direction earned Atlantic City five nominations, and made Susan Sarandon a star in Hollywood.
A France/US/Canada hybrid produced by Denis Héroux and John Kemeny, it stars Lancaster as Lou, an oldtimer still dreaming of the good old days. Now he scrounges for a living as a numbers runner, making his rounds of Atlantic City's slums and taking handouts and abuse from Grace (Kate Reid), the widow of a mobster for whom he used to work. Sally (Sarandon), a small-town girl from Moose Jaw, Sask, works at an Atlantic City casino clam bar and dreams of becoming a Monte Carlo croupier. It is Lou's friendship with Sally that leads to an unexpected windfall when her sleazy dope-dealing estranged husband (Robert Joy) turns up with two mob hit men hot on his trail.
Atlantic City won Genie Awards for best foreign actress (Sarandon) and supporting actress (Reid) and art direction; BAFTAs (England's Oscars) for best director and actor; the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for best picture, screenplay and actor; the National Society of Film Critics Award for best film, director, screenplay and actor; the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best screenplay and actor; and the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.