Best Actor

Five Decades of Nominees – 1994 – ‘Schindler’s List’

Yikes

Oh, Schindler’s List. My god, what a movie. Possibly the most visceral film ever made, and Spielberg’s emotional masterwork, there is no way any other 1993 movie had a chance at winning Best Picture. And in case you haven’t seen this (you must, do it now!), let’s get into why it’s so damn good.

I’m assuming most have seen Schindler’s List, but for those that haven’t, be forewarned that there will be some minor spoilers following. Let’s start with the cinematography. Janusz Kaminski, a frequent Spielberg collaborator, crafted this film as a series of old photographs. Every piece of Holocaust video or photography that we’ve been witness to over the years comes to almost nauseating life in the movie, and brings you right in – whether you want to, or not – to the horrors and crimes against humanity that the nazis brought to Europe and beyond.

Another Spielberg teammate, John Williams, crushes your soul repeatedly for over three hours. The violin entries are almost too much at times, making your skin crawl in anticipation of another relentless act of violence from those in the Third Reich.

Speaking of horrible people, the always villainous Ralph Fiennes makes Voldemort look like a harmless gecko in his turn as Amon Goeth, the nightmarish SS lieutenant in charge of overseeing the construction of a new concentration camp in Poland. From the get-go, he’s a slippery ghoul, straight from the bowels of an unthinkable hell. I won’t get into the details of what he does to the incarcerated Jews, but holy shit, did it have me sinking to unimaginable depths of my couch.

Another thing to note, is how this violence is portrayed in the movie. Not letting up in the slightest, Spielberg chooses to show every bit of the hyper-realistic executions of men, women, and children inside the camp. It’s a bold choice – one that I’m sure had the MPAA arguing for months – but I think it’s necessary to show this, to really drive the point home, and induce some of the trauma endured by the victims of the German fascists. I will also note, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with more headshots. Not even in a Rambo or John Wick flick.

Some more notable performances include that of the always wonderful, Sir Ben Kingsley, and action star, Liam Neeson as the titular Schindler. The first (and only other) time I saw this film, I thought Neeson was pretty dull. I was also probably around 15, and didn’t really have an appreciation for Neeson at all. Now that we’ve seen him in countless revenge-action flicks that rerun on TBS every weekend, it’s almost breathtakingly impressive just how good he is. Wait until the end. God damn.

Now, I will admit that a few scenes got me that hadn’t on my first run through more than 20 years ago. Perhaps, it’s the recent rise of White Christian Nationalism in our country (and world), or I’m just a weaker soul, but the first scene to note is where the children are leaving the camp in truckloads to be gassed (while singing gleefully, as if they’re about to go on a field trip), and the mothers run after them screaming in horror, helpless.

Another is a scene where women and children that are meant to join their fathers and husbands at Schindler’s new camp, are accidentally sent to Auschwitz. Earlier in the film, rumors spread through the camp that Auschwitz has been gassing Jews en masse in the showers, and as they arrive in Auschwitz, sure enough, they’re shipped into the showers as a group, naked. It’s a deeply unsettling scene, with more tension than any horror film I can name.

So, the big question is, ‘Did Schindler’s List deserve to win Best Picture in 1994.’ Yes. Unequivocally, yes. Rarely have I seen a film so enveloping and purposely discomforting as Schindler’s List. It will remain for the foreseeable future as a masterpiece in filmmaking. It’s necessary, it’s permanently relevant, and it will go down as Spielberg’s greatest work, guaranteed. If you haven’t seen it, carve yourself out 3 hours, turn down the lights, and get ready to bawl. This is essential film.

To end 1994, I have The Remains of the Day, starring recent Best Actor winner, Anthony Hopkins. It’s another on this list that I haven’t seen, and I can’t say I’m very excited about it. But, we’ll see. See you in a few days, before we get going with a new year of Nominees in May!

Sloppy Saturdays: Volume 1 – ‘Raging Bull’

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What is ‘Sloppy Saturdays’?

I realized that I own over 300 movies, many of which I have not watched a second time. Whether on Blu-Ray, DVD, or the legendary LaserDisc, I have a lot of films I need to watch again. So, I’ve decided I should probably go through these and justify why I own them, and perhaps, why you should too. I put them all into a database and will randomly mix them up once a week. Come back every Saturday for a new review. 

-Nick, Editor of CinemAbysmal

 

Sloppy Saturdays – Volume One

Raging Bull (1980) – Drama

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci

Format I Own: Blu-Ray

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Synopsis

Raging Bull is the story of Jake LaMotta, middleweight boxer and serial wife abuser. A genuinely hard film to watch at times, Robert DeNiro earned every bit of the Oscar gold that came his way after this movie dropped. Cathy Moriarty brilliantly plays his wife, Vickie, and Joe Pesci is introduced to the acting world as his brother, Joey. The film follows LaMotta’s rise and fall in the ring from 1941 to 1964, as well as his explosive temper outside the ring. The American Film Institute has recognized the film as #4 in the greatest 100 American films, and the #1 Sports film of all time.

What I Love

What initially drew me to Raging Bull years ago, was Martin Scorsese’s name. I admittedly had not seen a great number of his movies, but I adored GoodfellasGangs of New York, and being relatively young, The Departed, of course. Since watching Raging Bull, I’ve definitely expanded my Scorsese horizons, but this one is absolutely one of his best. It’s absolutely beautiful, especially on the Blu-Ray copy. The fighting montages are brilliant, the score is haunting, and the cinematography by Michael Chapman, which contrasts deep blacks and popping whites (this is a black and white film, by the way) is incredibly stunning.

DeNiro, as I said above, is wonderful in this. He pulled a Christian Bale and gained more than 60 pounds by the time the filming was complete to play the older version of LaMotta. The makeup applied to his face to make him look like a worn fighter is more than uncomfortable to look at. He won his first and only Best Actor Oscar (he won Best Supporting Actor for Godfather II), and deserved every piece of that statue. Pesci, who was both virtually unknown, and making his first Scorsese appearance, is incredible as DeNiro’s brother.

My Favorite Scene

The sixth and final fight with Sugar Ray Robinson is the most beautiful scene in the film. Almost all of the fighting sequences are great, as Scorsese zooms in on the fighters and allows the sound to go silent, as the score weaves in and out of the fists in slow motion. But something about this final fight sequence just gets me. The high contrast of the scene is mystifying. At one point, Scorsese chooses to turn the sound off and the camera zooms in on Robinson, breathing heavily as LaMotta is collapsing on the ropes. The build-up to the final punches is huge, as blood sprays in jets from LaMotta’s head, covering the crowd and announcers in a sea of blackened gore. It’s gorgeous.

What You Might Not Like

Jake LaMotta seems like he was a real asshole. Not only does he kick the shit out of Joe Pesci’s character multiple times, for seemingly nothing, he abuses two of his wives, both mentally and physically. If you’re at all familiar with the previous film Scorsese did with the screenwriter Paul Schrader – Taxi Driver – you might know what to expect: a gritty, unflinching portrait of a man with a lot of fucking problems. Raging Bull is no different, and Scorsese does not let up in the lip-biting viciousness of LaMotta’s character. Like I said, at times, this is a difficult film to watch.

How You Can Watch

  • Streaming on HBO Now as of 3/29/2017
  • Rent for $2.99 on Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu

 

Final Score: 4/4

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Similar Films: Taxi Driver, The Fighter, Warrior