nominee

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!

Five Decades of Nominees – 1994 – ‘In the Name of the Father’

abACABadoo!

Another film on this enormous list that I have not yet seen was this Irish drama that stars the greatest actor of our generation, Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis, in an absolutely amazing performance, that probably comes as expected at this point.

The movie begins almost just like ‘Children of Men,’ with a cafe bombing in London. The story kicks off with an incarcerated Day-Lewis as Gerry Conlon, who’s been falsely imprisoned by the English government. Conlon, an Irishman, is in London to dodge a minor charge in his home of Belfast, but the classic wrong place-wrong time puts him, his friends, and family into an embroiled mess with the IRA.

Long story short, Conlon is imprisoned along with his father and friends for 15 years, before Emma Thompson takes his case. It’s peak-90’s Drama, almost too PBS for its own good with a score that screams ‘your grandma’s going to love this movie,’ but overall, it’s a really damn good flick.

Day-Lewis steals every scene, his usual physical transformations throughout the film, which would be a marvel if it had been any other actor. Pete Postlethwaite is refreshingly kind and warm-hearted throughout the movie as Conlon’s father, Giuseppe, and some scenes between the two are undeniably heartbreaking.

Of the films on this list (the only one left I haven’t ever seen, ‘Remains of the Day’), this one feels the most dated. Perhaps it’s the score, or the rather pedestrian cinematography, but it just didn’t bring too much excitement to the table when compared to its honorary counterparts. I did appreciate the theme throughout regarding cops’ mistakes and lack of care, which ultimately brings down the system as a whole, and how relevant this is today, especially since I watched this the day before a certain murdering cop was surprisingly found guilty of all charges in Minnesota.

Overall, I’d definitely suggest checking this movie out. It totally drags at times, but I think it’s a mistake to ever pass up a chance at watching a Day-Lewis romp. He’s unbelievable at times in this one, and makes the whole 2+ hours absolutely worth the ticket price.

Up next, we have the soul-stomper, ‘Schindler’s List,’ the movie that ultimately took home the little gold dude in ’94. I’ll see you in a few days with my thoughts on my second time through that chest ripper.

Five Decades of Nominees – 1994 – ‘The Piano’

What the Fuck

It struck me a couple of months ago that I haven’t seen that many Best Picture nominees, and I should probably be better about it. I realize that being nominated doesn’t necessarily make a movie great – especially in the Academy – but, the films nominated are also often recognized because of their impact and reflection of society at the time.

I got it in my head that I could go back 50 years to 1971, put all the years individually into a hat, and randomly choose a year’s nominees for each month. Now, it’s going to take me about 5 years to do this, and I don’t really know what the end goal is – maybe I’ll write a book, or maybe it’s just nothing more than cinematic enlightenment – but anyway, 1994 is up first this month. I’ll do a small review of each movie I watch on here, along with some opinions and comparisons to their running mates.

I started this little journey by randomly picking 1994 first. I’ve never seen a few of these, so I decided to go with The Piano to start, a movie I actually knew nothing about and confused with ‘The Pianist’ a few too many times. I didn’t know who starred in it, and assumed it was some sort of Jane Austenesque comedy. Hot damn, was I wrong.

The movie stars Holly Hunter, Sam Neill, and Harvey Keitel in one of his weirdest performances since Bad Lieutenant. I’ll spare you the fat, and just tell you that this is one strangely fucked up story concerning mutes that love the piano, Sam Neill peeping on his wife cheating, white men taking advantage of Natives, and Harvey Keitel’s gratuitous donger.

Ok, I’ll tell you a bit more. Holly Hunter’s character is a widow with a young daughter (True Blood’s Anna Paquin) that is married unwittingly to a man on an island by her father. Hunter is mute, due to some sort of an accident, and is obsessed with this piano that she refuses to let out of her sight. As the movie progresses, there are even more obsessions that come to light, and the ending was a bit more astounding than I ever would have guessed going into this film.

A few things about this movie that I noticed, included its cinematography, the beautiful music, and some incredible shots from the beaches of New Zealand. A lot of the scenes were awash in a heavy blue filter, that really built a somber mood. The piano-soaked Michael Nyman score matched it beautifully, and those beach shots couldn’t be prettier.

What wasn’t pretty? Man, I totally get that there is more female nudity than male in film, especially the mainstream ones, but wow, Keitel is not historically shy about his package on screen. And you get quite an extended take in this flick. Hunter isn’t too shy either, in one of those scenes where you start to question whether or not they’re really getting down. Hey, if they decide to, more power to ya, I guess.

Anyway, I think this movie was set up pretty harshly with competition like Schindler’s List and the classically awesome, The Fugitive. It’s one of those films that you’d totally expect to show up in the running and not win. You know what I’m talking about – the period piece costumes, the story catered toward bored, post-menopausal housewives – but I did end up enjoying it a bit more than I thought. It wraps up nicely and pays off in the end.

I’ll be back in a few days with a review for The Fugitive. Until then, let me know if you’d like these to look a little different, or if there are other aspects I should focus on!