Oscar

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’

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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 Fugitive’

SPECIAL EFFECTS!

What can be said about The Fugitive that hasn’t already been said? It’s one of the ultimate “Flipping through the hotel cable and it doesn’t matter how far into the movie it is, I’m fucking finishing it,” movies.

I guess I’ll try anyway. For those that haven’t seen it, The Fugitive stars Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man framed for his wife’s murder, convicted, and on the run from the US Marshals led by a ridiculously good Tommy Lee Jones. It’s got a ton of people you’ve seen in almost everything over the years, like Jane Lynch as a non-comedic doctor, Rose from Lost as a cop, and that dude that totally Judased Neo and crew in The Matrix.

The movie is surprisingly gorgeous, given Ford is on the run on the outskirts of Chicago. It’s shot masterfully, both incredibly exciting and intentionally slow at times, and the James Newton Howard score keeps everything calibrated perfectly – John Williams frantic when it needs to be, and a slow-burning Jazz fusion when the tension needs to build.

What am I saying? You’ve seen this movie. It fucking rocks, right?! It’s the perfect blend of a Ramboesque tale filled with Robocop style flashbacks. Tommy Lee Jones is driven by what feels like must be mountains of coke, and Ford seems to hurt himself more than Tom Hanks in Cast Away.

One thing I did notice on this thousandth or so rewatch (which I’m sure many have noted before), is that David Lynch lifted some names for Twin Peaks from the extensive Fugitive lore (it was a TV show in the ’60s), as Lee Jones’ name is Gerard, and the villain (who has one arm) is named Freddie Sykes (the dude with the strange green fist in ‘The Return’). Why is that important? Because I’m a fucking nerd, that’s why.

Anyway, this movie rules. You know it, I know it, the world knows it. No one dislikes this film – it’s one of those. Why didn’t it win in ’94? Well, a little film called Schindler’s Fucking List came out the same year and pretty much obliterated any other movie’s chances of going anywhere near the little gold guy. However, I do want to ask you one question before I leave you:

How many times have you stopped flipping channels in the hotel room to watch Schindler’s List again? Thought so.

Up next, we’ve got ‘In the Name of the Father,’ another one I haven’t seen, starring the unrivaled cinematic god, Daniel Day-Lewis. Until then, be safe, and drink some water if you haven’t yet today.

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!

CinemAbysmal: The Podcast – Episode 32 – Dwayne “Doom/Pain & Gain” Johnson

Welcome to Episode 32 of CinemAbysmal: The Podcast, where contributors of CinemAbysmal.com talk about what society would consider some of the worst of the worst media out there. This week, we get Rock-y and chat a couple choice Dwayne Johnson movies! We talk about how Doom probably just should have stayed a computer game and how surprisingly fun (maybe not to Dylan) Pain & Gain is. Check it out on all your favorite apps below! As always, please SHARE, RATE, AND SUBSCRIBE!

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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