Friday, February 15, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1988-1992

Winner: Rain Man
Director: Barry Levinson
Distributed by: United Artists

Rain Man is definitely a good movie, definitely  definitely  I could go on and on with the Raymond quotes (I'm an excellent driver, I'm definitely not wearing my underwear). I honestly like this movie a lot. Sure it's sentimental, but it's good! Tom Cruise plays Charlie Babbitt, a narcissistic man who finds out that the inheritance money that he thought was coming to him after his father's death, is instead going to his older brother (Dustin Hoffman) whom he had no idea existed. Finding his brother at a mental hospital, he attempts to take his autistic brother back across the country so he can somehow get his inheritance. You're basically supposed to hate Cruise's character at the beginning of the film, and you will. Of course, by the end, his heart grows three sizes and learns to love his brother. Like I said, it's sentimental and kitschy, as most reviewers pointed out, but that didn't stop it from winning everyone over. It's also been labeled as Oscar bait, because it's almost literally impossible not to see this winning a ton of awards. Hoffman and Cruise's performances are spectacular, and the movie will probably make you feel again. The movie was a mega-hit, grossing over $354 million on a $25 million dollar budget. Not too shabby considering that's a lot for a movie these days. The film went on to win Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor (Hoffman) among others. Its effect on our culture is still around today. People still think counting cards is illegal because of this movie, but it also raised a lot of awareness about people with autism. It is still considered one of the best representations of autism in movies. The movie has also been spoofed many times, from Runt in Animaniacs to the casino scene in The Hangover.

Winner: Driving Miss Daisy
Director: Bruce Beresford
Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Jessica Tandy stars as Miss Daisy, an elderly Jewish woman living in 1940's Georgia who is forced by her son (Dan Akroyd) to get a chauffeur after she has an auto accident. Who they find is Hoke (Morgan Freeman), a uneducated black man who used to drive for a judge. At first Miss Daisy does not like being driven around because she's afraid it makes her seem to old or stuck up. But, as she gets to know Hoke and sees life through his eyes, she starts to first respect Hoke, then become good friends with him. What helps is the discrimination that they both feel from others, one for being Jewish, the other for being black. It takes you from the late 40's to the 70's when they are both nearing the end of their journey. Daisy was unique in a lot of ways, including the fact that it is the only off-Broadway play to be made into a Best Picture winning movie. It is also the last PG rated Best Picture to date. Jessica Tandy won Best Actress for her role as Miss Daisy, thus becoming the oldest Best Actress winner. It is also the last film to win Best Picture and not have its director even nominated. Poor Bruce Beresford. I always figured that a Best Picture would have the Best Director, but I guess the Academy just wasn't impressed with the directing of Beresford, but liked the story. Daisy had some really stiff competition, including: Field of Dreams, My Left Foot, Dead Poets Society, and Born on the Fourth of July. Yikes. I guess the Academy was in the right mood for a movie about enduring discrimination. Not even nominated were Glory (a personal favorite) and Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, a movie that Roger Ebert claimed would take the top prize. Instead, it was snubbed, perhaps being a little too progressive for the Academy at that time.

Winner: Dances with Wolves
Director: Kevin Costner
Distributed by: Orion Pictures

Defying all odds, Dances with Wolves defeated Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas for Best Picture, though Goodfellas was the projected winner for the whole race. Blame it on the Scorsese Curse which didn't end until The Departed won. What made Dances with Wolves a better film in the Academy's eyes? Well, it was a Western epic. It had a really long running time. And it made white people feel bad. Good job, Costner! This was Costner's first attempt at directing and he decided to break all three of the cardinal first timer rules: If possible, do not work outside, with children, or with animals. Oops. The unpredictable weather of South Dakota, mixed with trying to deal with barely tameable wolves and herds of buffalo (CGI was still in its infancy at this time) led to major delays in the production and causing critics to label it "Kevin's Gate" after Micheal Cimino's train wreck of a western, Heaven's Gate. But, everything came together and the movie became a smash hit, making over $400 million worldwide. The surprise is probably what propelled it to the win. Oh yeah, the plot. So a former Civil War soldier is posted at a remote station and starts to become buddy-buddy with the neighboring Sioux Indians. I've seen the movie a very long time ago, but I do remember something about him running around with wolves and that's how he got his name. The movie is not without its detractors. Of course, everyone who was a big fan of Goodfellas hated the movie, but it was probably historians that hated it more. The movie has been labeled revisionist history by many and not an accurate picture of the times. Political activist and actor, Russell Means, was critical of the film, pointing out that the cast was taught Lakota by a woman, and that the cast was speaking in the feminine version the whole time. Wolves became the first Western to win Best Pictures since Cimarron, but wouldn't be the last. The film also nabbed Costner a Best Director statue. Not bad for a first try!

Winner: The Silence of the Lambs
Director: Jonathan Demme
Distributed by: Orion Pictures

The only horror/thriller win for Best Picture deals with rookie FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) trying to track down the female-skinning serial killer, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), with the help of incarcerated former psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer, Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins). What could go wrong! As you can already tell, it's a pretty intense movie. The ending is also scary as hell. The film became the third ever to achieve the "High Five," again being where a movie wins Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, and Actress. People went wild for Hopkin's performance as Lector, though he was only onscreen for a total of sixteen minutes. Honestly, none of the other nominees had that much of a chance. The other nominees included: Bugsy, Prince of Tides, JFK, and Beauty and the Beast. The last entry there is the first animated movie to be nominated and the only traditionally animated one ever nominated. The other two animated nominees are Up and Toy Story 3. It would have been fun to see Beauty and the Beast beat out The Silence of the Lambs, but I don't think the Academy could let it happen. Remember, this is before there was a category for Best Animated Films. Lambs is still well ingrained into our consciousness  and not only because its probably one of the best thriller/suspense movies of all time; it's also because they keep making movies about Hannibal Lector! Bad ones, too!

Winner: Unforgiven
Director: Clint Eastwood
Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Now, here is the last Western to win Best Picture. It was a short love affair between Westerns and the Academy, and it hasn't blossomed again since. Unforgiven is the swan song of the classic Western genre. Eastwood sat on this movie until he was old enough to play William Munny, a retired gunfighter who gave up drinking so he could take care of his two kids after his wife died. He is lured out of retirement after there is a bounty put on a man who cut up a prostitute in a nearby town. He is joined by the young Schofield Kid and his old friend, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman). In their way is a corrupt law-man named Little Bill Dagget. The movie serves as a deconstruction of the genre and also kind of acts as a message that violence begets violence. The movie doesn't show violence in the glamorous light that we usually see in Westerns. It's even considered an anti-violence movie, showing that all violence has a price, though it may be effective. I don't know if this is my favorite Western of all time, as I kind of prefer The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This film was a big success considering that Westerns went out of style in the 70's. Most critics loved it too, though the infamous exception is Gene Siskel, who called the film too long and criticized it for having too many superfluous characters like English Bob, whom never meets the main character at all. Unforgiven won over The Crying Game (the one with the surprise!), A Few Good Men ("You can't handle the truth!"), Scent of a Woman, and Howards End. The only one I'm a little surprised about is A Few Good Men, which is a pretty good movie, but I guess the Academy was in love with Eastwood's Western.

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