Saturday, February 16, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1993-1997

Winner: Schindler's List
Director: Steven Spielberg
Distributed by: Universal Pictures

It took a long time to convince Spielberg to direct the story of Oskar Schindler, a Nazi who rescued over one thousand Jews by having them work in his factory. Spielberg received the book, Schindler's Ark, from the president of the MCA, and Spielberg was instantly enthralled with the story of Oskar Schindler. This was in 1982. A year later, Spielberg finally met with the novel's author, Poldek Pfefferberg, who was one of the people saved by Schindler. Pfefferberg was anxious to get a movie about his savior made, but Spielberg told him it would be about ten years before it would happen. In that time, Spielberg shopped the directing duties to Sydney Pollock, Billy Wilder, Martin Scorsese, and Roman Polanski. Some didn't want the pressure, or Spielberg realized they weren't right for the movie. Spielberg wasn't convinced that he was mature enough as a director to tackle a film such as this. It was only after seeing the rise of neo-Nazi's after the Berlin Wall fell, and the abundance of Holocaust deniers, that Spielberg decided that he needed to make this movie. The movie is almost completely in black and white, save for a red coat worn by a little girl, which barely keeps it from being one of the only black and white films to win Best Picture since The Apartment. Liam Neeson plays Schindler, with Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goth, the SS officer whom befriends Schindler, but grows more and more suspicious of the man as the film goes on. Schindler's List was a big success both commercially and critically. The film is considered one of the best of all time, though it did have its detractors. Jean-Luc Godard accused Spielberg of making money off of a tragedy. Filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, who directed a nine-hour documentary on the Holocaust, called it a "kitschy melodrama" and "deformation" of historical truth. Others claimed that the film didn't mean anything since Spielberg wasn't a part of the Holocaust. Apparently you can't please everyone. Schindler's List blew away the competition, namely The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father (who probably could have won in any other year), The Remains of the Day, and The Piano. The movie easily won Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, among other technical awards. I've heard it's an amazing, yet heavy movie, and one that I hope to watch in the near future.

Winner: Forrest Gump
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Forrest Gump is basically a movie about the Baby Boom era. Forrest is a part of major events, meets presidents and famous people, and even influences pop culture. It's completely assanine, but extremely entertaining at the same time. Forrest does all these things, but all he longs for is his childhood crush. OK, so this is one of those years that everyone gets up in arms about. Everybody can understand Quiz Show and Four Weddings and a Funeral losing to Forrest Gump, but The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction? This is a really hard one for me, too. I love all three films (but probably Pulp Fiction the least, sorry) and it's difficult for me to say which one I would say is the best. I can appreciate the historical context of Forrest Gump, being a history nerd, but there are parts of the movie that kind of annoy me (mostly ones involving Jenny...sorry...Jen-nay). Shawshank on the other hand is an incredible movie, and there is nothing I can find wrong with it. So I guess I'd have to say that it deserved to win and not Gump. Critics were equally divided on the movie, some thinking it extremely brilliant, others calling it a meaningless pop melodrama. Then there was film critic Pauline Kael, who said she hated it thoroughly. I think that's a bit harsh. I think the movie is absolutely wonderful, but I guess I could see why some may find it stupid. The film is still loved by many and has even created a seafood restaurant called Bubba Gump's. I've been to the one in New Orleans, and it's not bad! Forrest Gump also won Best Director, Best Actor (Tom Hanks, two years in a row!) Best Adapted Screenplay (yeah, it was a book), Best Editing, and Best Visual Effects (probably for the CGI work on Lieutenant Dan's legs).

Winner: Braveheart
Director: Mel Gibson
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Remember when Mel Gibson wasn't crazy? I know, it seems like it's been awhile, but Gibson was the hot thing in the 90's.  After being in a bunch of successful movies, Gibson decided that he wanted to direct. Too bad his production company, Icon Productions, didn't even have enough money to have him headline a film. It was only after Warner Bros. made Gibson promise to make another Lethal Weapon that they financed the film. Braveheart is about William Wallace (Gibson) the Scottish warrior who led the Scots against King Edward I of England in the First War of Scottish Independence. The film was shot in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, with most of the extras being Irish. Gibson had to cut a few costs in his epic, so the extras were reused for each side. Yes, it's the same people charging towards each other. Gibson tried to make his Scottish epic in the same vein as Spartucus and The Big Country. The film is definitely epic, and also really violent. I just watched it with my wife a few days ago, and I liked it, but I don't think she appreciated all the goriness  The film was initially given a NC-17 rating for violence, causing Gibson to take it down a few notches. I can't imagine what it looked like before. This was a bit surprising for me, but there are a lot of people who hate this movie, and even more who don't think it should have won. In fact, it's constantly rated as one of the worst Best Picture winners. Actor Billy Connolly (The Boondock Saints) called it "a piece of pure Australian s***t." Historians lambasted the film for its inaccuracies, though since not a whole lot is really known about Wallace, the filmmakers felt they could spin a tale. Gibson himself admits it in the "making of" feature. Other gripes were the harsh portrayal of King Edward I, whom was not as ruthless in real life as he was in the movie. Also, many criticized Gibson for the portrayal of the Prince, who in the movie was depicted as an "effeminate homosexual," according to critics. Gibson claimed that he had cut a scene that gave the Prince's story, but it took too much time from the main story line. So, it does appear that Gibson took a few liberties with the story, but I don't think it mars the whole thing. Braveheart won over Sense and Sensibilities, Apollo 13, Il Postino (The Postman, no not that one), and Babe. Yes, Babe was nominated for Best Picture. Seems a bit surprising but I guess I can see it happening, it being a great movie and all. I guess if any movie was going to beat the epic, it would have been Apollo 13, but perhaps the Academy was tired of giving Tom Hanks Oscars. Braveheart also won Best Director, Cinematography, Makeup, and Sound Editing. See it if you aren't afraid to see a little bit of blood.

Winner: The English Patient
Director: Anthony Minghella
Distributed by: Miramax Films

The story of a multi-burn patient(Ralph Fiennes) being nursed back to health by Hana (Juliette Binoche) in WWII Italy. Throughout the movie, we see through flashbacks of the story behind the "English patient" and the nurse caring for him. The movie was basically a lock from the get-go to get the Oscar. This is another movie that was basically very well made Oscar bait. I guess if your film has great direction, superb acting, and a sweeping narrative, you're just asking for people to hate your film out of jealousy. The film did well in theaters, but never cracked the weekend top five. In the end, it won nine out of the twelve Oscars they were nominated for, so it's an understatement to say that its presence was felt at the Oscar's that year. It beat out Jerry "Show me the Money" Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine, and Fargo. It hurts to say it, but I can understand why Fargo didn't win. It's an excellent movie, but I'm not quite sure it was a perfect Oscar movie. It's a little too goofy, like Jerry Maguire, if you know what I mean. The Coen brothers win in the next decade, so don't feel too bad for them. Also, Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her role in the movie, which is good enough for me.

Winner: Titanic
Director: James Cameron
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

The story about how a big ship takes a bunch of people from England and then safety lands in New York. The End. Oh wait, I mean the ship hits an iceberg and mostly everyone dies. Y'know, the Titanic. Instead of Cameron boring us with an accurate historical portrayal of the Titanic and real people aboard it, he peppered the movie with made-up characters and made real characters cowards or just plain different. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jack, a broke man that won a ticket onto the RMS Titanic in a poker game. He meets a high class girl named Rose (Kate Winslet) and they fall in love, though I believe that's only because she believed he was King of the World. That's a thing, right? Anyway, so unfortunately Rose is totally supposed to be with this jerk, Cal (Billy Zane), who she doesn't love. He finds out that Rose is sneaking off with Jack and plans on stopping the relationship in its tracks. While this is happening, the boat gets tired of the whole weird romance and decides to kiss an iceberg. Cal's ex-Pinkerton buddy, Master Lovejoy (David Warner), locks Jack in a room for "stealing." This wouldn't be that big of a problem if the whole ship wasn't sinking. Rose saves him and they live happily ever after. Don't you like my version better? No, when they are on the lifeboat, Jack decides that all he's ever wanted to do was meet some sea animals deep underwater. He must of really enjoyed being around them because he never came back. Rose ditches Cal after they get rescued and grows up to lead Bill Pullman Bill Paxton to some buried treasure(?) inside of Titanic. So this is where I admit that I've only seen the movie in bits and pieces.

As everybody knows, Titanic was a mega-hit, out-grossing every movie ever (when not adjusted for inflation), and making everyone sing Celine Dion. It is the first movie to make over $1 billion dollars, and currently the second highest grossing picture, after Cameron's Avatar. Geez, that guys sure knows how to make them. The film was basically lauded with critics too. Of course, when you make a historic movie, you're going to piss off historians. Cameron never said he was making a completely accurate movie, so most people were OK with everything, but some historians and critics felt that they needed to put their two cents in. The one controversy I hear about the most is the film's treatment of First Officer William Murdoch. In the film, he shoots someone in a panic while people are trying to get onto lifeboats. He then commits suicide out of guilt. Not exactly the most heroic portrayal. Turns out that this was a real person that Cameron was using for his film (there were a bunch of other real people that he used). Murdoch's nephew saw the film and was shocked that Cameron would dare sully his uncle's name and create a falsehood about him. 20th Century Fox's vice president went so far as to travel all the way to Scotland, where the nephew lived, and give him an apology in person. They also gave a bunch of money to the local school who had a memorial scholarship dedicated to Murdoch. Cameron even apologized on the DVD commentary, though he claimed that there were officers that had to shoot people in order to keep the "women and children rule" going. Titanic was up against the likes of As Good as it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, and L.A. Confidential. I feel that the Academy was dead-set on giving the prize to the ultra-successful Titanic, though some have argued that L.A. Confidential and Good Will Hunting are better films. Titanic took home eleven Oscars, tying with Ben-Hur and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for most Oscar wins. For all the doubters, James Cameron had only one thing to say after receiving his directing Oscar, "I'm King of the World!"

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