Thursday, January 27, 2011

Time-Delayed Oscars 004: 1993

So last week was fun. Unforgiven was voted the winner, as expected, with a surprisingly (to me) strong showing for Malcolm X. Except that the votes went up AND down. What do I know?

Either I am in a much more charitable mood or this year was just STACKED. Lots of movies to cover. Let's do it.

If you think I'm making a snarky joke
about Schindler's List, you're crazy.
Here's a list of ALL the movies of 1993.

The Keepers

Army of Darkness - The lesser of the Evil Dead movies is still (arguably) the funniest. "Good guy, bad guy ... I'm the guy with the gun." It is a little bit criminal, isn't it, that we live in a world where Shia LaBeuf is an action star, while Bruce Campbell toils in obscurity? Nonsense.

Benny & Joon- Does this one survive? It probably doesn't belong on this list. It does have a notable early Johnny Depp performance as a Buster Keaton worshiping fool with a heart of gold. Also, it features that "I Would Walk 500 Miles" song. I may be alone in half-remembering this movie half-fondly.

Carlito's Way - Al Pacino and Brian DePalma before losing their fastball. Sean Penn just as he was finding his. An under-rated gangster gem.

Dazed and Confused - The American Graffiti of a new generation. I love this movie, man. I get stays the saaaame great. This is one of those films that I knew before I was even finished watching it that it was an enduring classic. Packed with big stars before they became big stars, a great script, and an almost magical invocation of a specific time and place (it will make you nostalgic for the seventies even if you weren't alive then), Dazed is the goods.

Falling Down - The movie that presaged the Tea Party. An angry nameless white collar drone (Michael Douglas in one of his career-best roles) goes on a cathartic and impotently insane rampage one sweltering Los Angeles day. "I'm the bad guy?" mumbles the guy who has just kidnapped his kid.

The Fugitive - Tommy Lee Jones pwns in this movie, especially the famous drainage pipe scene. He even took home a best supporting actor Oscar for his troubles, and that's why we still remember a decent action movie that overachieved into a Best Picture nomination.

Gettysburg - I haven't seen this yet (I know, I know. Let's just say this is one of those movies that nearly get me killed when people find out I haven't seen it. For a select few, it may be the most fervently beloved 4-hour movie of the decade.

Groundhog Day - In 1993, this was a minor hit for Bill Murray. Over the years, Groundhog Day has become a beloved classic, and has entered the canon of The Greatest Comedies Ever. Its safe to say this is the consensus best Bill Murray movie and performance. "Bing!"

In The Line Of Fire - Malkovitch malkovitch malkovitch malkovitch. Malkovitch. Malkovitch malkovitch malkovitch? Malkovitch!

Jurassic Park - It was a hell of a year for Stephen Spielberg, was 1993. He didn't just turn in one of the most lionized films of all time (more on that soon). He also had the biggest hit of the year, a movie that just so happens to have also been the CGI game-changer presaged by the liquid T2000 cop in Terminator 2 a couple years back. When it comes to action/adventure/summer spectacle movies, there's before Jurassic Park and after Jurrasic Park. It all started with those dinosaurs.

Menace II Society - This one is starting to be forgotten a bit. I loved this movie, and it still seems to me to have been operating on a totally different wavelength than any of the other "hood" movies of the 90s. Where did this genre go, anyway? Are there still earnest movies about inner city violence? That ending still gives me chills. I wish the Hughes Brothers had gone on to do anything else worth mentioning.

Much Ado About Nothing - Not Kenneth Branagh's best Shakespeare adaptation (Henry V) or his most ambitious (Hamlet), but certainly his most accessible and fun. Even Keanu stinking up the joint is horribly enjoyable and enjoyably brief. I do wish Branagh was still making Shakespeare movies. His reading of "She loves me? Why, it must be requited." is both hammy inspiration.

A Perfect World - I doubt anybody remembers Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven follow up, which I'll never understand. It doesn't qualify for this list, it's never mentioned anymore, I doubt anybody watches it, but it. Is. Great. Kevin Costner is awesome in it. No, really. It's got an all-time excellent little kid performance. Clint Eastwood says "I do like tater tots." I don't know what else you people want.

The Piano - Art house fave that won Holly Hunter an Oscar, launched Anna Paquin (also Oscared), and presented us once more with another lingering gaze at Harvey Keitel's junk (no Oscar). You may think I'm obsessed at this point but for about three years that guy would just NOT keep his damn pants on. Anyway. This film is absolutely gorgeous and haunting, and though I think it's more admired than watched these days, it's not forgotten.

The Remains of the Day - People keep talking about how brilliant Anthony Hopkins was in this. I guess I'd better go watch it again. Eighteen-year-old me saw it in the theaters and hasn't thought about it since, but then eighteen-year-old me had considerably different tastes.

Rudy - So the little runt gets a sack. Was this movie any good? It must have been at least a little. It keeps getting brought up.

Schindler's List - Wow. I think this movie is absolutely amazing. I don't want to see it again. We'll talk more about it down the page a bit.

Searching For Bobby Fischer - Highly under-rated movie about life, fathers and sons, expectations, talent, and chess. I think this one has just enough love to make the list . . . for now.

Short Cuts - Every single working actor of 1993 appeared in this movie (seriously, check out the cast list on IMDB), one of the early "everybody is connected" ensemble films later epitomized by lesser movies like Crash and Babel. This one distinguishes itself from those in that it is good. Vintage late-period Robert Altman, this one.

Sleepless In Seattle - Horses, horses, horses. Um. Sleepless is ridiculous. People still like it, though, because Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are charming together. But for real, she leaves her fiancee the day before her wedding to meet some dude she heard on the radio. That's fine, she doesn't have to stay with a guy that she obviously is ambivalent about, but she just dumps the poor guy and doesn't even bother telling him. Years later, in You've Got Mail, we're also expected to have the warm fuzzies when Meg Ryan falls head over heels for the guy who crushed her business and her dreams. Nora Ephron is messed up. Is she Zac's mom?

So I Married An Axe Murderer - The best of all Mike Myers movies. You want to argue? OK, fine. First of all, Stephen Wright, Phil Hartman and Alan Arkin all have very funny cameos. Next, they use Big Audio Dynamite on the soundtrack. Also, features the "look at the size of that boy's heed" scene and some great parodies of beat poetry. Finally and most importantly, no sequels that recycle the exact same jokes. Check and mate.

Three Colors: Blue - The first entry from Krzysztof KieĊ›lowski's beloved Three Colors trilogy. It lives on with art-house fans and cineastes, if not in the mind of the larger movie-watching public. Juliet Binoche is fantastic in this portrait of grief.

Tombstone - Does Val Kilmer at least get a Best Supporting Actor nomination if there's a do-over? This was a pretty stacked year (DiCaprio, Ralph Fiennes, Tommy Lee Jones, Malkovitch Malkovitch), but he at least gets a nod, right? He IS this movie, and gives one of the most entertaining performances of the year.

True Romance - Um, where to start? The only Tarantino script to still feel like a Tarantino movie without the benefit of QT's direction. Christian Slater at his career apex (which doesn't sound like much, admittedly, but man, he's good in this movie). Brad Pitt as Floyd. Gary Oldman as Drexel. Michael Rappaport as Dick "shoot 'em! get 'em" Ritchie. James Gandolfini in a dry run for Tony Soprano. Bronson Pinchot in a hilarious turn as total LA movie scum. All this, yes, and more. But the most indelible takeaway will always be Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper sitting in a darkened mobile home, understanding each other perfectly."I'll have one of those Chesterfields now, if you don't mind." Chills.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape - No movie with this title will ever be forgotten. Also was the point of entry for many movie fans of a young actor named Leonardo DiCaprio, who's still sort of trying to be this good again.

Schindler's snifter. (OK, just one. I'm only human.)

And the Time-Delayed Oscars Go To . ..

Best Picture

Real Nominee List: The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, Schindler's List, The Remains of the Day

Today's List: Dazed & Confused, Gettysburg, Groundhog Day, The Piano, Schindler's List

I have less doubt about this than any other movie of this decade. Schindler's List rightly took the big prize in 1993, and it would clearly win again today. Some fault Spielberg for bringing to much of his trademark gloss to a Holocaust movie, other detractors have opined either that a story that is about survivors fails to face up to the horrible reality, or that the subject is just too serious for the form. Allow me to make this point: That's stupid. Schindler's List is shattering, almost relentlessly grim, steeped in both sadness and defiant humanity, one of the most perfectly-calibrated movies of the decade (OK, the 'Schindler's farewell' scene is a little too schmaltzy, but it's the exception that proves the rule). Schindler himself remains one of the most fascinating biographical characters in movie history, a manipulative and exploitative war profiteer annoyed and almost ashamed to discover he possesses a slow-burning conscience. Ralph Fiennes gives what is (to me) the best performance of the year. And if you scoff "*cough* manipulative *cough*"when the descendants of the Schindler's List Jews come over the hill ... I don't know what to say to you.

My Pick: Schindler's List


Tom Hanks won for Philadelphia, a well-meaning movie that teaches us that gay people are Just Like Us. Also, AIDS patients are People. The message is true, but it all just seems a little quaint today. His 1993 Oscar basically kick-started Hanks' run through the nineties as our greatest actor, but I have to tell you, I don't think he'd win the re-do. Anthony Hopkins is greatly admired for The Remains of the Day, but he just won for Silence of the Lambs. I'm calling it for Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, a rare win for a purely comedic performance. Murray's only become more respected as an actor over the years, and his performance in 1993 is now recognized as one of his best. The movie would fall flat without Murray's subtle shifts of attitude between different iterations of nearly identical scenes, acting as signifiers of his current mental state: disbelieving, frantic, suicidal, and, finally, accepting. Watch all the Ned Ryerson scenes and be amazed.


Holly Hunter is awesome. Also, she was awesome in The Piano. Also, I'm tired of writing so much. Let's let her keep her Oscar, unless you have other suggestions.

What was the best movie of 1993? Go vote at FilmChaw!


Mike Maloney said...

Tombstone and The Fugitive, two of the most rewatchable movies ever and two movies that I am almost guaranteed to turn to and watch the rest of if they're ever on TV. 1993 was a pretty kickass year for movies.

Anonymous said...

Ralph Fiennes was absolutely robbed of the Oscar by Tommy Lee Jones's good but phoned in performance in The Fugitive.

Richard Stooker said...

I agree with you that Schindler's List is a great movie, about a great -- even if involuntarily so -- man. My gripe with critics are the ones who talked about what a poor hero he was because he stepped out on his wife. How many of those wusses would have the guts to risk death and torture to protect innocent lives? None, I bet.

If you think cheating on your wife even begins to negate saving lives of hundreds of people, you're so cowed by political correctness you'll make a great informer for when a leftwing fascist dictator arises.

Julius_Goat said...

Thanks for your comment, Richard, and welcome.

I'm with you to a certain point. I don't remember anybody making the point that Schindler's dalliances negated saving all those lives. Certainly there were enough opinions voiced on the movie in 1993 that such a point of view may have come up, but I would think that this would be a minority view, then or today.

I think it's generally understood that cheating on one's spouse is at least dickish, if not morally wrong. Obviously, his cheating was a component of what made Schindler morally compromised, and the fact that Schindler is morally gray that makes him such a fascinating character (though I think Spielberg makes much more of his war profiteering than his cheating). In any event, the Schindler of the film wasn't a particularly nice fellow, but he was undoubtedly a hero. You'd almost have to bring that aspect of the movie up if you were reviewing it, so I wouldn't be surprised to see many references to Schindler's philandering in that context.

I don't think I'd go so far as to say that somebody who thinks that Schindler can't be a hero AND and asshole is necessarily a likely informant for a fascist dictator. I'd be more likely to simply say that they had missed the point of the movie.

I'm not sure what makes "leftwing" pertinent to your point, given that dictators come from all shades of the political spectrum, but if leftism is an important part of your point, I'd advise you that either the left wing "communist" or the more general term "totalitarian" would be more accurate, given that fascism is by definition a right-wing ideology.