The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1993

1993 is a real easy one to recap, since one of the consensus best films of the Oscars was up this year — Schindler’s List. I doubt there are many people who would argue with this choice.

Steven Spielberg also (finally) wins Best Director for the film (talked about here). Unfortunately, the film does not also win Best Actor for Liam Neeson, because they decided to give the award to Tom Hanks for Philadelphia (talked about here), which I think is a terrible decision. Not only should Liam Neeson have won here, but Daniel Day-Lewis, Anthony Hopkins (and even Laurence Fishburne) gave better performances than Hanks did. I rank this as one of the worst Best Actor decisions of all time. Then, Holly Hunter won Best Actress for The Piano (talked about here). This is because the Academy was stupid and gave Cher an Oscar over her in 1987 and because the Academy couldn’t contain themselves the year before this and gave Emma Thompson an Oscar for a lesser performance than this one. But, Holly got an Oscar, so it works out, even if I don’t like the film all that much. Anna Paquin also won Best Supporting Actress for the film (talked about here), which I consider one of the worst decisions of all time in the category. Nearly everyone else in the category gave a better performance than she did. Speaking of everyone else giving a better performance than the winner, Tommy Lee Jones won Best Supporting Actor for The Fugitive (talked about here). It’s pretty clear they were voting for the man and not the performance, because Ralph Fiennes, Pete Postlethwaite and Leonardo DiCaprio were all better than Jones was. But I grudgingly accept this because I love Tommy Lee Jones. Still, he shouldn’t have won.

But these questionable middle decisions are all pushed aside because of a strong Best Picture choice. That’s how these work. A great Best Picture choice hides all other terrible ones. But at least we got a strong Best Picture choice. That’s nice. That’s not always a guaranteed.


And the nominees were…

The Fugitive (Warner Bros.)

In the Name of the Father (Universal)

The Piano (Miramax)

The Remains of the Day (Columbia)

Schindler’s List (Universal)

The Fugitive — I was gonna say, “Everyone knows this film, right?” But no. They don’t. And that’s a shame. Because if I were gonna list landmark action films, post-Raiders, I’d say (and this is just off the top of my head, I’m sure I’m missing stuff) Beverly Hills Cop/48 Hrs.Lethal Weapon, Terminator/T2, Die Hard, this, Speed, and The Matrix. I’ll stop at The Matrix. But this film is definitely on that list.

The film is a remake of the TV series from the 60s. Harrison Ford is a doctor who comes home to find his wife has been murdered by a one-armed man. He also finds that he’s been framed for the murder. He is tried and convicted and sentenced to death. On the way to prison, the prison bus crashes and he escapes. And he spends the rest of the movie running from the law (and Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard, played by Tommy Lee Jones, which, you saw up there, won him his Oscar) and trying to figure out who killed his wife. It is a great movie. Trust me. As cliché as it’s become (put it this way — I saw the parody of this film, Wrongfully Accused, a decade before I saw the film), it’s still an amazing movie. You will enjoy this film if you see it. It’s just a universally good movie. Are there people who (film quality alone, not all that other extra social bullshit) really doesn’t like Die Hard, Speed or The Matrix? (If so, don’t tell anybody.) This is one of those films.

In the Name of the Father — This film is incredible. Jim Sheridan had a hell of a run from 1989 to 2002/2003. My Left FootThe Field, this, The BoxerIn America. This is probably my third favorite of that group, but that’s relative to this list.

The film is about Gerry Conlan, who is a rabble-rousing kid in British-occupied Ireland. And he likes to fuck with the troops stationed outside his neighborhood (which can really get him in trouble, but he treats the whole thing facetiously), things like that. And his father (the amazing Pete Postlethwaite), knowing he’s gonna get himself in trouble, sends him to London. And while there, a pub bomb goes off, killing five people. And he is arrested for doing it, even though he wasn’t anywhere near it. He is tortured by police until he signs a confession, and is thrown in prison. And to add insult to injury, some of his family, including his father, are also thrown in prison. And he and his father are thrown in prison for a long time, and the film then kind of shifts to their prison life. And it’s kind of Shawshank, in that way. At first, he has a rocky relationship with his father, and blames him for being in prison. But then stuff happens — he finds the guy who did bomb the pub in the same prison, and that, along with the death of his father, makes him want to achieve justice. So he meets Emma Thompson, a lawyer who has been investigating his case and wanting to help him (though he’s turned her down many times before), and she goes out and finds the evidence to free him. She ends up finding police documents that were deliberately kept hidden and helps get Gerry freed.

The great thing about it, though, is that, at the very end, you think it’s going to be a happy moment when he’s out. And it is — except — you see over the course of the film, Gerry start to get desensitized. The longer he is in prison, the more he loses hope and starts to lose feeling. And when he is released, he has this relief, but also he just looks dead inside. Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing in this. So is Emma Thompson. I can’t recommend this movie highly enough. It’s so, so good.

The Piano — This is a film that I consider the beginning of “Miramax.” They did stuff before this, it’s just — I consider this the first film that really exemplifies what they do. One of those films that just screams, “Oscar.”

The film is about a mute woman and her daughter. Holly Hunter is the woman and Anna Paquin is the daughter. Both won Oscars for their roles. And Hunter is mute, and her and her daughter have developed their own form of communication. It’s a form of sign language that only they can understand. And she is basically sold into marriage to Sam Neill, and they move to New Zealand. And she has this prized piano, which is something she has a connection to. She plays it — it’s like a form of communication for her. And while there, she lives with Neill, who treats her right, but she’s not really in love with him. And she meets Harvey Keitel, a white man who has taken up the way of the Maori. And they start sleeping together. And Anna Paquin, starting to enjoy having a father in Sam Neill, tells him. And he chops off Hunter’s fingers, so she can’t play piano anymore. And then he sends her away. And she tries to kill herself by tying herself to her piano and jumping in the water (they transport everything by canoe), but then she decides to let the piano go and swims back up to the boat. That’s the film.

I honestly don’t see what’s so great about this movie. I mean, it’s good and I enjoyed it, but it just looks like a film gunning for Oscars. (Like many Miramax films.) I just don’t get it. So I just shrug and leave this film to those who love it.

The Remains of the Day — I loved this book. Which is a rare thing for me to say. I normally don’t read many of the books made into movies. Mostly because the stuff I’ve read is either the big stuff (like Oliver Twist and stuff, that’s been made dozens of times) or stuff that has that one definitive version (All Quiet on the Western Front, To Kill a Mockingbird). Many of the films nowadays that come from books — they’re either completely different from the book in the sense that they’re two different entities, or the book is just not that good. (Ever read “Forrest Gump”? It’s just not that interesting.) Plus, since college, I haven’t read all that much. I spent high school reading and college watching movies.

Anyway, my point is — I read this book in one of my classes, and loved it. I loved how it was written, from Stevens’ perspective, I loved how everything had to be inferred from what wasn’t said — I really loved it. And it’s rare for me to have read a book before seeing the movie. Usually I read the book afterward to see what it’s like compared to the film. The “Bourne” series, “Rum Punch,” “Lord of the Rings,” even “Watchmen.” Stuff like that. I read them all after seeing their films. It’s actually easier for me, that way. I see the movie, and when I read the book, it’s always, “Oh, interesting, that’s how they did it.” Whereas, if you read the book first, you’re more prone to, “Oh man, I hope they don’t fuck up the movie.” A lot of my friends were like that with Never Let Me Go (same author as this book, by the way). They couldn’t enjoy the film because of what it left out of the book. Whereas I loved the film, and am now excited to read the book because of it. It’s kind of like — going from pre-Oz to Oz. The palette just expands when you go from film to book.

Anyway, let’s get into the film. It’s about Stevens, a butler, who has been a butler all his life. His family have all been butlers. And that’s just how he grew up. And he was taught to suppress everything. Everything in life is serving his house. And we see him doing so, at the expense of his own happiness. He is so suppressed that he either doesn’t know or completely ignores his own natural impulses. (The book, and also the film, to a lesser extent, is also about the decline of the British Empire. At the beginning, his house is so noble, but then it gets old, and the occupants just lose money and status, and by the end an American with no sense of history buys the house. But all along, there’s Stevens.) At first it’s just not apparent to him. But then Emma Thompson joins the staff. And she’s really likable and free-spirited, and she immediately bumps up against his nature. He’s about having stuff rigidly timed and controlled, and she’s more lax about stuff. She’s like, “It’ll get done,” and he’s like, “But you’re two minutes off schedule!” And at first he doesn’t like her, but it’s clear that it’s because he likes her. And eventually they become friends, and it’s really obvious that she’s into him, but he’s so suppressed that he doesn’t (or can’t) act on it. So the film is really about him getting old and then finally, in his old age, realizing, “Was it all worth it?” Hopkins has a great scene at the very end (which is so much stronger in the book) where he confronts all of this for the first time. It’s — it’s just a great book and a great film.

I’ll also point out that this is literally the only Merchant-Ivory movie that I don’t either dislike or despise. That should tell you something.

Schindler’s List — It’s Schindler’s List. I refuse to believe you haven’t seen this. If you haven’t seen it, you might be a terrible person. (Or you’ve really been slacking in your movie-watching.)

It’s a perfect film, and so, so emotional. It’s — it deserved everything it got. There’s no question about it.

My Thoughts: This is pretty cut and dry. Ain’t nothing beating Schindler’s List. It’s nice that The Fugitive got on here, but that would never win. Still — it’s not even close. Let’s not waste time with this one.

My Vote: Schindler’s List

Should Have Won: Schindler’s List

Is the result acceptable?: Uh…yeah.

Ones I suggest you see: You must see: Schindler’s List. Otherwise you’re dead to everyone ese.

You also need to see: The Fugitive. It’s like Speed, in that, it’s the benchmark of genre. It’s incredible. I deem this essential so that we can be friends. You will not dislike this movie.

I highly recommend you see: In the Name of the Father. It’s amazing, and pretty damn close to being essential just because it’s so good. You don’t need to see it, but you should, because I’ll pester you until you do. If you like good movies, you should see this.

I think you should see, but wouldn’t be upset if you didn’t see: The Remains of the Day. One of the few times I’ve ever said this, but, I actually liked the book more. But the movie is the only Merchant-Ivory film I can tolerate and is still really good.

And The Piano. I don’t really like it that much. Apparently people do, though. I don’t understand those people, but — you can get through it once. And who knows, you may be one of those people.


5) The Piano

4) The Remains of the Day

3) In the Name of the Father

2) The Fugitive

1) Schindler’s List

2 responses

  1. Chad

    Here are my rankings:
    1. Schindler’s List (obviously)
    2. The Piano (a very close second)
    3. The Fugitive (a pretty close third)
    4. In the Name of the Father (tie for Remains)
    4. The Remains of the Day (tie with Father)

    August 16, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    • My new rankings:
      1. Schindler’s List
      2. The Piano
      3. In the Name of the Father
      4. The Fugitive
      5. The Remains of the Day

      My thoughts:
      Schindler’s List remains on top and The Piano is still at #2. In the Name of the Father moves up to #3, now that I’ve seen it again, what a great movie that was. The Fugitive moves down to #4 but it’s still one of the greatest action movies ever made. The Remains of the Day is still dead last, another boring Merchant-Ivory film.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:55 pm

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