The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1991

Oh god, what a year. Look at those five (okay… four) nominees. They’re terrific. And then the decisions they made — not really a weak one in the bunch. I may disagree with one of them, but outside of that, they’re great. This also feels a bit like an underdog year. Since Bugsy was obviously the classy film in contention, and JFK being what it is — it just seems surprising that The Silence of the Lambs won the way it did. But I’m not complaining.

The Silence of the Lambs is the third and most recent film to win the big five — Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director for Jonathan Demme (talked about here), Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins (talked about here) and Best Actress for Jodie Foster (talked about here). Perfect decisions, the lot of them. Maybe the Demme and Foster wins could have gone differently, but I like the big five win. It’s nice. (Also, fun fact: All three films to win the big five (you better know which three they are) only won those five awards and nothing else. Weird, huh? The rest of the year is simple: Mercedes Ruehl won Best Supporting Actress for The Fisher King (talked about here). The category was terribly weak and she was really the only choice. And Best Supporting Actor was Jack Palance for City Slickers (talked about here). Not a great choice based on performance by any stretch (Michael Lerner (and for that matter, an un-nominated John Goodman) was so much better in Barton Fink), but it’s a veteran Oscar, and Palance is awesome. So it’s okay.

1991 is a very simple year, punctuated by great films. Seriously, if you haven’t seen at least three of the films on this list (though really, four), you probably don’t really like movies.


And the nominees were…

Beauty and the Beast (Walt Disney Pictures)

Bugsy (TriStar)

JFK (Warner Bros.)

The Prince of Tides (Columbia)

The Silence of the Lambs (Orion)

Beauty and the Beast — Seriously, has anyone not seen this movie? I’m not even giving you a synopsis. This is Disney at their very, very, very best.

Bugsy — Great film, this one. It’s about Bugsy Siegel (played by Warren Beatty), who, with a little creative license, is portrayed as the man who gave birth to Las Vegas. At first we see him as a hothead gangster in New York, whose ways get him in a bit of hot water, so Meyer Lansky (played wonderfully by Ben Kingsley) tells him to go out to California and take a rest. So he goes out (leaving his wife and children in Scarsdale) and immediately is smitten with Hollywood. He intimidates his way into a house (wonderful scene. He goes up to a famous opera singer’s house, knocks on the door, tells him how great his house is and how he’s going to get one just like it, and before you know it, he’s got the house. The way it’s implied is just so, so good), and just starts living there. And he starts having an affair with Annette Bening, an aspiring actress, and pretty soon he’s all set up in California. And then he has this vision of Las Vegas, and starts building what will essentially become Las Vegas. And he spends millions of dollars of the mob’s money, and they don’t understand what he’s doing at all. All they see is money going down the drain. And then it opens and starts hemorrhaging cash, which eventually gets him killed, but then, later on, they all get rich off of it. It’s kind of a love letter to Bugsy, not entirely factual, but it’s a great, great film. It’s so damn good. This would win in a different year. Probably.

JFK — Another film I assume most people have seen. It’s about the investigation into the JFK assassination and trial attempting to prove conspiracy by the U.S. government. This might be Oliver Stone’s shining moment. If he hadn’t won two Best Director Oscars by this point, he’d have won this. I have absolutely no doubt about that at all. It’s also a perfect film. It just sucks you in and you watch all of it. It’s so great. Seriously, any other year, this is your winner. (Though, knowing the Academy, they’d have taken Bugsy over it.)

The Prince of Tides — Here’s a film that should not be here at all. This is Barbra Streisand doing — I don’t know what.

The film is about Nick Nolte, a teacher with some scarring childhood issues. And his sister has tried to commit suicide (again), and he goes up to New York to talk to her psychiatrist (Streisand). And they start talking through shit, and they start sleeping together, but they can’t end up together, because they’re both married (or she is, because he gets divorced midway through, I think), and then they discover all these mother issues, and then he helps her kid join the football team — it’s one of those movies you watch and go, “Seriously?” It’s incredible they nominated this. The only reason this is here is because Barbra Streisand is who she is. Because yeah — this is better than Thelma and Louise. Sure…

The Silence of the Lambs — Again, how have you not seen this? Buffalo Bill, Clarice, Hannibal Lecter. You don’t need a synopsis, because you should have already seen this.

My Thoughts: I love The Silence of the Lambs too much to not vote for it. I love Beauty and the Beast, but that didn’t need to win. I love JFK, and that decision was close, but I feel Lambs was better. And Bugsy is great, but much too on-the-nose to win. I think they made the best decision here.

My Vote: The Silence of the Lambs

Should Have Won: The Silence of the Lambs, JFK.

Is the result acceptable?: Oh, you have no idea. (If you’ve seen the film, you do.)

Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen The Silence of Lambs, Beauty and the Beast or JFK, you’re dead to me.

You should also see Bugsy. It’s amazing. And if you’ve seen about 80% of the same movies that everyone likes (take a look at the top 50 on IMDB’s top 250), chances are Netflix has already suggested this one to you. If you like those other ones, you’ll love this. Simple as that. It’s amazing. See it.

And The Prince of Tides is pretty bad. Just thought I should tell you. Nolte does a good job with it, but wow, is it not as good as any one of the films that could have been here in its place… Thelma & Louise, Barton Fink, Boyz N the Hood, The Fisher King… watch those instead. They’re infinitely better.


5) The Prince of Tides

4) Bugsy

3) Beauty and the Beast

2) JFK

1) The Silence of the Lambs

4 responses

  1. Chad

    My top choices are:
    1. The Silence of the Lambs (tie with Beauty)
    1. Beauty and the Beast (tie with Silence)
    2. JFK
    3. The Prince of Tides (tie with Bugsy)
    3. Bugsy (tie with Prince)

    August 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm

  2. Chad

    My choices are:
    1. The Silence of the Lambs (the winner)
    2. Beauty and the Beast (a VERY close runner-up)
    3. JFK
    4. Bugsy
    5. The Prince of Tides (shouldn’t have been nominated AT ALL)

    November 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm

  3. Calvin Philips

    I happen to love The Prince of Tides.

    June 17, 2014 at 8:44 pm

  4. Calvin Philips

    Also – did you notice how, much like 1970, this is a really well-balanced set of nominees?

    June 17, 2014 at 8:45 pm

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