1995 • Braveheart

Braveheart 1995 Best PictureMel Gibson may be declared a bit cuckoo these days, but not so long ago he was the prize of Hollywood, churning out blockbuster hits and even directing his way to the hearts of the Academy. Braveheart was clearly his defining piece of work, though prior to last night, I had never seen this Scottish mega-hit.

Braveheart is the mostly true story of William Wallace (Gibson), a 13th-century Scotsman who, as a boy, faces the death of his father and brother after they are killed by King Longshanks of England. Years later, after being raised by his uncle, Wallace returns to his homeland to live a peaceful life and falls in love with the beautiful Murron (Catharine McCormack), who soon after is attacked by English soldiers and executed after an attempt to fight back. Wallace unites the villagers to kill the English soldiers, and after a victorious fight, more Scots band together and take on larger battles against the English in an attempt to free the country.

Braveheart was better than expected. My general taste for movies isn’t really ancient foreign war epics, but this had a good enough storyline behind it for me to stay interested. The war scenes were among the best and most realistic I’ve seen. I mean how do they not really get injured… we can see people taking axes and darts to the chest. Someone had to have accidentally been hurt during filming. And how do these war movies get horses to topple over and not get hurt? I would imagine PETA would be all over such productions. I’m not opposed to it, I just can’t figure it out.

As I said with Braveheart’s decent storyline, there was actually a moment that made me laugh out loud. Actually most scenes involving that likely-homosexual Prince Edward were funny, but none moreso than when King Edward is talking to his son’s newly-appointed counsel, who claims to be an expert at warfare. “Oh, please come over here and tell me about it,” says the king, who lures the counsel to an open window and then hurls him out several stories where he plummets to his death.

Much like Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the movie ends with a brutal beating of the lead character, who sits there and takes it. I’m just not passionate enough about anything to be brutally tortured in front of a crowd. I guess that’s why there won’t ever be an epic movie about me.

This movie was a little on the long side for my taste. For the first time in quite a while, I fell asleep midway through and had to resume the next day. And personally I thought Apollo 13 was the better picture that year, though in the end Braveheart was a worthy winner. And to settle the score once and for all between Mel’s female counterparts in the movie, I thought Princess Isabelle was probably a little better looking than Murron, but either way he made out just fine.

1994 • Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump, 1994 Best PictureAh, Forrest Gump, an old familiar friend. Without question, it is the movie from our Best Picture list that I am most familiar with and have seen the most times. I watched this movie probably twenty or more times on VHS in the 90s, and have seen it time and time again on TV in the 00s and 10s. Not only did I own the movie, I also owned the “making of” video called Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump that explained the technical stuff.

There was a time in grade school when I would go around talking like Forrest, and at one point I could recite large portions of the movie from memory. We almost talked our sixth grade teacher into letting us watch Forrest Gump for an “End of the Month Movie” but after the teachers did a screening, they declared it to be unsuitable for elementary kids due to a scene where Lieutenant Dan is getting a lap dance in his wheelchair… and the times when Jenny takes her top off.

So when Forrest Gump rolled around in our project, I thought “what’s the point of watching it for the 53rd time, I already know exactly what happens?” But that’s the spirit of the project, to watch every Best Picture in order, so there was no passing it up!

Forrest Gump of course stars Tom Hanks as the title character, who keeps accidentally running into fame at every turn, and is oblivious to most all of it. From teaching Elvis how to dance as a kid, to receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor for his war heroics, to leading the US ping-pong team to world domination, Forrest is in the middle of every major event over the 60s and 70s. All the while, he has his childhood best friend Jenny on his mind.

Forrest Gump is such a great story. It is one of the very few Best Pictures that has had me laughing out loud and holding back tears. Even besides Forrest, there are so many great characters… especially Bubba, Jenny, and Lt. Dan. It’s a simple movie to understand. Sure, there is probably some symbolism in the feather floating around in the beginning and end, but aside from the sexual references, it was all easy for me to understand as a 12-year old. I really didn’t think I would catch anything new this time around, but I was wrong… I hadn’t remembered the part where Forrest prematurely ejaculates into Jenny’s roommate’s bath robe after Jenny brings him in out of the rain into her dorm!

I can’t figure out why so many critics say this is one of the worst Best Picture winners. Yes, it was up against some very heavy competition that year with The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction, but I think any of the three would have been worthy winners. 1994 truly was a huge year for movies.

Clearly this is one of my all-time favorite movies, and had I not seen it so many times it would probably have easily landed at #1 on my list. But the fact remains that my rankings are more or less a list of how interested I would be in watching each movie again, and right now I would probably want to wait at least ten years before seeing Forrest Gump again. This will likely be the most difficult movie to place on my rankings… I think I need to think on it a little longer!

1993 • Schindler’s List

Schindler's List, 1993Wednesday night, Lauren and I watched yet another title from our Best Picture project, 1993’s Schindler’s List, and unlike Jerry and his girlfriend, we were definitely not caught making out during the movie. “A more despicable display I cannot recall!” cried Newman to Marty and Helen after observing Jerry at the theater.

Schindler’s List is another movie that I, and probably 90% of the population, has seen before. Despite the graphic nature and nudity, we watched this in high school during Mr. Stobbs’ history class. I remembered very little about the story or the movie since I first (and last) saw it in 2000. The things that I recalled very vividly included the doctors euthanizing their patients so they wouldn’t have to endure being shot with machine guns; the man randomly shooting Jews from his bedroom balcony; and the girl in the red dress. What I didn’t remember was the fact that Oskar Schindler was the good guy. And I wasn’t even sure if there was really an actual list or if that was just something symbolic. Turns out that was kinda the whole point of the movie.

Nazi Oskar Schindler moves to Krakow to earn a fortune producing war goods and finds it’s cheapest to hire Jewish Poles to work for him. At first Schindler is just in it for the vast profits, but when he sees the genocide going on around him he begins to hire more and more Jews to save their lives. By bribing officials, Schindler is able to acquire over 1,000 workers and save their lives. By the end, he is deemed a hero. Now stretch that basic idea out over three hours, plus lots and lots and lots of people being brutally killed and you’ve got Schindler’s List.

The cinematography was as good as it gets, as Marty and Helen pointed out to Jerry. “What did you think of the black and white?” “The black and white?” “Yes, the whole movie was filmed in black and white!” “Oh… I… didn’t even notice!” I suppose the black and white did add something to the film. Spielberg said he wanted it to be shot as if it were a documentary and felt the black and white was the way to best represent that, as well as using handheld cameras for 40% of the shooting.

As for the acting, Liam Neeson as Schindler was an excellent, likable character. Ben Kingsley (Gandhi) was also great in his supporting role. For me, the best acting was that of Embeth Davidtz in the role of Helen Hirsch, and of course the thousands of extras who had a pretty challenging job.

As has been the case many times in this project, we watched a movie that by all accounts was phenomenal, yet was far from a fun, entertaining movie that I’d race to watch again. I have lots of trouble deciding where in my rankings to put a movie like Schindler’s List, because although I admire the great job done by Steven Spielberg, it is such a haunting, grim movie on one of the worst things to ever happen in the history of the world. I ended up putting it at #13 of the 63 we’ve seen, which I think is a more-than-fair place for a movie that I don’t want to see again for another ten years.

1992 • Unforgiven

Unforgiven 19921988 through 1991 had been perhaps my favorite four-year stretch of movies to this point in the project. I was so enamored with those four movies that I almost didn’t want to move on to the next one, in case it was a failure and ruined our nice little streak. But then again we’re talking about a movie by Clint Eastwood, starring himself, Morgan Freeman, and Gene Hackman, so the odds of it being a bust were pretty slim.

1992’s Unforgiven is one of the few westerns we’ve had in the Best Picture project. Maybe one could include Dances With Wolves in the western genre, but besides that, only 1931’s Cimarron was a true gun-slinger.

Unforgiven reminded me a bit of 1959’s Ben Hur in a totally ridiculous way, but even more ridiculous. You see, in Ben Hur, the entire 212-minute epic story would have been avoided if not for a very minor event at the beginning of the movie—Ben-Hur is sent to the galleys after knocking a rock off a roof towards a horse, which set off a massive chain of events. In Unforgiven, the movie exists because a whore in the town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming laughs at the tiny size of a cowboy’s penis.

Of course there’s much more to the movie than that, but just think, if she’d been able to keep her mouth shut, there would have been no movie! Anyway, the offended cowboy then slashes this woman’s face repeatedly with a knife, leaving her alive but disfigured and unable to earn wages in the whorehouse. After the town sheriff lets the cowboys off with minimal punishment, the whores band together and offer a $1000 reward for the slaying of the cowboy and his partner.

In search of the $1000 reward is a brash young fellow named the Schofield Kid, who recruits retired legendary gunman William Munny (Eastwood) to help kill the cowboys. Munny reluctantly agrees, and recruits his old partner Ned Logan (Freeman). The three ride into Big Whiskey and raise some serious hell. But will they kill the cowboys and claim their reward, or will they return home themselves? Those are the questions that are answered in the climax of Unforgiven.

Unforgiven was another solid picture from the early 90s, led by outstanding acting from the Big 3, and again helped along by a haunting melody throughout (as you can see from the last few movies, a great score can really boost a movie, in my opinion). I liked the way Munny talked, always saying “I guess” or “I guess not.” And they go to great lengths to show just how past his prime Munny is, embarrassing himself in front of his kids, unable to climb upon his horse initially. His innocent little daughter asks her brother, “Did Pa used to kill folks?”

I have never been a big western aficionado, but this is probably the best I’ve seen, right up there with that 3:10 to Yuma movie from a few years back. I ranked it #26 on my list, just behind The Bridge on the River Kwai and just ahead of Terms of Endearment. Next up, 1993’s Schindler’s List.

1991 • The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs, 1991Monday night after returning home from our second and final wine tasting class, Lauren felt she couldn’t go to sleep quite yet and insisted on watching the next movie in our Best Picture project. And what better movie right before bedtime than The Silence of the Lambs?

Lauren owns the VHS tape of The Silence of the Lambs, and seemed excited to watch it on Blu-ray on the PS3. I had never seen it before and wasn’t sure I wanted to watch it right at that moment; I was under the impression it was a really scary movie that would keep me up at night (yes, I’m a wuss like that). I had heard the terms “psychological thriller” and “crime” and “horror” used quite often in describing The Silence of the Lambs. Even though it was already 10:40, I gave in to Lauren and we stayed up and watched it.

Unlike me prior to last night, you’ve all probably already seen The Silence of the Lambs a time or two. And in the end, it turned out I recognized a few scenes, so maybe I caught parts of it on TV at one point or another over the years. But the premise is as such: young FBI student Clarice Starling is sent to interview mentally insane cannibalistic prisoner Hannibal Lecter, as he may have insight into another case involving serial killer Buffalo Bill. Clarice is able to decipher some clues from Lecter, but only by telling him stories of her traumatic childhood in return. The FBI is bearing down on Buffalo Bill’s latest victim, the daughter of a US Senator, but thanks to Lecter’s clues, Clarice winds up at Buffalo Bill’s house to face him one-on-one in his maze of a basement.

The Silence of the Lambs was another big winner in my book! I really liked the fast pace of the movie; I was surprised that Lecter appeared just a few minutes into the movie. The story just kept moving on along, yet allowing slow people like me the ability to comprehend and keep up—very odd qualities to find in these Best Picture movies. There was nary a moment throughout where I wasn’t just on the edge of my seat; the haunting music throughout kept the suspense going from start to finish.

Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal Lecter

There have been very few movies that have hugely famous lines like The Silence of the Lambs. Lecter delivered at least two all-time memorable quotes, including the final “I’m having an old friend for dinner.” It was much like when I watched Casablanca, hearing quotes and recognizing them but not having previously realized what they were from. The movie just got more and more iconic as it went along.

Obviously the acting of Anthony Hopkins was spellbinding, however it does seem odd he received the Best Actor award for his role when he was on screen for only 16 minutes! Jodie Foster likewise was very deserving of her Best Actress award.

The Silence of the Lambs‘s genre might be completely unique to this project. I can’t really think of another movie so far that even can compare to the horror and suspense. Anyway, it was the fourth consecutive tremendous movie in this project. The last four winners have been spot-on. Way to go filmmakers of the late 80s/early 90s! I ranked The Silence of the Lambs #5 of 61 to this point, right after The Godfather Part II and right ahead of The Sound of Music.

Looking ahead, we have 1992’s Unforgiven before getting into a bunch of movies that I’m quite familiar with. The fun part of the project of watching movies for the first time is nearly over!

1990 • Dances With Wolves

Dances With Wolves, 1990For the second time in our Best Picture project, Lauren and I watched two movies back-to-back, as we followed up 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy with 1990’s Dances With Wolves on Friday night. This movie hits home for me moreso than any other, as it was filmed in South Dakota, albeit in the western part of the state. There was much hoopla going on in the state when this movie was released, and I think even today there are tours given of the areas the movie was filmed. I thought, but maybe I’m wrong, that we watched this movie in grade school when it came out. One way or another, I know I’d seen it before many years ago.

Kevin Costner stars as Lt. John Dunbar, who during the Civil War rides his horse through enemy fire in hopes of being killed rather than wind up an amputee. When he manages to avoid being shot dozens of times within close proximity, he is instead praised as a hero and as a reward can choose any post. Dunbar chooses a desolate fort on the western frontier because he wants to see the gateway to the west. From here, Dunbar and his horse Cisco are harassed by the local Sioux until one day he rescues Stands With a Fist and returns her to be treated. Later he earns his keep for good when he alerts the Sioux to the buffalo in the area, and even rescues Wind in His Hair from a stampeding buffalo. Dunbar is now a friend of the Sioux and is given the name Dances With Wolves due to the wild wolf who follows him everywhere. He even marries Stands With a Fist. But what happens when US soldiers arrive at the fort and discover Dunbar has turned Indian?

In the end I was a little choked up! Dances With Wolves was amazing! It was a really great story with excellent acting and of course brilliant scenery. The transition of Dunbar from enemy to friend was very well done. Apparently there was no CGI used, each and every of the 3,000 buffaloes were real. Dances With Wolves won 7 Oscars, including Costner for Best Director (but not Best Actor). It was a long movie (I fell asleep with 40 minutes remaining) but I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any shorter.

Those who follow our project and my rankings will probably be surprised, but of the 60 movies we’ve seen so far, I ranked it second on the list behind only 1973’s The Sting, and even then it was a really close call for #1. Most movie buffs would probably have a difficult time accepting my rankings if I put the Godfather movies behind Dances With Wolves, but in my opinion it was almost the very best that we’ve seen so far.

1989 ● Driving Miss Daisy

Driving Miss Daisy, 1989 Best PictureDriving Miss Daisy was next up in our Best Picture project, the finale of the up-and-down decade of the 1980s. Many aspects of Driving Miss Daisy appealed to me: its length (98 minutes), its light-hearted synopsis, and big name cast (Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, Dan Aykroyd).

I quickly found out Driving Miss Daisy also had this going for it: it seemed to me it was more of a character development movie than a movie with a complicated story. These movies are my favorites! The premise was so very simple. Old white Jewish lady can’t drive anymore, her son hires an old black man to drive her around (and tend to some of her other needs), old woman doesn’t like old man, eventually they bond. The rest was mostly watching Daisy bicker at Hoke, and after many many years she began to warm up to him.

The movie appeared as if it was going to take place all within a short period of time, but they began jumping around from year to year, slowly aging the characters. That was one of the very few flaws in my opinion, that it was difficult to know how much time had been passing.

I don’t know what else I can say about Driving Miss Daisy. Morgan Freeman was outstanding in the role of Hoke. He was such a jovial old southerner, impossible to dislike. Driving Miss Daisy was up against one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams which I may have voted for, but Kevin Costner would get his share of awards in 1991.

My lack of length in this review might have you wondering how it ends up ranking where it does, but that is also part of the reason why I liked it so much. I like movies that I don’t have to sit there trying to wrap my brain around and read along on Wikipedia trying to figure out who’s who and what’s happening. Driving Miss Daisy just let me sit back and enjoy. I put it at #10 on the list, right ahead of a very similar type of movie, Marty. As you can see on my Rankings page, this was my favorite of the 80s decade, just ahead of Rain Man. Following that were Gandhi, Amadeus and Terms of Endearment. The worst of the decade, to me, was Chariots of Fire.